A year ago today, I’d just finished my 2nd Napa Valley Marathon. I hadn’t raced very well, but I’d decided I was ready to take another stab at training hard to PR and qualify for Boston. 3 months of training and many miles and tough workouts later, I ran the Seattle Marathon. I’d hoped to run between a 3:35 or 3:40, but was unsure of myself and had some serious doubts.
The Seattle Marathon didn’t end well for me, and there was no PR, no BQ, nothing. I was disappointed in myself and was convinced that maybe I just wasn’t built for speed and didn’t belong at Boston with all of the other runners I admired. I called one of my closest running friends to deliver the news and she told me this: “You never should have stepped onto the starting line with a doubt in your mind. You have to KNOW your can run that hard, not just THINK you can“.
After thinking long and hard, I decided to try something completely new, and signed up for my first ultramarathon. Just one to get me out of my funk, I told myself. But I loved the change of pace on the trails, the higher mileage, and training in a totally different way. I loved that I stopped looking my watch every 30 seconds and substituted looking at the gorgeous views of the Bay instead. When I’d completed the North Face 50k and started thinking about my spring marathon, I cringed. My heart was still stuck on the trails.
So, I stayed in my happy place. I signed up for a 50-Mile race, and decided that road-racing would be on hold for a while. But, a funny thing happened. I got stronger, faster, and more confident. I took risks, did some speedwork (for fun), and overall felt like a better runner.
As my annual spring marathon (Napa Valley) approached, I decided to have a little fun and test my speed. I cut back my mileage for a week or two, and planned to just push myself to see what I’m capable of. I had no idea if I could run my old PR (3:49), cut a little bit off, or if my legs would be too tired from ultra training. But I did know that I was feeling daring and was willing to try my luck.
As I waited for the gun to go off at the Napa Valley Marathon, I had no idea what to expect. I knew I wanted to take it easy in the first half so that I wouldn’t feel sick, tired, or burned out in the second half. I promised myself I would run the first mile NO FASTER than 8:45. Other than that, all bets were off.
The run started off a little chilly, as the sun peeked out over the vineyards. I stuck to my pace, and slowly picked it up over the first few miles. By Mile 5, I was running about 8:10’s and spotted Ambassador Roni on the course. He mentioned a goal time of 3:40, so I figured I would stick with him for a while and see how I felt. By the halfway mark, I’d lost Roni, but I was feeling great and kept running at a comfortable pace on the rolling hills. It felt like I was running 8:20-8:30’s, but looking back on my Garmin splits, I was a little off in that estimate. I could tell I was making good time, but was taking it one mile at a time and around Mile 15/16 it was still too soon to tell what would unfold in the last 10.
I ran along, remembering the familiar rolling hills from previous hills and smiling at the supportive crowds along the course. Somewhere in the ‘teens, I was running alongside a woman who looked like a veteran runner. She told a friend next to her that she was shooting for a 3:35 and was right on pace. Shocked, I glanced at my Garmin and realized I was too. At that moment I made a deal with myself: if I can stay on pace until Mile 20, I will push for my sub- 3:35 Boston Qualifier.
With just over 2:41 on the clock, I passed the 20-Mile Marker. Right on time.
This is it. There’s no backing out now, the last 10k isn’t supposed to be easy. Just keep moving your feet.
What happened over the last 6 miles is a little fuzzy, but I can tell you that at around Mile 24 I had some serious doubts. It was hot out, my stomach was in knots, my legs were tired, and I just didn’t know if I was built for this kind of running. But, despite all of that, I was passing other runners left and right. I thought of how badly I’d wanted to prove to myself that I can tough it out in the final miles, and reminded myself of how far I’ve come since my self-doubting days in Seattle.
I made it through the finish line with 3:32:13 (17-Minute PR, AND Boston Qualifier!!) on the clock and almost had to pinch myself. In my wildest imagination, I’d never have predicted that time for today’s race. The magic for me? Enjoying the training process, running by feel (not my watch or a strict goal time), and trusting my legs to keep pushing when the final miles just plain hurt.
I know my race story is unconventional and most people don’t ACCIDENTALLY shave 17 minutes off of their PR. But for me, the hardest part about running fast is believing that I’m capable of it. At some point in the last 6 months, I stopped being scared and started taking risks. With only 40 days until Lake Sonoma 50, I’ll keep this feeling with me. Taking training one run at a time and remembering that sometimes we’re stronger than we know.