If you asked me five years ago if I’d be qualifying for the Boston Marathon, I probably would have laughed. Although I had run a 3:35 marathon when I was 28 (my previous PR), I was now in my 40s and getting faster wasn’t something that I thought was possible. Well, I just got done running the 2017 Bayshore Marathon where I posted a 3:29; which for my age group, that means a Boston Marathon qualifying time and a new personal record! As all runners know that the actual race is just the part people see; the real adventure and glory is in the months of training that it takes to get to this point.
Let’s turn back the clocks to last October when I went to cheer on my husband, Mark, who was running the Grand Rapids Half Marathon. My neighbor, Marlene, was also running and afterwards we all went to celebrate their great races and check out the newly opened Knickerbocker New Holland Brewing. This had been Marlene’s first race and over drinks we discussed the next challenge: the full marathon. Because of our young children Mark and I have difficulty training for something at the same time. As he sensed my enthusiasm for capturing this goal, he said if Marlene and I wanted to train together, he would let me have first dibs on training runs. Challenge on! Bayshore in the Spring!
Not only was I going to just finish a marathon, I really wanted to qualify for Boston. I had run it years ago but now it felt like this shadow of who I used to be, as a person and a runner. I wanted to get back to that level again!
The last marathon that I had run was Grand Rapids in 2012. For that race I didn’t really commit to training; I got my weekend long runs in, but my mid-week mileage was hit and miss. I paid for it as I hit the wall early and hobbled in the last 10 miles (that’s a long time to hobble!). I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again! Marlene said she had used Hanson’s Half Marathon training plan and it had really helped her. We decided to follow their plan for marathon training as well.
To complete the 18-week Hanson’s Full Marathon Training Plan would mean starting mid-January. The plan has you start at about a 40 mile-a-week load; I needed to train just to be able to handle the actual training! Our first run was 8 miles from Village Baker to Pomona Park and back. I couldn’t make it, I needed to stop and take a walk break. So slow, and embarrassed that I had to stop, I was all the more determined to get into shape. This is the process that I try to explain to non-runners: the beginning is not fun but once you’re in shape that’s when you start to get faster and feel like you can go forever – and there’s no feeling like that! (I’m hard-core addicted to the runner’s high!)
I followed the plan: Nothing more, nothing less. Whatever Hanson’s had on their plan for the day, I did it. I was skeptical about the lack of a 20 mile run, but I decided to just trust them to know what they are doing and didn’t modify at all. Through ice, snow, rain, and sunshine – I just kept my head down and followed the plan.
Over the years as a busy working mom of young children I had let a few pounds creep on. I had heard that every extra pound you carry around in the race adds a minute to your marathon time so I knew this would hold me back. I joined Weight Watchers to help me take off the extra weight. I do struggle a bit with food so I needed the support. Whenever I was tempted to eat something I shouldn’t, I would ask myself “Do you want to qualify for Boston or not?” This goal was my rock that kept me training and eating well, even when I didn’t feel like it. Over the months of training I lost 30 pounds. Running helped my weight loss and weight loss helped my running.
All of this preparation and I was starting to feel the benefits of the speed and tempo work that are part of the plan. I was starting to feel confident that I actually could qualify for Boston. I started to think that I might even PR, or at least come really close. And then 6 days before race day I had pain in my calf. No, no, no, no, no, after all this I can’t be injured! I rested, I iced, I stretched, Ben Gay, rollers, and elevation. Ran again a couple days later as I was feeling better, but this agitated it again! So, I reached out to Scotty McKeel (physical therapist who specializes on working with runners) in a panic. He had to have some advice for me; it can’t stop here! The kind soul that he is, he invited me into the clinic after hours and did some kind of magic that fixed me up. I’m eternally grateful!
Race day was a gorgeous day. Not too hot, not too cold, overcast so the sun didn’t beat down: perfect! I had printed a pacing bracelet so that I wouldn’t go out too fast. I was trying to not bank time at the beginning, but to run as evenly as I could. I fell in with a small group of other people who were also shooting for a 3:35 marathon and we stuck together for about 10 miles encouraging and pacing one another. I love runners! Our mantra was “The further we go, the better we feel!” My other mantra was “I am running with strength and with ease” and I don’t understand why, but whenever the blisters that were developing on my pinky toe acted up, or I would feel a twinge in my calf, I would just repeat this over and over and my focus was brought back to the strength that I still felt and not the small pains I was starting to feel. It made all the difference.
So, now is when I would find out if never doing more than 16 miles in training would hold me back. It didn’t. I never hit the wall. I ran negative splits, with my second half being about 30 seconds faster than my first half. At the end I was almost in tears! BQ and PR! The official at the finish line said to me “you’re doing the wobble, be careful!” so I knew I had left it all out there.
And then I ate some Moomers Ice Cream and it was the best ice cream I had ever had.
Gratitude: Thanks to my husband for his support of my training, to Marlene for going on this adventure with me, to Hanson’s for an awesome training plan, to my Weight Watchers peeps for encouraging me, to my co-workers for putting up with me coming in late when I had a 12 miler that morning, to my hosts in Traverse City (Joel and Sarah) who fed me sweet potato burritos the night before (which was perfect!), to all my friends and family that cheered me on along the way, and especially to Grand Haven Running Club for all the runs, including some at 5:00 AM. Thank you!!