So let’s start at the beginning. And I mean waaaaay at the beginning – as in June – as in when I was set to start my marathon training plan. It’s no big secret I’d been injured from the get-go (as I’ve detailed in previous blog posts and a large amount of wallowing instagram posts as well), so obviously I couldn’t exactly start training full boar. Every weekend, I’d cross off the day on my calendar and see the little number I’d written in the corner of how many miles I was supposed to be running that weekend. Key word: supposed. The long runs got longer on the calendar, and shorter/non-existent in real life.
My total mileage for June: 59.15 – there were only 2 runs over 6 milers – a half marathon at the beginning of the month, and a 14 mile sufferfest towards the end. Total mileage for July: 58.52 – there was a absolutely disastrous 12 miler in there, and the even more legendarily disaster that was the Dances with Dirt half. Again, nothing over 5ish miles, and many days off in a row to try and calm the beast that was my tendinitis. And let’s not even TALK about August. 42.27 miles – 2 weeks completely off – and a blessedly slow 11.28 miles at the very tail end of the month.
And while I’m not exactly sure how it happened, things started to feel… better. Still off, but I could run (trails, pavement was still blatantly terrifying at this point, and I was avoiding it at all costs). I totaled September at 131.13 miles, with no runs under 5 miles (except on the 30th, when I was in pain but was so close to an even number of miles for the month…) The long runs of the month included the North Face Endurance Challenge half on a Sunday, and pacing the Brewers Mini Marathon that Saturday. It just so happened that a fellow pacer in my group (2:15) was also pacing the Lakefront Marathon (4:40). Being clueless, I bombarded her with questions for pretty much the entire 13 miles about what I should do, how I hadn’t trained at all, etc etc I’m pathetic. Her advice: after the race, go home and run at least 5 or 6 more miles. My tendinitis was not rearing it’s ugly head, so I went home, changed shoes, and went out for 7 more. So that was 20 miles on the day.
The week before the race, I ran a 10 miler, when I started to feel some new pain in the same ankle, because I’m dumb and also can’t catch a break. I should have cut it to 8 miles, but I wasn’t sure how much of it was just me being whiny because the run was shitty to begin with. It felt a lot like when I had Achilles tendinitis (on the other side) earlier in the year. So at least I figured, I kind of know how to deal with this. I didn’t plan on running anymore until the pain was gone (until that whole, end of the month so close to 130 miles debacle came up). So I ended up running 2 days later, just a 5k, and it was okay but started to hurt towards the end of the run. I decided that was it until race day. (I did do some cross training on the ARC trainer Thursday, but that was it in terms of workouts the week leading up to the race.)
So as you can imagine, I pretty much KNOW I’m screwed. I basically had 8 long(er) runs total. 2 were above 13.1 miles, and 1 barely so. Almost every single one was a colossal disaster. After the split 20 miler, I had enough confidence in myself to at least be able to FINISH (seriously, that was my goal, I spent a lot of time figuring out if I could make the 6.5 hour race cutoff if I walked fast enough), but that changed after the pain started to return that week before. Basically, I was probably the most terrified I’ve been in a long time, over anything.
So that Saturday morning, packet pickup loomed. We looked around at everything (it didn’t take long, the race is capped at 3,100 registrants and so the expo was equally small), and then I went back to look at the official merchandise. I took a deep breath and bought a finisher’s jacket, and figured I could use it as a reminder to myself the next day that I HAD to at least finish. We went out to eat, then I ate some more, then I went home and ate some more, literally until I felt sick. (Oops.)
Later that evening, I started throwing everything I was bringing into a pile on the bedroom floor. I wasn’t bringing a phone, because 1. I never race with it, and 2. I was worried that if things started to get hard, I would use it as an out and have Bryan come pick me up (this had actually crossed my mind in a particularly awful half, so I know I can never bring my phone because I’ll never forgive myself if I wuss out when things get a teeny bit hard.) We figured if I really needed to stop, I could go to the nearest aid station and borrow a volunteers phone. I also never run with music (barring the treadmill because let’s be honest I’m not that disciplined,) but I recently acquired one of those little touch screen clip on iPods and thought I would make a sort of S.O.S. playlist and have it with me, just in case I was struggling. I also brought an exorbitant amount of Clif Shot Bloks because they are my one true love, but I put them all in a Ziploc bag because the packaging is annoying unless you’re eating them all at one time. I had my Cocogo laid out (10% off with the code COULDBERUNNING, just sayin’!), my handheld water bottle, 2 Clif gels (even though the one time I used them they made my stomach hurt, but whatever I had no time to test anything and I wanted to be safer than sorry), and also another package of Shot Bloks that was in the original packaging because like I said I have no idea what I’m doing ever and whatever. I shoved all of this in my North Face long haul shorts which I’m in love with and sad that I can’t find anymore pairs because ALL. THE. POCKETS!! I love pockets, I hate waistbelts, match made in heaven on earth, obviously.
Related to my love affair with the long haul shorts, I wore a North Face running tank, a North Face Better Than Naked hat, and North Face flight series arm warmers. It sounds like they’re paying me (sadly, they’re not.) But I truly just find them the best, so whatever, I didn’t mind looking like a running North Face ad.
I was exhausted and not feeling so well as the night wore on, so I tried (obviously, I couldn’t really fall asleep too easily, I wonder why…) to go to bed around 9ish. I pretty much lay there for what seemed like forever, and I’m not sure when I did actually fall asleep. My alarm was set for 4:59, but I woke up around 4ish. I tried to fall back asleep but mostly just laid there trying to turn my brain off. Once I finally did get up, I put my KT tape on my Achilles (which pretty much fell off instantly, does anyone else ever feel like some rolls are just duds? Unfortunately, the roll I currently have is a dud.), put on my (Injinji, obviously) socks, CEP compression sleeves and the rest of the attire I mentioned before. I also wore some Nike running gloves, because it was 31 degrees (!!!!!!!!!!) at the start of the race, and there was ice in my water bottle which, below freezing temps or not, does not feel fun on your hands. Bryan woke up an hourish later to drive me the 35 minutes to the race start. It’s a point-to-point race, so he dropped me off, waited with me until we started lining up, and went back home to sleep.
I made my way to the starting line, and looked for the 4:40 pace group. My plan was to run with the aforementioned friend, because she’s like, the best pacer ever, and is super motivating and helpful out on the course. My goal was to finish, my next goal was to finish under 5 hours, then it was to finish with the 4:40 group. Then I had it in my head that I would secretly really like a 4:30, but I thought, no way is that going to possible, all things considered.
I found the group, and was presented with a sticker that said 4:40 for my bib. As she was introducing me to the other pacer in the group she said “and this is Rani, she’ll probably leave us halfway” and she told me to rip off the sticker after I passed them. I laughed, like, yeah right neither of those things are going to be happening, and stuck the sticker on (it’s still there.) And then the gun went off! And we were RUNNING! There were a few of us with the group, and we (of course) ran the first mile faster than the pace for a 4:40 finish dictated.
I started chatting with another lady in the group, and we actually ended up staying together (ahead of the pace group) for 11ish miles. It helped incredibly to be comfortably talking with someone and made those miles go by so fast. My Achilles was kind of stinging, but talking helped distract from that, and it honestly wasn’t that bad. We were fairly ahead of the group, but could occasionally still see them in the distance when we looked behind us. Around mile 12, she said she was going to pull back on the pace, and while I was hesitant to continue on my own and get in my own head, I felt so good that I kept going and started to push the pace a bit.
I hit the halfway point at around the 2:18 gun time mark, and had a mini freak out because it seemed like such a slow half for me. Somehow I managed to remind myself, duh, you have an entire other half to run, and not go out guns blazing from there, though I did start to pick up my pace bit by bit. I was also excited because the halfway point was around where you cross over into Milwaukee County from Ozaukee County, and while the country roads in Ozaukee are nice and all, I was ready for a little more to look at and occupy my eyes. I ran probably 2 or 3 miles alone, and started to think about pace and the race a little too much, so I went for the S.O.S. iPod, and figured if that felt too weird, I’d just put it away.
As soon as I hit shuffle on the playlist, I was SUPER stoked. I obviously know myself pretty well and every song that came on made me want to yell out loud and make everyone as happy as I was. You also start to see a lot more spectators and people cheering for you (while my name was on my bib, my name is not pronounced like it’s spelled, so very few people actually cheered CORRECTLY for me, but I knew who they meant and it was encouraging all the same!). I remembered my blissful half PR from Green Bay earlier this year, and high-fived all the little kids along the course again (because, seriously, it must be magic, because I’ve never even gotten close to that PR again yet). And then I came to the point on the course (I can’t remember what mile it was exactly, but somewhere around 17-18-19?) where I was by my old apartment building, and knew the rest of the course was exactly the route that I used to run when I lived there (and I still miss running there every time I have to run where I live now, or drive somewhere else to just run somewhere actually pleasant…)
At this point I was still gradually dropping my pace for the most part, and still feeling really good about it. I passed the 4:30 pace group and had to restrain myself from JUMPING. FOR. JOY. because HOLY. SHIT. maybe I can actually do better than my once lofty goal. I kept running, kept smiling, kept getting pumped when a new amazing song came on my playlist (actually laughed out loud when Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads came on), and generally having the time of my freaking life. It was around mile 20 that my legs first started to feel anything at all really, and it was just a general soreness in my quads, and I spent an entire month early in the year increasing mileage and having a permanent quad soreness, so that wasn’t really an issue. I had been eating 2 Shot Bloks every 6 miles or so, and upped that a little bit towards the end. I had 3 packets of Cocogo in my handheld, and still had about a third of it left by this point in the race.
Also around this point in the race, I was pretty much passing A LOT of people. One guy actually turned around, saw me, moved out of the way and said “I’m not slowing you down!” And I never really thought about it or noticed it before (mainly because I’m usually never doing it, HA!) but it’s oddly self motivating to be PASSING PEOPLE! in the last 10k of a FREAKING MARATHON! Seriously. I know I’m annoying, but I WAS SO HAPPY THE WHOLE TIME. Around mile 24, you come out to the actual Milwaukee lakefront proper, which was a bit annoying because that’s when you were hit with the wind now that there was nothing to block it, but like I said, I used to run there all the time, was used to it, and set many a 5k PR in that stupid blustery lake breeze. I just kept chugging along, passing more people, bobbing to the music. When I noticed I had a mileish left, I put away the iPod because I wanted to really try and feel and soak in the finish of the race.
It’s a truly fantastic finish. You end up running along a path through the park and people are lined up along both sides cheering. It was doubly exciting because I was still in my pass-all-the-people mode and still had a lot left to give. As soon as I saw the finish, I started sprinting (well, what passes as a sprint for me at the end of a marathon…) I noticed a lady I had passed a few hundred feet ago was coming up to pass me at the finish, so I kicked even harder (and beat her, just saying).
I realize how incredibly lucky I was to have such a fantastic race (in terms of FEELING GREAT the entire time, not like I’m some superstar with a super quick time or anything). I contribute a lot of it to the fact that I actually managed to not push myself at all in the first half. There were so, so few downsides to the race, and they weren’t even downsides. I had to keep pulling up my shorts for the first half because I loaded so many damn Bloks into that baggie that they were pulling my shorts down (until I finally ate enough that it wasn’t SO heavy anymore.) Which, even, at the time, was honestly more funny than annoying.
And there it is. It still doesn’t feel like I actually did it. Even while I was DOING it, it didn’t feel like I was doing it. It’s 100% surreal to me and if I didn’t have the stats to prove it, I’d honestly think I was lying to myself or dreaming. And now that I know what I can do with essentially NOT training for a marathon, I can’t WAIT to see what I can do next spring (because, yep, already picked out the next one.)
Garmin proof — Still so happy post race — The bling! — Negative splits, what what!