In the weeks leading up to the 3 Bridges Marathon I was confident and sure that this was going to be my best marathon to date. I’d had a strong training cycle with my highest and most consistent mileage. I was running my best workout times and my tune-up races were right where I wanted them to be. I knew the race course well (my first sub 3 was at 3 Bridges) and both times I’d run it the weather was in the 30’s & 40’s. I could just picture the finish line clock reading a 2:56 or 2:55. Everything was coming together for the perfect race. What could possibly go wrong?
Monday (5 days before 3B26) I was ready for it. Race week was here and reading my coach’s email had me so excited. I felt like a kid right before Christmas. The extended weather forecast wasn’t ideal and I saw that the high that day might get to 70 but the night before would be in the 40’s/ low 50’s so I just knew we would be fine Saturday morning. Tuesday (4 days before 3B26) I woke up with a sore throat. It hurt when I swallowed and my glands were a little swollen. I drank water all day and was determined this was just a little bump in the road. I would be fine. Saturday was still 4 days away. Wednesday (3 days before 3B26) my sore throat was gone but now my ears were popping and I was having head pressure/ constant headache. I knew it was some type of sinus issue and at this point doubt starting to set it. Thursday (2 days before 3B26) I went on a short shakeout run that ended in frustration and tears. I felt about the same as Wednesday and I wasn’t sure if Saturday was going to happen. John immediately calmed me down and told me to take the rest of the day to rest and relax. He assured me I’d feel better if I did. So I took the day off work and laid in bed the entire day. I actually started looking online for replacement marathons but I knew anything later would cut into Little Rock Marathon training so a different marathon wasn’t going to be possible. I thought about skipping a marathon all together and finding a good half but there really weren’t many options- especially not locally. It was either run 3B26 or nothing at all. Thursday night I went to bed having decided if I felt better Friday I would race Saturday. Friday (1 day before 3B26) I woke up feeling a lot better. The ear popping was gone and the head pressure was much better. I wasn’t 100% but I was definitely on the mend and I knew if I had another restful day I’d improve even more with one more night’s sleep.
Leading up to Friday I had been watching the weather like crazy and it seemed unreal that it was predicted to be in the 60’s and 70’s. How could it possibly get that warm? Every morning had been in the 20-30 degree range. The worst thing about running a marathon in warm weather was that I had done ZERO training in the heat in the 6-8 weeks leading up to the race. Had I run in this weather anytime from June- September I would have been much more acclimated. I went back and forth to John and told my coach, my family, and close friends that I wasn’t sure about the race. What was the point in racing it when I knew I couldn’t run my best time? Every race has a purpose- some I’ve used as training runs, others for Grand Prix individual or team points. This was my goal race and I had planned to go for time. I don’t even like racing half marathons in those temps so I was really worried about doing a full marathon when I wasn’t acclimated to warmer weather. John reminded me I could do hard things. He reminded me that our kids and others look up to me and if I only raced when things were going my way then what kind of example was that? He was right. Once I was feeling better the main thing making me question racing was my pride. Pride that I wanted a fast marathon time and I knew a marathon in these conditions was not going to give me that. I had to get over it. It can’t always be about the time on the clock.
Race Day- Saturday
I woke up at 4:40 race day morning and for a second I debated, should I still do this? I looked at the weather (already 64 degrees) but got out of bed. This was the race I’d been training for the past 4 months. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, in fact it could easily turn into a train wreck of a race but it was still MY race and I wasn’t going to let the weather, a recent illness, or my pride stop me from running it.
By the time we had all the kids loaded in the van it was 5:15. There was definitely a little pressure added with having the whole family come out to cheer. I couldn’t let them down and I couldn’t drop out of the race. My kids were going to see me finish this thing. I met my friend and coaching client Amy at the race. I picked up my race bib, chip, and shirt there. There was plenty of time for multiple bathroom stops and then put my bag in the race drop-off truck. I had no idea how this race was going to go but as I stood at the starting line I prayed that God would give me enough strength to finish with no regrets.
The Race: Miles 1- 13.1
If you would have asked me my 3B26 marathon pacing plan at anytime in the past couple months I would have said 6:35-6:45. In Chicago my watch averaged a 6:43 and I was in better shape than Chicago. However, everything changed the week of the marathon and due to my recent illness and race weather I knew I’d have to adjust my goal pace considerably. My coach had warned me that the first half would feel easy but by the second half the heat would catch up to me so I’d have to think positive and go by effort. I planned on pacing around 6:55-7:00 for the first 18-20 miles and then if possible I could pick it up. I really had no idea how my body would respond but I knew things could get ugly fast. Whenever I would start to doubt I would remind myself that I was ready for this. I was in the best running shape of my life so if I had to run a marathon in these conditions this was the best time to do it. That was my logic anyway.
Within the first mile I had settled into the position of first female and fourth overall. The second place female was pacing right behind me. I’d raced against her a few times times before and she’s always finished in front of me. In addition to being a strong athlete she’s always been kind and humble. This was her first marathon so she was using me as the pacer and running one second behind me (which was exactly what I would have done had the tables been reversed).
I just got in the zone and tried to knock out miles. We were averaging just under a 7:00 min pace and it felt effortless which is what I wanted at this point in the race. Around mile 3 or 4 we caught up to the third place male. He was running our pace so I stayed behind him. It helped when I was able to follow him so I didn’t have to think about course navigation or anything like that.
Around mile 8 his breathing was getting heavier and I knew my time pacing behind him was coming to an end. By mile 9 I had the lead and the two of them were following me. John and the kids were at mile 9 just before going over the Clinton bridge. It was so good to see them and I wanted John to know I was feeling good.
After we crossed the Clinton Presidential Bridge we rounded the cul de sac and turned around. Then it was time to go back over the bridge.
I saw John and the kids again at the bottom of the bridge and I knew I’d see them somewhere between 14-16.
My next race goal was to get to the half marathon point. I was still feeling good at the half but knew going sub 3 was not going to happen. I crossed the half in 1:31:18. (2nd place female was still right behind me at 1:31:20.) First 13 mile splits: 7:02, 6:58, 6:56, 6:58, 6:53, 6:53, 6:49, 6:52, 6:53, 7:04, 7:03, 6:58, 6:56.
The Race: 13.1- 26.2
The second of the marathon was a completely different race. Erika, who had been pacing right behind me fell back and for the first time the entire race I was on my own. I saw John and the kids again around mile 14.
I tried to hold onto my pace but by the time I reached the Big Dam Bridge (mile 17) reality was setting in and the heat and mileage was catching up to me. This section has the biggest incline of the entire race- right before mile 18. I passed the second place guy at the beginning of the bridge. I had no idea how much of a lead I had as first female but I had to get over the bridge.
I focused on getting to the next checkpoint which was at mile 19 when the race crosses back over the start/ finish area. I knew I’d see John, the kids, my sisters, and my parents there. The bridge really took it out of me and I had my slowest mile. By the time I made it to John at mile 19 he could tell I was pretty worn out.
Next up was the hardest section of the course. It’s when you cross over the Two Rivers Bridge and head into Two Rivers Park for a big 10k loop. The run itself is very flat but there are many isolated sections and every time I’ve run it I’ve been alone and in that dark place you go to towards the end of the marathon. Of the three times I’ve run this marathon this was the worst I ever felt going into this section. I was wishing I could fast forward the next 40-45 minutes of my life because I knew it was going to be extremely challenging. My pace goal went from 7’s to 7:15’s and by the time I entered Two Rivers Park I was holding onto to 7:30’s.
Up until this point I’d had a gel at miles: 5, 10, 15, and 20. I was also rotating water and gatorade every mile or two. I wasn’t getting enough to drink though and it was catching up to me. I misread my watch at mile 22 and thought it said 23. For the next mile I was thinking I could do it, I was almost done, and I started counting down the laps in my head. Then my watch beeped and I read 23. I had misread it the first time. I still had over a 5k left to run! The last 5k seemed to be moving in slow motion. At a few of the turns I would glance back to see how much of a lead I had and I couldn’t see Erika but I knew better than to assume I had the win. I had to keep pushing because she could come up from behind me at any moment and I did not want to lead this long and lose it in the final minutes of the race.
Around mile 25 I started feeling some chills and I was not sweating at all. My calf muscles began locking up and I had to shake them. This started happening more frequently and I wondered if I was going to be able to finish. I remember praying to God that if He would just help me get to the finish line then I didn’t care what my legs did. I hit mile 26 right before going over the bridge for the last time. This was it! Less than 3 minutes of running to go!
I heard my parents and sisters cheering. I saw the finish line and I saw John. I made it!
Official Finish Time: 3:08:33. 1st female and 2nd OA. Official Results can be found here. Last 13 mile splits: 6:53, 7:03, 7:08, 7:05, 7:36 (Biggest bridge climb), 7:19, 7:16, 7:30, 7:38, 7:28, 7:46, 7:35, 7:44, 7:33 avg. pace for last .32.
After I crossed the line I made my way over to John and as soon as he held me my legs went limp. I only wanted to lay down. The next thing I remember they were taking me to the medical ambulance they had set up for race participants. The overall male winner was also receiving medical attention. In all my years of racing I’ve never had to receive any kind of medical aid so I really can’t compare this to anything. I stayed there for about 45 minutes while they started me on IV fluids and I tried to drink and eat something. I felt a lot better after this. I was able to meet up with Erika and then my client Amy.
Post Race Thoughts
The 3 Bridges Marathon went nothing like the way I had envisioned but I’m so glad I followed through and did it. I worked so hard for that finish and learned more from this experience than any marathon I’ve done. When it comes to racing you can put in all the right training and find the right course but there will always be things that are out of your control. When something doesn’t go your way to you give up or back down? Or do you decide to try anyway, knowing that it won’t be what you wanted but it will be your best?
I actually don’t have any races planned for over a month. It’s been a while since that’s happened! I’m taking some time off and resting up before I begin a shortened training cycle for the Little Rock Marathon in March and the Boston Marathon in April. 2016 was an amazing year in so many ways. I am thankful, content, and also hopeful for 2017.