To finish a marathon, you have to respect the distance and do the training. To PR in the marathon, you have to do better training and commit to your goal.
This summer, I joined the NY Flyers Marathon Training Program again to work towards breaking 3:30. I was more determined to reach my goal after missing it by over a minute last year. I agreed to train 4 days a week (up from 3 days/wk) and only signed up for 1 race during the training period (NYRR Team Championships 5 Miler). I was tempted to sign up for other races and PR in the shorter distances, but I kept reminding myself of the real goal. I did not want to risk injuring myself before the marathon.
After the Boston Marathon this year, I developed plantar faciitis in my right foot. I took a few weeks off, but it never went away. I knew the only way it was going to go away was rest, but I decided to get treatment and run through it (Do not do this at home. Rest and let it heal!). I saw my massage therapist almost every 2-3 weeks, had my foot taped regularly, and did a lot of foot exercises. I also had to modify workouts because I figured out the shorter repetition work (200m & 400m) caused a lot of pain in my foot. Surprisingly, my foot felt better a few weeks before the marathon! It was not 100%, but it would survive the marathon.
The forecast for race day kept changing from rain to cloudy to thunderstorms. All three were bad for running a marathon, but there was nothing I could do about the weather! I could only focus on my race strategy and stay positive. I hate running in the rain, but I did not let that get to me. Instead I thought, well, if I have to pee mid race, I won’t need to go to a Porto Potty. No one will know if I pee on myself! Positive thinking despite horrible weather conditions! Negative thoughts will only bring down your race.
On race morning, Andrew and I drove to downtown Scranton and found a great parking spot 3 blocks from the finish line! It was a good start to the day until it started to rain. The bus ride was about 45 minutes so I took a nap. When I woke up at Forest City High School, it was pouring! Gah! We were greeted by cheerleaders and volunteers, but all the runners ran into the high school for shelter. Andrew and I hung out in the gymnasium and finished getting ready for the race.
Screen shot of the weather from my phone that morning……
After several trips to the porto potty and drawing on my hand, we were ready to run!
We found Coach Stephen at the start. He was pacing the 3:35 group and I told him right before the race that I did not want to see him until the finish. Maybe knowing that he was behind me the entire time gave me a little motivation to not slow down. At the sound of the boom from the cannon, we were off and running towards Scranton! I positioned myself in between the 3:25 and 3:35 pace groups. Like the Wineglass Marathon, there was no 3:30 pace group so I was on my own. I took everyone’s advice and started out very conservatively in the beginning. I let the 3:25 pace group go and let everyone pass me. It felt like the beginning of the Boston Marathon! I ran alone for the first few miles and did not waste any energy making friends along the way. By mile 8, I was running alongside this guy who was running about my pace so I decided to be friendly. His name was Dave and he was also running his first Steamtown Marathon and hoping to run 3:27-3:30. We stayed together until about mile 15 and then Dave fell back a bit. I decided at that point to try to run a little faster because I was feeling pretty good. I knew there were hills in the last 3 miles so I thought I would bank some time before hitting the hills. I hoped that taking it easy in the first half saved my quads for those hills.
The aide stations were great and well organized. There were only 14 official aide stations, which I thought was not enough given the weather conditions, but we were saved by all the unofficial water stations set up by the locals!! Thank you!! I took water bottles whenever they were available and poured water on my head to keep me cool. I poured a lot of water on my head. There were also a few sprinklers along the way, which helped as well. Needless to say, I was completely drenched by the finish.
I noticed that in 2 of my attempts to break 3:30 (Myrtle Beach & Wineglass), I had 1 mile during the race where I lost focus and ran a very slow mile, which cost me my PR. In addition to drawing the train on my hand, I wrote “SNAP OUT OF IT!!” on the inside of my wrist. I would only look at it if I got off track, but the rain and sweat washed my drawings & writings off within the first few miles! This was going to be a mental race as much as a physical race.
At mile 19, 2 female volunteers told me that I was the 27th female and that I could be in the top 25. My focus at that time was not placement, but to get to mile 20 so I could eat my last GU! You run 1 mile at a time! I was amused by the comment, but when I looked ahead, I could not see a single female runner so I did not focus on trying to catch them. I focused on keeping pace and staying cool. If they told me I was 4th female, then that would have made me run faster to try to catch 3rd place!
Mile 23 to 24 was the hardest mile because of the gradual incline and it was mile 23! Crowd support was amazing during this stretch, but it did not make my legs run any faster. I clocked an 8:29 that mile, but when I looked down at my Garmin, the total time said 3:11. I had 18 minutes to run 2.2 miles! I knew I had sub 3:30, but I also knew there was 1 more big hill at mile 25.5 so I had to continue to stay focused.
Andrew and I drove the last 2 miles of the course the day before, but all I could recognize on race day was the last 2 turns. I knew that once I made that left turn, I had 1 more right turn and the only thing between me and the finish line was “Cooper’s Hill”. There was a nice downhill leading up to Cooper’s Hill so I hammered down the hill and then gestured to the crowd to cheer louder. It helped power me up the hill and I was at the top in no time. The next half mile was a bit of a blur (literally) because I could not keep my eyes open. I pushed down the hill and gave it everything I had until I crossed that finish line. As I crossed the timing mat, I knew I had broken 3:30 and I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I started crying like I had just won the marathon. I scared all the volunteers at the finish line and they probably thought I was going to collapse at any moment. Hahah. Sorry volunteers!!
After I calmed down a bit, I was able to tell them that I was just so happy to have PR’ed! I got my foil blanket, got my medal, and took a deep breath. I looked down at my watch and was even more surprised to see that I ran faster than my predicted time! I also ended up 19th female and 3rd in my age group!
I am super proud of my PR and how I ran the race. I am proud that I never lost focus and never got negative thoughts in my head about the bad weather. It was definitely a race that required more strategy and focus. I remember when I ran 3:31 for the first time (Boston 2013), I was more relaxed, smiling, and giving out high-5’s throughout the race. Maybe I could have run a bit faster, but that was not my focus at the time. At Steamtown, I was so focused that I did not even wave or acknowledge the volunteers towards the end of the race. Sorry volunteers!! You guys were great!
I would love to go back and run the race again when the weather is better. Could I have run faster in better weather? We will have to wait and see. =)
Men’s Champion: Hillary Too 2:23:40
Women’s Champion: Lauren Liuzzo 3:09:34
Andrew’s time: 4:04:13
My Time: 3:26:53
Nutrition during the race: 5 GU Roctane’s, 12 salt tablets, 8 ounces of regular Gatorade (I carried this in a small bottle for the first 4 miles and then tossed the bottle), and lots of water! My left quad and right foot were on the verge of cramping up towards the later stages of the race, but they never did. Whew!