Time: 3 hours, 39 minutes, 37 seconds. 90th girl out of 2610?! BQ by 23 seconds.
Way back in January, the opportunity to be a charity runner at the San Diego Marathon – fully sponsored, flight and hotel expenses paid – came up through my work. I had to weigh the perks (free trip to and 26.2 mile foot tour of San Diego, where I’ve never been) with the downers (running a road marathon in June, which didn’t really fit in with my 100-miler training, plus massive, crowded road marathons exhaust me for reasons having nothing to do with running, and if I was going to try another Boston Qualifying marathon, San Diego would be a risky pick due to its hills and potential for hot weather).
In the end, the perks won out. I still have some residual road speed from the Hyannis Marathon (an event which, in retrospect, has grown in my mind to become a debacle because I missed my Boston Qualifying time by 4 and a half minutes), but the bulk of my training since March has been slow trail runs with endless hill repeats. Like:
The five-hour plane ride to San Diego was deeply uncomfortable. I flew United economy… and I was in a middle seat. The definition of hell. Thankfully, I was flanked by normal-sized people who were considerate with the arm rests. I alternately worked on work stuff (release notes) and read Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It, a book about the psychological side of endurance sports. It was fascinating, inspiring stuff.
“Mind is everything. Muscle – pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.” –Paavo Normi, Finnish Runner
As a city, San Diego seemed to me like a cross between San Francisco and Phoenix. I grabbed a shuttle to my (all expenses paid) hotel, which was smack in the downtown.
From there I walked roughly a mile to the Convention Center to pick up my bib. Let me say, I’ve been to Race Expos before… but this was by far the best. Sure, it was crowded and exhausting, but pretty much every exhibitor offered free samples. I mean, that’s what an Expo is about– free samples! (Special kudos to Honey Stinger for their buffet of broken up pieces of Honey Stingers.)
I walked through the Gaslamp District back to the hotel. It seemed like a lot of upper-class chain stores mixed in with restaurants and breweries. The sun was hot.
I stopped at a tourist shop and bought tchotchkes for Little Boy and Mr. P. Back at the hotel, I watched this crazy Animal Planet show called “My Cat From Hell.” I rolled out my calfs with a lacrosse ball and bidded my time until the charity run’s pasta dinner. I didn’t eat much pasta. Jet-lagged, I fell asleep at 8pm and woke up at 3:30am. Walked about 1.5 miles to the start line.
What a scene! Over 20,000 runners. Madness. There were about 30 corrals and I was starting in corral 5 (based on my estimated finishing time of 3:40 — which is the qualifying time for the Boston Marathon for women my age). I noticed I was in the same coral as the 3:40 pace group, which was led by a very small young man who looked like he could easily do 2:40. I was tempted to run with the pace group but I decided I wanted to run my own race and see where that would take me.
The race started. I clicked off 8-minute miles, one after another. I felt strong and relaxed, even on the hills. My breath was not only conversational, it was oratorial. Mind is everything. Muscle – pieces of rubber.
Another nugget of wisdom I gleamed from How Bad Do You Want It is that, during an endurance sport event, it is counterproductive to focus on the goal. For one thing, it produces cognitive overhead, which has been proven to reduce physical performance. Related and more importantly, it prevents athletes from getting into the flow. I was flowing from miles 1 to 18. Most miles were right around 8:00/mile
The hard part started around mile 18. It wasn’t a surprise. I was getting hot; all my clothes were already soaked with sweat. My breathing was no longer relaxed. I was drinking at every water stop and had a major side stitch from all the water consumption paired with vigorous body movement. And I began to feel on the verge of dizzy. My pace slowed to around 8:20/mile, but it was still okay for my BQ.
I actually had little idea of what my total time was. The clock time at every mile had started when the elites in Corral 1 started; I figured Corral 5 started about 5 minutes back, but I wasn’t sure. And my watch simply gave me the total distance and my current pace. So I knew I was hovering around 3:40. But I still hadn’t seen the 3:40 pace group.
The 2-mile long hill at mile 22 was hell. I was at a 10-minute mile, trudging, spent. Still, I had built in enough of a buffer to stay on pace.
At the crest of the hill, I willed my pieces of rubber to move. Downhill. It’s just 2 miles.
Just before mile 26, the 3:40 pacer guy screamed past me, flanked by 2-3 guys. I couldn’t believe it. I sped up to hold pace with the group, then looked at my watch: 7:30/mile. What kind of a pacer is this? Finishing a 3:40 marathon at a 7:30 pace?!? I fought to keep up. Beside us, separated by cones, the half marathoners were finishing, mostly at a leisurely 11 or 12 minute mile pace.
I checked my watch: Indeed, a 7:30 pace. The finish line neared. I crossed it. Relief.
Not knowing my exact finishing time, I passed through the gauntlet of medals, food, beverages. I grabbed my cell phone and checked my texts. I knew Mr. P was getting texts about my progress, and would send me my results…
“Nice BQ. See you in Boston.”
I had BQ-ed by 23 seconds! It might not be enough to actually qualify me for the Boston Marathon, but that is secondary.
For almost 10 years, I have been telling people I would never do Boston because I was too slow.
I thought it would never be achievable… not because I tried and failed, but because I never tried. Because I never tried to be fast. Because I thought “fast” was something you were born. Why would a ungainly ex-smoker, ex-overweight book worm like myself ever be able to qualify for one of the most prestigious amateur sports events in America?
I finished in the top 10% overall, top 5% girls. I was pleased. Thank you, San Diego… thanks to the charity I ran for… thanks to Mr. P and Little Boy for all the inspiration you give me… thanks Keith Richards for the guitar intro to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and Lil Wayne for the entirety of “A Milli”… thanks to Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It, which primed and awakened my mind for the task at hand.