“There will be days you don’t think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have.”
In the weeks and days leading up to the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, I had a lot of moments where I was not sure if I could run a marathon. Even the day of the race, during the race, I had my doubts. But I hadn’t run hundreds of miles over the last few months, shed blood, sweat and tears for nothing. I hadn’t driven across multiple state lines with four of my running friends to give up. On Saturday morning, November 9th, 2019, I was going to run a freakin’ marathon.
Part of what fueled my doubts was my training. I had tried something different that didn’t end up working out. With a little over a month to go before the race, I was feeling pain in my foot and my shin. I heard the words “It could be a stress fracture.” from a physical therapist. I made the decision to DNS Ragnar Michigan, only my second time ever not doing a race I had signed up for. I also had to decide how I was going to approach training, and if I was even going to make it to race day. I took a few days off to rest my body and to ease my mind, did a lot of soul searching with the help of my husband, and then took it one mile at a time – literally.
I found a training plan that picked up where my previous one had left off. Even though I am not a beginner marathoner, I chose a beginner training plan because I knew my body needed recovery versus hard training. My legs would remember how to run 26.2 miles. The plan had me doing timed workouts during the week (running easy for 30 minutes or doing an interval workout for a specific time) and then my long runs had mileage goals. It was different from anything I had done before but it was exactly what I needed. Besides possible injury, I was dealing with some serious burnout, and focusing on one workout at a time, not being obsessed with getting in mileage, really helped me to feel a lot better. I also was fitted for shoes that helped relieve the shin and foot pain I had been feeling. I was back on the road to the marathon.
But for some reason I still just never felt… ready. I never got that pre-race nervousness or excitement that I had felt as the big day approached for my other four marathons. I felt neutral, or maybe numb is the right way to put it. I think it was because of the ups and downs I experienced during my training. I had some huge PRs during the process and also had some big upsets. I completely changed my training. It never felt like it had a flow to it. Although my long runs were consistently good, I didn’t have a real 20 miler like I was used to, and that for some reason filled me with confusion and doubt over what I would be capable of on race day. I knew I would cover the distance, but how hard should I race? What pace should I aim for? All of these questions, all of this change had me feeling quite strange.
My biggest goal for this race was that I wanted to do it without run/walk intervals. My plan was to only walk at aid stations. I had practiced this by walking every 1-2 miles during my long runs, and I was feeling pretty good about it. My paces in my long runs were very consistent. Still, I wasn’t sure about a goal time. When people told me they thought I could get a 5:30 marathon, I was humble about it. I would say, “I’m glad you believe in me.” Deep down, I knew I was capable of at least that, and there was part of me that thought I could do even better. But I don’t like to set lofty goals because I feel like I could be setting myself up for disappointment. So I took the advice of one of my favorite runners, Meb Keflezighi, and set multiple goals – I had an A, B, C and D goal. Another piece of his advice that I took was underpromising and overdelivering. Or at least I hoped that I would overdeliver…
I stayed hydrated and carb loaded the week leading up to the race. I kept my runs easy, got a massage, and got plenty of rest. I tried not to look at the weather too much, but it’s almost impossible for me not to obsess over forecasts in the days leading up to the race. The forecast for me was looking great; I love cold-weather running. The only concern I had was that the weather forecast was predicting an almost 20° shift from when I’d start to when I’d finish. I wasn’t concerned so much about being too cold, but rather overheating at the end. The good news was that the forecast wasn’t predicting any precipitation, so I didn’t have to worry about preparing for that.
The morning that we left for the race, I was feeling so lost and unprepared. I couldn’t figure out my packing, I didn’t know if I should make a playlist for my iPod, and I had no clue what to pack to eat. I would start doing one thing, then my mind would wander off thinking about something else I needed to do, and I never felt like I got anything accomplished. Eventually thanks to the help of my friends I got all of my poop in a group and we hit the road for Indiana!
We arrived in Indy later than expected, but still had plenty of time to check out the expo before heading to dinner. The expo was great, dinner was not so great, finding out I had a splinter in my heel totally sucked and the hot tub at the hotel before bed was amazing. We talked and laughed a lot together. Our hotel beds were super comfortable and for the most part we got the best sleep we could the night before a big race.
Race morning went pretty well. Because of what happened with our dinner the night before, we didn’t end up getting me anything to eat in the morning, but I was content with going to McDonald’s and getting an Egg McMuffin. Just as we got on the freeway to head to the race I realized I had forgotten my iPod. I was really bummed because I had spent the time to put together an awesome mix for this marathon. My friends asked if I wanted to turn around and get it but I was more concerned about having enough time to get to the race, get in one last bathroom break and get to our corrals. I would have two of my friends with me for the first seven miles, plus I rarely ran with music anyway. I would survive.
After finding a nice warm bathroom for our last potty stop, we headed out to the corrals. Jenny P went to find her friend that was running the full so she could run the first seven miles with her. We gave her hugs, and Paula, Jenny K and I headed further back in the corral so that I wouldn’t start off too fast. We stood together in the corral waiting for our turn to start, frantically deciding when to take off our throw-away sweatshirts, taking selfies, and getting excited for our journey together. Before we knew it, we were off!
Somewhere within the first couple of miles of running together, we saw someone with a first time marathoner bib on. Jenny or Paula, I can’t remember which one, made a comment to the runner. She said “Reaching that finish line will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced!” My eyes welled up with tears, because she was right. It took me back to approaching that finish line at my first marathon, to crossing it and collapsing into a hug with my friend Staci. To just three weeks before at the same race as my first marathon where Paula and I crossed the half marathon finish line hand in hand, with a huge smile on my face and tears of joy in my eyes. And then later that day watching as so many first time marathoners crossed the finish lines, imagining their individual stories and what brought them there, then seeing my friends Carlos and Katelyn finishing their marathon so strong. I was barely starting this marathon and I already I was a emotional mess!
The first seven miles of the race fortunately and unfortunately flew by. The course was great – we saw a lot of downtown Indianapolis, especially several monuments (hence the name of the marathon). We hit mile six and I said to my friends, “Man you guys, we only have one more mile together!” I asked Paula to take a picture of us all together, and then to get some of me as I went to the right for the marathon/half marathon split, and they turned to the left. They both hugged me and encouraged me to keep on running. Their support meant so much to me, and I thought of them many times as I made my way on my own mile after mile.
I paid little attention to my watch during the race. I tried to just go off how my body felt. I made myself stop and walk at every aid station, even if I was feeling good, because I wanted to make sure I stayed hydrated and I wanted to make sure my legs would make it. I told myself that if I was feeling great towards the end of the race that then would be the time for me to skip aid stations and run harder. I had confidence that would happen. The miles kept ticking by, and before I knew it I was at the halfway point. I looked down at my watch and saw that it took me 2 hours and 40 minutes. My pace was getting faster most of the time, and at that moment I thought to myself, “I can do a 5:20 marathon today.”
I was confident that I would reach that goal until about mile 19. Just before then, we entered a park, and I remember thinking I wanted to ask my friend Nick (who was also doing the full) what he thought of that park. It was in the park that my left hip flexor started to tighten up. This had been an ongoing issue in the last few weeks of training for me, but usually it happened much sooner, so I thought I had avoided it during this race. I continued on trying to ignore it since at that time it was just a tightness. But before long, that tightness turned to pain, and sometimes on inclines or roads that were banked I would feel a stab that would make me wince. Those miles that had been flying by had slowed down a heck of a lot. I found myself desperate for the next aid station so that I could take a break and walk.
Something that I am very proud of is the fact that besides in the very last mile of the race, the only time I ever walked during this race was at aid stations. Sure, in the beginning I was walking a much shorter time and by the end I was really milking those aid stations, but I was still so proud of what I had done. I had never run that much, or that far, EVER in my life.
Still, I was frustrated. I watched as my 5:20 marathon time slowly disappeared. I had no idea what I would end up doing, but I still hoped I would get a 5:30 or better. My hip flexor was getting worse and worse with every passing mile. The last four miles felt longer than the first seven. I was miserable. I started to cry, started to wonder if I should just quit, started to wonder if this would be my last marathon. I said, “Why do I do this to myself? What is wrong with me? Why would I ever do another one of these? I’m done with marathons.”
But I kept chugging along. I sent texts to my friends to update them on my progress. They continued to encourage me. I am so grateful for them and their messages that kept me putting one foot in front of the other. I told them I was in pain, and they told me that I was a badass. When I saw the sign that said I had 3/4 of a mile to go, I decided to walk. I texted my friends and told them I was walking, but that I would run again when I got a half mile out. The 1/2 mile to go sign came, and I pushed myself to run again. When I hit uneven pavement, my hip flexor would send a stabbing pain. I was definitely crying now. I wanted this race to be over. My friends told me I was close now, and that they would see me soon. They told me they would be on my right side, so I moved my way to that side of the road.
I turned the last corner and I saw the finish line up ahead of me. I was ugly crying. There were so many emotions going through my head. I was so damn proud of myself for what I had done, I was disappointed that I didn’t do better, I was mad at myself for being disappointed because DUDE I was going to get a huge PR and I ran MOST of the marathon, I was so proud of and thankful for my friends. As I saw photographers my face changed from crying to smiling, thumbs up and fists in the air. I heard my friends cheering for me and then I saw them, and tears of joy were running down my face. I finished that race the strongest that I could, and sobbed as I hobbled through the finishing chute. Someone put a heat shield around my shoulders, and someone else put my medal around my neck congratulating me. He asked how the race was, and I laughed, cried, and said, “Pretty good I guess.” I was just a huge emotional mess. People handed me snacks like chips, a cookie and chocolate milk. I got my nice knit hat. As I approached the end of the chute, I looked for my friends, and saw them looking for me. I reached them and hugged them tightly, still crying, but also laughing and smiling.
It took me a few days to be able to put all of these words together, and even now I wonder if I am doing it justice. I felt so strange going into this race, and so many mixed emotions coming out of it. At the end of the day, I had an amazing time with some incredible friends, and I did some things I never thought I would do. I ran the marathon without run/walk intervals and I finished in less than 5 1/2 hours. My current official time is 5:26:04, a 14 minute and 19 second personal record, and 1 hour, 8 minutes and 53 seconds faster than my first marathon 3 years ago.
So what’s next? During the race, I swore this might be my last marathon. Now that it has been a couple of days I can tell you that it won’t be. I have my sights set on Grand Rapids 2020 and achieving an even better time, and being able to run with my friend Paula. I hope that both of us are able to run the race without getting injured and that we can really enjoy it. And to get there, I am going to focus on strength and flexibility this year, rather than running all the time. I am going to run less races and really focus my attention on the big ones. I sure learned a lot from this experience and overall it was a really positive one. I look forward to applying what I’ve learned and continuing my progress.
And what did I think of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon as an event? Well, I loved it! The course really was mostly flat. It was interesting, with lots of landmarks to look at, as well as lots of course support. There were plenty of aid stations and the volunteers were amazing. The swag was pretty good (although I wasn’t a fan of the design of the race shirt and I wished it had been long sleeved). The only negative I noticed was that there were very few corrals for a whole lot of people. I think splitting them up more would have helped. Otherwise it was an awesome event that I would definitely do again.