When 2020 started, or as my sister would say “in the before times”, my goal for this year was to see if I could run a marathon in 5 hours or less. It was a steep, but not unreasonable goal for me. My current best marathon was at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November 2019 and I ran it in 5:26 and some change – before that 5:40 (2018), before that 5:59 (2018), before that 6:10 (2017), and my first was 6:35 (2016). So a minute per mile improvement was something that I had done before and wouldn’t be impossible, but I knew it would be tough.
I planned to sign up for the Riverbank Run 25k as part of a 3 race series and use it as my benchmark. If I could do it at an 11:26 per mile pace or better, I would feel really good about my 5 hour marathon goal. If I couldn’t, I would rethink my goal.
Like I said… that was “in the before times” – the time before COVID-19. Riverbank Run was postponed to October, the same day as another race I was already signed up for (that will hopefully still happen but I am not holding my breath at this point). At first I was like, “Okay I am just going to take this time to do whatever.” So I cut back on my mileage and did more cross training. And then I had this crazy idea of doing an ultra marathon from my house for my birthday weekend. My mileage was just close enough that I could probably do it. So I started training for that. Then I changed my mind again and decided not to do the backyard ultra but since I had done the training, I might as well run the 25k on what would have been race weekend as I had planned.
I was no longer looking at it as a benchmark race, though. A 5 hour or better marathon this year is no longer my goal – at this point I just hope I get to run a marathon this year, and that I get to run some of it with my best friend, with no time goal in mind. Instead, I looked at this at home race as a redemption. I have only officially ran the distance one other time in 2016. I had trained hard and set a big goal for myself for that race but the day before that all changed and I decided to run the race with a friend of mine. I will never ever regret doing that – the race brought her and I so much closer and I loved the close to 4 hours we spent together that day. I still wanted to run it again on my own to see what I would be capable of.
Although it was not the same as running the actual race through the streets of Grand Rapids, my at home version presented its own challenges. I have been in my feelings this past week – the canceled events and not getting to do the things I planned to do have really bummed me out. I miss my family and friends so much! Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do this weekend was run a “race” without people. I chatted with my friends about it from Thursday to Saturday… everything from dreading it, to thinking I couldn’t do it, to being so sad that I would be alone. One of my friends pointed out that she thought I might have the taper crazies that I had told her about. I told her she was probably right.
Going into the weekend, I decided to run Sunday instead of Saturday because the weather forecast looked slightly more favorable. Not unlike a normal race, all day Saturday I was wondering if I had made the right decision because the forecast for Sunday was looking more and more like rain. I ate my favorite night before a race meal (cheese pizza) and went to bed early. I set my alarm for 5am with my favorite pre-race alarm song (Blurred Lines… because it starts with, “Everybody get up!” and I found that ridiculously hilarious before one of our races and it stuck. Sorry to my friends.).
That familiar song woke me at 5am, I snoozed it once, then got up and made my breakfast. My signature pre-race breakfast – a boiled egg and a bowl of Frosted Flakes. It was quiet and lonely. The race morning I had expected would have been busy, noisy, and full of laughter. But it was just me, and my cat, and my husband snoring from the bedroom. I texted my friends to let them know that the race was on and I would be starting at 7:30am, the same time the race would have started in Grand Rapids. I continued to get ready, making multiple bathroom trips because apparently even for at home races my bladder decides to never really feel empty until the gun goes off. During my last bathroom trip, I heard a really strange noise. It kind of sounded like a tree creaking from the wind and I thought, “Oh great, just what I need – wind!” The sound continued and I was doubting my initial thought, now thinking, “Wow, I have never heard my cat make that noise before.”
I grabbed what I still needed from my bedroom – my gels, water bottles and iPod. I walked to the kitchen and started filling up my water bottles. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something different about the window in my kitchen. I turned and looked, and saw that one of my friends had stopped by and used window paint to write me a message on my window. I smiled and felt an extra boost of energy to get started. It was 7:26am, so I put on my shoes… changed my mind and put on a different pair of shoes… and then headed out the door.
I stepped outside and it was cool, but sunny, and so quiet. I looked around, wondering if maybe whoever wrote the message was still there. Just me, myself, and I. I turned around and took a picture quickly of the message. It was 7:29, so I started my watch, did a few quick stretches, and at 7:30 I hit start.
I had decided that I would do 5k loops – 5 of them – so that I was always close to home in case something were to happen to me. I had LiveTrack from my watch sent out to my friends and husband so that they could see how I was doing and also would know where I was if anything were to happen. As I made my way along that first 5k route, I commented to myself what a perfect day it was. I was so glad in that moment that I had waited to run on Sunday. As I ran alone, I decided to change my original plan to run the same 5k loop 5 times, and instead I would run two different loops that were both about a 5k. Not long after I had that thought I realized that the weird sound I had heard that morning was my friend writing on my window! That thought made me smile, that someone had been “with me” as I got ready for the race.
I turned a corner not long after that thought and started to see sidewalk chalk messages. I tried not to cry – I wasn’t 100% sure they were there for me, but they sure did speak to me. I felt great, I felt strong. And not long after that I noticed a black vehicle following me… that turned out to be one of my friends! She cheered me on from my car – drove up a ways and stepped out to take some pictures. She told me I looked strong, and that message would echo in my head for the rest of my race. Before I knew it, the first loop was done and I headed into the second loop.
My friend followed me there in her car, and we both commented on how glad we were that I changed my mind about my plan and decided to run here, because it was absolutely beautiful. The sun was still shining and there were flowering trees lining the streets I ran down. She commented on how I would be getting free race pictures, and I said “Yeah this is the cheapest race I have ever done! No registration, free race pictures, it’s great! I won’t get a medal and a shirt, but that’s okay, I have enough of those.” She followed me back to my house to start my third loop and not long after that let me know she had to go but she would come back later. I thanked her and continued on my way.
Not long into that third loop, I saw another familiar car. Another friend of mine pulled into a driveway, turned around and parked, and jumped out of her car and started cheering for me. Again I felt tears coming to my eyes. I thanked her for coming out and continued running. She followed me in her car for a bit and took some more pictures. She then said she was going to run a few miles on her own (in a different location) and I told her to park at my house if she wanted to. She took off and I continued my third loop. I discovered even more sidewalk chalk messages. It started to feel more like a real race.
I passed by my house for the 3rd time and headed into my 4th loop, seeing my friend’s car parked in my driveway made me so happy. But if I’m being honest, this is where I was really starting to hurt. My shoulders and back were tense – I tried relaxing them as much as I could. I kept telling myself I only had less than a 10k to go and I could do it. I heard my friend’s words echo in my head: “You look so strong!” I kept running through the streets of the neighborhood with beautiful flowered trees. Again, I noticed a vehicle slowly following me, and then heard a familiar voice shout, “Go Megan Go!” I laughed when I recognized who it was and I thanked her for coming out to see me, then complained about how much it sucked. We talked for a couple of minutes, she took a picture to show everyone I was still alive and still running, and then she headed to work. I rode the excitement of seeing another friend for a little while, and then it started to really suck again.
As I approached my house for the 4th time, I saw my friend that had gone for her run standing in my yard taking pictures of me. She cheered me on, saying “ONLY A 5k TO GO!” and asked me if I wanted a McDonald’s Coke. I said YES! And that kept my momentum going for a while. I decided on this final loop to make sure I took pictures of all of the sidewalk chalk drawings, and I did. Two of my friends found me again, with a little less than a mile left to go.
Around this time I called my best friend – I had told her that I would FaceTime her if I was struggling, or that she could FaceTime me when she started her run, otherwise I would FaceTime her so she was “with me” at the finish. When she answered, I’m pretty sure I just said, “This sucks.” She told me she had been tracking me the whole time and that I was doing great. I turned onto the road my house is on and I could see my friends waiting there at the “finish line”. I realized I needed to make up some mileage, so I turned down another street for just a bit, complaining to my best friend the whole time. When I turned back down my street towards the finish, I said “I’m almost effing done!” and sprinted towards my friends. I had my eye on my watch and stopped it at exactly 15.53 miles. I had finished my 25k.
I chatted with my friends for a little bit – one on the phone, the other two standing at their vehicles a distance away from me. I wanted so badly to hug them or give them high fives – CORONA SUCKS MAN. But I just showed my appreciation from a distance. I headed into my house and grabbed the McDonald’s Coke from my friend and a “surprise” from my other friend. Turns out when she told me she would be back later, she went home and she made me a medal.
I talked to my best friend on FaceTime for almost another hour as she ran her miles. She got caught in the rain and had to let me go before she finished, but she rocked out her own 5 miles. I texted the friends who had been in on making this race feel like a real one – I had found out at some point during the run that a friend of mine had created a group chat yesterday afternoon and the group had planned everything out. I felt so incredibly loved. I told them, “I do not deserve friends like you.”
Although I had decided that this race would not be a benchmark race, I still had goals in mind. My A goal was of course the 5 hour marathon pace, or simply to finish the 25k in under 3 hours. My B goal was to finish at my current marathon PR pace, or about a 3:11:00 time. My C goal was to finish at 13 minute pace, about 3:20:00 and my D goal was just to get a PR… under 3:48:50. I knew that the A goal was not going to happen after the first 5k, but in my head I thought, “I still think I am capable of doing this at a 12 minute pace.”
My finish time was 3:06:21, a 12:00 minute per mile pace exactly.
It may not have been the race that I was looking forward to, but it was an incredible experience. I am so grateful for my friends who did seemingly small things to make such a big impact on my day. From the messages I got from people the days before, to the sidewalk chalk and window paint drawings, and of course the in person “drive by” cheerleaders and FaceTime with my best friend… every little bit added up to make this race more than I ever expected.
In fact I enjoyed it so much that I told my best friend, “I’m really rethinking my decision NOT to do a race on my birthday weekend. Not sure I want to do an ultra though.” She suggested a half marathon, and what do you know, my marathon training plan that I will be doing by that time calls for a 14 mile run that weekend. Backyard Birthday Half Marathon, here I come!