"Don't run away from challenges. Run over them."
~ Joan Benoit Samuelson
Other than the roadkill, our drive was relatively uneventful and we pulled into the base of Sugarloaf Mountain around 4:30pm. Side note here - Kirsten had had a minor freakout before we left because her headphones weren't working. I'd dug up an extra pair for her but we talked about potentially grabbing her another set at the expo if they were available. We walked into the lodge, picked up our bibs and shirts and then passed by the Maple Water table to head back outside. We found our Oiselle teammate, Sarah (aka @feetfailmenot), and after meeting and catching up for a bit we asked her where the rest of the expo was. What do you mean? She asked. Where's all the other vendors? I said. Um, this is it, she said. Meaning, the check-in table and the Maple Water table. So, yeah. No headphones. Or anything else, for that matter. This is right about when when Kirsten and I both started praying that we hadn't forgotten anything.
We were staying at the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel, which was connected to the lodge, so we were already where we needed to be for the rest of the evening. This couldn't have been more convenient and alleviated quite a bit of travel stress. We grabbed our bags and checked in, asking first, where the buses would be picking us up in the morning, and second whether there would be coffee available. The gal at the desk let us know that the buses would begin loading at 5:15am right outside the lobby and that there would be coffee brewing at 4:45. All was set....or so we thought. We headed up to the room and got ourselves settled in. Both Kirsten and I have had issues eating food from random restaurants the night before races so a few marathons ago we started bringing our own dinner, just to be safe. Our room had a fridge and microwave, which was fantastic as I was able to heat up my pasta for a change. We sat and ate, trying to stay as relaxed as possible, which was very difficult for both of us.
We got everything set up for the next morning and then watched the end of Good Will Hunting (great flick), finally calling it a night around 8:30. Unfortunately, I did not sleep well. The tempearture in our room was holding steady at 80 and the hotel did not have air conditioning. Normally, this wound't be an issue, but when we tried sleeping with the windows open is was too noisy, so we had to settle with a fan, which really just blew the hot air around us. I struggled to get comfortable and tossed and turned quite a bit. Then, I nearly had a heart attack when my phone alarm went off a 5:00am. I threw my stuff on and went downstairs to grab coffee. You can predict how this is going to go, right? I got out of the elevator and saw a table with cups, cream and sugar but no coffee. Several runners were standing around the lobby, clearly there for the same reason. Is the coffee coming? I asked the person next to me. She shrugged, said no one seemed to be around and that she didn't know what the deal was. SHIT. This was not good. I went back upstairs, picked up the phone and called the front desk. When will the coffee be ready? I asked. Well, he said, we had a guy scheduled to be in at 4:30 and he didn't show up so, I'm sorry, but there is no coffee yet. FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, NO!!!! Our room did have a small coffee maker so we brewed up some brown water and tried to make the best of it. I might have cried a little, too. For the record, I will never forgive the flake that didn't show up for work that morning. We gathered all of our stuff and went down to the lobby around 5:30. The buses were already lined up outside so we headed out and waited to get on the next available shuttle. We were cruising along when we suddenly heard a strange beeping noise. The driver pulled over and called the base. He told them he wasn't sure what was going on and let them know that he was going to turn around and bring us back. It was after 6:00, the race start was 7:00 and we were going back to the lodge. Again, not good. At first we were confused. Then we started to get annoyed. As the bus crept at a snail's pace back up the hill we closed our eyes and tried to take some deep breaths as there was nothing we could do but (try to) stay calm.
Caption 1: Hmmm
Caption 2: WTF??!!!
Caption 3: Breath in. Breath out.
We were let out at the hotel and stood waiting for the next shuttle, all of us clearly flustered by the situation. About 5 minutes later we were back on a new bus and headed for the start. It was now about 6:20 so this was cutting it really close. We arrived and immediately got in line for the bathroom which was at least a half a mile long. As we got closer to the front, the announcer let us know that we needed to pass our bags over to the gear check van if we wanted them at the finish, so we shed some layers and I ran them over and handed them off. He also let us know that legendary runner, Joan Benoit Samuelson, would be running with us and asked us to give her a big group cheer. Unfortunately, I couldn't really appreciate the awesomeness of this at the time. We finally got over to the start with about 10 minutes to spare; just enough time to take our traditional pre-race photo.
And then, BOOM. The gun went off. No joke. We had no idea it was coming as they gave us zero warning. Both of us still had on our throw-away layers and were not quite in start mode, so it was a bit of a shit show. Go, Bec, you need to go!!!! Kirsten said. I snapped out of it, switched into deal mode, threw my clothes off, zipped over to the line and started my watch.
After the fact, Kirsten told me I looked like the above photo when the gun blew, which I don't doubt as it was exactly how I felt. We'll be laughing about this one for a while, I'm sure. Though I sure as hell wasn't laughing at the time.
Kirsten and I had talked to several people about this course before we signed up. As you can see, it's a net down. But, you have to do some serious work in the first 10.5 miles to earn the perk. And, even still, there are some rollers in that final 16 miles, so by no means is it a gimme for a PR. That said, many of the reviews had been positive and all of them claimed it was one of the most beautiful courses out there, which, coupled with the fact that it worked with our schedules, was how we ended up choosing this one. I had two main goals for this race. First, I wanted to run a PR (sub 3:04). And second, I wanted to come in under 3 hours. Both lofty, yes. But, I had worked harder for this one than I had for any of my previous marathons, so I was ready and eager to go for it. My coach and I had discussed strategy the Friday before the race. The goal was to run between 6:45-6:55 for the majority of the race. However, he warned me not to try and hold pace during the hill section as I would suffer too much on the back side. For my last two marathons I'd gone out just a hair too fast and petered out in the final 10K. So, I was not going to let that happen again. The net-net was this - steady start for miles 1-5, stay strong in the hills, but don't push it, and then to let it fly for the final 16 miles. No problemo.
Miles 1-5 (6:55, 6:55, 6:51, 6:56, 6:54)
Aside from the hectic start, I got settled in pretty quickly. I worked to find my goal pace and then to just hold steady until the hills. The weather gods were in our favor as it was a cool, crisp morning and while I was cold for the first mile or so, I warmed up pretty quickly. I had no issues staying within range and did my best to stay calm as I mentally prepared for the next section.
Miles 6-11 (6:59, 7:02, 7:03, 7:32, 7:13, 6:45)
It's pretty clear from my splits above what was unfolding for these miles. There is no sugar coating it, it was a beast of a climb, mile 9 being the worst of it. My mistake here was that I probably played it a bit too conservatively in fear of what might happen if I overdid it. But, at the time, I was just trying to get through it successfully, so that thought didn't cross my mind.
Joan (far left) & me (the speck behind) working to keep her in sight
Mile 12-17 (6:47, 6:51, 6:47, 6:41, 6:24, 6:39)
Once I got through the hills, I knew I had to go for it if I was going to come in under 3 hours. Honestly, I'd probably already lost my shot at this point but I clearly didn't know this at the time. I had been running behind Joan Benoit Samuelson since mile 6 or so and I knew she was running a similar pace to mine, so I worked to keep her in view as much as possible. At mile 14, I pulled up beside her. She looked over and started chatting with me. And, yes, I remember every, single word.
Joan: You're looking good.
Joan: What's the time?
Me: I'm trying to break 3 hours (I thought she was asking my goal time here)
Joan: No, what's the time now? (Ohhhhh)
Me: 1 hour and 42 minutes
---> can we just pause here for a second. I still can not believe that I was chatting with Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic Gold medalist and one of the greatest female runners of our time, during the middle of my race. It's almost as if it didn't happen it was so surreal.
Joan: Okay. And what was your time at the half?
Joan: Okay, good. You can do this. You need to pick it up, though. Just start reeling people in. See that guy in the orange shirt? Go get him next. And then just keep at it until your done. At mile 17, I'm out.
Me: You're out?? You're stopping??
Joan: No. I'm but I'm meeting up with Mike. So, I won't be running this pace anymore. You're going to have to just go.
---> pause again. I don't know who Mike is. But, Joan was literally coaching me at this point. And I am border-line freaking out while trying to hold pace. See that 6:24 at mile 16. That was all Joan. At mile 17, legendary runner, Mike Westphal, who I now know about, jumped in with her and she pulled back to stick with him.
Joan: Go get that sub-3 for me.
Me: Okay! (yes, that's all I could come up with. Super lame, I know.)
Mile 18-26.2 (6:42, 6:39, 6:45, 6:45, 6:43, 6:45, 6:53, 6:39, 6:42, 6:18)
After that, my spark was lit. Joan had inspired me to fight for it and nothing was holding me back. I was digging deep into the well of my training miles now. You have to do this, Rebecca. It's time. You've worked your ass off. And Joan said so. Let's go. There were some rollers in here, the worst one at mile 24, and those were playing with my head big time. With one mile to go I was at 2 hours and 53 minutes. I needed to run 1.2 miles in less seven minutes to go under 3 hours. I knew it was close but I still thought I had a shot. My legs were toast at this point, my quads in particular from the hills. Who am I kidding? Everything hurt. I've never worked harder. And finally, I could see the finish shoot. My watch read 2:59 but I couldn't see the seconds or the clock from the race. I was giving it all I had and there was nothing more I could do but hope...pray...and cross the line.
FINAL TIME: 3:00:16
Place: 3rd Female, 1st Master (40+)
Holy rush of emotions. I was so happy to be done. And beyond thrilled with the PR. But, at the same time, I was so sad to have come that close. And once the dust settled and I found a spot in the shade to regroup, I thought to myself well, maybe it's just not meant to be. After a few minutes, I grabbed some fuel and went over to the finish to watch Kirsten come in. She ran a strong race with a killer time, though, she too was not totally satisfied with her results. But, that's her story to tell, so I'll leave it at that.
We found a spot in the sun and put our legs up on a fence post, both of us physically and mentally drained and incapable of moving or talking for a while. Eventually I got up because I wanted to find Joan and thank her for inspiring me. She was hanging out with friends over by the awards ceremony so I made my way over there. I hated to bug her but I just couldn't resist.
Me: Hey Joan. I just wanted to thank you for guiding me during those miles we ran together.
Joan: Oh, yeah. Hey. How did it go?? Did you get the sub-3.
Me: No. I missed it by 16 seconds.
Joan: Oh bummer. Sorry. Now you know how Kipchoge felt when he missed his sub-2.
Me: Yeah. I'm guessing his experience was a bit more intense. But, yes. (both of us laughing)
Joan: Well, not to worry. You'll get it next time.
We talked some more, took a pic and I thanked her again. But her last comment stuck with me as I walked away and sit here now. She didn't ask me if I was done chasing my goal. She said, with certainty, You'll get it. Joan is 60 years old and she is still out there setting new goals and breaking barriers. She ran Sugarloaf with her dear friend, Mike, to raise awareness and funds for Team Fox. This fall, she'll try and go under 3 hours at the Chicago marathon, the same race in which she ran an American record of 2:21:21 back in 1985. And regardless of the outcome, I've no doubt that she'll keep going after it, whatever "it" may be for many years to come. She's clearly nowhere near done. I'm 42 years old. I just ran my marathon PR. And, as it turns out, I'm not done either. Not even close.
1. Never assume you'll be able to get anything you might need when you arrive at a race. Bring it all. Even if you're not sure you'll need it, bring that, too.
2. ALWAYS bring your own coffee and coffee-making system. (How it has taken me 17 marathons to figure this out, I have no idea)
3. Never be afraid to go for it.
4. Never stop dreaming.
Listen to this:
As Far As I'm Concerned by Einar Stray Orchestra