Every strike brings me closer to the next homerun.”
I really like that quote because one can apply it to many areas of life. We live in a culture that tries to define us by our failures. I’ve also heard it said that “failure isn’t fatal, not trying is.” Don’t know who said it, but I like it too. There is no shame in failure and it really depends on the context that failure is applied anyhow.
When I first started running, a marathon was a pipe dream. Sure, it sounded nice (gag) but in my mind, that was for people who had been running a really long time. After four years of running 5ks and a couple of half marathons, I decided to give it a whirl and start training for my first marathon. To be quite honest, I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t take it as serious as I should have. I hadn’t grasped the concept of all the different training runs that one needed to do to succeed. I really didn’t have a time goal for that first one, so I decided to go with the 4:40 pace team, thinking that was a reasonable target. Due to my lack of structured training & (ignorance) of running shoes, I finished that first one in 5:17 and some seconds. I lost the pace team at mile 15 after I stepped into a chug hole and my knee started throbbing. I had had IT band problems the entire training time by doing too much, too soon and not being consistent. Needless to say, I hobbled through the finish line, but I was determined that I would finish, even if I crawled. But that was then, and this isn’t about that race.
Through many miles, buckets of sweat, injuries, tears, black toenails, and determination, I managed to do three more marathons. The fourth was one I described a few blogs back that was strictly for training purposes. I decided to set my sights on qualifying for Boston. I was originally going to run the Leading Ladies Marathon last summer but injured my right leg while landscaping. Thank goodness, it is one of the few that lets you transfer your money to the next year secondary to unforeseen circumstances. After running my third marathon November 2013 in Tulsa, OK (which I was just running for fun and was the COLDEST ever), I decided to get really serious with my training. I took three days off after that marathon and plotted my strategy. I’ve always sought to stay 5k ready, so I ran short distances outside and on the treadmill when the weather was bad.
I discovered a group on Twitter called #runchat that is a supportive, inspirational group for runners. It was through that group that I hooked up with a running coach who raised the bar for me and helped start me on my journey to success. I was with him for three months (virtually). He gave me my training plans and I sent him my results. It was great for accountability. There is no way I was going to fake a training session because I would just be cheating myself. It was around the end of this time with my coach that I met and got to run with Jeff Galloway and pick his brain for 3.1 miles. He uses the run/walk method in his training and I started incorporating that into my long runs. I also bought his book on how to qualify for Boston and got serious with speed work, hill repeats, intervals, cross training, and strengthening my core. I ran a half marathon in April barely under two hours as the last four miles was a torrential downpour and pea sized hail. It was awful and glorious all at the same time. I decided in my head at that time that no matter what it took, I was going to target and achieve a Boston qualifying time at the race in August. This is a recap of that journey. I apologize ahead of time that this may seem lengthy, but will try to keep it light with speckles of humor.
Friday, August 15, 2014, 0230: Alarm goes off- I try to remember why any sane person would get up that up this early on a non-working day. My foggy brain remembers and says to me, “Oh yeah, an eleven hour drive to run a marathon.” Stumbling through the dark, I make my way to the kitchen for that delightful dark liquid that is filled with caffeine. I suck it down and mentally go over what I need to finish packing as I had done most of it the night before. After deciding that all essentials are accounted for, I pack the Jeep and away I go.
0420: Arrive at my oldest son’s home. He is sitting on his front porch half asleep. He loads his stuff up, we look at the map, set the Garmin and head out. I don’t know who had the worst bladder problems, but we managed to stop two times in two hours before we even got out of Missouri. Caffeine was not helping that situation.
Drive, drive, drive…hello Iowa, goodbye Iowa. Hello Interstate 90 and South Dakota…ALL the was ACROSS South Dakota. My hips hurt, my butt hurt. One can only transfer weight so many times! Good golly gas started getting expensive! We were humored by some of the signs we saw and by some of the items for sale in the gas stations. I started wondering if maybe this sign was for runners given the fact that we are prone to black toenails:
After making a pit stop in Sturgis (where gas was $3.89/gallon), we visited the world famous “Full Throttle Saloon” for some of those “touristy type” photos:
5:00pm: We finally arrived at our destination- Spearfish, S. Dakota, and drug our travel weary bodies into the hotel. I found the expo down the hall- a really small, but well equipped one. Expos are dangerous places for me to be. It’s the adult equivalent of Toys-R-Us-“Why yes, give me one of each please!” One thing I will always purchase is a book by the speaker or in this case the race director. She (Dr. Elaine Doll-Dunn) is an amazing lady and has been running since 1978 at the then age of 40. Makes me feel really good that I was only a few years older than that when I started running. I also purchased some Zensah arm sleeves, something I have been wanting to try for a long time. I know they say “nothing new on race day,” but those are something I could shed and tuck into my Spi-belt if needed. They proved to be a wonderful addition to my running attire as my arms did not get near as fatigued as usual. The check in process was well organized. I picked up my bib, my tech shirt and a timing device that you Velcro around your ankle. That was a first. After that I called it a night.
Saturday, August 16: I toyed with the idea of a shake out run, but decided we would be doing a lot of walking and hiking so I scrapped that idea. We had a whirlwind of a day driving through the Black Hills National Forest, hiking up to Roughneck Falls and back, going to Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore and finally Needles Highway. If you’ve never been to the Black Hills, it is a must see with it’s indescribable beauty and tranquility. Needles Highway is phenomenal.
8:30pm: Finally arrive back to hotel. I decided to go for a swim and relax in the hot tub for a bit. My son had gone to call his girlfriend and I thought he would be back before I was done. Oh contraire, he was gone a LONG time and the pool filled up with kids and the hot tub got- well, hot and I was ready to go to bed. Since I thought my son would be back, I didn’t take my key/card with me. It’s such a lovely feeling to have to go up to the front desk, dripping wet, in your swimsuit, to ask for a spare key…awkward! I got in the room, laid all my race gear neatly out, set the alarms, and went to bed. It was 10:30pm. The shuttle to the top of the canyon was to pick runners up at 0400.
Sunday, August 15-Race Day 0230:-alarm goes off, and I jumped with a start…this is it! I got up, fixed the coffee, ate some oatmeal with a little peanut butter, got dressed, and relaxed a little. My biggest decision (which was a race day change) was to wear my Brooks instead of my Hokas. I’ve always worn the Hokas for long runs, but since this was going to have some steep downhills, I didn’t want any surprises and I knew the Brooks would give me the kick I needed at the end. Nice surprise to get a text of well wishes from a runchat friend. It’s the little things. I told my son goodbye (he was sound asleep), told him not to forget my purse when he drove out to the finish (and that he would look good carrying it), and I made my way to the lobby.
0355: The lobby is filled with runners-females. The Leading Ladies Marathon is an all woman race and is in it’s tenth year. This will be just one of the firsts that I encountered. The shuttle (bus) was right on time and we filed in. I sat up front behind the driver and a pleasant, VERY talkative lady sat next to me. I guessed her to be in her late 60s, maybe early 70s. She stated that this was her “two- hundredth something” marathon. She had a litany of physical ailments she had overcome and her constant chatter kept me from thinking too much about the race. It was pitch black out, so she also kept me awake. It was about an hour drive to the top of the canyon in Lead, S. Dakota.
0515: We finally get to the top and all I have on my mind is “where is the bathroom?” The temp was in the 50s which was nice, but when you’ve got to pee, it makes it even worse.
WARNING: PORTA- POTTIES CAN BE PROBLEMATIC (especially in the pitch dark). Get ready folks, I’m about to keep it real! So there were five porta-potties all lined nicely against the parking lot. Of course, everyone had to use the facilities. That is another reason I sit up front-first one off. Yay me-I was first in line to the first modern outhouse. Disclosure: I NEVER sit on public toilets-I either hover or use the little paper saddles. Well, you know how uncomfortable/confined/ergonomically incorrect those things can be-especially in the dark! I started to hover, and then, thought heck with it, they’re probably sparkling clean and put out here just for this race, so I sat down. Oh sweet release! Wait a minute-why is the floor getting wet? Oh holy mother of pearl the lid is down! I WAS SITTING (AND PEEING) ON THE FRIGGIN’ LID! Thankfully the vertical john was slanted a bit and nothing got on my clothes. So now here I was (in the dark) trying to grab toilet paper and wipe up the seat and the floor. I managed to “gitt’er done” and no one was the wiser. So now it is our little secret so don’t you tell.
I exited that johnny room with my best poker face. “Please God, I thought, don’t let this be an omen for the rest of the race!” I hopped back on the bus and managed to use the facilities one more time (without mishap) before the start of the race.
0550: I had contemplated before this race, that I might run with a pace team again. I hadn’t done that since the first marathon and thought that would be a good way to keep me from “firing out of the gate” and using up all of my energy. Since this was a small race, there was a 4:00, a 4:30 and a 3:45 pacer, but no 3:55 which is what I wanted. So I decided to run with the 4:00 pacer and forge ahead toward the end when I needed to. The leader was a very nice girl who volunteered to be the 4:00 pacer since they didn’t have one when originally she was suppose to do the 4:30. A funny story about the 3:45 pacer- it was a “he” who signed up for the race not knowing it was all women. Since he had already paid, they let him be a pacer! ,
0600: The horn blared and we were off. Our little 4:00 group consisted of two nurses of which I was one, a med student, a pharmacy student, and an occupational therapist. How coincidental is that? It was nice chatting at the start and finding out where everyone was from. The first mile was up “Cyclone Hill” on mostly gravel/chat. Everyone had warned me about the effects of the thin air (at 6000 ft), but truthfully, this was the only time I felt it when starting up that hill. Mile one- 9:57 pace. “This is great,” I thought to myself, “I didn’t take off like my butt was on fire.” Over the hill, there was a sharp down hill. Mile two 9:05 pace, mile three 9:06 pace. After mile three, I stayed under a nine minute pace until mile 12.
Somewhere around mile six, the pace leader hollered at me (I was a bit up ahead) and stated that we were under pace and had some making up to do. It was then that I decided to go it alone. I thought if I could at least keep the 3:45 pacer in sight, I would be okay. Mile 6-7, I passed a much younger girl who seemed to be struggling a bit. We chatted for awhile and I downed my first GU-a little late as I had intended to take one in every 5 miles and a salt capsule every hour. No big deal, I was feeling on top of the world.
From about mile nine until mile 11, I was pretty much alone. There aren’t words to describe how beautiful Spearfish Canyon is especially at that time of morning . The mountain air was cool and fresh and the streams and creeks were flowing from the falls. It was nature sounds in it’s purest form. I felt a glimpse of what the Native Americans describe as, “A harmonious interaction between the body and the environment.” That is one reason that I do not run with music. For one, I do not want to get used to it and then something happen and not have it. I also like to be aware of my surroundings for safety, and in this case -to take it all in.
The rock formations are Deadwood Shale, Englewood limestone, and Paha Sapa limestone. “Paha Sapa” is the Native American name for “Black Hills” so named because from afar, the numerous Ponderosa Pines look black. Spearfish Canyon is said to be twelve times more ancient than the Grand Canyon.
I can’t tell you how many people doubted me that this race was a Boston certified qualifying race because it is mostly “downhill.” That is a misconception. Yes, it is down the canyon, but the twists and turns make it a little rough on the knees, especially the right knee because it is getting more of the friction from the curves. Downhill also shreds your quads. I would venture to say that it is harder than running on a flat surface (which none ever truly are). Also, WHY would I lie about it? Better yet, why would the website lie about it? If the Boston Athletic Association deems it a qualifier…then it’s a qualifier!
Mile eleven took us into “Little” Spearfish Canyon where there is a lodge and a 7/10 mile jaunt up the hill that leads to Roughneck Falls. I was SO glad that I had ran up the steep hill in my hometown in preparation for this hill (see it’s NOT all downhill)! The almost halfway point, PLUS the fact that the surface was gravel, gave the phrase “dig deep” new meaning. Since it was an up and back I got to hit the aid station that was there twice. Good thing, because it seemed like there wasn’t another one until mile 15. Mile 12 pace-9:38 (last time over 9:00 pace until mile 19).
Mile 13 came and went and before I knew it, I was halfway done. The outer part of the right knee started to twinge a bit, but due to the fact that I was wearing my Brooks, my left “great” toe started to hurt too as it was taking the brunt of the weight on the curves. Oh well, I guess I’ll end up losing that toenail too. Small price to pay and it kept me from obsessing over my knee. The knee pain was truly transient, for which I was grateful. I looked at my Garmin, and I was hitting the splits with some to spare.
Mile 14.5 -well meaning spectators yell, “Only ten more miles, and it’s all down hill.” If my math skills serve me correctly, I KNEW I had 11.5 miles left PLUS 385 yards! But I was glad that he told me it was all down hill, lol. It was at mile 16 that I started playing the mental games with myself. “Okay, ten more miles…that’s like two 5 mile loops at home and a sprint to the car…easy breezy!” I was also mostly alone again so I played this game of catching up to each one that was just ahead of me. I had been freaked out about bears the whole trip and certainly didn’t want to meet one. The closest I came to one was a stuffed one in a glass case and that was close enough!
Mile 17, I passed a girl who was going for 3:30 time. She was puking on the side of the road-poor girl. My “catch the runner” game continued. Mile 19, I struck up a conversation with a runner and asked if she was on target for her goal. “I have no idea,” she said…random. I caught up to another who stated that she was having terrible stomach cramps. I chatted with her awhile and tried to encourage her. Mile 19 pace-9:13, I would hit over a nine minute pace only once more at mile 25.
Mile 20 with a 10k to go. Legs are getting a little weary, but not too bad. I sucked down my final GU. Where in the world is the water hole? I NEED WATER! Starting to get a little cranky as I keep looking at my Garmin. Doubt crept in, but just a little. I thought of all the hard work I had put into preparing for this day. I thought about all of the people who believed in me and encouraged me -who had faith in me when I didn’t have faith in myself. I thought of Bart Yasso and how he lives with pain 24/7 from Lyme disease and how he told me in a text, “I know you can do it…hope to see you in Boston.” I even thought about the naysayers and how cutting them out of my life has been the BEST decision that I have ever made and how their doubt and cruelty and bullying only served as fuel to ignite my passion to be a champion. Then I got angry-angry at myself for even allowing doubt to creep in knowing full well that this was MY day, this was MY time and that I KNEW that deep down in the fiber of my being. I had no expectations to live up to except my own, and I EXPECTED to be a winner this day. Okay, it was time to channel Katy Perry and ROAR…eye of the tiger…go from ZERO to my own HERO!
Mile 23-8:56 pace, a 5k to go. I passed a few more walkers and told them to hang tough and that it was all mental from here. I looked at my Garmin, did the math in my head and knew that if I could just maintain at least a 9:00 pace I would still finish under 4 hours, hopefully 3:58 or under. Mile 24-8:51 pace. On a straight away now and headed toward the park. Mile 25-9:02 pace. Someone shouted “Fourteen minutes!” I thought to myself, “what did that mean?” Last mile- time to give it that last push, “Feet don’t fail me now!” Why does the last mile seem the longest and THEN there is yet 385 yards! Mile 26-8:52 pace. I was in the park -up and over a bridge and there it was in sight-the FINISH line! No one word that stands alone is so meaningful at that moment. Last push-DONE! Final official time 3:54:08. (8:57 pace) 25/126 overall, 6/18 division. What a glorious feeling…no words.
Ladies, this is a must do race. I hope to come back sometime and just run it for the pure beauty of it all without being concerned about the time. Well organized, plenty of aid stations, nice medal and tech shirt. I promise you won’t regret it.
“When you get really clear and honest about what you want, everything in the universe conspires to help you get it”.
Until we meet again,