I didn’t PR… but I WON that race

I ran the Carmel Marathon one week ago.  I can’t say enough good things about the race. It was very well organized.  Water stops were well run.  The course was beautiful and a great mix of on the road and city trails.  And to top it off, only a 200 foot elevation change throughout the entire course!
As I sat down to write this race recap, I looked back at my last post before the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon in October and I had to chuckle.  I wrote that I was going into that race with a different mindset, but knowing what I know now and having trained for the Carmel Marathon differently, I know that I went into my fall marathon already beat.
As I was training for this marathon, I read How Bad Do You Want It by Matt Fitzgerald. Honestly, this was a game changer for me.  I realized that by setting my goal so narrow and tying my performance to a specific goal time, I was defeating myself before I even got to the first mile.  The past 2 years I have struggled to enjoy race day.  With so many factors outside of my control on race day, anything that affected the chance of me running my goal time deflated my spirits and left me feeling like a loser, for a lack of a better way to describe it.  I was self-sabotaging!  So, a few weeks before this marathon, I decided my goal was to run strong.  To beat down those mental monkeys that had been following me.  The rest would follow.
Race week, I was surprisingly calm and in a great mood.  I felt great.  I was confident in my training.  I felt strong- for maybe the first time ever- heading into the marathon.  My coach suggested that I think of it as another long run.  I love long runs!  So, with that mentality, I was excited to lace up on Saturday morning and run relaxed.  I knew the key would be stay relaxed and remain confident in what my ability was on that given day.
Race morning.  I woke up and finished reading the last chapter of the Fitzgerald book as I ate my breakfast.  It renewed my excitement and my commitment to go into this run with no regrets.  It was going to get hard and I was ready for that moment.  It was going to hurt at some point and I was going to run through it.
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I laced up and Josh and I sent our race morning pictures to my mom so she could mentally picture us racing and I could mentally picture her along the course, cheering us on.
We got to the start, got in line for the portalet and found our way to the start coral.  The strategy was to run the 1st mile relaxed as a warm-up and then bring it up to the pace that I thought I could hold for 25 miles.  It worked. I felt like we were just starting out on another long run with a few other “friends” on this particular morning.  I should add here that the Carmel Marathon is a very small race- capped at 1,000 runners.  However, for the first 5 miles (and subsequently weaved throughout the rest of the course) we ran alongside the half-marathoners.  So, it was a little crowded starting out and we weaved our way through the sea of bodies to bring ourselves up to pace.  Josh had to go pee from the start.  I thought I did, but the feeling subsided as I ran further.  Once we broke away from the half-marathoners, Josh veered off course for a stop at a portalet.  I kept going, with instructions to stay at a steady pace.  I did.  As I ran alone for a mile and a half, I took it all in. I felt GREAT!  We were running on a country road and passed a field with a horse and I thought of my niece and my intention to be an inspiration to her, in all that I do.  It was in that moment, while I was running alone, that I knew I was going to run the race that I had set out to run.  I was going to finish this run strong.  I just had to keep running by feel, rather than by time.  Once Josh got back in step with me, he gave me feedback on my pace and I told him I didn’t think I needed that.  I just wanted to run what felt good and if I got to the point where I started to lag noticeably, to give me a nudge to pick it up.  I fully trusted him to keep me on pace.
Around mile 11, I realized I needed a stop at a portalet if I was going to finish strong.  Unfortunately, the stop took about a minute… but it is what it is and I got back on track afterwards.  I remember thinking going into the half-way checkpoint that I couldn’t remember the last race where I felt as good as I felt at this point.  And as quickly as that thought passed, I started to feel the mental fuzzies come into my head.  I worked through them and by mile 15, I felt like I was back on pace with renewed energy.  It helped immensely to see one of my colleagues around mile 14.5 cheering us on!
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By mile 17 we were back on a trail and I saw a photographer ahead.  Doing a mental check, I felt strong, so I ran and leaped into the air before the camera and hoped I didn’t pay for it later.  (note: photog fail :(.  There is no picture of my beautiful leap)
My coach has told me that the marathon doesn’t really start until mile 20.  That is where you give it all you’ve got.  I never understood that because I was always defeated before mile 20.  I got to experience that this marathon.  Actually around mile 19, my effort got much harder to maintain and I knew I was slowing.  It was also getting VERY hot- approaching 70 degrees (which doesn’t seem that hot, but anything about 60 is not ideal running conditions for me).  Mile 19 is where the mental race really began for me.  Actually, at mile 21 I shouted out “OH MY GOD!!!”  I wanted to quit.  But I wouldn’t let myself.  In every other marathon I have ever run, including the race I PR’d in, I have given up by mile 21 and slowed my pace by 2- 3 minutes per mile.  Not this time.  I started telling myself I have grit.  I have the grit to pull through this.  I started telling myself that there was no one I had to make proud EXCEPT for myself.  And I wanted to be proud of myself.  At that point, Josh turned and yelled back at me “no regrets today.”  It was like he was in my head and this happened repeatedly all they way to the finish line.  Once I started thinking a new mantra to try and propel myself forward, he would say it out loud and reinforce my thoughts.  God was certainly with us on that course.
At mile 23, Josh told me to sprint. It would be the hardest 5K I had ever run, but it would be worth it- no regrets today.  I dug in and sprinted… although, looking at my time splits, it wasn’t a sprint. I did, however, maintain a steady pace.  Until mile 25.  Mile 25, I sprinted.  I got my pace back under 9:00 per mile AND that was uphill (I distinctly remember this because I was making a mental note to tell the race organizers that was a cruel joke :)).
I have never taken a worse picture crossing the finish line and I have never been more proud to be pictured looking as bad as I do.  I clearly left everything I had to give on that course.
After crossing the finish line, I immediately went to the medical tent, with the help of Josh, and asked for a bag of ice.  I didn’t realize how hot it was, but all I could seem to think about was ice and I wanted it NOW!  I got the bag and put it on top of my head to cool me down.
There are so many small victories that I overcame during this run.  I ran through every single water stop.  Past races, I have stopped and walked through water stations.  This time, I mastered how to run through them and stay hydrated.  I started to feel sick, probably around mile 19 when it got hard, although I can’t remember exactly.  I had bits of my oatmeal breakfast coming back up and lodging in my throat and nose, but I ran through it and didn’t let that stop me.  Most importantly, I stayed engaged the entire time.  Sure, my pace slowed, but I didn’t throw the towel in.  I kept running as hard as I could.

I WON.

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