The journey leading up to this marathon was a roller coaster. There were PR’s in shorter distances that made me wonder if I might be able to qualify for Boston during this race. And there were struggles with injury, and some absolutely awful runs that made me wonder if I would be able to complete the race at all.
I signed up for Revel Rockies in January, before I’d even run my PR at Mississippi River. The race website promised beautiful scenery and a smooth downhill grade throughout the course, making it a great opportunity for runners to PR or BQ. And I had family in Denver who I hadn’t seen in years, so it would be a great opportunity to have a fun little vacation and visit them.
In the coming months, I continued training according to the plans Tia sent me each week. There were challenging speed workouts every Tuesday, long runs on the weekends, and easy days to bring my total weekly distance into the 35-45 mile range.
With a busy work schedule, it was sometimes very challenging to get these workouts in. I couldn’t have done it without Joshua’s support. He put up with many early bedtimes and early mornings. Once, he drove me to a hill at 4:00am so I could get in a set of hill repeats before work. Another morning, he came and picked me up when I lost track of my distance during an out-and-back tempo workout, leaving me two miles away from home when I finished! One Friday evening, he drove me to the trail for an evening 16-miler since I couldn’t fit it in any other time that week, and he waited for me in the parking lot the whole time, sending me encouraging texts when it got tough. Serious marathon training requires just as much sacrifice from family members as it does from runners, and I am so blessed to have a husband who gladly makes those sacrifices to support me in my goals.
Training went really well for most of the cycle. The workouts continued to challenge me, but I got through them. I even ran a few races, setting new PR’s in my 2-mile, 5k, and half marathon distances. I was especially excited about the half, which I ran on a hilly course in Jonesboro at an 8:07/mile average pace – faster than the pace I would need to maintain in a marathon to qualify for Boston! If I could do it for a half marathon distance, maybe with a little more time and training, I could do it for a marathon distance as well.
But then, about a month before the marathon, my workouts began to fall flat. My legs were not recovering as well as usual, and I began to have a persistent tightness and pain in my right calf. I kept hoping it would go away after a couple easy days, but it didn’t. Every time I ran long or did speed work, it felt worse.
After an awful week of training in which all of my runs started as a slow, painful shuffle, and I didn’t hit anywhere close to target pace on my speed workout or long run, I finally had to accept that maybe I had injured myself. Even walking was painful, and stairs were absolutely miserable. I emailed Tia to tell her what was going on, and we cut way back on my training, hoping my body would be able to recover in time for the marathon.
This was a very low point for me emotionally and physically. I had put my whole heart into training all year, my hopes high for the upcoming race. Now, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish it at all, much less set a new PR or BQ.
But eventually I realized that no good would come from me worrying about things outside my control. I would focus on the things I could do to support my recovery – rest, nutrition, stretching, foam rolling, a massage, KT tape – and we would just see what happened on race day. I was thankful to have a week in Colorado with my aunt and uncle to adjust to the altitude. Joshua arrived in the middle of the week, and exploring Denver and the surrounding mountains together was a pleasant distraction from worrying about my injuries.
Ready or not, race day came. My legs still were not working as well as they had pre-injury, but they were better. My plan was to take one mile at a time and do my best.
The night before the race, I stayed with Stacy, a fellow Marathon Maniac. She was hosting several other Maniacs as well. I was thankful for the chance to carpool in the morning, sparing my family the 3:00am drive to catch the bus to the top of the mountain! When I arrived at 8:00pm, most of the other runners had already gone to bed. I soon followed their example, although it was difficult to fall asleep with my pre-race nervousness.
In the wee hours of the morning when we came downstairs for breakfast, I was delighted to see a familiar face – Angie, who had paced me during my second marathon, was staying at Stacy’s house as well! After a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, we piled into our cars to head to the bus area. It was early, but we were all too excited to be sleepy. We chatted and exchanged running stories throughout the drive.
When we got to the bus stop, we found Jessica, and got a seat together at the back of the bus. Jessica and I have very similar goals of qualifying for Boston, and we’d been looking forward to this doing this race together all year. Jessica had even driven up to Arkansas three weeks earlier so we could get in a long downhill training run at Mount Magazine. It was great getting to catch up on the bus ride! A bright full moon lit our way as we rode up the mountain, and the sun was just peeking over the horizon when we arrived at the mountaintop.
At over 10,000 feet elevation, it was COLD. There were still piles of snow along the edges of the road. I had forgotten to bring my emergency blanket that we’d been provided in our race bags, and was very thankful when another runner offered me his. We still had an hour before the race started, so Jessica and I found a comfy spot to sit down and wrap ourselves tightly in our crinkly mylar blankets, laughing about how we all looked like cold pieces of trash on the side of the road.
Soon enough, it was time to gather at the start line. We stopped for a quick Marathon Maniacs picture on the way. It was hard leaving our blankets behind!
And then, we were off! Usually when I start a marathon, I have to be careful that I don’t go out too fast. Today, my stiff legs didn’t give me any choice but to start slow, other runners speeding past me.
This wouldn’t be the perfect race that I’d dreamed about when I signed up six months ago. I could have allowed myself to become discouraged, but I decided that I would rather face the upcoming miles with gratitude. Gratitude that I had made it to the start line at all. Gratitude for each mile that God allowed me to complete without severe pain or injury. Gratitude for the beautiful scenery surrounding me. Gratitude for all the support from family and friends who were cheering me on no matter what.
I gradually eased into the quickest rhythm that I thought I would be able to sustain over the upcoming miles. For the past several weeks, I had struggled to maintain even a 10:00 pace on my training runs. I was pleasantly surprised to look down at my watch and see that I was pacing around 8:40… the same pace I’d run the Mississippi River Marathon! There were still many miles to go, and I knew there was no guarantee that I would be able to sustain this pace if my injuries started flaring up. But I was thankful for that one good mile. I decided that for this race, as the miles ticked by, I would whisper a little prayer of gratitude for each mile that I completed. “Thank you for letting me get through that first mile with so little pain. Thank you for that strong second mile. Thank you for that beautiful sunrise during the third mile…”
It was not pain free. Downhill races pound your legs in ways you can’t understand if you’ve never run one, and I started this one with legs that were already bothering me. But the pain was manageable, and I kept on moving.
This was the first time I’d run a marathon without a hydration pack, so making sure I stayed hydrated at the water stops was a pleasant distraction. The first couple times, I tried to run and drink at the same time. But I ended up wearing more Powerade and water than I drank, so at the rest of the stops, I walked just long enough to gulp down my fluids and then took off running again. I didn’t lose as much time in those miles as I thought I would, and it was great being able to run without a bulky pack. I think I’ll continue to use this as my hydrating strategy.
I kept my splits fairly even until around mile 12. At this point in the race, there were several hills that we had to run up. Normally, a few hills in a race wouldn’t be an issue. But with the altitude, and the pounding on our legs from the previous downhill miles, these hills felt extra challenging. The sun was also coming out at this point, and it was starting to get hot. My pace was slowing down a little, but I kept a positive mindset and did my best. “Thank you for letting me get up that hill in mile 12. Thank you for helping me run strong through mile 13…”
Around mile 14 was one of the best moments of this marathon. Cheering at the top of their lungs on the sidelines were my aunt, uncle, cousin, husband, and my MOM who had flown in late last night! This was the first time I’d seen her in months… and the first time I’d ever had one of my parents come to see me race. This special moment lifted my spirits through the coming miles. I couldn’t wait to see everyone again at the finish line!
At mile 20, things got challenging again. My stomach started acting up, forcing me to make a porta potty stop. I hate having to stop and use the bathroom during a race, but it couldn’t be helped. I made it as quick as possible, and then took off running again. During other races, I’ve allowed myself to get discouraged by moments like this. “This race is ruined. I’m out of my groove now, and I’ll never be able to get back on pace. Might as well enjoy walking some more before I start running again.” This time, I made a conscious effort to stay positive, and decided to make this into a game. “Ok… I lost some time during that stop, but let’s see how quick I can make this mile in spite of it! My legs are still feeling pretty good, so let’s see what they can do!”
Our minds are powerful. And even though my last miles were slower than my first ones, they weren’t as slow as I thought they might be. My legs got a little tired and heavy towards the end, but I never hit the wall. Pain was there, but it was never more than I could endure. Honestly, I felt better right now than I’d felt during some of my training runs in the past few weeks. I knew that I could keep going.
A smile crossed my face around mile 22. That was when I realized that I was going to finish this race. Even if something awful happened, I could limp the rest of the way to the finish line if I needed to. But by the grace of God, I was still running! I wasn’t running fast enough to get a PR. But I was still running faster than I’d dared to hope after some of my discouraging training runs lately, and for that, I was thankful.
Another of my favorite moments of this race happened around mile 25.5. I was approaching a runner I thought I recognized… yes… that was Jessica! She had been far ahead of me for most of the race, but like me, she was struggling with the heat in these final miles. I forced my tired legs to catch up with her. In the months leading up to this race, we had encouraged each other, trained together, and now we would get to finish together! I couldn’t think of any way I would rather end this race.
And before we knew it, the finish line was there in front of us. We were so happy and grateful to cross it! It was a PR for Jessica! And despite my injuries and porta-potty stop, I still managed to run it only four minutes slower than my PR!
I could barely walk, and the coming week would be the toughest recovery week that I’ve ever faced. But I was so grateful for this finish, and for the priceless memories that I got to make along the way.
Other races will always be waiting. And it will be really cool when I get that next PR, and when I finally qualify for Boston! But even if this race didn’t go exactly the way I hoped, it was still full of precious moments that I wouldn’t trade for anything.