Short Version: Amazing day. Ended up at 2:54:38 and 2nd place female, 25th overall. Proud of my effort and proud to say that it was the strongest I’ve ever felt in a marathon both mentally and physically. That’s not to say that there aren’t things to improve, but I crossed the finish line and burst into a smile which is literally a first for me.
Very, Very Long Version
Preparing to race a marathon starts long before the gun (or cold airhorn in this case) goes off. For me, my marathon prep started in earnest in May, which this blog has cataloged in sometimes painful detail since. I’ll do a separate Week in Review post for last week, but it was a pretty standard taper week. In a perfect world, I would have preferred more rest and less stress, but this is real life and standing at a race on Friday to coach is my reality.
We headed to Albany on Saturday after a morning shakeout run and I was in full-on taper terror mode. Traffic was horrendous courtesy of peak leaf season, Columbus Day and Canadian Thanksgiving. It took us almost 4.5 hours to get to Albany when it should have been under 3. Needless to say, by the time we arrived at the Hilton at almost 5, my husband was most displeased with me. That was not helped when we went to check in and found out that I made our reservation for October 12th (as in, Sunday night). Thus began the scramble to find somewhere to sleep. Thankfully, we found a place across from campus (and maybe 800 meters from my sophomore dorm) that was only moderately bank-breaking.
After the hotel snafu and about 100 apologies to Will, we headed out to find dinner. I took him on a brief tour through campus and then we settled at my favorite Albany diner on Western Avenue. Pasta doesn’t actually work that well for me pre-race so I got chicken pasta soup and turkey dinner. It was the perfect pre-race food; liquid, salt and carb heavy without being pure pasta.
After dinner, we picked up some Gatorade and gum then headed back to the hotel. I laid out my clothes, we watched a couple of episodes of Revenge and were going “to sleep” by 9:45. I actually slept until 2:30, at which point I was wide awake and thrashing around. I fell back asleep around 3:30, but was restless until the alarm at 6 to eat. My turkey sandwich wasn’t looking good to me so I had a Pumpkin Pie Poptart instead and started sipping my Gatorade and water mix. We were out the door of our hotel by 7:30 and at the start area by 8:00 am.
I did a brief 10 minute warmup (which was accurately termed as it was only 35 degrees out) and was thrilled to find that a jogging effort turned out to be 8:02 pace, which was an encouraging sign that taper worked. We found LT and Lauren as well which worked wonders for my nerves. At 8:20, I walked over the start line and just worked on breathing deeply. Paul, another friend and invited athlete, showed up at the start line and we were able to hang out until the start.
My general plan for the race was to go out moderately through the first couple of miles, settle in from 3 to 10, be prepared to slow from 10 to 13 due to the hills in that section then cruise from 13 to home as best I could. I will say that I thought the course would be more level than I found it to be. Although it is definitely a fast course, it wasn’t as flat as I anticipated and I encountered more false flats and fast drops than I was planning.
In reality, I found the first half of the race a little…tedious. I went out cautiously but had to keep slowing myself down so that I didn’t end up way ahead of pace too early on. There was a group of guys near me through the first 3 miles but none seemed keen on all of us working together so I was mostly alone from 4 until the end. There is an INCREDIBLE view at 4 when you come around a corner and see the Hudson for the first time. Otherwise, I just tried to get comfortable and checked in with myself repeatedly to make sure my effort felt easy. The only hitch was at 6 where I dropped my first Gu and had to turn around to grab it. Definitely let a four-letter word drop there. I saw Will for the first time at 8 and he told me the first woman was over 4 minutes up (she would go on to run a 2:34) so I just focused on my own race.
As we got into the hills from 10 to 12, I was feeling good although a little nervous about the hills. In reality, they weren’t too bad but they did take some momentum out of my legs. I made a deal with myself that I would just ease back into goal pace by mile 15 and that took some mental pressure off as my Garmin pace crept up. I hit the half at 1:26:13. I saw Will again and he mumbled something about my competition but I didn’t hear, which turned out to be a good thing as the dark miles were coming.
Miles 13 to 18 were fine, although my quads were starting to dislike the gradual downhills that kept cropping up. Around 18, a race volunteer told me to “hurry up because the train was coming,” which I thought was a joking way to motivate me. It turned out it wasn’t a joke; about 3 minutes after I crossed the tracks, I could hear the bells start ringing and they would stop a pack of runners for almost 2 minutes as the train crossed.
At 19, however, the dark miles began. I was tired, we were running along 787 and the cones were placed such that I had to either run on the broken up shoulder or in the road with cars. My legs started to feel like concrete and my last Gu, which I took at 18, wasn’t sitting well in my stomach. My pace slowly started to creep up and I was having serious doubts about the pace at which I’d gone out. Other people were hurting too; despite my slowing pace, I was still passing people and my form remained (fairly) good. I did start to worry about my competition, as I really wanted 2nd place and the $500 in prize money.
Miles 19 to 23 were pretty darn miserable. It’s a quiet part of the course with almost no crowd support and everyone around me was either in the hurt box with me or blowing by me like I was standing still. I’m not proud of this fact, but I was definitely having a pity party. To make matters worse, my foot was starting to KILL me and I definitely had some thoughts of “I did this way too soon.” When I crossed 24, however, I got my shit together. I was at 2:40, which meant that I could still have a good PR. I also thought of my girls and what I would say to them: Don’t give up on yourself. Decide you can. I did both of these things and decided that it was going to hurt either way, so I might as well end proud of myself. I dug down and cranked my pace down to 6:30 again and finished in 6:10 pace including outsprinting a guy who had passed me easily at 20. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I burst into a huge smile, a first for me.
.2: 6:10 pace
Post race was probably my favorite part, as I was so happy with my performance despite a few rough miles. I also felt GREAT. I was tired, but not injured and besides a big blister on my left foot felt totally fine. I even had Will tape a video of my walking skills. We didn’t hang around long because we needed to get back home to study and even after a 3 hour car ride, I felt pretty good. I’m sore this morning, but primarily in my quads which I would have predicted after how I felt at 20 yesterday. I’ll take today off completely and keep it to walking and biking until Wednesday or Thursday this week when I start getting geared up for Vegas.
The marathon is an unforgiving beast and requires such a long list of thank yous once it’s over. First and foremost is Will, who plays the role of coach and husband. Thank you for crafting a plan that plays up my strengths, for constantly believing in me without inflating me with false hope and for dealing with everything that it means to be a marathon spouse. Second are my “girls.” I draw so much inspiration from you and absolutely would not have had the performance I did without thinking of coming home to all of you and wanting to practice what I preach to all of you daily. Finally, thank you to Ed Neiles (Elite Athlete Coordinator) at HMRRC and to the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon for putting on an excellent race with every detail thought through.
On the Race Itself:
I would recommend this marathon to anyone; the course is great (provided you don’t require a ton of crowd support) and every single detail is attended to. Every water station has a sign about 40 seconds ahead so that you can open and eat your Gu. There are volunteers on every single corner or turn and even at the bumps along the way. The post race food was plentiful and included veggie broth and chips, which are my two favorite things post race. Of course, the weather was perfect (and it was the first time I did it too), but I don’t think HMRRC has a lot of control over that. All in all, this is a must-do marathon from my perspective and I’ll definitely be back in the future.