From Kiawah Island to Boston in 26.2 miles

This is a race report originally posted on Kickrunners.com. I want to save it here for myself, as well as provide a little background to the future writing I’ll surely be doing about training for Boston.

Race: Kiawah Island Marathon
When & Where: 8 a.m. Dec. 8, 2007, Kiawah Island, SC.
Result: 3:44:41

As I trained for the Kiawah Island Marathon through summer and fall, it felt like the day would never arrive. My training went off completely issue-free and I enjoyed every mile of marathon preparation like I never have before, with the exception of running through this year’s seemingly endless hot North Carolina summer and warm fall. Little did I know that on race day, all those muggy long runs and swampy speed workouts I logged would reimburse me.

As the race drew closer, I started incorporating visualization and positive thinking as part of my regular meditation practice at the beginning of every day. I was extra careful with my nutrition and re-lost almost 10 pounds to return to the weight I feel best at for running and racing. In addition, I found myself in the happiest, most positive and relaxed place mentally I’ve been in in a couple of years. With all of these things coming together, I had my mind made up to run a great race and that this third attempt at a BQ would be the one that nailed it.

Now there was only that small, HUGE detail of running 26.2 miles in under 3 hours and 46 minutes.

The journey to Kiawah Island, SC, began Thursday afternoon when a group of four runners and two “support crew” rolled out from our corner of North Carolina. Our caravan took us to Fayetteville NC, almost half way, where we stopped for the night. I was traveling with four women I know casually through teaching fitness classes at the YMCA, three of whom were running the half marathon. Our lone brave man, Mike, is the husband of one of the half marathoners. Over dinner and beers, we started to get better acquainted, then called it a night for that all important “night before the night before” quality sleep.

Friday morning, we continued the excursion. After what seemed like forever and half a dozen stops, we arrived at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, where we were staying and where the race was happening the next day. We got our race packets, settled in to our villas, and had an early pre-race dinner of bread, pasta, and brownies. After dinner I finished getting my race gear ready, took a bath, talked on the phone, stretched, and did a recorded guided relaxation. I felt ready to sleep after that, although it was the typical pre-race sleep of waking up many times and dreaming that I couldn’t get to the Start on time.

4:40 a.m. Saturday. Yay! It’s race day! Everything from the all important bathroom business to a traffic free 5-minute ride to the start area couldn’t have gone better. I was one of the earliest runners to arrive an hour ahead of the 8 a.m. start, so I saw the palmetto tree-bordered area peaceful and serene before thousands of pairs of muscular legs would be stretching, pacing, and lining up. I wrote my name on a piece of tape to identify my gear bag at the honor system bag check, thinking it was a testament to what so far seemed to be a small, friendly, well-organized race that the runners trusted one another to pile their stuff together. I spent the rest of the hour stretching and listening to music (including the now requisite “Fame” and “Flashdance”) in the indoor waiting area, repeatedly going through the Port-a-John line, and placed myself between the 8 and 9 minute pace signs about 5 minutes before the start. I felt confident and excited, yet relaxed at the same time.

It was 50 degrees at the start and sunny, with temperatures expected to be in the low 70s by the end. This is warmer than ideal for me, but I knew the plentiful shade on the course and low humidity would help and decided to just work with being warm and not react to it in an upset way. I had not done weekly track workouts in 90 degrees all summer for nothing! There were many miles of suffering in the heat that I could use to draw strength to keep pushing through a warm final hour.

The gun sounded and I made it across the Start about 1:30 into the race. Kiawah has a small starting area for its 4,000 runners, three-fourths of those half marathoners, and apparently nine-tenths who need to review Race Start 101. The first mile was the slowest start I’ve ever had. Without trying to waste energy, I maneuvered around and passed countless walkers and runners who had lined up far too forward for their paces. Somehow I got to Mile 1 in 8:39, just where I wanted to be for an easy start.

Apparently I took out my frustration on Mile 2, since I hit it in 8:02. Way, way too fast! I could have let this freak me out and tell myself I just blew my race, but instead I calmly let it go. From Mile 2 on, I never looked at another mile split until after the race. Instead I compared my overall watch time with a 3:44 pace band I wore. I knew I would fuss and worry too much over individual splits, when overall time was what counted. Especially after now seeing my splits, I believe this decision was one of the key things that helped me.

The next several miles I settled in to running. For a few miles, my feet and lower legs had the same bad puffy feeling they’d had during my most recent BQ attempt, 2007 Shamrock Marathon. My right foot felt like it wanted to explode out of the shoe. My lower legs felt swollen and stiff. At Shamrock I pretty much mentally freaked out that I wasn’t feeling perfect early in the race, and ended up with a sprained foot, acute PF, and a DNF. Today I told myself my legs were just getting used to the task and that they would feel fine in a couple of miles. And they did.

Now I could enjoy the course. It is gorgeous and fun to run, with Spanish moss dripping trees lending shade most of the way as we cruised by coastal marshland, ponds, golf courses, and mansions. About four miles take runners on wide bike paths, which looked exactly like my favorite training path where I live. Some runners don’t care for double-loop courses, but I do many of my long runs back and forth on a 5K distance path and don’t get bored with that, so had no issues with doing a loop only twice. I loved the natural scenery of the course, and didn’t mind the lack of spectators or entertainment.

Inside my head I had a loop playing too, what I now call the “Mantra Medley.” Over and over with the rhythm of my stride I repeated my phrase “Yes I Can, Yes I Will;” the phrase my coach gave me, “This is what you trained for;” and the slogan I got from my friend Lloyd, “Today is my day!” Many times I pictured the two of them running along on either side of me saying those things. I had also made a poster board collage a few weeks ago with pictures of inspiring people and encouraging images, and I mentally recalled each motivational image over and over.

Mile 13 came in 1:50 as I started loop #2. With the half marathoners heading to their finishes, we marathoners had the place to ourselves. It was our party now, and it felt good. I was having fun! Miles 13-19 were my strongest feeling all day and I was feeling so good that I decided to spread some positive energy around. No one passed me the entire second half, but many runners I came upon who weren’t plugged in to earphones got a little encouragement or greeting. I complimented people, joked with them, shared a mantra, or asked them their goal today. A few talked back and asked me mine, and I would say “I need under 3:46 to get to Boston and I think today’s the day,” and get some encouragement in return. I’ve never had this experience before because I’ve always worn headphones in marathons. I will never wear headphones in a marathon again!

I got to Mile 20 in 2:50, just what I wanted so I’d have 56 minutes to run the last 10K if need be. That would be training run pace. The long way home was starting, and now I had friends to watch for. Mike would bike out to meet me at Mile 21 with Gatorade I’d given him the night before, and a few members of our group planned to walk to Mile 23 after the half marathon finish. My “Bike Sherpa” Mike pedaled into view at the exact time I needed him. I was warm, thirsty, slightly carb-depleted, and almost all alone on the course. All of a sudden, I wasn’t having so much fun. I wasn’t feeling any muscle fatigue or pain anywhere, just low-level exhaustion and fogginess. Thoughts of doubt started to creep in. Thoughts of stopping really started to creep in. Thought of repeating my 2006 Philly BQ attempt and running out of steam too early were haunting me. The “Mantra Medley” volume had been turned down. Knowing I needed fuel, I kept taking swigs from the Gatorade bottle Mike had on his bike, and listening to his quiet encouragement. He said I looked stronger than anyone else around, that I was getting there, that I was almost through this bad spot. I didn’t believe him right then but decided to act like I did. We went past two of our friends who screamed and cheered for me and I could barely acknowledge them, but inside was grateful for their support.

Miraculously, the Gatorade kicked in right before Mile 24 where Mike dropped me off at the second bike path. I had 21 minutes to run 2.2 miles and all of a sudden the confidence that I could and would do it today came back. I charged down the bike path losing count of the runners I passed. The “Mantra Medley” was back up to 11 and now I was seeing myself phoning my parents and friends with happy news in 20 minutes … Yes I Can, Yes I Will … 15 minutes … Get ‘r Done! … 10 minutes…Today IS My Day! I started having visions of the Dairy Queen DQ logo, except with the letters BQ, and laughed to myself because I’d heard only ultrarunners hallucinate.

With about half a mile to go, my legs suddenly felt heavier but I ignored it. Amazingly, I still felt no pain except for a little tightness in my calves. I kept checking my watch to make sure I would still make it in in time. I would! Finally, Mile 26! I had about 3 minutes.

I had imagined this moment for close to two years, and now it was actually going to happen. The feeling was unreal. I had pictured my not-so-emotional self bawling like a baby or doing a cheerleader jump at the Finish, but as it came into view I told myself to use the countless 800 track repeats I did in training to dig in for my strongest finish, and everything else was a blur of semi-shock and exhaustion until I stopped across the line.

The Finish

My watch said 3:44:43.

Two volunteers helped me get into a chair. Apparently one took my chip and somehow I had a cup of Gatorade in my hand. I don’t normally swear, and all I could say to no one in particular and everyone in earshot was “That was f—ing hard!”

My friends found me, wanting to know if I’d made Boston. Not entirely trusting my watch, I sent two to scout for official results. When they came back with an official time of 3:44:41, I sat there and felt the overwhelming joy and accomplishment and pride and success permeate through me.

Good NewsI am a runner who does not possess an extraordinary amount of natural athletic talent but, I have learned, was able to make up for that with an infinite drive to do whatever work it took to achieve this dearly held goal. But the best thing about qualifying is not that on April 21, 3 days before my 36th birthday, I will have the great honor of lining up at the Start of the Boston Marathon course. The best thing is all I have learned about the sport of distance running and about myself, how I have grown, and the so much stronger person I am for this journey of 18 months of training.

I was not on that path alone. The advice, support, and encouragement from more experienced runners, my coach, my parents, friends, training buddies, and especially today a Bike Sherpa helped me cross the line in under 3:46. With that kind of inspiration, every step felt like a blessing. Even the agonizing ones from Miles 22-24.

Mile Splits: 

1 8:39
2 8:02
3 8:31
4 8:42
5 8:21
6 & 7 17:09
8 8:29
9 8:40
10 8:36
11 & 12 16:49
13 8:30
14 8:21
15 8:33
16 8:38
17 8:15
18 & 19 17:33
20 8:31
21 8:40
22 8:36
23 & 24 17:58
25 8:37
26 8:25
.2 1:56

Chip time 3:44:41

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