When & Where: 7 a.m. April 25 2010, Toledo, Ohio
Results: 3:37:22 (PR by 3:40, and 1:50 negative split); 104/455 overall, 17/170 women, 5/35 age group; My 9th marathon
Training: Consulting with my husband Lloyd, a certified running coach, I was able to take my training to a new level. It included 6-7 days of running per week with hill repeats, two cycles of tempo running, interval workouts, and four runs longer than 20 miles. I averaged about 57-60 mpw and peaked with a 70 mile week. In two tune-up 5Ks I went under a 7:00 pace for the first time which was confidence-boosting, as was a practice race pace half marathon in 1:48 that felt very comfortable. I also included weekly strength, core, balance, and plyometric workouts as well as teaching and taking yoga and pilates classes 2-4 times/week.
I absolutely love training but balancing this and finding energy to train and handle a heavy workload, freelance, and do my share to keep our home in order was a struggle at times. As much as I wish I were one of those adrenaline-fueled superwomen who appears to thrive on juggling two dozen eggs while riding a unicycle on a tightrope, unfortunately I’m more the opposite and thrive on lower stress and life balance. Honestly, one of my motivations for meeting the goal of running sub-3:40 was if I did, I promised myself I would take a break from serious marathon training for a little while.
Pre-race: All week Lloyd, who was also well-trained and racing, had his eye on the forecast. I ignore forecasts until a couple days before a race, so for 10 days he provided me constant regular updates which changed from 60% to 80% to 100% chance of heavy rain and wind. Both of us were concerned, but I continued to think and say that weather is unpredictable and could easily change for the better or worse. Four days out, I made the classic race week mistake of using all my extra energy to overdo another activity. I took a deep stretch yoga class which felt good, but later my groin/hip flexor felt like it had a mild strain – it was really tender and sore. I did round-the-clock ibuprofen doses for two days and thankfully it calmed down.
Carbo-loading commenced. I used FitDay to carefully adjust my macronutrient ratios to 70% carbohydrate and only slightly increase calories, rather than simply eat too much as I’ve done before. I felt fueled, but not bloated or too full. So dedicated was I to sports nutrition that I did something for the first time in my life: I passed up cake on my birthday, which fell on marathon eve. Anyone who knows me knows this was no easy task. I’m somewhat obsessed with cake and for all the natural running talent I lack, I make up for with cake eating prowess. I should probably change sports to the Cake Walk.
We made the easy drive to Toledo Saturday morning, kept our trip through the small expo on the University of Toledo campus to 20 minutes, and spent almost two hours driving the course. Having the preview was so helpful. We could anticipate windy areas, the few short gradual uphills, and the exciting-looking finish on the 50-yard line of UT’s Glass Bowl stadium.
Lloyd with the statue commemorating Toledo ultrarunner Sy Mah, about Mile 16 of the Glass City Marathon course.
We found a great local Italian spot for the perfect pre-marathon pasta meal, and then relaxed in the hotel watching “Seinfeld” for laughs and the Penn Relays for inspiration. I also read several race reports written by the late Joe Truini, a Marathon Maniac from Akron who suffered a fatal heart attack last July at age 37. Three months before that, Joe had PR’d at the Glass City Half Marathon. I knew it had been a goal of Joe’s to break 3:40 (his PR was 3:40 at Chicago ’08) and vowed to give it my best shot for him.
Neither of us slept well due to hallway noise and the clock radio alarm going off at 3:00 a.m. Who would set it for that? Oh well, who expects to sleep like a baby with a marathon the next day?
At 4:00 we were up to allow plenty of time for breakfast to settle and get to UT for the 7 a.m. start. This went like clockwork from finding parking to not-too-long port-a-john lines. It had poured overnight, but we rejoiced a forecast that looked a little humid, but not warm, rainy, or even very windy! Fog was the only weather oddity of the morning. With six minutes to go I lined up, feeling almost too calm and a little dull. I wasn’t finding the usual excitement I feel to run a marathon, and felt ashamed to find myself momentarily wishing I’d changed to the half marathon and just gone for a huge 13.1 PR. I hoped my mindset would improve or it would be a very long morning for me!
Miles 1-5: 9:02, 7:52 (marker was short), 8:31, 8:25, 8:19
The race started and we snaked our way off campus and into a surrounding neighborhood. For the first time I was trying to run the first couple miles easy pace and gradually find my race pace groove. Lloyd always does this and it works great for him, but I was skeptical about starting behind goal pace. I spent the first mile chatting with another Brooks ID girl who was shooting for a 3:45 and wished her well before picking up my pace a little. We cruised through a beautiful neighborhood bursting with flowering trees for about three miles, then got on to the flat and smooth University/Parks Bike Trail. About Mile 5 I caught the 3:40 pace group and decided to hang out with them for a while. Their pace felt comfortable and I wanted some company, as I wasn’t feeling my head in the game yet.
Miles 6-10 8:22, 8:25, 8:26, 8:15, 8:08
I chatted with the pacer for a few miles which made the time go by quickly. I also noticed the muggy air and my legs feeling fatigued in the 7th and 8th miles, and still felt “dull.” Hmm, maybe it was not to be my day? The pace still felt very comfortable so I decided to stay with it. After mile 9 we exited the bike path and were now running on open roads – open to traffic and prevailing southeasterly winds. I’d already started sipping Gatorade at water stops to offset too much sodium loss in the humidity, and here I took water and the first of 3 1/2 Gu’s. There was more to think about with these surroundings and I felt myself liven up a bit, pulling away naturally from the pace group.
Miles 11-15: 8:16, 8:21, 8:25, 8:13, 8:22
This was the longest “open” section of the course, out in the country on the northwest edge of metro Toledo. The foggy fields were pretty, but windy with miles 12-14 into a headwind. I came through the half in 1:49:36 (3:39 pace), and had doubts about being able to hold that but decided to withhold a final verdict. Along here I passed several runners including a fellow woman shooting to go under 3:40. Everyone was friendly in this small marathon, and we chatted and encouraged each other. We would play leapfrog with each other for the next 10 miles. She looked really strong and relaxed, and I was excited for her. Finally after Mile 14 we turned out of the wind and down another pretty neighborhood with quite a few residents out to cheer runners – that was nice.
Miles 16-20: 8:20, 8:26, 8:21, 16:51 (miles 19 & 20)
This section included two parks separated by a two-mile stretch of road into the wind, and flanked with cars. Course marshalls and police were doing a great job, but it still wasn’t fun running in a bike lane so close to traffic. I was passing people quite a bit here and took advantage of drafting behind them and chatting with them on the way. Turning into Wildwood Preserve Metropark and arriving on the paved winding trail through gorgeous woods was so welcome! Although I was feeling achiness in my hamstrings and form start to stiffen, somehow I came through mile 20 well below the 3:40 split I’d written on my bib which was encouraging, but I still expected I’d inevitably slow and struggle in like I have in many of my marathons. There was nothing to do but find out.
Miles 21-26.2: 8:22, 8:09, 8:04, 8:05, 8:03, 9:18 (7:45 pace for last 1.2!).
In the 21st mile we came to a long gradual downhill leading to a covered bridge. I love downhill running and this was where I took off. I was sad to leave behind my leapfrog partner, who said she had a side stitch. Part of me thought I should help pull her along but I also knew I had my own race to work on. The winding park path intersected back with the University/Parks bike trail which I knew was the way “home” to UT. Something about this supercharged me and I was able to effortlessly pick up pace. When I saw the 22nd mile had been a fantastic-feeling 8:09, I ignored any ideas of playing it cautious and charged ahead. Finally, I’d found the sense of excitement and joy I usually have about marathoning. Each mile felt stronger and smoother and I made a game of catching the next runner up on the path. I thought about Joe, and thought about how much I wanted to run well to show a couple of friends going for PRs that they could do it too. Please, I thought, let me run this race in a way that will inspire and help others to have great races. I kept seeing a bigger and bigger cushion to break 3:40 with each mile and kept flying forward to make the cushion bigger. Amazingly, my body felt no fatigue or physical discomfort any more. For whatever reason, I had the luck of running in what athletes call “the Zone,” a state of balanced excitement, fun, and relaxation.
The bike path ended back on the still-foggy UT campus and there was less than a mile to the Glass Bowl. I was looking for Lloyd who I knew was long finished by now, and was so excited to see him with a little more than half a mile to go. “This is awesome! I’m having the race of my life!” I yelled. Somehow despite giving his all and running his own PR, he could still chase me and encouraged me the rest of the way.
This final part of the course was poorly marked and disorienting, winding around half marathon walkers, campus buildings, and through parking lot rows. It was my typical race anxiety nightmare come true of not knowing where the course was, and all I wanted was a clear beeline to the finish. Another beautiful long downhill appeared and I charged harder, seeing the stadium. I knew I would break 3:40 easily and felt so thrilled that training, weather, and my race had come together just right. Most marathoners need great training to meet their race day goals, and all of us need a little luck. Less than 2 minutes later, I burst in to the Bowl with arms raised. The race clock had just turned to 3:37 and I steamed ahead shouting “Yeah!” and smiling to celebrate crossing the line.
Post-race: Lloyd collected his age-group award for his incredible 2:54:58 finish and we made our way back to the hotel, where a chocolate Muscle Milk Light was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted. Then, as the rain that had held off all morning began pouring down again, we met a handful of Toledo and NE Ohio runners for a delicious and fun Mexican lunch complete with a flaming cinnamon schnapps shot (on the house) and surprise belated birthday cake Lloyd had arranged. It was certainly icing on the cake (buttercream, my favorite) to a successful race and the reward of dedication to training.