It has been a little over two weeks since I ran the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon. And it has taken me nearly all of that time to really collect my thoughts and feelings about the race.
I had some big goals for this race, goals that I wasn’t entirely sure were within my reach going in but goals that I had nonetheless put a whole lot of myself into over the past four months or more. My primary objective was to run my first Boston qualifying time. But in order to do that thoroughly and go for a time that was sure to get me into Boston, I had trained aspiring to a 3:30 marathon (8:00 per mile pace).
My training went well for the most part – I hit weekly mileage numbers I had never seen before, peaking at about 60 miles per week, and surprised myself by toughing out more challenging workouts than I previously thought I was capable of. Working with a coach for the first time had me trying new things and really pushing myself. (I will put together a review of my coaching experience in another post really soon.)
About 5 weeks out from the race I was disappointed when some IT band tightness took me a bit off track. I tried to address the problem immediately by treating the weak/overused areas, stepping back my mileage, and temporarily eliminating all speed work from my routine. I worked with my coach to rearrange the remaining weeks of my training schedule and I still hit most of my key workouts. But the fact that my IT band had so recently been in less than perfect shape wasn’t helping out my confidence going into the race.
Jeremy and I made the very familiar trip to Wilmington together, got to stay with old friends, and had an awesome time and all the carbs with my Bull City Track Club friends at dinner the night before the race.
I woke up bright and early on race morning to perfect weather. There had been some rain in the forecast but it held off and it was in the 50’s and clear at the start. I found a few friends from the team to stand with and talk out my nervous energy between bathroom trips until it was time to join the crowd at the starting line.
The marathon and half marathon start together and there isn’t much of a corral system in place. But since it is a smaller race, I have never thought this was a huge problem aside from some minor weaving around other runners during the first half mile or so.
I was so incredibly lucky that my BCTC friend, Emily, had offered to pace me for the first 11 miles of the race. She was supposed to be running the full marathon but had to lay off training to recover from IT band and knee issues. She knew finishing the full marathon wasn’t an option, but she still decided to use her bib to run with me and keep me company to the point where the half marathoners split off from the full. Her support made such a tremendous difference in how my race went and I couldn’t be more grateful to her.
We started quasi-conservatively in the spirit of my race day game plan. We ran the first 3 or so miles at about an 8:10 average pace and then started to pick things up to my 8:00 goal pace somewhere around mile 4. The 3:30 pacer was in our sights most of the time, but we let him stay slightly ahead since he seemed to be going a little ahead of pace. We people watched and talked and, just like that, 10 miles had gone by and it was almost time for Emily and I to part ways. Having the first 11 miles pass without a whole lot of thought or anxiety was huge.
With Emily gone, I was alone but still had the 3:30 pacer in sight. So I put in my headphones and made a move to catch the pacer and the small pack of about five runners sticking with him. I typically haven’t decided to follow pacers during races but really wanted to keep some people nearby for a while longer, which may be because I am in the habit of doing my runs around people now instead of all alone.
I ended up hanging with that same group of runners and the pacer from mile 11 until around mile 19. Throughout that time, I went through a few mild phases of ‘I feel… meh’ for no particular reason, just minor discomforts and occasional doubt I could hold my pace for the distance that was left. But I always seemed to quickly bounce back to ‘I feel frickin’ awesome’. I was grateful for the pacer, he was going a bit faster than the target pace most of the time but was sure to check with everyone who was in the group to make sure we were comfortable with it. We hit mile 17 with my watch showing about 7:56 average pace.
I worried a bit starting at mile 19, heading back into a more dull residential area for the second time (aka land of multi-million dollar houses, golf courses and almost no one out cheering). It was around this part of the course that I had tanked my pace last year. I told myself that if I could get out of the neighborhood without losing speed I would be golden. It was a struggle to do that for miles 19-23 because our pace group completely split apart and I was mostly on my own. But I managed to hang on and keep my pace consistent – my watch lingered around 7:56 average.
At about mile 23 it suddenly became easier to hold the pace, and I even felt like I was picking it up a bit. I caught up to and passed the only other female who had been tagging along with the 3:30 pace group with me (who I had pegged as probably being in my age group as well).
Once I got out of the residential zone at around mile 24, I was worn out but felt a huge amount of relief. I saw Jeremy right after the 24 mile mark which gave me the finishing energy I needed. From there, I pretty much went tunnel vision. I was so focused on the finish that I actually picked up speed and miles 25 and 26 were my fastest of the race (7:39 and 7:36).
I don’t think I fully believed or realized that I was running the amazing race I was running until I got to the last half mile or so. So I was on emotional overload crossing the finish line. Seeing my teammates and Jeremy and giving them all sweaty hugs brought out a whole lot of happy crying.
I finished in 3:27:51. A PR of just over 9 minutes and I came in more than 7 minutes ahead of my Boston qualifying time. I also found out later that I placed 2nd in my age group, and got a very cool commemorative growler as a prize.
There are so many things I am proud about from this race, but a few things that top the list:
- I didn’t really hit the wall or have any miles that stood out as “bad”. I almost expected to get to a point where I had nothing more to give and I lost my grip to my goal pace, only because that has happened to be in every other marathon. But this time when I had periods of discomfort I was able to deal with it and lean into that discomfort, ultimately staying consistent. I think this is a result of taking a new approach to my training – reaching higher mileage overall, and toughening up mentally from my speed workouts and incorporating goal pace miles into the end of my long runs.
- I negative split the race and my last two miles were my fastest of the day. Proof that taking the first few miles conservatively, at a pace slightly slower than your goal, really can work in your favor (as opposed to my old practice of running off the start like a bat out of hell). Negative splitting has been something I have been able to achieve in a few of my most recent races, like the Richmond Half, and I love being able to finish strong and fast – or at least not completely broken.
I am proud of myself but definitely can’t take all the credit for a successful race. My coach, Sarah, was absolutely amazing. Jeremy was unfailingly supportive and understanding through yet another season of marathon training. And my Bull City Track Club teammates that ran with me day after day made it the most fun and fulfilling marathon training experience I’ve ever had, hands down.
What was your most recent race? How did it go?