It’s that time of year again when the leaves have crisped, turned vibrant colors and made their way to the ground. Cool mornings and warm afternoons often mean a jacket when you leave the house and a wardrobe change for shorts due to sunshine and warmer temps by the time kids are out of school.
As fall makes room for winter, November brings the perfect opportunity to look back at my racing season as I consider what this year has brought me mentally, emotionally and physically.
With 12 half’s and 2 full marathons since April, I’ve had a lot to reflect on. In June, I finally hit my two-year goal of truly achieving my sub 1:30-half marathon. Let’s rewind first…
In August 2019, I ran a very close 1:30:09 after a last-minute colonoscopy the day before. My husband had lost his job a couple weeks earlier and my GI doc insisted I schedule the procedure before our insurance ran out since I hadn’t had one in over 3 years. (For patients with severe Crohn’s disease this is atypical and unheard of) My doc promised to treat me regardless of our ability to pay for his services while unemployed, so I knew I needed to get a colonoscopy to understand what my intestinal health really was. Thank heavens for a relatively clean bill of health.
I was so gassed by the time I finished that race, it was a miracle I didn’t fall over and collapse. I don’t recommend a hard race while forgoing a half day of food 24-hours before. While I technically hit my goal, those stupid 9 seconds really bugged me. Did I hit my goal because I basically had nothing in my colon to make me stop for the bathroom? Or did I hit the 1:30 because I finally turned a corner and crossed a new threshold? Both questions nagged at me. In June 2021, I signed up for a half I’d never run before. I was nervous going all out on a course I’d never even been on but I knew I’d been working hard since January with both my speed and strength training. The last 5k, or 3 miles were absolute agony as I could feel my body digging deep as my mind willed myself forward and ignored the fatigue that was quickly crushing me.
When I crossed the finish line with a hard earned shiny new PR at 1:28:25- I didn’t even care that I finished 5th in my age group, and nearly threw up. I was thrilled that I’d shaved 1 minute and 44 seconds off my PR and shattered my previous record.
Never one to be satisfied and curious to see what else might be possible this year, I set my sights on my 3:30 marathon, a goal that’d eluded me in my previous two marathon races, for the past two years, despite feeling prepared and capable to hit my goal. I had a Covid-19 deferred 2020 St. George Marathon entry, on a course I absolutely love, so I knew I had work to do.
In late August 2021, I had scheduled the half that held my previous 1:30:09 PR. Because of June’s half-marathon, I knew I would race this course and would love a sub 1:30, but was satisfied with my efforts earlier in the summer. As the race started, I really felt great, despite the fact that I’d rolled my left ankle hard 4 days earlier. I’d had some intense and very specialized rehab done on it and I was also securely taped, but I knew if I tripped or rolled my ankle while healing, I’d do permanent damage to my ligaments. I spent the entire race carefully choosing each step and working my way across the course to avoid any potential hazards.
I remember around the half way point, I felt so free… almost like I was literally flying. I remember the thought came to me, “this must be a little bit of what it feels like to be a bird…” During the race, I didn’t look at my watch hardly at all, only occasionally to see what my mileage was. I didn’t worry about my pace or placing in my age group, I just ran according to how I felt.. and I felt happy and free. I knew the rolling hills at miles 9-12.5 would ask a lot, but I felt mentally ready to provide.
This race finishes with a slight incline as the last mile drops down to wrap around a park, before the hard right hand turn to the chute and finish line the last .30 of a mile. As I prepared for the right hand turn, a woman came running by me and barely passed me. In my mind, I congratulated her for being able to run faster than me. As I turned the corner and glanced at the clock for the first time, I was floored… not only was I going to get my sub-1:30 half, I was going to beat my previous PR.
Emotion and shock welled inside me as I drove with all I physically, mentally and emotionally had the final distance. I crossed the finish line, and ran straight into the arms of my friend Diane who was volunteering at the finish line, handing out medals. Exhausted, thrilled, sweaty and emotional, I broke down in her arms, crying because I not only smashed my previous PR, I had worked so hard to earn it and I couldn’t believe it happened. Diane was so sweet to let me sit there and cry in her arms, all stinky and sweaty. It was a beautiful moment.
Thrilled at the fruit my summer work had born, I wondered how my marathon 5-weeks later would pan out. I’d run 18-miles 3 weeks earlier on the course and had forgotten how many rolling hills the St. George marathon course really had. I knew I had trained and worked hard running the hills that surround my home, but a marathon is a tough race, no matter who you are. It can taken you in, chew you up, and spit you out in the most brutal ways. The marathon deserves respect because it will demand everything from you if you want to truly race 26.2 miles.
I knew I’d be working the few remaining days before the race, and did my best to take good care of myself. I was surprised at how much my job and working had tired me and I went into race morning a little more tired than I would’ve preferred. The day of the race, I opted to spend some time away from my friends in order to focus and complete my pre-race routine and warm ups. The weather was a little warmer than we’d hoped so I was cautiously optimistic that I’d be able to finish in time before the morning heat kicked in.
As the race started, I made a conscious effort to hold back my pace as I knew I’d need more energy in the later miles. I was feeling quite confident as I came into the often dreaded Veyo-hill, mile 7 in the 26.2 mile race. In the St. George marathon, miles 7-12.5 consist of a large 1 mile hill, that eventually crests and flattens out before continuing to roll up hill on and off the remaining 4-miles. If a runner is used to running hills, then the course is very manageable and a great confidence booster.
As I began ascending the Veyo hill- I was surprised to feel some fatigue setting in. When I ran this race in 2019, I had no issues at all on this hill or section of course, so I felt my body and mind slipping at the realization that I shouldn’t be feeling this tired so early in the race. I ignored my watch and pace and focused on keeping my body working together. Just after mile 8, I felt better as the grade and incline eased and my body worked on recovering.
Step after step and mile after mile I made my way south towards St. George. I relished the beautiful sandstone and red rock view near Southern Utah’s iconic Snow Canyon where the course provides a stunning and scenic birds-eye view of St. George and the course down below. Rolling hill after rolling hill. I felt my body naturally tire as the real work required to finish a marathon settled in. About mile18, I decided I needed a little boost from my favorite racing fuel, Nanohydr8. I pulled out my bottle, drank half of it and settled in for the remaining grind.
At mile 22, I started to feel my gut twinge and realized I might need a bathroom stop. This of course is both a good and bad thing in a marathon. The good- a bathroom stop means my body is functioning, especially my kidney’s; I’m not dehydrated and I’m taking in and processing the necessary fluids and fuel my body needs to keep moving. The bad- when anyone is running with a time goal, a bathroom stop literally stops your progress and takes away precious time that can be impossible to earn back.
I was going for my 3:30 time goal, but could tell I was on track for an even faster finish. Begrudgingly, I stopped at mile 23 and felt a little better after as I tried to regain my lost momentum. By mile 24 I was ready for my race to be over, and mile 25 was hot, achy and felt like forever. As I made the left hand turn, I kept my eyes out for the balloon covered metal arch and the .10 of a mile finish chute, grateful to be almost done.
As I entered the chute, I was shocked to see a woman on her hands and knees, shaking as she desperately tried to crawl her way towards the finish line. She would crawl a step or two, and try to rise under her own power, only to immediately fall back down again. Two race volunteers were on either side of her trying to offer assistance and help her stand, so I knew there was nothing I could do for her. I prayed that she’d be able to find a way to cross the finish line, as she was so close to the end.
As I neared the arch, I got my first view of the official time clock. Not only was I sub 3:30- I was close to a 3:26. I made every effort to just keep my momentum going, as there would be no sprinting to the finish line for me at this race. I heard a few friends call my name, but I kept my focus on the arch and timing mat. As I crossed the finish line with a 3:27:26- I was thrilled. My previous goal of a 3:30 and 8:00 mile pace was not only met, but exceeded, and I was thrilled.
I hobbled across the finishers chute, my custom sandstone race medal in hand and was covered by a kind volunteer with a heat shield blanket. I made my way to the grass, ready to sit down and let my body recover; completely satisfied with my efforts.
Thanksgiving is a time to express love and reflect on where we’re at, where we’ve been and where we’re going. I was reminded through my 2021 running that whatever I’m willing to sacrifice for fills me gratitude, especially when the sacrifice is challenging and hard, like really hard. Early mornings and long days with family, work, church responsibilities, volunteer work, chores, bills, etc means I don’t have time for a lot of fluff in my life. I have to be selective of what I value and what I’m willing to put my time into and sacrifice. While it’s always hard, whenever I cross a finish line and I’ve left everything out there, I always felt it’s worth it.