Holy crap — I did it!
Somehow, despite an ambiguous foot injury and a head cold that made life miserable during the last week of taper leading up the the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon on Sunday, I managed to squeak under the Boston Marathon qualifying time for my age group by a minute. I finished the race in 3:33:57 without breaking my foot, vomiting, or going down in a blaze of glory and ending up in the medical tent. Yes I felt horrible, yes I felt like vomiting, and yes my legs felt like they could give out at any minute. But I wasn’t going to give up; I had already made up my mind I’d be running as hard as I could and finishing the race, injury or sick or whatever. There was no way I wasn’t going to try. Not with a BQ that close.
When I met my friend Debbie at the starting line Sunday morning, I could tell we were both iffy about how the day was going to go. She was dealing with some tendinitis that flared up during the last three weeks of taper, and I was sniffling and blowing my nose every 10 seconds. Even though my doctor gave me the okay to run the marathon, I knew it was risky. When I walked from my place to town to get to the starting line in the morning, which is about three kilometres away, my foot was feeling funny. You know that feeling when something feels “out” in your back, and you really want to crack it? That’s how my foot was feeling; like if I stepped on it a certain way it would crack and I’d feel relief.
After the gun sounded, I made every effort I could NOT to focus on my foot. I just started running at the pace my legs chose, and lost Debbie somewhere in the first few kilometres. Even though I wanted to run with her for company and so we could push each other through, I knew we were both running our own races and battling our own injuries and would part ways eventually.
After the first five kilometres, the weird feeling in my foot went away. Every now and again I’d get a sharp pain in my big toe from that blood blister, but otherwise my feet felt okay. I was a bit worried as I broke the cardinal rule of race day — do not do something new that you didn’t do during training — and wore a pair of Injinji toe socks I bought the day before in an attempt to ease my foot and blister pain. They actually worked out okay, and may have helped ease the pain in my toes a bit.
Despite consuming more snot than I did energy gels and blowing my nose on my arm warmers every few kilometres, my respiratory system held up okay for the most part and I was feeling good. I didn’t look at my Garmin until I hit the half-way mark as I like to just race by feel; I knew my pace was fairly fast, but when I checked my watch and saw I just hit a new half marathon PR of 1:40, I panicked a bit. I went out way too fast, I thought to myself, and slowed down a bit.
I carried on at a five-minute pace until about kilometre 28 when things really started to slow down. My breathing became a bit more laboured and my feet felt like lead bricks. I walked through every water station from that point on and gulped down whatever Gatorade was being offered and a cup of water. Looking at my Garmin results now, now wonder I tapped out at 30K: I was running 4:35-4:45 minute kilometres for the first half! Ugh.
For the last five kilometres, I knew Boston was in reach and that was all I could think about. My legs felt so heavy and I had a hard time getting in air, but there was no way I was going to give up now. I tried to turn my legs over faster and take smaller steps as it was too much of an effort to take bigger ones. I pumped my arms to help get momentum. I kept doing math in my head, figuring out the exact pace-per-kilometre I needed to run. I had hit the dreaded wall, but it didn’t matter. My mind was focused on finishing — it was just up to my legs to get me there.
With about 800 metres to go, I knew I was cutting it close. I was aiming to finish in 3:30, but now I was just hoping to make it in under 3:35. Even if I don’t make it in to Boston, at least I can say I qualified, I thought to myself. There was no way I had just put myself through three and a half hours of that, risking further injury and making myself even sicker, for nothing.
I spotted my boyfriend Matt and his buddy Jeffrey waiting for me in those last few windy corners of the course, when you know you’re close because you can hear the crowd at the finish line. I think I yelled something like, “I need to go!” meaning that I was seconds away from making it. To my surprise, they both hopped out on the course and ran on either side of me, encouraging me to run hard, to push through and that I was almost there.
“It feels like I’m in labour!” was the only thing I managed to say as we rounded the last corner.
They hopped off the course in the last few hundred metres and yelled from the sidelines as I sprinted as hard as I could to the finish. My legs felt like jelly and my calves were cramping. I thought for certain I was going to pull a James Fell and collapse on the finish line and end up in the med tent, but I managed to stay upright. I was so happy when I crossed the finish line, I thought I might burst into tears — but I couldn’t as I was still gasping for air and trying to wipe snot from my face as my boyfriend snapped photos from the finishing chute.
I immediately got the shakes and my legs cramped up, but otherwise I was okay. My feet felt swollen, but nothing hurt or felt broken. Once I exited the finishing chute, I could barely walk. I don’t think I could have pushed any harder than I did that day, all things considered. I was so thankful to have Matt there, not only for cheering me on when I needed it the most but also to carry me all the way back to the hotel where I left my stuff!
I got to see Debbie come through the finish line before I left in an awesome time of 3:52:48, a huge PR for her considering how she was feeling before the race. We were both thrilled with our times, especially since we felt things could have either gone well, just okay, not so great or terribly wrong. That’s the thing with the marathon — no matter how much you prepare and how well you train, you never know how race day is actually going to go, especially when/if you hit the dreaded wall.
I celebrated my BQ with a big Thanksgiving dinner later that night, which included several glasses of wine and two helpings of dessert. Because it was Thanksgiving and all — a time to reflect and feel gratitude for all that you have — I spent some time after the race thinking about all that I’m thankful for; the love and support of my family and friends (and their health and happiness), good food on the table, the beautiful place in which we live, and my body for carrying me through those 42.2 kilometres (and every other physically and mentally challenging thing I make it do).
Now that I’ve accomplished my third and final goal for 2014, it’s time to relax, recover and start thinking about what I want to accomplish next year (besides hopefully getting in to the Boston Marathon). I’m going to take a full break from any activity this week then ease back into things over the next month or so, hopefully doing a few small local races if my foot is okay.
Congratulations to everyone who ran races over the weekend, whether you PR’ed or not. You are all amazing and inspiring.