relieved, happy & still buzzed

3:53 for 26.38 miles. What a day. I hit my target time pretty dead on. Actually, I just realized that for every long race I give myself three targets: the one I have to meet (non-negotiable), the one I reach for and the one that I think is possible but I’m not yet willing to give it all up for. Both marathons I’ve hit the second. With this one, I had to meet 4 hours to qualify for Boston. I knew it was well within my range but it also made for a less than relaxed run. I was on edge for much of the run, checking myself to make sure I wasn’t speeding up too much too soon, trying to insure I didn’t fall apart at the end. But it was hard. I think the tension made it less of a beautiful race on a perfect day. Until the last 2 miles. By then I knew I had a 4 hour race but I didn’t know by what margin. Hearing Ben hollering out at mile 24 “you’ve got it Laura!” certainly give me an added boost. From them on I held a strong, steady pace on to the final turn down hill AND I passed a friend in the last tenth of a mile. I went back over my splits yesterday evening and it looks like I ran a close to perfect race. But it was hard.

At the start I was planning to go out with a 9:15 pace for the first few miles then bring it down to just over 9:00 up to mile 20 but I ended up following Sean Cusack, one of the coordinators for the marathon training program, wearing his Viking horns helmet. He claimed he was leading the pace for 4 hours but starting with a 9:00 pace. I questioned him and he answered, “You can do that,” in a way that made me think he knew something I didn’t know, that I was underestimating myself. I felt pressured to agree. Actually it was easy to keep his Viking horns in sight, and it helped relieve the start-of-race jitters. After weeks of training with my team, I was a little disoriented in the mass of strangers.

I kept reminding myself that I could keep my own pace anytime I wished, but it surprises me to see that I held that pace almost to within a tenth of a second (not including the long down hill on Cary Street) until mile 10 when I dropped to the mid/high 8’s. When I go back over the splits, it REALLY surprises me how even and how close to my plan they were with a few minutes to spare at both the half and 20 mile splits.

As I remember it, the miles seemed to pass quickly although there was mile 9 where I was thinking I wasn’t even half way and I wasn’t very comfortable. And even thought it’s only two days out, much of the race is a blur. I was happy to catch Jonathan one of my training partners around mile 4 or 5 and run with him until about mile 10 then somehow he pulled ahead and I never saw him again. I didn’t at all mind the hills from the river up to Forrest Hill Ave and even up Forrest Hill until the half way point. It was a steady effort but I was aware of my breathing, never really labored. I passed the half way point and felt steady and suddenly there were Don and Henry waving signs and smiling. And then ten blocks later there they were again. And again, another ten blocks later. Each time them popped up it put a little hop in my stride and it pulled me out of a tight focus. I thought I would have found it comforting and a little weird to be running my marathon down the road I either run or drive down several times every day—within two blocks of my house—but I was too focused on the race, concentrating on my pace, my effort, my breathing.

At mile 15 we turned onto the Lee Bridge, blessed with a rare tail wind, where most years runners battled a dreaded head wind. And by then some folks were starting to labor and I thought “hmmm, he doesn’t look so good,” and “woe, he’s sweating a lot now and he’s got a long way to go still.” And that made me feel fresh and strong.

Now I realize I may have lost my non-running readers long ago but this narrative is mostly for me: to document the race. To figure out what I did right and what I can learn. I can’t see any particular errors but what I DID learn is that I can afford to relax and enjoy the race more, and that I had a lot more in me still at the end of this race. What that might mean is that if I run my next race harder, I might be even more on edge. And maybe what I learned with this race is to allow myself to be uncomfortable for 3 ¾ hours. I have a memory of the first 18 miles of the Sugarloaf Marathon as very relaxed and pleasant but memory twists things very quickly. Already this marathon is looking more like a wonderful run through the city with crowds calling my name out, on a beautiful Fall day. But I know I wouldn’t have said that to anyone running beside me that day.

Just beyond the Lee Bridge, Winnie a friend and coach who was the impetus for my signing up for the race called out to me and I called back, “Hey, run with me a bit.” She asked how I was doing and I replied, “This is hard.” “Of course it’s hard”, she answered, “it’s a marathon.” The humor eased tension instantly. Mile 11 with the steep hill up from the river was my slowest mile at 9:18. Mile 17 after the bridge was my next slowest at 9:04, my “hoped” for average pace up to mile 20.

At mile 20 one of my coaches, Debbie, caught up with me and asked, “Is it everything you hoped for?” I thought “you’ve got be kidding me!”. If I said what was on my mind it would have been, “No, not at all. It hasn’t been fun and relaxed. It’s been hard. My legs are a little sore and I’m not enjoying this run.” Somehow I thought it would be nice and easy like the long training runs. I don’t know what I was thinking. I can see now how it takes no time at all to forget the labor of a long run. Even now as I write this, I think, “But it never really was that difficult…why did I think it was hard…”

I passed through the gates at Pope Ave at mile 21, smiling and waving wildly at Don Garber (come to think of it I smiled and waved to a LOT of friends along the way). Honestly, how hard could this run have been? It was funny to see Maureen at the start near mile 2 in her long black coat and then at mile 17 again in her biking clothes and helmet. I thought to myself, “That was a quick change”. But of course it was about 2 ½ hours later. For the next mile or two another coach came up and run beside me and just helped me stay on pace. He slowed down with me at the water stops and I lost him on the way to 23.

The crux was down Brooke Road but I was looking forward to seeing the Endorphin tent and hoping Henry’s teacher Allison was there. She ran up and was SO supportive and enthusiastic.“You’re still doing sub-nine minute miles” she called out. And I sort of knew this but now that tail wind was a head wind and asked her to run me up to mile 24. Donnie, a coach I’d run with a lot was on the side and asked how I was and I jus sort of waved back something like “not so good,’ but from the looks of the data on my Garmin I had sped up. Allison kept the wonderful chatter up and several times I said, “I love you! Thank you!” Now, I’m embarrassed to remember that but it was the quickest way to say “thank you” and by the time she left me I knew I was on the home stretch and I had plenty to get me to the finish.

And there was Don and Henry one last time just as I turned the corner onto Cary Street with the finish in sight. And coaches Kara and Kevin and I was thrilled to be feeling so great at the finish, and for them to be part of that.

It really does sound like a perfect race, doesn’t it? I’m hardly sore at all as I finish this two days later and I’m starting to plan my next race. I hate to put my family through the training but I do try my best not to have it derail much of our family life. I’m sure I’ll have to go back and edit this but I needed to get this written and posted so I can go back to collecting more interviews and moving ahead with


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