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The short: My finishing time of 2:54:XX (I have a few different finishing times at this point, but they all begin with 2:54) was nearly 10 minutes slower than the big dream goal time I went to Houston to chase, but I finished the race at peace with that. My attempt at double-peaking failed, which I knew was a risk, but I don't regret taking the chance; I had to try. I executed my race plan well, but simply didn't have enough in reserves. At mile 16 I knew that I could run 10 more miles, but I also knew it was going to be nowhere near 6:15 pace. I then went on to provide a fantastic example of how NOT to pace a marathon! With no chance at accomplishing my time goal, I ran those final 10 miles with all I had in me, with a big smile of my face, and while thanking God that I was out there. 2:54 is still my third best marathon (behind 2:47:14 and 2:49:20), and my fifth consecutive sub-3:00, so I am proud that I accomplished that on a day that I didn't have gas in the tank, even though of course I wish my risk has paid a better reward. Taking no chances means wasting your dreams, and I'm certainly not doing that! "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11 The actual finish wasn't quite like this The details: After running a 2:47:14 at the California International Marathon while on the tail-end of vertigo, I felt that 2:45:00 was within the realm of possibility off of my fitness if everything went perfectly, and decided to try another marathon mostly off of the same training cycle 6 weeks later. I've had good luck running two marathons close together several times, and often run slightly better in the second. Houston is known as a pancake flat fast course, and I was accepted into their Athlete Development Program way back in September when I decided that having a Plan B marathon would be nice. Because the winter dealt very cold temperatures to most of the country, the Houston race day weather ended up being ideal for fast racing, with a start time temperature of 34 degrees. Even though I had a lot of ups and downs (also detailed here and here) during the 6 weeks between my two marathons, I knew I'd always wonder "what if?" I didn't try Houston, so I went for it. Such an amazing field and race ambassadors I had a tentative pace plan for the race, but I also went into it with no expectations except to get the best 26.2 miles that I could get out of myself on that day. After chatting with several friendly runners while waiting and warming up in the ADP corral, I took off from just behind the amazing elite field that included Molly Huddle and Jordan Hasay, among many others in both the half and full distances. Unfortunately I could never see any of them, because my corral was brought up behind the invited elites at the last second before the gun. My plan was to run a tad slower at the beginning of the race than I did at CIM, starting with a 6:30 mile, keeping the rest of the first 5K at 6:25 pace, then dropping to 6:20 through the half (targeting 1:23 or slightly over for the half). For the second half I planned to target 6:15s. It was still mostly dark at the start! Jumping for joy (or to stay warm) pre-race Everything went according to plan for the first 14 miles (except for dropping half of a gel, which didn't phase me because I carry an extra; I also dropped my headband and arm warmers, intentionally). The course was very flat except for a few overpasses and underpasses, the pace felt easy, the miles clipped away, and I had people to run with. The field was not nearly as thick as at CIM, but I could always see others and ran with a few different groups. My Garmin was beeping right at the course mile markers, which was nice because I'd been worried about the tall buildings messing with it. There were also clocks at each mile marker, which I loved. I came through the half at 1:23:27, exactly 30 seconds slower than my first half at CIM, but I wanted to err on the side of being a little more conservative early on to see if that helped me finish stronger, so I was happy with that. However, unlike at CIM I did not feel confident about dropping to 6:15 pace, so I decided to stay at 6:20, figuring that it might not be my day for the 2:45 but maybe I could sit at 6:20 and come in for a PR of 2:46. We also turned into the wind just after the half, and those next few miles were pretty windy ones. At mile 15 I began feeling more unsure of myself, and by mile 16 I knew that it wasn't my day. I knew I could run 10 more miles, but that it was not going to be at 6:15-6:20 pace or anywhere close to it. My mile 15 split was the last one I looked at during the race, because I knew seeing my pace climb would hurt me more than it would help me. With my big time goal out of reach, I set a new goal: run the final 10 miles with joy and thankfulness, and with all my body could give. I put a big smile on my face and thanked God for the opportunity to run another marathon. After the race, several people commented that I was tough for sticking it out and that it must have been a rough final 8-10 miles. The funny thing is though, it wasn't. I was fine running 7:00ish pace for those final 8 miles. I sure as heck couldn't move any faster, but I wasn't breathing hard or in oxygen debt, and I never thought I was going to need to drop out, nor did I want to stop running. My pace did not show the progressive decline that I'd had before with a marathon bonk, and the miles still went by relatively quickly (unlike the final 3.5 miles of CIM, which seemed to take longer than the first 22.7 miles of it!). The best way I can describe it is that I simply didn't have gas in the tank to finish it fast, but my endurance allowed me to finish it consistently at around my long run training pace. Perhaps my glycogen stores weren't replenished fully, but I could operate in fat-burning mode? I really have no idea, but it was just different. I'm glad it wasn't a death march, but also perplexed as to why I couldn't for the life of me pick it up. For the first 15 miles of the race, my Garmin was beeping pretty much right at the mile markers and I made a very strong effort to run the tangents, but during the final 8 miles especially, I had a difficult time figuring out the tangents because of how the road curved and weaved, and my Garmin's distance kept creeping further and further off the course markers -- not that it really mattered, but if I run this race again I need to know the last long stretch of the course better and make a better effort to run the shortest route. A man around mile 24 even told me, "Run on the other side of the road, girl, it's shorter", which made me laugh. Many spectators told me that I was looking strong, maybe because of the smile on my face instead of my pace. It was a much different end compared to CIM. Mile 25 was a little slower because I stopped for a bit to check on and encourage a girl who was walking and crying (to be completely honest, this is something I would not have done had I been on PR pace), but otherwise I hovered right around 7:00 pace and then mustered a 6:20 pace kick at the end. The video my dad took of my finish is here. I laughed at the announcer saying that I was coming in with a "strong finish", but I guess did get back on pace for the final bit! Final stretch Finishing on the right (half marathoners are on the left) Finishers medal Prior to the race, if someone had asked me how I would feel about running 2:54 in it, I would have said that I'd be terribly disappointed, but in the end I wasn't. I was joyous to have run another marathon! Of course I would rather have had everything go perfectly and have run the 2:45:00, but it wasn't in me in this race. I didn't do anything wrong in regards to what I could control, and any day you can finish a marathon is a good one. The event, course, and weather were ideal; I simply didn't have the gas in the tank, which was a risk I knew I was taking going in. God is good all the time, and His plans are better than mine! Plus, being mad at yourself when you gave your all doesn't make you any faster next time (it has taken me many years to learn this!). Having my dad on the trip was a blessing Meeting up with Halley after her big half PR was also a blessing! In addition to providing a fantastic example of how NOT to pace a marathon, I learned several things. I will run two marathons mostly off of one cycle again, but I won't do it with a power-packed vacation (which we took in conjunction with CIM) and the holidays between. It was all just too much (not to mention all of the 10-12 hour work days I had between). It is probably also preferable to run one of the marathons close to home, as I have always done before. I liked the Houston course and if I run it again I'll be familiar with it and the area, which would reduce a lot of stress -- navigating the area in an unfamiliar huge city was no easy task in regards to parking, getting to the expo, finding restaurants, getting to the start, etc. (plus our map of and specified entrance for the ADP corral were not correct!). The entire experience was full of lessons that will help me in the future. This was also the first time I ran a marathon with an average pace in the 6:30s, as my other 4 sub-3:00's were average paces of 6:22, 6:27, 6:47, and 6:49. A year ago, my marathon PR was 2:58:53 and my big dream goal was to run under 2:55 (that was revised to 2:52 a few weeks before the Phoenix Marathon in February 2017 though). At Houston, I ran a 2:54 on a day when I had no gas in the tank. Maybe there is some chance that eventually I will be able to run 2:44:59 on a bad day. However, right now I am going to keep chasing it on a perfect day! Even if I never accomplish it, I will never regret trying. I don't regret running Houston, and I know that the results were a step for me in one way or another. Staying positive doesn't always mean things will turn out great; it's knowing that you will be great no matter how things turn out! Results can be found here, and mine are summarized below too. How NOT to pace a marathon! Additional details on how NOT to pace a marathon!
I wrote an excessive amount of detail about this race (links at the end of this post), but here is a short-ish overview! When I chose CIM, I selected it with the express purpose of trying for a 2:45:00 or faster marathon. God placed the dream of achieving an Olympic Trials Qualifying time on my heart, and after an almost painful amount of marathon research I decided that CIM would be my best chance after the qualifying window for the 2020 Trials opened this fall. As race day grew closer, I felt like I was ready for a PR, but not for a 2:45. 2:46-2:47 felt more realistic, and I lamented on this quite a bit during my taper. I ended up deciding to target 2:46:55, 6:22 pace. As marathons always do, once the race began, it took on a personality of it's own. Miles 1-10 were at an average of 6:22 pace - right where I wanted to be. Then something clicked in my head, and for the first time I felt confident that I could run a 2:45:00 after all. I typically hit a stride like this in the marathon, where I feel like I can conquer the world. I start thinking with endorphins, and thoughts like "6:15 is way too fast for that many miles" are replaced with "6:15 seems doable for the rest of the race". Around mile 10, I could hear my husband's advice in my head: "You should try for the 2:45; if you lose it at the end, you lose it at the end...but you'll never get it without trying." I could hear my coach saying, "6:22 is a good starting pace, but don't be afraid to drop the pace as the race progresses." I prayed, "God, please make us strong and brave" ("us" being my friends Jamie, Kris, and I -- full story about the miles I spent with each of them during this race to come). I suddenly believed that I could run the remaining 16 miles of the race at 6:15 pace, which I knew would get me in at just under 2:45. From miles 10-22.5ish I did just that. Each mile that passed I was hitting right around 6:15 pace, with some variation for elevation, and each time I passed a mile marker I just knew I could run the remaining distance at 6:15 pace. A similar thing happened to me at BMO Mesa-Phoenix, when I just knew I had the rest of the race in me at 6:30 pace or better (on the other hand, at Dallas I knew I was going to come up a few miles short). Mile 18 - yep, I've got 8 more miles of 6:15s in me. Mile 19 - yes, I can do 7 more miles of this. Doubt crept in here and there, and I would question if I had enough left, but I just kept running the mile I was in and praying to be brave. When I hit mile 20 in 2:06:10, I believed I could run the final 10K in 38:50, or 6:15 pace. For the first time in this entire training cycle, I fully believed I was ready for a 2:45. I thought of all of the fast finish runs I'd done; I was ready to close with a solid 10K. Then around mile 22.5, my neck started spasming. My legs were still intact, so initially I didn't worry, but tried to tilt it forward and to the sides for some relief. It quickly worsened, and I also became dizzy. I knew it was the benign paroxsymal positional vertigo (BPPV) I'd experienced during my taper, and I knew it was trying to steal my 2:45! I wasn't going to let it take my dream without a fight, but I quickly felt like I was losing the battle. I felt like a puppet, my head pulled back on a string. I couldn't keep my head forward and I couldn't see the road. My peripheral vision was off and I almost felt like I was running into the unknown. I tried to focus on a girl's head in front of me, and kept telling myself "just follow her in, just get in". I didn't see my final 3 mile splits because I couldn't look at my watch, but they weren't nearly good enough for the 2:45 (6:40, 6:46, 7:01 -- I did see mile 23 which was 6:26 for the start of my slow-down). I wasn't sure I was going to make it in at all, so my disappointment with slowing down was replaced with thankfulness to finish. Something is going to give at the end of a marathon, and this was just it for me in this one. I crossed the finish line in 2:47:14, a PR by over 2 minutes on a course that was more difficult than where I ran my 2:49 (you can't earn an OTQ at Phoenix due to the amount of net downhill). I was overcome by so many sensations at once: excruciating pain as I fell to the ground in the finish chute, joy for the PR and to have made it to the finish, and disappointment that after finally feeling like I could run a 2:45 for about 12.5 miles, I was unable to even come close. I finished 65th female in the USATF National Marathon Championships, after not being seeded in the top 100 going in. Could I have run faster had I stayed at 6:20-6:22 pace instead of dropping to 6:15? Most likely; pretty much anytime you slow down at the end of a marathon you're well-trained for it's because you didn't pace within your capacity earlier on, and it's always better to negative split. I may have gotten in at 2:46:30ish, but I still wouldn't have gotten the standard. As much as I hate not having a strong finish, I am glad I took the risk. A marathon PR is always a risk, and this Big Time Goal was a Big Gamble for me. One thing that's changed in addition to my bright shiny new PR is that, for the first time, I feel confident I can run a 2:45. It's going to take everything going right (no BPPV!), but now I know I have it in me. Phoenix was a turning point because I knew I had to try (who is going to run a 2:49 and not try?); CIM was the point that I knew I could do it (who is going to be content with a 2:47 when that 2:45 is right there?!). Just like after my 2:49 at Phoenix, even if I never run a faster marathon, I am really proud that I ran a 2:47. I am thankful God gave me the strength to run it and put people in my life to help me get there. It wasn't that long ago that 6:22.7 pace was my 10K pace, and as Jon told me, I ran 19:49 5Ks for 26.2 miles straight! I have over 2 years to find 134 more seconds. Trying is always going to be intimidating, because it's freakin' 6:17 pace for 26.2 miles! But as at CIM, God will make me brave enough to try. Official results aren't yet posted, presumably since it was the national marathon championships, but my unofficial results are here. This link also has a few race videos and links to several super ridiculous-looking race photos (we will just say that the crazy posture I ran the final few miles in is illustrated well, and I now can't look at them without laughing!). More from CIM: USATF National Championships Panel & Expo Pre-Race Calm & Camaraderie Miles 1-10: Anyone can run a good first 10K Miles 10-22.5: Finding confidence for the first time Miles 22.5-26.2: The beginning of the end Post-Race Tears & Post-Race Planning Marathon Day Fueling