Way back in October 2015 I set M2B on May 28, 2017 as a goal race. Back then I figured that 18 months was enough time to improve enough to run a Boston Qualifier (I had just run my second marathon with a time of 5:04:36). The closer the date came, the more my goal seemed to be audacious. I needed 4:10 officially but based on last year’s Boston entries I needed a bit faster than 4:08. So I set my goal at 4:05, which is an average pace of 9:21.
Mountains to Beach is a mostly downhill course. At first I thought, “sure it’ll be easy to just run downhill for 26.2 miles.” Then I realized that we go up too… Thankfully I was able to do the majority of my long runs on the course so I knew where I’d encounter difficulty.
I discovered a website (findmymarathon.com) that predicts a finishing time by comparing previous marathons and courses. I ran the Carlsbad Marathon in January with a time of 4:14:20. When I plugged this number in for a prediction I thought it’d give me a “good” number. Instead it said 4:12:01. Hmmm…not going to be easier like I thought!
The closer I got to the race, the more nervous I became, vacillating between “I’m ready” and “what the hell was I thinking” and “it’ll be so embarrassing if I don’t make it” to “I’ve got this!” Helpfully, all my training runs were fabulous (I’ll write about this in another post).
Before the race, my coach gave some excellent advice:
You are ready to rock! Just be patient and relax. On this course I think the second half is a little faster than the first half so do not force anything early. Just like a long training day except you have the greenlight to dip as deep into the well as you can at the end 🙂
So how’d it go?
The race starts with a gradual 3 mile climb. My plan was to run this very conservatively, knowing that I can run downhill fast enough to make up the time lost.
Taking it easy up that first big hill gave me a big deficit to make up.
Slow…slow…slow… telling myself, “this is a training run effort right now.” It was challenging not to match the pace of all those who were flying past me. It was even harder when the 4:07 pacer passed me at about 1.5 miles. There was a great temptation to stick with this pace group. My mantra became, “I’m running my own race,” as they pulled away from me. A friend from the running club joined me for a bit.
Once we turned and headed downhill, I had to be careful not to run too fast. My plan here was easy effort…no heavy breathing! My daughter was running with me at this point and when we approached the 4:07 group at about 5.5 miles, she helpfully reminded me not to increase my speed to get past them. It was a bit challenging because this was a big group.
Miles 4 up to the half felt very easy…
Once we passed this group the rest of the race was nice in a non-crowded way. I steadily passed runners throughout the entire race. According to the date, I ran a positive split (faster first half), finishing a half marathon in 2:01:51 (this is my third fastest half marathon time!). Throughout the race I wasn’t watching my lap pace, opting to occasionally look at average pace instead. I remember turning onto Baldwin and heading up a small hill when I noticed that for the first time I hit my goal pace of 9:21…as I climbed I lost the pace but didn’t panic because I knew I’d be going downhill again. My mantra was “keep it easy.”
This middle section has a nice little climb in it, plus a few rolling hills. Having run it three times in training I was ready for it. I passed people going down and some of them passed me going up.
My goal here was to increase the effort on the downhill portions, take it easy going up and make it to the the final 10k without blowing up.
We encountered a slight head wind in this section, but it wasn’t too strong and it was cool, so actually beneficial. I was also dumping water on my head at every water station in an effort to stay cool. My average pace was around 9:19-9:20.
At one point I thought, “hmmm, maybe I should speed up and try to get to 4 hours.” I felt that good! Good sense prevailed however and I decided that it would be a mistake to get greedy. So I stuck to the plan.
Time to go! After a brief physical inventory I concluded that I felt good, so from a perceived effort level (remember, I wasn’t watching lap pace) I increased the effort.
I began passing more and more people. I admit that it was fun to run past all those who sailed past me those first three miles! I knew that the last two miles were going to be hard so I was bracing myself for this, but meanwhile miles 20-23 felt like a wonderful groove where I was just running. I was realizing that I was on pace to qualify for Boston.
I started the last 5K with an average pace of 9:18. This was great because it meant that I had a 3 second cushion for that last hard uphill run. As I ran I told myself, “I have 3 seconds to spare…don’t give it away easily.” This was the hard part…the suffering part…the I’ve got this if I can hold on part.
Climbing…”this is hard!”. I encountered a friend who obviously recognized the suffering in my facial expression, gave me a high five (barely had energy for that!) and said, “you’ve got this Nancy! In a block and a half you’ve got a downhill.”
My new mantra was “hold on! hold on! I’m doing it! Just. Hold. On!”
Then with a mile and a half to go…with my quads screaming, my left leg decided that it was done. I felt a heavy, numb sensation all throughout my left leg. Shit! My average pace was now 9:19. There was no way I was giving up now…so dig deep as my coach said and force that leg to work.
Heading down the last hill I opted to skip the last water station because I was afraid that if I slowed down my leg would take that as a sign that it could quit. Thankfully I was now on very familiar running territory…I just had to hold on to the end.
As we turned on to Harbor Blvd, two different people commented, “you’re doing great!” I responded to one of them, “If I can hold on, I’m going to Boston!” Average pace was now 9:20.
I had told my family that this part of the course was going to be either happy-hard or miserable-hard, depending on how the rest of the race had gone. The happy was the only thing that kept that left leg moving. One mile to go, “hold on… Boston… hold on… Boston… hold on… OMG Boston…HOLD ON” With less than half a mile, my average pace hit 9:21. Dig a bit more because at this point 9:22 is not acceptable!
My husband, son, and some friends were cheering at the finish shoot…I didn’t see or hear them. All I could focus on was making it to that finish line.
I finished at 4:04:49! According to Garmin, my average pace was 9:21. According to the official race results it was 9:20. According to both…I’m going to Boston!