Never stop chasing those crazy dreams. That’s the phrase that continues to resonate with me as I think about what happened on October 7th 2018. This continues to be a theme in my reflection on marathons and the training cycles that go with them, but each one is so unique and different. This year, I finally had the chance to engrave my finish time on the back of my medal. 3:37:05. That time will be forever ingrained in my memory. Yes, it’s a new PR for me, but there is so much more to it. 3:37:05 continues to transform who I am as a runner. Was it my A goal? No. My B goal? No. It sat between my B and C goal, but I can honestly say there is no regret for me in that finish time, nor do I regret having set the bar high with my A, B and C goals.
Never stop chasing those crazy dreams.
In fall of 2017, I had just completed the Chicago marathon, and in November, I registered for the 2018 Chicago Marathon. Soon after, I discovered that I would have to take a break from running due to an Achilles injury. When spring came, I started to tell myself it was okay to start dreaming big again. I ran a half without a PR, but was beyond thrilled to even be out there after months of no running. But how was I going to continue to improve my training strategy and continue to learn more about myself in the process? Then I decided to seek the guidance of a running coach to create a custom training plan to ensure I was training for my goal correctly and ramping up in mileage safely post injury. This was my first time ever seeking the guidance of a running coach. I filled out a questionnaire and had to finally put it on paper that I wanted to BQ. It felt liberating and terrifying at the same time. I used my recent 10k at Market Square Day to help my coach gauge where I was at, and I jumped right into it. Even though this was marathon #6 for me and I had a general idea of what to expect, I couldn’t help but look ahead at the upcoming workouts she had on deck for me and instantly started to panic. But I took it day by day and tackled each workout that she had scheduled for me. Sure, there were a few where my pace wasn’t quite there, but I kept pushing forward.
Then on September 12th I found myself breaking down and just falling apart. It was a 9-mile workout with 3 x 2 mile at 7:30 pace. I just couldn’t hang on to the pace. I ended the workout feeling defeated and like I wasn’t worthy of attempting a 3:35. I was defeated before I even got to the starting line. I posted on social media about the workout and even reached out to my coach. (Okay, I realize now how I was completely overreacting, but marathon training, running in general can do that to you sometimes) She reminded me how strong my workouts had been over the course of the training cycle and how challenging it was, reassuring me that all in all it was a success. The following weekend, I ran a half marathon as part of my tempo long run. It was hot and it was hilly, but somehow I placed 1st in my age group. But all I could think about was whether or not this tempo long run had proved that I was “ready” for race day and my race goal. It was in that moment I realized how I was letting a time ruin my hard work. I ran a smaller half marathon Labor Day weekend and placed 2nd in my age group. Here I was with my first ever 1st place in my age group for a half marathon and all I could think about was Chicago and the 3:35. “WAKE UP, LISA!” I thought to myself. I told myself that there is going to be a day where you look back at this day and will feel so proud. Instead of waiting for that moment, enjoy it right now. It’s unfortunate how are race goals can sometimes make us fail to realize our progress and celebrate our success along the way. This half marathon was not a PR, but it was a great milestone and a very hilly course on a hot day. And I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to run it with my friend who recently moved to Rhode Island. I was beyond happy to have a great weekend with her and a successful race! I needed to be in that moment, and not let my mind go racing into what was coming up in a few weeks.
Then, at the end of September, I was at a Women in Technology conference for work and I was shocked. The Boston Qualifying time for my age group shifted to 3:30. 3:30?!?! That’s IMPOSSIBLE! WHY?!?!?! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!?!
I continued to panic and anxiously utilized every race predictor tool I could find to see a number that would somehow get me to 3:30. I was heartbroken before the race even started. Even having just reminded myself to celebrate the process and my success along the way, here I was again. I did all that I could to get myself in the right head space and kept as calm as possible through the “taper crazies”. I did my stretching and foam rolling and tried to shake any thoughts of phantom injuries leading up to race day.
I ran my last shakeout run in my town the Friday before the race and enjoyed a stroll downtown to get coffee and celebrate the bright sunny fall day. At that point the hard training was done and it was all about mentally training myself to be calm and confident.
The flight was on time. I made it to the expo and got my bib. We had an excellent pasta dinner in Chicago on Saturday evening. I went to bed reminding myself, whatever happens, happens. I had done the work.
On race morning I called an uber and even invited some fellow runners to join me who were also up early to get to the starting line. Her name was Jacque and she was headed to the start with her daughter-in-law who was there to watch her that day. We chatted about previous marathons we had ran and I reassured her about the flat and fast course ahead of her. She was coming from Florida and shared with me how challenging training had been in the hot muggy weather. When it was time for us to part ways, I did something I had never done before. I asked her for her bib number so that I could track her. I told her good luck and that I wanted to make sure she finished and was okay at the end! She smiled and asked for mine in return (maybe that’s the runner’s equivalent to exchanging numbers at a bar? 😊 )
Then I was off to my corral and even with some time of relief, the nerves were creeping back. At my last pit stop to the porta potties before the race, I found myself frustrated about those that were cutting the line. As this continued to happen, myself and a couple runners around me started to joke about the situation and how cutthroat it becomes at marathon porta potty lines. One of the runners was coming all the way from Australia and another, Morgan, was local to Chicago. We chatted for a bit and then I found out that Morgan and I were in the same corral. We decided to wait for each other so we could wait at the corral together.
That ended up turning into 30 minutes of non-stop chatting about our race experience and even our shared time goal. I was so relieved to be talking to somebody else with a crazy scary goal like my own. She was also shocked by the new 3:30 Boston Qualifier time. Even talking to a complete stranger, I suddenly did not feel alone. We reassured each other that we were going to crush it. We even laughed about maybe seeing Kevin Hart along the way who was running and looked around to see if he was in our corral! (I did end up seeing him around mile 17 which was so incredibly cool!!!) I don’t know if it was a coincidence or maybe some sort of fate, but I think I needed Morgan in that moment, and we exchanged bib numbers and phone numbers as well in hopes that maybe our paths may cross in the future! I had never done that for past races, but I think you meet such incredible people before the start of a race, and I need to take more moments to celebrate that.
Just like that, the race began, and I was off! I wish I could share a story about how wonderful I felt and how I glided on in to the finish, but let’s be real…that hurt like hell! My coach and I had set my A, B and C goals, and I was following a pace band for my A goal. Nerves set in and I definitely went out too fast and saw the A goal, then B goal slip away. I said some awful things to myself like “why the hell do you sign up for these things?” and just a basic “you’ll never BQ”, but I also found strength. I had a very vivid memory in 2017 in being tucked in with the 3:40 group and then watching them slip away. During this race I passed them, and later on I passed that exact spot where it had happened last year, where I lost the 3:40 group. They were nowhere in sight. 3:35 seemed too far out of reach at that point but I kept pushing and pushing and ended with a shiny new PR of 3:37:05. 4+ minutes faster than my 3:41:27.
There were tears. I couldn’t believe it. Since my first marathon in 2013, I had shaved over 20 minutes off of my time. I love this sport. I love everything about it. I love how it takes you down to your lowest point and makes you question if you can even continue. Marathon running forces you to respect the process and reminds you that nothing is promised, and that there will always be bumps along the way. The long rainy race I had just completed was behind me. The hard work had all paid off. What would have been 2 minutes off from the previous Boston Qualifying time was now 7 minutes off, but somehow that was okay. The goal is still out there for me. I “get to” keep chasing it. I “get to” keep learning what it takes to be a stronger runner and learn more about myself along the way.
A few weeks later, I had a fellow running friend who ran Chicago ask me how the race went for me. I shared my results and we reminisced on the rainy dreary race day we had. I was ecstatic to talk about the race. At one point they said something along the lines of, well, I know you didn’t exactly get the time you wanted, but you did great! I smiled and soon after we parted ways.
When I got in the car to drive home, I couldn’t help but think about that comment, “you didn’t exactly get the time you wanted”. Uh oh, here we go. Those tears of feeling defeated that you thought you’d escaped can all come out now. You set a goal and you failed. You have a right and a necessity to beat yourself up about this. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Not a single tear. I felt too much pride in how hard I pushed myself.
I will keep chasing this goal, but there is also something deep inside of me saying that I need to keep sharing my love of running. For 2019 I want to set running goals for myself outside of a time. I’d like to put my RRCA certification to use and help others fall in love with distance running like I have. Maybe I want to volunteer at some races. Who knows what’s ahead for me? I will be running the Atlanta Half Marathon in March with my sister, and I am sure I will be signing up for many other races.
My advice to others would be to keep on chasing those crazy dreams that you have. Keep on encouraging others who are chasing them. Celebrate the running community and celebrate every step on the pavement as you run. Over the years, marathons have taught me to keep on fighting. I have had my share of doubts and struggles as a runner, and in life for that matter, but it’s the beauty in the journey and the process that keeps me going. This year’s training cycle reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite TV shows, “The Office”. In the final episode, the gang goes back to their little office in Scranton, PA one last time and they all reminisce on the years they had together. At one point, Andy Bernard looks into the camera and says “I wish there was a day to know you’re in the good ole days before you actually left them”. When you’re a runner it’s important to note that while you may cross many finish lines your are never truly done. The beauty and the intrigue in the sport is enjoying the journey you are on as a runner. While I may set PR goals and fight for them, I don’t ever want to see my journey complete because I learn so much about myself every step of the way. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.