October rolled around and I still wasn't running, but my legs were slowly starting to feel better. When it came time for the Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon, I supported several friends there and ended up getting some running in and knew that maybe things were finally getting better. Then, in November, I slowly started back in a return to running program prescribed by Dr. Darrin Bright. There were times that I wanted to just push things forward with this plan that called for a lot of walking, but I also knew that I didn't want to feel that pain again and so I was patient.
During this time, I also took up swimming as a way to stay in shape and not use my legs. By no means am I even an average swimmer and my technique is awful, but I still manage to get a good workout in each time and I also feel stronger because of it. I also got lots of cycling in as another way to not have impact on the legs.
When I was finally released from the return to running program by Dr. Bright, I decided to start training for the Xenia marathon in April. I asked my friend, Cindy Warner, for help with my plan because she had successfully used one to PR both the Erie half marathon and the Columbus full marathon this past fall. She came up with one from the Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon that seemed to fit me pretty well and also took into account my propensity for over-training and injury. She agreed to help hold me accountable with following the plan and so the journey began.
The first eight weeks of the plan went really well. During that time, I made my first comeback race at the First on the First 5K in Westerville. Since I hadn't raced in a long time, I had no idea what I was capable of. I just went out and pushed hard and then held on at the end to finish with a 19:52 - just five seconds off my PR. I was ecstatic.
I continued to follow the plan with solid outdoor runs and some great indoor track workouts. Doing eight loops for a mile on the indoor track got me thinking about the Last Chance for Boston races that were coming up in February as the participants would keep circling a one-mile loop to reach their desired distance. To some people, the thought of 26 loops (plus a .20 start) seems like pure mental torture, but after doing an 11-mile indoor track workout or 88 loops I started to believe that it might be something that I could handle. During one of our Saturday group runs, I asked Cindy what she thought about that race. We discussed my history of always running a great first 20-mile training run as I prepared for a marathon and my ability to go for a long distance without necessarily training by the book for it. I am also a social runner and the thought of having people constantly around me on the loop made that a draw for me. And, a loop course would also be the easiest type of course to get support on. The only downsides we could come up with were that I would be under-trained and the possibility of getting injured without reaching my goal and then being forced to miss the Xenia race.
With all the information digested, I also got the feedback of a few friends who had run the race before. Both Teri Pokosh and Ken Varian gave it good reviews and encouraged me to do it. So, I signed up. I decided that I would treat the race as a 20-mile training run and then just see what I had left. The goal would be to finish the race the best way I could, but if there were any issues I would stop and not risk jeopardizing the Xenia race. Cindy helped me adjust my training plan as I increased my long run mileage to a peak of 17 miles two weeks ago, and then I tapered this past week. I also got another shot of confidence a week before Last Chance when I beat my goal of a 7:00 pace at the hilly Granville Winter Run 7.5-miler by finishing in 51:44 (6:50 pace) and shockingly won a race for the first time ever!
That set the stage for race weekend. I went down on Saturday afternoon to pick up my packet and race bib. I decided to walk the one-mile loop while I was there and get a feel for what the course would be. One other huge aspect to my preparation for this event and for improving my training has been reading the book "Unleash the Champion" by Denny Dicke. He teaches all kinds of techniques to make you mentally tougher and to help you push the negative thoughts out when you run as a way to have your best performance. I'm not a huge fan of self-help type of books, but I connected with this one and followed a lot of them. I wrote out 3:14:30 as a goal time on a piece of paper and the words "Determined", "Tenacious", and "Unstoppable" and hung them on the mirror in my bathroom to stare at every day. I would repeat those words on training runs when things got tough. I would visualize me finishing my race with the goal time that I wanted. I bought into it and my performance began to improve. The final aspect for me was to visit the actual course and imagine myself having the race that I wanted to have and I was able to do that less than 24 hours before I started the actual event.
On Sunday, February 24, I was up bright and early to knock out my core work that includes 100 situps and 100 pushups that I've done every day now for over a year. Then, I was off to the race. I met up with Cindy on the way as she was going to serve as my support for the day, hand me water and fuel when necessary, and try to help keep me on track and help me make a good decision about whether to continue on or not when the time came as I approached the 20-mile mark. My pace to qualify for the Boston Marathon needed to be a 7:25 per mile or a 3:14:59 overall finish time. My previous best marathon finish in two attempts was a 3:41:39 at the Earth Day Challenge last spring. My goal for Sunday's race was to start out at a 7:20 pace and just keep knocking them off at that clip for as long as I could.
We lined up at the starting line at 8 a.m., the horn sounded, and we were off! Since the clock started on the horn, I had lined up right in the front and was among the first 10 people to head out. A couple of faster guys took an early lead with a guy in an orange Boston Marathon jacket sprinting to the front. I figured if he had the jacket and he seemed to be near my age that he would be a good guy to keep in my sights as I ran the loops. I tried to settle into an easy pace and tried not to let the excitement of the start get me going too fast. We did the first .20 and then crossed the spot that would eventually be the finish line when we passed 26 more times. When I finished the first mile, I realized that I had gotten off to a faster start than I planned to as I posted a 6:57. I dialed it back for Mile 2 to a 7:03, but then hit a 6:58 for Mile 3. Right as I hit the Mile 3 mark, I caught up with my friend, Melanie Kopp, who was doing the half and trying to PR. I had told her prior to the race that I would see her at Mile 3 and Mile 12. I met my goal for the first part of that.
I managed to back the pace down a bit for the next two miles with a 7:15 and a 7:13. As I approached Cindy at Mile 6 after a 7:03 lap, I had finished my first water bottle and told her that I would take a Gatorade G1 pouch on the next lap to fuel. I grabbed it after posting a 7:08 lap for Mile 7 and proceeded to drink it through the next two laps at 7:08 and 7:12. I hit Mile 10 at a 7:06 pace and thought to myself that I was now halfway done with my 20-mile training run. Mile 11 came and went in 7:12 and then it was time to see if I would catch up to Melanie on Mile 12. Once again, I caught her right at the mile marker as I finished that lap in 7:11. I ran alongside her momentarily and told her how well she was doing and that she had lots of time in the bank to PR the half. I thanked her for pushing so hard to make me go hard in my race and told her I was proud of her and to finish strong and then I took off again.
I continued to try to keep the pace as close to 7:20 as I could. Miles 14 through 20 went by like clockwork in 7:20, 7:16, 7:13, 7:12, 7:20, 7:15, and 7:18. Somewhere during the middle teen miles, I passed the guy in the Boston jacket and I vowed to not let him pass me back. By the time I crossed the finish line, I had actually lapped him as his quick start came back to haunt him.
As I approached Cindy after Mile 20, I commented to her that the training run was done and now it was time for the icing on the cake. She had been good about making me drink part of another bottle of water around Mile 13 and then a second G1 pouch at Mile 16. My stomach was starting to give me fits, but it would have definitely been worse if I hadn't done the fueling even though I didn't want to. Big thanks to Cindy for being stern about this and keeping me from derailing that part of my plan like I had in my previous two marathons.
As I knocked out Miles 21 and 22, I knew that I was starting to fade slightly but I managed to keep the pace at 7:28 and 7:25. I'm not a big Eminem fan, but his song "Lose Yourself" came on at this point and it was the perfect song as I knew that I was now just a little over four miles away from reaching a huge goal. I knew that I needed to dig down deep and push through the stomach pain and tired legs that I had going on and finish out what I started. Melanie had also joined Cindy in cheering me on and they were doing a great job of pushing me towards the finish even though I could tell by their faces that they were just as nervous as I was that it was going to be really close as they could also tell that I was starting to slow down. I finished Mile 23 in 7:38 and I was starting to calculate in my head how much cushion I had for the final three-plus miles as I was really starting to hurt. It was at this point that Cindy yelled at me that I needed to make it through the next mile and that she would jump in and try to run me in the final two.
Mile 24 seemed like it took forever. The crowd of runners had really thinned out as most of the half marathoners were done and some of the full marathoners were starting to really show signs of the wear and tear that the distance can take on one's body as I saw numerous ones stretching on the side of the course. I finally got to the point that I could see Cindy and Melanie again and I was thankful to know that I would have company for the final two laps. Mile 24 took 8:01.
As nice as it was to get someone to run with me for Mile 25, it was also my worst mile of the whole race. My stomach was really revolting at this point and I nearly come to a screeching halt around the first turn as I dry heaved. Cindy was in drill sergeant mode because she knew I didn't have much margin for error (although what she didn't know but I did was that I had two more minutes than she thought because she was looking at the half marathon clock which started two minutes before the full marathon). She told me that I just needed to keep pushing through and that if I had to throw up to just do it all over myself and keep moving. And here I thought she was my friend. LOL I somehow managed to make it through that mile in 8:16.
Then, it was finally time for the last lap plus the final .20. Cindy thought I had roughly 10 minutes to get it done while I really had more like 12 minutes. She kept encouraging me (insert barking orders at me) to stay after it. (In fairness, while at the time I was thinking it was harsh, she was doing the right thing. She knew that if I came that close and missed my goal that I would be not only sore from the running but mentally devastated.) I manged to pick up the pace to an 8:07 for that lap. Then, I could see the finish and I kicked things into gear to make sure that I got there in time. I covered the final .20 at a 7:36 pace and hit a 5:46 pace going to the finish - which was my fastest pace during the entire race. Once I saw the clock and knew that I was going to meet my goal, I started to ease up just a bit so I wouldn't totally collapse when I crossed the finish line. I HAD DONE IT!!!! 3:13:33!!! A new PR by 28:06 AND a Boston qualifying time! :) I was even more surprised when the person at the finish line handed me a plaque and said that I had won the 40-49 age group. I later found out that I finished 8th in the entire race.
After changing into dry clothes and drinking some water, it was time to head to Outback Steakhouse for something I had been waiting three years for - Aussie cheese fries!!! I hadn't had a tater tot, french fry, or hash brown during that span as I tried to use that as motivation for me to help push towards this goal of a BQ. The Bethel Road Outback was right by the race and since I have a huge history with Chris, the owner, and the great folks there it was a no-brainer to stop. The cheese fries were SOOOOO GOOD! And to top it off, Chris paid for my meal! Wow!
On the way home, the magnitude of what I had accomplished began to finally hit me as I started to get phone calls, text messages, tweets, and Facebook posts from my family and friends as they began to hear about what had happened. I have the best people in my life...I really do. Several people said they wished they would have known about this so they could have been there to cheer me on and I know that my family wanted to all be there. But, I kept it quiet and low key because I didn't want to put any pressure on myself as I was trying my best to just think of this as a training run and that proved to be the right choice. I'm extremely thankful for all the love and support of so many great people! I am truly blessed!