Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Big Dance: Boston Marathon Recap

There are a million aspects of the Boston Marathon that I want to share with you. There's so much to tell and I apologize in advance for the lengthy post. In time - and probably several shorter posts - I'll share even more of the smaller details. There is plenty to say about the sights and sounds, the inner thoughts and the all-around feel of the most prestigious race in the world.

For now, I thought it would be best to get some of the race details down while they're still fresh in my mind.


The thing about Boston is that there are a lot of logistical details to take care of. I'm talking literally pages and pages of things you have to do, details of places to be and exact times to be there.

Having snagged a hotel in Newton, I opted to ignore the advice to use the shuttles from Boston to get to the start in Hopkinton. It just didn't make sense to me to take the subway into the city just to grab a shuttle back out. Oh, then run back in.

Instead, my sweetie agreed to drop me off at Hopkinton State Park - which, by the way, was a piece of cake. We hit minimal traffic and made it to the drop-off point in plenty of time. There was a line of school buses waiting as runners walked right up and boarded.

I gave my sweetie a quick wave as I boarded the bus, feeling kind of like a school-kid on the way to their first day of school. Their very long, hard first day of school.

The bus ride was relatively uneventful, just filled with constant, loud chatter. It was as if a group of long-lost friends had been put on a bus together - but in actuality most of us were strangers brought together with this common bond that made us instant friends.

The ride was quick enough, and soon we pulled onto a small side street. We streamed off the bus, thanking the driver on our way out. I chuckled at his advice to runners: "Don't run too hard today." He obviously didn't get this crowd.

We were quickly greeted by a cheery volunteer clad in a bright green jacket, a sight that would be commonplace throughout the day. More on the volunteers later, but needless to say they were invaluable to this well oiled machine. And, it must be noted, they were all friendly and happy to be part of it.

The walk to Athlete's Village was about a half-mile or so from where we were dropped off. We passed by the signs with big arrows pointing toward the starting line. Nearly every runner craned his or her neck to get a glimpse.

I instantly noted how cold it seemed. The temperatures were somewhere in the upper 40's and there was bright sun - not bad at all for a New England morning. But the wind was wickedly chilly.

While walking I ended up chatting with an older gentleman after he asked me for the time. It was his 25th Boston Marathon. Incredibly impressive.

What was even more impressive was that last June he had a significant health issue and ended up undergoing a triple bypass. "I'm just lucky to be here," he told me. "And you have to get 25 to get in the special club, so I wasn't missing this one."

By the way, he travels from Oklahoma every year to run Boston. It made me think about how lucky I am to have this prestigious, worldwide event practically in my backyard. Along the race course, I heard conversations in French, Spanish, German and Japanese.

I'll share more on Athlete's Village later, but for now I'll just let you know I made it and waited there for the my wave to start. And waited. And waited. As part of the slower runners of the race, I was part of the last wave to leave.

At last, my wave was called and we made our way to the corrals, shedding our warm-up clothing in the charity bins along the way. I made the turn and saw the sign for Corral 8. I was in Corral 5, quite a bit up the road. I picked up my walking pace and squeezed in just in time to start.


The funny thing is, I'm not really sure how the race started. I know there were a bunch of announcements and cheering. I'd found my running pal, Scott, who was running for Dana Farber, in my corral and made a bee-line to say hello.

We hugged and chatted as the race started. Scott was one of my first running pals, back when I first joined TNT and had never run a mile. There, at the starting line of the Boston Marathon, I couldn't help but remark at how far we'd come. I mean that literally and figuratively.

Scott and I ran together briefly, but we had different pacing goals for this race and respected each other's plans. We said good-bye and I trotted ahead.

The first couple of miles were crowded, but not nearly as bad as I expected. (I expected the worst, mind you.) I was able to find a spot and keep it, mostly. I was able to keep my pace in my targeted zone for the first phase of the run.


The plan Coach Lauren put together for me divided the race into three parts. It mimicked, nearly exactly, my training plan for the 20-miler. I'd done that one on the course and, if I do say so myself, really rocked it. I felt intimidated by the Boston Marathon plan, but just kept reminding myself that I'd already done this. Well, I'd already done most of it.

My race plan called for me to average a pace of 9:30 per mile, which is a comfortable pace for me but would certainly be a stretch to maintain over 26.2 miles. It would bring me to the finish line in less than 4:10 -- a huge, huge PR. I'm talking 37+ minutes.

I was excited, if not daunted, by the possibility. I knew I'd put in the training and was ready to give it my best shot.

The plan was to break the race into three parts. Miles 1-10, I'd shoot for a 9:40 (+/- 10 seconds). For the next 10 miles, I'd go for Marathon Pace (9:30s with +/- 10 seconds). At Mile 20, I'd assess and "run by feel." My hope, of course, was to be feeling great and be able to pick up for the final Victory Lap miles. At the very least, I'd just aim to maintain my pace.

Yep, that was the plan.


I'll admit, I felt totally awesome. My running was strong and controlled. I had to consciously check my Garmin and slow myself down. The advice of every other Boston veteran I'd talked to went through my head: Go out slow, go out slow. You need stuff left in the tank (and the legs) for the Newton Hills. They weren't kidding.

I hit my goal paces for the first 10 miles, falling closer to the 9:30 mark than the 9:50 mark, but staying well within the plan. I love when a plan comes together! I thought about my splits being broadcast to Coach Lauren (and many others!) as I crossed the timing mat at the 10K mark. She'd be proud and happy to see I was on target.

I tried to soak everything in. The crowds of spectators and the sounds of the cheers were overwhelming and impressive. I tried to read every sign and waved when I heard the familiar "Go TEAM" shout from the crowd. I think I was smiling from ear to ear for those 10 miles. And I was looking forward to the next 10.


By mile 10, I was ready to pick up the pace slightly to get to the next part of the plan. Again, I had to slow myself down a couple of times. I recall reading a 9:04 at one point and a 9:15. I tried to get it back to 9:20. C'mon, I told myself, It shouldn't be harder to run slower. It's a strange thing to experience.

I was able to hit the planned paces as I entered the Scream Tunnel at Wellesley College. Holy cow! What else can I say? It was completely incredible - with screaming college girls everywhere, holding signs, hanging over the the metal barricade in hopes of getting kisses from passing runners. (I saw a couple get them, too!)

By the time I hit the 13.1 mark - halfway! - I was still right on target. I crossed the mat at 2:05, exactly according to plan. The thought of actually getting that huge PR was sinking in. I still felt good and strong. I could keep this up for a while, I thought.

Yep, that's what I thought.

At Mile 15, I struggled to hit the plan. I'd stopped for some water or Gatorade and couldn't quite get back up to speed. I was quickly coming into Newton and would be facing the hills.

I tried to get back to 9:30s, but struggled to hit 9:40s. It was just a bit outside the plan, but I could feel the plan slipping away. The thought of running 11 more miles at this pace became a daunting task.

My inner thoughts must have been obvious. As I passed a coach for another charity team, he tapped my shoulder with The Stick he was holding. Just one more mile to go until you're only facing single digits. Bring it home, he said.

I smiled. Then I wondered if I really looked bad enough that someone would actually be cheering for me just to get to the single-digit mark. I must admit, though, it was way better than the "almost there" that some spectators love to shout when you're nowhere near the finish.

The next mile was tough, but I knew my sweetie, Coach Lauren and TNT pal Matt would be somewhere between 16.5 and 17. I scanned the massive crowd for them. I needed to see a friendly face at that point. I needed a mental boost.

Finally, there they were at Mile 17. I made eye contact. Coach Lauren must have sensed I was in trouble. As I neared, I saw her whip off her jacket, revealing her running tank and running shorts. It was just like seeing Superman ripping open his Clark Kent button-up shirt and revealing, the giant "S" on his shirt. Seriously, that's how it felt at that moment.

Do you want us, she called out to me in the crowd. I waved them in. Please, I thought.

Within a few seconds, Coach Lauren was on my left and Matt (who now coaches the Seacoast TNT team, but I met when I was his mentor last year) was on my right. I asked about my sweetie, whom we'd left standing on the sidelines with a pile of bags and gear. I felt bad for him once again being deemed the team sherpa, left to haul the bags around the city as he made his way to the finish line.

As she joined the run, Lauren asked a few questions about the race so far and tried to asses how I was feeling at that moment.

My biggest complaint was my legs. My quads were killing me, unlike any feeling I'd had on any other run I've done. It felt like someone was punching them with every step I took. At that moment, I knew exactly what all of those Boston vets meant when they said the first half can take a toll on your legs.

Coach Lauren talked me through the next miles, assuring me that I hadn't fallen that far off the plan and that I was still running a good race. I could feel my 4:10 goal quickly slipping away. I tried to avoid the disappointment and push forward to a PR, no matter what the finish time ended up being.

I avoided looking at my watch. (I didn't actually check my individual mile splits until the next morning, semi-afraid of what I'd find.) I knew I was way off pace. Lauren kept talking to me - and I needed that! - and pushed me through the hills. I made it up all of the hills - even Heartbreak - without walking, which was a great feat at that point.

I got another little boost mid-Heartbreak seeing my running friends and first TNT coach on the sidelines. I passed Scott's wife cheering at me from the sidelines a little while later.

Matt became my personal water-boy, fetching me water or Gatorade (whichever order I barked at him as we approached an aid station) whenever I asked for it. It seemed hot out there, the sun shone down brightly and I realized how much the weather was affecting me. I was gritty with the salt that had been drying on my skin from my sweat.

At one point, when I apparently couldn't stand it any more, I took off my RoadID band and handed it to Lauren - revealing a white band where it had been. Proof that it was sunny and my body was taking a toll.


The third part of the race plan - which was pretty much out the window at this point - was to "run by feel." I tell you, it was a good thing Coach Lauren and Matt were there because, if i was on my own, I think I may have "felt" like walking. Actually, I know I would have.

My legs (specifically, my quads) were throbbing. The downhills were the worst. The pounding was unbearable. I felt like I was barely picking my feet up off the ground. I wondered how Coach Lauren and Matt, both of whom are much faster runners than I am (even at my "fast" miles) could possibly be running this slow. I may have even apologized at one point.

Then I started to feel the familiar tinge of a blister. I felt it on both heels. It was so sore with every footstep. I internally contemplated converting to a barefoot runner for the last few miles. Okay, it wasn't that extreme, but I admit the thought of taking my shoes off to relieve the rub against the blister was really inviting.

Miles 22-24 are pretty much a blur. The crowds were there and probably just as loud, but their shouts seemed somehow muffled. I knew I was running, but I felt like I wasn't "in" the race. I know it's hard to explain. I was there, but wasn't there.

I didn't do much talking - which, for me, is really unusual. I'm sure Coach Lauren and Matt sensed my struggle. But they kept with me, talking with me and keeping me going.

Coach Lauren suggested we try to pick up the pace in short bursts, a suggestion that honestly just sounded ridiculous at the time. But she's never steered me wrong yet, so I obliged. And it actually felt pretty good. We did this on and off for a while.

I can say without a doubt that without Lauren and Matt there I would have succumbed to my overwhelming urge to walk. I'm not sure I ever would have started running again. And I definitely wouldn't have even entertained the thought of running faster bursts.

At one point after she joined me, Lauren had mentioned that a 4:20 was still within reach. By now, without her even saying anything and without looking at my Garmin for the last several miles, I knew that was out the window, too.

I adjusted my goal internally to just get in under 4:30. It would still be a 17 minute PR.


At Mile 25, I looked into the crowd and saw a woman who I assumed was going through chemotherapy. She'd lost her hair, she was pale and she was wearing a surgical mask to protect herself from germs. Still, she was there in the front row of the Boston Marathon cheering on the runners.

As I passed, she saw my team jersey and pulled down her mask. Thank you, Team In Training, she said.

Wow, what an incredible moment. It was only later, after I'd gotten out of my late-mile-marathon haze, that I truly grasped the importance of that moment. At the time, I was only focused on the last mile. It seemed like the longest mile of my life.

Coach Lauren and Matt veered off just before the turn onto Boylston. It was a planned move. I was going to finish this thing on my own. I scanned the crowd for my sweetie, but the crowd was massive and there was no way I'd find him if he was there.

I made the final turn, happily, and headed into the homestretch. I could see the finish line in the distance. The crowds seemed to get bigger, if that was even possible. The cheers were so loud.

I looked up ahead as I approached the Finish Line, spotting a freakishly tall, costume-wearing guy with a crazy wig. There is no way I'm letting him into my Boston Marathon finish line photo, I thought. So I picked it up a bit.

As I crossed the finish line, the clock read 4:30-something. Huh? I looked at my Garmin, which read 4:27. I had no idea how long it had taken me to cross the start line. I didn't know my official finishing time. Had I broken 4:30?

I made my way through the long line of must-do's - medal pick-up, heatsheet wrap, banana, water and eventually found the bag I'd checked at the start. I wandered around, admittedly in a bit of a daze, to finally find my sweetie, Coach Lauren and Matt waiting for me in our designated spot.

My sweetie came out into the street, giving me the biggest hug I can ever recall getting. At that moment, I cried. And so did he. It was one of my favorite marathon moments, standing there in the middle of the hectic chaos that is the end of the Boston Marathon quietly celebrating together.

I still had no idea what my official time was. Luckily, thanks to the instant online tracking, my sweetie and friends could tell me exactly how I'd done. (Funny to think that my friends sitting at their computers miles away knew what my finish time was before I did.)

My official time: 4:27:01. It was a 20-minute PR for me. I felt a slight moment of disappointment (it still creeps in every now and then) for missing my race plan by so much, but realized that I'd had a huge day of a tough course.

Most of all, I'd toughed it out when the going got tough. I ran the best I could and didn't have any regrets. I wouldn't be saying any "I wish I would have's."

There you have it. My turn-by-turn experience of the Boston Marathon. It was better and worse than I thought it would be, all wrapped up in one. It was truly the experience of a lifetime, something that I recommend every runner put somewhere on their Bucket List.

More to come in the coming weeks. For now, thank you for all of your support in this most incredible journey ... so far.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Case of Taper-itis

The Big Day is here. Almost.

I'm still working on the last-minute checklist for the Boston Marathon. The list includes the must-do’s, like checking into my hotel and getting to the expo to pick up my bib number, and the want-to’s, like buying the official Boston Marathon jacket.

It seems nearly impossible that race day is already here, impossible that I’ve gone through six months of training. It’s funny how time can move so quickly.

At same time, it’s funny how time can move so slowly.

While the last six months have been a whirlwind – filled with wintry runs, strength-training sessions in the gym and fund-raising efforts – the last few weeks have crept along at a snail’s pace.

The final phase of marathon training is the taper. My official trainingfor the past week or so has included instructions to run fewer miles, sleep more, work less, convert my diet to 70 percent good carbs, hydrate plenty and avoid anything that my cause me to get hurt.

Seems like it would be the easiest part of training, doesn’t it? It’s most certainly a welcomed physical change, but in reality it’s tough on the mind.

My mind tells me that I’m not doing enough to be ready for the marathon, despite the fact that I know that rest and recovery is an essential part of the training. My body is repairing the damage I’ve done during training and preparing to come out stronger and perform better than ever.

I’ve spent the last few weeks enduring something much tougher than the long runs. I’ve been suffering though a maddening case of taper-itis.

It started with marathon-related dreams, not dreams of the cheering crowds and smiles at the finish line. These were dreams of losing my bib number and dreams that, at Mile 17, I looked at my watch for the first time and realized I’d already been running for more then six hours.

There was my personal favorite dream during which I was forced to eat a heaping pile of Chinese food just before the run.

Luckily, I know this is perfectly normal. My marathon-running friends have shared their own dreams of their shoes being stuck to the pavement just feet before the finish line and dreams of getting lost during the marathon.

There was also my new-found obsession with checking the weather. I discovered nearly a month ago that Accuweather provides a very long-range forecast. I checked it nearly every day – not that it really did much good.

One day the forecast for Marathon Monday would be sunny and 70 degrees (way too hot for runners used to winter training). The next, it would read 40 degrees with a mix of rain and snow. I began to wonder if the meteorologist were just messing with us. Finally, it seems to have settled somewhere in the high-50s or low-60s with on-and-off clouds. Just about as perfect as we could want.

I chuckled last week when a friend of mine, also running the Boston Marathon, sent me a completely panicked email that the forecast had changed to 82 degrees. Apparently he’d forgotten that he switched the location on his iPhone app while traveling in Texas last week.

Yes, we’re all suffering a bit of taper-itis.

We’ve also done full dress rehearsals, literally. I “practiced” running in the pair of shorts I plan to wear. I tested out socks. I made sure my hair will be pulled back in a way that won’t bother me for 26.2 miles.

I tested race-day breakfasts, marathon fuel (I’ve settled on Swedish Fish, the perfect sugary addition I’ll need to keep me going) and figured out just when and what I’ll drink along the way.

I’ve planned race day logistics – getting to the starting line, wearing throw-away clothes to keep me warm while I wait for the race, and meeting people on the course (I hope) and at the end of the race.

I gathered bits and pieces of advice from Boston Marathon veterans, and prepared my race plan, mile by mile.

I even tried to get more sleep, spent less time at work and avoid anything that might cause a last-minute injury. As much as I wanted to get on my bicycle during last weekend’s spring weather, I couldn’t bear the thought of falling.

There’s only one thing left to do: Run the 115th Boston Marathon.

*REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**

We passed the $5,000 mark ... and we're still goingl! Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Note To Caleb

Below is a text of an email I sent to little Caleb (via his mother's email address) in the days leading up to the Boston Marathon. I've thought a lot about this little boy - during the coldest of training runs, when I wanted to quit. Without even knowing it, he's taught me a lot.

Dear Caleb,

You don’t know me, but I want to thank you. I want to thank you for being strong and for providing inspiration and hope to more people than you will ever know.

I grew up for a short time with your Aunt Danielle, and, after we reconnected many years after moving apart, I learned about your battle with leukemia. I’d been involved in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training program for several years, and hearing your story suddenly made my work with them very real and personal.

I’ve watched you from afar via the Caringbridge website. I’ve been worried for you when the news wasn’t as bright, and I’ve celebrated with you as you’ve adapted into the lifestyle of healthy little boy. These days, I’m glad when we don’t hear from you for several days. J

You may know that I’m running the Boston Marathon on Monday in your honor. You have truly given me so much inspiration, and your touching story has helped raise awareness and funds to support LLS.

To date, I’ve raised nearly $5,000 in your honor and have been truly humbled by the generosity of people. The money goes to support research and also provides family support, such as assistance with medical co-pays, travel reimbursements, support groups, etc. You have helped many people who will be in the same shoes as you and your family.

Please know that I’ll be thinking of you at every mile on Monday, just as I have during these several months of training. Your name is proudly displayed on the back of my official TNT Boston Marathon jersey (I’ll get a picture for you!) and a photo of your smiling face will be greeting runners at Mile 15 and Mile 21 along the course.

In the meantime, I thought you would like to see a little clip that aired on the New Hampshire news station last night. (It was taped a while ago, so that’s why I referred to your birthday as “last month” … don’t worry, I know you’re way older than that now!)

WMUR VIDEO CLIP: http://www.wmur.com/video/27538982/detail.html

MY FUNDRAISING PAGE: http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v

MY PERSONAL BLOG: www.my-step-by-step.blogspot.com

Thanks again, Caleb. Be well!

Your friend,


*REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**

I'm SO CLOSE to my goal! Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sum Of The Parts

On Friday, just hours after I declared my Boston Marathon goal finish time, Coach Lauren offered a little nugget of important if not somewhat unexpected advice: Don't think about a sub-4:10.

The words, which came casually between
sips of margaritas and the crunching of salty tortilla chips during a friendly get-together, came just hours after I'd agonized about publicly sharing my goal (read post here).

Even after writing the post last week and outwardly convincing myself that I could hit the chosen target, I honestly still wasn't sure. The thought of a sub-4:10 finish was still scary.

I should have known that I hadn't totally convinced myself after my latest marathon-related dream: I hit the 17-mile mark and looked at my watch for the first time. It read 6:33, as in six hours and 33 minutes. Yep, my sub-conscious definitely hadn't bought into my sub-4:10 plan yet.

I'm sure Coach Lauren could sense my reluctance and lack of confidence, too. I couldn't help but ask myself if I could really hit a sub 4:10. Logically, I knew it was possible. This is what I have trained for. Physically, it was possible.

But emotionally, was I up to the challenge? I know there's a big mental factor in running -- where your head is "at" can make or break you. Lauren knows this, too.

Perhaps that's why her next advice was as follows: Instead of a 4:10, think about 9:30s.

She was referring, of course, to my goal to average a 9:30 minute-per-mile pace next Monday during the Boston Marathon.

If you do a 9:30, you'll get the 4:10, she said. She said in such an easy, nonchalant way that it's almost as if shooting for the 9:30s is the only thing to do. As if to say, why would I be thinking of any other goal?

Sometimes it takes looking at something a little differently - and a little nudge by someone else - to put things into perspective.

After all, Mr. Miagi didn't teach Danielson how to become an expert at karate, did he? Paint the fence. Wax on, wax off.

I've gotta admit, a 9:30 pace seems totally do-able. Heck, I've already done that many times during training, including my long training runs.
Doing it 26 times in a row doesn't seem impossible at all.

I'm anxiously awaiting my "official" mile-by-mile pacing plan, which I expect to start out at a slower pace, then gradually build up to marathon pace. And, if all goes well, some faster miles at the end. That's just my guess, based on the training to this point.

See, Coach Lauren is holding the official plan hostage until the end of the week, keenly aware of my tendency to obsess about "the plan."

Like running, coaching seems to be only partly about the physical training. Good coaches - like Lauren - know how to get inside their student's head and train them for the mental parts of the marathon, too.

*REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**

I'm SO CLOSE to my goal! Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Boston: I'm All In

I've never been one to shy away from having specific, tangible goals. In fact, the more detailed they are, the better.

And, I've never been afraid to write them down. (See the annual "To Do" list on the side of this blog, as an example.) I recently found a notebook that had some bigger bucket-list-type goals scribbled inside the cover. To date, I've done all but one. See, writing things down as always been in my nature.

Writing down goals helps me focus. It motivates me. And, probably most importantly, it keeps me accountable. That's not to say that I'm holding myself accountable to anyone other than myself. I do, however, see a big value in sharing your goals with others. Again, there's a level of accountability that comes with that.

So why, when it's coming down to the time when I should be shouting my goals for the Boston Marathon from the rooftops, am I having such a hard time putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be)?

I've already decided what my goals will be - from the general "feel good" goals to the specific time goals. Heck, I've spent a lot of time running and thinking about this race - and thinking just how I'd like it to be.

Last week, I asked Coach Lauren her thoughts on a time goal for me. I'd been training with "marathon pace" miles for months, so it shouldn't have been hard to figure out that she had a time goal in mind. A quick visit to an online pace calculator could have told me what she had in mind. But I wanted her hear her say it.

Apparently, she had the same thought. Her response? I have a time goal in mind, but I want to hear what you think first.

Ah-ha. Caught at my own game. See, it's sometimes easier for someone to tell me what I should do, then I go out in do it. If she told me to run a 4:20, that's what I'd try my hardest to do. If she told me to shoot for five hours, that's probably where I'd come in, regardless of my ability to do better.

It's harder, I think, to take a critical look at one's self and come up with with a goal. I didn't want to sell myself short, but I didn't want to be over-confident. I needed something that was realistic, yet ambitious.

My reply back was convoluted, to say the least. I think I threw out no fewer than five different time goals, ranging from 4:15 to 4:30. Turns out, we were in the same ballpark. But in true "coach" style, she upped the ante just a bit.

Here's a bit of her reply:

You’ve proven to me that a 9:30 pace is more than doable for you. You just ran almost 21mi with the last 6mi averaging 9:15 pace and the overall pace being 9:29. To me, this run showed me you are very capable of maintaining this pace for an entire marathon ... The fact that you killed the run should be a huge confidence booster for you and your ability. Now what is a 9:30 pace finishing time? 4:08:54. Yes, I think you are capable of a sub 4:10 marathon."

What?? I stopped reading and focused in on the number: sub 4:10. She's totally lost her mind, I thought. Let me put this into perspective, I finished my last marathon (my only other marathon, mind you) with a 4:47. People like me don't run sub 4:10s, I thought.

It was as if Coach Lauren was inside my head and heard the words of self-doubt creeping in. The next line of the email is probably the most important:

Now you just have to believe you are also capable of it because it doesn’t matter at all what I think.

She is totally right. I need to believe I can do this. And logically, looking at my training, I know it's do-able. I mean, I've been training for a 9:30 pace all along. I've been strength training and doing the speed workouts. I've followed the training to the letter. I just need to trust my training.

So, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going for it. I'm going to do my darnedest to run this sucker in less than 4:10.

Let me be straight with you. It won't be easy. It scares the crap out of me to even think about. It will probably be the hardest thing I've ever done. But I can do it.

As I write this, the thought of hitting the "publish" button is almost as scary. It feel exposed and vulnerable. Part of my trepidation of putting such a lofty goal in writing is just the fear of failure. It's a kind of fear that is at the essence of my being, not just when it comes to running. Whatever I do, I like to do it well. Plain and simple, I don't like to fail.

If I publicly share my goal, I run the risk of sharing my failure.

But what's the worst thing that can happen? The world ends? People shun me, ridicule me and think I'm a complete loser? Really, I know none of those things will happen. In fact, I'm positive that no one would be harder on myself than me.

If anything, the support I'll get from others is worth the risk of publicly failing. After all, if I don't make it, my supporters will just be cheering for me louder the next time, right?

Let's not think about that. Let's focus on the goal.

Sub-4:10 will become part of the plan. Not surprisingly, I'm not going at this haphazardly. Coach Lauren's pacing plan for race day will reflect that goal.
Sub-4:10 is the number I've mentally tattooed onto my brain.
Sub-4:10 is the number I'll be repeating to myself at countless times along the marathon course.
Sub 4:10 will be the basis of my marathon math on race day.
Sub 4:10 will be the number I'll see as I click 'stop' on my Garmin when I cross the finish line.

Yes, folks, I'm going for it. I know I have a big goal ahead of me. I'm reaching for a 37+ minute PR. I'm pushing myself way outside my comfort zone.

But if the Boston Marathon isn't the place to go all in, what is?

*REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**

I'm SO CLOSE to my goal! Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Dress Rehearsal

We’ve had the final dress rehearsal. We’re just waiting to get on the big stage.

Two Saturdays ago was the last big training run for my Team In Training Boston marathon team. (Boy, I've gotten lax at updating the blog.) Like many other charities, we headed to the Boston Marathon course to plan a point-to-point, 20-mile run – the closest thing we’d get before the Big Day on April 18.

The morning started like most other team meetings: some last-minute tips from our coaches, a few “Go Team” cheers, lots of stretching, story swapping and a tear-jerking dedication by a fellow teammate. That day, we were running in honor of 3-year-old Tucker, our teammate’s nephew who is battling leukemia.

By 8 a.m., we’d boarded the line of school buses that awaited us – 100 or more runners in all – and headed to the starting line. Yes, The Starting Line of the most prestigious marathon in the world. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have butterflies.

It wasn’t the Big Dance, but it was as close as we were going to come to the real thing until race day. We were taking part in the Boston Athletic Association charity run, the 20-mile training run that’s loomed on all of our calendars since we signed up in the fall.

The day ran like a well-oiled machine, complete with a line of porta-johns at the start and a vendor handing out fueling snacks and gloves at the start. (I really wanted some of the gloves, but the thought of holding them while I ran for the next several hours was unbearable, so I passed on the give-aways.)

At the scheduled start time for the Team In Training, our group – all clad in our purple race-day singlets – made our way to the starting line. And we were off.

Just like a race, the group shuffled along. If you've never been in a "big" race start, I hate to break this news to you: the start is pretty anti-climatic. The starting gun goes off ... and well, sometimes you start running.

It’s hard to actually take off running in a big group, and it’s often more like an on-again-off-again jog. I tried to imagine how it would be on race day. Our small group of 140 people is nothing compared to the 28,000 runners that will stand at the starting line on Marathon Monday.

I stepped across the official starting line painted on the road, remarking at its faded and chipped paint. The next time I see it, I thought, it will be repainted and refreshed. I clicked on my GPS watch and tried to find an open spot in the crowd.

I had specific training goals for this run, so I resisted the urge to go faster at the beginning. The downhill slope and the rush of adrenaline surely would have allowed me to pick up speed. But I heard my coach’s advice over and over in my head: Go out slow, go out slow.

Her advice throughout training has been invaluable. I’ve learned so much about the purpose of different runs, pacing and strength training.

I checked my Garmin obsessively. Good news, I was right on track. And when I wasn't, I'd quickly adjust myself to get back on the plan.

On the marathon route, I eavesdropped on the conversations going on between runners around me, but purposefully resisted my natural urge to join in on the chatter. After all, I was there with specific training goals and paces to hit.

Still, I welcomed the opportunity to run with other people around me and to have festive and loud fueling stops along the route. The charities, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Children’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and others, staffed each stop with volunteers. Each was equipped with water, sports drink, fueling snacks, signs and smiles.

I think I ate about a thousand Swedish Fish that day. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I did use them as my main, sugary fuel during the run. I just could not resist the bowls filled with the jelly, sweet deliciousness at the water stops. (Note to self: Pack Swedish Fish for the marathon.)

At the 15-mile mark, I ran past the Team In Training home base and encountered the “Memory Mile” featuring the photos of the people our team is running for. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of photos, from babies to gray-haired grandpas. There had to be at least 100 of them.

At that moment, our team mission became very real. To my surprise, it hit me square in the heart. My eyes filled with tears and I picked up the pace. I could do this. If nothing else, I would do it for the people in those pictures.

The next five miles flew by as I made my way through Wellesley and into Newton. I faced - and conquered - the hills of Newton without any significant problems. I mentally thanked myself for moving to Goffstown with its hilly terrain, which has forced me into more hill training.

To my surprise, I felt great. My legs felt strong and just slightly tired. I picked up the pace for each of the last three miles. (Yes!)

The 20-miler wrapped up as perfectly as I could have planned - including a somewhat chilly, yet somehow perfect weather-day - and I even added an extra climb up Heartbreak Hill. After all, I’d come all that way and wanted to see what it would be like.

The next time I see those hills will be on race day. It’s scary and exciting just thinking about it. Now, if I can only replicate what I did for the dress rehearsal...

*REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**

I'm SO CLOSE to my goal! Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston11/trobinsy2v. Thank you for your support!