Monday, May 1, 2017

Boston Marathon 2017: The Recap!

My 4th marathon and 1st Boston Marathon. And another BQ with a 3:29! Here are alllll the details. ;)
Boston to Hopkinton:

I woke up on race day at 6:15 -- to a phone call from my mom saying she was on the front porch! She and my brother booked flights that Friday night to come to Boston just for the day, just to cheer me on. So that was basically the best wake-up call ever.

I got dressed and ate my typical pre-Ironman breakfast -- which is 1,000+ calories, because I'm all about making sure I have as much fuel in the tank as possible on race day. How do I get so many calories in without feeling overloaded? Easy! I chug two bottles of Ensure Plus. 700 liquid calories consumed in about a minute. And no worries about my body having to process them, if you know what I mean. Score. Of course, I like to have some real food, too, and do the half-or-full bagel + peanut butter + banana thing. I used to just do that without the Ensure, which just seems like so little to me now. Then I always have Gatorade and a Clif Bar around to munch on before race start. I eat them in training both right before long workouts and during, so I don't have to worry about how my body will handle those either.

Kindal's friend Tess was awesome and drove us to the buses! There was no traffic coming from the South, so it was an easy ride into the city. I facetimed Matt and my littles for a some pre-race good luck on the way, and the Tess was able to drop us off literally right next to bag check. The whole process was so smooth! Kindal and I wore our sweats out of habit (plus I was thinking/hoping it might be cooler in Hopkinton?) but were hot before even loading the bus. The volunteers were so fun and the bus was such an easy process, too. Boston has this stuff down. There was a 60-year-old rockstar across the aisle from me on the bus, wearing a tank for the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. (A place near and dear to my heart -- my best friend was cared for there before he passed away when I was in college, and now we go caroling there every Christmas Eve.) So of course I started talking to her and we had a great ride up to Hopkinton! The ride takes about an hour and I feel like it's always a little daunting to realize *just* how far away you are getting yourself, so making friends is always a nice distraction.

We made it to the Athlete's Village and there were people everywhere! I scored a major win when I, for the first time in my entire life, picked the *shortest* porta potty line (like, by a lot. Message me if you want to know the secret -- can't have this gold getting out too much haha). We made our way through the line quickly and then hopped right back in for maintenance purposes. But then the fast line was too fast, so we just sat at the front and let everyone go ahead of us until we heard an announcement that white bibs should have already left for the start? It was only 10 o'clock and the Wave 2 start was at 10:25.

So we moved our bums and then started casually walking over to the corrals (we had plenty of time before the start, right?). We stopped for pictures and paused for hip swings and such. Yeah, well... somewhere we had missed the part where it is a solid mile+ walk to the start! We had no idea. By the time we made it over there, we were near the back of Wave 2. I figured we started somewhere in corral 7ish, which in my brain shouldn't have been too bad because it should be 3:26ish marathoners and that wasn't too far off my 3:21-3:23 corral assignment. This actually turned out to be a HUGE mistake on my part, as was having an 18-month-old qualifying time. I now know that if you want to run well in a crowded race, it is *crucial* to be properly seeded!

Hopkinton to Boston:

We crossed the start line about 6 minutes after the clock and casually picked up the pace. All smiles all around! And then, almost immediately, there it was: the Wall of Humans. Have you ever been to Disneyland on a crowded day? And tried to walk down Main Street after fireworks? It looks like this:
Now picture trying to run a marathon through that. Through, not with, because everyone is going at 60-90+ seconds slower than you. Yep. Horrifying. Here's the deal with downhill marathons: No, don't be an idiot and fly down at your 5K pace to "bank time" and then blow up later. But PLEASE don't be an idiot and brake down the hills and blow up your quads for later!!! I kid you not, the Disneyland-closing mob was running 8:30-9:00 minutes per mile. On a steep downhill. In the opening of a marathon, in which according to qualifying times, they should be averaging between 7:40-8:00 pace overall. It was mind boggling and so confusing. In retrospect, I think this "problem" was magnified this year because it was the 2nd hot year in a row, so people were purposefully slowing the pace WAY down from the get-go. Which is fine to an extent, obviously. But man, as the random dude casually running a 9:00-minute mile observed as we were stuck behind him, "This would really suck if you were trying to run for time."

More than the clock element, though, was the problem of simple physics: if you brake downhill, you literally tear up your quads. I'm 5'9" and it's all leg, so I naturally have a long stride. I'd run three downhill marathons prior to this and just floated down the hill with a conservative effort. But here? My stride was cut in half. There was no getting into a rhythm. Instead, I'd try to find a hole, then come to a stop, then try to move to the outside, then use the curb space to pass a few people, then wait for Kindal to shoot the same gap, then be stuck behind the next layer of the wall at 9:00 min/mile... over and over and over again. "This is a nightmare," I said to Kindal.

Of course, that was intermixed with getting high fives from kids on the side, saying "thank you" to the police officers, waving to the spectators standing out on their lawns, having the cheesiest grin on my face, and commenting, "Oh my gosh, how crazy is this? We're finally running the Boston Marathon!" So strange to have such polarizing thought processes co-exist.

(PS- I checked the results of bib numbers around me in a couple dozen of my photos just to make sure I wasn't crazy. And sure enough, all throughout the race, I was passing people averaging 8:30-9:30 pace. Only one person in all of my photos had a faster finish time than me, so at least that constant feeling of "Oh my gosh, how am I going to get past these walls of people?" was valid haha.)

Interestingly enough, we still hit 7:15-7:20 in those miles, which is technically on the conservative end for the steep downhill portions of a marathon in which you'd want to average those very paces. But it's the way it was done -- with the surging and stopping and parkour-style movements on the outside edges, and with the shortened strides and ALL THE BRAKING -- that was so awful. (And yet it was better than falling in line with the constant 9 min/mile brake-shuffling.) "This is a nightmare," I repeated, fully aware of what all of this would mean on a muscular level.

Meanwhile, remember the bronchitis? My cough started up at mile 2. Shoot. And the heat? Well, we were hot when it started and the sun was beating down directly overhead -- and where were the early aid stations??? One of the most important things is to make sure you get those early aid stations. Instead, I didn't see one until mile 4. And speaking of mile 4... that's when I realized that my legs had already been torn apart. At MILE FOUR. They felt like they had at mile 24 of a previous downhill marathon. Alarm bells started going off in my head.

Right about that time, Kindal started falling off the back, so I'd wait or go back (it's quite hard to stay together in these crowds). She told me to go on ahead and leave her. I kept nudging her along, telling her we weren't supposed to have a talk like this until mile 20, or at least the half mark. We could do this. She could do this. After about a half mile of this, though, she stopped dead in her tracks and pointed: "GO." And she meant it. At that point, the clock is ticking and I know my legs are already too shot for a super-fast day, but there's still a chance at a PR and I'd promised myself I'd give my best effort no matter what. So I ran back, gave her a hug, and said I'd see her at the finish line. And then went off on my own, which was an emotional hit.

Then at mile 6, I noticed that my fingers were swelling around my rings. It was hot, and it was clearly affecting me. Luckily, I've had good practice managing the heat in Ironman so no worries -- time to take care of business. I grabbed the first water cup I could from a spectator and poured it over each shoulder. I was still ticking off sub-7:20s just fine but knew that heat management would change that quickly. And frankly, things were spiraling so quickly so early that in hindsight, it's laughable. Let's recap:

Mile 0: Met the wall of humans
Mile 2: Coughing starts, will continue for remainder of race
Mile 4: Legs are shot from the forced stride-shortening and braking
Mile 5: BFF is lost 15-21 miles prematurely
Mile 6: Fingers are swelling in the heat

I mean, honestly. Hahahaha. And there were 20 miles LEFT to go. How is that even real life?

Nevermind the fact that my watch was beeping every mile much too far ahead of the actual mile markers, thanks to all the weaving. Just basically every little thing that can go wrong in a marathon, all happening simultaneously. Happily, a little pick-me-up was right up ahead! I got my first Huma Gel out and then spotted my crew -- my mom, brother Christian, and Kindal's friend Tess. They had talked about being around mile 4 and then at the finish, so I was bummed that I missed them -- and then thrilled when I saw them! That slapped a huge smile on my face and was the perfect reminder to enjoy the day, at the precise moment where I could have started to think otherwise.

My people!!!
So I went on my way, finished my gel, and kept running through Framingham to the next aid station (mile 8ish?), which I walked through to take care of business: Some Gatorade, some water, one cup of water poured on my arms, and another on my head -- which resulted in the taste of pure salt. Yikes, definitely running a hot marathon, definitely sweating, definitely need to stay on top of that! Luckily, I had a tube of BASE salt in my back pocket, so as I was running, I reached back, grabbed it, and had my first few licks (of many that day). And then grabbed a cup from a spectator and washed it down with a quick swig. Check. Everything's under control. Still running 7:20 pace but aid station walk added 20 seconds. That'll have to be fine. And look, I'm almost to Natick!

I continued on and saw a kid holding a sign that said: "Only six 5K's left!" And I thought, "I honestly don't know if I can do that." Not a great feeling to be 8 miles into a marathon wondering if you'll be able to make it the next 18. You should be feeling *awesome* and totally relaxed until at least the halfway point! I had that moment of doom, and then told myself not to be silly. (Actually it went something more like, "Don't be ridiculous, Ashley. Of course you can finish a marathon. You're a good runner. And you're a freaking Ironman. Suck it up." Haha!) So then I forced myself to smile until I felt it, and went back to the "I'm running Boston! That was Framingham! I'm in Natick!" mode.

Watching Boston: The Documentary a couple nights before really helped me recognize and be excited about different points along the way. Little things, like a store with reflective windows and a sign that says something like: "Check yourself out!" And you glance over and see this huge crowd of runners on the move and realize you're part of it and think, "K, this is pretty cool." (Also: "This would make an awesome picture." Ha) All along the way, the spectators were life-saving with the extra fluid and ice. I'd never felt so hot or flushed while running, which was weird because I've run and raced in much hotter temperatures. So oh my word, the ice people made my day! As did the hose people. Bless your souls, hose people. Then, of course, the encouragement and energetic atmosphere is unmatched -- and you can get as much out of it as you put in! I "touched here for power" on signs, I danced along to the music, I thanked the volunteers. I ran mostly on the right side so I could interact with the spectators and tried not to miss giving any kids high fives. Just so, so fun!
Only 6 more 5K's, everyone!
Sometimes, you hear the famous landmarks long before you see them -- like the scream tunnel at Wellesley College. Those girls are awesome! That was probably the only time that I didn't load up on the high fives, though -- because everyone else (ahem, of the male variety) was darting over instead haha. The entertainment factor is sheer gold. Definitely one of the fastest (mentally) miles of the day! Afterward, it got much quieter and I could hear my music (Hamilton!) again and realized it was like four songs further ahead in the story -- that's how long the screaming lasted. :)

Right after leaving Wellesley College, I hit the 13.1 mile mat at 1:39:47. And I literally laughed out loud! Because that is the exact same time I hit that half split when I ran a 3:21 in St. George -- and I knew I would be landing nowhere near that mark today. (I'm glad I was able to find comic relief in the dwindling situation...) Then I weirdly felt bad for my family and friends tracking me back home who saw that and therefore still had hope that I could pull out a PR race. "Sorry, friends!" I thought, hoping they wouldn't be worried about me the next few times I hit the timing mats. I was fine; it just wasn't my day for a myriad of reasons. And I was emotionally fine, too, because I'd accepted that beforehand and wasn't going to let the clock tell me how much to enjoy my day.

My body was hurting, though. I was coughing and my legs were over it and I was just lacking energy overall. It was tempting to pull way back and just joy ride jog it in. But every time I was tempted to do so, I glanced at my arm and was reminded to "Never Stop." (Story here.) And I kept pushing. It might not be my "best day," but I was going to give the absolute best I had to give on that day!

Tess is the cutest! And so is this Hyperthreads tank! All the love.
Just still ridiculously crowded going into mile 16.
As I approached Newton, I got the best surprise of my day: my crew had made an extra cheer stop! It could not have been better timed and was the perfect boost before hitting the hills. I was feeling the love! My brother yelled, "That's my sister!" And I was like, that's right -- best brother ever.

And I'm just going to say it -- I didn't think the hills were that bad. People talk about them like they are mountains you have to climb. Yes, the timing stinks. And yes, it especially stinks if you trashed your quads early on the downhill (if you are just seeded properly, though, and can avoid braking downhill, you'll be fine! Downhills are only bad if you don't run them right). But if you train for them, you'll be able to handle them, no problem. I'd done hill sprint workouts, incorporated hills into some of my normal runs, and found as many hills as possible for my long runs. If not for that, in my degraded state, I would have been toast. But as it was, I chugged up the hills just fine! Slower pace, sure. But steady and strong. Highlights of those precursor hills were 1) the sprinkler tunnel around mile 18ish and 2) running into my friend Jenna and sharing a high-five and encouragement for a moment before going ahead.

I remember staring at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill and being SO excited to run up it! The Hamilton soundtrack had ended at mile 19 so I was onto a normal race playlist and the perfect song came on right then: Good ol' Rihanna singing, "Baby, this is what we came for." And I was like, Heck yes! THIS is what we came for! Everything crazy and hard and awesome. Like Heartbreak Hill. Let's do this!!! So I kept on trucking, got myself a few high fives, danced to the spectators' music, and smiled all the way to the top! And man, what an exciting place to be -- at the top of Heartbreak Hill! All (well, mostly all) downhill from here into Boston!
Of course, there was the physical aspect that was not ideal. I somehow managed a decent running pace throughout -- while actually running, but that was pulled down 20+ seconds per mile by the heat-maintenance aid station routine. I'd walk long enough to make sure I was getting enough fluids in me, alternating Gatorade or water, sometimes a little of both, then grab and dump multiple cups of water -- on my head, arms, back, legs, everywhere -- because I was still so hot. And I was on top of my gels and salt. But my body still felt awful on multiple fronts, from being sick to the shredded quads to the now-cramping calves to just the overall malaise. I'd never cramped like that before and was, therefore, pumped when I saw a couple spectators handing out HotShots on the side! That's what Matt uses for Ironman, thanks to all the research I'd done on the subject. Basically, it's a spicy little drink that shocks your nervous system into relaxing the cramps. So hallelujah for the HotShots! I grabbed one, immediately chugged it, and started looking for a cup of water to grab. Those cups of water were honestly everywhere from mile 10 on, with spectators constantly saving the day. And then suddenly, at the precise moment that I downed a spicy drink, they were missing in action! Hahaha. It took probably a whole mile to find some fluid to wash that taste down with, and I was so amused the whole time thinking how Matt would get a kick out of this. But it kicked the cramps, so success! One less thing to worry about.

But still, there I was, feeling crappier than I'd ever thought I could feel toward the end of a marathon. And I'd have the fleeting thought, "I don't know if I can run five more miles." And then respond by telling myself, "You only have to run four more miles. The last mile runs itself." And then, a mile later, "I don't know if I can run four more miles." Followed by a glance at my arm and, "It's okay, it's like you really only have three left because the last mile will run itself." I was also doing the math and realized I'd be cutting it awfully -- awfully -- close to a sub-3:30. I thought I could maybe make it if I kept pushing, but knew that if I let up at all, I'd lose it. And then who's to say that if I let up, I wouldn't totally implode and lose a BQ altogether? No, I had to keep fighting. Never Stop.

Probably wondering if I can run another mile or not.
And then getting my crap together one second later. Haha

As I made my way toward Boston, I turned my background music off and let the 3- and 4-person deep crowds carry me the rest of the way. I was hurting but giving it everything I had left, and I was loving every second (well, probably 99% of the seconds), knowing I was about to finish THE Boston Marathon. I saw the Citgo sign in the distance and finally made it to the announcement: there was only one more mile left!

And I was right -- that last mile took care of itself. I soaked in the sights and the sounds of those streets and those crowds. I went down and up that tiny little blip, and then I saw the famous turns. I made a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston. I saw that finish line off in the distance and began to follow the three blue lines toward it.

A thought entered my mind of the people who were following that same path and the spectators cheering them on just four years ago, so I said a quick prayer for those affected by that attack and others. I felt all the more gratitude toward the spectators lining the streets today, standing in the very places where others' stood, choosing to never let evil win, likely not even thinking about it as they cheered for the runners. And for me. That's the most amazing thing about the Boston Marathon. The crowds aren't just there for their friends or family. They are there for every runner. They are supporting every single one of us. And all of the runners are supporting each other, helping one another along the way. It's really a beautiful show of humanity.

The sounds of cheers and cowbells are deafening as you make your way down Boylston. I reveled in the experience and took mental pictures of that channel lined with rows of spectators, leading to the celebratory blue and yellow line in the ever-nearing distance. I felt so lucky to be right there, right then.

And in that moment as I ran toward the finish line, my first Boston Marathon was everything I'd dreamed it would be.

I crossed the line in 3:29:44, which was far from my best, but it was the absolute best I had to give that day. I'm really proud of that. It actually was a good performance on the day, sick or not -- I finished as the 1442nd female and 6983rd runner -- which is more than 5000 people faster than I should have finished (bib 12005). It was the 2nd hottest Boston Marathon in a decade and just a tough day for everyone out there!

After receiving my prized unicorn medal, I walked back toward the finish to figure out how to wait for and spot Kindal. A med person asked if I was okay and I responded "Yes..." Then paused and added, "My hands have been numb for that last few miles, though?" I expected him to be like, "Oh yeah, just do X and you'll be fine." Instead, that earned me a ticket to the med tent. Inside, I told them I was fine, that I just had numb hands. No, this hasn't happened before. They asked about my toes... hm, I guess those were kind of numb, too. They took all my vitals, asked if my blood pressure was typically on the lower end (no), and had me lay down and answer a bunch of questions. Meanwhile, in my mind, I was missing Kindal crossing the finish line, my mom and brother were only here for a few hours and I was losing precious time... They asked if the numbness was going away ("No, but I'm really fine"), and I asked what I had to do to get out of there. To which they explained that my blood pressure was really low and they couldn't release me until it came back up. Well, crap, because there's no faking that. Thank goodness that I'd handled the hydration + electrolytes game well, because if that was combined with the low blood pressure, I actually might not have been fine. The consensus was basically just that being sick + being on an antibiotic that makes you more heat sensitive + all the heat while being cold-adapted caused the low blood pressure? That made sense to my ER doctor friend back home so I'm rolling with it. Anyway, it was all rather non-dramatic but just time consuming. I felt awful that everyone was waiting for me and was quite happy to be released after an hour. Hopefully that's the last of my med tent visits.

After that, I met back up with Kindal, took our finisher photos, and finally found my family! We sat in Panera Bread while the crew grabbed food but I was too nauseous to eat. Then we hurried back to Tess's house, I took the fastest shower of my life, and my mom, brother, and I grabbed an Uber over to the North End. We walked the entire Freedom Trail and I was giddy like a kid in a candy store the whole time. All of my 11-year-old run-loving, history-loving self's dreams coming true all at the same time. It was SUCH a happy, happy day!!!

And it was made that way because of the people. The volunteers were amazing, as usual. The spectators were life savers all along the way, both with their bonus "aid stations" and their encouragement. They are the reason the Boston Marathon is such an incredible experience. On a personal level, it was so kind of Tess to open her home to me for the weekend and join cheer squad forces with my family for the race -- they couldn't have seen me three times during the race if not for her Boston savvy. Then to spend the whole weekend with Kindal, one of my very best friends who I shared this whole journey with? It's a runner's dream come true. And I couldn't possibly be more grateful to my mom and brother for coming to Boston to support me. Matt wasn't able to get military leave, which meant that he and the kids couldn't come, and I knew that all along and was okay with the girls' trip. But then my mom and brother called the Friday before to say they had just bought tickets to be there for the marathon, and I was so excited about it all weekend. They flew a red-eye across the country, were with me in Boston for 14 hours, and then flew right back. I mean, who does that? They do. I am so lucky and felt so, so loved. My people made all the difference.

So sure, from a performance perspective, this marathon may have been "a nightmare." But the experience? That was everything I'd hoped it'd be and more. Such a special race and a happy day in Boston! :)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Boston Marathon 2017: The Variables

Before diving into the race report itself, I wanted to touch on a few things that would otherwise turn into huge tangents in the recap. (Ha!) Just a little peak inside my brain regarding a few of the variables that went into race day -- getting sick right before, having a "hot" forecast, and adjusting/not-adjusting race goals.

The Sick

During the second week of taper, my 3-year-old daughter came down with a cough. And that sweet girl would climb into my bed at 1 a.m. each night and snuggle up close, nose-to-nose with her cute little hand on my cheek... and proceed to cough in my face all night long. For multiple nights in a row. So it didn't exactly come as a surprise when I woke up sick the Sunday of race week (8 days out). To make matters worse, it *started* in my chest, which for me is always a bad sign. By Tuesday night, I realized that there was no way this was getting better any time remotely soon on its own and got my bum over to urgent care. The doctor called it acute bronchitis and, bless her soul, she loaded me up with all the good stuff in hopes that I could be functional come marathon day. Meanwhile, I was staying up all night coughing, my heart rate was rocketing, I couldn't take a full breath, and things were looking a little bleak. But I just decided to just think positively and trust that the meds would sort everything out!

On Saturday, my optimism cracked when my heart rate was still through the roof and my cough was ever-present during our final shake-out run. Then that night, we had a quick turnaround between events and I forgot to re-take my medicine before heading out the door for a night out at the Boston: The Documentary movie premiere. And then there I was, mid-conversation at a fancy cocktail party, suddenly hacking up a freaking lung. You know, those huge rack-your-body cough attacks that last and last? Yep. So horrifying -- first to be that person at the party, and second, to realize that I was actually still that sick and had just been masking my symptoms with all the heavy-duty prescription meds. Crap. The really "good stuff" makes you drowsy, so I already knew I wouldn't be taking that after Sunday afternoon... Sooo I'd just have to cross my fingers that the bronchitis wouldn't affect me too much on race day. (Spoiler alert: Coughed through 26.2 and was still pretty sick for the next 8+ days before finally starting to improve. Still haven't totally kicked the leftover cough.)
The optimism-cracking shakeout. My legs felt SO GOOD, but I was coughing and my heart rate wasn't having it either.

The Weather

As soon as a forecast was available, it predicted an ideal race day in Boston. Partly cloudy in the low 50's. It looked fast. And it also made me nervous, because we all know that forecasts like to change! And sure enough, as the race neared, the forecasted temps started creeping up. And up. And up. Finally, the highs were in the mid-70's and the marathon was sending out heat advisories to the runners.

Intellectually, I know that this slows you down. However, literally every other time I've covered the marathon distance, it has been "hot." The St. George Marathon temps were in the mid-70s at all three of my finishes. And don't even get me started about Ironman -- IMTX was real-feel triple digits during the marathon! (Temps in the 90s with high humidity.) And I lived! So I decided the heat wasn't worth a freak-out and if it *did* become an issue, I'd just cross that bridge when I got there. (Ironically, I got there somewhere near Bridge Street. Ha!) All optimism and positivity pre-race!

In hind sight, I realized that St. George heat wasn't an issue for me because I ran during hot summer afternoons all the time leading up to the race, so my body was adjusted. (Plus, you start in the mountains, which were 60ish, whereas Hopkinton was already "hot.") And even Ironman Texas was in May, which allowed for some warmer runs -- plus you run slower in Ironman and approach the run differently from a logistical perspective. But my Boston training, on the other hand? That happened during a freezing cold winter, with 90% of my running in below-freezing temperatures. Our very last 20-miler just three weeks before the race started in 17-degrees, for crying out loud. So yeah, zero heat adaptation in my pre-Boston world. (This was a VERY apparent trend on race day -- the vast majority of people who were still able to run near potential were from hot states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona. Whereas runners who had trained through cold winters were much more affected by the temps.) We actually did some purposeful heat adaptation for Ironman Texas, and I figure, forecasted heat or not, it wouldn't hurt to do it for the next round in Boston!
Already HOT in Hopkinton!

The Goal(s)

I hadn't run a marathon since my Boston qualifier way back in October 2015. I ran a 3:21 back then -- a whole 18+ months before Boston 2017. It's not exactly crazy to expect improvement in a year and half, even though my focus had been on Ironman training and not strictly running. In fact, despite rarely stepping out of Zone 2, I *had* gotten faster in that time. My half marathon time improved from a well-trained 1:38 to a very un-trained 1:34. My 5K pace had dropped nearly two minutes -- which is HUGE when you consider that it went from a 20:59 to 19:10 (6:45 to 6:10 average). And thanks to all of that Zone 2 Ironman training, I had the aerobic base to back up that new speed. Just give me a good training cycle and I'm on the train for a big marathon PR, right?

I wanted to rock 70 miles per week, nail my speed workouts, pay my dues on the hills, and then try to hit the New York standard, which is 3:13. Dream goal: 3:12:59. Yes, in Boston.

Of course, life is rarely that simple. Immediately after Ironman Florida on November 5th, I had a plant-and-twist mommy accident in which I hurt my knee (the doctor was initially worried about my meniscus but thankfully it was just pes aserine bursitis). I took a few weeks totally off and then tallied less than 20 total miles before lining up for the Tucson Half Marathon on December 10th. The PT gave me the green light to do the race, saying I wouldn't make my knee any worse -- but cautioned me to be smart because if I compensated too much, I could hurt something else. I ran the first 10 miles at what felt like a totally manageable 7:06. And then started limping fairly hardcore and therefore immediately pulled back a minute+ per mile until the finish (a 1:36:49).

I recognized that I needed more recovery and PT before jumping into marathon training, and accepted that I'd have to work off a 12-week cycle instead of 16. I took another week completely off and then had a few weeks with mileage in the teens while I tried to sort my knee out. (I ended up trading my pes aserine bursitis for trochanteric (hip) bursitis, thanks to compensating for knee pain on a particularly freezing 12-mile run right before the 12-weeks-out mark. I should have just called it early but it was an out-and-back and I felt so much pressure to start getting miles in anyway...) And meanwhile, that goal time shifted to something more of the slight PR and sub-3:20 variety--as in, 3:19:59.

But finally, training started. And it started going really well, despite everything. My mommy knee problem was finally gone and I was able to manage my hip. My body liked adding mileage. I was the overall female winner at a big 5K with that 19:10 PR. I found some good speed at the track and decent power on the hills. I had a few awesome tempo runs and was on a roll! So I started to think about working toward the New York standard again.

Things changed abruptly when we lost someone very close to us. Marathon training fell to the bottom of my cares. And yet, I knew I'd regret it if I wasn't prepared, so I forced myself through low-intensity, lower-mileage training. And since our friend was a runner and was excited for me to get to run Boston, I knew I had to follow through. Running proved to be cathartic at the time, and I got by, but it obviously wasn't what it could have been. Time goals? Not a thought.

Eventually, the fight came back a bit and I was hitting good times again. The hilly long runs felt strong, the speed felt manageable, everything was good. I peaked out at 65 mpw and averaged about 50 for those 9 weeks of pre-taper training, so it was a respectable cycle in the end. Two weeks out, I was on a treadmill doing a 10-mile run with 8 of those at goal half marathon pace. I did 7 miles at 7:00 and the final mile at 6:40 and felt great. During my cooldown, I thought, "Twenty seconds slower than that about three times in a row." And felt confident because that seemed so do-able.

My training cycle was less than I wanted it to be. Yet, for what it was? It was actually pretty solid: strong long runs, good hill training, speedwork and tempo nailed down. So maybe I was missing some volume in this training cycle, but I had a good base under that and good enough speed to tap into. Why not shoot for the moon? In my mind, there were three goals. A) Dream status, perfect scenario, 3:12:59. B) Great day, still a PR, finally that "teens" I know I'm capable of, 3:19:59. C) A BQ with a smile on my face.

I wanted to run an even effort throughout and would just have to see where that would get me. And if my watch wasn't saying happy things, I wouldn't let that ruin my day. I figured it was like your first Ironman: there will always be another chance to race the clock, but you will never get that moment back. I will never have another "first Boston Marathon" and I refused to let anything dampen the joy of that experience.

So when I got sick and the forecast struck fear into the hearts of all the marathoners, nothing changed. In my mind, it was pretty simple: I'd give my best that day and let the rest figure itself out. :)

Boston Marathon 2017: The Gear

Despite the other things that went wrong, my gear was absolutely RIGHT! So I wanted to share what worked so well for me.

Tank: Custom from Hyperthreads! They are THE BEST. Before, Kindal and I had talked about putting our names on plain tanks with vinyl, but that seemed so boring and I really wanted a quality top for 26.2. We were talking about it during a trainer ride, and I commented that I just really wished you could have pockets in the back for a marathon like you do for triathlon... And that's when the lightbulb went off. Of course! So I got in touch with Hyperthreads and they were all for it. They took my rough design idea and made it infinitely better, and then made my dreams come true with these amazing tanks! The fabric is SO breathable and dries quickly, which turned out to be clutch on a hot marathon day. The pockets were perfect and I loved not having to fumble for my gels and salt. And they looked SO good!

Sports bra: I realized I never mention this, but my favorite for days that count is actually the high impact from GapFit.

Sunglasses: Rudy Project Momentum! Rudy's are my *favorite* because they perform really well for the run and bike but also look awesome. I wear them as my normal daily sunglasses, too! (You know, when the sun decides to shine in Ohio, ha.) I wore the pink Momentums for Ironman Florida and have been lusting over the blue ones. Rudy was nice enough to send them to us to match our outfits for Boston. They worked out perfectly on that sunny day and got so many compliments!

Shorts: It's all about the LBS -- little black shorts! Lululemon speed shorts have never failed me on a long run or race. I wouldn't run a marathon in anything else.

Socks: White ProCompression. I actually didn't have plain white and ordered them too late, so my friend Tam came to my rescue and sent them with my momma!

Shoes: The new Newton Running Gravity 6! I was thrilled/relieved when these were released just in time for Boston! Newton was awesome and got them to me a little early so I could break them in before the race. The new foam in ultra responsive and oh my word, the saturation of that pink is heavenly. Love.

Sunscreen and ANTI-CHAFE!: Both from Zealios Sport. I use Zealios sunscreen for Ironman because it's waterproof and super-long-lasting. I also use their chamois cream on the bike, and had the brilliant idea to pack it for Boston to use as anti-chafe on my thighs and underarms. And I made it through a hot marathon with ZERO chafing! I've found my new favorite trick.

Headphones: This was my fail. I've used Yurbuds in the past, which are great at staying put. And last summer, I upgraded to bluetooth Jaybirds -- SO nice! But I lost one of the ear pieces and had so much going on that I neglected to get a replacement... and got stuck with my basic wired Apple headphones (thanks to not having a phone jack in the new iPhone). Whomp, whomp. It was annoying to have to adjust them and I was wishing for my Jaybirds! The less you have to worry about, the better.

Phone holder:
The RooSport. I usually have my phone in a handheld water bottle case (by Nathan) for training runs but definitely didn't want to carry that for the race. I was also not in the mood for a belt of any kind, though I do have a couple that I like. So the RooSport was the perfect solution -- it's small and sleek and just magnetically clips onto your shorts. Super easy and effective! The only time this became a problem was toward the end of the race when my shorts were so dripping wet from all of my water-dousing that they were heavy. My Monday preschool alarm kept going off (oops) and when I finally got my phone out to turn it off, I was worried that I'd give people a show if I tried the RooSport back on my sopping shorts! Haha. But remember my tank pockets? Yep, saved the day again.
Turning off that preschool alarm! Haha
Great gear = happy runner!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

My Road to Boston

I was 11 years old the first time I thought about running the Boston Marathon.

My friend's mom, who was training for a marathon, said she was hoping to qualify for Boston. That piqued my interest because I was obsessed with U.S. History and had read many books about Boston during the Revolutionary War Era. I romanticized the city, and fantasized about dancing with officers at a ball in the 18th century. I dreamed of boarding an airplane bound for Boston and walking along its storied streets. Therefore, to my 7th grade cross country runner self, upgrading the walk to a 26.2-mile run seemed like a reasonable thing to do when I was "old."

I decided that someday, when I was a mom, I would run the Boston Marathon.

It wasn't really a goal but more a matter-of-fact item that would eventually be checked off the list. I had no concept of the qualifying process or what that would entail, although I was a fast kid so that knowledge wouldn't have phased me one bit. So yes, someday, I would grow up, graduate college, get a job, get married, make babies, and run the Boston Marathon. Sounds good. I took about two seconds to mentally acknowledge the new addition to my life plans, and then I went back to junior high.
Seven years later, the distance running time table was moved up quite a bit. The same friend suggested we sign up for the 2006 St. George Marathon. She ended up not running it, but I did. I trained faithfully but was rather nonchalant about the whole thing. I was a poor college kid so Boston was nowhere near my radar, although I certainly had the speed and stamina necessary to qualify. In the end, I ran injured but was on track for a 3:teens marathon through mile 18... and then limped into a 3:52 marathon on what turned out to be a fractured hip. It's quite the long story, which can be found here. Distance running was not part of my life for a long time afterward, although I stayed active and did occasionally run for fun as I checked items off my life's to-do list: graduate college, get a job, get married, make babies...

Eight more years down the road, it was finally time to begin tackling another item on this list: Run the Boston Marathon. I'd had it in my mind that when I ran a second marathon someday, it had to be the St. George Marathon. I had unfinished business on that course. I needed to cross that finish line and know I'd given it my very best. Over the years, I'd grown to appreciate what a marathon meant and what different finishing times represented. I learned that in 2006, I would have needed a sub-3:40 to qualify for Boston. So during those years of pining and failing to get into the race again via lottery, I had a sub-3:40 in mind. I was no longer a fast kid, and my medical history of hip dysplasia and a fractured hip definitely worked against me. But finally -- finally -- in 2014, I drew out for the St. George Marathon. My little guy was two years old and my baby girl wasn't quite one when I started running for real again.

I did it right and worked with a knowledgeable physical therapist, but it was a bit too early to ramp up that kind of mileage on my ridiculously atrophied hips. My knees paid the price. It felt a little deja vu lining up for another marathon at less than 100%, and I remember saying I could finish in 3:30 or 4:30 and the odds were 50/50. I was terrified of repeating my past mistake and injuring myself even worse. (Especially since I'd just paid $$$ for my first Ironman registration fee. Yes, I was/am crazy.) So when my knees were really hurting around mile 18, I didn't push them. I let the 3:35 Boston Qualifying balloon pass me by and it didn't bother me; it wasn't my goal that day. I just wanted to finish without hurting myself. So when I crossed the line in 3:38, it was a pleasant bonus that I had achieved the sub-3:40 that I would have needed so long ago. But I knew that was certainly not my best possible race, and I still had not conquered that course. The unfinished business remained.

The following spring, I became an Ironman. Then in the summer of 2015, I began training for my third St. George Marathon. This was going to be it. I was going to get the monkey off my back, to erase my previous shortcomings among the red hills. I was going to conquer that course once and for all. I would run my best possible marathon.

Oh, and I'd qualify for Boston, too.

I ran a 3:21 that warm October day. It was a 17-minute PR and a 13-minute BQ. It was my best possible marathon, and I had conquered my own demons along the way. You couldn't have wiped the smile off my face if you tried.

Happy Day!!!
Since qualifying for Boston, I have moved across the country, completed two more Ironman races, taken minutes off my half marathon PR, and won 5K and 10K races. But I haven't raced another marathon. I've been waiting for my day in Boston. I had delusions of grandeur about this marathon training cycle that just weren't meant to be in this thing we call "real life." But I still worked hard and put together 12 solid weeks of running. I tallied hundreds of miles and ate dozens of CLIF BARS. I ran fast, I ran easy, and I ran long, managing three solid 20-mile runs throughout training. I topped off at 65 miles during my peak week. I'm ready to run a marathon!

I've felt some guilt over the past couple years as I've watched friends chase after and achieve Boston Marathon qualifying times. They dreamed of the letters "BQ" and they cried when those dreams came true. Those finish lines were crowning moments in their lives. I didn't share that journey in the same way. (I was busy crying over the swim for Ironman, haha.) I was injured for my first two marathons but would have qualified otherwise. My personal struggle with the St. George Marathon was about that race and my own history with it. When I ran a 3:21, I was so freaking thrilled that I hadn't fallen apart at mile 18 that the comfy BQ was an afterthought. Meanwhile, my friends had these magical experiences in achieving their BQ goals, and I worried that my lack of BQ magic meant that I was taking it for granted. And then I realized: the dream for me was never qualifying for Boston. It always lied in those storied streets themselves.

My dream has always been, simply and not-so-simply, to run the Boston Marathon.

To step off a plane in a place I've only read about since I was a little girl. To stand next to the harbor where my heroes dumped a shipment of tea. To walk along the Freedom Trail. To ride a bus to Hopkinton and have nothing but my own two feet to carry me back to the city. To turn right on Hereford and left on Boylston. To cross that finish line.

It's been more than 18 months since I punched my ticket to the Big Dance. It's been nearly 18 years since I first decided I wanted to dance at this ball.

Only 5 more days until that dream comes true.

#partner #FeedYourAdventure #BostonMarathon

Monday, November 14, 2016

A little IMFL Spoiler

Full Ironman Florida 2016 race report still to come! But in the meantime... this is what that sub-12 feels like!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hey Ash! Why are you winging an Ironman next week? (Ha!)

Now that Matt's racing season has ended and we're 2/3rds through our Davis Family Month of Ironman (trademark pending 😉), the focus has shifted to my race at Ironman North Carolina next week! It's almost time for me to face the music. 😂

I've had quite a few people raise their eyebrows a bit at this relatively-last-minute bid for my third Ironman. And I can't blame them!!! I've questioned my own sanity more than a few times. And even though I've had a solid past few weeks of training, that word is "weeks" when it should be "months." I honestly have no idea if that will be good enough or if I'll totally fall apart 125 miles into this thing. An Ironman is a different beast and I know full well that you have to respect the 140.6-mile distance! So I thought I'd let you into my brain and explain why on earth I'll be towing the line at IMNC next weekend.
Race #1 of 3!

*My biggest goal for the year 2016 was to PR the Ironman... and go 140.6 miles in less than 12 hours. Stats show I would have been dang close to that time -- and I believe I could have gutted it out and made it happen -- at Ironman Texas in May. But due to the missing miles on the bike course, we'll never know for sure. So I wanted one more shot at it!
IMTX 2016 bike.. all 95 miles of it.

*Yes, I would absolutely go faster (and have a much more sure chance at sub-12) if I did a proper build-up and raced an Ironman next year instead. It pains me that I won't be racing Ironman Texas! But I'll be focusing on the Boston Marathon in the spring and, well... We want another baby after that. :) And once we have baby #3? I don't see myself doing another full Ironman until all of my unborn children are in school. So it's like now or in 7 years! That's a loooong time to wait. And I've always half-jokingly told my mom that patience is a virtue I'm not meant to acquire. Ha!
A little throw-back to being 9 months pregnant with my Summer Girl! Hard to do IM with a baby bump. ;)

*I don't feel like I have a real Ironman PR. That sounds dumb to say out loud and obviously doesn't really matter, but it's the kind of thing that will drive me crazy for 7 years. When people in real life find out that we've done Ironman races, they almost always ask how fast we've done it/how long it takes us. And then it's like, "Well, the first year I did 12:54, but I had just barely learned how to swim and bike, so I was a lot faster the next year and did 11:11, but that's not a real time because we were missing miles on a bike course with a million turns, oh and my listed time isn't even that because we had this lightning delay and the weather was crazy, but anyway, if the course was right, it would have been more like 12 hours, give or take, because..." I mean, can I just lay off the run-on sentence and give a freaking number? 😂 Matt gets to say "9 and a half hours." It's just simpler that way!
That 12:54 -- when I had a normal answer for a normal question. ;)

*More importantly, I want to have that answer for myself. I don't want to spend the next few years wondering how fast or slow I could have gone. I want to *know.* Before signing up for IMNC (when it was selling out during my layover en route to IMTX), I quickly called my non-triathlete best friend for her input. Liz told me to do it, because she knew that question would eat at me... and that I'd try to remedy that with crazy ideas like trying to squeeze in a full Ironman with a two-month-old or something. Haha! Let's just say she knows me well. :) This way is much more sane.

*I already have a pretty rocking endurance base. I know it seems like I'm winging this thing -- and in a way, I totally am. However, I also happen to have about two years of Ironman/marathon training in the bank. And I'm banking on that base coming through on race day! So while it seems like I'm just throwing this together, in reality, I've been training for this race since October 2014... I just had some recovery/other life things to attend to this summer before building up again. :)
After a 3:21 in STG last fall. All that running has to count for something, right??

*Finally, and perhaps most importantly, WHY NOT? Because it's not the "right" way? Well, neither was jumping straight to an Ironman without being able to swim more than one consecutive lap. ;) Because I might not meet my goal? Here's the thing. A sub-12 is obviously a lofty goal for me at this point (when you swim 2.4 miles in 1:40+, there's not a lot of room for error on the bike and run). But if I didn't do this race, I would always wonder what might have happened. How it could have gone. I would regret it! I'd so much rather show up, give it my best shot, and miss my goal -- but know that at least I had the grit and the courage to try. And who knows what will happen on race day anyway, right? I fully believe that I could have a magic day in Wilmington. Either way, I am really anxious and excited to find out!
Tapering in Kona was a party, so I have that in my favor at least! :)

Monday, August 1, 2016

4th Time's the Charm: Matt's Going to KONA!