Friday, September 1, 2023

The Summer 2023 Training that wasn't

Oh hey! Training journal update here. This summer’s training has looked nothing like I’d hoped it would, and I just wanted to document it for myself. Everyone has “stuff” you know? Luckily this chapter has just been more about 1st world issues and sicknesses and stress (vs actually big stuff), but man, has it kicked my butt.

Let’s start by saying I spent many years — YEARS! — cheering for Matt as he chased Kona slots and raced on the Big Island. And I dreamed that someday, when we were done having babies and those babies were in preschool (read: when I'll have a few weekly hours of childcare help), it would be my turn to train and race hard. Specifically, to KQ and race well in Kona.

With Kona’s future up in the air (💔), I said yes to a Kona slot earlier than planned. Better early than never, eh? I knew real long-term IM training wasn’t really in the cards, but I pictured being able to put together a semi-decent training cycle this summer. That just hasn’t happened.

A few culprits:

-Straight-up, my family comes first. I have very busy big kids and very active twin toddlers. With no family nearby and no childcare help, it's a hard combination from a “free time” perspective.

-For the first time with 4 kids, Matt & I were both trying to train for full Ironmans at the same time.

-We started off the “summer” being sick for 4/5 weeks with bronchitis & sinus infections. Training load and fitness just bottomed out by early July.

-“Summer” is said rather sarcastically, because it was 60-degrees with daily thunderstorms and hail. The worst/wettest/grayest/coldest here since 1876.

-Vitamin D was therefore in the toilet and I was dealing with seasonal affective disorder. In June and July.

-Running finally started to be okay again by mid-July, but biking and swimming were just not there.

-Our two out-of-state rental homes (kept from previous bases in case the military moves us back) both simultaneously became nightmare scenarios. We are talking TENS of thousands of dollars of damage.

-As we approached our year-mark in our new-build home, the fight over warranty issues escalated. The VP randomly showed up at our house one day to apologize. It’s been bad. We still have fairly big issues so the headache and back-and-forth and having to sit around during work windows for subs continues.

-We also hit the deadline for our military move claim and began our official fight with the moving company. Ridiculous things like them offering $0 for our dryer that they busted in because they said it was existing damage. Good thing we have videos of it in pristine condition being loaded on the moving truck, but cue hours of back-and-forth to prove it. For more than 100 items that they trashed. We’re still in the middle of it.

-The amount of time sucked and stress caused by said house/move problems has been INSANE. Instead of using my “stealth mom” training hours (when the kids are sleeping) to train, I've had to spend them dealing with property managers and subs, making decisions on new carpets etc., spending hours carefully going over every single word used in emails because the lawyers said they could end up in court (our OH house will), searching for pictures and videos of damaged items before/after the move… You get the idea.

-All while trying to give my kids a fun, happy summer while being locked inside with the horrific weather. I am unwilling to have my kids get the shaft for my training, so instead I averaged <6 hours of sleep all summer and still barely got any passable training in.

I finally — finally! — started making some progress in the past few weeks as the house stuff started to die down. Last week actually looked like real Ironman training, and my fitness started clicking!!! Hallelujah.

Then in the past few days, after declaring that we were getting past the bulk of our problems? A dishwasher died, a $2K HVAC repair was needed, and… here’s the kicker… We got c🦠v 1d. All it took was two weeks of back-to-school germs. So this week of training is a wash, and next week will have to be light… and Kona is in six weeks.

It’s honestly such a bummer to have the reality be so far off of expectations leading into a race I’ve dreamt about for years. But six weeks still = four weeks of training before a two-week taper, so I’ll make the most of it!

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Mountains 2 Beach 2023: Race Recap

Successful 29 hours in SoCal! It went a little something like this:


Saturday Morning: Coach my daughter's soccer team to the final win of their undefeated season! Aaand then immediately leave for the airport.

2:23 p.m.: Step off the plane at LAX

2:37 p.m.: Little brother Christian picks me up at the curb (he flew into SNA that morning) and we start heading north!

4:23 p.m.: Arrive at race expo in Ventura.

4:30 p.m.: Pick up bibs with 30 minutes to spare! Buy a pair of running jorts on clearance at the expo (the level of excitement I felt for this purchase was very high). Say hi to the beach.

5:30 p.m.: Shake out run by the ocean!

7:00 p.m.: Pick up Olive Garden to go in Thousand Oaks. Check into hotel. Eat dinner. Realize we forgot to buy water. Go to gas station across the street and overpay for said water because it was convenient. Set out race gear. Realize I left all of my toiletries at home. Drive to Walmart where water would have been cheap. Buy toiletries. Head back to hotel. Shower. Get ready for bed.

9:00 p.m.: Realize I once again failed to make a playlist. Create playlist in bed. Future Ashley thanks me for this.

9:59 p.m.: Fall asleep.

3:01 a.m.: Wake up! Realize I threw away the utensils meant for putting peanut butter on my bagel. Decide to use pen cap in its place? Eat breakfast. Lay back down for 5 minutes before realizing I actually needed to be getting ready.

4:12 a.m.: Leave hotel room.

4:48 a.m.: Load buses.

5:24 a.m.: Arrive at race start. Get in porta potty line.

5:40 a.m.: Eat some chews. Do a little dynamic warm-up.

5:54 a.m.: Get to start line and convince myself to line up just in front of 3:15. Replay Christian's voice an hour before, telling me I have nothing to lose. Realize I'm surrounded by 90% men. Feel total imposter syndrome. Try to tell myself it's okay -- I belong there. 

6:00 a.m.: HERE WE GO!!!


I was seriously questioning my life choices as the gun went off, but no backing out now! It was a whopping 97% humidity at the start and my poor "it's still winter in dry Colorado" self felt it. Thankfully it was "only" 58 degrees (technically still warm for a marathon starting temp, but let's be real, it could be waaaay worse), so it wasn't a race killer. M2B has really fantastic pace groups -- which are not usually my jam, but the result is that the crowd of runners around you really has the same-ish goal, so you're moving at the same-ish pace. My plan, therefore, was to hang with the guys around me for as long as possible -- but especially through the climbing around Ojai in the beginning.

A couple miles in, it was clear that I didn't feel "great!" like I had in Boston. Not surprising, since I'd actually built/peaked/tapered for Boston and was fresh then vs. trying to pull off this marathon 34 days later. "You don't have to feel great, just good enough," I reminded myself. And I was feeling good enough that I was hanging with the guys, so all was well. I clicked off the first 5K at 7:28 pace -- right on target.

My very favorite part of the race came at the mile 4 marker -- when my watch read 4.01 instead of 4.45!!! (See last year's post for THAT story here.) (PS for comparison to last year, I ran 26.33 miles this time. An extra tenth mile is normal in a marathon, and this race course has some heavily-cambered roads, so I favored the better-cambered parts of the course over trying to run 100% perfect tangents.) This course takes you for a loop around Ojai for the first 10Kish, and it's just so dreamy running past orchards, down streets lined with palm trees in the morning's golden hour light.

The miles just kept clicking along, hanging out in the 7:teens now. I don't run these paces very often up at 7200 feet at home now, and it's been a long time since I did run them often, having spent the past few years doing fertility treatments + twin pregnancy + taking care of baby twins. So my brain's initial reaction every time it sees those paces in a race is like "SOS! Slow down so you don't blow up!" And I have to repeatedly remind myself that it's okay -- those are in my wheelhouse again. Those are really my correct paces. (Which is really freaking exciting!)

When the half marathon marker came, I was still in that group of guys I'd started with -- still ahead of the 3:15 pacer, still hanging in there!!! And it was feeling manageable.

When you race two marathons so close together, you *know* that there is going to be some residual fatigue in your legs. You *know* it's going to show up eventually, at some point in the race. You just don't know quite when, and you sure as heck hope it's later rather than sooner. Well, the Boston Marathon in my legs made itself known loud and clear when we hit the steep 50+ ft hill at mile 15. Suddenly my legs that had been feeling fine with the early hills and rollers were just like, "Excuse me? We JUST did this!" People started walking around me and that was an awfully tempting idea, but I told myself that I was still in this and just had to take it one mile at a time. I hung in there, and that mile clicked over at 7:35. But then some of the guys opened it up on the other side of that hill, running low 6 for a section and I just couldn't go with them. I still ran a 7:02 mile there, though, so that up/down had evened itself out and my legs were still turning over well.

I kept it together for the next couple miles, too, but man, my muscles were just feeling that fatigue! Around mile 18, my morning "do not disturb" time had expired on my phone, and a text came through from Matt. The year before, I'd asked him to run that marathon with me with the sole job of "saying nice things at mile 18." He was back home on daddy duty this year, but still pulled through! I didn't even read the text but I didn't need to. At this point in the 2022 race, I'd told him I thought I could make the BQ time but that it would be hard. He had replied so nonchalantly -- "You have done WAY harder things." Seeing his text pop up on my watch now reminded me of that and I could feel him cheering me on.

I'd been a little worried about my own mental fatigue going into the race. We've had a LOT of major, unexpected, super-stressful, adulting-style issues over the past few weeks and I've felt very maxxed out mentally. Could I keep THAT part of my game together late in the race? So far, so good and I was very calmly just coaching myself through one mile at a time.

On a great day, I'd hoped I could go sub-3:15 (NYC qualification!), but I was realistic in acknowledging that I'd literally just barely run a marathon so that might not be possible. I went into the race saying I just really, really wanted to be back in the 3:teens. So my late-race mental math was initially based around that: If I ran 8-minute miles now, could I still make it? The good news was, I wasn't running 8s. I was still in the 7:30s. That meant a sub-3:15 was still possible! But I knew the awful hills at the end were looming. I just had to keep pushing and not blow up.

Coming into town, there were some spectators cheering, which was nice! I particularly appreciated the guy who yelled out "Nice outfit! I like your colorway!" Hahaha definitely the first time my "colorway" has been complimented in a race, and frankly, I liked my colorway, too, and it was such a unique cheer that it made me smile. Thanks for the boost, random nice guy!

The Ventura Main Street hill is often referred to as the "Heartbreak Hill" of Mountains 2 Beach. It is 66 feet of climbing at mile 23-24 of the marathon... which just feels cruel when you're in it! My poor legs had nothing more to give on a climb like that, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, for a mile split of 8:05. The 3:15 pacers passed me toward the top and I was like... shoot. But my racing brain math said they were maybe going a little too fast, so I didn't let myself spiral. There was another small hill during mile 25 and my watch beeped at 7:46. Yeah, those late climbing miles were slower, but I was still running well and my dream goal for the day was still a possibility if I kept fighting for it. I clocked in a 7:35 for mile 26. Once I hit that final stretch, I used up everything I had left -- running my final 0.33 miles @ 7:09 pace.

I crossed the line and saw my time: 3:14:20!!! Oh my gosh, I'd actually done it.

I've had a lot of feels with my running in this postpartum-with-twins era, as it feels like a metaphor of getting my life back after all the really hard things we went through simultaneously. (Infertility, Matt's near-death experience, IVF, hemorrhaging during pregnancy, almost losing my newborn baby, and the long recoveries from all of the above.) A 3:14:20 is just 2 minutes exactly off my lifetime PR, and on a harder course! That feeling of "I'm back" combined with the "Holy crap, that was so hard" led to me needing to cry it out a bit in that finisher chute (thank goodness for sunglasses).

I've worked really hard to get here, in many ways. That "Mission: Accomplished" feeling? Feels pretty dang good.


9:25 a.m.: Hobble out of the finisher chute. Announce to my brother that I'd like to die for a minute, please. Apologize in advance for the hefty amount of whining I'll be doing for the next hour but promise I'll get over it quickly.

9:30 a.m.: Try to get some calories in me while I wait for my turn at the post-race massage. Christian had signed us up right after he finished the half marathon -- bless him!

10:00 a.m.: Decide that post-race massages are the best things ever invented.

10:10 a.m.: Start hobbling around in search of my friends Liz & Naomi.

10:20 a.m.: Found them!

10:40 a.m.: Finally functional enough to walk onto the beach. Wish I was slightly more functional so I could take my shoes off and put my feet in the water. Take a few pictures. Enjoy the view.

11:05 a.m.: Hobble up to the shuttle buses.

11:15 a.m.: Force-feed myself snacks on the shuttle bus.

11:40 a.m.: Hobble from shuttle bus to car.

12:15 p.m.: Hobble up stairs. Shower. Pack up.

12:54 p.m.: Hobble down stairs. Start driving south!

1:45 p.m.: Finally, my In-N-Out burger. And fries. And Diet Coke. And strawberry shake. I want it ALL. Continue driving south.

3:30 p.m.: Ahhh, the sweet, sweet view of Crystal Cove driving south on the PCH. Literally one of my favorite driving views in the world.

4:00 p.m.: Park at favorite beach. Realize it means walking DOWN a steep hill. Say my prayers. Survive.

4:05 p.m.: Walk onto favorite beach. Step into ocean. Love life.

5:30 p.m.: Head back up the hill. Say "I'm really proud of myself" out loud. Brother asks if I'm referring to the marathon or walking up the beach path. "The beach path," I answer honestly. Haha!

6:00 p.m.: Return rental car at SNA airport.

7:17 p.m.: Board flight!

Not a bad 29 hours, if I may say so myself. :)

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Boston Marathon 2023: Race Recap

I can't believe Boston 2023 has already come and gone! And I can't believe it went the way it did -- all you can do is laugh!!! One we'll remember forever.

It was a tale of two races, really. Head to my last post for our race goals, pace plans, and the race morning lead-up. And then scroll on down for the surely-going-to-be-a-novel race recap!


Sweet Caroline was playing as our corral started, which was absolutely perfect. My OBGYN had it on her playlist when they were prepping me for my c-section with the twins and it was such a happy moment that morning -- going from the cold of surgery prep to the warmth of having the doctors and nurses and myself all singing along to a song that reminds me of the Boston Marathon, no less. Then a couple months later, someone was playing Sweet Caroline on the sideline early in the race in Boston and it made me smile so big. So I can't imagine a better start to this years' race than a few rounds of shouting "SO GOOD!"

We were off!!!

Kindal and I were idiots the first time we tried to run together in 2017, weaving and surging and braking and basically burning all of our matches in a hard four-mile fartlek to start the race. So we said we'd just try to stay to the left and be patient for those first few super-crowded miles. It worked well! We didn't stress about being constantly right next to each other -- just took the pass when we could, and trusted the other would catch up shortly. It was pretty smooth and didn't feel like we were exerting any extra energy, so hey! That was a win for the day already.

Pace-wise, we were right where we figured we'd be after that first 5K (7:30ish) and everything felt comfy -- we'd maneuvered it well. When the crowd started opening it up, Kindal started opening up her pace, too. There were a couple times I had to reign her in ("Kindal, we shouldn't be going 6:50, let's pull it back a little"), but overall it felt fast but doable. I reminded myself that this first half was Kindal's so she could be in position to have her PR day, and I'd be able to pull off the gas if I needed to after we hit our spot in Wellesley. There were only a couple miles that felt a little too hot (Kindal threw down a couple 7:0X around the 10K mark) and I had handled them just fine, so I started to gain some confidence as the miles went on. We were back in the 7:teens after that and just checking off landmarks along the way. It was faster than I would have chosen to go alone on paper, but it actually didn't feel too fast in reality. 

We got to mile 10 and had settled into cruise control at 7:20ish — and I felt great. Not like, “Well, everyone feels good at mile 10 of the Boston Marathon.” Like, actually fantastic. Better than I’ve ever felt in a marathon. “This could really be our day,” I thought.

“I’m going to stay with you the whole time,” I announced to Kindal. “I feel really, really good. Let’s do the dang thing.”

Aaaand here came the turning point:

“Well, I do NOT feel good,” she replied.

We continued on in silence for awhile but it was clear she meant it. She'd actually woken up that morning with a visit from Aunt Flo, complained about cramps, told us she was nauseous and car sick on the bus, and teared up in Athlete's Village because her stomach didn't feel good. So we'd hoped for the best but it also wasn't a complete surprise.

I asked what I could do to help or what I could get her. I'd packed extra imodium in my gels on our way out the door that morning in case she'd need them.

“Nothing,” she replied. “Nothing will help. It’s over.”

“It’s not over until you’re sitting in a porta potty for 20 minutes,” I replied. “Right now, this moment — you’re still in this.”

And we were… and the paces were still good… but Kindal seemed like she was feeling worse and worse. “One mile at a time,” I reminded her. You could hear the Wellesley Scream Tunnel in the distance and I led us over to that right sideline to take part in the party. You lose a few seconds to all of the high-fives but it's more than worth it for the boost! Always so fun. Just beyond the college was the half marathon marker.

We’d discussed pacing rather thoroughly beforehand, and decided to try to hit the halfway point around 1:36-1:37. Sure enough, we clicked over at 1:36:26 (7:19 Garmin average with weaving, 7:22 official average) — literally perfect. 

“Our spot” is at about 13.5 miles, and we had a moment as we passed it. Four years ago, I was on the bus when Kindal called to tell me that she’d taken the pregnancy test I’d bought for her the night before — and it was positive. She and our friend Charlie were going to be cheering in Wellesley, and I’ve never wanted to run anywhere faster in my life. I found them in the crowds and collected more than three full minutes of stoppage time as we hugged and cried happy tears. We said we'd be back at that spot together on the race course one day, and that had been my training focus the past few months -- to be fast enough that I could hang with Kindal to that spot and not have it destroy me for the rest of the race. It was really happening! We were here. We hugged on the run and Kindal lost an airpod and had to go back for it (oops), so we added some extra seconds there, too. But all was well still and it was a happy full-circle moment! 


Our watches had barely beeped 14 miles when Kindal pulled off to the side and bent over. She gagged a little and told me to leave her and go get my fast race. We'd gone over the scenarios of when to separate during the race and had agreed that the worst outcome would be to split at the first sign of danger, only to finish about a minute apart later. "I'm not leaving you during your first rough patch," I said. "Let's go -- you've got this."

And so we carried on for about another half mile, when Kindal pulled over again and actually threw up a little this time. "Just leave me. I don't want to ruin your race," she said, rather ornery actually at that point. "I'll be fine."

I responded with the loving sternness of a big sister: "If you think I'm leaving you, you're wrong."

There were two things that I knew: First, that with our race time and Kindal's level of fitness, even with the inevitable continued slowdowns that would come as a result of this? She could still BQ. And two, that without me staying with her, that would certainly not happen, and she might not even finish the race.

A small part of me did mourn a little inside, just knowing that feeling amazing on race day is a unicorn in itself and I was giving up a chance at a pretty shiny Boston time. But like, who cares? There will always be more race days, and I care WAY more about Kindal than I do about a time on a clock. I'd said all along that all I wanted from this race experience was to run with my best friend. That didn't change just because *I* was the one having a great running day and she was puking on the side of the road. Time to put your money where your mouth is, you know? We were still going to have our day together, it was just going to look a little different than planned.

Miles 14 to 18 were just kind of that on repeat -- get a little ways up the road, then pull over and gag/dry heave/throw up a little, and carry on. I texted Matt about the situation so he wouldn't be worried about me as the times slipped. Then somewhere around that mile 18 marker, the flood gates opened -- and like a true friend, I happened to catch some of it on video haha (stopped it too early, though!). Kindal just uncontrollably projectile vomited over and over until there was absolutely nothing left. I gave her a hug... and told her she'd have to rally.

"Rally after vomiting like THAT?" she asked incredulously.

"Yep. I threw up for a whole Ironman. You can puke and BQ!"

We had her walk for a bit and then she started jogging again. At that point, her nausea was much, much better. (As it often is when you finally just let it all go. Source: Three pregnancies in which I projectile vomited in many places, many times over for the duration of the pregnancies, ha.) However, we're not stupid. Not only does puking like that take a lot of energy, but at that point, she also had no energy to work with from a caloric standpoint. Luckily the carb load stores up some glycogen, but now Kindal was feeling pretty light-headed so we needed to be smart and not have her over-exert.

It was really helpful that I know the course so well (I took advantage of my 2021 situation and really studied it while I was out there) because I was able to coach through the little ups & downs & turns that were coming up all along the way. There was a lot of encouragement and some doses of tough love to keep her moving toward that BQ. I watched the clock and coaxed her on during the downhills and flats, and timed the walk breaks on the uphills and through aid stations to get the most bang for our buck. We tried to get just a little bit of hydration and fuel in her, basically microdosing it to not upset her stomach again. The amazing thing is that she was still running really well when she was running. The puking miles and recovery miles through the Newton Hills were all around 9:00 pace, but on the other side of Heartbreak Hill, everything was low-to-mid 8s even with walk breaks. 

Meanwhile, that second half of the race for me may as well have been at Disney World -- just feeling great and having fun! The Boston crowds are second-to-none, and the more you play it up with them, the more they cheer for you. I figured Kindal could use as many cheers as possible, so I was really extra. But it worked! My friends and family call me "Ash," but I put "Ashley" on my amazing Hyperthreads tank simply due to the fact that it looked better to have the longer name. And I laughed because I most definitely heard "Ashley" more times during that race than I have in the past decade! Just so many cheers and high-fives and overall awesomeness coming from the world's best spectators, standing out there in the rain.

Speaking of which, right as we had dropped down in Newton Falls and turned into the headwind and the Newton Hills? The rain started pouring. It was such a cool BRING IT ON moment with all the hard things all at once! Man, it made me hungry to crush that part of the course. I felt the same thing cresting Heartbreak Hill so full of energy -- I want so badly to hit that point in the race next year and just FLY. It's good to keep that fire burning I suppose!

We hit Boston College and I told Kindal I was going to have some fun but that I'd wait for her after the college. That BC stretch is one of my all-time racing favorites! The college kids bring the party and my arm was tired afterward from all the high-fives haha. It was super fun as usual, and Kindal and I were back together in no time. At that point in the race, the countdown is really on as you head into Brookline and then toward the Citgo sign.

Next thing I knew, I was pointing out the famous turns ahead:

"That's Hereford. This is IT! You freaking did it, Kindal. We're almost there!"

And as we made that right turn onto Hereford, I excitedly said to her: "This is everything we ever wanted." And then paused and added with a laugh, "Minus the puking." But, you know, can't be too picky sometimes. ;)

A couple hundred yards later, we turned left on Boylston and I soaked it all in as we made our way down that final stretch together. What a magical marathon.

We threw our hands up as we ran over the finish line, and then threw them around each other in a big hug.

3:28:18! A BQ by 7 minutes. Far from the times we'd wanted, but what a victory that day!!!

The first thing I told Matt after the race is that it turns out, the altitude calculators are right -- we're much fitter than our 7200ft paces and bike powers have us thinking. YAY science.

It's a weird feeling knowing I left time on the table, and I'm having to resist the urge to jump into another marathon to have a time that reflects my current fitness. But that would take away from my biggest goal of the year, which is a strong race in KONA!!! So I'm taking the win in the form of the big confidence boost that comes from feeling so great that entire time and knowing I had a lot more to give.

I'm going to have to just stay hungry for a faster marathon time -- but that hunger isn't a bad thing. :)

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Boston Marathon 2023: Pre-Race

Time for a little Boston Marathon recap action! I always start writing the recap with a ton of backstory and realize that should just be its own dang post. So here it is! Setting the stage for the actual race.


My primary goal during this build has been to get fast enough that I could run at least the first half of this race with Kindal. Our dream has always been to run the whole thing together, but I knew that might not be in the cards yet. See, while I spent my first 18 months postpartum with the twins getting 3-4 broken hours of sleep a night and running 2-3 miles @ 10 minute pace on my treadmill after 11pm just to keep any sort of base... Kindal was *crushing* workouts. We had quite the speed disparity heading into this training cycle!

In 2019, Kindal was in Boston to cheer for me. She'd been trying to get pregnant for awhile and had a bad long run the day before the race (as in, she took an uber back instead of finishing) and I just had a feeling. So Charlie and I detoured to CVS after our pre-race dinner and I bought a pregnancy test, and tossed it to Kindal when we walked back into the hotel. Race morning was chaotic so she didn't take it... but then called me when I was on the bus to say that she was pregnant!!! I found her and Charlie in the crowds in front of a little shop just past the halfway mark in Wellesley, and we laughed and cried and celebrated for three minutes in the middle of my race. We said we'd run back to that spot together next time.

Well, this was our "next time" in Boston together -- hence really wanting to run that first half marathon together! Thankfully, my twins finally started sleeping through the night (well, 80% success rate between the two) in January, so I finally felt like my body could handle some effort. Operation: Keep Up had begun haha.

Kindal’s PR is 3:16:07, so her # 1 goal time for the day was a 3:16:06 or faster. Her stretch goal was closer to 3:10. The pacing plan was to run even effort (not negative split unless the stars aligned for that stretch goal), and with a headwind and rain forecasted to hit us in the Newton hills, we accounted for those miles being slower. Then if things were feeling great after Heartbreak, open it up and see how far under 3:16 she/we could go (assuming I hadn’t blown up at that point — I really wasn’t sure how I’d feel). Kindal ran a 1:27 half tapered in Mesa in February and a 1:31 on a hilly course at the end of a high-mileage week in March, so she certainly had the fitness to go after that marathon PR.

My personal goal -- had I been running the whole thing solo -- would have been sub-3:20. But the altitude conversion & race equivalency calculators said 3:15 was doable, so I thought maybe on a perfect day I could bury myself and hang with Kindal the whole time. But I just really didn't know -- I think if I had already been at normal running fitness before we moved to 7200 feet altitude, I'd have a better handle over the difference and therefore have more confidence in where my running fitness is at. Trying to build back from having twins WHILE at this new crazy high altitude has just made me really unsure of my abilities. In a way, Boston was going to be my scientific experiment -- now that I'm finally in marathon shape, just how accurate are those conversions? I'm a nerd so I was excited to find out.

So yeah, I felt like maybe on a perfect day, I could hang. If that first half was too hot and I blew up, I'd fight for a sub-3:25. And for both of us, the absolute worst-case scenario was a BQ, preferably with a 5-minute buffer (so a sub-3:30). I have a BQ for 2024 already, but our summer triathlon plans would be ruined if Kindal had to go race another marathon before September (when you register for Boston 2024). Alternatively, we could check the BQ box and then target a faster corral placement time over the winter.


The weather forecast had been all over the place and as of race morning, it still hadn't quite decided what it was going to do during the race! That's kind of the drill for Boston, though, so you just prepare for all possibilities and then don't worry about it. It's entertaining if nothing else!

I'd packed two pairs of race shoes as options for the day: an older pair with a couple marathons on it, and a brand-spankin' new pair. The plan was to decide based on the weather and how I felt. Basically, if I thought I was going to have a good day, the old pair would suffice. But if I thought I could have a GREAT day, I'd go with the new pair. That morning, even with a headwind and potential rain on the forecast during the race? I put on the new pair. I was ready to race.

The hourly forecast still said Athlete's Village itself would be dry, but the air had just felt "damp" (to use the forecast's language) even the day before, so I stuck to my "muddy and potentially wet" athlete's village gear plans -- and was quite glad I did!!! Sure enough, it wasn't a total mud pit, but it *was* wet and muddy, and it was nice not having to worry about my race shoes and where I stepped. And of course, when it started raining in athlete's village (even though the forecast said it wouldn't yet), well, I was glad to have a poncho. Better safe than sorry when it comes to gear planning for Boston!

My friends all stuck together for the whole bus ride + athlete's village, which just made it that much more fun. When it was time for the first of us (Rhandi) to leave the village and walk to her starting corral, we huddled up for a "team" cheer and big good luck group hug for all of us! Just such great pre-race vibes. The announcer actually said that Kindal and my corral could head over, too, but it was earlier than the posted time and I wanted to sit in the village awhile longer. We got to watch the elites start on the big screen and hid under the big tent while it started to rain. Then when the clock struck that original "depart the village" time, Heather, Kindal, and I put our ponchos on and stepped out into the rain!

We danced on our way to the corrals and it was so fun. It's nearly a mile-long walk, but even THAT has a bunch of spectators! I decided to kick off the day with that good luck hype and veered to the sidelines to collect pre-race high-fives. Then Kindal and I split off for our corral and wished Heather a great race as she turned toward hers!

It was time.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Big Cottonwood Marathon 2022: BQ @ 13 months postpartum with twins

The Lead-up:

To be honest, I never wanted to run this marathon.

I've been familiar with this race for many years and always thought that, while Revel itself is a fantastic company and hosts remarkably well-organized events, this course was far from ideal: All the bad rap for being downhill, while actually chewing runners up and spitting them out with the high altitude and extreme downhill early on, only to climb later when it counts -- except now without functioning legs. I've watched from afar and seen so, so many dreams die at this race in the past! I do think that these races can be very fast, but only with very specific downhill and eccentric prep work, which I obviously didn't do. Otherwise, I'd strongly prefer a flat-ish, sea level course. :)

That said, when you need a BQ at the beginning of September, your options are rather limited. Filter it down for races that fit in a "I need to be home that afternoon," and ta da! I was now running the Big Cottonwood Marathon 2022.

Not only did I not really want to run THIS race, though, I didn't want to run ANY marathon right now. I was just tired and we're just trying to get settled over here, and I had the big scheduling conflicts with my kids' activities. But what I *DO* want is to run a fast Boston Marathon in 2023 and, well, that's kind of hard to do if you're not there. Sometimes people assume that other runners are just super motivated all the time, but let me be the first to say that I am very much not. What I am, though, is disciplined enough to understand that you just have to trudge through some of the low-motivation times to get to the ultimate goal. So I ran just enough miles and did just enough long runs to make this thing work.

The Second Race:

I was super nervous going into Big Cottonwood. Partially because there was a lot on the line, partially because I knew I didn't have the specific prep needed for this type of course, but mostly because I knew that this marathon had to go well or I didn't stand a chance at winning my second race of the day: Getting back to Colorado in time for Summer's gymnastics meet.

Unlike the baseball/soccer/basketball/football schedules that we're used to, with tons and tons of games on the schedule, gymnastics only has 6-8 meets a year. That's it. So each one holds more weight anyway, but since we just got to a new state and new gym and this move in general has been hard for Summer, everything is a bigger deal right now. So I left the decision up to Summer: Would she be okay if I had to miss just one meet? "Well, I want you to get to go to Boston," she said. Me too.

I didn't tell her in case it didn't work, but I picked this race weekend instead of the others because her meet wasn't until the afternoon, which meant I'd have a chance to still get there... if I ran fast enough and every little thing went right. I booked a late-morning flight that would give me that chance, and then a back-up late-night flight in case it didn't work. And the nervous butterflies set in -- gosh, I wanted so badly to make all of this work, but knew it would be a really big ask from my body.

The Marathon:

My brother Christian lives a mere 15 minutes from the Big Cottonwood finish line, which made for a really easy morning logistically! We woke up, got dressed, ate, and headed out the door. I weaned the twins last month (making it to a year with them is seriously one of my biggest accomplishments!), which meant I finally didn't have to worry about pumping pre-race! Seriously, what a game changer haha -- the morning was SO much less stressful without it. Anyway, so we made it to the parking lot very uneventfully and headed over to the busses, where I conveniently ran into my friend Claire, who I'd been planning on riding up with. Perfect! Christian was running the half so we said our goodbyes and Claire and I were off. 

It was a beautiful morning pre-race routine went well, until it was almost time to start and we decided a second potty break was needed. No big deal since it's chip timed and everything, but in my head I knew that also meant I was losing a few minutes on the "getting to the airport" race on the backend. I still stand by that second potty break, though! My pre-race meal the night before was with friends and something I'd never eaten pre-race before, and my tummy kept me up all night so I was anxious about it. Nothing a little imodium can't fix though right? Ha.

Postpartum running for me has been wildly unpredictable, in that some days feel great, others feel awful, and most feel generally "meh" -- and there is not necessarily rhyme or reason so I never know what I'm going to get. Obviously I hoped for a "great" feeling day for the marathon, but also had stress hives earlier in the week from everything else we're dealing with sooo you know. I'd settle for a "good" feeling day, too.

Mile 1: Well, I started running and it was definitely more of a "meh"-feeling day, so I was going to really have to work for it. Since we started a few minutes late, I had some crowd-weaving to do early on. The first mile is a literal drop off of Guardsman Pass -- we're talking 450 feet in one mile, meaning your quads are shot before the race really even begins. Then you hit miles three and four, where there is a few hundred feet of climbing at 9K feet elevation, which is fun. I kept my foot off the gas and tried to keep my effort nice and easy -- no need to burn matches at this stage in the game.

Mile 5: I walked for a few seconds at the aid station to properly wash down the gel I'd just taken. My legs instantly felt wobbly. Why, yes, at only 5 miles into the race, my legs were already trashed. Alarm bells went off in my brain. I reminded myself about my last long run, in which I'd felt like total crap for the first many miles, but actually started feeling a little better around mile 10 or so. "You're fine," I told myself. "It'll start to feel better."

Mile 10ish: Either my lies worked or I was on to something — I started to feel a little stronger overall. I finally found myself around a good group of guys twice, but dropped my sunglasses the first time and had to go back. Then a gust of wind randomly made my brother's hat that I was borrowing fly off the second time, so I lost them again when I went back for the hat. Finally, right before coming out of the canyon, I fell in step with a slightly-older gentleman who I hoped to hang with for a bit on Wasatch. Always mentally easier when we're not alone.

Mile 18: “Here we go!” I said to my new friend as of 0.25 miles before. 😂 Time for the uphill! I was grateful I’d finished my last few long runs uphill — “Wasatch isn’t nearly as bad as Woodman,” I thought.

Mile 19: Wow, that mile went surprisingly well! I’ve got this.

Mile 19.25: Hamstrings start screaming. To quote my twins: “Uh oh!” This is what I was afraid of — my quads were so shredded that my hammies were doing waaay more work than they were prepared for. Where is the dang turnaround? (I knew where.) Why are we still going up? (I knew why. 😂) I saw the 21 mile marker on the other side… Just over 1.5 miles and I’d be at that marker for real. Hang in there.

Mile 20.5: The turnaround! I literally cheered. None of the men around me seemed to share my same enthusiasm, though, haha. My hamstrings were starting to really seize up and I told myself to just make it to the next aid station so I could pull over to get some icy hot and stretch them out.

Mile 20.75: A Rhandi sighting! My friend Rhandi was pacing the second half and came up behind me with all the best energy. It was a very well-timed distraction but I only hung with her for about a minute before dying.

Mile almost-22: Hallelujah, there’s the aid station. It was also sunny and exposed with temps in the 70s and climbing, so I tossed a bit of water on myself after drinking electrolytes. My stride had gotten super locked up over the last mile and I needed to do some serious problem-solving: I walked over to the volunteers with icy hot and they slapped a bunch on the back of my legs for me to rub in. As I did so, I realized too late that I probably should have left some portion of my hands icy-hot free for the sake of fueling but alas. 😂 (Fast forward a few minutes to me fighting with a RunGum package and tasting nothing but icy hot… mmmm!)

At this point, we were past alarm bells and the sprinklers were on in the ceilings, you know? Ha. So I had to be smart and figure out how to get to the finish line in the shortest amount of time with my quads shredded and my subsequently over-worked hamstrings cramping. It was pretty painful, as far as these things are concerned anyway, and my stride just got smaller & more locked up the more I tried to run through it. 

I worried about how much worse it could get and decided the fastest way there would actually be to manage things with a run/walk plan from here. (Not giving up/slow walking it in, but actually employing purposeful run/walk intervals as part of a smart strategy. There is a difference!) I’d take a 30ish second walk/stretch break every half mile to try to control the cramping and reset my stride. Mentally, this was a good way to handle the pain, too — knowing it was just a half mile and then there’d be some relief. On paper, this method would “cost” me about 30-45 seconds a mile vs. running steady (depending on the stretching), but I figured it’d actually *save* me at least that much by keeping my stride functional and staving off even worse cramping. I passed so many people who were running steady on the final stretch!

Saying that makes it sound easy, but it was really tough to keep pushing through to the end, especially when my on-the-go math said I could actually do a lot of “give up” style walking and still hit a BQ at that point. (Which, when I caught myself doing the “How slow can I go and still make it” math, I snapped my brain back into shape: “No, how fast can I still get there?” Win your own mental battles!)

Oh, I wanted so badly to phone it in these final miles. But even more than that, I wanted to make it on that early flight so I could be in Colorado in a few hours for Summer’s meet. I just kept telling myself I had to stay in it — I had to make it for Sums.

That’s the best kind of motivation right there.

Finally, I saw the finish line in the distance. And as I got closer, I saw an even better sight: My brother and friends, hands up, screaming, ready to welcome me in with open arms! 

I felt such a feeling of relief as I stepped over that finish line. I’d done it!!!

A 3:21 was perfect. My first BQ back in 2015 -- after my first two kids -- was a 3:21, so it feels somewhat symbolic as I start over after my second two.

Aaaand now, my legs were done. They locked up and my friends helped me over to a chair. I looked at my watch and figured I could give myself about ten minutes of recovery before my drop-dead departure time. I drank some chocolate milk as I rested for a couple minutes, then got another round of hugs, took a few pictures, and it was time to go!

Race # 2 was officially on. Click here for that recap. :)

The Stats:

13 months postpartum with twins
Chip time: 3:21:24

Watch stats: 26.32 miles @ 7:39 pace

Placing: 3rd in F35-39 (Which I think says something about how deceptively tough this course is, for a 3:21 to be 3rd in the biggest AG at a race of this size.) (Online results show 4th AG, but turns out the 3rd result was a pacer bib that switched runners halfway through, so that was a fun surprise!)