Saturday, September 19, 2020

Virtual Boston Marathon 2020: Adventure Edition (King's Peak!)

Oh my gosh, where to even begin?? We came, we conquered, we laughed, we wanted to cry, we prayed we wouldn’t die... Haha. The weather made for the slowest trail conditions and a whole lot more “adventure” than Bre and I bargained for. But on a day that nearly everyone else turned back before the summit (except the serious mountaineer who has done 5 of the 7 Summits & his buddy) — WE DID IT!!! And right after I completed a road marathon. I’m pretty proud of that! It may have been crazy, but it was epic and memorable and (99% of the time) so fun!!!
Virtual Boston #2!!!

Buckle up, this story is going to be LONG! Summary: Crappy/slow trail conditions. Icy rocky ridges. Little bit of altitude sickness. Wildlife. Total darkness. Freezing temps. Frigid winds. The highest summit in the state! #memories 🏔🥶🌬🐆🖤😂🎉

I come from a long line of serious hikers, so King’s Peak has been on my lifetime to-do list since I was a little kid. King’s is the highest mountain in Utah at 13528 feet, and the shortest trail to the top is 26.8 miles round trip. Toss in an 8-hour round trip to get there, and it’s quite the ordeal! The summit is normally approached as a 3-day hike, but @bre_fontaine pointed out that the distance was pretty dang perfect for a trail Virtual Boston... How could we resist?! We hit the King’s Peak trail on Friday the 11th, less than 48 hours after I finished my road virtual Boston.

It had snowed in Utah on Tuesday (September 8!), but the snow had all melted off the local mountains by Thursday. We thought there *might* be snow near the top of King’s since it is higher, and we checked the weather for the mountain and saw the frigid temps so packed accordingly. What *wasn’t* on the forecast was the new snowstorm that came through the night of the 10th/early morning on the 11th! King’s is 4 hours from my parents’ house, in the high Uinta’s — so we had no idea. We were still driving in flat land, 1.5 hours from the trailhead when we noticed there was a dusting of fresh snow on the ground. Yikes. “Let’s just turn around and come back on Monday when it’s 80 degrees again,” I half-seriously suggested. Of course, logistically, we were committed at that point!

You can run a mountain when it’s dry, and you can run a mountain in crunchy snow. What it is very difficult to safely/realistically run in is mud, slush, and ice. I’ll give you one guess which conditions we ended up with, with a fresh melting summer snow. Bre and I had pushed back our start time in favor of more sleep, and we maaaybe regretted that when we saw what we were in for!
Basically, the first 9 miles are a gradual incline through the forest and then a gorgeous open valley. The trail can be rocky in parts so you have to pay attention, but that 9-mile stretch *should* be super runnable both up and down! Then there is a rocky ridge called Gunsight Pass, where you scramble up boulders to about 12K feet altitude at mile 10 before heading back down into another valley (about 10500ft altitude). From there, it’s 2.5 miles winding back around and up to the base of the final giant pile of rocks AKA the 1-mile summit climb.

When you’re hours from cell service (if you get hurt, you’re screwed) and in frigid temps (wet feet for hours = BAD), you have to not be an idiot. So for that first stretch, we ran where we could — where the trail was drier/less slick or still crunchy snowy — but had to carefully meander around puddles and mud pits and ice. We made good time for the conditions, but it wasn’t nearly as fast as it would have just days before when the trail was normal. We were deep in the forest when we spotted definite fresh cougar tracks in the snow. I’ve chaperoned enough field trips to know the identifying traits in the prints and it was both super cool and terrifying to see that a giant mountain lion was roaming around just like us.
We were at least well prepared with lots of food and multiple layers to work with, and we’d shed and add layers as needed. The valley was beautiful and the sun was shining, so we were running in our tanks for a good stretch there. We spotted the two biggest bull moose either of us had ever seen, just about 500yds away! So we paused and watched them until they thankfully headed off in the other direction & we headed to Gunsight.
The wind really kicked in as we made our way up Gunsight so it was getting cold! I wanted all the layers, but saved my jacket for when I knew it’d be even colder. At the top of Gunsight, we knew we were running into time troubles, but just kept pressing on! Summit or bust. We used a filter to refill our water from a mossy stream (you have to really trust those filters, ha!) and made our way to that final giant pile of rocks.
We’d passed a few groups making their way back down and asked them all how the summit was... only to hear they’d all turned back early because of the conditions & time. I’m sure they thought we were crazy to hear that & just keep heading up! Finally, right before the final mile, we ran into a lady who said she had turned back but her husband — a serious mountaineer who has done 5 of the 7 summits — was up on the summit with his friend. It wasn’t long before could see their tiny specks descending & we were anxious to chat!
The guy (we should’ve asked his name!) was supposed to do Everest this spring but it was canceled due to COVID. I told him that out of ALL the events in the world to be canceled for COVID — that’s the worst so he wins. We asked about how long he thought it’d take us to get to the summit from that point (under a mile left) & he said 1.5 more hours, and nearly the same down. It was getting late for a summit push and I said we figured as long as we were back down Gunsight before dark, we’d be okay. He agreed and asked where our camp was, and we said: “The parking lot.” Haha! He laughed and was like, “... Yeah, just be down Gunsight before dark.” And then we wished each other well and went on our way — knowing we had to move relatively quickly to make this thing work.

That task was easier said than done as we made our way up that never-ending final scramble up the pile of big wobbly rocks — with snow laced throughout and ice that was difficult to see in the ever-increasing shadows. This was hugely complicated by the fact that I was starting to experience some altitude sickness symptoms, namely headache and dizziness. Needless to say, balance is kind of important while climbing through icy, wobbly boulders... and mine was suddenly just so off.

I started to see some stars and it wasn’t anything overly dramatic, but was simply not an ideal situation. Listen, I live in California, and even with my visits to Utah, my Garmin only estimated my altitude acclimation at 3K feet. This was 13,500 feet and there is about 40%(!) less oxygen at that altitude than sea level. Plus, my body was compromised heading into this having just run a marathon. So yeah, when I started feeling off... I knew what it was, I knew WHY it was, and I knew I just needed to get to the summit and down as quickly as possible — for both the altitude sickness AND the impending darkness.
It’s hard to move fast over icy, wobbly boulders when your balance is off, though! We definitely didn’t have time to deal with twisted ankles or broken legs or split open heads. So it felt like this catch 22 and I just tried to find the sweet spot, keeping all 4 points of contact by holding onto higher rocks while I found my footing. This was clutch when I stepped on a boulder that wobbled and proceeded to slip on its ice — I slammed my knee into the boulder in front of it pretty violently but was able to “save” it otherwise. (My knee is still swollen, though!)

Bre had said on the drive up that she saw grown adults sitting and crying in the middle of the boulders on a perfectly clear day before. Gosh, that suddenly seemed like a nice idea. Haha! This dang pile of giant rocks was never-ending, and doing it in icy shadows with dizziness with the time crunch... I started to feel anxious about it all and worried about the “getting down the whole mountain” part. But then I reminded myself of an old favorite adage to “Stay in the Moment.” It doesn’t do any good to worry about what might or might not happen. Right there, in that moment, I was still fine. And I was almost to the top of the highest mountain in Utah! And despite the crappy conditions, well, this crap is still pretty dang fun.

I focused on taking deep breaths (to combat the thin air rapid shallow breathing) and making steady progress — and I finally made it to the summit!!! 🎉🎉🎉 What a glorious pile of rocks. 🙌 It took less than the 90 minutes the Everest guy had predicted, so it felt like a victory, too.
Normally we’d sit and eat and hang out for awhile, but we tried to keep it quick because it was 5pm & the race was officially on to get down Gunsight (the other rocky, icy ridge) before dark. The trail is on the east side of the summit, so nearly the whole thing was in the shadows on the way down and we kept pushing to get to some sun.

We made it down to the valley and said peace out to that pile of rocks. I had to pause for a potty break *again* (not usually a thing for me, but frequent urination is another one of those altitude things!) which is a little stressful when you’re chasing sunset on a freezing mountain! We caught a pretty sunset at the top of Gunsight and safely scrambled down before the light faded at dusk. Phew!

And also, now what? We had those 9 miles left and we’d assumed the mud would have dried up a bit and we’d be able to run the rest of the way down. I still had a headache but was feeling much better with the decreasing altitude (I’d also crammed in more calories, too). Since we hadn’t planned on the dark, we didn’t bring headlamps and only had our cell phone lights (& luckily extra chargers), but they were good enough. Let’s run this thing!
Or... not. More of the snow had melted and it seemed like the trail was nothing but puddles in some parts! And bonus — temps were now below freezing so there was even more ice, and it was even harder to see because it WAS pitch black dark and all. It was mind boggling that the trail could be even less runnable than earlier, and yet here we were.

9 flipping miles to go in the pitch black wilderness in known bear country where we knew for a fact there were also giant moose and at least one big mountain lion roaming around. Just me and Bre. In 25*F frigid temps. And did I mention there’s no cell service for a solid 1.5 hours after you start driving home from the trailhead? We’d run for maybe 30 yards only to have to walk gingerly around puddles/mud pits/ice for the next 70. Getting to our car was going to take FOREVER.
Guys. You literally couldn’t PAY me to do this. “Go wander in the wilderness where you saw cougar tracks and giant bull moose and bear warnings, in the complete and utter darkness for a few hours, with just one other girl.” Yeah.... no. And yet, here we were!

We kept thinking we’d get to run around the next corner. We’d have to mostly walk this mile, but surely we’d run the rest after that. Ah, the beauty of optimism, eh? For safety purposes (and also fun, but at that point, mostly safety), we took turns blasting whatever songs we had downloaded on our phones and sang along. You want to be as loud as possible to keep the wildlife away! Our lungs were feeling it, which didn’t do any favors for my already, um, “pitchy” singing voice (to put it nicely). So... sorry you had to listen to that, Bre! We talked loudly to each other and also told whatever wildlife was listening that we are moms so they can’t eat us. ;)

Those miles were like the twilight zone... going on and on, blending together, and yet also passing faster than they should have? When we hit the final 5K and were walking around huge puddles and trying not to slip on icy patches, the time started to get painful (“We can run this far in less than 20 minutes, and it’s going to take a freaking hour!” Haha.). With about a mile and a half to go, I was like, “I don’t even care anymore. I don’t care if there’s ice, I don’t care if there’s mud, I don’t care if I get hypothermia from the puddles, I don’t care if there’s a BEAR...” And we laughed because it was just all so ridiculous at that point!

We’d neglected to take pictures of the sketchy parts since we were just getting through them, but I took a quick video of Bre on the final stretch. Hallelujah — we survived! I’ve never been so happy to see a parking lot in my entire life!!! What. A. Day.
27+ miles, 6234 feet of vert, moving time 8:28, total time 11 hours. We hopped in the car, blasted the heater, and hit the road to civilization so we could tell our families we were alive. So dang grateful I had Bre with me to make it a fun adventure when it could have been a nightmare. That's a long time to be trudging through the mountains with a person, so it's a good thing we like each other! By the time I finally made it back to my parents’ house, I had been up for a full 24 hours.

An exhausting, epic 24 hours. 🙌

Friday, May 10, 2019

Boston Marathon 2019: Race Recap!

Finally, my Boston Marathon 2019 race report! This was obviously a very different kind of race for me with all of my real-life stuff going on -- most notably having surgery just 3 weeks before. A post with that background, my feelings leading up to the race, and the race morning recap is here.

And IG posts about the race are here: Finish | Post-Race | Mother Runner Moment. MmK, onto the show! The last post left off on the bus ride to Hopkinton, so:


We arrived to a muddy athlete’s village, but the rain had stopped! It was nice to not worry about getting wet before the race started. It was also nice to not worry about getting our race shoes muddy – those shoe covers were worth every penny.

Heather and I hopped off the bus and headed straight to the potty lines. We were planning on meeting up with our friend Kristen before the start, and conveniently bumped into her and her friend Stacey shortly after arriving. (I actually tried to find one of my athletes for a solid ten minutes to no avail, so finding Kristen so easily was helpful.) The four of us hung out in the century-long line and made it out of the potties right when it was time to shed the layers and start walking over to the corrals. In 2017, Kindal and I left late and totally missed our corral (almost our whole wave!) so it was nice to walk over in a more relaxed fashion.

We ditched our shoe covers and layers at a drop spot along the way and had a good laugh with some of the residents. As we got closer to the start, Heather started to tear up. She’d been working toward this moment for so long! It had been so special for me to be part of that journey with her as both a friend and a coach, and it was really special to be experiencing the race with her now. We slotted into our corral with a couple minutes to spare, and then the Wave 2 gun sounded and everyone started jogging toward the start. I got out my camera to capture the moment for Heather as we stepped over the yellow line:

“Heather, you’re running the Boston Marathon!”

Ashley, you’re really running the Boston Marathon.

Hopkinton to Wellesley (The first half)

Here we go. Just try to hang on. The downhill will help. The muscle memory is in there. Your legs know how to do this.

I wanted to run with my friends as long as possible for the fun of it, yes. But I also wanted to stay up with them because I wanted to feel like a Boston Marathoner for as long as I could.

It’s easy to lose sight of yourself while doing the whole military wife/mom/secondary infertility thing. For years, I haven’t been able to get pregnant and I haven’t had the chance to race fast, and I was busy transplanting my family and our lives across the country and back anyway, and it’s all kind of hit a peak recently. But running in this race meant I could tap into feeling normal. I knew the pace would be fleeting, but I wanted to stay “in it” as long as I could: in the mile, in the race, in that semblance of the regular, old, ME.

My resting heart rate that morning was still 59, which is crazy high for me. For reference, it was 43 the morning I ran the Kulia Marathon. So it wasn’t surprising when I checked my watch a half mile in and my heart rate was already in the 160s. No miracles happening today, folks! Haha. This was going to be a long one. But adrenaline was doing its thing and I was hanging with my girls just fine. So when Heather asked, “How are you feeling?” I just responded, “I’m in it.” Right now, I’m running the Boston Marathon and I’m in it and that’s all I could hope for at this point.

The street was crowded but the sardines were moving more smoothly than in 2017. We stayed to the left and were able to stick together pretty well without much effort, and stick to the pace without much weaving. So far, so good. One mile down, and then two. Still with them after two! Let’s see if I can hang for 4 miles. That’d be about 1/6th of the race done. That’d be good. Another benefit to staying on the side = catching lots of high fives! The crowds are a little more sparse in the beginning miles, which makes it easy to hit up every little group of kids with their hands out! Meanwhile, thanks to our awesome custom Hyperthreads tanks, the adults would cheer for us by name. I heard “Go Ash!” more than I ever have in my entire life.
Heather was clearly feeling good so I made sure to keep reigning her in when her legs started to go faster than planned. We were right on her ideal pace through Ashland. Four miles down! Entering unknown territory mileage-wise, but Heather asked how I was again, and my answer was the same: “Right now I’m in it.” Just stay in it for one more mile, I told myself.

You know that feeling when you’re at Disney World and it’s about to rain but is holding off, so the air is just super heavy? Yes, welcome to the 2019 Boston Marathon Wave 2 (the weather was different for every wave!). I stated the obvious: “It’s muggy.” Then I reached for an extra water cup at the mile 4 aid station to cool off my arms and told Heather to do the same. Having to cool off at mile 4 is never a great sign when you’re racing for time! And even now, I figured there were precisely two things I could do to help me through that day: fuel properly and manage the heat. (Wait, was this an Ironman marathon? Ha.)

We made it to Framingham and hit the 5-mile mark. I can make it to six!, I thought. And then I did. A whole 10K done!!! With my friends and at a respectable pace, too. It felt like such a huge win. The aid stations were crowded and I lost some time to Heather and Kristen around here, so I used a match to catch back up. Goodness knows I only had a few pennies to spend that day, but putting in a little push here to hopefully have another mile or so with friends was worth it. I was working so much harder than I’d ever even consider at that point in a marathon, but it was going to end with walking the back half either way so why not? This was fun.

Mile 7 clicked over and they were still on pace. And I was still with them. I knew this couldn’t last much longer, but I was enjoying it while I could. If I can make it to mile 8, that’s almost a full third of the race done. Gosh, that’d be nice. Just try to hang with them ‘till mile 8.

Nothing about my body felt good. But the Hamilton soundtrack was playing in my ears and I heard: “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!” And I just felt so overwhelmingly lucky to look around and be running the Boston Marathon right now. It was such a wonderful day already. Mile 8 down. 7:35 average. I can’t believe I’ve held on for this long.

Some random alarm went off on my phone shortly after the mile 8 sign (whhhy do I do this to myself?) so I pulled it out to turn it off -– and then dropped my phone while trying to put it away. Insert ALL the face palm emojis here. I stopped and stepped back to grab it. With my phone in hand, I looked ahead and realized I didn’t have another match to catch back up. Before the race, I told Heather I’d only drop back to her corral if she promised to never wait for me. “There will be no drama when I wave you ahead,” I demanded. I’d thought it might happen at mile 2, and had hoped it could happen at mile 4. So for the wave to come after mile 8 was such a huge victory for me, and I felt content.
I was still focused on getting to Kindal and Charlie as quickly as possible, so I still wanted to make decent time. For the first time, I was able to wrap my head around the remaining race and come up with a plan. I figured I could run to mile 13.5, and run/walk from there. I could use that downhill into Newton Falls to get to mile 16. On the other side of 16 miles, I’d have cheering crowds stacked and single-digit miles left for the remainder of the race. A marathon still felt daunting, but I was 1/3rd of the way done, with the majority of the crowds awaiting ahead. “Boston will be louder,” I reminded myself. You’ve got this, Ash.

As I passed the lake, I whipped out my phone (in a more controlled manner this time, ha) and took a little video to save the memory. It’s a quiet part of the race, but it’s pretty and I was happy to be there. I stepped across a timing mat and immediately thought about Matt and my family -- and the fact that these tracker times were giving them terribly false hopes about my day, ha. I should call Matt soon.I kept on trucking to the city center in Natick, which is full of awesome spectators. Lots of high fives, lots of fun, and I still felt like I was running fairly strong despite it all.
On the other side of town, there are some little rolling hills through the woods. I pulled off to the side there and walked while I made my phone call. “I know it looks like I’m doing well, but really I’m just running to Kindal and then my pace is going to drop way off and I don’t want you to be worried. I’m fine, it’s just going to be a lot longer of a day than the tracker is saying. Tell my mom.” He gave me a little pep talk and told me to be smart and that he was proud of me. During that phone call, a familiar face from Utah came over and gave me a hug. So, happy thoughts all around and then I was back to running again. For the past few miles and from this point on, my running pace was between 8:00-8:30 and I was walking through aid stations (plus a lot more walking to come!).

Finally, I could hear the cheers coming from Wellesley College and knew I was getting close to that half marathon point! I started getting SO excited to see my friends!!!
Kindal and Charlie said they’d be somewhere between 13.1 and 13.5, but I started scanning the crowds anxiously a little ahead of the timing mat just in case. I hit the halfway mark at 1:45, which just feels unreal to me knowing the actual state of my body that day. I’m going to positive split this thing like a boss, I laughed to myself. And I'm going to love every second of it.

I continued frantically scanning the crowds through downtown Wellesley – the anticipation was killing me! And then there they were!!! I ran over with my arms open and gave Kindal the biggest hug. Again, I’ll tell this story later because GEEZ this is long enough already! But my Garmin shows that I stood there for a full, literal 3 minutes talking to them while the Boston Marathon continued on past me. I didn’t care one bit about the passing time – it was just a happy little visit with Kindal and Charlie, and one that I’ll remember forever!

I’m going to walk the rest of this thing, I told them as I got ready to leave. See you in two hours!

(Which is funny, because spoiler alert – I finished the race just seconds under 2 hours after I left them. Ha!)

Wellesley to Boston (The Second Half)

This is where the race started to get really, really hard physically. And interesting mentally. And really, really fun with all the crowds!

The endless spectators really start once you get to the Newton Hills, so I wanted to be able to keep moving well through those next couple miles that are maybe a little harder mentally, but that also gift you a downhill. I walked through an aid station around mile 15 but still clocked an 8:48 and 8:20 for 15 & 16. It probably seems backward from a pride standpoint, but I wanted to save the walking for when there were crowds and use up my energy during the more desolate and therefore mentally harder parts of the course. After all, I only had so much energy to use that day, and surely it would be easier to borrow some from humans than from freeways or trees. ;)

As I dropped down into Newton Falls and hit the 16.2-mile mark, I was grateful to know I only had single-digit miles left – but I also knew that they would be the toughest miles of the day, by far. With the overwhelming desire to walk but also the desire to not be walking on the course for-absolutely-ever, the Finding Nemo scene with Marlin frantically making up rules for Dory and the jellyfish popped into my head: “Rules! Rules! Rules!” You need rules for these things or it gets out of hand. 😂

I decided on the simple rule that I could walk up hills, through aid stations/at a mile marker, but nowhere else. Seemed fair enough. Coincidentally, I was about to discover just how much flat and downhill are really hiding in those final miles hahaha. I’ve never wished for an uphill so much in my life!

The Newton hills were so fun and full of high-fives and cheers. I grabbed a popsicle, and I also grabbed some friends along the way – I’d find someone walking between the hills and encourage them to run with me for a bit. More enjoyable for everyone that way, right? I literally walked up every hill, running up just a bit here and there where the crowds were extra fun (hi Lululemon up Heartbreak!). And then I ran down every hill, and along every flat as planned. It turns out there really are a lot of downhills and flats in that back half! I was so sick in 2017 that I didn’t really notice one way or another, but I reaaally noticed them this time. And I think I’ll bank on them a bit for the next round in Boston!
One of my most favorite parts this year was Boston College. They were *screaming* loud! I veered right and stuck my hand out for the entirety of the B.C. and got caught up in the cheers on that high-energy, high-five-filled stretch downhill. Adrenaline is crazy and those college kids were fun!

The crowds everywhere were amazing and I felt almost guilty when I was walking – and planned on continuing to walk – and they’d cheer for me by name. But my body was increasingly exhausted and I definitely didn’t have pennies to spare for climbing lots of hills, so I’d smile and wave and say thanks and continue on with my power walk. I loved finding the little kid hands that were sticking out closer to the ground (and therefore passed over more by all the tired runners) – they’re always extra excited to get that high-five in return! And in a way, it’s kind of like a proxy to having my own kids there. They’ll love cheering in Boston someday. And for now, I just kept replaying their sweet little voices saying “Go Mommy!” before the race.
Time was irrelevant so I didn’t pay attention to my watch on that back half, other than peeking once on an uphill and giving myself a gold sticker for walking “so fast” haha! Post-race analysis says I went 8:00-8:30 pace while running and 12:30-14:00 pace while walking. Frankly, it was the best-case scenario for that day.

I think about those last 10 miles now, and I tear up thinking about how right Carolyn was. It was hot and muggy and nothing about my body felt good and inside it was screaming. But Boston? Boston was SO. LOUD. The power from the cheers was louder than any exhaustion or pain or doubt. I didn’t have to worry about making it to the end, because the crowds carried me there. My memories from this race aren’t of staring at long roads or never-ending hills, but of smiling back at the long lines of never-ending smiling faces with signs and outstretched hands. The Boston Marathon is indeed magical. But it’s not the streets that make it so – it’s the people.

So again, to every volunteer who handed me water, every policeman and National Guard member who kept me safe, every runner who inspired me, every friend who ran with me, and every spectator who buoyed me up – from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for carrying me on Marathon Monday.

Kindal and Charlie were waiting again near the Citgo sign. One final hug, one last quick walk up the little blip of a hill at mile 25.5, and then my longest running-only segment of the back half. Zero-point-seven miles. I’ve got this.
I took a right on Hereford and then a left on Boylston.

I couldn’t hold back the tears as I ran toward that yellow line. This had been so massively hard, all of it. The two months before and the weeks preceding and every step of every mile that day. And yet the past few hours had been so incredibly uplifting and fulfilling. I couldn’t believe that after all of this, I really got to be here, right now, running down a tunnel of deafening cheers on Boylston. And with my body feeling the way it did, I couldn’t believe I’d really done it.

Before the race, I expected it to take me around five hours. I finished in 3:49.

With only a few steps left, I happily threw up my hands – with a 2 and a 3 on my fingers. Because this race was for my two kids, to show them that we can adapt and make the most of a situation and do hard things -- even when it's not how we hoped it would be. And it was for that baby #3 we’re fighting for, because that’s what made this race so challenging to being with – and what will hopefully make it such a victory in the end.

Boston Marathon 2019: Pre-Race Recap

The Background

I didn’t actually know if I’d be able to run the 2019 Boston Marathon. I had an infertility-related surgery just 3.5 weeks before, which came with two abdominal incisions and the deep fatigue that comes from your body being poked and prodded from the inside. When we scheduled this surgery, I knew it meant I most certainly wouldn’t get to “race” Boston, and that I might not even be able to participate. But I sure hoped I could still chase that unicorn.

(Here’s a few IG posts if you want the details. Explanation | Surgery | Recovery | Cleared | Doubts | Race Morning)

With 11 days to go before the race, I was cleared to run again. Normally, this means slowly building back the mileage and most definitely does not included running 26.2 soon. But my doctor said everything looked good from her end and therefore gave her blessing – along with her condolences for my legs.

I was thrilled to get the green light! Running the Boston Marathon is always a privilege, but I felt extra grateful to have that opportunity now.

The time leading up to Boston was exceptionally busy, so I didn’t have much time to think about the actual race. It was all logistics – ordering this, packing that, looking over things for my athletes, planning the social aspects and being excited for my friends. Plus, the optimist in me just kept hoping that I’d magically feel exponentially better, so how I felt on any given day had no bearing on how I’d feel race day, right? No need to worry. Until the day before.

The Sunday before the race was a bit of a wake-up call. I hadn't magically bounced back, and this was the body that would be running the Boston Marathon this year. I was excited, yes – but I was also terrified. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how I could actually cover 26.2 miles with my own legs at that point. My resting heart rate was still crazy high, which just shows that my 3.5-week post-op body was far from recovered. On our tiny 2-mile shake out run, my heart rate skyrocketed, my incision sites cramped, and my atrophied legs felt exhausted. How on earth am I going to do 24 more miles of this?

And how do you mentally prepare for a race th
at you’re not ready for and just hope to complete, anyway? I can pump myself up to push my body to its limits to reach a goal time. But I wasn’t even supposed to push myself for 26.2 miles. Completion was going to be hard enough on my body! And there weren’t constant character stops to plan around in a princess dress ala the Disney Marathon, either. So… A marathon is a long way to go without any idea how to actually get there, you know?

I’ve run a marathon with a tired body before. Three times, following a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike. And once in Disney, off insanely minimal sleep all week, on terribly low mileage post-bike crash, and having run all the Dopey miles *and* walked the parks in all the days leading up to it. I flashed back to me and Kindal at 3 a.m., lying on the asphalt by the porta-potties next to our WDW Marathon corral, with tiaras on our heads and a Red Bull in my hand, wondering how we were going to do that thing. But I was tired for those. This was different. My body was so deeply exhausted. And it didn't have the training miles on it, either, because I had a surgery instead. My legs and I were going to be winging this thing.

I just kept going back to two thoughts from friends. My athlete Lauren gave me a sweet keychain with a note: “One mile at a time.” And my friend Carolyn wrote a note to remind me that even though my doubts were valid and seemed loud, BOSTON would be louder. One mile at a time, and the crowds would help me do it. That’s the only way this could possibly work.

Boston to Hopkinton

HUGE thanks to HYPERTHREADS for our amazing custom tanks!!!

We woke up to lightning, thunder, and pouring rain. The forecast still looked undecided as to whether we’d have a wet or dry race, but the forecasted temperatures just continued to rise so we actually hoped for rain to keep it cool. Either way, nothing to do but make the most of it! I pulled up “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons and we had a little dance party in the bathroom as we got ready to head out the door.

Heather and I layered up in our rain gear and hit the road. I was grateful that we came prepared! It poured on our way to the busses, and the tiny part of my leg that wasn’t covered (by my umbrella + poncho + rain shoe covers) got drenched. We laughed as we splashed through the puddles, but were happy to get onto the dry bus!

We sat on the bus for what felt like a long time before it was actually ready to go. Listening to people around me talk about their goals for the race made my task seem all the more daunting. “One mile at a time,” yes – but that’s still a lot of “one miles” to have to go! As the bus started driving out of the city, I tried not to notice how long it was taking or just how far away we were going. The bus route is different than the course, but it still underscores how terribly far Hopkinton really is from Boston.

How on earth am I going to do this?

I really didn’t know.

There were precisely two things that I did know: 1- My body was capable of running at least four miles because I’d done it the week prior and 2- I was going to have to walk a good portion of this marathon. The pragmatic approach would be to run/walk from the beginning. However, it’s so crowded in the beginning that walking is almost hazardous. And frankly, that’s just a reaaalllly long time to be run/walking. 26 whole miles?

This was going to be a very long, very hard day. I wasn’t magically going to feel amazing for the final 10K, which meant there was really no use in taking the pragmatic approach. So I had decided to opt for the fun approach, which was to run fast with my friends as long as I could! Aaaand then run/walk the rest. I figured I could hang for two miles, but the longer, the better. Maybe I could even run fast for four miles. I was certainly going to try. But then after that? I still couldn’t wrap my head around somehow getting through the final 22.2 miles of the race.

How on earth am I going to do this?

I wondered again, and again. (It’s a long bus ride, after all. 😂) 
And then my phone rang.

It was Kindal. We’d been texting about where she and Charlie were going to be during the race – just after the 13.1 mark, and then somewhere between 23 and Citgo – so I didn’t expect a call. It’s a long story that I’ll explain later (surely this post will be long enough without it, ha), but that girl said probably the one thing in the world that could have inspired me to really RUN that first half marathon as quickly as I could that day.

Suddenly I went from hoping I could run a 5th mile to knowing for dang sure I was going to run the first 13.1, as fast as I could, whatever that meant. And then I’d run/walk and figure it out after that.

Yeah, I could do this. Finally, mentally, I had a plan. I can really do this. I’m going to finish the Boston Marathon today.

The fear was pushed to the bottom of the pile and now I was really, truly excited. Let’s do this!!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Kulia Marathon 2019: Race Recap

The alarm went off at 3:31 a.m. and suddenly it was real! No going back now. Carolyn and I ate breakfast, got dressed, and grabbed our drop bags to head to the busses. She was doing the half marathon and it was her first race *ever* so I tried to focus on being excited for her rather than terrified for myself!

This still felt crazy. I obviously didn’t have anything that remotely resembled a proper marathon training cycle for this. BUT I do have years of running underneath me now, had built up some solid Ironman fitness last fall (pre-crash), had run/walked the Dopey Challenge in January, got a few decent long runs in for Boston, and felt like I had just finally tapped back into “my” legs. And I’ve been in marathon shape enough times over the past few years (whether I’ve actually been able to materialize that into a race or not) that I knew how to do this. It was FAR from perfect, but there was enough rusty fitness somewhere in there and I had enough determination in me to dig for the bottom of that well. At least, that's what I told myself on the long bus ride to the start.

It was already 76 humid degrees in Waikoloa Village by 6 a.m. The wind advisory (up to 30 mph constant, 50 mph gusts) was slated to end right then, and it had indeed calmed down a little. It was still plenty windy, though, and the wind was only going to pick back up through the course of the marathon. Temperatures were cooler at the start, but I found that I didn’t actually need the jacket or gloves that I had brought. It was going to be a hot one! And I realized that I had left two important things in the hotel: sunscreen and my tube of BASE salt – a necessity for racing in the heat. Shoot.

This was the inaugural Kulia Marathon, which normally might have caused some pause for me from an organizational standpoint. But it was hosted by Revel, which has a reputation for putting on quality races. I wasn’t disappointed – the morning logistics were smooth and easy, there were plenty of amenities at the start line, the course was well-marked and well-monitored, and the aid stations were consistent and well-stocked. A huge high-five to their company for a job well done! One nice touch was a Hawaiian blessing with singing and conch shells for good luck before the start. Then the National Anthem and it was time to go!

The sunrise was beautiful and I had to pinch myself that I was actually running in Kona. I tried to keep the whole “running A MARATHON” thing out of my consciousness at the beginning, because geeze, 26.2 miles is daunting! So instead I enjoyed the sunrise as those first two miles clicked by. Around then, I naturally fell into step with two Hawaiian locals, Mele and Ben. We chatted about the race and our backgrounds and living in Hawaii, and it was nice to have the company for a few miles! An owl flew right over us, and they both were excited: it was a pueo – a good omen in Hawaii. This was going to be a good day.

I’d made the decision beforehand to not babysit my watch during the race. I wanted it for reference, but I was going to run by feel and not let the Garmin dictate my pace. Plus, with the sun getting hotter (temperatures stayed similar but the “real feel” increased) and the wind forecasted to just get stronger, I was happy to take the good miles when they came. That first 10K had the most downhill of the entire race (which actually sucks to start the race with that kind of muscular damage), but having a conversation with Mele and Ben kept the effort in check.

I hung with them for a couple more miles as the course started to flatten out, but knew that couldn’t last. My 40-degree dry desert runs this winter hadn’t exactly adapted me for humid-high-70s and it was showing! I started tasting salt by mile 5 and pouring water on myself at aid stations at mile 7. Meanwhile, my Hawaiian running partners were just chillin’. So the mental battle ensued: I knew I had no business running those paces in those conditions, but I also knew that running *with* people has both psychological and physical benefits (hey Ben, want to block some of that wind for me?). Ultimately, I was responsible and made the decision to pull back while I still had matches to spare – I was going to need those later.

After just a few minutes, my running partners were still in view, but I was “alone” as I came upon a ranch. About a dozen horses were there by the fence, standing majestically against a gorgeous Kona backdrop, watching the runners pass by. I smiled and waved at them as I approached – and then as I began to run past them, they turned and ran alongside me. And I smiled at the beauty of it all, running free with the horses on an island that I love. This entire trip was worth it just for that moment. I took that memory – the one that is too perfect for even Hollywood to believe – and bottled it up for safe keeping in my lifetime running highlight reel.

Magical moments aside, there was still a marathon to run! So, there I was, alone in the lava fields, clicking the miles by. My lungs were feeling fine, my heart rate was in check, and I was almost in Ironman mode – robotically doing my heat management routine at every aid station. It takes some extra time at each aid station, but I’m convinced it saves time in the long haul. When I made the big turn toward Waikoloa Village at mile 15, it was noticeably hotter, and the winds were noticeably stronger.

It was now 78 degrees, with Hawaiian humidity, Waikoloa winds, and nothing to spare you in the barren lava fields. The wind was relentless, forcing you to steady yourself to stay upright with it at your side, and pushing you back when you turned into it.

I know this island so the conditions weren’t a surprise. In fact, it was just a few miles from the finish line that a semi ran me off the road by the shipyard last fall. That left me with scars up and down my left side, post-concussion syndrome, and a big hematoma on my left hip that had taken two months to go away. In its place, I’d developed some high hamstring issues on that side that I’m generally able to keep under control – but that “locks up” with hills of any kind. (My hamstring and this course did not get along well.)

My watch beeped mile 20, and I had just stopped to “pop” my hamstring before heading uphill. I looked around for the mile marker to see how I was doing on tangents. There it was, a few feet ahead, lying flat in the brush after being knocked over by the wind -- the 20+mph wind that I was now facing head-on as I climbed the hill. My legs were screaming in rebellion and I couldn’t help but think that this was crazy and I should just pull off the gas and jog it in.

But there it was, clear as day in the distance: the shipyard. I had thought it could be poetic to stake my comeback so close to the setback, but now it felt almost masochistic. Then again, I’ve always believed in facing your demons head on – and here I was, literally staring at mine in the midst of my struggle. And I felt that fire.

“I get to win this time,” I said aloud.

I wasn’t sure what that would mean in terms of race time. Normally at this point, I’m constantly doing math in my head: If I can hold X pace for the remaining X miles, then… But I was too far gone even for that. Besides, who knew how many times I’d have to pause to unlock my hamstring? (Answer: 7.)

The time didn’t really matter anyway, though. This was me, claiming some control over my body and my life for just these few hours. I got to choose how this would end.

Winning this one meant never stopping the fight. Just keep pushing. One foot in front of the other.

For those last few miles, I didn’t look at my watch. I hardly even looked for the blown-over mile marker signs. I kept my hamstring unlock breaks quick and ignored the mounting cramps elsewhere. I just kept moving, almost mechanically. And any time I wanted to pull off the gas, I glanced over toward the shipyard and then down at the bracelet on my wrist: “Never Stop.” Just keep pushing, I’d tell myself. It will be worth it.

At last, I saw the finish line, like a mirage in the desert. I finally looked at my watch and realized I might actually make it. See, I didn’t have a goal time for this race – I just wanted to do my best that day. I was realistic in understanding the situation and knowing that could mean a wide range of finish times.

But I did have a goal time for Boston 2017. I had run a 19:10 5K and could tempo for up to 8 miles in the 6:40s leading up to that race. I’d felt like a NYC qualifier – sub-3:13 – was in my wheelhouse. But then I was really, really sick with acute bronchitis that Marathon Monday, so goal times went out the window. I put myself in the med tent just securing a BQ that day. I also hurt my foot during that race, and thus commenced a long string of bad luck! I’ve been wanting to go back to Boston and get that 3:12 ever since, so that would have been my goal had I been able to target and “race” Boston this year. But I can’t – which is why I was here, in Hawaii, running a last-minute marathon. And hitting 25.2 miles at 3:04:55.

I scraped to the very bottom of my well for that final mile. My left hamstring pain and my legs were done miles ago. But my heart wasn’t, and it was all out on the line right here, right now.

I crossed that finish line at 3:12:20.

They gave me a medal and a lei, and kept handing me more Gatorade for the cramps while pouring ice cold water over me to cool my body temperature. And I cried some happy, painful, complicated tears.

Carolyn was a life saver. She came back into the finishers area and massaged my legs (especially that high hamstring) with cold washcloths to help me recover. Finally, a half hour later, I felt human again (at least, as human as one can feel after running a marathon). We took finisher photos and hobbled to the bus… And then spent the rest of the day at the beach!!!

I’d been looking forward to swimming in those Waikoloa waters with sea turtles since March of 2018, when we decided to add some extra days to our Ironman World Championship trip that fall. I would honestly daydream about it to get me through those crazy months of solo parenting and solo house renovating and finding a tenant and moving across the country. Then I crashed on our first morning in Waikoloa and never got the chance.

But now, I could celebrate a marathon on that same beach I’ve been craving for a year – and what do you know? We were immediately greeted by a sea turtle. I put on my goggles and dove right in. My soul was rejuvenated.

I took the red-eye home that night and was happy to be back with my family for breakfast. All of those hard things that lie ahead? We’ve got this.