Let’s go to the beginning of how this came to be.
BACKGROUND: We’ve been struggling with secondary infertility since 2016 (we also dealt with primary infertility back in the day). We’re finally at the place where we’re moving forward more aggressively with a doctor I love and plan that I trust. This trumps everything running related. It also makes planning for races, etc. really difficult. And adds a certain sense of YOLO to the situation – throw caution to the wind and get it done now because who knows when I’ll get the chance again! Ha.
OCTOBER: Last fall, on the first day of my taper for Ironman Florida, a semi ran me off the road in Kona. Although I walked away without any serious injuries, I still had a lot of road rash, a big hematoma on my hip, and post-concussion syndrome – which made it so I couldn’t exercise very much for a couple months. I had been swimming and biking faster than ever, and my run was strong, too. And then suddenly, I didn’t get to race. Not getting to do Ironman Florida was a major disappointment anyway, but it was especially hard to swallow with the knowledge that it will be a LONG time before I’ll train for 140.6 again (due to infertility treatments and hopefully pregnancy and a future baby). This is problematic because being on the cusp of a big PR only to DNS leaves you hungry!
JANUARY: Last summer, I went on a spree of signing up for back-up races to look forward to “if I don’t get pregnant.” Ironman Florida in November was the first, allll of the WDW Marathon weekend races were the second via the Dopey Challenge in January, followed by Boston in April. The Dopey Challenge became more, well, *challenging* in the wake of the bike crash. I was careful with my post-concussion syndrome as I did a quick build for Dopey – just enough run/walking that I’d be able to complete it. My legs held up much better than I expected, though, so I was very encouraged heading into Boston training! The hope for Boston was still, of course, to be pregnant and take it easy. But if I can’t have that, then I want to race well.
FEBRUARY: Back to the baby talk. In February, we scheduled a surgery for said infertility on March 21st. Typical recovery would be taking 2-3 weeks off running and then building back, but my doctor thinks my fitness could help me bounce back faster. Hopefully, since Boston is just 3.5 weeks later!
I immediately realized that scheduling a surgery in late March meant I won’t be able to “race” Boston, and might not even make it to Hopkinton. But I wasn’t even remotely interested in postponing the surgery until after the race. When you’re crushed by every passing month – and the age gap between your current and future babies just keeps growing – actually choosing to “lose” a month is unfathomable. No, Boston will always be there. This can’t wait.
With “racing” off the table, then, I decided to do all I could now to improve my chances of still collecting that unicorn medal if my doctor gives me the green light post-surgery (no matter how long that run/walk will take!). So I went out and did an 18-miler that afternoon. And then a 20-miler the next week. Things weren’t clicking like I’d normally expect a couple months into the comeback, and I still felt like I was clawing at that pre-crash fitness. But I got the miles in anyway. (And the planks, because abdominal surgery and all.)
The next week, though, I set out for a 16-miler – and it just. felt. normal. (!!!) I even kicked it in with the final 1.7 miles <6:35 pace. Finally! This is the run I was waiting for. My legs were finally “mine” again!
And I had a crazy idea.
Maybe I could squeeze in a marathon before my surgery. One last chance (hopefully) to race my heart out. After all, that Ironman fitness wasn’t TOO far behind me. Maybe I could pull it off.
Matt was TDY (military business trip) through the next weekend, and he had his annual camp for the Every Man Jack triathlon team the weekend before my surgery. That left me with one option: Saturday, March 9th. And what do you know? There was the Kulia Marathon that day – in Kona, a few miles away from where I crashed in mid-October. It seemed almost meant to be.
Except. YOU CAN’T JUST FLY TO HAWAII ON YOUR OWN TO RUN A LAST-MINUTE MARATHON. That is crazy talk!!! Clearly, if we are talking crazy, I was at least going to need a wingman.
Enter my Air Force wife BFF of nearly a decade, Carolyn. She has been there for me at so many pivotal times in my life. And she has never been a runner… until now. I’d just started training her for a spring half marathon and she was doing so well! So well, in fact, that I thought she could do a, um, late-winter half marathon instead. You know, in Hawaii. On March 9th. Her husband is now a commercial pilot, which means she gets to fly standby for free… Maybe this could work!
Except. Have y’all seen the Ironman World Championships on TV? The weather in Kona is no joke. The heat, the oppressive humidity, the relentless wind out by Waikoloa… This is *not* marathon-friendly. I don’t care how much elevation you lose; it cannot possibly negate Kona conditions. I dream of running a cold, flat marathon (here's looking at you, Indy Monumental). This does not fit that bill!
Then again… the conditions would at least make the marathon honest. And I’ve raced in the heat enough times to know how to handle it. Yeah, this might work. Think about it, Ash.
Except. I didn’t want it to actually work. You see, there was a chance I wouldn’t have to have the surgery! That is, the 1-3% chance that I could get pregnant on my own before then. And when I type it out, it’s so brutally obvious that the odds are not in my favor. But I’m nothing if not an optimist, and I really felt like I’d put it all out on the line. See, Universe? I’m willing to sacrifice even the chance to line up at the Boston Marathon. The one where I've dreamt of redemption since I was sick the first go-around. Surely that is enough after all this time? Despite my best attempts to manage hope with reality, I could feel the impending heartbreak that was sure to come if the answer was no. This was going to be THE “no” – our final Hail Mary before invading my body and emptying our savings account. It wasn’t going to feel good.
My dear best friend since college, Liz, could see it coming, too. She told me that my heart would be best served by a fight and a beach that weekend. I knew she was right.
Except. Was she really? Because what if I got all the way out there only to experience massive failure? Wouldn't that just make things worse? She said I wouldn’t fail, because I know how to do this. Matt and Kindal, my running BFF, agreed. Because I always gut it out. “But can we stop pretending that I have some superhuman racing powers and just look at my training log for crying out loud?” If anyone can do it, it’s you, they said.
Someday I’d like to apply that grit to a full marathon training cycle and see what happens. That would be fun.
So, there we were, a week before the Kulia Marathon. Two questions remained at that point: Would Carolyn be able to come? There would have to be enough standby seats available and she’d have to have childcare set up for her three kids. And would my 1-3% win? Because goodness knows I’m not going to BS a last-minute marathon if I don’t “have” to. Things were looking good enough for Carolyn and bad enough for me (you know, 97-99% chance it was a no and all) that I did a short run that Saturday instead of a long run... just in case. But I was FAR from convinced.
Then Tuesday came, and with it came the “no” I’d been dreading. No amount of logical self-talk can provide a buffer against the devastation of infertility sometimes. It certainly didn’t help that Tuesday. I was broken. “It’s not just that the Hail Mary didn’t work,” I explained. “It’s that they intercepted it in the endzone and then burned down the stadium. At home. During the playoffs.” No more chances.
I texted Carolyn.
Let’s just do the dang thing.
It wasn't official until she took the last available seat on the flight from Utah and made it to California on Wednesday afternoon. She met me at the train station with a hug, and oh, how I needed that support right then. We signed up for the Kulia Marathon and Half Marathon on Wednesday night. Then we hopped on a plane to Kona on Thursday.
And that is how my last-minute marathon came to be.