You can achieve anything you want in life. I wanted my Boston qualifying time.
I really, really wanted to qualify.
That was all I could think of as I turned another corner and left Stanley Park behind. So darn close now. I tried to check my pace band to see if I was on track, but I couldn’t really focus. My legs hurt so much. Somehow they made it up a killer steep but thankfully short hill. Digging deep. I knew I was close. Was Boston was still in the cards for me? In my disillusioned state, I concluded I was close enough to make a dash for it. So I painfully did my best to power up the long gradual hill towards a finish line I could not see…
It was an absolutely gorgeous day. It had poured rain every day all week but on Sunday the clouds broke giving way to ideal running conditions. Blue sky. Warm but not too warm. Sunny but not too sunny. A cool breeze but no bothersome wind. In fact everything about that morning, other than my crazy nervousness, was perfect.
I bag checked my gels. My fuel for out on the race course. I accidentally bag checked my gels. All 4 of them. I’d trained by taking one gel every 8-9 km. I was standing there, 10 minutes before the gun was going to go off, and I was freaking out. My husband asked about maybe getting someone to take our picture in our racing outfits at the start line. We’d actually brought our camera for once. But I couldn’t answer him. I bag checked my gels. So he abandoned the idea of getting a picture of us together and instead reminded me of how Dylan Wykes fell at the start of his marathon a month earlier, scraping both his knees, but then got up and with bloody knees went on to run a 2:10:47 marathon. If Wykes could do that, I could run without my gels.
So I got in my corral, positioning myself somewhat beside the 3:35 pace bunny but maybe slightly in front of him. I wondered what had possessed me to tell the world I was going to qualify for Boston. That meant running a marathon 25 minutes faster than any of my previous 10 marathons I’ve run over the past 8 years. That’s just crazy. Who does that?
And then the gun went off.
And I stood there, waiting 5 agonizingly long minutes because I was in corral 2. John Stanton, founder of the Running Room, was MC’ing at the start line attempting to lighten the wound-up anxious mood that hung in the air. All we wanted was just to start running. And then, it was time. I was off.
It never fails to amaze me how ridiculously easy the first few kilometres of a marathon feel. I swear I was crawling along a snail’s pace, but a few hundred metres in I glanced down at my GPS to see I was going out a good minute faster than the 5:25/km my pace band was instructing me to. By the time I’d completed the first kilometre I had managed to pull back to average of 5:07/km. Hmmm. Close enough. That’s about how the entire first half went, with each kilometre coming in about 10-20 seconds faster than the time listed on my pace band. That’s what you call banking time.
I was and am fully aware that you are not supposed to bank time when running a marathon. But there I was on my ‘Boston Qualifier’ race day, doing exactly what I explicitly told myself I wouldn’t do – putting time in the bank. That said, there’s a fear that if I don’t give it when I have it, it won’t be there to give near the end. And isn’t it an awfully nice feeling to be dying near the end of your race, but know you have time banked? I suppose it would be even better to feel strong at the end of your race… Is that even possible?
I crossed the halfway point at 1:42:58. Oops. That’s a personal best for my 1/2 marathon. Pretty sure I’m not supposed to get a 1/2 marathon PB while running a full. But I didn’t even think about that then. I was focused on the fact they were out of gels. My first chance on the course to get some fuel, and they were out.
So I kept running. Maybe the fact they were out of fuel, fuelled me. I picked up the pace and continued to feel strong over the next 6km. Although, I had noticed it seemed I had a tiny stone in my right shoe near the beginning of the race, and it was really beginning to annoy me. Not like I was about to stop and dump it out though. I ignored it.
It was as I was running down Point Grey Road at around km 27 that my lack of gels began to catch up with me. I was getting a bit spacey. Dots dancing in front of my eyes. I needed carbs. Luckily I got my first (and only) gel at km 28. That got me back on track and up over Burrard Street bridge. As I crested that hill I was thrilled – I knew I had conquered all the major hills of the course. I flew down the other side of Burrard and around the corner. I heard someone I knew cheer me on, “Oh my gosh, you’re doing it!”, he exclaimed. Yes, at that point I was clearly on track to come in sub-3:35:00.
And then I entered Stanley Park. I’d been looking forward to this stretch. Every one of my three marathon pace workouts had included running around the flat and scenic Stanley Park. So I figured I had the rest of the race in the bag – should be a piece of cake. But I entered Stanley Park at kilometre 32 and it is precisely at this point my pace slowed. I went from consistently running 10-20 seconds faster than my planned pace to running 12-20 seconds slower for the next 6 kilometres.
My right big toe then began to bother me immensely. Throughout the course of the marathon, it felt like that pebble I felt earlier in the race grew into a huge rock. It wasn’t until later I realized I had a blister on my toe the entire size of my toe. In the meantime I dealt with it the best way I could, flinging my foot around trying to find a foot strike that was more comfortable. Needless to say, nothing worked. The ‘rock’ wasn’t going anywhere.
As I approached kilometre 38 I really began to worry. I knew this route well. I knew that sharp turn with the short hill ahead. My pace had slowed even further, to a 5:29/km. Kilometre 39. Turning the corner, I could see downtown… The end was actually somewhat in sight. This was the home stretch. Yet knowing I was nearly there wasn’t doing the trick for my legs, as I slowed even further to a 5:37/km. I felt desperate, frantic. My toe hurt so much.
Finally, kilometre 40… Only 2.2 left to go. So close. But so hard. The difference between the first two kilometres and the last two are night and day. My legs were jelly. Normally, I’d just give in and say to my legs:
“Ah well, you did your best, but it really hurts now, so I understand if you need to slow down now.”
But not today. Please not today. I was giving it everything I had. Yet my pace slowed even further and I clocked a 5:45/km from km 40 to 41. But then, in one last push of desperation, I somehow picked up my pace, powering up that long slow hill to the finish line with a 5:33/km and an even faster 200 meter dash to the finish.
I saw my gun time 3:38:18, managed to make my brain work enough to subtract the 5 minutes I’d waited in my corral, and realized I had done it. I qualified for the Boston marathon with an official finishing time of 3:33:24. Eighteen weeks of the most intense training I’ve ever subjected myself to paid off, right there in that second.
I was choked up. Absolutely elated, thrilled, ecstatic!
And in a lot of pain!
I immediately couldn’t walk. Hobbling over to bag check I found my husband and discovered that he had also qualified for Boston.
Which made it an absolutely perfect day.
“You can achieve anything you want in life, if you have the courage to dream it, the intelligence to make a realistic plan, and the will to see that plan through to the end.” -Sidney A. Friedman
You can achieve anything you want in life.
I’m not sure I ever really believed that statement with certainty. But I do now. I’ve lived it, experienced it, and I know what it takes.
Determine exactly what it is you want and how important it is to you. In the end, it comes down to how much you want it.
Know how to get there. Draw up your plan. And then follow it.
Maintain your drive and passion. Believe in yourself even when no one else does. When other people tell you you’re crazy or look at you funny, or attempt to convince you to be ‘sensible’, continue to believe in yourself.
And when you achieve what it is you set out to do, I promise you, it will all be worth it.
Thanks to all who have followed my journey over the past four months and offered up words of encouragement along the way. This was an experiment in its own right that turned out to be an amazing journey. Here’s to moving onward and forward, the many adventures ahead, and dreams that have yet to be realized. And happy running to all! xo -sarah
My Kilometre Splits