“I will 100 percent PR in this race. I’m 80 percent sure I can BQ.”
That’s what I told His Lordship on Sunday morning when I woke up for the Poconos Marathon.
Truthfully, I wasn’t nearly as trained for this race as I had been in previous years, and for a variety of reasons:
I waited to sign up until I was gainfully employed. In the meantime, I followed a loose training plan and performed long runs on the weekend.
When I finally got my (awesome) job, I bit the bullet.
Though I had a fabulous day at the New York City Half, the stress of learning my new job made training fall by the wayside. Five o’clock a.m. wake-up calls weren’t my favorite; sleeping in and having very, very short workouts became the norm.
I went on vacation for a week to Jackson Hole and took up some serious cross-training.
I came back with a minor bone bruise on my back, which made for a shitty long run cut short.
And then I began to see my weekends as nothing but running.
I thought about dropping to the half to ease my concerns.
As weeks went on, I found my groove in my job.
I told my dear friend—who brought this race to my attention in the first place and formulated a training plan for us to BQ, did I not mention this already?—that if I had a decent 20 miler, I would still consider the full.
Afterall, I was in a happy place. And marathoning is a mental task.
She joined me for said 20 miler. And wouldn’t you know it, it went swimmingly.
I felt confident I could run a decent marathon.
Cut to that Sunday morning.
Thanks to one of my teammate’s neuroses, we arrived to the start hella early. (Said teammate would go on to finish 4th overall in the half.)
Cat and I sat and chatted. (And drank coffee, and snotted, and did other early morning runner things.)
She had no goal for this race, and was happy as a clam.
I, on the other hand, felt extremely nauseated.
I knew I could blow my PR out of the water. The only thing that could stop me was my mental game.
Just prior to the start, we found Bojana and Danika. (#highschoolbathrooms!)
I could tell Bojana was nervous—she worked her ass off and was in great shape. She, too, knew the only thing that could stop her was her mental game.
As this race was in the mountains of Pennsylvania, it was fairly uneventful. So I’ll try to keep this short.
The beauty of a smaller race is that you don’t have to wait long to cross the start mat. (And it was pretty chilly, so I was very thankful for this!)
We took the streets of Pocono Summit in a huddle of cold fury. (Probably not Noah. Noah was probably at mile 2 by the time I crossed the start mat.)
I kept just behind Bojana, and got into my groove.
I heard one of the pacers behind us go into a military-style chanting about marathoning.
Completely unimpressed, I started focusing on my form. Miraculously, that blocked him out.
Mile 1 ticked off and we were right on target.
Aid stations were at every 2 miles. I had my handheld, so I was set. Bojana went and grabbed water and returned by my side.
Unless there was something to point out—like our lovers, friends, or phallic-shaped stone obelisks on the side streets of Pocono, Pennsylvania—we remained completely silent.
We picked up our pace and passed the 3:35 pace group.
Around mile 4, we saw Brian running in the opposite direction. He cheered and clapped, and I gave him a high five.
I’d like to take this time to talk about our teammates/crowd support. A total of five Battalion members were running the Poconos half or full marathon. As I previously stated, we were in the Middle of Nowhere, PA. Those who traveled out there with us were huge supporters, and likely the loudest on the course. For that, I thank them wholeheartedly for it.
Shortly after we saw Brian, I saw Danika, who was some 500 meters in front of us, veer off and wave. I saw two men wearing black zip-ups: Doug and His Lordship. I signaled to Bojana that we had more support up ahead.
It was at this point that I knew I was going to have a good race.
Our mental game was completely in check, and we were going through the motions.
Every 2 miles, Bojana would grab some water or Gatorade. I would take a sip of my handheld if needed.
We reached our longest, sharpest downhill at mile 6.
It would carry on for some 2 to 3 miles.
I eyed my watch, knowing I needed to stay somewhere around 7:45 to not blow my quads out of the water.
At one of the sharpest parts of the downhill, I felt myself speeding up but I couldn’t get my legs under control.
“Abs, slow it down. You can’t blow out your quads.”
I told Bojo I was desperately trying.
(And to also stay out of my head. Smooches!)
Runners were flying by us.
I hoped that they were half marathoners and knew that, should they be marathoners, I would see them in the not-so-distant future.
Just past mile 9, I saw another Battalion shirt: it was Aunt Margie.
Knowing she was here to surprise her daughter, I picked it up, veered over and high-fived her.
(I know I shouldn’t have done that—I WAS TOO EXCITED.)
And then we hit the sharpest incline of the race.
I slowed down.
Bojo was now ahead of me.
I kept my sights on her and maintained my pace.
I saw Danika and Bojana veer off at mile 11—Doug and Chris were there giving high fives.
I made a complaint about the uphills.
My quads were already getting tired.
More uphills and downhills, and I saw the half marathon finish.
I saw a human jumping up and down on a boulder donning a bright red Battalion shirt.
It was Noah.
He ran a bit with me (overzealous, much?!) and asked how I was.
I told him my quads were already in pain, but that I could still qualify for Boston.
I waved to Danika, who had just finished herself, and pressed forward.
And then it got lonely.
Miles 13 to 20 were filled with complete solitude.
I saw maybe a handful of people cheering.
I almost stepped on an orange newt at mile 14.
(Which I then contemplated pulling over and removing it from the not-so-many runners’ marathon path.)
There was a lovely river alongside of us, which was nice to look at.
And then it rained.
At mile 18, I felt a blister form on my right foot.
I repeatedly glanced down to check for any semblance of blood.
On an uphill around mile 19, I saw a girl in a Oiselle singlet walking. I recognized her from early on in the race.
Needing a bit of a walk break myself, I pulled up next to her. I asked if she was okay and if she was trying to qualify. She told me she needed a sub- 3:35. I told her to get moving. We would tick off the miles together.
At this point, the county highway we were on was open to traffic.
I grew irritated.
I mentioned to my new friend that one of my friends broke his 1:18 half marathon PR and that my other friend was ahead of us, also hoping to BQ.
I saw Brian at mile 20 and shook my head. He gave me the best cheering he could and told me to be strong and that I looked great. (Such a GD LIAR, BRIAN.)
My pace was now hovering back and forth between 9:00 and 10:00 minute miles. I was gladly walking the uphills (which were incredibly frequent on the back half), and somewhat shuffling my feet on the straight-aways and downhills.
At mile 22, the 3:35 pace group passed me.
Unbelievably, I wasn’t defeated.
I lost Kristen around mile 23 on another uphill.
(But I picked up a new friend: indigestion and acid reflux, who would stay with me until the finish.)
With completely fried quads, I ticked off the last few miles the very best I could, acknowledging every volunteer and crowd support that came my way. (Including the two little girls and the one gentleman who apologized for the brutal, quad-busting course.)
When I reached the parking lot of the High School, I looked for the finish.
It was nowhere to be found.
I kept moving, hoping, wishing to see something that resembled a finish line.
I turned a corner around the school.
I grew frustrated.
I was so close to 26 miles. How was this even possible that I couldn’t see a finish line? Was the course mapped out wrong?
I saw a group of people cheering on top of a set of bleachers. It was my teammates, and my friends. They were waiting for me to come home.
I kept my head down and made my way to the high school track.
As I rounded the corner, I finally saw the finish line. One lap around the track and I was done.
I came through the finish with my fist in the air.
I may not have BQ’d.
But I sure as hell PR’d.
Notes on this race: I would certainly recommend the half as you will most certainly PR. Unless you are trashing your quads every weekend, I would definitely not recommend the full. (Thank God I took Monday off—I physically couldn’t remove myself from my bed until around 10:30 a.m. And I was awake at 7:00.)
On a personal note, I’m ecstatic with my performance. For the first time in a very long time, I had a clear conscious and successfully executed a race. And for the first time ever, I ran the tangents.
It’s taken me a long time to get here.
It’s amazing what can happen when your head is in the right—and happy—place.
And a huge congratulations to all of my teammates who crushed the Poconos. Bojana, we’ll see you in Boston next year!