Shamrock Marathon 2017 Race Recap

If you like wordy race recaps, way-too-deep running thoughts, and/or teary finish lines, then man, do I have a post for you!


If you've been around for a while, you probably know that Shamrock weekend is one of my favorite weekends of the whole year, and has been ever since it became my first half marathon in 2012. Running it every year since then has become a little tradition of mine, and I've now run the half and the full 3 times each (and the 8k once). I signed up to run the Shamrock Marathon for the 3rd time last November, during a post-Ironman high/what-do-I-do-now episode?! Truthfully, I hadn't really planned on running the Shamrock full again anytime soon and was avidly searching for a new spring marathon to try out, but when I found out my friend Carl and I both had the same current PR and the same lofty goal, to take almost 20 minutes off that PR and break 4 hours, it seemed meant to be. I started training in mid-November and on Sunday, 18 weeks later, I crossed the finish line.

This Shamrock charm was on my very first medal from 2012. I put it on a necklace and have worn it for every important race since (and added the 26.2 after my first marathon, obviously)

The Goal
Sub-4:00
I had run 4 marathons prior to this (3 standalone marathons and 1 Ironman), all falling somewhere between 4:17 to 4:57. Going sub-4 was a goal that both was and wasn't important to me, if that makes sense. I didn't need a sub-4 marathon for my life to be complete, obviously, but at the same time, I felt deep down that it was something I could accomplish. I've been able to run a 2-hour marathon for 2.5 years now, and my half marathon PR is 1:48:33. My PR times two is 3:37:06, and although a marathon is definitely not the same thing as a half marathon x 2, for a while I've felt like my marathon PR of 4:17:50 just didn't match up closely enough with my half PR. So I picked sub-4 as a goal, simply because it's generally regarded as a running milestone, and it felt attainable while not being too crazy far off from my current PR. Still, this was scary. I had never run a marathon with a goal time in mind before. And my goal time wasn't a secret, either - I told pretty much everyone I knew, so if I missed it it wasn't like I could just pretend that I was happy with whatever time I ended up with and move on.

The Strategy
I was so nervous going into this race because the second half was such a huge question mark. I'm not a good marathoner. I have never been able to pace myself in a marathon and, in fact, the second half of every marathon I've ever run has been at least 10 or 20 minutes slower than the first half. Somewhere around mile 15 I tend to start taking walking more aid stations, taking walk breaks, etc. When I set a goal to run a sub-4:00 this year, I actually initially planned to run the first half around 1:52, because I knew I could run and that that would leave me 2:08 to essentially, inevitably fall apart during the second half. However, Carl and I ran most of our long runs at or just below a sub-4:00 pace, so it became our goal to actually pace ourselves, run at or just under 2 hours for the first half, then repeat for the second. I went along with it but, given my history, I wasn't very confident that I could hold that consistent pace for all 26.2 miles. Based on our training I thought I could do 18, maybe 20, but I could just see myself getting slower and slower at the end and was so afraid that if I ran too close to pace for the majority of the race, it would slip away in the end.

We discussed a few different pacing strategies, including whether we should stick with the 4:00 pacer or try to hang with the 3:45 pacer for as long as possible before settling between the two, but then came the rain and wind. The forecast leading up to race day got drearier and drearier until we went to bed on race eve with a prediction of 100% chance of rain at the start with 20mph winds. If it had been a nice day, our goal was to shoot for 3:55, which would have been awesome to hit but also would have given us a nice cushion for meeting our main goal of being sub-4. But with the weather, we finally decided that sticking with the 4:00 pace group would be our best bet, as it would be one of the largest ones and would allow us to tuck in to brace the wind. From that moment the day before the race, my goal suddenly became singular and very simple: stay with the 4 hour pace group.

Race Morning
To no surprise, race morning dawned drizzly and windy, similarly to when I ran the half marathon last year. This year, however, I had decided to stay the weekend at a hotel on the beach, which was so convenient! I had breakfast delivered to our room at 7am and was able to take my time getting ready before heading down to the start line a few blocks away. I arrived just in time for Team Hoyt's sendoff, and was able to find Carl and get into our corral just behind the 4:00 pacers.


Miles 1-6
(9:03, 8:56, 9:07, 8:57, 9:17, 9:09)
I remember feeling a little frazzled right at the beginning, as I was trying to jam my phone back in my Fuel Belt as our corral was being sent off, and my shoes were looser than I would have liked but I was like oh well, too late now. And then I crossed the start line and I wanted to cry a little because I was like, ah, really, I am running a marathon now?! There is so much going on in the first mile that I didn't really think about much one way or the other. The first time I remember being really...aware, I guess, that I was running a marathon was around 2.5 miles in, on the Rudee Inlet Bridge (the only "hill" on the entire course). To be honest, the first few miles felt like a breeze - because they were. I could definitely feel the wind at our backs and even wished our loud that we could just run all 26 miles that way. I felt great, and it was misty but not pouring, and I was relieved that it didn't feel as bad as the weather forecast had made it look like it was going to be. It wasn't ideal, but it wasn't horrible and I could handle it.

I'm in the 4:00 pace group somewhere!
We were heading south to a turnaround, so somewhere during mile 5 or 6 we started seeing the lead runners on the other side of the road. My friend Myron was going for a BQ, so looking for him as the runners went by gave me something to do for a few minutes. The turnaround came not too long after I saw him, and it was the first time of many that day when I felt surprised that we had already made it to that point. As we turned to head back north, the direction the wind was coming from, for the next 14 miles, I literally said to Carl, "Okay, here we go!" It felt like the race hadn't really started until then, since the first 6 miles had been relatively easy. So I braced myself, but it really wasn't as bad as I was expecting, and I felt relieved.

As nervous as I was before the race, I was never scared while running it. Does that happen to anyone else? Sometimes I start to think too much about what's ahead, and it just freaks me out. While I was running I was thinking back to the last time I ran the Shamrock full, and about how the wind picked up at this same point and I had worried about how it was going to affect me over the next 14 miles, but this year it didn't bother me. I felt like I could manage it, and that was the first time all day that I started to think, "Hmm...maybe I am a different/better/stronger athlete than I was when I was here 2 years ago."

Miles 6-10
(8:59, 9:03, 9:14, 9:13)
We made the turn into Camp Pendleton, a National Guard/Armed Forces training facility, just after mile 6, and I actually couldn't believe we'd already been running for an hour. It had gone by a lot faster than I was expecting, but I knew that with 3 (or more?) left, we still had a long way to go. There were a lot of servicemen and servicewomen out in Camp Pendleton, even despite the nasty weather, which is always a highlight of this race! We made a bunch of turns and kind of zig zagged through the base, which at least helped get us out of the wind here and there, until we finally exited after mile 8 and headed back toward the beach.

We went back over the bridge just before mile 10, and since I had accidentally pulled away from the pace group I was all alone as I was running up it. The wind was the strongest at the very top of the bridge, and there were a few times it blew so hard I thought it might knock me over! There was an aid station right at the bottom of the bridge hopped on the boardwalk, and since I had been feeling like I could have used a bathroom since the beginning, Carl and I briefly talked about stopping, but decided against it since there was a line. I ended up immediately regretting that decision about a quarter mile later, and told myself to make it to the next one around mile 12 and that I'd stop there.

Miles 11-13
(8:59, 9:15, 8:58)
Since I had gotten a little ahead of the pace group before we got on the boardwalk, I held back a little to let them catch back up with me. The boardwalk is nearly almost always windy since it's right on the ocean, so I was expecting this to be one of the times when it would be most beneficial to run in a big pack. It was windy out there, for sure, and there were a few times the gusts nearly stopped me in my tracks or made me feel like I was going in slow motion, but it really wasn't as bad as I was expecting.

And that was the theme of the day until....mile 12! We got off the boardwalk just before mile 12, and that's when the rain that had mostly held off all morning started to come down. Only after a few minutes I realized it was hurting my face when it hit me and that it wasn't all rain, it was mixed with sleet. I even got a piece in my eye at one point, so that was painful, and I tried to keep my head turned as much as I could! As for that porta-potty stop I was going to make...by the time I got there I didn't feel like I had to go anymore, and so I just hoped and prayed it would stay that way so I wouldn't have to stop at all!

I crossed the half marathon timing mat at right around 2 hours, which was the same time it had taken me to get through the first half the last time I ran the Shamrock full. I was so focused on staying with the pace group, and I knew if I could just do that then I'd make my time goal, but considering that I was on the same track as last time, when I ended up almost 20 minutes over 4 hours, I was having a hard time believing it was possible. Still, I felt fresh enough and determined enough that some part of me believed I had a chance if I just kept going. It sounds silly to think that something so trivial could make such a big difference, but a few days before the race, Courtney from Eat, Pray, Run DC posted a throwback to Shamrock last year, when she crushed her goal to run a sub-2 half. She said that even though she woke up on race morning and the weather was absolutely miserable - pretty much the same weather we had this year, actually - she told herself that there would be lots of people finishing in her goal time, so why not her? As small a phrase as it is, "Why not me?" became my rallying cry on Sunday. And, truthfully, without that pace group and without Carl by my side, I probably would have come up with a million and one reasons why not me. But in reality, my legs were fine, my chest was fine, my stomach was fine...I had no reason not to keep going for another 2 hours exactly how I had been for the last 2 hours. The pacers were going to finish under 4 hours and they were going to have a bunch of other people with them at the finish line - and there was no reason I couldn't be one of them.

Almost halfway - still buried in the pace group somewhere
Miles 14-16
(9:05, 9:11, 9:17)
The rain/sleet combo continued for the next 4 miles until we turned off Atlantic Avenue onto Shore Drive. I was so focused on just staying with the pace group, that's really all I thought about for several miles. My mind was on a constant loop of, "This feels okay, as long as it keeps feeling okay you'll make it...don't lose the pacer, don't lose the pace...only X miles left, only X miles left..." and repeat, repeat, repeat.

Miles 17-19
(9:09, 9:03, 8:52)
I prepared myself to be bored on Shore Drive since it's about a 3-mile section of straight, tree-lined road. Luckily the trees meant some refuge from the wind and rain, so these miles weren't as hard as the last few had been. Around mile 17 I was really starting to feel my quads, and although I would have loved to slow down for that reason (I could have run 11-minute miles from that point on and still have run a PR!), I was SO grateful to have that pace group to keep me on target. Sometimes I got ahead of them, sometimes they got ahead of me, and sometimes I was running right behind the two pacers with their 4:00 pace signs directly in front of my face (which I really wanted to snap a photo of but a) it was raining and b) I was scared I would jinx myself), but I never let them get out of reach. Around this point I realized that, aside from a few seconds here and there at a couple water stops, that was actually the furthest I had run in a marathon without taking a walk break! And I still felt great! Or as great as one can feel after 18 miles, I suppose.

Miles 20-22
(8:47, 8:56, 8:58)
We turned off Shore Drive and into Fort Story somewhere during mile 19, and I remember being a little surprised that we were already there! Although I'd definitely been counting down since the halfway point, or maybe longer, the race never really felt like it was dragging on. I knew Fort Story could be a different, erm, story, though. It's usually the hardest part of both the half and full course, since there's not a lot of crowd support (due to it being a military base), and that the protection of the trees on Shore Drive is gone and it's totally exposed. In fact, this year, there was a ~20 foot section of road on the course right at mile 20 that had gotten covered in sand from the wind blowing it. When I passed through there was a car that was stuck in it on the other side of the road, and emergency personnel were trying to dig it out! And I only know that this was at mile 20 because I saw the mile marker laying in the sand, half-buried.

Amazingly, we absolutely crushed Fort Story this year. We had gotten a little ahead of the pace group, and all 4 of the miles we ran through it were sub-9:00. Just go ahead jot down, "Run miles 19-22 at of a marathon at an 8:53 average pace" on the list of things I never would have thought were possible before Sunday. Every time my watch chimed, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. When we hit 20 miles and had just a 10k left to do and about 57 minutes to do it in, I was feeling good about our chances of breaking 4 hours, but still nervous. Worse, over those miles my chest had started feeling tighter and tighter. It scared me because the same thing had happened to me in Fort Story the first time I ran Shamrock, my first half marathon in 2012, and I had ended up walking a lot through this section to catch my breath. It had nearly ruined my race that first year and, for whatever reason, when I felt it coming on this year I couldn't help but think of the article I read about Kelly Herron last week. Although fighting of the beginning stages of an asthma attack and fighting off an attack by serial rapist are most definitely not the same thing by any means and I'm now a little embarrassed and ashamed to even admit this, but literally all that ran through my head was, "Not today, motherfucker! NOT. TODAY." I had worked too hard and for too long and had run too far for it all to be derailed. Sorry, lungs, but not today.

(Side note - sometimes I read my old recaps and I think, "Why did I admit and/or include that random, stupid tidbit?" but as weird and/or seemingly insignificant as they sometimes are, these thoughts become part of my race memory forever. From now on I will never run through Fort Story without thinking about internally yelling, "Not today, motherfucker!" at my body.)

Miles 23-26
(9:21, 9:04, 9:20, 8:27)
By the time we exited Fort Story just after mile 22, we had the wind at our backs, and I was hoping to just coast to the end. Unfortunately, I was having more and more trouble breathing and had to slow to a walk for a few seconds during mile 23 to catch my breath and get my heart rate back down. The 4-hour pace group caught up to us and then passed us, and even though deep down I knew I wasn't going to let them get too far, I was getting frustrated that I had run all that way and couldn't do something so simple as just breathe. This has actually happened to me on the marathon course in prior years, and I wondered why I was so dumb to not bring my inhaler. I felt awful about holding Carl back but thank goodness he was there, because he just kept telling me that I was just getting anxious and to calm down and breathe. He was feeling great and I'm positive he could have easily left me in the dust and sprinted the last few miles to the finish, but he didn't.

When we hit mile 23, we had about 30 minutes to get through the last 3.2 miles. If I'd been able to breathe properly I'd have been 100% sure we could make it, but I still felt like those last few miles were a question mark and I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Truthfully, if I'd been on my own I think I would have thrown in the towel. I would have taken more walk breaks, accepted that I'd finish just a couple minutes over 4 hours - still a PR, still a huge accomplishment! - and that would be that. I'm almost certain that's how it would have played out. But having Carl there, and having the pace group just in front of us gave me enough hope and motivation that it wasn't over yet.

For the last few miles I just tried to breathe, get my heart rate down and my breathing under control, and catch back up to the pace group. Fortunately, when I was able to breathe I was able to run at a pretty good clip (the tailwind helped too), and we were able to catch back up to the pace group (which by that point was made up of just our two pacers and about 4-5 other runners in various positions near them) fairly easy.

With about a mile and a half left to go I finally felt like I could breathe again. When we passed the mile 25 marker and had 12 minutes left until the 4-hour mark, I got a glimmer of hope. We had 12 minutes to go 1.2 miles. That's a 10-minute mile. I could definitely stick it out for 12 more minutes. The next thing I knew we were turning to head back toward the boardwalk, with less than a mile to go. I was lagging behind because I was trying to get to a song on my playlist (my favorite DMB live version of All Along the Watchtower, one of my absolute favorite running songs) and Carl kept telling me to catch up and I think we were just both so excited and wanted our imminent sub-4 finish to be perfect!



Miles 26-26.2
(7:33)
I actually never ended up finding All Along the Watchtower, because as we turned onto the boardwalk for the last time, with less than half a mile to go, the Counting Crow's Rain King came on, and I almost skipped it but then I laughed to myself and didn't, because given the weather it seemed absolutely appropriate. The finish line was in sight and I must have checked my watch 50 times just to make sure the number on the front was still a 3. And it was, and even though I knew I was going to make it in time, I still ran like my life depended on it it to beat that finish clock.

As we approached the finish line I was so focused that I barely even registered the ocean to my left, or the giant statue of King Neptune just before the finish line. I did see my dad and my friends standing right next to Neptune, and I wave and smiled and was just SO happy. I saw a photographer and just threw my hands up and started screaming because I was RIGHT THERE and the finish was RIGHT THERE and my watch STILL had a 3 in the front and it was going to as long as I just did not stop moving. After a catch-my-breath mile 25, mile 26 was actually the fastest of the day at 8:27, and that last sprint on the boardwalk was at a 7:33 pace. I really couldn't breathe by the end but I told myself it didn't matter. I didn't need to breathe. I could breathe in literally one minute when I was done.




Tears started welling up in my eyes as I got to the finish and I looked at the clock incredulously as I crossed the line. I got choked up after I crossed and I immediately turned to Carl and just said, "Holy shit, I can't believe we did it!" As we were walking through the finisher's chute my dad called us from alongside it and we told him that we had made it under 4 and he was stoked and we were stoked! I never saw Ben at the finish, which I thought was weird because he's always there, but it turns out he stayed in the hotel to get our photos from a different angle and then he came down. I saw him as I was walking out of the finisher's chute and he looked at me kind of like, "Well..did you do it?!" since our time was close and he wasn't sure. And then I told him that we did.





Official time
3:58:36 


I never knew how much this goal meant to me until I actually did it. I ran Shamrock for the first time nearly 5 years ago to the day. It was my first half marathon and it took me 2 hours and 42 minutes, and the whole race I thought to myself how badly I wanted to be able to say that I went from that to running twice as far in just an hour and 15 minutes longer. And I don't think I could have done it without Carl or the pace group. I've never run with a pacer before and it completely took the guesswork out of the race. I never second-guessed our pace or question if I was running too fast or too slow. I looked at my watch a lot but I don't think I ever really looked at it. I settled into a groove and rode it out from start to finish, and I don't think I could have done that on my own. For some reason I felt confident enough to put my faith and my whole training cycle's worth of work into two guys I never even talked to to get me to the finish line. And they did. (Although I found out afterward that the pacer finished in 3:59:59 so if I had been behind him I might have just missed it...thankfully I passed him in the last mile and never saw him again)!

Before the race I tried to remind myself that I had trained for this, but I had serious doubts. I knew I could run the first half in 2 hours, but I did not think I could do that - or better - for the second half. I had no clue how I was going to pull this off. I was sure I would hit the wall eventually. I thought the only way I could run a sub-4 was to run the first half as fast as I could, then try to hang on for dear life for the second half. I didn't believe I could pace myself well enough to run a consistent pace, and definitely not to negative split the back half. I even made spreadsheets in the weeks leading up to the race of all of my past marathon attempts and training runs, trying to figure out where I went wrong. I couldn't get the math to add up. On one hand, given my times at other distances, a 9:10 pace really shouldn't have been a problem. On the other hand, 26.2 miles was a long way and so many things could go wrong. One too-long bathroom stop could have cost me my goal time (luckily my hoping and praying after not stopping at mile 10 worked, and I never stopped other than to get water for the entire race).

I still don't know how I did it. In my head, running a 9:10 pace was absolutely doable, but when I started training for this goal, it was a lot harder than I thought. In the weeks leading up to the race, I made spreadsheets of my past marathon splits and my training runs to try to figure out where I would inevitably fall off track. I tried to account for slowing down at the end and I just couldn't get the math to work. I couldn't get the miles to add up to less than 4 hours. I still can't believe that I needed to run the second half just slightly faster than the first half, and that, for the first time ever, I did exactly that.

My splits this year for the first half were almost dead on my splits from 2015. Actually, this year, at the 10k mark I was 30 seconds behind where I was at the 10k two years ago. By the halfway point, this year I was only 10 seconds ahead of where I was at the halfway point two years ago. It's clear from looking at the graph that the second half is what made the difference, which makes me extra proud because that's the whole reason I wanted to attempt this PR/sub-4 in the first place. I know I can run a decent to fast(ish), well-paced race for everything from a 5k to a half marathon. But before Sunday, I didn't know if I could pace myself through a marathon. My splits ranged from 8:27-9:21, so not perfect, but I started out slower than got faster throughout the race, clocking some of my fastest miles on the back half, with mile 26 being my fastest (of course, the tailwind from mile 21 to the end helped, but not as much as I was expecting since I was dealing with my asthma).


Crossing that finish line, a new part of me awoke. Every year this course makes me show it what I'm made of. Every year I find out where my limit is - and then I redefine it. Six years of Shamrock, and more than ever I feel like I'm just getting started.

9 comments :

  1. Congratulations on your breakthrough race!!

    It sounds like what made the difference was simply your training. That's how the marathon is: it's not like shorter distances where you can show up underprepared and still pull a good race out of your butt. There are no shortcuts for marathon success: if you want it, you have to do the work, and you worked really hard in your training! Consistent training is what leads to breakthrough races. Happy for you that you got to experience the joy of crushing your goal! Reading this post got me excited to start my own marathon training in a few months.

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  2. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!

    I seriously could not be prouder of you. It's just so incredible. I mean. Just look at this. From 2014 to 2017, you literally shave off almost an entire HOUR from your time. Like.. 60 whole minutes. That's insane. You are incredible, and I think you show everyone just what hard work and good training can do.

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  3. Congratulations! I bet that felt amazing. What a great time! I've run a couple of halves with a pace group at least for the first half (and then I drop down or run faster depending on how I feel), and I love it. It is nice to not feel obsessed with looking at the watch and just trusting the pacer. Amazing job! My fastest marathon was 4:14, and I do think I could drop under 4 if I really put effort into it. Who knows if I'll ever get back to that, but it's so cool to see all that you are accomplishing with all of your hard work!

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  4. Man, I just could not possibly be happier for you. It sounds like you had just about as perfect as a marathon as anyone could hope for, and I'm SO thrilled to hear that all of your hard work and training paid off! You totally earned your sub-4:00 finish! You're seriously my marathoning inspiration. My PR is 4:52, and even though I really want to get it down, there's always been a part of me that's believed that's just not something that people can do. But clearly, it's not impossible! Congrats on such a fantastic race!! :)

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  5. I'm with you on feeling EVERYTHING right up until the race, and then not feeling any of that anxiety/fear/nervousness during. There's always something better to think about or feel while running.

    Good thinking on sticking with the pack during the windiest parts! Wind is my absolute least favorite element to have around while running, especially since there's so little you can really do about it usually.

    OMG. "Why not me." You know, you've provided me with so many mantras over my running career ("demand more" being one of my favorites of all time), and this is another to add to the pile. Why not me? Oh, especially after our chat this morning, I needed to hear this. I don't think it's changing anything immediately, but when I'm ready, it will be my rallying cry too.

    I totally know what you mean about those thoughts becoming part of your race memory. I have so many from City of Oaks, especially that greenway section, and so many other tiny moments from races that I fear I would forget if I didn't write them down but that bring me right back to the time and place. Like the memory of you at the top of the hill before you split off at CoO, you asking me if I want to PR at Richmond, the way I convinced myself to not take a walk break at mile 10 at RnR by deciding I could be at the finish line within one episode of the podcast I was listening to. (Side note, that story about Kelly Herron was harrowing but inspiring AF; I put "take a self defense class" on my to do list immediately after I read it.)

    Amazing that Carl was by your side and helped you back on your feet in m23. I can't imagine you frustrated you must have been to get so far and start to feel that worry! Also, um, LOVING that that's the song you went looking for; I love it too!

    Congratulations again, and I am so, so, so happy for and PROUD OF YOU. You worked for this race so hard, and if I'm not mistaken it's been a while since you've had a teary-eyed finish of your own. It sounds weird, but that makes me really happy. You gave this gift to yourself and you earned it through and through. And selfishly, thank you for reminding me of this feeling when I need it most.

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  6. awesome recap. big congrats!!

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  7. that first line = i like all of those things!
    ugh weather. why do you have to ruin things? well, i'm glad it wasn't as bad as you were expecting for the most part.
    i am always nervous before a race, but never while running it. i guess i think, well, not much i can do now. haha.
    "Why not me?" is fantastic. i love when i hear things from you and other runners that i then repeat to myself during races. it really does help.
    holy shit Kelly Herron. i had not heard/read about that and now i am terrified of running on my own. but seriously, go her. what a badass. who cares if it's not the same, that's awesome that you got strength from that. now i feel like i want to do a self defense workshop!
    i am so sorry about your breathing. it sounds like a great thing that Carl was there.
    i totally got teary reading the end and looking at the pictures of you crossing the finish line. it makes me wonder why more people don't do races, the emotional high of crossing the finish line is just so amazing, and a PR? i mean, seriously. congrats girl. SO happy for you!!!!

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  8. Oh my gosh - how did I miss this post? LOVE LOVE LOVE. I seriously got chills reading this. I'm so freaking proud of and happy for you. The back of marathons are the challenge for me as well and particularly that last 10k. You better believe I'll be re-reading this before my next marathon :)

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  9. I read every word of these recaps... and in some respects feel like im there with you. How you remember these little details is beyond me but I am soooo happy for you. Happy that you stuck with the pack and met your goal. Also go Carl for sticking with you! Sometimes its the little things that people do ...

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