My M-Dot

This is my M-dot. 

There are many like it, but this one is mine. 

I posted this on Instagram the night I got it, but felt remiss to not document it here (and take advantage of the fact that there is no limit to the number of words I can write about it here, unlike on IG).

Well before I ever did even a half Ironman, I was positive that one day, if I ever did a full Ironman, I would get the famous M-dot branded somewhere on my body. I thought about it all the time and couldn't wait for the day I might earn that symbol in ink. Maybe not the conventional solid red, back-of-the-calf version, but an M-dot nonetheless. I always loved seeing them on other people, especially at races - in fact, following a guy with one on the back of his calf in a race that I spent weighing the pros and cons of hitting the “Register” button that I’d been staring at for a week gave me the final push to finally sign up for my first full, and I registered the next day. This symbol has always been so much more than a race logo. 

But when I did finally finish an IM (one year, one month, and 11 days ago but who's counting), I was surprisingly uncertain about being permanently marked with this symbol I coveted for so long. I guess after such a long road getting to that finish line, the tattoo just wasn’t all that important anymore. I know I have touched on this in previous posts but am not sure I have ever really talked about it, mostly because I'm not sure I've ever really been able to fully understand it myself, but finishing Ironman Louisville felt way different and way more complicated than I ever expected it to. I have my suspicions that the disappointment that was IMNC played a huge role in this - although I suppose I can never know for certain - but getting to the finish line in Louisville felt like such a long, arduous task, and not totally in a good way. Of course it was more fulfilling than I will ever have words for, but at the same time it was somehow less gratifying than I will ever be able to understand or explain. It took me a long time to come to terms with the enormity of what I accomplished on that day, and even a year later I'm not sure I really have yet. A year later I still have mixed feelings - as much as I loved the experience and would relive that day in a heartbeat if given the chance, I also have some yucky feelings, I think simply because the road to get there was not at all what I imagined when I first signed up for IMNC. Whether I like it or not, my journey to the red carpet, to get through 140.6 was tainted. I know there's nothing I can ever do to change that, but I also can't change how I feel when I look back on it, not just on Louisville but on all of it. 

So once IM Louisville was over I couldn’t decide if this tattoo I've dreamed of for years would be a nice way to commemorate such a big event, or if it would just be silly and obnoxious to follow the trend. Maybe both? I have spent the last almost-year hemming and hawing over this, to the point where I had almost decided not to get it. But I also couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

Making the decision to go for it was even harder considering that I am not at all artistic or creative and even though I knew I wanted to make this symbol my own, I couldn’t visualize what exactly my M-dot would look like. I assumed I would incorporate Louisville or Kentucky - fleur de lis, maybe something horse related - but that never felt quite right. Ben always thought I should make it NC-related, maybe something with the battleship or something ocean-y, but that didn't feel right either given that I didn't really think of IMNC as my first true IM. I considered something with flowers, partly because I have always wanted a floral tattoo (for unrelated reasons), and partly because on race morning I asked my mom to Sharpie something on my arm for my long day ahead and she simply wrote, “Bloom” and drew me a flower. She was also the first person I saw once I came through the finisher's chute, waiting for me on the other side of the barricade with a bouquet of flowers. Given that my mom has zero interest in anything triathlon-related and given that she would have preferred to be at home in Virginia in bed and not states away in Kentucky at my 9:30pm finish time, just having her there was a big deal. So much so that, in fact, in the first few days after the race, when I was still riding that post-race high and feeling convinced that I was going to get my M-dot tattoo, I was almost sold on getting the word, "Bloom" in script with an M-dot in place of the M. But I couldn't fully commit to that design either, and over time my commitment to getting one at all diminished. There were several times over the last year when I thought about what design I might want, researched studios and artists, and a handful of times came thisclose to picking up the phone to move forward. But every time something stopped me and I let it go, told myself it wasn't worth the hassle or the money or the, you know, permanence of it being on my skin for.ev.errrr. 

As unsure as I was, I periodically perused various sources - Pinterest, IG, the IronTats Facebook group before I got off Facebook - for inspiration. I kept coming back to a very loose idea I had of filling an M-dot  outline with flowers, but I still needed to see how that could translate to a tattoo. I didn't know what flowers, couldn't picture what it would look like, etc. I wasn't looking for something to straight up copy, but given my extreme lack of visualization skills I needed to see, with my own two eyes, something somewhat similar to what I had in my head, something that I felt like I could base my own design on if I had any hope of ever making the idea of getting this tattoo a reality.

I came across a lot of really interesting ways people had incorporated their races into the M-dot shell (and even more totally awful ones if I'm being honest), but for a long time I couldn't find anything that even remotely resonated with me.  I came across some floral M-dots but nothing that really jumped out at me, until finally one day I found something that made me say, "Yes, that's it!" I must have looked at hundreds, maybe thousands of inspiration photos and it was the first time I had seen anything that felt right. There were enough aspects of the design that I liked and felt like I could make my own, and few enough things I disliked so that for the first time I was able to picture what my own tattoo might look and feel like.

I thought about it for a few months, but it didn't really come together until I decided what type of flowers I wanted to include in my design. Neither of favorite flowers (sunflowers and hydrangeas) would look good or make sense, and I couldn't think of any others. I liked the look of the flowers in the original design I had found but wasn't sure what they were, so I finally got the bright idea to find out. It turns out they're dogwoods, which just so happen to be the North Carolina state flower. Once I put that together, suddenly everything clicked. I had spent so long looking at this design and liking it but not knowing why, and convincing myself that it wasn't quite right because I couldn't link it to Louisville like I had been trying so hard to do. It finally hit me that of course it was not just okay, but right, for it to be based around North Carolina: without North Carolina - the 70.3 and especially that cursed 84.6 - there would have been no Louisville. 

Two days before the 1-year anniversary of IM Louisville, I went to a tattoo shop for a consultation. I had looked at tons of portfolios online before narrowing it down to an artist whose work I just adored. So on a Saturday afternoon I went to the shop to talk to her about what I wanted, knowing fully well that I was going to have to wait days or weeks after that to actually have it done. In a life-is-funny kind of way, and true to my IM experience, things didn't end up working out with the first artist. Instead, as I was getting ready to leave and wondering if I had just had a sign that I should maybe not go through with this after all, I overheard the shop manager telling someone on the phone that another artist (whose portfolio I had also looked at and thought could be a good fit for me) was currently taking walk-ins. And so I ended up with a different artist than the one I came in for, but one who worked with me to perfectly combine the inspiration I had brought and tailor it just for me. Two hours after I first stepped in to the shop, I walked out with my M-dot.

I have two other tattoos, one small script on my wrist and my childhood dog's paw print in black and gray on my hip, which were both very straightforward, so it was nerve-wracking not knowing exactly how this one was going to turn out until it was over. I kept looking over every few minutes and it was amazing watching it come to life, and I couldn't stop thinking about and wondering what it would look like when it was all done. Finally seeing it complete for the first time was surreal - it was strangely, admittedly not exactly what I had pictured in my head or what my inspiration looked like, but somehow was exactly perfect and perfectly mine. Just like Ironman, it happened the way I never expected or wanted it to, but the way it was always supposed to.

So this is my M-dot.

There are many like it, but this one is mine.

(And I'm a little obsessed with it)

Richmond Marathon 2018 Recap

I ran the Richmond Marathon two Saturdays ago, and sometime around mile 18 I thought about this blog and wondered if I would even bother writing a recap, which led to me thinking I might just delete it altogether (well, not delete, but make it private with no intention of looking at it again, like I have a couple of times in the last year). I'm still not sure that wouldn't have been the right decision, but I also realized I have a recap written for all 6 previous marathons I've run, so here I am if for no other reason than to keep the streak going!

But let's back up, because there is a lot that happened before I made it to that mile 18 marker.

If it wasn't obvious by the content and quantity of my posts leading up to this race, this is probably the least invested I have ever been training for and going in to a full marathon. I think that's mostly because I knew I would be running this without a time goal and that took a lot of the pressure off (maybe too much, ha!). Although very early in training I'd had my fingers crossed that this might be a PR training cycle, it quickly became clear that, between the summer temps and just not being in the same place fitness-wise as I was the last time I ran a PR, it wasn't going to be. Truth be told, I signed up for this race with more of a why not than a strong why, and that was fine with me. Not every race can be or needs to be a PR, and I was excited for the experience and a new challenge. I was coming off a year of big races and hard training and the prospect of running a low-pressure marathon was strangely appealing. I have run the Richmond half a few times (including my first sub-1:50 in 2014) and have heard so many good things about the full for so many years. My only big plan/race this year was the 50k, which the marathon worked well with since it's 5 weeks before the 50k, and I felt like the timing just made sense. Also, my brother-in-law Paul got into running and tri a couple years ago and had been throwing Richmond around as an option for his first full, so we kind of convinced each other to run it!

The Day Before
Richmond is only about a 90-minute drive from me but the race was on Saturday and I wanted to be able to take my time getting up, getting ready, and getting there the day before, so I took that Friday off from work. Ben ended up having a meeting he needed to be in Richmond for that afternoon, so we got to town around 1:30pm. I dropped him off and realized I had a couple hours to kill before meeting my brother-in-law at the expo for packet pickup, so I decided to drive the course after I realized that I actually had driven or knew the course for all my previous marathons except for IM Louisville. (The other marathons I've run are Charleston, Shamrock, and IMNC, and I did make it a point to drive the course for Charleston because it was my first, but for the others I knew the courses from running previous races on them. So Louisville is the only one I've ever gone in to with absolutely no experience on the course prior to the race.)

I hadn't done a ton of recon on the Richmond course since I thought I knew it pretty well from running the half several times, but in reality they only have about 8 or 9 miles of overlap. They run together for the first 2 or 3 miles, then the full splits off to go the opposite direction and doesn't pick the half course back up until mile 19 or 20, so even though I've run the half a few times there was actually a lot of uncharted territory for me! The James River runs through Richmond, with the downtown and main parts of the city on the eastern side, so I had never even been over to the western side before. I was mainly curious about that side because I had heard that was where the majority of the rolling hills are along the course, and I wanted to see how bad (or not) they were. Driving it seemed about what I had been expecting, although I did feel like, aside from some downhills, the whole course was on a slight incline!

Race Day
Race morning was pretty uneventful: I got up, got dressed, ate breakfast, and Ben dropped me off at the start with about 25 minutes to go until the start. The only hitch was that I was really unsure about what to wear. The temperature had been predicted to be in the high 30s/low 40s, but it was a little warmer than I was expecting in the mid-40s. And it was windy but also sunny, so I couldn't decide what would be warm without being too warm. I ended up going with pants, a short sleeve top, and arm warmers but kind of wished I had worn shorts. The only reason I didn't go with shorts was because I didn't want to chafe, but I ended up chafing anyway so so much for that!

I'm not sure how or why I glossed over this in my last post, but an important detail I left out is that I was sick for over a week leading up to the race. I started coming down with a chest cold about 10 days beforehand and luckily was at my worst the weekend before the race - although I did have to skip my last long run because of it, so my longest run in the 3 weeks before the race ended up being 8 miles. On the bright side, I felt like I was finally on the mend a couple days before the race, but I was still coughing and had a lot of chest congestion. Two days before the race I was feeling pretty good and confident and hopeful, but the day before I ran my last 2-mile shakeout that felt awful. I chalked it up to getting some last-minute crap out of my system (not uncommon for my shakeout runs even when I'm healthy) and tried not to let it get me down. 

Paul had also been sick for a few weeks leading up to the race and was on antibiotics for a sinus infection the week of, so neither one of us arrived at the start line as well-rested and healthy as we'd hoped. We both felt fine, though, so we didn't really adjust our time goals. Paul had been wanting to run close to or under 4 hours, and I was feeling more like 4:15, so off we went to chase those down! We ended up starting a little farther back near the 4:30 pace group because of some weirdness with the corrals, so after a half mile or so Paul left me to go catch the 4:00 pace group.

The first couple of miles run downtown down Broad Street, which is a nice flat section but really congested. I don't remember paying much attention to those miles this year, probably because they are pretty familiar to me at this point and because I knew we still had so long to go and I tried to zone out as much as possible. I do remember noticing that they were faster than I should have been running (9:13, 9:10), but it was nice to feel good for the first time in a while, and I thought maybe that's just what my body felt like running that day? Or at least in that moment?

We turned on to Monument Avenue just after mile 2, which I had run previously during the Monument Avenue 10k in April. I ran that race as a hard workout and it was a warm, tough day, so all I could think about during the marathon was how happy I was to not be as miserable as I was that day! I clocked more some fast miles (9:03, 9:01) but was feeling good, even if I knew that wasn't going to last forever. I could feel my chest starting to tighten already by mile 3, so I just wanted to run what felt good for as long as I could. Not a great, strategy, I know, but since I didn't have a time goal I was fine with inevitably slowing down later in the race (or so I thought...). 

We turned off of Monument Ave at mile 4 into a neighborhood, and I stopped at my first water stop there (I had skipped the first one at mile 2). I knew my sister-in-law and Paul's mom would be somewhere between there and mile 5 so I focused on finding them during that mile. There were lots of cross streets with lots of people out so I kept looking and looking and looking, and I finally saw them right at mile 4.5! I stopped for a quick hug and they told me Paul was only about a minute or so ahead of me. Shortly after I saw them we turned onto a more major street lined with gorgeous trees! So much of the course was filled with trees and fall foliage, which was one of the reasons I wanted to run this race. It was beautiful! It was still pretty crowded and there was just a sea of runners ahead for what looked like forever (9:14).

The next mile we went up a little bit of a hill before turning right before the mile 6 marker to cut over to the road that would eventually take us across the river (9:44). I was so relieved to see another water stop at the top of the hill at mile 6! After that we got on another road with massive, gorgeous homes. I had heard that this mile was downhill and hadn't really noticed it in the car, but I definitely noticed it running! It was a welcome break and I was still cruising (9:01 - fastest mile of the day). 

Next we got to the bridge that took us over the river. There was a beautiful view as we crossed and I kind of wish I had stopped to take a photo like I saw so many other people doing! It was really a lovely fall morning. After we came off the bridge we descended down a ramp to a road that ran along the river, and hit the mile 8 marker right at the bottom of the ramp (9:17). The next two miles were along a narrow, tree-lined road that honestly looked more like a paved trail than a legit road and paralleled the river. It could not have been more different than the downtown, urban streets we started on! It was really beautiful and peaceful and a part of the course people just rave about. It was really nice but daunting knowing how much we still had left to go! I tried to focus on running the mile I was in, but I could feel my legs getting heavier and I was already starting to slow down (9:29). 

Apparently I missed all race photographers except at mile 21 and 26, so photo via Richmond Marathon

We turned off the river road just before the mile 10 marker (9:06 - not sure what made this mile so speedy?). There was a short but kind of steep hill getting from the river road up to the neighborhood, but it continued with a gradual climb for maybe a quarter mile after that. If I had to pick one point where the race changed for me, that was it. That was where the rolling hills started and where I started to run out of steam (way too early, I know!). My chest was feeling really tight and thankfully there was an aid station just after mile 10, as I found that drinking water and taking walk breaks helped to relieve it.

At mile 11 we hit the main road we would be on for the next few miles until we crossed back over the river. I wasn't really a huge fan of this part and the miles kind of blurred together (9:57, 9:42, 10:01). This road wasn't particularly exciting except for a big party station we ran by with lots of people out cheering. The road was boring, and by that point the sun had come out and we were on a wide open road with no shade so it was really sunny and I was really warm, and I think the wheels kind of started to come off at that point (again, way too early, I know!). My chest was still tight and getting tighter so I gave in around mile 11 and started taking some non-aid station walk breaks. On one of them I downloaded the race app so I could see how Paul was doing, and I saw that he crossed the half checkpoint right at 2:00. I was happy that he was still on target and hoped he was feeling good! I crossed it a few minutes later at 2:03, surprising given that the two halfs I ran during training were 2:10 and 2:04. I shouldn't be particularly proud of this given how much slower my second half ended up being, of course, but I have to take the little victories where I can get them!

By the halfway point I was feeling pretty bored of running on the same road, and all I could think about was how much longer until the bridge to go back over to downtown, which I knew was around mile 16. The teen miles were wearing on me even more than usual since I had been running for so long on the part of the course I had never run before, and I was anxious to start making my way back to the part I did know. I also wasn't feeling great - my chest was really hurting and I was taking walk breaks fairly often (I honestly don't know how many but it felt like a lot) to get my breathing back under control. Certainly not ideal, and I wasn't thrilled by how much I still had left to go, but I just focused on moving forward. I saw a sign early on that said, "Forward is a pace" and I really embraced that especially in the second half! (10:17, 9:48).

Finally we made it to the bridge, although there was a pretty good climb leading up to the bridge before we turned right at mile 15 to get on the bridge itself. And when we did, I almost wished we hadn't - it was so windy and so cold up there! It was crazy that a few miles prior I had been complaining about being so hot and wishing I had worn shorts, to fishing my arm warmers back out of my fuel belt. Everyone complains about this bridge and before I ran this race, I couldn't figure out why! It's long but it's not steep at all - in fact, a lot of my training was on a bridge much longer with a steep climb, so this was basically nothing! Plus there's a really beautiful view of the city skyline as you cross, and so when I drove it the day before I couldn't figure out what the issue was. I'm still not sure, and I think it could have been better if it hadn't been so windy, but I didn't end up being the fan of this bridge that I thought I would be. I had really wanted to run the whole thing just to prove to myself that I could, but the tightness in my chest had long ago forced me into regular walk intervals and I ended up walking some of the bridge. 

The mile 16 marker was at the end of the bridge (10:18), and it was at that point that I got swallowed and then completely left by the 4:15 pace group. I had been feeling good knowing that they were somewhere behind me, but by the time I saw them pass I already knew I was going to be well over 4:15 (it was looking like 4:20ish at this point). We were once again downtown and this was when the wheels came completely off, and I never recovered from then until the end. I had finished one pouch of my Honey Stinger chews and started on a second pouch of a different flavor, and for whatever reason that flavor just did not agree with me. I felt regular bouts of nausea for a couple miles, and when I tried to eat some more around mile 17 (11:12) I had to spit them out because they turned me off so much. I'm actually not sure I ate anything from there until the end... 

It was around this time that I developed a pretty bad cramp in my diaphragm, likely from coughing, that lasted for the remainder of the race. Between that and the nausea I really didn't feel great but like I said, I had embraced that forward was a pace and I never stopped moving, no matter how slowly I was going or how slowly I was going. It was rough but I remember getting to the mile 18 marker (12:05) and just feeling so incredulous but grateful that I had made it that far! It had been a long morning but still short enough that I somehow felt like I had blinked and there I was, like I couldn't believe my body had just run (or run-walked, as the case may be) 18 miles.

I was able to get it somewhat together for mile 19 (10:41), but that was the last time I felt somewhat decent until the last mile. At that point we finally linked back up with the half marathon course (although the half was well over by that point), so the last 7 miles were all miles I had run before. I was feeling pretty beat up by this point and was having to take more and more walk breaks as the miles progressed. There was a timing mat at mile 20 (11:30) and I checked the app again to see where Paul was. He had crossed it just about 6 minutes before I did, which I knew meant he must have been struggling just like I was. 

This course really is gorgeous, especially the neighborhood during mile 21 (13:30 - slowest of the day, ), but that mile and the next few were the worst for me so looking at the scenery was the last thing on my mind. At that point I was just hoping to get through the final 5 miles in an hour. My diaphragm cramp had somewhat subsided, but I got one in my side that was absolutely stabbing. It got to the point where I literally couldn't run for more than 10 seconds at a time without acute pain stopping me in my tracks. It was so annoying, and I audibly yelled, "This is ridiculous!" while coming to a sudden stop multiple times. I had my watch on my lap pace and I did my best to stay under 12-minute miles, but didn't quite make it (12:05, 12:11, 13:10).

At this point we were heading back into downtown and during mile 25 made one of the last turns to head toward the finish. This mile was mostly flat, maybe slight downhill, and I finally realized that I could keep a decent pace if I just slowed to walk for a second or two when the cramp hit to breathe it out. I made it to mile 25 (11:47), and to a sign saying that there was one mile to go. Miraculously I was able to get it together and (slowly) run the whole last mile (10:36). 

Despite not feeling very well for the majority of the race, I never got upset or emotional. It didn't go great (understatement of the year), but despite how not great it went, I really was fine. This was by far the least emotional I have ever been during a marathon, but still, something at mile 25.5 made suddenly made me think about how surreal this was, how I was about to finish a marathon, 26.2 miles! I did tear up for a second then. I have run good marathons and I have run bad marathons but regardless of how the previous 25 miles went, getting to that last mile or less always feels amazing.

Richmond is famous for its downhill finish, as the last half mile winds downtown with a descent that leads to the final quarter mile straight down a steep hill. It's so steep I always have to remind myself to be careful and not to fall (thankfully this year I was not running quite so fast that that was as much of a problem but given my last splits, the 8:50 last 0.2 that I ran is pretty indicative of the extreme descent!).

You can see the start of the downhill with about a quarter mile to go - it just gets steeper from there to the finish!

Official Time
(10:26 pace) 

So, ouch. I completely missed my A (4:10) and B (4:18) goals and only hit one of my C (4:28 or 4:30 or 4:36 - couldn't nail that one down) goals, pretty much by the skin of my teeth. That was not what I had hoped for but wasn't far off from what I was expecting given the circumstances. I have never been good at pacing marathons, but I ran the biggest positive split I have ever run (2:03/2:33). Yikes. My slowest few miles were slower than any miles I have ever run ("run"?) in a marathon. Ever. (I checked). And I've run two of them 15-20 minutes slower than this one. I still kind of can't believe the second half went as poorly as it did. Mentally it wasn't the worst I have ever felt in a marathon, and it was the best I have ever felt when things went really wrong, which I guess is some kind of weird victory, but objectively it was pretty awful.

I know that even without being sick I wouldn't have been in PR shape, but I think I could have solidly run a 4:15 if I had spent the week and a half before the race healthy and the race itself being able to breathe, not coughing, etc. This was actually smack in the middle of my marathon performances (3:58, 4:18, 4:28, 4:36, 4:49, 4:57) - that's median, not mean - so not my best and not my worst. It's closer to my worst than to my best, which doesn't feel great, but oh well. I probably should have started more conservatively and might have had a better second half if I had done that, but I really did my best mile to mile, all things considered, and that's all I can really ask for.

I least there's that

I wish training for this race had gone much better than it did, and I wish the race itself had gone better. I don't care that much, but I would be lying if I said it didn't bother me at all. I think the think that bothered me most was constantly having to make excuses, at first for my injury and then for my sickness. I actually did enjoy training overall, but I think that's the one thing that made it not as enjoyable as it could have been, or at least different from all my previous marathons. I've never gone into any of those feeling undertrained and definitely never sick, and I wish I had been able to run this race at my full potential. I didn't get to, and that's fine, but I wish I had. That's the truth.

For all the hype this marathon gets, I'm not sure if I would run it again. There were some beautiful parts of the full course that I had never gotten to see on the half course, but I'm not sure if there were enough of them to make the full a must-do. The 8 miles or so on the other side of the river felt a little long to me. I definitely think I'll run Richmond again, but I think in the future I will stick to the half since in my opinion that's a long enough distance to highlight some of Richmond's best areas. The full was nice overall but there were some parts I didn't really care for, and it just wasn't nice enough overall for the full to be a repeat for me. Not saying I'll never do it again but I'm definitely not in a hurry.

I wish I had done better but I am proud of myself for never giving up. I think this training cycle and this race did a lot for me mentally to prove to myself that I can adapt when things don't go as planned. I didn't give up when I got injured, I just adjusted my training to back off when and how I needed to. I didn't give up during the race just because I was sick, and I adjusted my expectations when my body started breaking down. In the past this turn of events would have made me really frustrated and upset and would have elicited lots of mid-race tears, so the fact that none of that happened is at least something I can be happy about. Silver linings, or something?

And, I guess most importantly, I ran the entire race and finished pain-free, something that truly seemed like an impossibility just a couple months ago. As crappy as my race was, at least it wasn't painful (at least not in the bad, injury way) and for that I am truly, truly grateful.

At the end of the day, I'm chalking this up to a 26.2-mile training run. Next stop: Seashore Nature Trail 50k!

Richmond Ready

I just want to preface this by saying that overall - objectively, not meant to be taken in any particular way - that I did not train for this as well as I have trained for my other marathons. Not that I trained poorly, but for the majority of training my focus was not on getting in miles and getting faster but on rehabbing an injury (which I've never had during marathon training before). I missed 3 long runs total, 2 of which were pretty key runs (an 18- and a 20-miler), and I don't think I've ever missed more than 1 during any previous marathon training cycles. I don't think I've missed 3 long runs, total, out of all my previous marathon training cycles. But regardless - and I know this sounds like a cover-your-ass kind of thing or a thing people say to make themselves feel better, but I really mean this: I am really happy and really proud that I made it this far and my big goal is to get to the start line and then over the finish line.

I came in to this training cycle feeling a little physically burnt out. I've only recently started putting the pieces together on this, but I think I was a little overtrained this spring. I had a lot of life stuff going on at the time that 100% factored in to my blowing up at Ocean City in April, but even without that stuff I felt the best physically during Shamrock in March, yet continued full steam ahead until Ocean City about a month and a half later. I was never mentally burnt out though, but I still took some time off from running and backed off on my mileage in the couple of months after O.C. By the time marathon training came round in July I was really excited about it. I was really looking forward to this race and felt really good about it, and about my training plan, and I was psyched to start. So mentally I was in a good place, one that I had struggled to get back to and I was really happy about that. But I think I made a mistake not recognizing that I had overtrained in the spring and then trying to keep that same level and then advance it for the marathon. I think I just did too much too fast, which all kind of makes sense when I look back at it now. It didn't at the time but it does now.

But as excited as I was for marathon training, it did not by any means go how I expected. This whole year for my running has been so different, and this training cycle in particular has been unlike any I've ever experienced before. Every training cycle is a little bit different, of course, but this one was full of curveballs and there were many times I thought the smart and right thing to do would be to drop to the half marathon. I never really considered dropping out entirely because I was confident I could get through the half, but I had times I thought about dropping down and might have if not for my brother-in-law also running it (his first marathon!), and also wanting to do my 50k in December. Obviously the 50k was not contingent on me running Richmond, but it did mean that I couldn't back down on distance overall so I decided to try to stick it out.

Starting marathon training in the middle of the summer was something I have never done before, and of course that was difficult. My pace suffered, as everyone's does and as I knew it would - I was prepared for that, but I still found myself struggling to hit paces that I should have been able to hit based on previous times. I'm not an expert or a coach and I don't really know anything about anything, but I think I was still feeling the repercussions of overtraining in the spring because by the time marathon training started in July it felt even harder than usual.

On the flip side, I think I did a good job of not getting frustrated by that. I definitely had runs where I was frustrated, and don't mean to pretend like I didn't, but I think overall I was more able to accept where I was and the paces I was running (or not running) better than I have been able to previously when I haven't been able to perform like I think I should. So even though I had some runs that left me frustrated or upset or wondering what was going on with me, I didn't let it get to me and just moved on. That's the main reason why in the beginning I didn't write or talk about training - there was really nothing to say about it. I was running slower paces than I have in a really long time and I really didn't have anything insightful to say about that - that's just the way it was.

So for the first third of training things were going okay but nothing special. Then the middle third was when I was going through my hip/glute injury, showing up to most of my runs not knowing for sure if or how far I was going to make it. I was able to make it through the majority of them, but I had to slow down even more than I already had been. Any semblance of speed work was completely off the table indefinitely. Thankfully it never got bad enough that I had to totally quit training and I did my best to deal with it to take it day by day. Around week 10 those days turned into an entire week where I knew that pushing myself to run would not be the correct decision, and so I missed a whole week of training. I think most runners can relate that sometimes that's the hardest thing to do, but actually it was pretty easy for me, and that tells me I made the right decision. I kept my eye on the prize the whole time and in the past that's been really hard for me, so I'm really proud of myself for recognizing that I might be able to get through 40 miles one week but it might cost me the marathon, and that those 26 miles were more important than the miles I had to do that day or that week.

The last 6 weeks, the last third of training, has been pulling the pieces together at the last minute the best I can. For a while it was touch-and-go but for the last 3 weeks, maybe 4, but I went to see a physical therapist and was able to get everything working again. I've been able to run pain-free for about 3 or 4 weeks now, which has been great but is certainly not enough time to get totally back on track. At this point the ship has pretty much sailed as far as getting in quality training, so the last few weeks my focus has been on getting in my long runs and making up as much lost time as I can without putting myself back where I started and getting injured. 

So it's been an interesting and unpredictable training cycle. certainly not what I wanted at the beginning. I went into this hoping a PR was somewhere out there but not feeling in any way, shape, or form confident that that was a real possibility. I realized pretty quickly that my fitness was not quite there and I'm honestly really fine with that. I know it's coming up on 2 years ago at this point, but I'm still beyond thrilled that I was able to run a 3:58 at Shamrock last spring. It feels like eons ago but it really wasn't that long ago, I've accomplished so much since then. A marathon PR this fall would have been nice if that's the way things had panned out and if that's where my training had led me, but it hasn't and I'm still very pleased with that PR. I have no idea when or if I'll be in a position to break that but I'm happy leaving it on the table as a future goal to strive for and knowing that now just isn't quite the right time.

So goals! I have some, but they come with the caveat that I don't know what to expect. I really don't. My pace has been kind of all over the place and I really don't know how to gauge what I'm capable of on race day. I just haven't done enough long long runs this training cycle or recently to feel like I really have a handle on them, so that's leaving me unsure of what's realistically possible and what's not. But with that said...

C Goal: 4:30 and/or faster than my Ironman marathons (NC - 4:28, Louisville - 4:36)
I would like to think I can run a standalone marathon faster than those but maybe not? But maybe. I hope so. I wouldn't be super thrilled with a 4:30ish but I guess I wouldn't be super disappointed either.

B Goal: Second fastest marathon (sub-4:17)
Like I said, I'm pretty sure a PR is well off the table and has been for some time, but there's almost a 20-minute gap between my fastest (3:58) and my second-fastest (4:18), so falling somewhere in there would be nice.

A Goal: Sub-4:10
Real talk: I would just really love to not be significantly slower than my PR.

I think my plan is to start in between the 4:00 and 4:15 pacers and just see what happens! Starting with the 4:15 would be the wiser choice especially since I'm not even positive I can keep up with them, but man I would really like to at least keep that 4:00 group in sight. If I do start close to the 4:00 group I think it will be pretty obvious after a mile or two if I need to drop back, and if that happens then maybe I'll try to hang on to the 4:15 group. We'll see!

With all of that said, I am really excited to run this marathon. For a long time I wasn't, but now I finally am. It felt like it took forever to get here, especially because summer seemed never-ending, but now it's finally here and I am finally ready. It's so easy to focus on all the things this training cycle hasn't been, and all the things this race isn't going to be - not in a negative way, just in a realistic way - and not on all the things that it will be. But what is is is a big deal and a major accomplishment! It's been over a year since the last marathon I ran (IM Louisville) and over a year and a half since I last ran a standalone marathon. It's only my 7th marathon (including IM - I never know if or how to count those) which seems like a lot but also doesn't. Someone at work today found out I was running this and asked how far and when I told her 26.2 miles she was taken back a little and said, "You can run 26 miles?!" and I immediately responded, "Yeah, I can!" In that moment it struck me how cool it was a cool thing to be able to say that. 

It took me a while to get back into the swing of things with long distance, and in the beginning 10 and 12 mile runs were a hardcore struggle. I really doubted if I would ever get back to this point. Running was just hard and then I dealt with injury and I just haven't had the opportunity to train like I really wanted to. But when I have done my really long runs I've felt freaking incredible. It truly feels superhuman being able to do this at any pace. I think because I know so many runners and triathletes and most of my friends have done half or full marathons that I forget that we're really a small subset of the world at large and that it is not normal for most people to move their bodies 26 miles. I'm excited to prove to myself that I can.

I hope that when I get to the start line I'm just happy that a) I'm there and b) I'm not sweating to death because those are the only two things I wanted this summer. I know it's so stupid and such a runner cliche to complain about the weather but the reason I run is to enjoy my surroundings and the world around me, and I am not able to do that when it's one billion degrees outside. So I hope I can stand there in the 40 degree weather, without KT tape up and down my leg, without worries or doubts about making it through the distance (aside from the normal, reasonable ones of course because marathons are inherently kind of scary), and just be glad that I made it there and that I have a body that can do this.

I think the biggest lesson I've learned this year is that just because I've done something before doesn't mean I can do it again now, or ever again. It's almost been...not like starting over, not a continuation, not a new chapter, but another book entirely. I loved that last book - it had happy chapters, it had sad chapters, and it had a great ending and I loved it - but this is a new book, completely unrelated to my last book. So this marathon is the first one of this book and that's a story I'm looking forward to writing on Saturday!