Okay, I’ll start with the bad news first and get it out of the way. I did not meet my goal of 3:50 at the Lincoln Marathon on May 1st.
Here’s the good news. I ran a personal record at the Lincoln Marathon. I’m still processing that information as I write. I ran a 3:53:23 which beats my time at Boston in April 2009 of 3:53:42 by 19 seconds—yes, 19 seconds. It still counts right?? Of course it does!! Not only that, I won third place in my division—the first award I have ever won in a marathon. Not only that, I qualified for the Boston Marathon for the third time in my life.
I can now say I ran the fastest marathon of my life at the age of 56—barriers broken.
I would be lying to you if I told you I didn’t feel the pressure of the 3:50 goal as I stood on the starting line of the Lincoln Marathon. I felt confident and I had trained hard, but that nagging thought of “failure” was floating around in my mind. It was a brisk 40 degrees at the start with moderate winds. 10,000 runners (including half-marathoners and marathoners) lined up to start on 14th and Vine right outside of the University of Nebraska stadium. I positioned myself with the 3:50 marathon pacers. My thinking at the time—why not? I was armed with my Garmin pacing watch and the wrist band telling me what pace I should run for each mile to average an 8:46 per minute mile. If I followed the strategy laid out for me on the wrist band, I would cross the finish line at 3:49:49…a second to spare.
Yes, simple enough, right? It seemed so when standing on the starting line as the adrenaline was rushing through my body. But my past experience told me that, once I started getting tired, trying to “think” about what pace to maintain was stressful. I also knew from past experience that I needed to listen to my body and run how I feel. I suffered in the race last Sunday because I didn’t follow my own advice.
When the starting horn went off, I began my marathon adventure with the 3:50 pace group. According to my pacing bracelet, the first mile was to be a 9:41—no sweat, I could do that. As we ran past the Nebraska State Capitol, I started to work the kinks out of my legs. The second mile was 9:09…okay, still good as we ran by historic Lincoln Street and some of the finest old homes in the city. I was fine. I felt strong (of course, it was only mile 2) and I began to relax as I enjoyed the scenic course.
By the time we were at 5 miles and running through College View on 48th, we had picked up the pace and had run an 8.56 mile, 8.41 mile and an 8.39 mile consecutively with a cumulative time of 45.07. I was doing great at this point. Even though the race was crowded with the half-marathoners, I was able to focus on the 3:50 sign as the pacers wove in and out of the crowd.
At 9 miles we approached the toughest part of the course going uphill past the Lincoln Country Club. By then we had run several miles faster than the 8:46 pace I had trained for. From this point, I cannot tell you what scenery was on the course; my entire focus was DO NOT LOSE THE PACE GROUP.
At the half-marathon point, I was still running with the 3:50 pace group. I was proud of myself. The cumulative time was 1:54:51. I remember this well because most of the runners veered off to the right leaving the hearty marathoners (only 1192 of the 10,000) to complete another 13.1 miles—ahhhh…space.
I was beginning to labor. All of my past experience was flying out the window. My only focus was on the 3:50 sign bobbing up and down a few feet ahead.
“Stay with the group. Stay with the group.”
I battled. I think it was mile 18, after a mile of sloping up and down hills, that I watched the 3:50 sign start to fade into the distance.
I was alone on the course—no group to shelter the wind and no group to share energy with. The runners were spread out on the course. I downed my second gel pack and an Advil and set my intention to finish strong.
At one point, I think mile 22, I noticed on my Garmin that I was running a 9:30 per mile pace. I decided at that point to not look at my watch again. I downed my third and last gel pack. I began to pass other members of the 3:50 pace group that had dropped from the group. It built my confidence to pass runners and I prayed for a second (or third wind) as I moved into my 24th mile. By then my legs felt like lead and the pain started to throb at each step. Why didn’t I bring another gel pack?
It occurred to me that I hit the wall but I didn’t allow that thought to linger. I was grateful for all of those training miles that allowed me to keep shuffling forward. At 25 miles, I dared to look at my watch. I noticed that if I could muster a 9 minute pace, I might be able to beat my previous PR. Wow, talk about a shot of adrenaline.
I pushed my battered body forward for the last 1.2 miles. Funny how long 1.2 miles can seem at the end of a marathon. I entered the stadium to cheering crowds. I heard my name over the loud speaker as I struggled hard to the end. When I crossed the finish line and saw the time, all of the disappointment of losing the 3:50 pace group disappeared.
I did it. I set a new personal record.
As I sit here with my body aching, I question my sanity. And I think about why it was so important to push toward this seemingly impossible goal. Why did 10,000 runners show up on a cold, windy day to run a minimum of 13.1 miles? I know the reasons are very personal to all of us who drive ourselves to achieve a goal.
Before I left on my marathon trip to Nebraska, one of my professional associates checked out my blog. She ran a marathon once a few years back and became an avid hiker. For the last several months, she has allowed herself to get tied up in work and other personal issues and has not kept up her exercise routine. When she read my blog, she told me she got inspired and scheduled her first hike in months and she was excited to do something for herself that was meaningful and fun.
If I can inspire one person to move toward happiness and health, then I have achieved my real goal with this blog. I am 56 years old and I just ran the fastest marathon of my life. No, I am not a gifted runner—not even close. I am a normal person who believes that aging can be fun and exciting. There is some truth to the old saying, “We are not getting older—we are getting better!”
Thank you for reading the blog and spreading the word. We have more barriers to break!!
Next: Marathon Aftermath—The Recovery
Lincoln Marathon review
The course was not as flat as I had hoped with various sloping miles. The first half was quite crowded and made it difficult to pick up the pace as much of the marathon was run on narrow trails. The aid stations were positioned every 2 ½ to 3 miles apart as opposed to 2 miles apart, but they were well staffed. The volunteers were wonderful and there were pace groups for every finish time 5 minutes apart. The end was spectacular in the stadium. I would not recommend this marathon to anyone serious about setting a record time if they run back in the crowd.