Race report: The one in which I qualify for Boston

caitlin-albany-marathonI’m not even going to bother with trying to make this suspenseful, and besides, if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or, uh, Facebook, you probably already know. But yes, it is true – Project BQ is officially a success. This past weekend, I achieved a goal I have been working toward for the past three years. I qualified for the Boston Marathon.

In retrospect, what I was experiencing in the weeks leading up to last weekend’s Albany Marathon was a pretty classic case of taper madness.  I felt antsy over my decreased activity levels, I started second-guessing every stupid little tweak in my legs, and not even two weeks had passed after my twenty-mile run before I said to Brian, “I’m pretty sure I’ve lost all my fitness.”

This video is the most accurate description of my feelings during this time:

It was all compounded by the fact that I had trained using Run Less, Run Faster, which is a low-mileage training plan and thus totally upends every bit of conventional wisdom regarding marathon training.  My highest mileage week had me running 38 miles, which is just not how most marathon plans are conducted. I was totally bugging out and basically begging everyone I talked to who knew anything about running to reassure me that everything was going to be okay.  Ugh, I was such a needy mess!

But then last Thursday, I was driving home from work late at night, listening to the running playlist I’d put together to make sure it was going to suffice, and “Panama” by Van Halen came on.  This song has a new significance for me after watching Brian at Ironman Florida in 2013, because this is the song they play at the start of the swim leg.  Anyways, “Panama” came on, and I cranked that shit up and started rocking out as I drove through those empty streets.

Suddenly I felt the strangest sensation. It was like all of the miles I’d run, all that sweat and all that energy and all that effort, it all coalesced in my chest into a solid, powerful mass of sheer will.  And it was like all of the doubts and fears fell away, and I knew in that instant that I was going to do it.  Up until then I had been couching my language in the euphemisms of sports: “I’m going to give it my best shot,” “I’ll do my best,” etc. etc. but I was now saying, “I’m going to do it.”

Fortunately, everything converged to provide ideal racing conditions.  We picked the Albany Marathon because it boasts a really high percentage of Boston Marathon qualifiers – something like 20 percent last year – and as I ran the race I could understand why.  Not only were temperatures in the 40s and 50s, but there was almost no wind and the course was essentially flat.  (Well, flat to everyone but Floridians, but I’d modified my training in anticipation of that by running up and down overpasses every chance I got.)

I have to admit that I didn’t have the best night of sleep beforehand.  Despite that flush of confidence I’d felt the previous night, I was still awash in nerves the night before the race.  Making matters worse was the fact that the hotel room next to us was occupied by what was apparently the world’s most amorous couple. I was okay with it the first couple of times but when they started up for the third time at two in the morning, I’d had enough. I rolled over and slammed my fist against the adjoining wall, which shut them up. (I know. I’m That Person, such a sexytimes killjoy, but come on.)

So when I got up three hours later, I was feeling sort of worn out from two nights in a row of less than ideal sleep.  I dressed, drank a couple of cups of hotel coffee as quickly as I could, then started my pre-race calorie shovel fest. (These days it’s mostly hard-boiled eggs and Clif bars in macadamia nut and white chocolate.)  We drove to the Albany Civic Center and parked, then made our way to the start line to warm up.  It was pretty chilly, about 38 degrees, but because there was no wind it actually felt really nice.  By the time we finished our warm-up and said our good-byes, I was sweating under my cotton long-sleeve shirt, so I decided to get rid of it right then and run in my Kennedy Law Racing singlet with just a pair of gloves on, which I would throw away later.

Because of the recent situation with so many people meeting the BQ standard, I was aiming to come in at least three minutes below my BQ of 3:40 so as to maximize my chances of actually getting into the Boston Marathon.  I thought that attaching myself to the 3:40 pace group was risky, because it meant I’d have to speed up in the last miles to get those extra minutes, so instead I decided I’d latch onto the 3:35 group, as I could always fall off a bit and still achieve my goal. Plus the 3:35 pace leader – a guy named Greg – had run something like 42 marathons and his personal best was in the 2:40s. I felt like I would be in good hands with him.

I talked briefly with two women in my group – one of whom was from Plant City! – then the race organizers sounded a huge cannon that scared the bejesus out of everyone. It was time to run.

Our first three miles took us on a little spur through the Albany State University campus, which was really lovely and peaceful at that hour.  I noticed our pace was slower than the 8:12 we were supposed to be targeting, but I didn’t worry, as Greg had said that’d be the case and that he’d have us back on our pace by mile six, and I trusted him.

We looped through the campus, then came back out onto a main road that took us over the Flint River and into downtown Albany, where a bunch of spectators were already out to cheer us on. (That was something I really loved about this race – it was small but the community seemed to be really into it, and the volunteers were so supportive and awesome.  Southern hospitality, y’all. It is a very real, very beautiful thing.)  We stayed on this road for the next seven miles.  It was not the most scenic thing I’d ever run on, as it was basically your standard commercial thoroughfare, but I had good music on my iPod and the group was pushing the pace a bit, so those miles passed pretty easily despite the lack of pretty things to look at. I glanced at my Garmin every time we hit a mile, and I was both surprised and pleased to see that we were running almost all of those miles well under pace.

At about mile nine, though, the blahs caught me. I started feeling tired, which in turn made me feel annoyed with both Chaotic Work Schedule and Amorous Couple, and I had a moment where I was like, Do I really want to do this? I still have seventeen miles. This is so dumb. It was at that moment that Britney Spears swooped in to save the day. “Work Bitch” came on my iPod, and while I do not want a Maserati or a hot body, I knew she was speaking truth in that song.  If I wanted a BQ, I better work, bitch.

After that I felt rejuvenated, just in time for a turn into a neighborhood that surrounded a golf course and country club.  The streets were winding and tree-lined, and the houses were all stately and expensive-looking, and for a second I almost felt like I was visiting my in-laws in Princeton. My legs had relaxed a lot by this point, but I was still cautious since we were running so far under pace (with miles coming in between 7:57 and 8:09) that I didn’t dare expend a single bit of extra energy.  Many members of the pace group had a different attitude towards things.  A group of some youngish bro-types had joined us, and they were clowning on each other and telling jokes and cutting up. Part of me was entertained, but then part of me was all, “Dudes, you’re going to need that energy at mile 23. Trust.”  But hey, not my race, right?

We hit the half-marathon point at 1:47, which was a bit of a trippy feeling as it wasn’t that long ago when I was basically killing myself to hit that mark at the end of a half-marathon, and yet here I was cruising comfortably past it during a marathon.  This might be a good point to describe how all of this felt physically.  When I was first starting out as a runner I thought that what faster runners felt was similar to what I felt as a slower runner.  As I’ve gotten faster, I’ve found that isn’t the case for me. I work hard when I run, but what’s changed is my capacity to handle that hard work.  I still work hard to run those faster miles but they don’t leave me feeling like I’m going to vomit, and I can sustain that pace longer, whereas before I couldn’t.

Miles 13 through 18 were a bit of a blur. In fact, I’d locked myself so firmly in my cocoon of focus that it wasn’t until a couple of days after the race that I found out that a guy from my local running group had been with us the whole time!  The only thoughts I can really recall from that time came when I looked at my Garmin and saw sub-8:00 miles and thought, This is suicidal.  I started debating with myself over the right time to let the pace group go.  Do I play it conservatively and let them go now?  Or do I see how far I can go with this?  I opted to see how far I could go with them.

Historically, mile 18 has been the start of some really rough spots for me, as that is the point at which I am like, I’ve run how far?  And I have how much farther to go?  But being with that group of runners, even though I wasn’t talking to them or even really interacting with them at all, shielded me from the emotional desolation of those miles. Just being around them was enough to keep all those long-distance demons at bay.

And surprisingly enough, when I checked in with myself, I realized I felt decent, all things considering.  I mean, I had a sore spot in my left quad that was annoying me, and my right big toe kept jamming up against the toe box of my shoe, and my left arch was hurting, but aside from those things I felt…well, I felt okay.

It was at mile 22 that I finally decided to let the pace group go.  I had a feeling that if I kept trying to push that pace, I was going to blow up, and I wasn’t going to risk my BQ for that.  I let my pace drop every so slightly, keeping the pace group in my sights, but I was no longer in their midst.  I was okay with that.

At mile 23, a song came on my iPod that i knew just wasn’t going to cut it for these final miles, so I pulled it out of the pocket of my Oiselle Rogas – which, by the way, are the only running shorts I’ve ever found with more than one pocket – and skipped ahead until I found “Black Betty” by Ram Jam, then put it back in my pocket. At some point, though, my earbud cord got all tangled with my handheld, and I yanked my iPod out of my pocket, and it landed on the street.  My slowest mile of the race came because I had to go get the stupid thing and get it going again.  But my slowest mile was still faster than my fastest mile of my last marathon, so it’s not like I could be too mad.

I’m not gonna lie – by this point I was hurting.  I don’t even know how I managed to keep my legs going at a decent pace, but somehow I did. And instead of the usual kinds of self-talk I’ve dealt with in the past, where I had to deliberately force myself to remain positive and upbeat, this time that little part of me got super hyped up, and she was all, This is so fucking cool! Look at what you are doing!  Holy shit, you’re gonna do it!  How cool is this! Yeah, everything hurt, but who cares?  Look how fast I was running!

At that point I started doing the math and I realized that I could basically slog through those last miles at a ten-minute pace and I’d still hit my goal.  The realization that I was so close to doing it nearly reduced me to tears, but i quickly pulled myself together because I wasn’t about to celebrate my touchdown when I wasn’t even in the end zone, you know?  But that didn’t keep me from feeling totally exuberant about what was about to happen.  I ran into the water stop at mile 25 and took a cup of water from a volunteer.  He told me to keep it up and that I was doing great, and I turned to him and yelled, “HOLY CRAP I’M GOING TO QUALIFY FOR BOSTON!”

This goal I had wanted for so long was right there, so close I could reach out and grab it, so I kept running until I came up to the riverfront park, where I had to cross some railroad tracks – which the organizers had thoughtfully covered with some indoor-outdoor carpeting so we wouldn’t trip – and then get over a curb onto a sidewalk before heading into the riverfront park.  At this point, Beyonce’s “Flawless” came on, which just felt so fitting for this moment, and I picked up the pace as hard as I could.

I ran through a little tunnel and out into the finisher’s chute, which snaked through the park.  It was there that I saw Brian for the first time, and he ran out to me, crying and saying, “You’re doing it! Oh my god, you’re doing it!”  And I was! Holy shit, I was!

I looked ahead of me and saw the finisher’s line. I threw my arms up in victory and crossed the finish line in 3:34:55.

caitlin-finish-line(I actually just had to take a few minutes to collect myself after writing that, because even though it’s been three days I can still barely believe it happened. I mean, a 3:34 marathon!  A PR of 20 minutes! It’s crazy, right? It’s crazy!)

I caught my breath and hugged Brian, both of us crying and laughing at the same time. I collected my medal – which awesomely doubles as a beer bottle opener, how fabulous is that? – and my Mylar blanket and hobbled over to a folding chair by the river.  Brian had his phone, and he said Facebook had been blowing up with updates from the Kennedy Law Racing team, which had been posting updates about my race throughout the morning. (By the way, that’s like reason #276,987 why I love my team. Seriously, they are the greatest. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I qualified for Boston within a year of joining the Kennedy Law Racing team.)

My quads were totally seizing up by this time but I felt amazing in spite of that. I had just done what I once thought was impossible.  The only time I could remember feeling that proud was when I graduated from college, for crying out loud.

Later that day, after I’d showered and eaten some food and started feeling a little, I posted the following on Facebook:

You guys! I did it! And I thought of all of you and all the support you’ve given me and how you all believed in me, and it really helped lift my spirits when things got tough. This Boston-bound lady couldn’t have asked for a better group of friends. Thank you!

For what it’s worth, that goes for all of you who commented on my blog to show support for me as I set out on this quest, and really all of my other scary ambitious quests. I’ve gotten a lot better about believing in myself, but sometimes I falter, and when I know that a whole bunch of other people believe in me, it helps me to bridge the gap between where I am and where I want to be.  So thank you, from the bottom of my heart.


P.S. Before I wrap up this hella long race report, I just wanted to say that I highly, highly recommend the Albany Marathon.  If you are looking for a fast marathon in the spring in the Southeast, this is one race you should look at doing.  It doesn’t have a lot of gimmicks or frippery.  It’s just a well-organized race put on for people who simply love to run.  I cannot say enough good things about this race.  I thought it was splendid.

83 responses to “Race report: The one in which I qualify for Boston

  1. HOLY SH!T!!!!! YOU KILLED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’m grinning so widely ear to ear now. Words can’t describe how happy and excited I am for you. As I was reading, I was running those miles with you. YOU ROCK!!!!!! Congrats! You DESERVE your BQ.

    • Thank you so much! It was such a great experience, and I’m happy I was able to convey even a little bit of it in this race report. 😀

  2. You’re awesome and I just love your race reports. They’re totally gripping and I shouldn’t even read them right before bed because you got my adrenaline going. And you also got me thinking about my self talk and maybe, just maybe, I’m going to turn it around this season into the “I’m doing this” thing instead of the “I can’t do this thing.” Congratulations!

    • Hahaha – my race reports are like caffeine in word form. I love it!

      The self-talk really makes such an incredible difference. I swear by it as much as I swear by tempo runs and strength training. I hope you are able to carry that into those huge races you have coming up!

      BTW your post about the book contract yesterday really got a fire under my butt to do something about my own desire to write a book, so I guess you could say I’m happy to repay the favor. 🙂

      • You’re a fabulous writer, you’ve got a solid following already, an inspiring story (more than one), and, based on what we heard from our agent, it’s an advantage in itself just to be American! So you’ve also got that going for you. When your book comes out it’ll be at the top of my must-read list!

      • Likewise! And let me know if you need me to blurb or help out in anyway. You both know I’m huge fans of your work and I’m happy to continue supporting it.

    • Thanks! A friend shared that video with me when I posted on FB about how tapering was making me mental, and I must have watched it ten times since then. It’s perfect.

  3. Caitlin,

    What an amazing accomplishment! It was wonderful to read your race report. I ran Boston last year and you were so generous in helping me fundraise for Reach, an organization for domestic violence survivors. I live in boston and would be more than happy to give you any race or travel info. Let me know if I can be of help.

    • Thank you so much, Erica. I appreciate that! When the race gets closer – and provided I actually am accepted (not assuming anything here) – I will most likely reach out to you via email.

  4. Oooh my! You made me cry! In a good way of course! I have this stupid habbit of letting out tears when I get super motivated. And that’s just what happened now! That post is super motivational!!! I am running my second half marathon in September and starting my first crosstraining session today in 23 minutes 😎

    • Yessssss! Hope you got out there and got after it! And good luck and have fun with training for your second half-marathon!

  5. OMG your report is so amazing (and inspiring). You did the work and the results show that. Congratulations 🙂

  6. I love your blog and when I saw the title that you qualified for Boston I gave a little cheer in my office! I can barely run 5k and can’t ever imagine running a marathon but your race reports and whole attitude makes me want to be a better runner! Congratulations on your personal record and on qualifying!

  7. Ok,this might be my PMS.. but this made me cry. Congrats!
    Please share more of your training and the things you tried. I’m still in that ‘base builing’ phase, where I want to run all the miles, but have to wait for my body to catch up.

    • Aww, thanks! I will make a point to write more about my training. In the past I’ve been reticent – even though I enjoy reading about the training others do! – but I see now that people are curious, so I’m happy to oblige. 🙂

      And yeah, the base building phase is real pain in the butt. My worst running injuries came during that time, when I got all excited about running and overdid it. Oops.

  8. Amazing!!!! You kicked ass! Congratulations on making your dream of a BQ come true with years of hard work and training. I’ve been working towards the same goal for almost 3 years, and am hoping 2015 is my year too.

    • Oh yay! I’m so excited to hear that! I’m looking forward to following your progress on your blog. Any idea which race will be the one where you take your swing at a BQ?

  9. Congratulations!! Incredible!!
    May I ask you where to find more on the Run Less, Run Faster program? I’m finding FIRST Run Less and Runner’s World Run Less and can’t tell if they’re the same or what I’m looking for

    • Thank you! My understanding is that they are the same. I’m looking at my book right now and it’s Runner’s World branded “from the Experts at FIRST.” The one I have includes specific training programs for all BQ times.

  10. Oh my god. Congratulations! I love you and your blog so much. Favorite ever. If I wasn’t at work I totally would have cried while reading this, but I held it in in the name of professionalism. 😉

    • hahaha thank you! Yeah, considering that I blabbed all over social media like two seconds after it happened, I saw no point in burying the lede.

  11. WOOO! I love that you used the word frippery, too. Congratulations. I am now VERY excited to hear you talk about the different training methods you’ve used.

    • Thank you! That post is definitely coming up. One thing I will say is that I think the training programs, while very different, actually ended up complementing each other. More about that in a few days.

    • Thank you! And I’m glad to hear you got a PR out of this as well. I kept hearing all these stories about people getting injured and it not being enough mileage and it made me second-guess myself SO HARD. (Even though I never got hurt once!) Ugh, I mostly love the internet but sometimes it’s so good at creating anxiety where none existed before.

  12. My god, I don’t even run and I felt like I was right along the way with you. And I teared up a little at this: “he ran out to me, crying and saying, “You’re doing it! Oh my god, you’re doing it!” And I was! Holy shit, I was!”. Go, go, go YOU. This is wonderful, and congratulations!!! You’re an inspiration. 🙂

  13. I’ve been lurking on your blog for a while, but not sure if I’ve ever actually commented. 1) The BIGGEST congratulations on absolutely crushing your goal. That has to feel absolutely incredible!; 2) I teared up a little bit reading about the last 10k — that’s also my tar pit, and I know how hard those miles can get. As someone who’s also chasing the unicorn, I’m grinning from ear to ear for you. Also, I’m at Starbucks while doing both tearing and grinning, so I’m that girl… 3) You just inspired me to stop THINKING about registering for Chicago and actually REGISTER for Chicago, so thank you for that!

    • YES! I’ve heard amazing things about Chicago so I’m glad you’re registered to run it! How far away from catching the unicorn are you?

      That last 10K – oh man. This was my fifth marathon and it’s still as big of a challenge as ever. I keep wondering if I’ll ever get experienced enough at this distance for it not to be a “tar pit,” as you so brilliantly put it.

      • Chicago is a great race (it’ll be my 3rd, 6th overall). The crowd support is really out of this world, although if you hate *crowds*, it’s got those in spades. I’m currently sitting at 3:44, but my base has been obliterated by time and other factors, so I’m still at a “wait and see” on where this race will net me (while the Unicorn is the ultimate goal, this race is my proverbial “back on the horse” attempt, so I’m happy with “solid race with strong finish”). I’ve had wonderful final 10ks, so I know that they exist, but I’ve also had LaBrea-style efforts where the *wall* hit *me*. Much like you, I’m working on my mental game. The struggle, as they say, is real.

  14. Congrats! So happy for you…no joke got tears in my eyes and I don’t even know you. LOL.

  15. Also de-lurking to say congratulations!

    I’m also a fan of low mileage training and have turned in some of my best times with no injuries by doing so!

    • Thank you! And that’s so good to hear. I liked doing the low mileage training plan a lot and really didn’t want this to be a fluke. 🙂 I’m glad to hear that it may very well not be.

  16. I only just came across your blog today, but oh my gosh congratulations!!!!!!!! The Boston Marathon is on my bucket list and I haven’t even started thinking about working toward it. Go you!!!!!

  17. Congratulations! So great to read that you made it after hearing about the rest of your journey–you’ve earned this!

  18. Phenomenal work, massive congratulations!!! Thanks for sharing your experiences, it’s the best kind of inspiration. 🙂

  19. I saved this to read on today, this eve of marathon eve. I’m so totally happy for you, & I love your obvious ecstasy in your finish line photo. I bet that feeling will stick around for a while. AHH and it’s so great that you came in so far under the standard that you’re going to get to actually race it!! Mad respect grrl.

  20. Damn it, I devoured your race report the day you posted it, recounted every single detail to my husband and then sent him the link and insisted that he read it as well…. and then I dropped the ball on personally congratulating you. I have enjoyed following your running progress SO MUCH and I’m so happy that you not only BQ’d, but you SMASHED it!!! I am going to read this recap before every single marathon I run between now and whenever I BQ. Hope you have been enjoying recovery! 🙂

  21. Congratulations! Your race report was super inspiring (often used in the blog world, but I mean it). I’m coping with injury but now I just want to work really hard for next season and bust out some awesome times. I have so far to go to even consider a BQ, but maybe one day!

  22. That is so amazing. I can’t even run a 10K at that mile pace. I loved reading your race report!

  23. The bit where you dropped your iPod had me giggling and the bit where you passed the finish line i was in happy tears

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