The days leading up to this weekend’s Bayshore Marathon were packed with running—not so much for me, but rather for my kids. Three different track meets, starting on Monday night, continuing Wednesday for my 11-year-old with an all-city event, and ending Thursday afternoon when my 13-year-old daughter snagged a PR in the mile.

Two of these track meets took place on the very track I’d finish my final steps of the marathon just a couple of days later.

It was great to have so much going on the week prior to Bayshore – it kept my mind occupied and not dwelling too terribly on my big race – and the fact that much of it was centered on the sport of running only amplified, in a very good way, the festive feel of Memorial Day weekend and what it’s become for my family. Not only is it the unofficial start of summer in Michigan but it’s also a tradition of running together; I ran the marathon while Joe and our boys ran the 10K, and Emma joined my dad and mom in cheering us all on.

A family moment, post-race. So thankful for their love and support. (And Andrew (far left) got his PR in the 10K!)

A family moment, post-race. So thankful for their love and support. (And Andrew (far left) got his PR in the 10K!)

I went to sleep Friday night, the night before the race, feeling strong and ready. Nervous and excited. And worried just a tad about an ever-so-whiny upper left hamstring. I rolled it out using the Orb deep tissue massage ball, borrowed from Pam, and pleaded with Joe to give me a rub-down. I pushed aside my fears that this twing-y muscle would be a problem during the race. I slept well, thanks to taking a couple of Calms Forte, an all-natural sleep aid that I discovered through my friends Dimity and Sarah over at Another Mother Runner. (They, too, swear by these the night before a race.)

After 18 weeks of hard training, through our longest winter in recent time, I was ready to do this. My mind was set on making the most of my dedicated training and the near-perfect weather forecasted for the day.

(I’ll add that this is a little foreshadowing, this talk of mental strength I felt I had going into the race…because as it would happen, my mental strength was truly tested in the final miles of the marathon. Again. Like always.)

Unlike my other two Bayshore races, I’d be running with a friend for these 26.2 miles. Katie, who is planning to do next month’s 40-mile Solstice Run here in northern Michigan, had been training with me the past several months. A local running coach (and speedy runner), Katie was able to get into the marathon when a friend couldn’t run it and transferred her race bib. I honestly was both happy and a little scared to have Katie join me—I knew she’d help push me (in a good way) to stay strong and hopefully help me re-qualify for Boston.

Nearing race day, as we logged our longest long runs of 17 miles, 18 miles and 20 miles, I grew increasingly pleased with our pace. I felt I was growing a bit stronger and faster, with her by my side. In addition, with Pam joining me at the track for speed workouts that were equal parts tough and satisfying, I began to feel that I truly could reach my “A” goal of running a sub 3:40. (I needed a 3:45 finish time or better to qualify for Boston, but I also wanted a PR, which meant bettering my 3:41 time from last year.)

The trick would be, I figured, to keep it controlled the first few miles. To not go out too fast. (And, yeah, of course to also have the strength and grit to maintain a strong pace for the rest of the race.)

Starting easy was no problem for the first mile, with the crowd of runners making their way through the campus of Northwestern Michigan College. It’s pretty impossible to go out fast, unless you start dodging around people. While I’m not sure where exactly we started pace group-wise – we ended up jumping into the throng a runners after the official start, thanks to long lines at the Porta-Johns – it felt like a comfortable pace.

Mile 1: 8:42

Alright. So we know we’ll need to pick it up some, but this is a good first mile. The temps are great, in the 40s, and the sun is shining. Fog hovers over East Bay as we make our way up East Shore Drive, and the group of runners around us thins between miles 2 and 4. There is plenty of crowd support, too, on this stretch.

Mile 2: 8:01

Mile 3: 7:58

Mile 4: 8:08

I am feeling good as we approach the curve at Center Road and East Shore Drive. I see two friends on the side cheering on runners – one is my longtime friend Sue, who knows I’m apprehensive yet hopeful about feeling great the second time she sees me, on the way back in, at this very section of the route. “This is it, Heather – this is your new sweet spot!” she shouts.

Next I see my friend Jil, a volunteer who is always at the aid station at Center Road and East Shore. I seek her out and smile big when our eyes meet. I’m reminded how great it is to run a marathon in your hometown.

Mile 5: 8:05

Mile 6: 8:15

Mile 7: 7:58

I’m in a groove. Feeling strong. Thinking to myself, “OK, I just need to maintain this pace the whole way through. I can do this.” Katie and I check in with each other now and again – we’re not talking nearly as much as we normally do during a training run, but we’d discussed this prior to the race. We were simply going to do what felt best, whether it was chatting the whole time, tuning into music and doing our own thing, or a mixture of both.

Mile 8: 8:01

Mile 9: 8:28

We’ve just seen the first half marathoners – the incredibly fast half marathoners – pass by us on their way to the finish. They’ve started at new spot this year, at Peninsula Township Park and climbed some hilly sections before meeting us on the relatively flat stretch of the marathon route. I love this part of the race, and this year I’m hearing even more shouts of encouragement from friends and followers of this blog (Such a boost – thank you to those of you who said my name and cheered me on!). I’m thrilled to see some great running friends, including Beth who offers a high five as we cross paths.

Mile 10: 8:06

Mile 11: 8:07

Mile 12: 8:09

Mile 13: 8:12

Bluff Road offers a few small hills on this otherwise flat marathon course. Having trained on hills, these don’t cause me any worry, and we’re up and over fine. I am starting to feel like Bluff Road is a verrrry long stretch – or is this just the beginnings of my mind starting to mess with me? – and I’m relieved when I see we’re approaching the turn-around point. The crowds swell at this point, and we’re seeing more runners as those in front of us have crested the hill at the turn-around and are on their way back in. I want to be one of these runners, I decide – I want to be on my way back in. Coming back down and heading into mile 14, I hear someone yell, “Go Heather! Go get it!” Someone else shouts, “Go, Michigan Runner Girl!” Thank you!

Mile 14: 8:24

Mile 15: 8:16

Mile 16: 8:21

Mile 17: 8:18

Along this stretch, Gail C., a runner from Frankfort, MI and an MRG reader, calls out to me. I recognize her name, from her comments on the Facebook page, and it’s great to put a face to the name. She asks us what we’re shooting for – I tell her 3:45 or better – and she tells us we’re right on schedule, even a bit ahead, given her goal time of 3:35. This gives me a boost. Maintain. Just maintain.

Mile 18: 8:27

I’ve told Katie I’m going to listen to some music and we run in step as we both get in our zone with some tunes. I’m hoping the music will keep me going strong since I’m starting to feel a teeny tiny bit of fading coming on…

Mile 19: 8:39

Mile 20: 8:59

I can feel myself slowing, and I also can’t shake the thought that I want to walk, for just a bit, to take in some fuel. Up until this point I’m taking in fuel – sports beans – every 5K, followed by sips of water without stopping at all. For the first time in a race I’m wearing a fuel belt, with three water bottles. I’m pleasantly surprised at how great this feels to have water at my fingertips, to drink whenever I want. It’s also comfortable resting around my waist. I’m hooked.

I turn to Katie and tell her I’m struggling. She shares she’s hurting, too. I tell her I want to walk for a moment, to take in some fuel and drink a few sips. We slow to a walk and remind ourselves we have time, we’re going great. This isn’t a problem to walk for a few moments.

Mile 21: 8:28

We’re back going again, and while we get into a groove with our pace, I’m keenly aware that my legs feel tired. I am trying like mad to embrace that uncomfortable-yet-manageable hard pace. I think about the times I ran 8 – 10 miles and immediately got onto the track for speed workouts. I practiced running on tired legs. I’ve got this. I should have this.

My oldest son, Andrew, asked me a couple of times this past week what I think about during a marathon. “It’s such a long time to be running, Mom.” I tell him I think of nothing and everything, of my surroundings and also of him and his brother and sister, of their dad. I tell him I’ll be thinking of him as he and his dad and brother run the 10K. A mantra Katie and I and our running friends have embraced lately – “We GET to do this” – is something we repeat to each other a few times at this point in the race. We talk about our kids, how lucky we are to have them, how grateful we are to be able to run and to be healthy, and to have healthy and happy kids. We’re doing this for ourselves, but we run for our families, too.

Katie (white visor, pink armbands) and me as we make our way back onto East Shore Drive.

Katie (white visor, pink armbands) and me as we make our way back onto East Shore Drive.

Mile 22: 9:42

We’re back to East Shore Drive, where music is thumping and spectators are cheering for all of us who have reached the homestretch of this marathon. 4 more miles. 4.2 more miles. We can do this.

I’m still fading, though, and I’m discouraged. I want to feel strong here at this point. I’ve worked HARD to feel strong here—right here! We walk through this aid station and I can’t seem to get enough water. I take two cups. Is it getting warmer out?

Mile 23: 9:47

Our amazing friend Pam is suddenly there, smiling so big and telling us how great we’re doing. She’s volunteered this morning, part of the pace corral group of volunteers, and now she’s cheering us on, asking us if we need anything while running alongside us. I’m sure I grunt something, and I hear Katie say, “Tell us some good running stories.” We learn that Erin, who trained with us throughout the winter and is running the half, has finished strong and had a great race. I’m so happy to hear this as I try to stay focused and keep going. One foot in front of the other.

Attempting to stay strong (and happy!) in the homestretch.

Attempting to stay strong (and happy!) in the homestretch.

Mile 24: 8:46

Knowing very well my desire to re-qualify, Pam pushes us forward. “No regrets,” she tells me when I just want to stop One. More. Time. For just a second, to catch my breath. “You’ve got this. You girls are so amazing. I’m so proud of you both,” she tells us.

Mile 25: 9:08

Mile 26: 8:41

OK, legs. Keep it going. I know how very close we are to the finish. I also know I’ve slowed down enough that I’m cutting it tight time-wise, if I want to make my goal of 3:45 or better. We round the final corner before the college entrance – once we’re there, it’s just a half mile. A half mile! And yet…it’s still a ways, in my twisted-up mind. Pam comes up alongside me, puts her arm at my back, and encourages me to just keep going. I love her for this, though I’m sure I’m not showing her any gratitude. “We’re doing this, we’re almost there,” I hear Katie say.

We’re about to hit the track. Out of the corner of my left eye I see Joe and our youngest, Alex. “Go, honey, GO!” he shouts. He later will tell me how he was worried about me getting the time I wanted – he knew how close I was to 3:45.

The final sprint on the track feels so tough, but we push forward together and cross at the same time. I’m forever thankful for Katie and how she ran with me the entire time. I see Krista, another of my great friends who ran Boston earlier this spring, at the finish line (she’s at the VIP tent her employer ATI has set up in the infield next to the finish.) Is there anything better than seeing friends and family at the finish of a marathon?

After catching our breath, accepting our finishers’ medals and water bottles, we head to the ATI tent, where I’ll eventually get heavenly a post-race massage. First, though, I find my family. I’m an emotional mess upon seeing them — I always am this way after races, especially the marathon.

We did it! Left to right, that's Erin (rocked the half marathon), Katie, and me.

We did it! Left to right, that’s Erin (rocked the half marathon), Katie, and me.

I’ve always wanted to be honest and forthcoming on this blog, and so I have to say that now, as I write this recap a few days after the race, I’ve experienced such mixed emotions. Mostly I am thrilled — I reached my goal of re-qualifiying, I ran my heart out, and I was able to do so alongside a great friend — but I’m also struggling with some “what ifs” and “how comes.” Namely, what if I wouldn’t have stopped to fuel? And, how come I needed to do this during this marathon yet never did in the two previous Bayshore marathons? How come I couldn’t achieve my “A” goal of sub-3:40, especially given my hard training efforts?

As we runners can do, I’ll ruminate for awhile, I’m sure. I’ll analyze and wonder … and analyze some more. But I’m also hopeful I’ll focus on what I DID accomplish and what my body IS capable of doing. And I’ll keep moving forward … next up, after all, is the M22 Challenge, a run-bike-kayak race in two weeks that I’ve come to embrace as my favorite way to kick off summer and to keep my body — and mind — in the state of motion it craves so much. Onward!

A beautiful reminder from Krista, a gift given to me after the race.

A beautiful reminder from Krista, a gift given to me after the race.

Did you run one of the Bayshore races? How did it go for you?

How much time do you give yourself to analyze a race? 

What’s next on your race calendar?

Coming soon to the blog: a race recap of the Bayshore Half Marathon by MRG contributor Heather Quinlan. Stay tuned!

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