“Are you ready to go deep … in fact, would you be willing to go deeper and deeper and deeper? I foresee the possibility that you might benefit from diving in over your head. I suspect the fear you feel as you dare to descend will be an acceptable trade-off for the educational thrills you experience once you’re way down below … it will energize you, not deplete you … In the long run, it will enhance your freedom.”

This was my horoscope the week leading up to this weekend’s Bayshore Marathon. I’m not a big horoscope follower, but I do like the ones printed in our local alternative weekly newspaper. They’re always clever and insightful, and what runner doesn’t notice “signs” in the days and moments leading up to a big race? OK, maybe it’s just me. But something about going deeper in this passage and, of course, the line mentioning “in the long run,” caught my attention. After all, you’ve got to dig deep during a race, especially one that’s 26.2 miles.

I dug deep on Saturday.

I don’t believe I was in over my head—I trained hard and consistently for this race, and dealt with only minimal injury early on—but I also knew I was going to push myself hard with this one. I wanted to see what I had in me, what I was capable of if I followed a more aggressive training plan. If I was in fact even just a little bit in over my head, it was in the very best way, I decided. How else can we find out what we’re made of unless we go outside our comfort zone?

The marathon is the ideal way to get uncomfortable. Thing is, the discomfort really shows up in those final miles of the race. Up to that point—it could be mile 18, 20, 22, 25 when the pain really hits—you can be feeling just fine, even great. “This is awesome! I am feeling good, I just need to keep this up for another 22 miles!” Sound familiar? It can be deceiving—thinking the early miles of your marathon will mirror your final miles. The more marathons I run—this was #4, and likely the most educational one for me—the more I have become aware of how my body and my mind respond to the physical and mental challenge involved in running 26 miles and 385 yards.

Joe and Andrew after they rocked the Bayshore 10K.
Joe and Andrew after they rocked the Bayshore 10K.

We couldn’t have had better weather for the race: low-to-mid 40s and sunshine, little wind. Waiting at the start with Joe and Andrew—they ran the 10K together which started 15 minutes after the marathon—was chilly, but I’d bought a pair of Brooks arm warmers for the race after seeing the weather forecast (These may be my new favorite things in the world, by the way. I hardly noticed them on my arms, I wore them throughout the race, even as it warmed up, and I’ll even go ahead and say it: it’s hard not to feel like a badass runner wearing these).

After 18 weeks of training, not to mention a week leading up to the Bayshore that found me more nervous-excited than I ever remembered having felt before a race, I was so ready to just GO. I loved having Joe and Andrew there with me and being able to talk with them about their race, was important and a good distraction for my whirling mind as runners began lining up near the start. This was Andrew’s first 10K—a pretty impressive distance for an almost-11-year-old, if I do say so myself. So I was super proud and excited for him, and to be able to do it with his dad was pretty special, too.

Finally, it was time to get things going. I’d found a spot between the 8-minute mile pace and the 8:30-minute mile pace groups. I knew the first mile or so would be slow-going as the crush of runners made their way through Northwestern Michigan College and out toward East Shore Drive. I tried to just go with the flow, find my rhythm. I had my music ready, but deliberately kept my Bluetooth earphones off so I could concentrate on staying steady amid so many runners.

At the mile mark, the mass of runners hadn’t thinned out as much as I would have liked. Still, I held back from jostling ahead, away from the immediate pack I’d found myself in. Controlled was the word of the day (thank you, Krista).

Within another half mile, however, I found more space and kicked up my pace a bit. Those next few miles—2, 3, 4, 5 …—I felt great. The air was so crisp, the sun sparkled off a gorgeously calm East Grand Traverse Bay to our right, and I’d even seen a good friend at mile 4 that gave me a boost. My fueling was going great, too—a Roctane packet every 5K, just before an aid station. As I neared the volunteers shouting “Water!” and “Sports Drink,” I felt good about having taken in fuel and then following it with sips of water.

As I made my way onto Bluff Road, around mile 6, I got excited thinking about soon meeting up with the half-marathoners. This is a great part of the race, passing these runners who have been bused out to the halfway point of the marathon course where they begin their race. Keeping an eye out for my dear running friends—Cassy, Trisha, Beth, Julia, Bonny and Karen—was a welcome distraction at that point in the race. Between miles 9-13 the two-way running traffic grows to include not only half-marathoners passing on your left but also the fastest marathoners who have already reached the turnaround and are heading back in toward the finish. It’s inspiring to hear the whoops and hollers of runners cheering for one another.

Gift from Krista before race day: awesome running tunes to add to my playlist.
Gift from Krista before race day: awesome running tunes to add to my playlist.

Keeping in mind one of my favorite race quotes, I ran this middle section with my personality. I swung close to the spectators at a busier cheering spot to give high fives to kids holding out their hands. I smiled a lot. I chatted briefly with a few runners who fell into a steady rhythm next to me.

Toward the end of this middle portion of the race, when there are stretches of expansive shoreline to your left and very few spectators, I fell into a zone. These miles are a blur to me now. I even stopped listening to music for awhile as I kept my steady pace. I told myself to soak up the scenery, to look over at the water as much as possible.

Nearing the end of Bluff Road, getting closer to mile 20, I was feeling the effects of pushing myself at such a steady-fast pace. I reminded myself that I’d been fueling smart and I decided to listen to music once again. This helped me re-center myself. Controlled. You’ve got this. Stay strong.

10K to go. This is when the race really gets interesting. Some say this is when a marathon truly begins.

Center Road—miles 20-22 on the way back in—isn’t my most favorite part of this marathon course. It’s curvy and slightly hilly in parts, and isn’t as tranquil as Bluff and East Shore, the two other stretches of road included in the route. I kept thinking about making it to mile 22, where Krista would be waiting for me. I should be there around the three-hour mark. I’d be cutting it close.

At 3:02, I reached East Shore Drive, marking the homestretch of the marathon. Wearing her bright yellow LiveStrong shirt, Krista came bounding toward me as I neared the aid station at the corner of Center and East Shore. “Water or Gatorade?” she asked me. I think I grunted “both,” and that’s when I realized just how mentally and physically exhausted I was feeling. I wanted to be done, I wanted to finish this. I worried my wheels were coming off, that I was going to bonk. But I couldn’t—I had ample fuel and fluids. So it was mental. It reminded me of how I felt at this same spot two years prior, when I ran my first marathon.

Thank goodness for Krista’s enthusiasm and encouragement. “OK, let’s go, you’ve got this. Four miles to go!”

A week before we’d run this same stretch together, the final four miles of a 10-miler, and oh, how I wished I could have felt as fresh as I had during that run. My legs felt heavy, and my left calf was beginning to cramp ever so slightly. I had a flashback to Boston and cramping during the final miles. I’d thought that was due to the immense heat, so cramping on Saturday during this marathon didn’t make sense. It wasn’t hot. I couldn’t possibly be over-hydrated as I think I’d been in Boston.

Almost there ... (Thank you, Holly, for this great picture!)
Almost there … (Thank you, Holly, for this great picture!)

Still, I pushed forward. I tried as hard as I could to stay close to Krista, but I could tell I was fading. I’d told her I’d need her to have stories ready to share—I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be all that chatty at that point—so she kept talking, kept encouraging me and grabbing what I needed at aid stations. “What a great friend!” one woman running alongside of us said. “Yes, she is! She is amazing,” I think I said, though maybe only loud enough for myself to hear.

My pace slowed these final miles—close to 9 minutes, then two miles at 9-minute mile pace. This wasn’t good. Or, I should say, it wasn’t going to be enough to meet my goal of qualifying for Boston. I could feel it. But maybe? Maybe I’d still PR?

At this point, though, finish times and qualifying times became a swirl of numbers in my head.

Nearing mile 25, I felt myself surge a bit. Krista had been doing everything she could to pull me forward–“All those months of training in snow and ice … all those times doing Pilates … you’ve got a strong core, strong legs, let’s do this”—and I wanted so badly to keep going. I wanted it, I didn’t want it. My mind was being screwy. But then there it was—the entrance to the college, the final half mile to the track where the finish and cheering crowd waited.

I dug deep. I willed my legs to keep moving.

I rounded the corners, pushed myself up the final incline-that-feels-like-a-mountain and could see the finish line. With everything I had in me, I ran as hard as I could onto the track and the short straightaway to the finish chute. I crossed that finish line and couldn’t believe how utterly spent I felt.

Steps away from the finish...
Steps away from the finish…

I missed qualifying for Boston under the new qualifying times by a minute, two seconds. But I PR’d by two minutes. 3:41:02. Krista, Lisa and Cassy all met me with hugs and I could hardly talk—it’s an amazing thing, running such a long distance with all that you’ve got. At the end you have so much emotion welled up within you, and yet it’s so difficult, at least for me, to express anything other than sheer shock that this journey is done. I was happy at my PR, disappointed not to BQ, overwhelmed by the love and support from friends … and my family who are always my biggest cheerleaders and fans.

My dad, Joe, Emma, Andrew and Alex waiting for me to finish.
My dad, Joe, Emma, Andrew and Alex waiting for me to finish.

I took a moment to myself in the finishers’ chute, before walking on to find my waiting family. I breathed deep. I took a big gulp of water from the bottle handed to me along with my finisher’s medal. I looked up at the beautiful sun and blue cloudless sky.

I love that this race falls on a three-day holiday weekend, and also that it takes place on Saturday. I needed time to rest and recover—I have been more sore this time around compared to past marathons—and I’ve also been thinking about what’s next. This is a true sign of a passionate runner, no? I’m already looking forward to my next adventure.

I look forward to sharing more about what’s ahead—and also sharing more stories about Michigan runners, races and routes. Thank you for coming along on this journey, and I hope you stick around for all that’s to come.

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