One City Triumph
When I ran my first marathon in Philly in November 2017, I swore it would be my last. Considering the little amount of training I did for that race, I performed well with a time of 4:33:25. I finished as decently as I could, took a two-hour nap, and then went to the bar to throw back some shots in light of my accomplishment. Days after that, I got really sick with flu-like symptoms. It felt like a marathon was too much on my body (alcohol didn’t help), both physically and mentally. I couldn’t understand why people enjoyed it; I basically ran it to just check off a box on my list of life experiences.
A lot has changed since then. Last summer, I signed up for a fall marathon – the Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon in Ontario, Canada. I had originally signed up with reluctancy, but overall, just had FOMO because a lot of Striders were running the Richmond Marathon. Regardless of my reasons, I was determined and eager to prove to myself that I could do this marathon better, and I did. I finished with a time of 3:47:33 – about 45 minutes faster than my first marathon. I was so proud of myself, and a fire was lit under me. I realized the Boston Marathon qualifying time for a female in my age range was 3 hours and 30 minutes. I was less than 20 minutes away. I felt like if I didn’t try to qualify for Boston, I would be doing myself a disservice.
On Black Friday (three weeks after the Hamilton Marathon), I registered for the Newport News One City Marathon. The race was on March 1, and by the time I organized a plan, I only had about 12 weeks of training. I was ready to make this race a steppingstone in my journey to Boston qualify; therefore, my goal was to hit a time under 3:40:00.
The day of the race, I was nervous, but I was confident in my training; I hit well below my target pace for nearly every training run. With that in mind, perhaps I got a little cocky. I needed to hit an average pace of about 8:21 to run a 3:39:00 marathon; I thought I could maybe push that a bit. The horn went off, and I crossed the start line. The time for my first mile flashed on my watch – 8:10. That was a bit fast, and the second mile was just as quick. I needed to pull back a bit, which I did. I started hitting right in between 8:10s and 8:20s per mile. I was finally in a rhythm.
Everything was consistent until I hit about mile 18. I was hungry. I had Huma gels with me, which I had been consuming well enough, but on this mile, I needed two. By mile 20, I was feeling a little better. The gels helped, but I didn’t know how long I could maintain my pace. It felt like I was running out of steam as each mile passed – the course became more and more baron with no crowd support on the sides. By mile 22, I was completely alone, and the pain of this marathon was really getting to my head. I started slowing down.
A middle-aged man (obviously in impeccable shape) was running up behind me and then eventually caught up to me. I was dying, and this man essentially saved me. We started to match pace, step for step.
I slowed down at mile 24 for a water stop which he ran through, but I was quick to catch up to him again. He chuckled a bit at my successful move to catch him – but I needed him. There was no one else out there on the long strip of highway we were running.
By mile 25, we had finally strayed away from each other – as in, he passed me. I was in pain. I was mad at myself for getting cocky on those earlier miles. I should have known better, but I was so confident I could do it – until now.
I ran a 9-minute mile that last mile; much slower than my 8:21 goal pace. I looked at my watch with just a stretch of pavement left – I was just past 3 hours and 39 minutes. It took every ounce of determination in my body to push through the pain and “sprint” (as much as I could) to the finish line, hoping for a sub 3:40:00 finish. My official end time was 3:40:25.
You would think that I might be disappointed by this. As mentioned, I wanted to be under 3:40:00, favorably 3:39:00. But I was THRILLED. I just ran a 3:40 marathon! That was 7 minutes faster than my last one; some seconds weren’t going to destroy my pride. I trained, and that training still showed through my performance despite a brutal finish.
I found the man that saved me in those last few miles and thanked him for running with me. We shared thoughts on how dreadful the last stretch was, as it was slightly uphill. I ate everything in sight – a bagel, a hot dog – and then went back to my Airbnb to take a nap. And no, I did not celebrate with shots this time. Instead, I drove the 2.5 hours back home, still excited from my new PR.
The weeks after, instead of continuing to relish my 3:40:25 finish, I’m thinking about the next marathon I can do before the fall. I’m determined to Boston qualify then. I will strive to train hard this summer – that sub 3:30:00 finish isn’t going to come easy, but it will arrive with practice and confidence (perhaps not cockiness – there’s a fine line).
Written by Valerie Blaemire, strider and board member
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