CIM - My Unicorn Story
As I’m sitting on the plane back to Austin, I figured this was the perfect time to write down all my feelings on the race. Basically since the second that I finished, I have been a blubbering mess. To be honest, I know that I was tearing up even before I crossed that finish line. It was a surreal moment and I had told myself that if I qualified, I was going to cross the line, one fist up in the air, shouting out a Shalane “Fuck yeah!” As I rounded the final two turns of the CIM course, as the Capitol came into view and I looked down at my watch and saw 3:27:xx, I realized that what I had believed and wanted so badly was going to come true. I had hit that magical Boston qualifier time. I had gotten my unicorn.
But, before all that was actually possible, there was a lot of behind the scenes work. In the spring, I took an entire season to work on my volume, consistently running 55-60 miles a week, more than I had ever been able to consistently run. I put together a relatively uninjured season (for me, at least) and went to Vancouver to toe my first marathon in close to three years. I learned a lot on that race course and it wasn’t my day and I had a terrible crash and burn, finishing well off my goal in 3:49.
My Vancouver race report is here: “A Marathon Takes a Village.”
I had told myself that I was done racing marathons because I had always felt like I was a horrible racer. I just never seemed to be able to put it all together on race day. The pressure and anxiety of the day always seemed to get to me. But, sometimes I can’t avoid peer pressure and when Rogue selected CIM as the fall marathon, I couldn’t say no.
Jump to the summer when I was consistently running 50-55 miles a week, but adding in workouts. Again, a huge negative to my training was that I was never able to stay healthy long enough to put together a solid block. But, this season, with my volume base, I found that I could easily incorporate workouts into my training. I added barre workouts in as my strength training and ditched my Crossfit regimen. I think that the low-impact, finer movements and “muscle burn out” that barre provides really helped me learn to engage my glutes and prevented the normal fatigue during the marathon. (See related: “How Barre Changed My Body For the Better.”)
I joined the Rogue Morning Show and linked up with some of the most inspirational, motivational people that I’ve ever had the privilege to run with. I can’t say enough good things about all the miles and hours spent running with Tim, Vanessa, Lauren and Jackie. Together, we formed an unbreakable pace group. But, more importantly, I found some seriously amazing friends and women who profoundly inspire me to work harder, be better, and most importantly, help each other. The level of support and camaraderie is hands-down one of the pinnacles of the Rogue Running community and something that I’m so proud to be apart of. I 100% dedicate this unicorn to all of my friends because, without them, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to say that this goal was possible. But they made me believe!
Cut to race weekend. We flew out of Austin Friday morning on the direct flight to Sacramento with at least half the plane being members of the Rogue community. We were 215 runners strong going to the race so it made sense but the energy on the plane was electric - not to mention everyone was getting up to walk around in the airplane. I’m sure we drove the flight attendants nuts!
A few people have asked me (in the retelling of the story) if I knew that I was going to qualify. I can honestly say as soon as we landed in Sacramento, I knew. As we were exiting the airport on the escalators, there was a giant geometric rabbit, two stories high. It looked so identical to my tattoo, I just knew that it was a sign that this was going to happen.
We checked in to our hotel at the Kimpton Sawyer (such a nice stay, by the way!) and headed out to the expo to grab some pre-race nutrition and arm warmers, as well as our bibs. The start looked to be a perfect temperature and I was as excited to race a marathon in 39 degrees as to finally hit the start line uninjured. We had dinner at the restaurant Red Rabbit (another sign!) where I indulged in my usual pre-race burger. It was pretty much as amazing as I believed that it would be. Thank God for trashcan stomaches.
Friday night was rough. I tell you this because not every race weekend is completely perfect. I woke up about 2am on Friday night with the worst headache I’ve had in my entire life. The second that I moved, my head pounded and I was nauseous. I’ve never had a migraine in my life and I remember having one horrific moment where I whimpered, “Oh no! Please!” Paul got up in the middle of the night to find some Advil (which I found out later included a late night Uber trip to 7/11!) so that I could get back to sleep. It seemingly worked and I woke up on Saturday morning with a dull ache, but something I was sure would be cured by breakfast and a shake out run. Thankfully, that was the case, because by mid-day on Saturday, my headache finally subsided. In hindsight, I’m sure that my insane race anxiety coupled with poor electrolyte management (and possibly a little bit of atmospheric pressure) led to the headache, but there were a few moments on Friday night where I thought that the race might not happen.
We had our Prep ‘n Pump talk with Coach Chris and Rogue on Saturday afternoon. It basically amounted to one thing - “You can’t do epic shit with basic people.” It was the complete synopsis of my entire training cycle. This wasn’t a solo adventure - we worked together, and we worked our asses off. Even my sit down with my coach before the race echoed the same sentiment. When I was retelling my pace partners what we had discussed in our meeting, I realized that we never once talked about pace. We talked about dissociating from the pressure of the race, using the power of the pack and letting everything else just roll. My mantra for this race was, “This is fine.” Yes, just like the dog in the comic. This is fine. Let it roll. Dissociate from it all. Rhythm and flow. Suffer better. Come and take it. I used all of these during the race.
We were up at 4am, downstairs in the hotel lobby at 4:40am, on the buses by 5:00am. It was a 45 minute drive to Folsom, the start of the race. Insert standard race prep, quiet self-reflection on the bus as we waited for the 7am gun time start.
I knew I had it at the start of the race. As the national anthem played and I looked out through the crowd (okay, into the back of the tall people around me), Lauren squeezed my hand and smiled. I started to tear up as the gun went off. I knew then it was going to happen if I just let the pack lead me; rhythm and flow. At the first quarter mile, Tim ran up beside us (she had a much faster goal) and whispered her good luck praises. Andrea ran up a few moments later and when she said she was going for 3:25 too, we welcomed her into the pack. I loved Andrea in training for her consistency in pacing, so I was happy to have her with us.
The miles ticked by. I’d like to say that it felt easy from the start and stayed that way, but I was a little nervous on the first 10k. I felt like we were going really fast and that the “gently rolling downhills” were a lie. This was harder than I thought the first 10k of a race should feel. I started to get a bit nervous, but I heard my coach’s voice in my head telling me to dissociate. Rhythm and flow. This is fine.
I really couldn’t tell you much about the course. There were some farms. There were some hills. I was so focused and dialed in that I didn’t see most people on the sidelines. I didn’t even try to distract myself. I just hung tight to Lauren and Andrea’s shoulders. They knew what to do. Just follow. I don’t even think I checked my watch.
At mile 13, I saw Becky. Lauren was having some issues and told us we were about 10 seconds off our pace time. I knew that Becky had it handled and I just dialed in. Zoned in. Forgot everything else.
At some point, Lauren fell a bit behind and so did Andrea. It was just Becky and I alone, and I looked down and saw that we were averaging 8:00/mile. The original MGP goal had been to maintain 7:50s throughout, but I had done the math and knew that if I maintained a 1:45 half (8:00/mi average) that I would come in under the 3:30 time cutoff. Even though I was part of the 3:25 goal, and I had faith in my ability to run those paces, I can honestly tell you what I saw on that clock was 3:28. When you asked me to visualize the finish line, I saw 3:28 loud and clear. So I focused on that.
At mile 16, I knew I had it. I can’t explain it really; I just felt it. I’d never felt so damn good at this point in any marathon. I felt like I was out for an easy (ok, not so easy) long run. I felt comfortable. I knew I had it if I just held on. It’s probably at this point that I croaked out to Becky, “I’m going to Boston today” and she responded with a resounding, “Yes, you are!”
I started counting down to 20. I told myself I was done if I got to 20. I know that people say that the real race starts at that point, but I knew if I got to mile 20 on pace, I had it. I knew I wouldn’t give it up then because at that point, it was mine to lose.
At mile 18, I started seeing the carnage. The rolling hills had gotten to a lot of runners and I was surprised to see so many people walking. I started seeing my friends. In my head, I wanted to reach out to them, but Becky shouted at me that it was my day and I couldn’t focus on anyone or anything else. I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t give me that shark feeling. There was blood in the water and I was feeling strong.
At mile 20, I was on pace. I had it. I’m not one for too much course prep. Given my insane race anxiety, too much knowledge of a course doesn’t help me. But, I was aware that the rollers had leveled out. I know that we had been warned that this might be the hardest part, since the downhill would quit, but I felt stronger than ever once I was out of the hills.
At 22, Becky told me that we were going to speed up. She knew (and I knew) that my coach had written in a close to the race plan, but I’m a conservative plan kinda girl. I knew that I could maintain with the best of them. But, this was my marathon and this was my day.
J Street is a special kind of street. Something about the fall-colored, tree-lined streets, I focused in and it was tunnel vision. At 23, we started to push harder. It hurt but I told myself that I could maintain this level of pain. I didn’t feel like I had suffered enough on the course (I still felt so strong!) and I wanted to lay it out there. This is fine.
At 23 or 24, I saw Tim. I couldn’t help shouting at her, “COME WITH US!” but I don’t think she heard me. I was running near another girl from the Morning Show, Liz, and used her to pace and race with the final two miles.
No one passed us in those final miles. We were pushing hard and I was acutely aware of how sore my quads were getting. I clocked my final mile as the fastest of the day (I think) at 7:40, well under my MGP and a close of about 20 seconds a mile from my average pace for the last half. My two halves combined were nearly mirror images; I think a positive split by about 40 seconds.
I came flying into the final turn and I looked down at my watch and saw 3:27:xx. I started crying. Hell, I was probably already crying as we rounded the final corners. All the hard work and miles were leading up to this moment. I crossed the finish line and stopped. My legs buckled and I hit the ground. Some nice medic helped stand me up and walk me over to pick up my medal.
Finishing just moments after me, I saw Lauren cross the line and then moments after her, I saw Tim. We all hugged and cried. I don’t think I’ve ever ugly cried so hard in my life.
As we walked out of the finisher shoot, the crowd parted and I saw my coach Chris and Paul standing there. I immediately ran to Chris and gave him the biggest hug (plus more ugly crying). It felt so good to know that I was capable of so much. I did the work; I laid it all out on the course.
It’s incredibly powerful to look back at the race and say, “I did that.” As someone who has DNF-ed as many marathons as I can say I’ve raced, this was a huge trust of faith in the process for me. I used to think it was silly that you could envision something and make it happen, but I’m proof that hard work and determination works. When you step back to focus on the goal and tune out all the negative - the voices in your head, the external forces - there’s magic. There was magic on the course today.
To everyone who has struggled with the marathon or had a bad race, I’ve been you. Repeatedly. But the strength of the runner is how resiliently you can get back up every time you’ve been knocked to the ground. Let your failures give you new life. Ever tried; ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Suffer better.
And to my ladies: Yes, today I did this. These legs ran this race. But through you strong, amazing, protective and caring women, we made it happen. There’s such power in the pack.