I finished my 6th full marathon! Recapping the 2018 Baltimore Marathon

3:53.

I had a weird premonition last week that my time in the Baltimore Marathon would be 3:53.

And — it came true! I finished my 6th marathon in 3:53:21. It may have been the toughest course I’ve run.

It’s way off last December’s PR and BQ, but that’s fine. I didn’t train anywhere near as hard for this race as I did for that one, and PRing in Baltimore wasn’t my goal. My goals were to have fun, and more importantly, run with my friend Tammi as she conquered her first marathon — and hopefully help her accomplish her goal of a sub-4 marathon!

And she did it! We crossed the finish line at the same time (actually, she was a few seconds ahead of me!) Honestly, knowing what a great runner she is, I had no doubt she could and would run a sub-4 marathon. I am so proud of her!

The morning of the race was a bit of a cluster, but that was entirely my fault. Micah and I got up to Baltimore around 6:45 am, plenty of time to park and use the bathroom before the 8 am race start. I merely skimmed the runner’s handbook and all of the other bazillion emails that the Baltimore Running Festival organizers sent out, so I dragged us several blocks away from the marathon start line and toward the start line of the half marathon and 5K. When we realized my mistake, Micah, who was not running and was there to cheer me on and support me, was understandably annoyed.

“Why can’t you read directions?” he asked.

“I don’t know! Why did you bring that huge camping chair here?” I snapped.

(True story. He said standing for several hours to watch me run a marathon would be too hard — um, harder than RUNNING IT?! — so he brought a camping chair to sit in. I was nervous for the race and it pissed me off more than it should have, especially when I realized my mistake. My husband is really kind of a saint for putting up with me. But I digress.)

Anyway, after a bathroom stop at Starbucks, I finally got my shit together and we headed back to Camden Yards, where the marathon began. I got in line around 7:45 am and Tammi found me a couple minutes later. I told her we should start out with the 4-hour pace group and then see how we felt later on in the race. I thought we could stay with them for maybe the first half or so and then surge ahead in the second half to go sub-4.

Uh, yeah, best laid plans and all that. I think we moved ahead of the pace group by mile 4.

The thing about the Baltimore Marathon course is, the first half is kind of a breeze. It’s mostly flat with some big downhills, and that makes it tough to hold back. My favorite part of the race was running through the Maryland Zoo, where zoo workers stand along the course with animals, including a penguin and a rabbit. So fun. We ran miles 6 and 7 in the low 8s, but we also knew that the back half of the course was really hilly, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to bank some time where we could. (Yes, I know the strategy of “banking time in the marathon” isn’t usually the best, but I don’t regret it with this course.)

We hit the Inner Harbor at mile 9 and saw Tammi’s family, including her sister, her husband and little boy (who was holding a sign that said “My mommy is faster than your mommy!”) and her parents. Her sister was running her first half marathon, and she and their mom and dad flew in from Texas to watch. (I did not see Micah and his camping chair then, but I’ll let that one slide ;)) Mile 9 was actually our fastest of the day– we ran that one in just under eight minutes.

At that point, the course cruises down Key Highway and through Locust Point with a turnaround at the Under Armour headquarters, and then back through the Inner Harbor, so Tammi got to see her family twice! We also ran past the start line of the half marathon just as we were hitting the halfway point in the full marathon.

We also started to notice that our Garmin watches were not matching up with the mile markers, and we were hitting our mile splits about a third of a mile before we actually saw a mile marker sign. I realized that we probably added extra distance onto our race by weaving in and around other runners earlier. Whoops.

I was still feeling really good, though I was not thrilled to hit the Harbor East neighborhood and step onto those big cobblestones. Oof. Tammi and I jumped up on the sidewalk to run on a more forgiving surface, and fortunately, the road evened out soon after.

Around mile 15, Tammi told me she was starting to feel negative. “We’re more than halfway there,” I told her. “You can do this.”

Mile 16 is where the infamous merge of the half marathon and full marathon takes place at Patterson Park. I’ve heard a lot of runners complain about it, and for good reason. If you’re running the full, you’re cruising along at your pace and all of a sudden hundreds of half marathoners pour into the street and it really clogs things up. I ran the half in 2016 and 2017, so I remembered the merging of the races, but I definitely noticed it a lot more running the full. I definitely almost crashed into another runner and we added another tenth of a mile onto our race by trying to maneuver around slower runners.

Because I had run the half before, I knew we were in for some hills. (I’ve heard people compare this course to the Boston Marathon and its hills through miles 16-20, so I hope the Baltimore Marathon was good practice!) The course was hilly from about mile 16.5 until we hit Lake Montebello at mile 20 — then we had more hills from miles 21-22. By now, my feet were really starting to wear out, but we hit mile 22 at around the three hour, 14 minute mark — so I knew sub-4 was happening unless one of us got sick or injured. And we were tired, but determined.

This is where the Baltimore Marathon really reminded me a lot of the Pittsburgh Marathon, which was my first full marathon back in 2015. In that race, I remember hitting a steep decline at mile 24 and my quads just screamed at me. The Baltimore Marathon had a similar downhill at a similar time in the race. Downhills feel great in the first few miles of the marathon — they feel terrible in the last few miles, at least to me! (And again, I hear Boston is the same way, so now I know what to expect!)

Tammi told me she was starting to cramp up, and I encouraged her to keep pushing. We hit one last steep (but short) hill at mile 25 and my stomach started to churn. I drank Gatorade at just about every aid station and I may have overdone it — usually I alternate water with Gatorade.

“Let’s finish strong and sprint when we see the finish line,” Tammi said.

“I don’t know if I can,” I said (more like whined).

At mile 26 (our watches already showed 26.2x by then!), we turned onto Pratt Street and saw Kree and Matt yelling and cheering for us. Then I saw Micah smiling and waving. Tammi and I sprinted as fast as we could — my watch shows we did the last few tenths of a mile at a 7:05 pace! — and crossed the finish line.

She cried, I cried, we hugged, and then I promptly vomited into a grate in the road. My first finish line puke! I’m so proud! A medic came over and asked if I needed to go to the medical tent, but I was really OK. I just OD’d on Gatorade.

My final stats (Tammi was 13th in our age group, so she beat me by at least a second!)

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Finishing a marathon in ANY time is quite an accomplishment, but going sub-4 for your first marathon is really something to be proud of, so HUGE congrats to Tammi! And by the way, she had some annoying stomach troubles early in the race and wasn’t feeling great, but she still pushed through and finished well under her goal!

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If you’re looking for a fun fall race to do, I highly recommend the Baltimore Running Festival. In addition to the full and half marathons, there is a 5K as well as a relay option. You can also do the Baltimoron-a-thon, and run both the 5K and the half. I did that last year and it was a blast! The crowd support is great, and you’ve gotta love the crab-shaped medals (which open up to reveal a picture of the city!)

Just know that your quads are likely to hurt the next day. 🙂

When every second counts: I got into the Boston Marathon with 8 seconds to spare

Did you ever think about what you could do in eight seconds?

Read a sentence in a book? Give someone you love a hug? Walk up a flight of stairs?

I never did, either. Until the Boston Athletic Association announced that the qualifying cutoff for the 2019 race was four minutes, 52 seconds.

I qualified for Boston 2019 at the 2017 Rehoboth Seashore Marathon with a perfect five-minute cushion — meaning I squeaked into the race with eight seconds to spare.

As many of you know, qualifying for the Boston Marathon has gotten tougher and tougher in recent years. It’s no longer enough just to hit the qualifying standard for your age and gender (which is already no easy feat for most runners.) Since 2012, the BAA has implemented a cutoff for qualifying runners, meaning you have to run a certain amount of time faster than your standard to be accepted. The frustrating thing is, you never know what that time is going to be, so it’s a moving target. Also, the cutoff has been trending upward over the last few years because more and more runners want to run Boston and are training harder and racing faster to get there. For the 2018 Boston Marathon, runners had to be three minutes, 23 seconds faster than their qualifying standard to get into the race.

For the 2019 Boston Marathon, a woman in my age group (35-39) had to run a 3:40:00 marathon to register for the race. When I was training to BQ in Rehoboth, I figured a 3:40 wouldn’t actually get me into Boston, so my goal was to run a 3:35. When I met that time exactly, I was thrilled! But as my registration date neared, I started to stress — especially as I started to see chatter online that the cutoff for 2019 would likely be higher than ever before. Would my extra five minutes be enough?

I registered on Friday, Sept. 14, and I can’t remember the last time I was so nervous about waiting for an acceptance. I wasn’t that anxious when I applied for college. I’ve certainly never been that stressed over a job application. Does that seem ridiculous? Maybe. But I knew I’d earned my BQ, and felt I deserved to be able to run this historic race. And the fact that I knew I qualified, but didn’t know if I’d make that yet-to-be-determined cutoff …. well, it drove me crazy.

Thankfully, I got my official acceptance Monday, Sept. 17! I was surprised it came that fast — there were people in my Boston Marathon groups on Facebook with much larger buffers than myself who had to wait longer. Maybe the BAA knew my impatient self couldn’t stand it? Haha.

About a week and a half later, the BAA announced the 4:52 cutoff, and I realized just *how* close I came to not getting in. I mean, eight seconds! What if I’d stopped to pee? Or lingered too long at a water stop? Eight seconds is nothing over the course of 26.2 miles.

The BAA also announced they were tightening the standards for Boston 2020, making them five minutes faster for all age groups. So, for 2020, I’d have to run a 3:35:00 or better to BQ. Personally, I’m a little bummed because I’ll be aging up for 2021 (I turn 40 in July 2020), and was looking forward to getting an extra five minutes. But now if I want to BQ for 2021, I’ll need to run a 3:40:00 or better once again.

While I’m thrilled that I got into Boston, I’m so sad for all of the qualified runners who were turned away for next year. The BAA said more than 7,000 runners were shut out of the race, which really sucks. I do feel that they all earned their spots and they all deserved to be there — but the BAA limits the field to 30,000 runners. I’ll be really curious to see what the cutoff will be for Boston 2020, if there even is one with the new standards. I’m sure there will be — but I can’t imagine it will be anywhere near 4:52.

What’s next?

In less than two weeks, I’ll be running the Baltimore Marathon! It’s my sixth marathon, and my main goal is to have fun and not blow up like I did in the B&A Trail Marathon. I’d like to run a 3:45 or better, which seems doable.

I’ve followed a 12-week training plan this time around, and it’s mostly gone well. I’ve been able to work a few races into the plan, including the A10, the Charles Street 12 and the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler in Dewey Beach. I actually had 16 miles to run the day of the Bottle and Cork, so I ran six miles before the race. Given that extra mileage, I ran the race about 10 minutes slower than last year, but that was still fast enough to get third in my age group. Can’t complain about that.

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99 percent sure I can see mascara from the previous night still smeared around my eyes. Because Dewey Beach.

I also dealt with an annoying calf strain that appeared out of nowhere two weeks ago. I was running the Run Now, Wine Later 5K fun run in Annapolis and wasn’t even a mile into the race when it just seized up. I had to DNS the Charm City 20-Miler two days later, and was so bummed. But it feels good now. I ran 20 miles last weekend and 12 this weekend, and I also got a spiffy new pair of hot pink calf sleeves to wear that will hopefully prevent this from happening again! Bring it on, Baltimore!

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My friend Tammi is going to crush her first marathon!