Capturing the unicorn: A magical day at the 2022 Boston Marathon

Last month, I ran the 2022 Boston Marathon, my second time running this epic and prestigious race. And it was as magical as I remembered – perhaps more so. 

I didn’t go to Boston with the expectation of running a PR, even though I followed the same training plan from Advanced Marathoning that helped me run my PR of 3:26 last November at the Coastal Delaware marathon. Boston is a notoriously difficult course. The weather usually sucks. And the fact that you start later in the morning than most marathons makes fueling challenging. My main goal was to run a strong race, not blow up on the final 10K like last time, and HAVE FUN. 

I accomplished all of those goals. 

I finished the 126th Boston Marathon in 3:27:52, less than two minutes off my PR, 20 minutes faster than the last time I ran Boston, despite tripping and falling at mile 22. Yep, that happened, but I only sustained skinned knees, thankfully. I’m still on cloud nine over my experience and I am counting the days until Boston 2023! (I re-qualified at Boston, but that was really the icing on the cake since I already had a 2023 BQ from Coastal Delaware.) 

Here is my recap! 

Before the Race

I really didn’t think I’d be as excited about Boston the second time around, but I totally was. I’m not sure the thrill of running this marathon will ever go away, to be honest. It was also the 50th anniversary of female runners being officially allowed to run in the race, so it was a special year to run. That being said, I didn’t do much Boston touristy stuff, since we had done all that the last time, or really even Boston Marathon-related stuff aside from, well, hitting the expo and running the race. Micah and I decided to drive from Maryland the Friday before the race and spend Friday and most of Saturday in beautiful Mystic, Connecticut! We fell in love with this sailing town – not really surprising, as we live outside of Annapolis and Micah works in the sailing industry. We stayed at an Airbnb in an adorable 1800s farmhouse, ate at some delicious local restaurants (yes, including Mystic Pizza!) and had a blast at the Mystic Seaport Museum. I would have wanted to stay longer if we weren’t shippin’ up to Boston. We left Saturday afternoon, but not before I stopped at a local Goodwill to buy a throwaway sweatshirt to wear Monday morning in Athlete’s Village. I walked away with a zip-up from the chi chi Groton School, which, as a graduate of a public high school in Pennsylvania, absolutely cracked me up. $6 – what a deal!

 

We got to Boston a little too late to hit the expo on Saturday, so we just checked into our hotel in Bunker Hill and headed to the North End, home of many amazing Italian restaurants. We went to Riccardo’s, where I impressed the waitress with my ability to hoover a huge plate of gnocchis, then back to the hotel. 

50 years of women running Boston!

The next day was Easter Sunday, and I had to keep reminding myself that it was Easter! We are not religious and don’t have kids, so the holiday is not a big deal to us, but had I not been running the marathon we probably would have gone home to visit my family in Pennsylvania. I did get us reservations for Easter brunch at a trendy restaurant called Beehive – great food and drinks, expensive as hell! – and so we went there after I did a 3-mile shakeout run around Bunker Hill. Then, it was time to go to the expo. Uh, word to the wise, don’t wait until the last day of the expo if you’re trying to buy a bunch of stuff! They were sold out of SO MUCH. I wasn’t too disappointed, as I’d already bought some items online, but I was a little sad that I wasn’t able to get the 2022 version of Spike the Unicorn, which Adidas makes. I did buy a “knockoff” Spike at Marathon Sports, so it’s all good.

Spike 2019 and the unofficial Spike

That evening, I actually did *not* get my usual veggie burger, fries, and beer because we felt like taking it easy and grabbing dinner at the hotel, and they didn’t have my preferred pre-race meal. I got their pasta special and a beer and it was fine, nothing special but it did the job. 

I was in bed before 10 and fell asleep right away, but was rudely awakened around 2 in the morning by a bunch of drunk people screaming and partying outside our room! WTF? Most people at the hotel were there for the race. I almost got up and started yelling at them to keep it down, but someone in another room did the job for me. So rude!

Race Day! 

I woke up raring to go, having already pre-scheduled an Uber to take me to Boston Common, where you board the buses to go to the start line in Hopkinton. I was in wave 2 this year, and my wave was to go off at 10:25. As someone who really fears being late, I got to Boston Common way earlier than was necessary and killed time by hanging out in the same McDonald’s I hung out in three years ago. Chit-chatted with someone who was from my good friend Maura’s hometown (small world), along with a few other runners. I also got to use their bathroom, which I much preferred to a porta-potty.  

Around 7:15, I walked over to the bus area, as my wave was supposed to begin boarding at 7:30. In 2019, I remember just walking over, showing my bib, and hopping right onto a bus. The process took a lot longer this year. A bunch of us stood around for quite some time waiting to get on the bus. Not sure why, maybe there were fewer buses? In any event, I don’t think I boarded until after 8:30 and the ride takes about 45 minutes. I was a bit stressed since I knew I’d need to use the porta-potty in Athlete’s Village and the lines there would be long. But in the end, everything was fine. I didn’t have a ton of extra time. Once I got to Athlete’s Village, I hopped in the porta-potty line, did my business, and then it was time to start walking the 0.9 mile walk to the start line. But, no big deal. I love walking through Hopkinton to the start line. People are out in their front yards and they are already cheering for you, before you’ve even done the race! It’s the coolest thing! 

And then before I knew it – we were off! 

The First Half

It’s really easy to screw yourself in Boston by going out too fast. OK, that can and does happen in any marathon, but especially in Boston. That’s because there is a lot of downhill in the first half of the marathon! I reminded myself I needed to hold back, that I needed to hold a pace no faster than the low 8s. I ran the first mile in 8:03, which I was happy with, but then I started to speed up. Whoops. Ran mile 2 in 7:53, 3 in 7:50, and 4 in 7:47. But it all felt good, super comfortable, and I just decided to roll with it. If I blew up, I blew up. Having fun was more important.

The crowds were freaking INSANE. They were amazeballs in 2019, but this year was something special. I think everyone was just so excited to have the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day again, for the first time since the pandemic started. I can’t even begin to tell you what my favorite sign was. Possibly the huge sign at mile 5 at a local bar that said You Go Girls! 50 Years of Women Running! Or maybe it was the huge cardboard cutout Will Smith head? (Definitely a fan favorite!) They were just the best and had me smiling the entire way from Hopkinton to Boston. I high-fived so many kids. And of course, the Wellesley girls absolutely brought it in the Scream Tunnel. Pretty sure I heard them from a mile away. Sadly, I did not see any runners making out with any of the girls this year! 

My spits were really consistent through this part of the race and I was feeling great. The weather was about as good as it gets for Boston – low 50s, no wind. I was wearing a singlet, shorts, arm warmers, and running gloves, and I thought about ditching the gloves and/or arm warmers because it was sunny and I was getting pretty warm. But I decided to hold onto them.  

Mile 5– 7:57

Mile 6 – 7:50

Mile 7 – 7:50 

Mile 8–  7:57

Mile 9 – 7:49

Mile 10 – 7:49

Mile 11 – 7:58

Mile 12 – 7:46

Mile 13 – 7:50

Like I said – super freaking consistent! But I knew the Newton Hills were coming and that’s when the race really starts to get tough – not just because you’re more than halfway through a marathon, but because you start hitting the uphills. At some point around the half marathon point, I felt something pop on my left foot that was mildly uncomfortable. I wondered if I’d lost a toenail. (Sorry, I know that’s gross!) It bothered me for a minute, then I didn’t notice it anymore. It ended up being a popped blister. Yeah, still nasty. Runners are repulsive people, what can I say? 

Miles 14-21

I really didn’t slow down through Newton, and I attribute that to 1. Seeking out hilly long run routes and 2. Just being better trained in general. I didn’t do any specific hill repeats as part of this plan, but it didn’t matter.

Mile 14 – 7:54

Mile 15 – 7:54

Mile 16 – 7:38

Mile 17 – 7:58

Mile 18– 7:49

Mile 19– 7:44

Mile 20 – 7:45

The infamous Heartbreak Hill is at mile 20-21 and honestly? It’s not that bad. (If you’re local to me, I’d say the Naval Academy Bridge is steeper and harder.) It’s just where it comes in the race that makes it difficult. But yet again, the crowds were so wild this year that they took my mind off of the hill. So many people were out cheering us on, telling us “This is your moment! You have worked hard for this!” They made me feel like an elite athlete! I finished mile 21 in 8:02, my slowest mile since the first mile.  

The Fall

After Heartbreak, there is a lot of downhill from Brookline through the finish. In 2019, my quads were dying by this point – this year, I felt strong. And again, I attribute that to better training. I crossed the mile 22 mark in 7:36 – fastest mile of the race! – and then, shortly after that, I bit it. 

Right there in the middle of the Boston Marathon. 

I don’t really know how it happened, other than I was in the zone, going downhill, and there was a pothole. Before I knew it, I was landing on the ground, palms face down – and was happy that I’d kept my gloves on, because that spared my hands from being too wounded! I was more in shock than anything else and looked behind me to see a flood of other runners coming. I hoped I wouldn’t get trampled on! No one offered to help me up and I was kind of surprised by that. I know we were all excited to get to Boylston Street, but geez, if I had seen a runner fall, I would have stopped to help him or her up. That said, I really was fine. Just skinned knees. I picked myself up and started to run again, and a bunch of spectators cheered for me! 

I hit the mile 23 mark in 8:04, slowest of the race thus far, but certainly not bad considering the fall! I was keeping my eyes peeled for Micah, since I knew he’d plan to wait for me in Brookline, where he and my parents and sister went to spectate in 2019. I saw him right there at mile 24, before he even saw me, and called out to him. He waved to me and yelled “Reel in the Citgo sign!” This is the famous landmark at mile 25, but you can see it at mile 24. I responded by throwing up deuces, to signify that I only had two miles left, and he later said he was confused by that, but that I looked happy and strong. Haha. 

With the sun blazing down on me, I was pretty hot by this point. I stopped briefly at a water stop, dumped water on myself, and walked for a few seconds. Ran mile 24 in 8:03.

By this point in the race, the spectators were absolutely deafening and I was just taking it all in, knowing it was almost over. This part of the race is mostly flat, but there is a little hill almost at the end, right before you make the turn onto Hereford. It’s really not bad – it just comes at the end so it seems pretty hard. 

I don’t think making the iconic right turn onto Hereford, left turn onto Boylston will ever get old. Seeing the Hereford sign in 2019 really made me choke up, and I got emotional again this year. I had all the feelings – exhaustion, pride, joy. And I was a bit sad that it was all coming to an end, at least for another year. 

Mile 25 – 7:56

Mile 26 – 8:12 (I blame that last little hill)

Last bit – 2:41 (My watch registered 26.37 miles, likely due to weaving around other runners)

I was determined to get a good finish line photo this year, since I’m barely visible in my finish line photos from 2019! When I crossed the finish line, I threw my hands in the air and flashed the peace sign. And I got great photos, which of course I bought!  

After I walked through the finishers chute, a volunteer put my medal around my neck and then another wrapped me in a heat blanket. All I wanted to do was sit down – even though I felt so good for most of the race, that course will beat you up! – and I tried to sit down on a curb, but a volunteer gently scolded me and told me to keep moving. “We don’t want you cramping up,” she said. Of course she was right. She also directed me to the warming buses near the family meetup area. I don’t remember those from 2019, but of course it was hot that year. Even though I’d felt warm enough to dump water on myself during the marathon, once I quit running, I was cold. 

I got on the bus, called Micah and started to respond to the many text messages of congratulations that I had received from friends and family who were tracking me. My mom told me to go to the medical tent and get my wound cleaned out. I would not have done so otherwise, because seriously, I felt OK. But I guess it’s good that they did. The medical volunteer who helped me asked if I wanted her to take my picture, and of course I said yes. This picture of me in the medical tent, holding my 2022 medal, may be my favorite post-race picture ever. 

Reuniting with Micah after that was a bit of a cluster – the marathon is super high security following the 2013 bombings, and he and I did a really bad job of coordinating where to meet afterwards. We didn’t find each other for over an hour, and by then I was shivering and so tired and just ready to go back to the hotel room. We will do better next year. We decided to take the T back because an Uber would have cost us $50 (hellooooo surge pricing!) and that ended up being a bright spot because a very nice lady in the station handed me a pin that was a replica of the marathon medal. She said she and her mom make them every year for finishers and give them away for free. So sweet. It really is amazing how much the people of Boston support the marathon and the runners.

We’d planned to go to the Mile 27 afterparty at Fenway that evening, but once we got back to the hotel, I decided I was too cold. (The weather was great for running, not so much for partying outside, plus the wind had picked up.) Instead, we went to an amazing Mediterranean restaurant near the hotel called Sarma. If you are in the Bunker Hill area, check them out! 

See you on April 17, 2023! 

Squeaked out: I missed the cutoff for the 2021 Boston Marathon

On Tuesday, I found out I was one of more than 9,000 qualified runners to be rejected from the 2021 Boston Marathon.

It wasn’t a surprise, with the longer-than-usual qualifying period and the smaller-than-usual field. But it still sucks. 

For those of you who are not in tune with all things Boston, the Boston Marathon is usually held every April. But we are still in a pandemic. So last year’s race was turned into a virtual marathon, and this year’s race was postponed until Oct 11, 2021. For October’s race, the Boston Athletic Association accepted entries from qualified runners who ran BQs from September 2018 through the start of registration on April 20. And they only accepted 14,000 entries. So, in order to actually gain a spot in the marathon, you had to beat your qualifying time by seven minutes and 47 seconds. 

I was three minutes and 26 seconds under my BQ time at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon last Halloween. So, I guess it’s better to be a few minutes off than a few seconds off?

On a positive note, the B.A.A. announced that for the 2022 Boston Marathon — planned for the usual third Monday in April next year — the qualifying window began on Sept. 1, 2019, and will end sometime later this year (I am guessing after Boston 2021 happens.) In other words, I’ll be able to reapply with my Chasing the Unicorn time from October 2020, which would have been in the usual 2022 qualifying window anyway. I guess my Tidewater Striders BQ will be a “throwaway” BQ, since it’s in the same window and was only two minutes and 38 seconds under my standard. Of course, you can only register with one race result! 

And it could be worse. I feel terrible for everyone who was registered for Boston 2020, which ultimately went virtual, then registered for 2021 and didn’t make the cutoff. Especially those who were first time Boston Marathoners. At least I’ve run the race already. 

So, what’s next? 

After I finished Tidewater Striders in March, I swore I wasn’t running a marathon this fall unless it was Boston. The end of that race was SO painful. And I’ve essentially been training for a BQ marathon since December 2019. First for Coastal Delaware 2020, which got canceled, then Chasing the Unicorn, which was canceled and rescheduled, then the Reston Marathon. When Reston got canceled, I registered for Tidewater Striders. It’s been a lot. But I’m not going to lie, when I found out I got rejected, I definitely thought about finding another marathon early this fall to make sure I have enough of a cushion to get into the 2022 race.

There is also a part of me that is intrigued by the ultramarathon world, too. The iconic JFK 50 Miler happens every November in western Maryland. I thought, that would give me a new challenge! An extremely terrifying challenge, but it’s good to do stuff that scares you, right? 

But honestly — I think I may just focus on crushing a half marathon this fall and hope my Chasing the Unicorn time is good enough for 2022. I’ll be honest — I didn’t have a lot of fun marathon training last summer. Training through a hot and humid Maryland summer sucks! I would pick winter training over summer training any day of the week. And when I was training last summer, work was bananas stressful and I wasn’t even sure I’d actually get to run a marathon in the end anyway. And I almost didn’t! This summer is thankfully going to look different, but I still think I need a break. I want marathon training to continue to be something I WANT to do, not something I feel like I HAVE to do. 

In any event, I am optimistic that I have enough of a cushion for Boston 2022. Yes, the qualifying window is still two years long (in normal times, the window is a year long.) But think of all the marathons that were canceled starting in March 2020. Sure, small marathons began to resume in fall 2020, but I think there have been very few marathons that have had more than a few hundred finishers. So, way fewer opportunities to qualify and way fewer qualified runners. I do think a lot of runners will re-qualify at this fall’s Boston. But I’d also venture to say that plenty of them won’t want to turn around and run another Boston six months later. Boston is expensive!  

Did you get squeaked out of this fall’s Boston Marathon? Are you running another marathon this fall to try to improve your time, or just hoping for the best like I am?

I ran my 3rd BQ at the Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon Invitational

This past Saturday, I ran my 9th marathon — the Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon Invitational in Chesapeake, Virginia. It was quite an experience. 

The good news — I ran a BQ, my third one! And I won 3rd place in the female Masters division, for runners who are 40 and older. 

The bad news — I missed my 3:30 goal by seven minutes, clocking in at 3:37:22. I had hoped to improve my time from Chasing the Unicorn last fall, but I was actually 48 seconds slower. The last six miles were a shit show. My feet were on fire, I was nauseated and dehydrated and when I saw Micah at mile 25, I told him I hated marathons and was done with them. Oh, and I dry-heaved at the finish line.

Of course I’ll keep on running marathons — but if I don’t get into the fall Boston, I don’t plan on running a different marathon this fall. I need a break. 

Before the Race

This marathon, put on by the Tidewater Striders of southern Virginia, was for runners who had already qualified for Boston or were within 20 minutes of their BQ times. I wasn’t planning to run this marathon initially — rather, I had signed up for the Runners Marathon of Reston, Virginia, on April 11. When that race was canceled in February due to COVID concerns, I jumped into this race. It meant losing two weeks of training, but I wasn’t too worried about that. I found a nice place to stay in Virginia Beach, the Founders Inn and Spa, and looked forward to a fun weekend in an area I don’t travel to very often. 

The weekend before the race, I ran the Lucky Charm 5K in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with Staci. I told myself I wasn’t going to go all out and instead just run the 5K at goal marathon pace (8 minutes per mile.) Well, I ended up going faster than intended — shocker! — and ran a 22:34, or 7:11 pace. But! That pace didn’t feel like an all out push, and I felt that I definitely could have gone faster, so I was optimistic that I could hold onto an 8-minute mile for a marathon. 

Micah and I drove down the day before the race, and that was a disaster. Traffic was a hot mess on I-95 for no reason than it was an unseasonably warm day and a lot of people were out. (What pandemic? Haha. I mean, I was out and about, too.) It took us about six hours to get to our hotel when it should have taken four. Annoying. Once we got there, we headed to TGI Fridays so I could get my standard veggie burger, fries and a beer. Probably weird, but it works for me! 

I didn’t sleep well at all the night before the race, and I think I was just anxious, which is rare for me. I get anxious about a lot of things, but running isn’t one of them. I trust my training and, well, it’s not like I get paid for this. But the forecast wasn’t great — it was going to get into the 70s for the race, and that’s hot for a marathon (particularly after training through the winter.) And it had only been about five months since my last marathon. Was that too short of a turnaround time? Could I be overtrained? Would I bonk bad? I was going to find out. 

26.2 miles up and down the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail 

Micah, saint of a husband that he is, drove me to the start line about 20 minutes from our hotel, bright and early. The race took place on a trail called the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail — sounds lovely, right?! It actually was a really beautiful trail, through the woods and along a creek, and it was nice and flat! It was a double out and back, just like Chasing the Unicorn. With just 75 runners registered, this was the smallest marathon I’ve ever run. I later found out that only 59 people showed up to the start line that morning. We all had to sign COVID waivers (though since I am fully vaccinated, I just had to write “VA” on my form and didn’t need to answer a bunch of questions) and then get our temperatures taken. Masks were required at the start line, but we could remove them as soon as we began running. And runners were grouped into socially distant waves, with the fastest runners going first. We were all seeded by projected finish time, and I was ranked no. 58 out of 75 registered runners. Talk about humbling! But it was a very fast and competitive field. 

The race began at 7:30, and my wave went off at 7:34. I started off running near two older men. One of them was shooting for a 3:30 as well, and his friend was there pacing him. I told them I was going to hang with them because I also wanted to run 3:30 (or better if things really went my way.) We spent about half the race together before the guy who was going for a 3:30 fell behind, and his friend pulled ahead. I tried to look for both of them after the race to see how they fared, but couldn’t find them. 

I told myself before the race that I wasn’t going to start out any faster than an 8:15-8:20 pace. That didn’t happen. Whoops. But I was consistent for about the first 16 miles, logging miles in the high 7s/low 8s, which would have put me right around 3:30 had I been able to maintain it. 

But I couldn’t. 

The weather was actually OK at the beginning of the race — it was in the low 60s and not too sunny. But once the sun came out and the humidity rose, it got pretty toasty. I started to fade around miles 17 and 18, and I’m sure part of that was the weather, but it’s also very possible I just went out too fast. When I ran Rehoboth in 2017, I started out with the 3:40 pace group and then pulled ahead at the halfway point. I felt fantastic through most of that race and never really got tired until about mile 24. I ran a negative split and finished strong in 3:35:00. It’s the best race I’ve ever executed. Even though my last two marathons have been Boston qualifiers, I ran positive splits both times and basically felt like I limped to the finish line. 

I was stopping for water and Gatorade at every aid station, which were set up about every three miles, but I was just so thirsty and my stomach was starting to feel queasy. I usually take my gels at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20, but once I passed the 20 mile mark, I couldn’t bring myself to have that fourth gel. 

The last 10K really sucked. I thought the final 10K in Chasing the Unicorn was painful, especially when I had to climb over a fallen tree at mile 23. I think this was worse. In addition to the heat, my feet REALLY hurt. I wore my Brooks Hyperion Tempos, which I bought last summer and have only worn in Chasing the Unicorn, the virtual Baltimore Half Marathon and the Before the Game Half Marathon last month. Oh, and in the 5K last weekend. The shoes have always felt great, so I don’t know what the problem was on Saturday. Maybe my feet swelled up in the heat? I don’t think that’s ever happened before, but there is a first time for everything! 

So those last few miles were basically a sad little shuffle. I was excited to see Micah at mile 25, but that’s when I had a pity party and told him marathons sucked. “The finish line is just up there,” he told me. “One foot in front of the other!” He even ran with me for a little bit to keep me going. In his flip flops. Like I said, he’s a saint. 

At that point, I knew my goal was in the toilet, but I also knew that I was going to break 3:40, so I could add another BQ to my running resume. I actually wanted to stop and walk at the mile 26 marker, but told myself no! I pushed as hard as I could and finally made it across the finish line in 3:37:22- a BQ with two minutes and 38 seconds to spare. One of the race volunteers asked me if I qualified, and I said yes, and she handed me my finisher’s medal and a special shirt they were giving to everyone who ran a BQ. It says Boston Qualified on the front and Destination Boylston St. 2022 on the back. I thanked her, and then I went over to the side of the road to dry heave.    

I wasn’t expecting to win anything since the field was so competitive, but when I checked my official results, they handed me this huge trophy for coming in 3rd place in the female Masters division! I was so surprised. Overall, I was 18 out of 22 females and 51 out of 59 runners. With a 3:37! And a BQ! The top 12 runners were all under three hours, and all but three runners finished under four hours. That is a CRAZY fast field. 

Overall, I am happy with how I did. I felt like crap and pulled through anyway, which is what marathoning is all about! I do think I would benefit greatly from running a race with a dedicated pace group going five minutes slower than my goal pace that I could link up with and then hopefully pull ahead at the halfway point — like I did in Rehoboth. I just saw today that the Salisbury Marathon, which is happening next weekend and which I had considered as a backup marathon, actually has a 3:35 pace group. But no, I am not running another marathon next weekend. Ha!  

Boston bound — maybe?

So now I’m currently sitting on two BQ times. Last October’s time is -3:26 under my qualifying standard; Saturday’s gives me a -2:38 buffer. I could use either one to register for the 2021 Boston Marathon, which, due to COVID, is planned for October this year instead of the traditional Patriots Day in April. However, the field size has been cut to 20,000 runners and the Boston Athletic Association decided they’ll take BQ times from September 2018 until when 2021 registration opens on April 20.

And, even in normal times, simply running a BQ is not a guarantee that you’ll get into Boston. The marathon has gotten increasingly popular over the last decade, and runners are getting more competitive, so more runners are qualifying than the race has room for. So, every year there’s an unknown “cutoff” time, meaning you have to run that much under your BQ standard to be allowed into the race. When I got into Boston 2019, I had that 3:35:00 from Rehoboth, exactly five minutes under my then-qualifying standard (standards have since been tightened, and as a 40-year-old woman, I now have to meet the same BQ time, 3:40:00, as when I was in the 35-39 age group!) The cutoff that year was -4:52– meaning I got in with just eight seconds to spare!

So I’ll use my 3:36 from last October to register for the race this fall, but I’m not optimistic it’ll get me in. I AM crossing my fingers that I can use one of these times for Boston 2022, presumably happening next spring! I mean, the shirt the Tidewater Striders gave everyone who qualified yesterday does say Destination Boylston St. 2022!

A recap of the Little Patuxent River Run, and some more thoughts on the 2021 Boston Marathon

I ran my second live race of 2021 last weekend, and my first live race with Rip It Events in over a year! 

When COVID hit a year ago, Rip It, like every other race company, was forced to either cancel races outright or make them virtual. Rip It did a fantastic job of adding several themed virtual races to their race calendar for 2020, too, including virtual 5Ks for Cinco de Mayo, Donut Day and Fourth of July

They were also able to add two socially distant live races in the later part of 2020, the Bear Trail Half Marathon and 10K last August and the Greenbrier Trail 5 and 10 Miler in October. I’m not a confident trail runner, so I declined to participate in those races. 

However, one trail race I do feel good about is the Little Patuxent River Run, which I have done every year since it began. It’s challenging, but still appropriate for those of us who prefer the roads to the trails. The race was supposed to take place at the end of January, with a half marathon on one day and a 10K the next, and plans called for both races to be spaced out in waves to allow for proper distancing. 

I had initially signed up for both races, but once COVID restrictions forced the races to be postponed until the first weekend of March, I decided to drop down to just the 10K. And I’m glad I did. I didn’t have high hopes as far as my time — I had run 20 miles the day before, and my legs were trashed. Plus, I’m a lot more cautious when trail running. I approached the 10K purely as a training run (I also had to run a full 10 miles that day, so I knew I’d have to get some bonus miles in after the race).

So I was pretty surprised to finish as the second place female. I have always gotten an age group award at this race before (and I’ve run both the half and the 10K), but never an overall award.   

My final time was 53:13 — and for reference, I recently ran a time trial/virtual 10K and finished in 45:09, so yeah, big difference between the roads and the trails for me. Overall, I felt pretty strong, though yeah, I definitely felt those 20 miles I’d run the previous day when climbing the two big inclines in the race. I did feel a little nauseous/dehydrated toward the end, which I’m going to blame on the previous night’s dinner — mushroom ravioli with a cream sauce and two Moscato Mojitos at Maggiano’s. Nothing I would normally consume the night before a race, but like I said, this wasn’t a goal race! Oh yeah, and I ate a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon for breakfast. That probably wasn’t smart, either. Peanut butter and banana on a bagel for life! 

It’s possible I also felt nauseous because I spent a good mile of the race running near a guy who kept spitting on the trail. Like, for real? That’s nasty when we aren’t in a pandemic. Glad I’m fully vaccinated.

All in all, it was a great morning and everyone was so happy to be out racing in person. Thank you, Rip It Events, for putting on such a fun and safe event! 

(As a Rip It Events ambassador, I received a free entry to the Little Patuxent River Run. Contact me for a 15 percent discount off of any 2021 Rip It race!)

Boston Marathon 2021

The 2021 Boston Marathon is scheduled to happen in person on Oct. 11. The Boston Athletic Association has not yet opened up registration, but they have said they will take qualifying times from September 2018 until registration closes. 

This means two things. One, my BQ from October will count for the 2021 window. Two, the pool of qualifiers is going to be much larger than usual if they are going all the way back to September 2018. I beat my qualifying standard by 3 minutes and 26 seconds, but I don’t think there is any way in hell that’ll get me into the race. No, we obviously don’t know the mysterious cutoff yet, but the BAA has ALSO said the field is going to be much smaller this year due to the pandemic. So, I’m not holding out hope that I will run Boston this fall. 

The BAA also announced last week that they’ll offer a virtual Boston Marathon for anyone who wants to run it –no qualifying time required. This virtual race will be open to 70,000 runners. Needless to say, this decision has been controversial, with some runners saying it devalues Boston and other runners saying this is an opportunity to allow more people to participate. Personally? I think it’s stupid and I have my doubts that 70,000 runners will jump at the chance to pay to run a virtual Boston. The whole allure of Boston, in my opinion, is qualifying for it — very tough to do for most people! — and then running IN BOSTON. Yeah, I know they offered a virtual Boston last year, but that was for people who already qualified and were registered to run the real deal. I’m just not a fan of this — and at this point, I remain hopeful that I can run Boston 2022, either with my Chasing the Unicorn time or my finish time at the BQ Marathon Invitational at the end of the month. Fingers crossed for a big PR there! No idea what the qualifying window will actually be for Boston 2022, but I do know that in “normal times,” my October 2020 BQ would have been in the 2022 window. But who knows what they’ll decide to do as far as that race goes. 

Future Marathon Plans

I’m still registered to run the Coastal Delaware marathon this November, but I’m on the fence about it. Really, I’m on the fence about running any marathon this fall. 

Here’s the thing — I’ve basically been training for a marathon for a year. I was training hard for Coastal Delaware 2020 before it got canceled last spring. I backed off my training plan for a few months, then started hitting it hard again in June, with the hopes that I might be able to run some fall marathon somewhere. And I did. But then after Chasing the Unicorn on Halloween, I took a break from training (still running, just not following a structured plan) until mid-December, then I started up again. 

All that happened in a year that was, of course, extremely challenging. I rarely discuss my career on here, but I recently switched jobs. I had been working in marketing/communications for a hospital, focused mainly on social media marketing. Running social media in the healthcare space during a pandemic is not as glamorous as it sounds. LOL. I won’t go into all the details of why I left, but suffice it to say I am happy that I don’t have to spend every day (nights and weekends included!) answering questions on Facebook about the COVID vaccine. I got a new job as a communications specialist in the home services industry, and so far I am really enjoying it. It’s more relaxed, and I get to tap into the journalism skills I honed in my first career as a reporter. I’m glad I took a leap and I truly wish I’d done it sooner.

So yeah, last year was stressful AF, and I fit in marathon training because it was important to me (I obviously do not have kids– otherwise I would never have been able to do that.) And it honestly kept me sane and made me feel like I was accomplishing something, when I felt like I was spinning my wheels most days at work. But I’m thinking I need a break from the intensity of marathon training.

I wouldn’t need to start a structured fall training plan until July, so I guess I have some time to decide. But I’m leaning toward just dropping down to the half marathon. If I am lucky enough to be able to run Boston 2022, I’d have to start that training in December anyway, so this would probably be for the best.  

But like I said, I have time.

Change of plans: I’m running the Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon Invitational on March 27

What’s that old saying — make plans, and God laughs? 

#NowMoreThanEver, during this pandemic life we’re all stuck in, this rings true. 

Back in December, I registered for the Runners Marathon of Reston, scheduled for April 11 in Reston, Virginia. Obviously, I knew the race could ultimately be canceled, but it’s a small race — less than 1,000 runners — so I thought there was a good chance it could proceed as planned. The race organizers said they would refund everyone’s money if the race was canceled due to COVID, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose. I started training, following Hal Higdon’s Advanced Marathon plan, with an April 11 marathon date in my mind. 

I also found my March filling up with opportunities to run live races. And before I knew it, I was planning on running a real, in-person race every weekend! 

Then, three days ago, I got the email from Runners Marathon. Canceled. Unsure if they’ll be able to get permits for the race. 

Luckily, I already had a backup plan in mind — The Tidewater Striders BQ Marathon Invitational in Chesapeake, Virginia on March 27. The race is only for people who have already qualified for Boston and want a faster time and better cushion, like me, or for people who have run within 20 minutes of their BQ time within the last three years. Runners had to submit qualifying times from previous races to be admitted into the race, so I registered with my Chasing the Unicorn finish time from last fall

This obviously chops two weeks off of my training plan, but I’m not too worried. I feel excited and ready. It does royally screw up everything I had planned to do, running-wise, in March. Here’s a look at what I was going to do, and what I’ll be doing instead. 

March 6-7: I was supposed to run the Little Patuxent River Run with Rip It Events. Due to COVID protocols, the half marathon and the 10K were going to be held on separate days, giving runners the opportunity to run both races if they wanted to. When I signed up in November, I decided I wanted to do both races. At that point, the race(s) were scheduled for the last weekend of January, and I wasn’t even sure then if I would be able to run a spring marathon. 

But then, race weekend was postponed until March due to COVID restrictions. I was already a bit nervous about running a trail half marathon, followed by a trail 10K, a month out from a marathon. Plus, the races fell on a weekend when I was supposed to be running 20 miles one day and 10 miles one day. So I basically would have had to tack another seven miles onto the half marathon and four miles onto the 10K. Not ideal. 

When I realized I was going to be running a marathon on March 27, I got even more nervous. I’ve run LPRR every year that Rip It has had the race, and I love it. I’ve run both the half and the 10K. But let’s face it, I am not a trail runner and the potential of me tripping and falling and maybe hurting myself is definitely there. Do I want to risk that three weeks out from a marathon? Nope. But I didn’t want to miss the race, either! In the end, I decided to just do the 10K, which will be on Sunday, March 7. I’ll run my 20-miler the day before, then on race morning, I can warm up for two miles, run the 10K, then cool down for two miles. And I never really push the pace when trail running, because I get too scared, so I’m not worried about going too hard.

March 14: After I ran Bishop’s Events’ Before the Game Half Marathon, I posted my picture on Instagram and they chose it as their social media pic of the week, rewarding me with half off the registration fee for a future race! I saw they were having a St. Paddy’s Day 5K, 10K and half marathon on March 14 on the C&O Towpath, and so I registered for the half marathon. I could race a half a month out from a marathon.

But do I want to race a half two weeks out from a marathon? That worries me. Yes, I could go and run it at an easy pace, but I’m too damn competitive for my own good. I’ve placed in all of the Bishop’s races I’ve done, and it would be hard for me to hold back, knowing that I could probably do it again. So, I asked if I could transfer into a different half marathon later this spring, and Travis, the owner of the organization, said that was fine. So I’m going to run the Georgetown Half, also on the C&O, on May 23. 

March 21: Staci and I are running the Lucky Charm 5K in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on March 21. I am still running this, but I was originally planning on racing it. I will not be doing that a week out from a marathon. Yes, I’m competitive, but 5Ks have never been my jam and the marathon is more important to me …. So I’m just going to have to show some restraint. My goal is to not run it any faster than marathon pace. 🙂 

March 27: I was signed up for the Barlowe Bolt 5K in Millersville and was hoping to defend my title from the October 2020 race. Now because of the marathon, I’ll be a big ol’ no show that day. Luckily, the money raised through the race registration fees goes to a good cause — upgrading the neighborhood’s playground.  

So — that’s that! As for my goal for the BQ Invitational, I’m still hoping to run around a 3:30. I think my training shows that I can. I need to make sure I don’t go out too fast in the beginning and I also just need to have a good day! Marathons can be so unpredictable, and sometimes you can do everything right in training and it can all go to hell on race day. My “B” goal is to run any BQ time (under 3:40:00 for a 40-year-old woman) because everyone who qualifies gets a special prize. 

I can’t wait!

The 2021 Boston Marathon: My thoughts on this year’s race

Last week, the Boston Athletic Association announced a date for the 2021 Boston Marathon — Oct. 11, 2021. This all hinges, of course, on how the pandemic progresses over the coming months and whether the state of Massachusetts will even allow an event of that magnitude this fall. 

The BAA hasn’t announced when registration will open. But obviously, this announcement has stirred up major excitement throughout the running community. I belong to several Boston Marathon Facebook groups, and they’ve been lit over the past few days, with many people posting that they’ve booked their hotel rooms already. And of course, lots of speculation about the infamous cutoff. 

Because that’s the thing. The BAA has said that the qualifying period for Boston 2021 began Sept. 15, 2018 and continues through registration (whenever that will be.) So basically, that means everyone who qualified for Boston 2020 (the race that had to be held virtually due to the pandemic) can apply. Plus everyone who ran qualifying times during the typical 2021 qualifying period (September 2019-September 2020) and now, the typical 2022 qualifying period (September 2020-present.) 

My recent BQ, achieved on Oct. 31, 2020 at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Bucks County, PA, would usually fall into that 2022 window — but now it looks like it will count for 2021. But there’s the issue of the cutoff. 

What is the cutoff, you ask? It’s a source of stress for everyone who qualifies for Boston, unless you’re one of the super fast runners who beats your qualifying time by 20 minutes or more every year. For the last decade or so, the BAA has declined to accept everyone who runs a qualifying time, due to field size limitations. This means they only accept the fastest qualifiers, and if you don’t beat your qualifying time by a certain amount — which varies every year, and there’s really no way of predicting it — your application to run the race is denied. 

For example, when I ran Boston 2019, the cutoff was four minutes and 52 seconds. I beat my qualifying standard by five minutes exactly. So I barely squeaked in. And then for the 2020 race, the BAA tightened the qualifying standards by another five minutes. I aged up and am now in the 40-44 year old group for 2021  — which just means I have to meet the same standard (3:40:00) I had to meet when I qualified for 2019, in the 35-39 year old group! Sigh. 

I ran a 3:36:34 at Chasing the Unicorn, which means I beat my qualifying time by three minutes, 26 seconds. I *highly* doubt that will get me into Boston 2021. Not if I’m competing against everyone who ran a BQ since September 2018. Right now, I’m just holding out hope that the BAA might also let me submit my time for the 2022 race. 

Here’s what I think they should do — not that my opinion holds any weight. I think everyone who was registered for Boston 2020 should get to run Boston 2021. Yes, they all got to run the virtual Boston if they wanted. But we all know that’s not the same as running Boston. All of those runners worked hard for their BQs and deserve to have the true Boston Marathon experience. As for the registered 2020 runners who were running for charity (about 20% of the field), they should also get to run in 2021. They still put in work to get there, and they raise money for many incredible and very worthy charities. 

So that would take care of the 2021 race. Then, the BAA should lump everyone who qualified in the usual 2021 and 2022 qualifying windows into one field for Boston 2022. And of course, leave room for charity runners, too.

Why? Think about it. Plenty of runners qualified for Boston between September 2019 and March 2020. But then COVID brought the racing world to a grinding halt. Slowly, races began to come back over the summer and fall — including small marathons like Chasing the Unicorn. However, all the major marathons that produce a lot of qualifiers (Chicago, Berlin, Philadelphia, the actual Boston Marathon) were canceled in 2020. And plenty of marathons scheduled for the first half of 2021 have already been canceled, too. So there are fewer BQs not only for the traditional 2021 qualifying window, but also for the 2022 qualifying window.  

I just think that’s the most fair thing to do — and not just because it would mean I’d most likely be in for 2022! 

I’m still going to apply when they open registration for 2021. And I will try not to get my hopes up. I got to run Boston two years ago, after all. And I’ll get there again. I’m still extremely proud of my Chasing the Unicorn BQ. It was not easy, what with the last minute cancellation, then last minute uncertainty over the rescheduled date ….. And then all the obstacles that happened at the race itself (I hope I never have to climb over a fallen tree at mile 23 of a marathon ever again. It makes for a good story after the fact, but yikes.) I did my best that day, and it was a great experience. If it’s not good enough for Boston this time — I’ll have other chances. I really believe that. 

What’s next? Looking ahead to 2021

We have just over a month left of 2020. I think I can speak for all of us when I say thank God for that. 

However, I think we all know at this point that the clock isn’t going to strike midnight on Jan. 1 and the pandemic is going to end and we’ll go back to life as we once knew it. I know there are people out there who believe we’ll never go back to normal, that we will live with a “new normal” involving mask wearing and social distancing. I disagree. I’m very optimistic about a COVID vaccine and believe that once we have widespread distribution of it, we’ll finally start to return to our pre-COVID lives. Lives where we don’t have to wear face masks everywhere, and it’s OK to hug friends, and we can crowd into bars and dance and lick the floor if we feel like it. 

OK, maybe not that last part. 

But I would imagine that vaccine distribution is probably going to take a while. Will it be widely available to the general public by next spring? Next summer? Next fall? I don’t know.  

Against all odds this year, I accomplished my main running goal, which was to qualify again for the Boston Marathon. It didn’t happen the way I thought it would. I’d hoped to qualify in April for Boston 2021 at Coastal Delaware, but obviously that race didn’t happen. And when it was canceled, I thought, no big deal. I’m signed up for Chicago and Philly this fall! Yay Boston 2022! I can wait an extra year! But by early summer, it became very obvious that those races were not going to happen, either. 

Then I impulsively signed up for the tiny Chasing the Unicorn Marathon, which was canceled, then rescheduled, and I got my BQ! But is it good for Boston 2022? Seeing as we don’t actually know when Boston 2021 will happen (not this April), and the Boston Athletic Association hasn’t opened registration for it, it’s all a big question mark. In a normal year, my BQ would have fallen into the 2022 window. But very few marathons are happening these days, so will I be lumped in with those who qualified for 2021 between September 2019 and March 2020, before everything shut down? And what about everyone who ran the virtual 2020 race? So many unknowns! 

As for my 2021 running goals, well, I would still like to PR in the marathon. I still believe I have a 3:30 marathon in me. In fact, I think I could go sub-3:30 if I train hard, have a great day and run a smart race (i.e., don’t blow up on the back half. Easier said than done!) But what marathon will I run? If you had asked me back in April if COVID would prevent Coastal Delaware from happening for a second year in a row, I’d have told you that you were nuts. Now? I’m going to be shocked if it happens this spring. I deferred my 2020 entry to 2021 and I’m going to begin training in December just in case it happens. But I expect it to be called off, hopefully sooner rather than later! 

I got an email from the Chicago Marathon this week, reminding me that it was time to claim my 2021 registration if I wanted. Because the race was canceled this year, they allowed everyone to defer and register for either 2021, 2022 or 2023. I’m pretty sure I will opt for Chicago 2022. With 50,000 runners, not to mention all of the spectators and volunteers, there is absolutely no way that marathon will happen unless there’s a large-scale distribution of the vaccine. Again, just not sure we will be there by fall of 2021. 

The Philly Marathon offered the same deferment options, I believe, but I think I will cross my fingers and plan to run it next November. It’s smaller than Chicago, but still a big marathon. And the whole event also includes a half marathon (which I ran last year and loved) and an 8K. So I still think it’s very much up in the air, but I might as well hope for the best.

All that said, I’m hesitant to sign up for too many 2021 races yet. A lot of them haven’t even opened for registration anyway — race directors are as much in the dark as anyone else. In addition to the Coastal Delaware, Chicago and Philly marathons, I deferred a few other 2020 races to 2021, so I hope they can happen. I’m also interested in running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in May, and since I’m going to plan for Chicago 2022, that frees me up to run the Baltimore Running Festival in October. 

Right now, the only 2021 race I am registered for is Rip It Events’ Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon and 10K. Scheduled for the last weekend in January, the half marathon and the 10K will be held over two separate days to accommodate social distancing requirements. We had the option of doing both races, so I said why not? Since I don’t know if I will have a spring marathon to run, I might as well try to challenge myself any way that I can. 

When it comes to racing, I am approaching 2021 with flexibility– a skill I have definitely honed in 2020. And, as I have said many times in the past, you don’t need to race to enjoy running. No matter what happens in 2021, I’ll keep on running. 

A magical Halloween: I qualified for Boston at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon

I really did it. 

I ran a real live marathon in 2020 — and I qualified for the Boston Marathon! 

I’m honestly still in shock that it happened. Not that I ran a BQ — I was confident in my training and felt pretty certain that I could qualify. I just can’t believe the race itself actually happened. 

To recap, I registered for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Washington Crossing, PA earlier this summer, when I thought that the Chicago and Philadelphia marathons would be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. (I was right about that.) The marathon was originally scheduled for Sept. 13, with a ton of COVID mitigation protocols in place. It seemed very likely that it would occur as planned. I never missed a beat with my training, putting in 40- and 50+ mile weeks in the most disgustingly humid summer in recent memory. And then, three days out, the race was called off and rescheduled for Halloween. Still no idea why that happened. I almost said the hell with it, but my husband encouraged me to keep going with my training. I do love Halloween, and I thought running a Halloween marathon sounded like a blast. So I rejiggered my training plan with an Oct. 31 race date in mind, and ordered a pair of running shorts and matching arm warmers with a fun candy corn design on them. 

Then, three days before the race, Pat, the race director, sent out an email saying that he still didn’t have the permits for the event, but didn’t anticipate any issues. Didn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but OK.

THEN, the day before the race, I woke up and checked Facebook and saw he had posted a link to an article about a rally for Trump happening near Washington Crossing Historic Park. “Tell me this is why we still don’t have a permit,” he wrote. 

WTF? At that point, I’d already taken the day off of work and it was too late to cancel my hotel room for free. But whatever happened was completely out of my control. I figured we would travel to Washington Crossing and if I had to, I would run an unofficial marathon on the towpath along the Delaware River Canal where the race was supposed to take place. I wasn’t super excited about that, but I figured there would be other disappointed runners who would be doing the same thing. It’s 2020—of course that would happen.

BUT! Around 11 am, Pat posted on Facebook that he had the permit. “I still can’t believe it,” he said. Neither could I! However, Micah and I piled into my car and headed north to Bucks County, PA. I checked my email obsessively all day long, wondering if I was going to get an email telling me that the race was a no go.

Once we got to Newtown, near Washington Crossing, we checked into our hotel room and I headed to the towpath so I could do my shakeout run on the race course. The area was so gorgeous! I did notice that there were a lot of fallen leaves on the towpath, and I knew I would have to be careful not to slip and fall while running. But the scenery was so pretty. I also ran into Pat, who was setting up for the race. “Is this really happening?” I asked him. He assured me that it was, and even gave me my race packet so I didn’t have to pick it up on race morning.

Everything seemed good to go! I ran 5K on the trail because I had registered for Rip It Events’ virtual Day of the Dead 5K, back when I thought the marathon was happening on Sept. 13. I certainly wasn’t going to race a 5K either the day before or the day after a marathon, so I ran the 5K in 26:23 — an 8:30 pace. Everything felt great. 

Race Day! 

The marathon was scheduled to begin at 10 am — really late for a race, but I’m not a natural early bird, so I was fine with that! I set my alarm for 6:45 am and pretty much leapt out of bed when it went off. I felt so ready. I got dressed, drank my coffee and ate my usual bagel with peanut butter and half a banana and went to the bathroom about a million times. I was a little concerned about the temperature, which was only in the mid-30s. I had packed my candy corn shorts and arm warmers, plus my Rip It Events singlet and knee-high compression socks. I hadn’t thought to bring a throwaway sweatshirt. I knew I would be fine while running, but worried about freezing my ass off at the start. I decided to just take an extra blanket from the hotel room to wrap myself up in, and hoped that I would be able to retrieve it at the end of the race. (And I was! I promise I didn’t steal from the hotel!) Since no spectators were allowed at the race due to COVID protocols, Micah dropped me off about a half hour before the start and I wrapped the blanket around me while I waited. Per COVID restrictions, everyone had to wear masks in the starting corral and we were all asked to space out six feet apart from each other to adhere to social distancing guidelines. With only about 220 runners total in the full and half marathon, that was pretty easy to do. Runners crossed the start line individually three seconds apart, putting well more than six feet in between each of us. I thought that was handled very well. We were allowed to take off our masks while running, and I did, though I noticed some runners opted to keep them on through the whole event. 

As expected, I warmed up pretty quickly, and never felt too cold or too hot (though I am glad I made the last-minute decision to pack my running gloves! My hands tend to get colder than any other part of me.) My goal for this race was to run a 3:30, which for my age group, 40-44, is a Boston Marathon qualifying time by 10 minutes. Based on my training times, I thought this was totally feasible. I started off running around an 8-minute pace and was able to hold that consistently through the first half and then some of the race. There were two other women who were running around the same pace, so I decided to stick with them (while keeping proper social distance!) One of them commented that I looked really strong. “You’re going to crush a 3:30 if you keep it up,” she told me. “That’s what I’m trying to do!” I replied. I was trying to focus on keeping a steady pace and also just enjoying my surroundings, which again were so pretty! 

The marathon was an out-and-back course — it went from the Washington Crossing Historic Park up to New Hope, PA, then back. Marathoners repeated the course twice. Between miles 5 and 6, I think, runners encountered an unpleasant surprise — the canal was actually flowing up over the trail. So we had the privilege of running through several inches of cold ass water. “Great,” I thought. “So I get to run over this four times?!” My socks and shoes luckily dried quickly, but it really sucked. I’m glad it wasn’t any colder outside. An Instagram follower of mine commented that she injured her foot by stepping in a hole in the concrete under the water. Ugh! I was lucky that didn’t happen to me. 

I finished the first half in just under 1:45, and was feeling strong. Of course, if you’ve run a marathon before, you know that first 13.1 doesn’t really mean a whole lot. I was hoping I could eek out another 1:45 for the second half, and it was looking really good up until about mile 20. Isn’t that always the way it goes? When I started running marathons, I heard that when you get to mile 20, you are halfway there. It’s so true. And it was REALLY true for me during this marathon. 

There weren’t traditional water stops with volunteers handing out water during this marathon because of COVID– rather, there were self-filling water stations where you could step on a pedal on the ground and refill your own bottle of water. I had been carrying an 18-oz. handheld bottle with Nuun Kona Cola in it, but I’m not sure I was taking in enough water. Usually, I grab either water or Gatorade at every single stop on a marathon course. I was trying to remember to drink from my bottle at least every two miles, but not sure how well I did. At one point I accidentally spilled most of what I had, so I did have to stop and refill with water. Also, I was carrying the bottle in my left hand and my left arm started to get really sore around mile 16. This never happened to me during training, so maybe I was gripping it too hard. 

Anyway, I don’t think I was drinking as much as I normally would  in a marathon, and when it was time to take my 4th energy gel at mile 20 — I like to take one at miles 5, 10, 15 and 20 — I wanted to puke. But I forced it down anyway. 

My stomach was pretty unsettled for the last 10K of the marathon. I kept trying to tell myself that a 10K was nothing, and I had well under an hour left of the race! The fourth time running through that cold water was brutal. I knew I was slowing down at that point, but that a finish time of 3:30 or very close to it was within reach. I hit mile 22 at around 2:58, and I knew I could run the last 4.2 miles in 32 minutes if I kept pushing. But I was fading and it was getting much, much harder!

Somewhere between mile 22 and 24, I came upon a huge tree that had fallen right in the middle of the towpath. Seriously! It definitely wasn’t there when I had run through the area earlier …. But there it was blocking the whole path. I had to climb over it, which is NOT IDEAL that late in a marathon. Yikes. I hope no one got hurt by it. It wasn’t even windy, so I have no idea why it suddenly fell then. 

The final two miles were brutal. BRUTAL. I felt every stone and twig on the towpath beneath my feet. I looked at my watch and knew my 3:30 goal time was slipping away, but it looked likely that I could be sub 3:35 (which would be a PR.) I knew at that point I was definitely going to run a BQ unless I completely gave up and decided to walk it in. Which of course I was not going to do!

When I made the final left turn of the course, I saw my car parked in the grass and knew Micah was nearby, even though we weren’t supposed to have spectators. Sure enough, I saw him standing alone in the field just before the finish line. I waved to him and as I got closer, I heard him yell, “Empty the tank!” which is what he said to me just before I crossed the finish line and BQ’d in Rehoboth in December 2017. “It’s already empty!” I yelled back. I pushed as hard as I could and crossed the finish line in 3:36:34. It’s a minute and 34 seconds slower than my PR, and about six minutes off my goal time, but it’s a solid BQ and I am proud of it.   

Approaching the finish!
Boston qualifier at the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon
I’m a Boston Qualifier again!

I finished third in my age group, and I think I will be getting a prize in the mail. Don’t get too excited — there were only five women in my age group. It was a competitive race! I was 9th overall out of 67 women.

I qualified for Boston! But which Boston?

Great question! I have no idea. 

Because of the pandemic, the Boston Athletic Association has said there will be no Boston Marathon in April 2021. They said they may try to hold the marathon in the fall of 2021, but there is no guarantee of that. In “normal times,” this race would have fallen into the 2022 qualifying window anyway. So I’m going to assume that I qualified for Boston 2022. 

But again, there are so many unknowns. Maybe we will still be dealing with COVID in spring 2022. (I sure hope not, but I didn’t think we’d be dealing with it this fall, either.) Everyone who had 2020 qualifying times also is waiting to run the race. Sure, they got to run the “virtual” Boston experience, but we all know that is not the same and everyone who qualified wants the experience of running from Hopkinton to Boston! So, when it is safe to hold the Boston Marathon in person again, the 2020 qualifiers would likely get first dibs, as well they should! Then, of course, there are the 2021 qualifiers. What about all of those runners who ran 2021 BQ times from September 2019 through March 2020? They should get their shot, too. But if there’s no Boston Marathon in 2021, that means that group of runners will be pushed back a year, I’m guessing. 

I’ll say this, I definitely don’t envy the BAA for having to sort all of this out, and I feel very lucky that I got to run Boston 2019. I’ll get back there eventually. 

Of course, there’s also the issue of the cutoff — I ran 3 minutes and 26 seconds under my qualifying standard, which means I will have to wait until the second week of registration (whenever that occurs) to try to squeak in. It will probably be enough to get into the race, but you never know.

At the end of the day, I’m just so excited that I actually got to run a live marathon this year and put all of my training to good use. It did pay off, even if I didn’t hit my goal time. I qualified for Boston again! I will look back on this race as one of the bright spots in 2020.

15 days until I chase the unicorn

I hope I am not jinxing myself by writing this, but I actually think I am going to get to run a live marathon this year. 

As of right now, the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon is happening in 15 days. All of the swag, including medals, shirts and yes, branded masks, have been ordered and the state of Pennsylvania has approved all of the race director’s COVID mitigation plans. I have every reason to believe the race will happen, unless things really start going downhill again with COVID in PA. So cross your fingers for me. 

It’ll be a really weird marathon in a really weird year. First of all, it’ll be strange and definitely a bummer not to have any spectators, especially considering the last marathon I ran was Boston last year and of course that race was lined with spectators from Hopkinton to Copley Square! I don’t even think my husband is going to travel with me to the race (which is actually OK, it’s not really a bad thing to have a bed to myself the night before a big race. :)) Runners are going to be spread out in socially distanced waves, seeded by our projected finish time, and we have to wear our masks before and after the race. Then there’s the whole thing with needing to carry our own hydration and refill our bottles at hands-free water stations. I’ve been taking my new handheld water bottle out on all my long runs, including my 20-miler last week, and I don’t actually mind it. I just hope I don’t have to waste too much time stopping and refilling my bottle. 

My hope is still to qualify for Boston 2021, though I think it’s entirely possible that I could qualify and then not have an in-person Boston Marathon to run next year. I just don’t know what the spring is going to look like in terms of races, particularly big races. The Boston Athletic Association hasn’t said anything about when registration for 2021 will open — usually it’s the second week of September (Chasing the Unicorn was established years ago as a last chance for Boston hopefuls to qualify for the following spring’s race.) I suspect the BAA might try to have a live Boston Marathon in fall 2021 instead of April, and if that can’t happen with the pandemic, they might do another virtual Boston. I can tell you that is the *only* virtual marathon I’d consider running. 

I’m also still registered for the 2021 Coastal Delaware Marathon in April, since I deferred my entry after the 2020 race was canceled. That race is only a few thousand people, I think, but I have my doubts on whether that will happen next year as well. Basically, I think next spring will be as much of a wash as most of 2020, but maybe I’m wrong! I hope so! (And obviously, if I qualify for Boston and there is actually a live Boston in April, I’m doing that instead of Coastal Delaware. But that’s a whole lot of ifs!)

And as for my chances of BQing in 15 days? I think I have a good shot. Granted, I’m not as well-trained as I would like to be, as I was initially following a plan with the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11 as my end goal. So I had to chop off a month and I only got to run one 20-miler before my taper started. (I did run a 19-miler, though, as well, so is there that much of a difference? Probably not.) I also only did three rounds of Yasso 800s, but I was diligent about weekly tempo runs, which I feel are just as important, if not more so, than the 800s. I have felt really strong running in some pretty brutal weather this summer, so I think I have that in my favor. After one of the hottest, most humid summers in recent memory, could we have a nice crisp fall day for the marathon? Please?  

Runner selfie
I feel like this photo shows just how sweaty I’ve been getting on my runs!

The rest of the year

The weekend after the marathon, I actually was supposed to run a live 5K in Cape May, New Jersey, but that unexpectedly went virtual this week. I was surprised because the race company, Good Day for a Run, has been having live races all summer with participant limits and social distancing requirements. But this one was going to take place at a winery, and space was too limited for the race to be done safely. My friends and I are still going on our beach trip, though. Good Day for a Run is offering refunds, and I might just get my money back and run for fun with my girls. Do I really want to race a 5K a week after a marathon, anyway?

Aside from that, I’m doing the virtual Quantico Duathlon tomorrow, and I have to run my virtual Market Street Mile some time between Sept. 12 and 20. (I thought I had until Halloween to do it. Whoops. Nothing like trying to race an all-out mile a few days after a marathon…. That might be more difficult than racing a 5K! Yikes.)

Then in October, I’m planning to run an in-person neighborhood 5K, the Barlowe Bolt! This race usually takes place in March and I ran it in 2018 and 2019. The organizers rescheduled it for Oct. 3, but it will be a live event. I’m also running the virtual Baltimore Running Festival half marathon that month. 

And finally, I am registered for the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon in December, which is still moving forward as a live race. I know another Rehoboth-based race company has been holding live races this summer, but none are as large as this particular race, so I’m a bit skeptical. Also, this race is known for its banging after party, with everyone crammed into a tent and runners passing around a bottle of Fireball and chugging from it. It’s a GREAT time under normal circumstances. During a pandemic? Ummmm……..  

So, we’ll just have to wait and see….. Which is pretty much this year’s theme.

Why I’m not interested in running a virtual race

With races this spring getting canceled left and right because of coronavirus concerns, many race directors are offering up an alternative to runners who still want to earn their T-shirts and medals: A virtual race. 

A virtual race allows participants to run their race, well, virtually anywhere they choose. For example, the Coastal Delaware Running Festival offered entrants a virtual option when they decided to cancel next month’s race. Had I chosen to switch my registration to the virtual race, I could have run my marathon at home and then gotten my T-shirt and medal in the mail in a few weeks. 

Instead, I deferred my entry until the 2021 race. I have really no interest in running a virtual race. 

Why? I just can’t see myself paying actual money for something that doesn’t seem like a real race to me. I mean, I can just run whatever distance that is for free (though I don’t see myself ever running 26.2 miles just for the hell of it, as I’ll explain in a little bit.) For example, the Across the Bay 10K offered a virtual option in 2019 when the road race was canceled due to Bay Bridge construction. I was super bummed — I was one of the race’s legacy runners, meaning I’d run it every single year that it took place, from 2014 through 2018. 

But at the same time, I also didn’t want to pay a race fee to run 6.2 miles and get a medal in the mail. I have enough medals, it’s not like I would have been able to run across the bridge (the whole allure of that race!) and I can run 6.2 miles any old day. Not interested! 

And I REALLY don’t see myself paying money for a virtual marathon. First of all, I may have run seven marathons, but every one is still a BIG deal to me. Marathons involve a ton of training. They involve a ton of commitment. They involve a ton of energy gels, LOL. And at the end of all those weeks of training and commitment and energy gels, the race is like a big celebration. I love lining up with other runners at the start line and seeing the crowds cheering us on and high-fiving little kids and reading the funny signs spectators hold up. I love hamming it up for the race photographers (when I see them — when I don’t, I usually look like I’m about to pass a kidney stone or something). I love the exhilaration of crossing the finish line and taking my bottle of water and medal from a smiling race volunteer. 

You don’t get any of that at a virtual race. 

And above all that, my goal for Coastal Delaware was to qualify for Boston. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Boston Athletic Association doesn’t accept virtual race times as BQs. So the last thing I wanted to do is race a marathon to the best of my ability, get a Boston qualifying time and know that I can’t use it! 

Yes, I realize I could just run a virtual race as a “fun run,” but why would I do that when I spent all those weeks training? 

So virtual races really aren’t my thing, but based on my social media feeds, a lot of my runner friends are doing them to make up for their races being canceled. 

If you’re running a virtual race this spring, which one(s) are you running? What do you like about virtual races?