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?

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! 

I’m a Boston qualifier! Recapping the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon

No need to bury the lede — I qualified for the Boston Marathon in Rehoboth Beach on Saturday!

Three days later, and the excitement still hasn’t worn off. I really did it! All that hard work paid off! Next September, I will get to register for the 2019 Boston Marathon.

My BQ standard is 3:40, and I ran a 3:35:00:7 — that’s right, seven-tenths of a second over a perfect 3:35, which was my goal. If you run five minutes or more under your standard, the Boston Athletic Association lets you register during week one of registrations — not sure if this counts. Anyone know? The field for the Boston Marathon has gotten so competitive over the past few years that to gain entrance into the 2018 marathon, you had to run a whole three minutes, 23 seconds under your standard — which is why I was shooting for 3:35 instead of 3:40. I should have a pretty good cushion for 2019, barring any major jumps in the cutoff time.

The road to a BQ goes through Rehoboth 

The Rehoboth Marathon was my fourth full marathon, and the first time I trained specifically for a BQ. I decided to go for it after I ran the Charlottesville Marathon last April in 3:42:15, surprising myself — it was a difficult course, and my last long run before my taper was a disaster of a 20-miler. I always train hard, but I knew if I pushed myself even harder, I could earn a Boston qualifier. Enter Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 marathon training plan, which had me running Yasso 800s (I truly believe this is what got me the 3:35 … more on that in a bit), hill repeats and three 30-mile weekends comprised of 10 miles one day, 20 miles the next.

It was a damn tough plan, but it worked. I chose Rehoboth because I’ve been vacationing there most of my life, and it’s one of my favorite places in the world. The course is also super flat, unlike, well, every other marathon I’ve run. I think the fast course, coupled with that training plan and the amazing weather on race day, helped me meet my goal.

Speaking of the weather, I was REAL nervous about it. The race (which is both a full and a half marathon) has a really active Facebook group, and about 10 days out from the race, people started posting forecasts. One of the early forecasts called for 30 mph winds, and my heart sunk immediately when I saw that. I really feel the crazy winds hurt me in the Annapolis Running Classic and the Turkey Chase 10K two weekends ago, so I was not happy about possibly facing the same thing in the marathon. Fortunately, the forecast changed and there was almost no wind at all! With temperatures at the start of the race in the 40s, and the sun shining, it really was pretty ideal weather for a December race.

The race

My plan was to run with the 3:40 pace group for at least the first half of the marathon, then pass them by. I figured staying with the 3:40 group in the beginning would keep me from starting out too fast, then burning out late in the race. It ended up being the right strategy.

Both the half and full marathon started off at the Rehoboth Bandstand on Rehoboth Avenue, and right away, I noticed how crowded it was. I was pretty much running shoulder to shoulder with other runners until I broke off from the pace group at mile 14. That was the only thing I really didn’t like about the race — but when you’re running on narrow-ish streets, through a state park and down a rail trail, it’s kind of to be expected. I definitely had to apologize a few times to other runners I elbowed!

That aside, I thought the course was just beautiful. After starting in downtown Rehoboth, runners in both races ran through Cape Henlopen State Park, a favorite place of mine. The half marathoners turned around at a pavilion inside the park, while everyone running the marathon ran through the park and into Lewes Beach. We even got to run along the coast line for a hot second. At around mile 10, we ran past a Dairy Queen, where workers were handing out small servings of vanilla ice cream. While that was a nice idea, there was no way I was brave enough to try eating ice cream when I still had 16 miles left to run — I’ve had issues with dairy during training as it is. I stuck with my typical marathon fueling plan, which is taking Gu at miles five, 10, 15 and 20. It worked, though I felt my stomach start to grumble just before I hit mile 15 and got worried that a crash was imminent. Fortunately, the Gu (shout out to the lemon sublime and toasted marshmallow flavors!) did its job.

After turning around in Lewes Beach, the marathon runners went back through the park, and I decided it was time for me to go off on my own. At that point, I had been running a steady 8:20 pace, and it felt really comfortable. I started to speed up into the low 8s, while still making a point to appreciate the view around me (if you haven’t visited Cape Henlopen State Park, you totally should!) When I looked at my watch and saw I ran mile 15 in 7:58, I got a little nervous that I was going too fast, but I still felt great. I ran mile 16 in 8:07 and 17 in 8:16, and then came upon two runners who were chatting about running Boston.

I told them I was trying to qualify, and the one runner, James, asked me what time I was shooting for. I said I needed 3:40, but wanted a 3:35. He offered to pace me the rest of the marathon, which was so nice of him. He told me he was trying to take it easy with a 3:40 time, so he was quite obviously a much faster runner than I am! At this point, I was still feeling really strong and we hit miles 18 and 19 (which were back in the town of Rehoboth) at a sub-8 pace.

That pace continued as we ran miles 20 and 21 together, then we entered the Junction and Breakwater Trail, a rail trail that I didn’t even know existed until this race. (Now I have a new place to run when I come to the beach!) The trail was a little uneven, but not too bad, and I was able to hold a steady pace in the high 7s/low 8s. One big highlight was the dozens of flags hanging above the trail at mile 22, representing countries from all around the world. The volunteers at that stop were playing awesome music, too. At that point, I remember looking down at my watch and seeing I was at three hours, and knew that I could conceivably finish in the low 3:30s. After the turnaround point at the end of the trail, it was time to head back into Rehoboth, and I knew the finish line was near!

At mile 24, I started to hit “the wall,” and even began to feel a bit queasy. But my running partner cheered me on and I managed to power through. At mile 25, as we were running into Rehoboth, a spectator called out, “You look so athletic!” which made my day. At that point, I kept my eyes trained on the sidelines looking for my husband (who was in the bathroom when I crossed the finish line at the Charlottesville Marathon, haha.)

This time, he was right there at mile 26, and when he saw me, he yelled “EMPTY THE TANK! The finish line is right around the corner!” So I pretty much pushed as hard as I could mentally, ran that last 0.2 with everything left in me and crossed the finish line in a hair over 3:35. I hugged my new friend, who congratulated me on the BQ. Then I met up with my husband, who had brought a change of clean clothes for me, and it was time to hit the after party! I got three beer tickets, for three Dogfish Head Seaquench Ales (one of my favorite beers), and boy, did they taste good!

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Why I qualified 

Aside from the kindness of a fellow marathoner, there are a few reasons why I had such a successful race.

  1. Yasso 800s. This speed workout is named after its creator, Runner’s World’s Bart Yasso, who realized he could predict his marathon time, more or less, by how fast he could run 800 meters. My training plan had me doing the 800s every three weeks, starting off with repeats of four, all the way up to repeats of eight. I ran my repeats in 3:35, and ….. voila, a 3:35 marathon! Of course there is probably more to it than that, but I was amazed at how accurate the 800s turned out to be. I tweeted Yasso after the race, and he said he was actually in Rehoboth cheering on the runners — so I ran past him and didn’t even realize!
  2. I ran more than ever before. This is a no brainer, but the more miles you log, the faster you will get. In previous training cycles, I’d always run one 20-miler before tapering. This time, I ran three. Plus, the day before the long run always included a medium-long run– for example, eight miles Saturday then 16 on Sunday; nine miles, then 19 miles; and finally, three weekends of 10 miles, then 20 miles. Some weekends I felt like I did nothing but run!
  3. The weather! Totally out of a runner’s control, but bad weather can make or break a race. I struggled with what to wear during this race, and settled on a long-sleeved technical top and running tights. I did not wear a running jacket, and I’m glad I didn’t, because even with temperatures in the 40s, it started to warm up pretty quickly. I never felt too hot or cold, and I feel like I really lucked out there.
  4. I followed the long, slow distance rule during long runs, but also worked on finishing fast. You’re supposed to do your long runs during marathon training at a pace that’s easy and comfortable for you, which is probably not your race pace. I usually have a hard time doing that, but this time, I ran my long runs in the 9-minute range. But I also threw in a few marathon pace miles in there and worked on finishing fast (I ran the last two miles of my 20-milers at a sub-8 pace.) I feel that definitely helped me in the last few miles of the Rehoboth Marathon, when I was pushing hard physically and mentally.
  5. I believed in myself. Simple, but true! I’ve spent the last few months thinking about my goal and dreaming of what it would feel like to run a BQ time. I knew I had the physical ability to do it, and I’d certainly put in the work. I truly saw this as my race. And it was.

Since I qualified for Boston 2019, that leaves me in search of a marathon in 2018! What should my next one be? I’m thinking of targeting a November marathon, but I’m so used to training for marathons over the winter that I kind of want to do a spring one, too. I welcome your suggestions!

 

Halfway done with training for the Rehoboth Marathon

The Rehoboth Marathon is just two months away!

Yesterday was my longest run to date of this training cycle — 17 miles. As I was running along the Baltimore-Annapolis Trail, enjoying the absolutely perfect fall weather, I thought about how much harder the training is going to get in the next few weeks.

This weekend calls for 9 miles on Saturday and 19 miles on Sunday, then I have three 20-milers sprinkled over the next six weeks. This plan I am following is all new to me — with previous marathons, I’ve followed a plan that called for one 20-miler, then the taper. It’s challenging, but I’m confident in my abilities and so far, I feel really good.

(In non-running related life happenings, the husband and I are also in the process of buying a house, so I’m trying to jam house tours into my weekend schedule, as well. Fun times. Who needs a social life?)

Here’s what I’ve learned after the first two months of training for my fourth marathon:

Running long and slow is HARD. I have more trouble with the “run slow” part, which probably sounds really cocky. But like most runners, I’m in the habit of pushing myself as hard as I can, including on long training runs. But running as fast as you can isn’t the point of the long run — it’s to build up strength and endurance so you aren’t burned out on race day. Makes sense. It’s just hard to put into practice. But I think I did all right on this weekend’s long run. Tried to take it nice and slow — just like Usher said. 🙂

Eating the right foods is important. That’s not exactly groundbreaking information, but like running long and slow, it’s sometimes easier said than done. An example: This Sunday, I was fairly lazy. I didn’t get up until 10:30 (I wish I was one of those runners who’s up at 6 a.m. sharp pounding out those miles! But I like sleep.) Then, I wanted to watch the Steelers-Ravens game (go Steelers!) at 1 p.m. I didn’t actually make it out for my run until 4:30 p.m.

For a late breakfast, I ate a bagel with sunflower seed butter and banana (protein and carbs, good choice), but then my pre-run snack was … a piece of beer bread and three Reese’s peanut butter pumpkins. FAIL. I brought an energy gel along on my run, but I was pretty hungry by the end of it. Not good.

My expensive gel pedicures are a necessity! My husband complains about the cost until he looks at my feet. They’re a freaking train wreck even after the best pedi my money can buy, so imagine if I didn’t take care of them. Right now, I’m rocking a sexy blood blister on my left foot. Based on past training experiences, I know a black toenail or two isn’t far behind. Whatever. Sandal season is almost done for the year anyway!

Two months down, two months to go. Bring on the next eight weeks!

Hill yes!

I’m no stranger to running up hills.

Annapolis, where I do almost all of my training, is hillier than one might think (the A10 is often described as a challenging race partly because of all the rolling hills.) Most of the hills here aren’t super long or super steep, but they are definitely there.

That said, I’ve never done any dedicated hill training before now, as I work to BQ at the Rehoboth Marathon on Dec. 2.

I missed a BQ by two minutes and 15 seconds when I ran the Charlottesville Marathon in April (talk about hills.) To be honest, I thought it would be cool to run a BQ time — for me, that’s three hours, 40 minutes — but I wasn’t intentionally training for one. After I came so close, I thought, well, if I really push myself next time, maybe I can do it!

Enter Hal Higdon’s Advanced 2 marathon training schedule, which includes hill repeats every third week. The plan starts with three hill repeats, and progresses all the way up to seven hill repeats. They’re relatively short runs, but they will get your heart pumping and your legs aching.

I’ve been doing my hill repeats on the Naval Academy Bridge, which is one of my favorite places to run in Annapolis.

Why is it one of my favorite places? I mean, look at this:

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That was the view from the bridge at sunset the other night.

It was just the best reward after four rounds of hill repeats.

The Naval Academy Bridge is a solid choice for the hill workouts, too, because you can run up one side, catch your breath at the top, take in the pretty view, jog down the other side, then run back up. It’s perfect!

The Rehoboth Marathon is a flat course, so I’m hoping that a solid foundation in hill training will give me an advantage in my quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Do you do hill training as part of your workouts? What advice do you have for me?