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.

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.

Running in the time of coronavirus: An update on my fall racing plans

In terms of my running goals, I had big plans for 2020. 

I was going to run the Coastal Delaware Marathon in April and qualify for Boston 2021, hopefully with a 10-minute margin. Then I was going to run the Chicago Marathon in October and the Philly Marathon in November. Maybe I’d get 2022 BQs at one or both of those races, but that really wasn’t my objective when I signed up for them. Chicago was supposed to be a belated 40th birthday celebration with my sisters, and Philly was going to be another fun girls weekend with my friends who live in PA. I have never run three marathons in one year and I was so excited for all of these races. 

Then the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic happened and life as we knew it changed. 

Coastal Delaware got canceled five weeks before the planned race date, and I got over it pretty quickly. I mean, what else could I do? And hey, that meant I could just make Chicago my next big “goal” marathon. Things would be back to normal over the summer, right?  

Uh, not so much. 

As of today, the Chicago Marathon is still happening. But the governor of Illinois has flat out said no mass gatherings, such as concerts or large events, until there is a vaccine or viable treatment for the virus or it’s gone completely. Doesn’t seem super likely at this point to happen by October. The marathon is one of the largest in the world, with about 45,000 runners and who knows how many spectators and volunteers. Boston 2020 has already canceled (after first being postponed) and gone virtual, and New York canceled last week as well. I don’t see any way how the race is going forward, so last week I decided to proactively cancel my registration and defer to 2021. I qualified for a spot in the race, and I don’t want to risk losing it if (when) it is canceled. It’ll be there next year, unless we are still living in COVID hell. 

I’m still registered for Philly and am just waiting to see what happens at this point. The race hasn’t even acknowledged COVID on their website or social channels, which is bizarre, to say the least. I haven’t even seen them share a “we’re monitoring the situation!” type of statement. Given how much chatter there is around race cancellations within the running community, that type of silence is really strange to me.

With all that said, I decided to do something impulsive (what? me? never!!!) and register for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on Sept. 13. As the name indicates, the marathon is mainly for runners who are going for a last-minute BQ attempt. Registration for the Boston Marathon usually opens in mid-September, though who knows what will be going on with 2021 registration. I had pretty much written off Boston 2021 at this point, but I saw people talking about this marathon in one of my running groups on Facebook and I decided to look into it.

Apparently, they are taking a ton of corona-related precautions. The race is limited to 220 runners (and they want you to plan on being within 10 minutes of your BQ time), runners have to bring their own hydration, and no spectators are allowed. You have to wear masks before and after the race when you are in common gathering areas, but not while running.  It sounds like they are thinking of giving out boxed lunches at the “after party” (so probably no beer, wahhhhhh) and only awarding prizes at the race to the top overall runners — other awards will be mailed. 

They were also upfront about the fact that the race could still be canceled if COVID numbers start escalating again, BUT if that happens, you’ll get a credit to use for the 2021 or 2022 race. So I decided I really didn’t have much to lose and signed up for it. And now I am really pumped and trying to tell myself not to be too bummed if it doesn’t happen!

I only just finished my third week of what was to be my Chicago training, so this will shorten things by a few weeks and I’ll have to make some tweaks to my training plan. Will I BQ in September, if the race happens? Who knows. I am sure as hell going to try. But honestly, I will just be so happy to run a marathon during this trash fire of a year that I will take what I can get. 

So that’s my next in-person race, for now! I am also still registered for a 5K in Cape May, New Jersey the weekend after Chasing the Unicorn — some of my friends and I were planning a girls weekend then and the race organization that is holding that event has started resuming in-person races with staggered starts and other precautions. Everything else has either been canceled or gone virtual. I’m running my next virtual 5K with Rip It Events on July 4, which somehow is this weekend already. Crazy. For such a weird year, it sure is going by fast. 

What’s your next in-person race? Do you have any planned, or are you just waiting to see what happens with COVID?

Coronavirus and running: How COVID-19 spoiled my spring racing plans

About three weeks ago, Micah and I got into an argument over the Coastal Delaware Running Festival. 

“You know that’s not going to be happening,” he said. “Coronavirus is coming here and that race is going to be canceled.” 

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. (At this point, COVID-19 was merely a threat overseas, though I knew it was likely to show up in the U.S.) 

“No, it’s not. It will be here and we are not equipped to deal with it,” he said. “I would look for another marathon just in case, and soon.” 

I kept on training for Coastal Delaware, and news about the coronavirus continued to swirl. Doesn’t the flu kill more people? I thought. Why would this lead to cancellations of events like races? 

Micah and I kept arguing about it. “I’m in the best shape of my life and I know I can qualify for Boston again,” I told him. “Yeah, that may be true, but coronavirus doesn’t care,” he retorted. 

And last week, I started to get nervous. Speculation that the Boston Marathon would be canceled for the first time ever caused a ruckus in numerous running groups I belong to on Facebook. There were people in Maryland who were tested for COVID-19 infection. The first confirmed cases of the virus began to appear in my area, and the governor declared a State of Emergency. 

So, with a week and a half ago, I signed up for the B&A Trail Marathon.

And then this week, everything blew up. 

Public schools in Maryland are closed for two weeks beginning Monday. Restrictions were placed on visitors to hospitals across the state. Public gatherings of more than 250 people have been banned in an attempt to stop the virus from infecting more people in Maryland (as of this post, there are 17 confirmed cases.) The NBA and the NHL suspended their seasons. MLB’s Opening Day has been pushed back at least two weeks.

On Wednesday, the Annapolis Striders announced B&A was canceled. The next evening, Coastal Delaware followed suit. And so did just about every road race in the DMV and beyond. The St. Patrick’s Day 5K Staci and I were going to run in Allentown, Pennsylvania got canceled. The Get Pumped For Pets race on the Eastern Shore has been postponed. (I co-authored a story about the coronavirus and race cancellations for RunWashington, but it’s largely out of date now.)

I contemplated continuing to search for another marathon to save my hard work from going to waste — the Pittsburgh Marathon in May is still on as of this writing, but I feel like it’s only a matter of time until that gets canceled, too. There’s really no point in registering. I’m still registered for the Chicago and Philly marathons this fall, and I assume things will have calmed down by then — but that’s outside of the Boston 2021 qualifying window, so I’ll have to shoot for 2022. 

(As an aside, the Boston Athletic Association announced today that they are postponing the 2020 marathon until September. Totally the right decision — runners work way too hard to get there to have that just taken away from them!)

I’m bummed out, but I also recognize that these are steps that we need to take to hopefully prevent a major public health crisis. Am I worried about getting COVID-19? Not really. I’m very healthy and rarely get sick. I can’t even recall the last time I was seriously ill. I am pretty sure that if I got coronavirus, I’d be like the vast majority of people who get it and recover relatively quickly. Maybe I’d barely notice the symptoms. The bigger concern is passing it along to someone who is not as healthy and has a compromised immune system. I don’t want to get the virus and then pass it on to someone who could develop pneumonia and die. 

And is running Boston 2021 really THAT important? I ran the marathon last year. I loved it. Seriously, the day I ran the Boston Marathon is easily among my favorite days ever. But there are so many more Bostons to come and I know I have so many more chances to qualify and run from Hopkinton to Boston. 

Lining up at the start of the 2019 Boston Marathon
I was just so excited to be running the Boston Marathon!

It sucks, because I really thought a BQ and a marathon PR were mine next month. But I’ll dial back on my training (I’ll still keep on running a lot — I just won’t be following any kind of training plan at the moment) and then kick it back up again in June to prepare for Chicago. My calendar is now clear of races until the Get Pumped For Pets 15K and the St. Michael’s Half Marathon, both in May. We’ll see if things are back to normal then — I know there is a chance they won’t be. (Hence my hesitation at signing up for Pittsburgh.)

At the end of the day, it’s just running. I’ll keep on doing it because I love it and look forward to the day that I can race again. Because that day will come!   

Life musings: Reflecting on the past 12 years in Maryland

On Sept. 1, 2007 –12 years ago today — I moved to Maryland. I packed up my life in small town Pennsylvania, where I had worked as a newspaper reporter for the previous five years, to follow my then-boyfriend to Towson, Maryland. Everyone but me could see it was a dead end relationship, but I was young and clueless. I took a job at the Maryland Gazette, a twice-weekly sister publication to The Annapolis Capital (way back before the papers merged.) It didn’t pay enough to cover the much higher cost of living in Maryland, and the commute to and from Towson was painful, but I figured I’d move on after a year or so anyway.

I wasn’t a runner then, and my exercise routine consisted mainly of evening walks with the BF.

My, how things have changed in the last dozen years.

I broke up with that boyfriend after years of treading water. I moved on to The Capital, then left the newspaper industry to work in online news for a TV station. Eventually, I left journalism and switched to a career in marketing. I moved to Annapolis. I joined a gym where I met my husband. And I became a runner.

How did that happen? Well, here is my story.

I wasn’t an athletic child, to say the least, preferring to spend my free time reading instead of engaging in any kind of sports activity. In gym class, I was a hot mess. I was a small kid who was usually picked last, and I usually embarrassed myself when it was time to play volleyball (did I ever get the ball over the net? I don’t think I did, even once!)

But the one thing I didn’t completely hate was when we had to run a mile on the track. In those days, I ran the mile in about eight minutes. I certainly wasn’t track star material, but I didn’t finish at the bottom of the class. Still, it never occurred to me to join the track or cross country team. That was for athletes, and I was no athlete!

So if you had told me 20 years ago that I’d be going to group fitness classes and running races for fun — let alone qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon! — I would never have believed it. (I’m pretty sure I had no idea what the Boston Marathon was back then, or why it’s such a big deal to runners.)

I can’t quite pinpoint when I went for my first run, but I know it was on the treadmill at the gym at my apartment complex in Towson. This was the first time I’d ever lived anywhere with a treadmill, so I figured I’d start to use it. I wasn’t particularly serious about it and my runs then were probably more like a slow jog, but it became part of my routine when I wasn’t taking walks or at the aerobics classes I signed up for shortly after my move to Maryland. At that point, I never considered running outside (only real runners did that.)

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In my early days in Maryland, I was more into partying than running.

When I broke up with my boyfriend and moved out of that apartment and into a new place in Annapolis in 2011, I no longer had access to a gym, so I joined the Pip Moyer Recreation Center. And that’s when I started to hit the treadmill religiously. As in, every single night after work. I was newly single and had extra time on my hands. This was a way to relieve stress and stay in shape. Still never thought about running outside, and certainly never considered entering a race at that point.

The treadmill became a source of comfort to me over the next year and a half as I navigated the dating world (boy, that was fun) and switched to a more demanding, stressful beat at the newspaper. It kept me sane. Then I started to see a really cute guy running on the indoor track who seemed to always be looking my way. After several months, he introduced himself to me and told me he was training for the Baltimore Marathon.

“Wow!” I said. “I could never do that.”

I did, however, sign up to run a Halloween 5K in Rehoboth in October of 2012 when my friend Staci suggested it. The race ended up getting postponed due to Hurricane Sandy, so Staci and I ran it in November. I think I wore sweatpants and a hoodie and finished in 27 minutes or something like that (we’d also been out partying at the Purple Parrot the night before and didn’t get to bed until after 2 am.) But I had fun, and so I decided to register for the Turkey Trot in my hometown on Thanksgiving Day.

This was about the same time the hot guy from the gym finally asked me out. We decided to go running together at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and I was so intimidated. He was a marathon runner, after all.

But not only was that the beginning of a beautiful relationship (we’ve been married for three years now), it was also when I started to run outside in addition to running on the treadmill. In the spring of 2013, I decided to register for the Annapolis Ten Mile Run, since I was regularly running between five and seven miles for fun and for fitness.

The 2013 A10 was a true turning point for me. That was when I became truly hooked on racing and began to see myself as a runner.

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Almost immediately, I signed up for a half marathon. Then a year after that, I signed up for my first marathon.

Pittsburgh Marathon 2015

The 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon was my first marathon — and Micah’s last!

I ran more 5Ks, 10Ks, 10 milers, half marathons. In 2017, I set my sights on qualifying for Boston, and I BQ’d in December of that year.

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Just after finishing the 2019 Boston Marathon.

Running has remained a huge source of comfort and stability to me, particularly as I’ve navigated the ups and downs of my career. Journalism has never been an easy way to make a living, with the long hours, low pay and relentless deadlines, but the last 15 years have been brutal for the industry (I graduated college in 2002, meaning I entered the profession just as the bottom was starting to fall out.) In 2017, I left the field completely and to be completely honest, I’m still trying to find my way in this new world and figuring out what success means to me. Running allows me to feel like I am making progress toward a goal and doing something productive outside of work.

Would I have become a runner if I hadn’t moved to Maryland?

It’s hard to say how my life would have turned out. I wonder about that all the time — what if I’d split up with that boyfriend in 2007 instead of moving to be with him in Maryland? What if I stayed in Pennsylvania or just moved to another state? Of course, I would never have met my husband then, so I’m glad I came here. And I think there’s a good chance I might not have discovered my passion for running.

I don’t know what the next 12 years hold for me, but I hope I continue to be able to run. It’s become such a vital part of me.

My running goals for 2019

Happy New Year! This year is already off to a good start, running-wise. Today I ran Charm City Run’s Resolution Run 5K in Baltimore and finished second in my age group with a time of 23:54. To be honest, that was my slowest 5K in years! There are a few reasons why I believe that was the case:

  1. It was at 2 pm, which makes fueling a challenge! Usually I like to eat my bagel, peanut butter and half a banana in the morning for breakfast before a race– today, we slept in (duh, last night was New Year’s Eve), then got up and made omelettes before heading out about two hours later. By the time my husband and I got to Baltimore and lined up at the start, I was hungry again! I might not have made it had it been a longer race.
  2. There was a loooonngg hill at mile 2 that really took the gas out of me.
  3. It was so windy. It actually felt like an early spring day — I believe it was about 60 degrees — but running into the wind is never any fun.
  4. I didn’t feel 100 percent. No, not because I was hungover (seriously!) We went to Florida for Christmas and both brought home coughs. I feel mostly OK, but I’m sure it had an impact — once I crossed the finish line, I started coughing hard immediately.

I really enjoyed this race, though. It was held in Patterson Park in Baltimore, which is a lovely park, and proceeds benefited Earl’s Place, which helps men in the city who are homeless. Afterward, runners got chili (and there was a vegetarian option!) and cornbread, plus there was an epic cookie spread. Yum!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals for 2019, which is a big year for me because I get to run the Boston Marathon on April 15! That is obviously going to be my main focus for the next few months, but I have a lot of other plans, too.

  1. I am going to race a triathlon. I can’t believe I am going to do this. I can barely swim! So it looks like I’ll need to take some refresher lessons. Rip It Events’ Columbia Association Triathlon in June has two options: A sprint and a super sprint. The super sprint, which is what I am going to do, is a 200 yard swim, a 5 mile bike ride and a 1.75 mile run, and fortunately, the swim is in a pool (open water freaks me the hell out.) This is so far out of my comfort zone — in addition to not being a good swimmer, I do not excel at sprinting anything — but hey, why not? As a Rip It ambassador, I am racing this tri for free. I do have a 15 percent discount code to share with anyone who is interested, so if you would like to sign up, let me know! 
  2. I would like to run a sub-1:40 half marathon. I have run 17 half marathons, with a two-year-old PR of 1:41:01. I have yet to actually follow a training plan for a half — I just kinda wing it. Maybe if I followed an actual half marathon plan, I could see some real improvements in my time. We’ll see. I’m already signed up for two halfs late in 2019 — the half at the Baltimore Running Festival in October and the Rehoboth Seashore Half in December — so I guess my training for those will depend a lot upon my training for a bigger race in the fall. Which brings me to my next goal….
  3. I need to settle on a fall marathon — or maybe something more? I have long said that I have no interest in going beyond 26.2 miles, but one of my friends was raving about an ultramarathon he did in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area a few years ago and encouraged me to consider it. It’s a 50K, so not THAT much more than a marathon … right? I’m torn. I really love the 26.2 distance and am already thinking about trying to shoot for a 2021 BQ, since I will be in a new age group. (Yet my standard will still be 3:40, thanks to the recent changes the Boston Athletic Association made to the qualifying times.) If I do run a fall marathon in 2019, it will either be Steamtown in Scranton, Pa., Marine Corps, Philly or Richmond. Gah! So many marathons I would love to run. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

What are your goals for 2019?

Book review: Long Road to Boston

I love to read just as much as I love to run, so I am always looking for books that inspire me as a runner.

Long Road to Boston: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Marathon, by Mark Sutcliffe, did just that. This book is a must-read for anyone who aspires to run the Boston Marathon.

As the title indicates, this book is largely a memoir of marathoner Sutcliffe’s attempts to qualify for the Boston Marathon. But it’s also a well-researched book that goes into a lot of detail about the history of the Boston Marathon. For example, probably all marathon runners (and lots of people who don’t run marathons) have heard of Heartbreak Hill. They may even know it’s at mile 20 of the Boston Marathon. But did you know why it’s called Heartbreak Hill? Back in 1936, defending champion Johnny Kelley passed another runner, Ellison Brown, patting him on the shoulder as he surged ahead of him. Brown then ended up winning the marathon in the end, leading to Kelley’s heartbreak.

I did not know this — I always thought Heartbreak Hill was so named because it’s at the point in the marathon where runners often begin to hit the wall and maybe miss their goal times, therefore breaking their hearts.

I also learned a lot about the history of the Boston Marathon qualifying standards and how much they have changed over the years. At one point in time, male runners had to post a 2:50 marathon to be allowed to run Boston, and female runners had to run a 3:20. Glad the Boston Athletic Association has relaxed the standards since those days!

In the author’s case, his qualifying standard was 3:25 when he started seriously trying to qualify after he’d already run many marathons. After missing his qualifying standard by a few minutes again and again, Sutcliffe qualified for and ran the 2014 Boston Marathon. The cutoff that year was 1:38, meaning runners had to run 1 minute, 38 seconds below their BQ time, and Sutcliffe made it by 22 seconds!

I felt pretty fortunate reading all about his journey to a BQ, because it didn’t take me nearly as long to qualify. I qualified in my fourth marathon, the first time I’d ever truly attempted to BQ. I say that not to brag, but to point out that I most definitely had an advantage being a woman in the 35-39 age group, where the standard is 3:40. The standards are much tougher for men, and there is some debate about whether that’s fair or not.

However, I definitely related to Sutcliffe’s comments that getting older is something a lot of runners look forward to, because it means they’ll be in a new age group with new qualifying standards. I’ll be 40 in two and a half years, and you can bet I’m excited for a 3:45 standard (assuming the BAA doesn’t change the standards, which they very well might in the next couple of years.)

What I loved the most about his book, though, was his vivid descriptions of the race. From the start of the race in Hopkinton to the famous Wellesley scream tunnel to the Newton Hills to the finish line on Boylston Street, reading the book has made me more excited than ever to run the 2019 Boston Marathon! (Assuming the BAA accepts my time with its 4:59 cushion — or five-minute cushion, depending on whether they count that extra 7/10 of a second! It”s still unclear to me.)

I’ve read several other memoirs written by runners trying to get to Boston, but this was my favorite because Sutcliffe also included so much historical information about the marathon itself. That made the book more than just a typical running memoir, and I know will make me appreciate my Boston experience all the more when I line up at the starting line in Hopkinton.

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!