Growing up, I did not do any type of athletic-y things. I was in band, choir, show choir (yes, it was separate!), theater, math club, you name it. Basically anything nerdy and unathletic – I was a part of it! The idea that I could ever run a Marathon was crazy, and the idea that I could qualify for the Boston Marathon was beyond the realm of possibility. So, at the 2012 Chicago Marathon when I BQ’d (Boston qualified) on my first attempt, it was truly a life changing moment for me. Here is a quick rundown of my journey to a BQ, and I hope it inspires a few of you to attempt something you once thought was impossible as well.
Deciding to attempt a BQ
This was not an easy to decision to make. For anyone that has attempted to BQ, missed by seconds OR made it by seconds, you know how agonizing it can be to decide you want to try to BQ. You are committing months of your life to the pursuit, with the grueling workouts and mental stress…it’s a lot.
First, I had to go in with the right motivation and mindset. When I ran my first, and even second, Marathon I had ZERO desire to BQ. I didn’t think I could! And, I didn’t think I wanted to put in the work. Running was fun, and I didn’t want to not enjoy training because it became too hard. But, if you hang around runners long enough you start drinking the Kool-Aid.
In 2011, I ran my second Marathon in 3:48, cutting 11 minutes off my initial Marathon time using a light training plan. A month later I spectated Tim running his first Boston. The excitement and grandeur of the entire weekend piqued my interest, and I started to wonder how much extra time I could cut.
Later that fall, I joined my friend Craig (who appeared on The BibRave Bonus Mile: Safety Edition) for an 800s workout – the first time I had every attempted any type of speed/interval workout. His goal was to run 800s at a 6:30-7:00 pace. I was used to running all my training runs around the same pace, about 8:30-9:15, so I wasn’t confident I’d be able to do it. But, I was seriously lacking motivation to run by myself so I was willing to try the workout for some “run company.” After crushing the workout I was amazed I was able to keep-up. I started to think… maybe I could run faster than I thought, and the seed was planted.
Next, I needed a good strategy. I hopped onto a few forums on RunnersWorld.com and found a thread specifically dedicated to women attempting to BQ. After participating in tons of conversation and hearing from other experienced Marathoners, I started to believe that with speed work and higher mileage a BQ was a very real possibility. The book Advanced Marathoning, by Pete Pfitzinger, was heavily recommended along with his 18/55 plan (18 weeks, 55 miles per week), so I bought the book immediately and started reading.
Learning about the “Why”
The book Advanced Marathoning changed my running life. I had read tons of articles on Marathon training, but I was too intimidated to do any speed work so I just ignored any plans that required more than knowing how many miles to run. Additionally, the idea of running my long runs slower just didn’t make sense to me. It only seemed logical that the shorter the run the faster it should be, since I’d inevitably slow down the farther I ran.
Learning the intricate science behind why each type of workout matters was fascinating! By learning what happens to the body during a Marathon and why Marathoning is not just about aerobic adaption, I started to understand the purpose of different workouts. Learning about the multiple different systems in our body that we have to optimize to take on this crazy distance fed my new runner nerd mind. The book even addressed my natural runner inclination to argue with the science. I decided to buy fully into the Pfitzinger plan and identified Chicago 2012 as my goal race. A bonus: the training plan only required running 5 days a week which was a huge win – I really love my rest days!
The training was hard. One of my first long runs was 13 miles with 8 at Marathon Pace (MP) and I ended up having to split the MP miles into two separate chunks. I regularly returned from weekday tempo runs completely exhausted, having pushed myself to its absolute limit. I also ran my first 20-miler almost 10 weeks before race day, versus the 3-5 weeks before race day, so my mileage peaked and stayed high early on. I was able to hit almost all my goal workout paces, but I was exhausted.
One morning coming home after a hard tempo workout, I complained to Tim about how hard these runs felt. Tim, in his Tim way, told me “if it wasn’t hard you wouldn’t be improving.” He was, of course, completely right. If I was going to cut 14 minutes off my PR, I needed to push myself to my limits. And while the workouts were draining, I also felt awesome. Running fast was something that used to terrify me, and now I was running more miles faster than I ever had before. It brought me a new appreciation for running and what my body could achieve. I felt strong.
When race morning arrived I was a ball of nerves. It seemed like a year of my life was coming down to this one morning. Now in hindsight, I know that one race wasn’t going to make or break me. There would be another Marathon 😃 (17 more actually!). But in the moment I wasn’t sure how many more I would ever run so… this was it!
I was running with my brother-in-law, Wes, who was also attempting a PR. We joined the 3:35 pace group at the start, but ended up slightly ahead of them by Mile 8/9. I was nervous about pushing too much too early, but the space outside the pace group was nice, and we maintained a good clip all the way until 20. When we hit Mile 20 we both started to pick up the pace. I could tell we were feeling strong and anxious, but I didn’t want to overdo it too early and give back the time we had gained. In my previous Marathons I didn’t hit the wall HARD, but I definitely had to run through some dark spots. Soon we hit Mile 24 and I didn’t feel like death! We hit the gas and cruised to the finish in 3:32:17! I clocked a 16-minute PR, and felt better than both prior Marathons. It was magical.
That race truly changed the trajectory of my relationship with running. I’ve run at least 2 Marathons every year since, and I started to appreciate pushing my body in new ways. I count myself incredibly lucky to have BQ’d on my first attempt. I will also never take the BQ for granted. Despite having now run 2 more PRs since then, I’ve had many more failed races than successful races. My PR at Berlin last fall will get me back to Boston for the 2019 race. After 2 years of spectating I’m antsy to get back to Hopkinton to toe the line with 35,000 runners who are recognizing this historic tradition and celebration.