Finishing the World Marathon Majors

Tokyo Marathon March 3, 2019

Goals

What to say about goals…I came out of Berlin in worse shape than I realized at the time. I had been struggling with what I thought was sciatica, but was told had something to do with my hamstring, and it had not gotten any better. I also had plantar fasciitis in my right foot that wasn’t going away. Less than two weeks after Berlin, I had a night of debilitating pain – lie on the floor-dosed up on painkiller-still feeling 7 out of 10 kind of pain. I couldn’t get up; Derek tried to help me up so that I could go to the bathroom and I passed out from the pain. Somehow we got into see a PT that day and he “diagnosed” it as a bulging or herniated disc that was pressing on my nerve. He gave me some exercises to do to help it to get better; if it wasn’t materially better (almost all gone) in 2 weeks than I should go to a doctor to order an MRI and get it officially diagnosed. So I couldn’t run; frankly I couldn’t sit as that aggravated it, I couldn’t really stand for any length of time, so I did a lot of lying on the floor.

It got better – dramatically at first and then slowly. I think I took three weeks completely off from running or any activity really. Then I did 5 miles in the first week of this “marathon cycle.” I started with walk / run (something like walk 5 min, run 1) and worked my way gradually to a light run. I think I built up 5 mpw, then 10, then 14, etc. So – at that point, my goal for Tokyo was just to finish and get my six star medal.

I focused on a steady build, not pressing myself too hard because I didn’t want to set myself back. And I eventually worked my way up to 40 mpw and started doing some tempo or speed work. I still felt out of shape, sluggish, and heavy, but I was making progress.

At some point – I started feeling like I could go after a strong time. I’m not exactly sure when, but sometime in January, my goal became to break 3:45 (and BQ at every major) or maybe even try for a 3:40. Terry was starting to talk to me about going after a PR, which I hadn’t even thought of at all.

Two weeks before the marathon, we celebrated my birthday in Durango. I’m not sure what happened, although I think sitting for a long day on a train was a big contributor, but I spasmed my back on Sunday. I couldn’t run at all on Monday – I tried, but I kept spasming and it was too painful. That brought my goals crashing back down. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to finish – as the cutoffs for Tokyo are too tight to walk the whole thing.

I saw Nick Speegle and he told me that I would be fine – it would ease up and be normal before the race. Rest it for a few days, then ease back into running. And that my fitness would be fine. Terry Casey said the same thing about my fitness – don’t worry about the time away from running, just consider it extra rest. I stayed hopeful. It was really challenging to stay optimistic and keep the faith. After a good amount of progress from my first visit to Nick on that Monday, progress seemed really slow. I still couldn’t run on Thursday even for a few minutes. I finally ran nearly one continuous mile on Saturday. And on Sunday, I got myself to run a total of 6 miles – with the longest continuous segment being 3 miles. It was still weak and feeling twitchy or spasm-y – but I got through it.

We flew to LA on Tuesday night and to Tokyo on Wednesday. My back was making progress but so slowly. It still didn’t feel normal and I wasn’t at all certain about being able to run 26.2 miles. I did feel confident that I could run enough miles that I would finish the race within the cutoff even if I walked the rest, so my six stars would still be achieved.

Derek and I agreed – I wouldn’t set any real goal until the morning of the race. I didn’t need to make any decisions until then. We did a light shakeout on Friday and it still felt tight, but I was able to run. Then Saturday was the short Friendship Run – and I didn’t feel my back, but my left glute felt funky and strained – oh no! We stayed off our feet the rest of the day. At some point that day I decided that I would probably just go for it – run and run hard, for as long as I could do it.

So – I guess in the end my goals were:

A goal: Sub 3:40

B goal: Sub 3:45

C goal: BQ or better (sub 3:55)

D goal: finish and get my sixth star

Race Day

One of the neat things about doing the World Marathon Majors is experiencing the nuances from race to race – each race does things slightly differently – especially the international ones. You see their culture reflected in the race. In this case – Tokyo is the tightest on start area security. You are not allowed to bring in any plastic bottles or water carriers. So no Nathan flasks – which meant I had to deviate from my normal fueling strategy. I normally take UCAN – I take a serving before the race that I generally mix up and bring with me in a disposable water bottle and I carry hip flasks filled with UCAN and water for the race itself.

We brought some Huma gels with us for fueling instead – I practiced twice with them prior to the race. I had them tucked into an elastic bib belt. It turns out – I’ve never run in that bib belt with so much fuel in it (I had 5 gels tucked into it plus one small vial of Base salt). Once I started running, the bib belt kept bouncing down my body – I thought it would fall down! I had to keep fixing it, eventually I just tucked one of the gels into my shorts to keep the whole thing stationary.

Race day weather was rainy and chilly. I’ve always hear that 45-46 Fahrenheit is considered ideal marathoning weather, so I think the temps were actually favorable – although many reports and other runners said it was really cold afterwards. Unfortunately it was going to start raining around 7am (race start was 9:10am) and rain throughout the race. Thankfully no meaningful wind was expected. So – another marathon in rainy weather – but at least this wasn’t the epic sleet / rain storm that Boston was!

The start area was just outside our hotel. In fact, my entry gate was like a block away from my hotel – so it was super easy. They opened the start area at 7am. Derek and I split up – he had gotten in through the lottery, so he had a different gate to enter. They scan your wristband first – it’s tied to a picture of you that they took at the expo. Then they check your bags and you walk through a metal detector. I didn’t have that much of a wait – so I got through quickly. I dropped my bag off and headed to a central area to find Derek.

It took him awhile to get there. We were huddling under an overpass to try to stay dry. Around 8am, we decided to head to the corrals – they opened at 7:45 and closed at 8:45am. We had different stairs to walk up (Derek was corral B, I was corral D) – so we separated again. Turns out, we could have met up once we got up the stairs, but we didn’t plan that – so it didn’t happen. I decided to take one last trip to the portapot and ended up getting in line for Japanese style portapots (squatty potties). I decided to just stay in that line rather than getting in another line for Western style and I managed.

I need to digress here to talk about toilets. Yup, toilets. In our hotel room and in some of the nicer public areas (e.g., restaurants, etc.), they have toilets that have so many buttons on them that it seems like it would take a rocket scientist to figure them out. Truthfully, I never pushed any of the extra buttons – so I don’t know what they all do (Derek did one time, so you can ask him). But – our bathroom toilet in our hotel room had an extra feature – the toilet seat is warmed! I thought car seat warmers were the best thing since sliced bread! I need one of these for our house!

In contrast – they do still have non-western style squatty potties in some places (fairly rare), notably the portapots. Which struck me as so odd – a society that somehow has managed to invent and purchase the most advanced toilets I have ever seen and yet also has your very basic squatty potty. Even funnier – in many of the western-style toilets out in public areas, there are pictograms (probably accompanied by Japanese text, but since I can’t read Japanese, I don’t remember this much) that show you how to properly use a western-style toilet (by sitting on it with your back to the tank area of the toilet). There are also pictograms that show you the incorrect way to use it (with a big red circle and x through it) – essentially showing a stick figure squatting on the toilet (with their feet on the seat?) facing the tank.

Ok – a digression within a digression – something else we learned while in Japan – anything out of the ordinary can generally be attributed to “foreigners,” most likely from other Asian countries. These pictograms – they are for the Chinese; people who wear colored face masks (not the normal white ones) – probably foreigners; Asian women walking around Kyoto in rental kimonos inappropriate to the season – foreigners. We heard this from our Japanese tour guide in Kyoto, the bus driver, Derek’s old college friend who we met for dinner in Tokyo – so this is a commonly shared belief.

Back to my toilet digression (bet you guys thought this was a race report and not a thesis on toilets in Japan) – along the race course – there would be volunteers holding up signs indicating where the portapot stops were. These signs also had a distance written underneath the normal bathroom sign (I saw distances ranging from 400m to 1.2 km). Neither Derek nor I needed to use the bathrooms on the course – so we both assumed that this was the Japanese being super organized and that the distances indicated the distance to the next set of portapots. What we found out later from other runners was that this was actually the distance to the portapots! So, in some cases, people had to divert an extra 1km off the course to wait in line for the bathroom and then return that 1km back to the course!

Ok – back to the race report – I got into my corral around 8:15am. It was unusual – it was me, an Australian woman, and hundreds of Japanese guys! Ok – there were a couple of Japanese women too – but they didn’t show up until later. I was there pretty early, so it was just standing around, trying to not get too wet, and staying warm. I left my throwaways on until 9am to stay as warm as possible.

The race itself

They announced the elites – I recall hearing the wheelchair athletes and the male elites. And then we were off! The gun went off and they fired off confetti (which was a sloppy mess at the start line by the time I got there). The results show that I was across the start line in about 3 minutes – so really pretty fast.

We ran towards our hotel and then took a quick right turn. Of all the majors, Tokyo was by far the one with the least congestion – I was able to run from the get go and hit pace pretty quickly into it. During our shakeout run, we realized that our watches were not going to track pace or distance well because of the buildings. Thankfully – we had planned ahead and gotten pace bands with the time we should hit every 2 kilometers (the course is only marked in kilometers). So – I had planned to just run by feel and check it when I crossed the kilometer markings.

I had a 3:40 pace band and a 3:45 pace band – I put the 3:40 on my left wrist and the 3:45 on my right wrist. My goal was to stay on the left wrist for as long as possible! Surprisingly, I was doing a pretty good job of hitting the pace times without my watch. I knew my watch was off because it had me running at something like 6 min/mile in that first mile – I can’t run that fast!

I had a huge smile on my face – I was just so happy to be able to run and to (most likely) finish my sixth star! I knew that the cutoff at 10km was one of the toughest – so once I passed there with plenty of margin – I felt confident I would finish the race within their time limits, even if I had to walk. The first 10k of the course is a relatively straight shot from Shinjuku (where our hotel is) toward the Imperial Palace. I did feel my back a bit in this first 10km, so I was a little anxious that it wouldn’t hold out for the full race. But as I’ve done before, I told myself – it doesn’t hurt now, just run, you can deal with it when it does hurt. Essentially, run the mile you’re in. This has helped me not expend precious energy or anxiety worrying during a marathon.

Then you take a left turn and head toward Asakusa and Sensoji Temple. We had visited this temple on our city tour on Friday – so we knew what the gate would look like. The gate was the turnaround point for this out and back. The course itself had several out and backs which was awesome – because I got to see the lead wheel chair athletes at one point and the lead male runners. And Derek and I saw each other twice on the course!

In some ways it was super fortunate that the course was only marked in kilometers – as I generally had no real sense of how far I had gone or how far I had left. So I didn’t think about how many miles I had left – I just ran. I recognized a few sights from our tour – the Sensoji Gate, the Skytree, the Tokyo Tower, a Nissan dealer in Ginza – but mostly it was me just running through random streets in Tokyo in the rain with people yelling incomprehensible things at me.

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The crowds were great – there were people the whole way and they were actually cheering for the runners (not like the Berlin marathon which had “just looking” spectators). There’s clearly some cheering phrase they use that, to me, sounds like my name – because I definitely felt a couple of times that I heard my name. I knew it wasn’t my name, but hey – I could tell myself that everyone in Japan was cheering me on!

Halfway passed by, and then I got to 30k – just 12k to go! I was still feeling pretty good. By now, I had stopped noticing my back – so I felt strong. I was even harboring the crazy idea that maybe I would finally negative split a marathon (nope – didn’t negative split it). I just kept telling myself to hold strong – I could do this – I even thought I could hold onto that sub 3:40, which seemed unbelievable in the two weeks before the race. It was my stretch goal even before my back tweak.

The “back” part of the last out-and-back was into the wind. I noticed a headwind, but would have guesstimated that winds were still single digit, maybe high single digit mph, but single digit. I saw an article later that described it as an “unrelenting headwind.” And when I read this statement in disbelief while waiting for our plane home, a woman inserted herself into our conversation saying that the weather was really bad and the winds were strong – she knew, because *she* ran the marathon. (a nicer person than me would have let that one go, but I couldn’t help telling her that we had both also run the marathon).

The finishing stretch of the marathon is on this stone road near the Imperial Palace. Those stones sucked – they were slippery and hard. And I was really trying to push it (although it seems now that it was my “marathon” sprint – which, well, doesn’t really resemble a sprint at all). I wanted to stay under 3:40, potentially negative split, and just finish strong. That last kilometer seemed like it lasted forever. I knew that we still had to turn left before we finished and all I could think was – that finish line better be freaking right around the corner.

Finally I reached the turn! And the finish line *was* very close to the turn thankfully. I put my “after burners” on (LOL) – and raised my arms in victory. Then I did something like ugly cry gasping – overcome with joy for finishing this adventure, finishing it strongly, and posting a good-for-me time.

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I picked up my medal, got my six star medal at the Abbott tent, waited to get a photo there and then walked in the now very cold rain to the bag check area.

For some reason – the Tokyo marathon has the bag pickup very far away from the finish line. Okay – maybe not terribly far if the weather is nice. And while running in a chilly rain isn’t bad, the second you finish – you are freezing. And here’s where another cultural experience came in – the Japanese are a very rule-obeying culture. So as we were walking in the cold rain to the bag pick-up area, we had to cross several one lane roads. These roads were closed off (so no cars could cross). Despite this, they had volunteers who manned every cross-walk and actually put their arms out to stop you from crossing against the signal – despite a tiny road, zero traffic, and a blocked off road. When you are nearly hypothermic, it takes all you have to remain polite and respect another culture!

They are also a very clean and neat culture (this trip has explained a lot about Marie Kondo to me). It seemed like every 10 feet or so along the race course, there was a volunteer on the side of the course. Generally this volunteer was holding a plastic bag to collect trash. So I felt obligated to throw my used gel packets into some volunteer’s bag rather than just tossing it on the road.

Finally – after what seemed like an interminable amount of time that even managed to wipe the stupid, silly grin off of my face – I arrived at the bag pick-up area. Thankfully it was inside a building, so it was warm! And Derek met me at the top of the escalator – that’s when I found out how much he had crushed his race! I got my bag and we went into the change rooms to put dry clothes on. I knew I had some bad chafing – I had felt my right underarm chafing from very early on (maybe the first 10k) and my left arm decided to join the party sometime after the halfway point. It was excruciatingly painful to take my shirt and sports bra off. Later on – when we were back at the hotel, I saw just how bad it was – huge red welts on both sides of my body, some redness (blood presumably) on my singlet. Ouch! I had never chafed there before – but maybe the rain, my arm warmers, and a little extra weight did the trick.

We caught the bus back to our hotel area and got ready to party! We were both on cloud nine having had such strong races!

One final note about running a race overseas. Adjusting to jet lag and the time shift can be challenging. For London, Berlin, and Tokyo – we arrived 2 to 3 days before the race (Friday for London, Thursday for Berlin and Tokyo – all of the races were Sunday races). Generally, I have used Benadryl to help me sleep and adjust to the time zone. I would take one or two little tablets each night. When I ran London – I had felt like my legs were really sluggish and heavy early on in the race. In Berlin, I had that same dead leg feeling. So I started wondering whether the Benadryl was having that effect, as I should have been in great shape for both, especially Berlin. This trip, I opted to avoid Benadryl. Instead, we took melatonin gummies each night to help us adjust. I don’t know if this made the difference, but I didn’t have that dead leg sensation – so I think it did help!

Results

3:39:14

In Gender 847 / 8201 (10.3%)

In Division 1242 / 6326 (45-49 Age Group Men and Women) (19.6%)

Overall 6314 / 35431 (17.8%)

US placement 243 / 1038 (23.4%)

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Berlin Marathon 2018

Last year, I surprised myself and ran Chicago in a sub 3:40 time. That led me to think that I had the capability of PR’ing in the marathon distance (my PR is 3:37:30). And I had signed up for Berlin for 2018. Berlin is known to be a fast course, and it would be the first time that I could qualify for Boston 2020 (when I will be qualifying in the 50-54 age group, so my qualifying time is 4:00) – so going after a 3:40, or a PR would allow me to register with the 20+ min group. Something I would love to be able to do. I told my coach Terry that my pee-my-pants goal would be to run a 3:35 – and hit the open qualifying standard. I wasn’t sure that was possible, but in the aftermath of Chicago, I was bold and optimistic.

So for 2018, the Berlin marathon was my A race. My goals were:

  • Gold goal – sub 3:40
  • Platinum – PR (sub 3:37)
  • Pee-my-pants goal – sub 3:35

I had good races during the season, yet my build-up for Berlin seemed odd. I was hitting the paces and the distances, but for some reason I felt underprepared, not ready. Maybe I always feel this way. The 8:12 pace I would need, seemed manageable even for a 9 mile tempo. Admittedly, I did these on the treadmill because of my work schedule and the darkness, but the last time I had tried to go after a 3:35, the pace felt harder. Terry thought my build-up went well and that I was ready.

Pre-race

We left Albuquerque Wednesday evening and arrived in Berlin Thursday afternoon. I have been battling some weird pain in my left leg (maybe sciatica? Maybe piriformis? Maybe something with my hamstring?). I didn’t tend to feel it when I ran, so I figured I’d be ok for the race. I got a couple of treatments and the last one I got the Monday before we left seemed to help quite a bit, but then over the next few days, the pain starting creeping back. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it had left me in crippling pain about a week before the race. It was mostly painful when I sat – so the plane flight over was challenging. I had also been managing a low-grade plantar fasciitis issue in my right foot and, of course, it chose now to be a bit angrier with me.

I made it through the long flight and was grateful to have arrived. There was a welcome reception that night and then we hit the hay. I generally adjust to timezones decently well, but to make sure to get some rest – I took Benadryls to help me sleep. 2 each night until the night before the race when I only took 1. This is fairly common for me – although I think I took more this time than usual. Friday we did a bus tour, then the expo (which was kind of a mess). Saturday was the International breakfast run (~6k). We came back for lunch and then made a quick trip to see KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) a famous flagship department store here. We ate at the pasta dinner included in our Marathon tours trip. Then I got ready for the next day.

The weather looked decent – presumably starting just under 60 degrees and finishing just under 70. A little warm, but given how marathon conditions have been going recently, not bad. I decided to try and go for it – go out around 8:10s and see how it felt.

We left the hotel around 7:45am (for a 9:25am start) and walked over to the corral area. I was in the corral super early. So I sat on a curb and just chilled. I stood up around 9am, took my Ucan, and shook my legs out. It was a beautiful day. Jacket off, it was go time. My watch took forever to pick up the satellites. I turned it on at 9am and it didn’t fully pick up the satellites until we had already started moving up to the start line, so probably around 9:20am. There were trees lining the street – so perhaps the trees got in the way.

Then we were off! I could run pretty much right away, which is unusual for a big city marathon. I settled into a good pace. My watch told me I was running 8:10 in the first mile – great! Right on target, felt pretty comfortable, heart rate was low (in the low 140s). I didn’t see any mile markers or kilometer markers until 3km. I didn’t see any water stops. I tried to follow the blue line (the best course) and just ran with my watch – mile one 8:10, mile two 8:06, mile three 8:03. Right on track, actually figured I should take it back a notch. Then I hit the 5k mat – I had calculated that my kilometer pace needed to be about 5:05 so at 5k I should have been at 25:25. I looked down at my watch and it said 26+. I was shocked. At that point, I was more than a minute behind the pace I wanted (as opposed to slightly ahead, as I had expected). I looked again to see the mileage and I think my watch read 3.4-3.5. Way off already. I knew I wasn’t weaving that much and I was running a smart course – so either the 5k was in the wrong place (that was my hope) or my watch was messing up the gps (more worrisome). This discouraged me as I didn’t feel like I could run faster at that point. So I just kept running to my watch, hoping that the 5k was somehow marked long.

I think the first water stop came at 6k (at least the first one I noticed). These were a bit of a cluster. They were generally only on one side of the street, there was little to no warning that they were coming up, and they weren’t that long. So everyone was dive-bombing to get to the tables. Plus generally there was no one handing out water, you had to pick up the cup from the table. And they were plastic cups – so you couldn’t fold them into a nice V to make a convenient drinking spout. Every water stop seemed like it added 15-20 seconds. And was a real dodgeball effort.  But it was a hot day- so I needed to stop. It made me wish that I had carried my own water.

Speaking of the weather – it felt hot from very early on. I started feeling hot in the first 5 miles. I was sweating quite a bit already. This surprised me as I don’t think I felt that hot until about the last 6 miles in Chicago and I thought the weather was similar. But maybe it had been a little more overcast in Chicago?

I saw Derek, Beth and Noel at 11k – and by this point I knew this wasn’t going to be my day. The 10k mark had come and I was still similarly over my goal. I had no idea what pace I was running – I was still doing my best to maintain pace on my watch. I had started backing off in my head to a PR (which still would have been amazing). I thought I could hang onto that – except apparently my watch was telling me paces that I wasn’t actually running.

The course was tough mentally. It’s super flat – the flattest course I have ever run. But because I don’t know Berlin (and truthfully, it’s not the most scenic city), I had no landmarks. It just felt like endless miles. Compared to the other big city marathons that I have run, the first half to 2/3rds of the course was pretty sparse in terms of spectators. And where there were spectators, they were “watchers” – you know, the kind who just watch and don’t cheer (or maybe they were just cheering for their runner). In the cold, rainy, windy conditions this year, Boston had more spectators who were way louder.

At halfway, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 1:50:5x – that wouldn’t even project to a 3:40! Man, that was heartbreaking. My legs were already tired. I wasn’t looking at a negative split, unless somehow the second half of the course was shorter. I just tried to focus on getting that sub-3:40. But the wheels kept coming off the wagon. I saw Derek again around 32k – which was much needed, I needed something cheerful, something distracting. He told me at that point that Eliud Kipchoge had broken the world record and run 2:01! That was super exciting and fun to think about. I continued my focus on the blue line – telling myself that I was running in his footsteps.

Since I knew that I would not meet any goals, I tried to really focus on enjoying the experience. Which isn’t easy to do when you still have like 10 miles to go and your legs hurt. I saw a group of alpenhorns and some belly dancers. There were some good bands and drum groups. I read German store signs. Maybe I could still salvage a sub 3:45 and that would feel respectable for the day.

The last three miles, it was all I could do to keep running and not walk. I just kept telling myself- just don’t walk, just don’t walk. You can jog this in. You’ll finish. I still had no idea what my final time would be, since my watch was so extremely off. I had given up paying attention to time, I was just trying to get done.

I saw Beth, Noel, and Derek in Potsdamer Platz around 39k and that was super nice. I was ecstatic that 39k was only 3 more k to go (since I had somehow thought I still had 4k to go), but that felt like the longest 3k I’ve ever run. Finally I hit the finishing stretch – Derek was there right before the Brandenburg Gate. It was cool to run through that gate.

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Then a bit more to the finish line. There was no sprint – “marathon sprint” or otherwise. There was just a slog to the finish line.

What can I say – I am a bit disappointed. It feels like a wasted opportunity. I’m not sure what went wrong. Looking back at it – I didn’t have it from the get go. Was I not fit enough? I had gained some weight (a few pounds), so was I too heavy? Was it the Benadryl? Was it just traveling and the time change? Did I walk around too much in the previous days? Was my taper too aggressive? I had a pretty aggressive taper partly because I was struggling with pain in the weeks leading up to the race. I wish I knew.

Nevertheless, I persisted and got my 5th world marathon major under my belt. Next stop – Tokyo!

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Results

3:48:01

In Gender 1708 / 12337 (13.8%)

In Division 222 / 1996 (F45-49 Age Group) (11.1%)

Charrissa’s CapTex Olympic Triathlon

May 28, 2018

Goals:

I signed up for this race because Derek had won a free entry from Terry Casey. I figured it would be a way to keep my toe in the water with triathlon and not lose all of the progress I had made last year, even though I’m pretty focused on my marathons for 2018. It ended up being Derek, Jen Snead, and me at the race – and we made a fun weekend of it.

So – not an A race, and I didn’t have any hard-set goals. At one point I had thought that I would like to better my best performance on each segment (I’ve only done 2 Olympics, so this isn’t saying much) – have a faster pace per 100 yds on the swim; hold a higher average or normalized power on the bike; and run faster time per mile. Since every course is somewhat different, those seemed like the best kind of goals to set. So – to-date, my best Olympic was City of Lakes in 2017:

  • Swim was 1:46/100 yd
  • Bike power was 119w avg and 131w normalized (ok, it’s a little embarrassing writing this here as I can only imagine everyone is thinking how little power I can pull…)
  • Run was 56 min so basically 9 min/mile

Having said that, as I got closer to the race – I really started questioning my abilities on the bike and swim. I just wasn’t feeling like I was a triathlete. I wasn’t feeling confident on the bike, and the open water swim practice at Cochiti left me feeling a little (ok more than a little) anxious about the swim. I thought I had gotten so much stronger at swimming and was expecting that open water practice to go well. I still felt out of breath and like I wouldn’t be able to go the distance at that pace, so that left me feeling discouraged.

And then, on my shakeout ride the day before the race, I fell at an intersection. Banged up my knee – but really, banged up my confidence. I was shaken.

Pre-race

I was a bit of a mess. All my mental toughness from Boston had deserted me. Everyone told me to try and apply the same mindset – heck I told myself to apply the same mindset – and I couldn’t find it. I just had this ball of panic or anxiety in the middle of my chest and I couldn’t seem to rationalize it away. Whenever I tried to explain it to anyone, I ended up sounding like a crazy woman – worrying about catastrophic (although not completely out of the picture) things like crashing and dying and all that.

So – yeah – cray cray. In my defense, the day after the race I got my period (possibly TMI for the guys) – so part of the crazy was probably PMS.

I considered not doing the race – but rather than obsess about that option, I told myself that I could drop at any time, so I figured I would just keep going through the motions of getting ready.

Race day

Still pretty anxious. As I was setting up my bike and station, I lost the top to my front aero-water bottle. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I almost felt like that was the last straw, since I clearly couldn’t race on a blazing hot day without sufficient liquids. But I kept going through the motions. My rack neighbors were awesome and helped me look for it (even lending me a light). Then someone gave me some tape to cover the opening and that did the trick. Crisis averted! (as a note – I finally did find the piece after the whole race when we were back at the VRBO – it was in the water bottle itself. Several of us had looked in there and didn’t see it, so I have no idea how we missed it).

As we were getting ready to go in the water – Derek said something that finally seemed to snap my head back into place. He said – you know how to swim – all you have to do right now is jump in the water and swim. And I’m like – ok, I can do that. Then he left to get into his wave.

Jen and I got to hang out together til the start. For the age group athletes, they did a time trial start within your age group. You lined up in your age group and they started athletes every couple of seconds. I think Jen and I both had this image that we would get to start together, maybe wish each other good luck and high five or something. But the reality was, we got to the end of the dock, the starter pointed at me and pointed me to a spot and told me to jump in. It was all very quick – I never got to say a final good luck to Jen.

I focused on finding a groove in my swim. I loved the time trial start – it was so much less chaotic and crowded. I felt like I was having a great swim – felt relaxed and strong. I saw lots of other colored caps (colors other than my own) – so I figured I was doing pretty well. I was a little confused at the third turn -it was further than I expected and I couldn’t exactly figure out where I had to go. But this was my best swim yet by far – not so much time-wise, but just in how it felt.

Into transition and off on the bike! I didn’t dawdle, but I also didn’t rush. I wasn’t aiming for anything in this race, so I really wanted to keep calm. The bike course is four loops – there were some inclines, but no real hills. Having said that, there were some good gradual downhills which allowed you to get some speed. Derek passed me right as I entered the course – he was heading out on his second loop – so that was really cool! He called out – “Go Trail Dogs!” – maybe he didn’t know it was me…LOL? I felt like I was having a decent bike. It was a bit crowded, but the streets were wide. The loops helped the time to pass. I saw both Derek and Jen a couple of times on the ride.

Dismounting – I almost fell over again, but managed to get my bike back upright. Again – I didn’t dawdle, but I didn’t rush in transition. Drank a little more water and then off on the run. I was just happy at this point to be safely on the run. It was a hot day – mid-90s and humid (especially compared to Albuquerque!). I figured I would just see how it felt. I ran what felt comfortable and intentionally started off a little slower, because I know I have a tendency to go out a little strong and then die.

So I just chugged along. I saw Derek on the first out-and-back which was cool. The course had more shade than anticipated – which was a relief. And the heat didn’t bother me that much. I just ran what felt good and when I did glance at my watch, I could tell that I had a reasonable pace going. I didn’t see anyone in my age group for a long time. On the second loop – I noticed a few women in my age group on the backside – but I wasn’t sure if they were on their first or second loop. I passed them pretty easily, so I just figured they were on their first loop.

The last part of the loop is an out-and-back on a bridge. Derek was finished and was cheering for me as I turned the corner to head out onto the bridge. That was cool! I had some energy to pick it up – so I started pressing a little bit. On the way back over the bridge – a woman was going out and she called out my number and said something about me having a strong race. That’s what made me start wondering if I might place in my age group. We had seen this woman racking her bike the day before and she had a fancy jacket and seemed to know everyone – so she definitely gave off that “I’m competitive” vibe. I had no idea why she would single me out – except if she had somehow been tracking her age group and knew who was ahead of her. I have to admit, I was a bad athlete and didn’t have my body marked with my age – I was too grumpy and lazy in the morning to get it done, and frankly I didn’t think I was a contender, and I didn’t figure that it would matter.

I probably had about 0.2 miles left – and Derek was cheering me on – so I “sprinted” to the finish line. Ok – my sprint is not really an impressive thing – but let’s just say that I made an effort to move my legs faster and cover more ground. Perhaps it looked that way, perhaps not. The announcer called out my name which was super cool – and I was done!

I hadn’t really been bothered by the heat until the second I crossed that line and stopped. Then I was overcome with how hot I was, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I felt like I would fall over if I had to stand still. Of course – they wanted me to stand still to get the chip off of my ankle…lol. I ducked into the med tent just to get some shade and get my breath. Then I met up with Derek. Since my curiosity had been piqued – I asked him if we could go to the results tent to see how I did. I came in 2nd in my age group!!! There were only 14 of us, so it wasn’t a huge age group – nonetheless, I was over the moon.

IMG_1527504122290

Aftermath

I have had a real lingering sense of pride and accomplishment from this race. Triathloning is still very new and out-of-my-comfort-zone. I’ve only done five triathlons (including this one) vs. 12 marathons, and over 30 half marathons. When you add up the facts that I am a scaredy-cat, I have pretty weak balance, and people really have had serious accidents on their bikes – the cycling thing in particular gets me spooked. Even though my fear probably seemed irrational and silly to most, it was a big deal for me to act in the face of my fear – to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and not let my fear talk me out of the race. I think if I had let it take over, I probably would never do another triathlon.

Taking an age group award was just the icing on the cake. It left me feeling strong and athletic. Looking at the results later – I realized that I ran down the women who finished in 3rd and 4th between miles 3.8 and 5.8 of the run. My bike still needs a lot of work – as I was 7th out of 14 on the bike. And my transitions were also middle of the pack. My swim and ultimately my run really carried me.

Austin was a great city and the race was really fun and convenient. The race hotel was right next to transition and we stayed in a VRBO apartment right next to the race hotel – gorgeous views of the course, kitchen for food prep, nice surroundings. The time trial start made the swim so much more pleasant. The loops on the bike and run course allowed us to see each other a couple of times and also made the course spectator friendly. I would definitely recommend this race to others.

Results:

Segment Time Pace/Power Division Gender Overall
Swim 29:36 1:59 / 100m (official)

1:43 / 100y (garmin)

2 of 14 24 of 143 145 of 574
T1 3:28 7 of 14 60 of 143 242 of 571
Bike 1:14:39 19.53 mi/hr (official)

123 W avg

137 W np

7 of 14 54 of 145 310 of 574
T2 2:50 5 of 14 68 of 145 317 of 572
Run 49:28 7:58 min/mi (official)

8:06 min/mi (garmin, I had the course at 6.1mi)

1 of 14 24 of 146 128 of 571
Total 2:39:59 2 of 14 28 of 146 169 of 573

Charrissa’s 2018 Boston Marathon

Goals
All I said to my coach Terry Casey was that I wanted to run a strong Boston. My big A race for this year is the Berlin marathon. Boston is a tough course and I wasn’t sure how fully trained I would be since I was coming off of a fun marathon at Disney and a month of working crazy hours for NBC Olympics so I wasn’t expecting to PR (3:37:30) or beat Chicago (3:39). So what does a “strong” Boston mean? Well – better than my previous two Bostons which both came in about 3:52 (both times I was injured and took weeks off of training before the race). And one where I felt pretty strong the whole way (in 2016 I went out trying to hit a goal and kept readjusting that down as the miles ticked on and the last several miles were a slog). I didn’t define strict A, B, and C goals – but I probably was thinking of them like:

A – between 3:40 and 3:45 – closer to 3:40 if it was a good day
B – between 3:45 and 3:50
C – PR Boston (sub 3:52)

Getting Ready
Leading up the day, it became apparent that the weather was going to be ugly. I ran in 2015 when it was cold and windy and rainy and I’ve run a half marathon in a downpour – so I have some experience with this (not that I wanted more). The weather in Boston is mercurial – and the forecast can change each day as you get closer, but mostly the forecast got worse. Cold, windy, rainy weather is some of the hardest to dress for – you want more clothing for warmth, something to break the wind, but less clothing to get wet and hold cold water against your skin. Thankfully – Kathleen Stabler had suggested that I wear a light running rain jacket and actually loaned me one – total lifesaver. So I had a plan. After some debate with myself about shorts vs. capris – I settled on my race attire: singlet, light running raincoat, shorts, hat with a brim, gloves. I also slathered Aquaphor on my feet – this was a rainy weather tip I picked up a few years back and it has kept me from blistering during rainy races.

Almost more important than that was what to wear before the race. You have to stand around for awhile in the athlete’s village and, I had made the decision that I wanted to go to the busses and village with Derek, which meant I would be out there an extra 45 minutes or so since he was wave 2 and I was wave 3. It’s his first Boston and I wanted to see him off. Plus – having been at the athlete’s village – I knew it would be a muddy field (although I had no idea the extent of the mudpit we would find). Our whole goal was to stay as dry and warm as possible before race start. Looking back on it – I think we did about as well as we could have and this might have made a big difference in our races compared to others.

So what did I wear? On top of my running rain jacket, I wore a throwaway jacket and then a rain poncho on top of that (as a note – whenever I have a jacket or sweatshirt or anything like that that I am thinking of giving to charity, I don’t give it away – I stack it in my closet as a future pre-race throwaway, this really helped for Boston). I had on fuzzy pajama pants to keep my legs warm. I tied plastic grocery bags over my shoes and then put shower caps over those. Since I had an extra shower cap – I put that over my baseball cap to keep it dry. We had hand warmers also (which I put in my gloves as I headed to the start line, but frankly – I don’t think they worked at all, so I ditched them several miles in). It was a serious fashion statement and I did hesitate a moment before we headed out – almost letting my self-consciousness looking completely ridiculous get the best of me. I am glad I didn’t.

Race Day
Our outfits really did help – I was still warm and dry on the bus. At the athlete’s village, we waded through the mud – and I instantly lost both of the shower caps off of my feet, but was so incredibly grateful that the plastic bags hung on (and I walked so carefully to try not to lose them). We waited an incredibly long time in the line for the portapots – where I got to contemplate how challenging it would be to go pee with all this crap on. And I had a moment of sheer terror while in line – at one point the wind picked up (had to be close to 30 mph at that moment) and the rain picked up and turned to sleet. I think my face turned white (and not because of the cold) – I really wasn’t sure I could do this.

Derek left for the corrals right after that and I was left to meander the sodden fields alone. I contemplated going under a tent – but the closest tent was a mudbath – practically no one was in it. So I huddled behind an information tent. Despite the extra time in the cold, I was glad I went to the start with him because we got this awesome picture together:

18BM DnC

 

When my wave was finally called, I made the 0.7 mile trek towards the corrals. I waited by the final Big Brothers Big Sisters truck until we were released into the corrals and at that point, I took my pajama pants off, the plastic bags off of my feet, and I think I took off my rain poncho and the shower cap on my head too. I just thought all of these would be hard to take off in the corral and I didn’t want to run in them. I still had my throwaway jacket on which I left on until the last few minutes. Despite doing such a good job at keeping my feet dry – my shoes were soaked by the time I got to the corral, it was raining that hard.

I had put on a 3:45 pace bracelet in the morning thinking that, who knows, if things aren’t that bad, maybe I could still try for that. But by the time I started, I was just thinking about finishing. Mostly I used it to make sure I didn’t go out too fast. We had heard several people (Greg McMillan, Meb, etc) talk about how to run this course and how you really need to be patient and try to run an even race. The pace bracelet was tailored to Boston (it adjusts mile splits based on the course) – and it still only had the first two miles at 5 seconds a mile faster than an even pace and I think the third mile at 10 seconds a mile faster – so a little faster than even, but not a screamer. I figured today was as good a day as any to try this conservative approach, since I wasn’t really sure I could run a great time anyway.

Once we got running – things were better. Not even a mile or so in – I was just struck by how much I love this race – because there were people lining the streets in front of their homes cheering their brains out for us. Yes, the crowds were thinner than usual – but they really made up for it in their enthusiasm and loudness! I had made up my mind earlier that week that I needed to embrace it, conditions and all, and seek to enjoy it – I figured if I focused on how miserable things were, that I would certainly have a miserable day. And truly – if I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have to.

I remember the electrical supply company at mile 7.3 where you can “check out your style and form” in their windows as you run by. I remember running through one town where the rain and winds picked up (I called this the “deluge” – the “deluge” would happen periodically during the race) and a spectator yelled “Bring it!!” So every time the “deluge” happened later, I laughed to myself and said “Bring it!” What else was there to do but laugh?

Around mile 10 – I was just about exactly on my pace according to the bracelet, and I felt that my legs were more tired than I thought that they should at that point. So I wondered if this was going to be a hard day. I wondered – am I not as fit as I thought? Are the conditions making it harder? Is the cold making me feel this way? I didn’t know – but I used my old Grandma’s Marathon trick and just told myself, well, you aren’t hurting now – so just keep going.

I high-fived a bunch of girls at Wellesley, didn’t stop for a kiss though. Took it easy down mile 15 and got ready for the hills. I felt really strong on the hills and powered up them (ok, “powered” for me looks a bit like “slow” for some other Trail Dogs). There were surprisingly fewer people walking the hills than I remembered from previous Bostons. I gained time in the hills and started thinking that I might be in good shape. I’ll admit, I mistakenly thought that maybe hill 3 was actually Heartbreak (and then I actually got onto Heartbreak and realized that sadly I was wrong and I had to get up the hill).

Somewhere in the hills – there was a guy under a tent on the left side who had a microphone and speakers and he was telling all of us that Desi Linden had won! I was overcome with happiness and it gave wings to my feet. So excited to hear that!

Once I crested Heartbreak, I tested my legs on the downhill and found that they were ok – so I figured I could take it in harder. I sped up a bit and knew that I was gaining some time. Interestingly – at this point, I was flying by people. I was so excited to see the Citgo sign, the one mile to go line – I always get verklempt at this point. Kenmore Square is always incredible – so many people screaming for you. Then under Mass Ave, right on Hereford, left on Boylston – the crowds were incredible – you really do feel like you are something amazing. Why would all these crazy people stand out in the freezing, blustery rain to cheer you on? I could not be more grateful to all the volunteers, security people, and spectators. And just at the finish line – the announcer called out my name! Charrissa Lin from Albuquerque!!! Yeessssss!!! Victory.

The Results
I am really happy with my results.
Finish time 3:43:40
I ran the second half only 32 seconds slower than the first!
Overall 11685/25746 (45.4%)
In Gender 3759/11604 (Female) (32.4%)
In Division 281/1664 (F45-49 Age Group) (16.9%)

I am blown away by my placement. My bib was 20228 – and I had kinda been feeling self-conscious on the weekend knowing that the vast majority of people there were all faster than me. Top half of the field, at Boston? Top third of my gender? Crazy.

The Aftermath
Given the conditions I had told Derek he should just head straight back to the hotel and not worry about waiting for me. So I got my medal, my heat blanket, food, stopped for a few pics and then headed back myself. I am so grateful that our hotel was really close to the exit from the chute. Even so, I got so cold that I thought I might not make it (where is Prince Charming to carry me off when I need him?) When I walked into the hotel they had staff and others lined up on both sides of the entryway and they cheered for every runner who came in – that was awesome! The second I entered my hotel room I stripped off every single piece of clothing I had on – I had no idea how much water my shorts could carry – but they weren’t just wet, they were like a sponge – probably could have wrung a glass of water out of them. A hot shower, some sitting on the bed catching up on runner tracking, social media, and texts. Then off to dinner at the Chart House – it’s become our Boston marathon tradition. I feel fairly certain that I ate enough that night to last a person a week… Afterwards we waddled our way back to the hotel (thankfully it had finally stopped raining) and watched a replay of the marathon coverage to see the elite race.

If I had to race in these conditions again (please God, please don’t let me have to race in these conditions again) – I think we did most things right. I would definitely put Aquaphor on my legs where my shorts hit – as I got some pretty bad chafe marks there (didn’t notice them until the shower – ouch!)