Saturday, November 29, 2014

I'm Shipping Up to Boston!!

It was so funny to me how the day before the Philly Marathon while I was searching for the exact words to capture how I felt I scrolled through my Instagram account and there it was in a photo from Dolvett of Biggest Loser fame. But funnier still when I was looking for a way to put into words everything I was feeling yesterday on Thanksgiving and wouldn't you know it, there it was once again in Dolvett's Instagram account.

Each of those four things speak into my life in a special way this week, but especially the dreams that have turned into reality. How could I not be thankful in the wake of such a big week and with so many wonderful people surrounding me. And so, even though this week brings powerfully strong and sometimes sad memories of Joe, it is also full now of my grateful heart and the story of how I achieved my goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
It was around 3am the "night" before the Philadelphia Marathon when I awoke from the incredibly vivid dream that I missed running a Boston qualifying time by 16 seconds. Sleep immediately went from difficult to impossible. Thankfully, I had followed the racer's rule of getting more than enough sleep "the night before the night before a big race" so only getting a couple of hours leading in to the big one was not going to interfere with the task at hand.

By the time I crossed the finish line at 10:44am, I had firmly put the nightmare to bed and mailed in a more amazing time than even I thought possible. I will never forget that day and the way I felt from the start line to the finish line. 

Running the Boston Marathon is not just an athletic goal for me. Since the moment I completed my first half marathon a year and a half ago, I have had my eye on the Boston start line and not only because it is the ultimate runner bucket list item. I haven't talked about this more personal part of my Journey to BQ yet because the emotion wrapped up in it is strong. Stronger than crossing the finish line of my first big race. Stronger than running the Colon Cancer Alliance races. Stronger even than running NYC for the American Cancer Society in memory of Joe. I think part of me was afraid that if I talked about the strong personal connection before I qualified, I would somehow jinx myself.

Boston was where Joe and I spent our honeymoon. We made lots of great memories then and during other travels to the city. From Fenway to whale watching, Paul Revere's house to Boston Commons - we did it all and loved every minute. We went on a duck tour, walked around Harvard, and checked out almost every exhibit at the Museum of Science. We spent as much time as we could walking everywhere and took the T where we couldn't walk. Our spot to stay was the Omni Parker House. We spent so much time playing the Megatouch game at the bar around the block from our hotel that for our first Christmas as a married couple Joe enlisted his friend Sam to lug a full size Megatouch game into the house as my gift. We ate well, drank plenty, and always got our fill of history, baseball, and Boston Cream Pie. One of the last things that Joe and I did together before he died was look back through our honeymoon photo album. Those moments from Boston are special in a way that I will never be able to describe.

View from the Observation Deck of the Prudential Center

On a tour of Fenway Park

On the whale watching tour

We ate Boston Cream Pie from the hotel bar at least once a day.

Boston Public Garden

So, as I have trained and prepared and worked my ass off to qualify for Boston all of these places and moments have been with me. They will be a special part of running the marathon when April 18, 2016 finally gets here and I will be incredibly thankful for all the happiness I carry with me in my travels to Massachusetts. The 3 years since Joe died have allowed me to more fully embrace the times we shared together as happy memories instead of things that make me constantly sad. Each of those memories is an important part of my life and I can recognize now how they have shaped me and even at this point pushed me to achieve great things.

The weight of all of this came crashing in on me as I waited in the green start corral on Sunday morning. The sun was starting to rise and I had just taken off my outer layer of sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I was ready to start the big race - my quest to qualify for Boston. The tears started welling up in my eyes and I couldn't stop them. Excited. Anxious. Overwhelmed. Mortified. Confident. I knew that I was about to run the race of my life. I could feel that this was my moment. I couldn't wait to get moving. A guy standing near my noticed my tears and asked if I was alright. I was more than alright. I knew that I was on the verge of a great life moment and I couldn't have loved it any more.

It was time to take 18 weeks of training and dreaming and make it all happen.

My race strategy was designed around not repeating the same mistakes I had made in the NJ Marathon in April. I knew that I needed to start out at a conservative pace through at least the first 10k and not make an attempt to pick up my pace faster than 8 minutes per mile until I reached at least 20-22 miles. I also knew that I needed to be generous with my hydration (I carried my water bottle) and with eating my Gu (nutrition). In the NJ Marathon I hit the wall hard and I wanted to make sure that didn't happen again.

So, when I caught sight of the 3:35 pace group a little ways ahead of me at around the 4 mile point I resolved to hold my pace until the 10k and then pull up and stick with them for the long haul. It was the best decision I could have made. In the NJ Marathon, I lost the 3:35 pace group when I had to stop off to use the bathroom at the half marathon mark and continued with the 3:40 pace group only until somewhere between mile 15 and 16 when I slowed at a water stop and never caught back up. The wall I hit was 60% mental and 40% physical. This time around I felt like my training had fixed all of that and prepared me to power past "the wall" and hang tough through the whole 26.2.

My training prepared me for a BQ. The pace group did the rest to power me past a squeaker to an almost 7-minute qualifying time. Jim, the leader of the 3:35 pace group was great. He talked our group of runners through the hills and broke the marathon down into chunks allowing the difficult latter portions to fly by with relative ease. And just when I was starting to feel the burn, we reached mile 19 where my parents were standing with a big "GO ANNE - BQ 2DAY!" sign.

It takes a special person to be there for you on a marathon course (or to hang out with your son while you run one) and I am especially grateful to all of those who have braved the logistics to cheer for me on the sidelines of a big race over the last year and a half. Each race has gotten me closer and closer to this moment. There was nothing sweeter along this course than seeing my mom and dad, knowing I was on pace to achieve my goal, and giving my mom a huge high five. I felt on top of the world.
A high five for my Mom!

My parents positioned themselves near the beer.
I took a pass, maybe next marathon.
I saw my parents again right around mile 21 and then it was a matter of toughing it out to the finish line. I wondered if I would be able to pull away from the pace group or if I should just stick with them through the end. I felt good, but had no idea how I would handle the last 5.2 miles. I tried to pick up my pace a bit around mile 23 but ended up falling back with the pace group. I think that was mostly mental. I did finally pull away at mile 24 (it helped seeing my fellow RVRR club members cheering right around then) and kept pushing through to the finish line. Those last two miles felt amazing as I thought through everything that had gotten me to that point and the reality that I was about to achieve what I had not thought possible just a year and a half ago.

I crossed that finish line sweaty, exhausted, and achy but thrilled beyond belief. Victorious. And with visions of Boston.


And I made sure to find Jim after he crossed the line with the rest of the pace group to let him know that he had helped me to achieve my Boston qualifying time. I love marathon finish lines - so much emotion and relief - and for me this time around everything about it was fabulous. I just could not stop smiling.

My official time for the Philadelphia Marathon is 3:33:22 (8:08/mile), just under a 22-minute PR from the NJ Marathon seven months ago and almost 7 minutes faster than the under 3:40:00 I needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It was also an almost identical pace to the HALF marathon I raced in Miami in March. I am amazed by how far I have come in such a short time.

Here are the rest of my numbers:
Women 35-39: 50/740
All Women: 322/4,630
Overall: 1,781/10,361

So, on the third Monday in April 2016, I will be running 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. What I do in the meantime is still being figured out, but I promise it will keep being epic. I can't wait.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Marathon Eve - Ready to Rock Philadelphia

I never expect the week before a race to be easy.

For those uninitiated to racing, the final "taper week" is always rough as you cut back on mileage and intensity. Appetite. Anxiety. Aches and pains. Amnesia.

Simply refer to this post for a full explanation of what happens to me when I am "not running".

This week was all of that times a million. Add to all of the usual taper madness getting stuck in that "historic" Buffalo snowstorm, one work crisis after another, and, for my grand finale....leaving my race shoes behind in New Jersey.

Nothing seemed to fall into place for me in any area of my life this week and it was a real test. At least that's how I'm looking at it as I stare down the last few hours between me and my biggest race to date.

I have a healthy respect for the marathon. I know that in spite of all my work and training race day can be unpredictable. The weather looks promising, but there are 1,001 things that can and may go wrong at any point over 26.2 miles. I am trying to not let those things rule my thoughts.

In some ways I am thankful that this week was rough. It made me realize how much I have been through during this training cycle and in the two years since I started training for my first half marathon. I have come a long way and I know that wouldn't have been possible without the support of family, friends, babysitters, and the countless people who cheer me on from so many different locations (worldwide, in fact!)

This week I have had people in my life drop everything to do the things I needed to be ready for tomorrow. Drop off race shoes. Drive from Buffalo to Philly to watch Domani. Talk ad nauseam about race strategy. Just be there at the exact time and place that I needed it. And over the last 16 weeks I have had support like a single mom could only dream of as I have stuck to a 6 day-a-week training schedule while maintaining a more than full time work week.

I know how blessed I am to be surrounded by such amazing people.

Today, I saw a post on Instagram that stuck with me because it captured what I felt the last 5 years or so have been doing in my life. I felt it was fitting going into this marathon and it inspired me.
A photo posted by Dolvett Quince (@dolvett) on

This training cycle and especially this past week has felt very much like an "undoing" for me - in the best kind of way. I can't wait to see what comes of it.

Tonight I will look back through my running journal (thanks Ken!) and the more than 825 miles I have logged there and lay out my racing clothes (complete with my correct shoes - thanks Mom & Dad!) and know that I have done everything possible for my best performance in the morning.

I will leave it all on the streets of Philadelphia and whether I'm screaming "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" from the rooftops at the end or simply huffing and puffing "Till I Collapse" I will know that this training cycle and this race pushed me to my extremes. I have already achieved more over the past 4 months than I dreamed was possible and that gives me so much confidence for tomorrow and for whatever lies beyond.

Final training run complete - time for 26.2 in the morning!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Countdown to Philly

16 weeks of training are done.
More than 750 miles run.
My first ever 200+ mile month is complete. And my second and my third.
Personal records have fallen in grand fashion as I've gotten stronger and faster.

I have trained in Florida, Maryland, New York, Idaho, Virginia, Illinois, and, of course, New Jersey. I have trained in the summer heat and once or twice already in the freezing cold. I have jumped over snakes, turtles, and frogs and have dodged spiders in their webs. I have eaten more than my share of bugs.

Covered in bugs from an evening towpath run.
I have grown to love track workouts as I got reacquainted with my days as a high school athlete. I bought my first ever headlamp so I can run at night and early in the morning. I have explored the depths of some really crappy hotel gyms and I have run with some of the most beautiful scenery I could imagine.

Towpath between Kingston and Princeton on late summer evening run.

I have just over 1 week of training left until I take to the streets of Philly in my quest for a Boston qualifying time. One more tempo run and then it's nothing but easy mileage between me and my biggest start line yet.

As the kids say, sh*t is getting real. The worst case scenarios are starting to play out in my head. There are creaks and tweaks making their way through my body as only the marathon taper can yield. My friend Malinda who is also chasing a BQ in Philly has been checking the weather forecast for almost a week already.

But I'm ready and my final confidence boost was a kick ass performance in the Trenton Half Marathon this past Saturday. I was careful not to race full out, but even my measured effort brought me in with a 7 minute personal record and a 3rd place finish for my age group.

Crossing back into NJ during the Trenton Half Marathon
on my way to a 7 minute half marathon personal record
This was a final test for me leading up to the Philly Marathon. I wanted to hit a 1:43:00 (7:51/mile) half marathon time because if I did that I would know my training had me on pace to achieve my BQ goal in Philly. But what I achieved in Trenton was a big deal for me for reasons way beyond the implications it has for Philly. It all goes something like this...

I was the "bigger" girl on our high school track distance contingent. My BEST 2-mile time then was pretty much dead on pace per mile for what I just held over 13.1 miles on Saturday.

When I first started running again 2 1/2 years ago, it was a struggle to get through 3 miles and I was doing it at a pace somewhere between 10-11 minutes. I have the Nike Plus app to prove it.

My first half marathon which I ran in March 2013 took me 2 hours 11 minutes and 39 seconds (10:02/mile) and that, to me, was AWESOME.

I started running after my husband Joe died from colon cancer and at that time I looked roughly like this (I'm the one on the left):
With my sister Naomi on Thanksgiving 2011. Joe took the photo.
I have since lost 45 pounds and traded in all my size 14 clothes for size 4s.

This journey has been one of body, mind, and soul.

So when I ran the Trenton Half Marathon on Saturday to test my speed for Philly and I completed it in 1:39:19 (7:35/mile) I felt all of the accomplishment well up inside of me. When I found out from my friend several hours later that I had placed 3rd in my age group and 12th overall, I was on top of the world. And completely shocked. The finish line in Trenton was sweet, but the best part was the energy I still had left. It made me realize that a BQ is truly within my grasp and has me counting the days until I toe my most important starting line to date.

Finishing the Trenton Half Marathon
I first knew I was on to something during this training cycle when I was finally able to break through on my 5k time in August. The 5k had been my nemesis going back to September 2013 when I ran my best time of 23:29 in Philly on a perfect fall morning. I had been training on this cycle using the Hansons Marathon Method for 3 weeks when I finally ran a fabulous 5k on a warm, sunny day at the beach in Asbury Park. I beat my previous best 5k time by 8 seconds and swore that no matter what this was the training plan for me. I broke that time once again by almost a minute just one month later in Long Branch and I knew that big things were happening.

Asbury Park 5k - Finally beating my nemesis...the 5k!
This training cycle has taken me way beyond what I thought was physically possible which means there have been plenty of times when I would have rather curled up in a ball on my couch than go for a run. But I haven't missed a single one with the exception of those that changed to properly recover from the 3 races I ran (2 5ks and the half marathon). On occasion I have shuffled the days and a few times I have scaled back mileage, but I have kept the integrity of my training program fully intact and I owe that entirely to 1) the amazing people who every day help take care of my son while I run and 2) the fire inside that won't let me step away from this journey to BQ.

Just when I think I can't possibly get through another run there always seems to be something to push me on. Someone who tells me she started running because of me. A friend to join me for a track workout. The adoring eyes of my 4 year old asking me if I am going to "run fast" today. A text or a call or a friendly "get your ass in gear". They have all kept me moving and when I cross the finish line in Philly I will think of all the people who have driven me there and the places that have inspired me.

I have been tracking my runs in a running journal given to me by Joe's dad and it has been fun to look back over all the places I have run since I began training at the end of July: my trusty neighborhood route that includes Thompson Park, my parents' neighborhood, the Towpath (everywhere from Lawrenceville to New Brunswick), many hotel treadmills including in Syracuse, Atlantic City, Disney World, and Ithaca, all along the Jersey Shore, Kendall Park, Franklin Memorial Park Cemetery, Chicago, Utica NY, Disney World, Mercer County Park, Veterans Park, Johnson Park, Monroe HS Track, Sandbridge VA, Highland Park HS Track, Buffalo, Maritime Institute (BWI Bike Trail), and Pocatello, Idaho.

It's been 750 amazing miles and looking back I know that I have done all that I needed to do to be able to shout from the rooftops "I'M SHIPPING UP TO BOSTON" once I cross that finish line in Philly. Nine days and it can all be mine.

Sandbridge, Virginia
More Sandbridge, Virginia

September 21, Sunset in Thompson Park

October 8th, Thompson Park sunrise

My Halloween Half - hilly and beautiful in Pocatello, Idaho

Final speed workout - 11/11/14