Training for a marathon is a lot like planning a wedding. You go through countless hours and months of preparation for ONE DAY. There is so much anticipation, excitement and nerves leading up to it and then before you know it… it’s over! But it doesn’t matter how much time went into it or how short the day felt because it is all worth it in the end. The memories and the feelings from that day will always stay with you.
It might be hard to put into words exactly how I felt before, during and after my race, but I am going to do my best! After trying and failing to qualify for the Boston Marathon at Grandma’s Marathon this past June, I was determined to learn from my mistakes – what went well and what I could have done better. I soon realized the list of “what I could have done better” was longer than the list of what went well and about a month later, I signed up for the California International Marathon. It would be my redemption marathon. The marathon where I would build off my previous training cycle and improve on the areas I knew I could have done better. The marathon where I would get my BQ.
- I committed my training and my race to God, knowing that He put this deep desire in me for a reason and that HE would receive all the glory.
- I continued working with a running coach, knowing that her accountability, knowledge and expertise would take me to the next level. I did every workout and hit every pace she asked for… whether that meant running at 5AM, 10PM or 2 hours on a treadmill when our air quality was unsafe due to the Napa Wildfires. No excuses.
- I started working with a nutrition coach to get me out of the cycle I was in of under and overeating, and to overcome the stress eating/binging habits that I developed. With her help, I became consistent in my diet, and strategically worked towards losing a total of 8 pounds, my ideal racing weight.
- I limited alcohol, sugar and processed foods throughout the 18 weeks of training, eliminating them all together the week before my race and eliminating caffeine for two weeks before the race. (if you know me, you know that no coffee for two weeks = HUGE sacrifice!)
- I did research on what a strength training program should look like for endurance athletes, divided my training into phases, and wrote my own workouts to complete. I started with higher weights/lower reps, transitioned into plyometric and HIIT training, and eventually to low weights/high reps functional workouts, each phase complimenting my running plan and weekly mileage.
- I took time to stretch, roll and work on hip mobility to prevent injuries.
- I read articles, books and listened to podcasts on nutrition for runners, race strategy, shoes, interviews from professionals… you name it, I read it.
- I found inspiration in other male and female athletes and watched them achieve their wildest dreams.
And just like that, after 18 weeks of physical and mental training, race weekend had arrived. Mo and I drove to Sacramento Saturday morning, straight to the Expo. California International Marathon is known as a fast course, due to its overall decrease in elevation. But those downhills can trash your legs just as much as uphill! My coach made sure to incorporate hills into my training so I would be prepared. Here is the course map – elevation is shown in the bottom right corner.
We stopped to listen at the stage, where they were interviewing six of the top athletes who would be running the course. When opened it up to the audience to ask questions, I took advantage of this opportunity and asked what had led to a “breakthrough race” in their career. Sara Hall (a professional track athlete who would end up WINNING the marathon the next day, running a 2:27) answered first by saying, “You can’t fear failure and when failure does happen, you have to get back on your feet and try again… I find my identity in God and that has allowed me to truly have fun and enjoy running.” Janet Bawcom (an Olympic track athlete) answered next and said, “Consistency with training and support from family and friends is what has led me to some of my best performances.” GREAT advice!
I then had the incredible privilege of meeting Sara Hall, Amanda Cruise (my first running coach, who would end up qualifying for the Olympic trials the next day with a PR of 2:44), Bethany Davis (online strength and running coach), and Elyse (a Instagram friend who I was dying to meet in person)!
As if my day hadn’t been made already, we then arrived at Mo’s aunt’s house, where we would be staying that night. She had invited 16 family members over for a delicious pasta dinner and to wish me good luck in the race. Nothing beats a home cooked meal and a nice warm bed the night before a marathon! I felt so much love and support- both from people I was physically with and also from friends and family wishing me good luck from afar.
I made sure to have everything ready that night so I didn’t forget anything in the morning! I also had to make a last minute pace chart screensaver for my phone after finding out they didn’t have pace bracelets at the expo. Then, knowing it was all in God’s hands, I went to bed.
I woke up to my 4:30AM alarm, wide awake and made a glorious first cup of coffee after two weeks without it. I had my usual pre-long run breakfast of oatmeal, a banana and almond butter, and started sipping on coconut water, which I would take with me to the start line. It was a damp morning, with temperatures expected to rise to the mid-50’s. I knew I would be chilly in shorts and a tank top at the start, but would warm up as I got going. After talking to my running coach the night before, we decided that I would run my own race and not worry about staying with a pacer (something that had possibly worked against me at Grandma’s Marathon). My goal was to run a negative split – the second half faster than the first.
Miles 1 – 6
These all felt surprisingly great, despite the rollers (rolling hills). It’s amazing how SLOW you feel when you first start – adrenaline, nerves, whatever it is. I made sure to make conscious effort to not go out too fast so I could conserve energy for the end. I saw Mo for the first time at Mile 3 – YAY!
Miles 6 – 10
I got into a steady pace, and started enjoying the scenery, listening to my playlist, and settled into a seemingly comfortable 8:06/mile pace. I had heard someone say the day before that the first 6 miles were rollers, but we’re past mile 6… so why are there still hills??! Every time I approached another hill, I thought to myself, “THIS is what your 5AM heavy squat sessions were for! Get up that hill and then you get to go down it!” I saw the 3:32 pace group pass me, but reminded myself to stay steady, run my own race and keep my average pace of 8:06. Keep my shoulders and breathing relaxed. Mo caught me again at Mile 6 AND 10! Already three times on the course!
Mile 10 – 13
“OH SHOOT! My phone battery is already down to 38%??” Right as I was entering these “middle miles” I happened to pull a Gu out that a friend had sent me as part of a good luck package. This friend has gone through A LOT the past few months, so I decided for the next 30 minutes (until I took another Gu) I would conserve my phone battery, turn off my music, dedicate those miles to her and pray for her.
Miles 14 – 22
The first half was behind me and it was time to speed things up… just a little. My goal was to keep my average pace at 8:04. I started having to dig deep throughout these miles. I found myself thinking of things people had told me before the race:
- “Pain is temporary… a BQ is forever!”
- “When your legs get tired, run with your heart.”
- “I don’t care if you loose a nail running, get an awful blister, feel like your legs don’t want to go any farther…..you push every single step because you did not give yourself the option to let up. You can let up after the finish line.”
I knew people believed in me. I knew people were praying for me. I knew my training had prepared me for this. I visualized ringing the Boston Qualifying bell. I thought about the people tracking me and could actually feel their support every time I ran over a check point. I knew that if I could qualify for Boston, it would open doors for me to coach other aspiring runners. I promised myself my FIRST Lululemon purchase if I hit my time. I also had to pee and refused to stop on the course so ya know, that’s a whole level of motivation in itself! Mo caught me AGAIN at Mile 17 AND 21! FIVE times! He was heading to the finish line. Next time I see Mo, I’ll be sprinting in!
Mile 23 – 26.2
The course had finally flattened out and I passed the 3:32 pace group – YES! Chocked down my last Gu. When I hit mile 24, I wanted to PUSH. I recalled my training runs and how I had typically finished the last two miles stronger and faster than the rest. But I started getting a weird feeling in the entire lower half of my left leg. My left foot, ankle, shin and calf felt as if it were on the verge of cramping. “Run smart, Paula. You still have two miles to go.” This is a crucial point in a marathon. Many runners get to these final miles and push too hard, too soon. I recalled my running coach telling me to find energy in passing people. I set a goal to pass 20 people to keep my mind off the pain and not stress about the time. 1… 2… 3… 11 people… until I finally reached Mile 25. I felt pretty good, so started to pick my pace back up. The crowds were getting thicker and louder. I saw Mo for a sixth time, rounded a corner, and heard someone yell “GO PAULA!” I looked, saw part of Mo’s family who had been with us Saturday night, and I went for it. I took off sprinting to the end, knowing I had my BQ. I crossed that finish line in 3 hours, 31 minutes and 5 seconds. I immediately started crying, overwhelmed with finishing and achieving my goal. A volunteer came up to me and asked if I needed the medical tent… I managed to say between my sobs (I’m sure it was a pretty sight), “I’m ok, I’m just so happy!!!”
NO INJURIES. A 15 MINUTE PR. BOSTON BOUND.
I went straight to that bell and rang it loud and proud.
Whole Foods was handing out Boston Cream cupcakes for qualifiers, which I gladly accepted and gave to Mo as a thank you. I couldn’t believe he caught me SIX times on a point to point course… that’s incredible! He had to stay in front of me, while navigating road closures in a city he’s never been in before.
I truly could not have achieved this goal without God giving me the passion to work towards it, the physical ability to train and the strength to make it across the finish line… injury free. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to everyone cheering for me, praying for me and supporting me. That was a huge source of motivation. WE DID IT.
All I can say is DREAM BIG. Then make a plan and don’t stop until you get there. When I started doubting myself or focusing on the pain, I thought back to the miles I logged, the early morning strength workouts, and the drenched-in-sweat treadmill sprints. I had trained for this and I had it in me. All I had to do was believe I could. If you guys believed in me, I could too.
So. What’s next?! I’m planning on sleeping in on Saturdays, doing some fun runs (starting with the San Francisco Hot Chocolate 5K with Mo in January), a couple half marathons and/or triathlons to work on cross training. Then you better believe I’m going for another PR at Boston 2019!
“You can find evidence to support anything you believe about yourself. So you might as well believe that you can accomplish your most outlandish goals.”