04 May 2017

capturing the unicorn !

some background [or, why this is A Very Big Deal for me]
I don't remember when I started getting Boston on the brain. My first marathon was Baltimore (2005), which I ran in 4:44:29. I was not one of those runners who ran this first marathon and qualified for some race in New England of which they'd never heard.
Baltimore Marathon

I dropped pretty significant time and ran a 4:02:10 at Marine Corps the following year, just missing breaking four hours. Next up was Richmond (2007), where I broke four by a pretty large margin, finishing in 3:53:13.
 Marine Corps Marathon

Richmond Marathon

Boston was now, it seemed, in reach. At the time the qualifying standards were five minutes slower AND had a 59 second cushion AND the idea of a cut off was years away. I turned my attention to triathlon, competing in several sprint, Olympics and half Ironman races, with an eye toward an Ironman in 2009. At the National Marathon (2009) (now Rock n Roll DC) I came very close to breaking 3:50, crossing in 3:50:43. I got pregnant with H shortly after Ironman Cozumel and also who knew that babies don't weigh anywhere near the 50+ pounds I gained during that pregnancy? When H was a toddler, I registered for Rock n Roll DC and tried to run at a pace I was nowhere near ready for and quit at mile 18. I ran a redemption marathon at the Potomac River Run DC, coming in at a disappointing for me 4:24:55 (I also got a little tipsy on champagne at McDonalds - thanks Deb and Erin!) so all wasn't lost. I then lost the baby weight and ran Philadelphia, breaking 3:50 and coming in at 3:49:02. I was getting closer. Right after Philly I got pregnant with Char but kept running through my pregnancy. Coming back was still hard but easier than the time I had with H. I ran B&A and thought that a 3:45 would be possible, but I fell apart and finished in 3:56:49. It was the worst I'd felt during and after a race - I couldn't walk normally for days. I was disappointed and thought that I was in shape to do ten minutes better, but such is the marathon.

National Marathon

B&A Marathon

I got a coach and registered for the Steamtown Marathon, a net downhill course in Scranton, PA. I ran a massive PR, finishing in 3:40:45, missing a BQ by 46 seconds (but really by three to four minutes because of the cut off) (and also accompanied by my fantastic BRF, Colleen. More about Colleen infra)

Steamtown Marathon

which brings us to now (aren't you so glad you know all of that??). I trained my ass off all. winter. I was running 200+ miles/ month. I was running lactate threshold workouts in the dark, 16 x 400 under the stars at the local high school track, double digit runs before work, long runs at marathon pace. I dropped a little more weight and stopped with the candy bowls at work.

I registered for Shamrock (held in March in Virginia Beach), a flat and fast (I've heard.) course. Colleen and I drove down and I was excited and ready. And it turns out that I cannot, despite my intense desire to do so, control the weather. It was in the high 30s with winds reached 25 - 30 mph. It was raining and then it was hailing. HAILING. There was ice pelting me in the face and at mile 18 I was so far off of my goal I said enough, stopped, and burst into tears. A very kind soul gave me a jacket and drove me to the start, where Colleen was waiting for me (I had called her from a stranger's phone). More tears. I was so cold I couldn't stop shivering and could barely hold a cell phone. We went back to the hotel and I took a hot shower and got under the covers. We had lunch at Panera and they forgot about my order (seriously what a horrible fucking day) and we drove home through Northern Virginia traffic, aka hell.

Coach James was proud of my decision to quit -- he said that I had a specific goal and that by not running the last eight miles I saved my legs for another race. I found Coastal Delaware Marathon (five weeks away), a race two friends recommended to me as a flat and fast course (weather permitting). I rested for a few days, then ramped it back up slowly, and then tapered. Again. It was hard, mentally, to get back into a training mindset so quickly after what was supposed to be my BQ race. And then it was hard to get excited about the race. It wasn't until about five days before the race that I started get excited .. and then started checking the weather. OBSESSIVELY. Things I Googled: "most accurate forecast" "most accurate forecast for Delaware" "what does 10 mph wind feel like" "12 mph wind strong" ".1 rainfall what does that mean." I don't *think* the forecast changes every 20 minutes but that didn't stop me from checking that often. Four days out and we were at 100% rain for the entire day. The wind was making me nervous, too, but the temperature was perfection: low 50s.

James and I drove to Dewey Saturday morning, grabbed Wawa subs for lunch, and went to packet pickup. It was small and easy and I didn't even buy anything so yay for me! We got nice gender specific cotton-poly blend tshirts and a pint glass.

We checked into our hotel and watched Say Yes to the Dress ("it's my weekend I get to pick!") and James napped because of course he did. We had sushi for dinner (it's my go to) and then to Rite Aid for sharpies, poster board, Imodium, and Zzzzzquill. And then we watched Bridesmaids and fell asleep.

flat runner ready to go !
the only things I forgot, which I think is pretty impressive

The race started at 7:00 AM (I LOVE an early start time) so I was up at 5:30 to eat my pancakes. It's a fairly small race (615 for the marathon) but I hate hate hate stressing about time, so we left when it was still dark outside. We walked a couple of blocks to the shuttle, which took us to the start at Tower Road (only about a mile).
WWII Lookout Tower on Tower Road

The chance for rain had all but disappeared (HOORAY!) but the wind still looked a little scary (BOOO). It was COLD. I had on sweats and a sweatshirt over my tank top and shorts and I was chilly. The flags at the beach were blowing straight out and I was getting nervous. What if I failed again?

The 26.2 mile Boston Marathon Qualifying Run starting at historic Tower Road in Delaware Seashore State Park, Dewey Beach then through the scenic town of Rehoboth Beach onto its mile long wood boardwalk then though beautiful Delaware Seashore State Parks' Gordons Pond Wild Life Area into Cape Henlopen State Park site of the historic Fort Miles then back via the Junction & Breakwater Trail and thru the quaint seashore residential area of Lewes, Rehoboth and Dewey Beach. Finishing at the resort's famous Hyatt-Lighthouse Cove waterfront complex in Dewey Beach where the Finish Line Celebration will be with Music, Beer, Food and Cheer. 

I went to the bathroom five times (not an exaggeration) then finally took off my sweats (sadface) and gave them to James. It was COLD and after a quick call to Coach James I decided to start with the 3:35 pace group to find some bodies to block the wind. Well. They took off and I wasn't going to sprint at the start of a marathon, so I ran my own race from the start.

The plan was to start running high eight teens to low 8:20s for the first four to five miles, then work down from there to 8:10s - 8:15s. I planned on taking a Huma gel every 4 miles, and I stuck to that pretty well. It's hard to go out too slow in a marathon but really easy to go out too fast, so I watched my pace and ignored tried to ignore all the people passing me. The boardwalk was pretty windy (nothing like Shamrock though!). We went through adorable neighborhoods and I found our summer house (only $5.8 million). The race then went through Cape Henlopen, which was gorgeous.

Gordon's Pond Trail

Junction and Breakwater Trail

I saw James and mile 13. The tracker was messed up and he thought I was really slowing down but he said when he saw me and I smiled and waved and told him to text James my half split (1:48:change) he knew that I was on pace.

awesome signs from my awesome husband

We then went through some residential neighborhoods and around mile 16 the hurt started to set in. It's amazing how much you forget the pain -- even as I sit here and type this I cannot recall the fatigue and pain. Mile 20 was 8:40 and I started to panic a bit -- what if this was the point when the wheels fell off? What if I couldn't get back and stay back to 8:10 - 8:20? Whatifwhatifwhatif. Mile 21 was 8:25 and I knew that I could hang on. It HURT but I realized that it was going to hurt regardless. It was going to hurt if I slowed down, it was going to hurt if I walked, and it was going to hurt if I powered through so I might as well try to keep my BQ pace. I thought about how shitty I'd feel if I just missed it. My math was a little fuzzy at that point and I hadn't tried to figure out what I needed per mile to BQ. My mantras were sink into the pain/ embrace the pain/ I know I can/ and get through this mile. If at mile 21 I started thinking that I have five more miles I start to panic. If I think, get to 22, you can get to 22, just one more mile, just less than a mile, then at 22: get to 23, you can run one more mile and get there. etc.

end of the boardwalk - around mile 22

At mile 24.3 I looked at my watch and knew I had exactly two miles less (unless you run the tangents perfectly you'll run more than the exact distance, and I was about a tenth of a mile ahead of the mile posts). I was about 18 minutes from 3:40 and I knew I could keep two sub nines. I kept thinking about that unicorn:

I saw James around the 26 mile mark and said "I'm going to do this! I'm going to do this!" and picked up the pace (well, best that I could) and sprinted it in (the last .37 was at a 7:35 pace!).

3:38:25 -- BQ minus 1:35 (probably/ maybe not enough to get into Boston 2018 but don't you worry - I'm obsessively checking the message boards and analysis websites for predictions).

I heard someone shouting my name -- our names were printed on our bibs but this person sounded really invested -- it was Liz ! I turned to the finish, hit stop on my Garmin, and promptly burst into tears. I was blubbering and then Liz called James and we met at the finish and he presented me with this awesome shirt that I wanted to wear to work but maybe isn't court appropriate?

excuse my ugly crying face
sadly I look like an asshole in trucker hats

And then we went to Starboard and I had this:

probably a good idea they forgot our loaded tots since I couldn't finish this

We drove back home, where my kids were less than impressed.
H: Did you win?
Me: No, but mommy had a great race
H: Who won?

Me: Char, can I have a hug?
Char: No.

"this is my running hat."

Next up: Erie Marathon in September, where I hope to cut off 60 - 90 seconds and be in a more comfortable place for the BQ cut off -- for those not familiar -- Boston has become very, very popular, and doesn't have enough space for all qualified runners. Registration first opens to those who ran BQ minus 20 minutes, then BQ minus 10, then five minutes to 10 minutes, then the "squeakers." In the past the times were 1:02, 2:28, 2:09. It's hard (impossible) to predict but that doesn't stop runners from obsessively analyzing feeder marathons.

This is a dream 10+ years in the making. For some people running and speed come easy and there have been multiple times that I wished that I was one of those people. But. I think that having to work so hard for this has made me appreciate it so much more.

Before the music totally plays me off, I would like to thank ...

my friends and coworkers for putting up with all the hashtag-running talk.
my parents and in-laws who graciously took the puppy and nugget so I could travel.
James McKirdy, my coach, who put me through hell and I came out stronger.
Colleen, my BRF, who listened to the details of my workouts and encouraged me... who traveled with me north to Scranton and south to Virginia beach, and was unbelievably supportive and excited (who else would cry in a grocery store upon hearing how their friend did at a race?)
my kids, even though they don't really get it, because they are cute and char asks me when I get back, "how was your run?" and harrison says "no hugs until you shower!"
and, of course, James, who has supported me over every literal and figurative step, who encouraged me to get a coach, who never balked at travel or race entry fees, who said, when we got home from a trip, "go to the track, I'll do dinner and bedtime," who used to come to races and cheer (pre kids) and now stays home with the kids because little kids and races do not mix. I could not have done this without him and I'm so grateful that he's my partner.


  1. Loved everything about this post, Tricia! Congrats and congrats!

  2. I loved this blog post so much. Our stories are so oddly identical. I ran my first marathon in 2006 in 4:46. And like you, I ran my first sub-4:00 in Richmond in 2007. we probably saw each other on the course. I even tried for a redemption run one year at the Potomac River Run. I can't express how excited I am for you!!! And if you had BQ'ed after just a few attempts, it wouldn't mean as much as it now does. You worked hard, never gave up, kept your sights on your dream, and now you have achieved it. I love how you were so motivated by that unicorn during the last few miles of the race. That black and white photo of you is so inspirational- it really captures the pride and the glory. Congrats x 1000!!!!

  3. Congrats on your BQ. I absolutely loved reading your heartfelt and detailed blog about your journey..Its an amazing and inspiring achievement.
    A BQ-1:35 would be really on the bubble, so its good that you are going for an improvement. Good luck at Erie. Train hard and run relaxed and confident. You are a Boston Qualifier!!

  4. This is such a great story. I also had to work hard for my BQ and honestly, I am now trying again this fall to get to run it without food poisoning 40 hours prior to the race (a whole story in itself). But it is an amazing race and worth all the blood, sweat and tears. You will have such an appreciation when you toe the starting line in Hopkington. Fingers crossed 2018 is your year.