Even though I’ve been 26.2’ing it for over a decade, I still get jitters before toeing the starting line. No matter how many times I race, there’s always something new I learn about the marathon—a distance I hold utmost respect for—and about myself.
When a friend asked if I wanted to sign up for the 2022 Atlanta Publix Half Marathon, which was on February 27 (50 days before Boston, which I was also running) a more responsible runner would’ve used this half as a pre-marathon tune-up.
Now, dear runner, I know how much my body can endure. I literally wrote the article on skipping long runs during training. I’ve qualified for and run every Boston Marathon since 2013. However, I am but a mere mortal and not immune to hubris.
It was March 2021 around this time—and I was not in a rational state. Holiday trips had been canceled due to COVID. Races had been postponed. I was whiling my way running, feeding my sourdough starter, and staring at my acoustic guitar that was accumulating dust in its corner. Cabin fever compelled me to make this rash decision: I signed up for the full.
Here’s how I prepared, some of my thoughts, and the aftermath.
1) For better or worse, I stuck with my usual training.
Meaning, I didn’t really have a plan. Most of my runs were between three to six miles at 7:30 to 7:45/mile pace, with a few 5K races thrown in.
2) If I felt the slightest twinge, I took time off.
Taking breaks to prevent, er, breaks, is what I truly believe to be the wisest decision any runner can gift herself.
There were several stretches from November through February where I’d take a three-day rest. As the races crept closer, I made a modest goal of finishing both in the upright position. (I figured my finish time at October’s 2021 Boston Marathon would make the 2023 BQ cut.)
3) There will always be others who’ll outshine you.
Shalane Flanagan. Brittany Charboneau. I mean, really—what gives? Did you have to upstage me? Did y’all have to continue your fast-track train of awesomeness as I trudged through snow on the worst days of training, attempting my own—albeit, smaller and not as impressive—feat? How dare you.
4) Sometimes when everything goes wrong, your race goes right.
Even though I played it relatively safe months out, the week before the race everything fell apart. I had a throat infection. My flight to Atlanta, two days before the race, was canceled. I ended up drinking a margarita at a bar outside Philly and catching a flight out the next day.
The night before the marathon, I ate a decadent Mexican dinner paired with a cabernet and chased it with boozy ice cream. And I didn’t get a wink of sleep. Race day morning was dismal—a windy, rainy mix of cold, very non-Hotlanta weather. It seemed the odds were stacked against me.
And yet, despite all of the above, I was the first woman to cross the finish line.
Yeah. It was a weird day.
5) And sometimes when everything is seemingly idyllic, shit hits the fan.
After Atlanta, I took seven days off from running and added a weekly rest day. By Boston Marathon weekend, I felt fresh and race-ready again. The cool, temperate, very non-New England spring weather was perfect. I had gotten sufficient sleep the previous night, didn’t go on a boozy ice cream bender, and had this awesome playlist.
In my starting line corral, I was set. I had double-knotted my Altra Vanish Carbon’s shoelaces, Vaselined the hell out of chafing-prone areas, and removed my earbuds to listen to the national anthem. Nothing could stop me.
Except a faulty, soundless left earbud.
I delayed crossing over the starting line strip, trying to re-sync my ’buds with my Garmin Forerunner 745’s Bluetooth. Spectators probably thought I was averse to their cheering, as I ran the first couple of miles with my index fingers pressing on the ’buds’ buttons, desperately hoping for both of them to emit sound. But the left earbud remained silent. Not thrilled with the prospect of listening to unbalanced jams for three hours, I debated on DNF’ing for the first time.
So what if my Boston Marathon streak ended after nine years? (Are we even counting 2020’s virtual run?) So what if me walking off and hitching a ride back to the city was tantamount to a toddler tantrum?
But, dear runner, I didn’t give up. I swallowed my pride and finished Boston numero 10.
7) Try, try again. But maybe do things a little differently.
After a short rest period (because I ran slower, my recovery the week after Boston was quicker), my disappointment at my poor performance in Boston transformed from bitterness to motivation. I was determined to do better and aim higher.
If I could run two marathons in a short time span (one that went swimmingly despite the worst circumstances and one that ended miserably despite the best conditions), maybe—just maybe—I could PR the crap out of my next marathon and finally break three hours.
To achieve this, I knew I had to give in. I had to do things outside of my comfort zone. I did what pre-2020 me would have avoided like a hornets’ nest: yoga, speedwork, and long runs. Game on.
I’ll let you know how things pan out after I run my twentieth marathon this fall.
In the meantime, comment below if you’ve run back-to-back races or are considering it. And if you have any non-pasta prerace meal rituals you’d like to share—even better.