You might be like, “Wait, Devon—your marathon PR is 3:59. The qualifying time for your age group is 3:35. Why are you even talking about Boston?”
You see, my friend and frequent running buddy Hallie ran Jack & Jill last year as her first marathon-distance race (she had run farther in 50K trail races) and qualified for Boston in 3:34:38. That was her goal; she trained her butt off and achieved it. The course is also a gentle downhill the entire way, making it a particularly fast one that’s popular for runners chasing BQs.
Hallie thinks I can do it. I sort of think I can, if I put all my energy and focus into my training and happen to feel good on race day and execute a perfect race strategy.
Here’s the thing, though: I’ve run five marathons, and I’ve experienced high highs and low lows during those races. I mostly enjoyed highs when my primary goal for the race was to have fun and finish strong. I mostly suffered lows when my primary goal was to PR or hit a certain time on the clock. I ran a seven-minute PR at my second marathon and was so upset afterward because I didn’t hit the time I wanted. What is that about?!?
I know some people thrive on setting a big, scary goal, believing they can do it and putting every ounce of their energy toward it. I’m not the type of person who can do that and then relax enough to enjoy race day regardless of what happens. The pressure is too much. I’ve learned that I’d rather go in with a laid-back attitude and low expectations than pin all my hopes and dreams on a single goal and feel crushed when I don’t meet it.
So my strategy for this training cycle is a little weird, but I feel good about it. I will train with the goal of qualifying for Boston in mind, but my actual goal will just be to enjoy the race and finish strong. And to PR, too, because I think I can do that for sure. Running a strong Lake Sammamish Half and achieving a nine-minute PR convinced me of that.
I’ll do all the things someone would do to train for a Boston-qualifying time: use an advanced training plan that includes six days of running per week, regular speedwork and three 20-mile runs. I’ll aim to do my marathon-pace training runs at Boston-qualifying pace. I’ll stretch, foam roll and use NormaTec boots to help with recovery. I’ll eat well and eliminate alcohol for three weeks before the race. On race day, I’ll aim to run a negative split and finish under 3:35:00.
But I won’t be disappointed if I don’t. And I don’t want anyone else to be disappointed for me, either. It’s a far-out idea, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
You know how you look forward to running a race so you can relax afterward, only to find yourself intoxicated by the running bug and itching to race again?
On the way home from the Orcas Island 25K, Hallie and I spent the car ride looking up half marathons to sign up for. We found the Lake Sammamish Half on March 10—a race I had run twice before (2013, 2014)—and signed up right away.
I’m at the point with my running where I don’t want to pay to run a race without really training for it and aiming for a PR. I only had about five weeks to train for this race, but I made the most of it with weekly speed training (alternating between tempo runs and intervals) and I felt myself get quite a bit faster as a result.
It also helped that Aaron and I turned our half-office/half-workout-room into a dedicated gym during this time, which included buying a used treadmill—so I really had no excuse to miss a run!
My main goal was to PR (sub-1:55), but I also thought I could run a 1:50 (8:15 average pace) or maybe even break 1:50. I vividly remember trying so hard to break 2:00 when I first started running, so this time goal seemed really scary! But the workouts I did based on my goal pace felt great and, barring total disaster, I was confident I could do it.
The night before the race, I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. It seemed like I woke up every 10 minutes or so to check my phone and make sure I didn’t sleep through it! And when I did sleep, I dreamt that I woke up late. It wasn’t a very restful night, to say the least.
Hallie picked me up at 5:30, and we picked up our friend Kelli on the way to Redmond Town Center, where the race began. We completely beat the traffic and arrived around 6:30, with plenty of time to pick up our packets, use the porta-potties multiple times with no lines and stay warm in the car until the 7:30 start. In years past, this race began at Marymoor Park, and the traffic getting into the park was a total nightmare. I once had to jump out of our car on the freeway offramp and run to the start! This was a big improvement.
We warmed up a bit (I probably didn’t even run a quarter mile; I’m not great at warming up), then ran to the start at 7:29, snapped a quick picture and took off.
Hallie and Kelli are faster than me, so I had no plans to keep up with them. Sure enough, they took off in the first mile and I never saw them again. I originally planned to run the first few miles somewhere between 8:30-8:45 pace, keeping it nice and easy and then gradually speeding up through the end. Well, I ran nice and easy, but completed the first mile in 8:17.
My first instinct was to panic, thinking that I was running way too fast and would surely burn out at some point and completely ruin my race. But I took stock of my breathing and heart rate and realized that, no, I wasn’t running too hard at all, and yes, this did feel easy. Maybe I’m a little faster than I thought.
Mile 2: 8:09 Mile 3: 8:11
I noticed that my watch clocked one mile about 0.10 before I reached the mile marker, which I thought was odd because I really paid attention to running the tangents. The gap between my watch distance and the mile markers only grew each mile, until the disparity was about a third of a mile. This was bad news—it meant that if the mile markers didn’t correct by the end of the race, I’d be running closer to 13.5 miles than 13.1 miles and pick up the extra time it took to do it.
If I wanted to reach my goal, I had to run faster.
Photo c/o Woodinville Bicycle/Westside Bicycle.
Also, around mile three, the 1:50 pace group passed me. I had started well ahead of them, so this meant I was falling behind 1:50 pace?!? I couldn’t believe this, based on the splits I was running. But something was wonky with the mile markers, so maybe they were running extra fast to make up the difference?
Rather than making a big effort to catch up and stay with the group, I resolved to keep them in my sights, and settled into a harder-but-comfortable pace. I ate a vanilla bean Gu at mile 5, and settled in behind a woman who was running strong. I felt like if I couldn’t keep up with the pace group, I’d be OK if I could at least keep up with her.
There were two or three miles where the paved path gave way to packed gravel, and it took more effort to keep up the same pace. I felt my energy flagging and doubted I could hold my pace in the low 8s until the end. Somewhere around here, I started hating running and wondering why I do it at all (haha!).
Mile 8: 8:08 Mile 9: 8:12
I took another vanilla bean Gu at mile 10. I complimented the woman I’d been following/running next to for a while on her strong running, and she said I was doing great, too. We both caught up to the 1:50 pace group, and the pacers confirmed they were running quite a bit faster than planned based on the wonky mile markers. I stuck with the pacers for a while, and the course finally turned back into pavement, so it felt easier to run a little faster. I felt good and there was no slowing down now.
Mile 10: 8:06 Mile 11: 8:02
Photo c/o Woodinville Bicycle/Westside Bicycle.
I pulled ahead of the pacers at some point, but not by very much because I heard the man say to the group, “About a mile and a half to go. If you’re feeling good, now’s the time to go for it!”
So I went for it.
Mile 12: 7:56 Mile 13: 7:44
The last few miles took everything I had; I was sucking wind so hard. But that’s how you finish a race, right? And then the most glorious thing happened: my watch clocked mile 13 just as I hit the mile marker. The course had corrected itself, and I was steps away from a big PR.
Last 0.1: 7:29 pace
I crossed the line at exactly 1:46:00 (8:05 average pace), according to both my watch and the official results. There’s something oddly satisfying about my watch time and official time matching, plus it being a perfectly even number. Oh, and the nine-minute PR doesn’t hurt either! (Hallie and Kelli both ran 1:43 and PR’d, too!)
As I doubled over with my hands on my knees in the finish area, I kind of wanted to throw up and kind of wanted to cry with happiness. It had been years since I’d run a half-marathon, and since my last one, I’d had a non-running pregnancy, given birth and struggled to get back into fitness and running for about a year and a half. Now, here I was, faster than ever. I felt so freakin’ proud.
When I was struggling to get back into a running routine, I came to accept the fact that I might not ever be as fit or as fast as I once was. It helped mentally, at the time.
But once I really dedicated myself to working out and eating well and started to see some progress, I realized I didn’t need to have that mentality anymore. Why couldn’t I get into as good of shape as I was before—if not better? Why couldn’t I run as fast as I could before—if not faster?
The things I’ve experienced and the ways I’ve changed since becoming a mom have only made me stronger and more equipped to do hard things. And I already had to start over from scratch with exercise and running, which is super hard in itself—why not keep going from there?
This race proved to me that nothing is out of reach if I really commit. I only seriously trained for this race for about five weeks; what could I do with 10? If I approach marathon training with the same dedication, what can I achieve in July at the Jack & Jill Downhill Marathon?
I’m thrilled by the possibilities, and I’ll give it all I’ve got.