2019 Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon Recap

Who had the most fun at this race??

I’m gonna go ahead and say me. 🙂

I’ve never felt more joyful to be at a start line, to cross a finish line or to run all the miles in between.

It felt like a looong year coming back from last summer’s injury, and at times it was hard to believe I’d ever be ready to run this race. But once I finished my 20-mile run and began tapering, I knew I’d done all the physical work I could do. Then, it was time to start the mental work.

I listened to running podcasts throughout my training, and anytime a host asked a guest about the best books they’d recently read, they all seemed to mention Deena Kastor’s memoir, Let Your Mind Run. I figured I’d give it a shot during the extra downtime I had in the three weeks leading up to the race.

If you’ve read the book, you already know it’s a game-changer. If you haven’t read it, get on it! I credit so much of my positive mental state during this race to the things I learned from Deena. I shared so many amazing quotes from the book to my Instagram stories, and one in particular stood out and rang through my mind again and again:

What I needed, I had. What I was seeking, I was. The accumulation of miles and wisdom were present, ready to be written in the race.

Deena Kastor, Let Your Mind Run

I was wary that I hadn’t included enough downhill running in my training—hello, it’s an entirely downhill race!—but I had purposefully avoided it since it’s so hard on the body and likely contributed to my injury last summer.

I pushed that and every other doubt out of my mind, simply trying to believe that I was well-prepared and ready to crush the race. Anytime a negative thought threatened to creep in, I squashed it with something positive:

I am so strong. I am so ready. This is going to be FUN!

I thought it. I felt it. And then I lived it.

My wonderful friend, neighbor and running buddy Hallie offered to drive me to the start line at Hyak, near Snoqualmie Pass. The course is point to point, and the alternative to being driven is to wake up really freakin’ early and ride a shuttle bus to the start, so I was very grateful to her! Also, it meant Aaron and Evie could sleep in a bit before cheering me on later.

It was so great having Hallie there with me, as she’s run this race twice before and knew all the right things to say. It was also nice to be able to take shelter in her car, since it was about 55 degrees and raining when we arrived at the start around 5:45 am. Everyone else was huddled under every available shelter, so it was nice to be able to stay warm and dry just a tiny bit longer.

On the drive up, I drank my usual Fab 4 smoothie, which literally no one would ever recommend you drink before a marathon! It contains spinach, kale, chard, cucumber, chia seeds, collagen, nut butter, frozen blueberries and coconut milk. So much fiber! So the opposite of what everyone says you should have before a race! (So don’t follow my example. 🙂 )

But I’ve had it every morning for the past six months or so, including before all of my long runs, and it’s always worked for me. And by “worked” I mean it gives me reliable results in the bathroom and keeps me full with about 530 calories of goodness and lots of protein.

I hit the porta-potties immediately upon arrival, then went back to the car, got all my gear on and did my dynamic warmup in the rain.

I wore my Ultimate Direction hydration vest with watermelon Nuun in the bottles and six vanilla bean Gu gels in one of the pockets. I had my phone in another pocket, and headphones around my neck ready to listen to podcasts through most of the race (creature of habit!), and then pump-up music for the last six miles or so.

I also had a headlamp on since the beginning of the marathon course runs through the Snoqualmie Tunnel, a 2.3-mile stretch of pitch blackness. It’s very cool, but a little scary if you’re running through it alone, which I did last summer!

After my warmup, I was cutting it really close to the 6:30 start time to squeeze in one last porta-potty stop, and I really had to pee. I ran over to the lines and hoped they’d move fast. Hallie, bless her, grabbed me a Ziploc bag and wrote my bib number on it so that I could put my headlamp in it and toss it in a box after the tunnel, then retrieve it at the finish line.

I peed just in time (and it was a BIG one, so I felt good about my hydration level 🙂 ), then ran over to the start and squeezed in between the 3:55 and 4:00 pacers. I wasn’t planning to follow a pacer at all, but I figured that was a good spot for the pace I wanted to start out with.

Cut to the National Anthem, a few tears that threatened to escape my eyes and a very excited selfie. It started raining a little harder and I was all for it. Party in the rain!!!

They did a wave start to minimize crowding in the tunnel, and I was in the third group to go. We were off, and I was smiling so big from the very first step!

Grateful. That’s what I felt as we ran the short distance to the beginning of the tunnel. I couldn’t believe I was finally running a marathon for the first time since Big Sur in 2015.

Running through the tunnel with so many other people was so much fun. Compared to running through it by myself or with just a few other people, all the headlamps lit it up like it was practically daylight. It didn’t feel crowded at all, and I easily maintained a nice bubble of personal space. It felt cold in there at first, but I quickly warmed up and maintained a pretty perfect temperature for the rest of the race.

The bad thing about the tunnel is that it really messes with your GPS and you can’t trust the pace on your watch at all. I’d glance at my pace every now and then, and it would say I was running 9:45 pace or something, but I knew to ignore it and just keep going. People would pass me and I’d keep thinking, “Run your own race.” Mile one is not the time to freak out about going too slowly.

The tunnel seemed to fly by (again, running with other people makes a world of difference!) and I very carefully put my headlamp in the Ziploc bag, zipped it shut and tried to throw it in the box… and wound up hitting an older female volunteer standing behind it directly in her crotch. WHOOPS!!! I said, “I’m so sorry!!” and she said, “It’s OK!” Mega fail. But it did bounce off of her and land in the box. 🙂

After that, we hit the three-mile marker and I noticed a few things: my watch clocked in at 25:XX, so no way was I running 9:45s in the tunnel, and my watch said I’d only run 2.75 miles so far. All kinds of jacked up. Again, I just noted the discrepancies and didn’t worry about them. I felt good and was running at a comfortable pace, so I continued doing that.

I popped in my earbuds and turned on an episode of the Ali on the Run Show featuring Mirinda Carfrae, the three-time Ironman world champion. Fun fact: Aaron and I were in Kona on our honeymoon in 2014 and saw Mirinda come back from a 14-minute deficit off the bike to win the race! Noooo big deal. If there’s anyone who could keep me feeling motivated during a marathon, it’s her!

The interview was great and I just chugged along. I ate Gu #1 around 4.5 miles, and crossed the 7-mile timing mat at 1:01:05 (8:44 average pace). I’d planned to start out around 8:45-8:50 pace and then try to speed up after the halfway point, if possible, so I felt great at that point. I ate Gu #2 around mile 9.

Then, around mile 10 or so, my headphones shut off for no apparent reason. When the battery is about to die, it’ll usually say “battery low” in my ears several times, then eventually shut down. This time, it just said “power off” and that was it. Umm, OK?? I had fully charged them before the race, so I have no clue what happened. I tried turning them on again a few times, but they just kept shutting right back off.

It’s so funny that I trained for so many hours with these headphones, and THIS was the one time they chose to randomly die on me, but I didn’t dwell on it. I just figured that I was meant to pay attention to the sounds of the race—the crunch of footsteps on gravel, the cadence of my breathing, the rain—and accepted it.

Deena’s quote rang through my mind once again:

What I needed, I had. What I was seeking, I was.

I looked forward to seeing Aaron and Evie at the halfway point and focused on that. Somewhere around this time, I passed the 3:55 pace group. I didn’t really mean to, but I was running how I felt like running and it worked out out that way. The pacer was very vocal with his group, encouraging everyone and whatnot, and I was surprised to hear his voice fade into the distance behind me. Now that he was back there, I vowed to not let him pass me.

I crossed the 13.1-mile timing mat at 1:55:08 (8:47 average pace). Still on track and feeling good!

Evie and Aaron were THE CUTEST when I saw them, cheering me on with a big, bright pink sign that said “Go Mama!” I threw my dead headphones to Aaron and said, “I feel great! See you at the finish!” Another runner commented on how cute Evie was and gave me the warm fuzzies all over again. 🙂

I ate Gu #3 around mile 13.5. I think this photo was taken just before I took it out of my vest. Thank you to USA Endurance Events for the FREE race photos!

This race course is so freaking beautiful, winding through forests and over bridges, passing sheer rock walls, waterfalls and breathtaking views. Who needs podcasts?? I was happy to have my full attention on everything around me.

The rain was light enough to not be bothersome. Even when the wind picked up a bit, it felt nice and cooling, and I didn’t mind a bit. It felt like nothing could ruin this race for me!

My mental strategy was to not think about how far I’d already run, but focus on how far I had left to go. For some reason I broke it down into 10 miles + whatever, and that seemed so manageable. At 15 miles, “only 10 miles plus 1.2! That’s so easy! I can do that in my sleep!”

When I hit 17 miles and had only single digits’ worth of miles left to run, I was THRILLED. In my mind, I was practically done. It sounds funny now, but it worked so well!

I think I ate Gu #4 around mile 17.5. Along the way, my watch had adjusted to nearly match up with the mile markers, but then it kept on going—it was telling me I’d already run 18 miles, for example, but then I wouldn’t hit the 18-mile marker for another quarter mile. That was hard on my mental game, but I tried to keep track of how much it was off so I’d know when to expect the next mile marker. By the end, it was off by almost half a mile.

It seemed to take forever to get to 20 miles. I crossed the timing mat in 2:57:52 (8:54 average pace). I was stoked for several reasons:

  • I was not hitting any sort of wall.
  • I had less than an hour of running left.
  • I knew I could PR, barring complete disaster.

At that point, I hadn’t taken anything from any aid station and was getting low on my Nuun. I unscrewed one of my bottle tops as I ran up to the next aid station and quickly dumped three cups of water into it, screwed the top back on and kept running.

I knew around mile 21.5, we’d transition from the John Wayne Trail to the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which meant we’d kind of run around a switchback at the Cedar Falls trailhead and begin our final descent to the finish line. Again, it seemed to take forever to get to that point and I was eagerly anticipating it! There were big puddles along this stretch and my legs got pretty muddy, but somehow I kept my socks dry. I ate Gu #5 somewhere around here.

Finally we made the turn onto the SVT. I heard the 3:55 pacer behind me as I made the turn and was like, goooo! He never did pass me. 🙂

My legs were feeeeeeling the downhill. I had expected my knees and quads to be in pain, but it was actually my calves that were like, “Hiiiii, what is happening?!?” They felt very heavy and like they might cramp up at any second.

Inspired by Deena Kastor yet again, I imagined that what I was feeling was actually all the power I’d built up in my calves over the past five months, and I pictured the ground sending energy back up into my legs with every step. When I started to worry about cramping, I just thought, “Nope, not today!”

I had made a Spotify playlist for this portion of the race called BREAK THE GLASS, as in “break glass in case of emergency.” Even though my headphones were dead and gone, I still wanted to listen to it, so I turned it on just loud enough so I could hear it and angled my phone in the vertical vest pocket so that the speaker pointed up toward my head.

I’M SORRY if that is an asshole move to play music out loud and potentially disrupt other runners when they’re in the zone, but the field was pretty strung out at the this point and I figured if anyone was mad at me, I could just run away from them. 🙂 No one ever said a word, so it was either quiet enough that nobody could hear, or they actually liked the music, or they were just too polite/hurting too much to yell at me.

Anyway, the playlist gave me just the energy I needed and made me so happy. I felt joyful and lighthearted even as my calves threatened to seize up at any moment. Here it is, to give you an idea of the vibe:

  • Rock and Roll – Led Zeppelin
  • Runnin’ Down a Dream – Tom Petty
  • Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) – Kelly Clarkson
  • California Girl – Cheap Trick
  • Tom Sawyer – Rush
  • Good Times Bad Times – Led Zeppelin
  • Toys in the Attic – Aerosmith
  • China Grove – The Doobie Brothers
  • Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds
  • Let It Go – Idina Menzel
  • Feelin’ Alright – Joe Cocker
  • Listen to the Music – The Doobie Brothers

Basically high-energy classic rock with a dash of Kelly Clarkson and the triumphant anthem from Frozen, then finishing off with some happy, chill songs that brought me through the finish line. So random, yet so perfect.

I ate Gu #6 at mile 23 or so in the hopes of fending off cramps, and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other.

At one point, I curled up my toes to try to loosen up my feet, and that legit made my calves cramp. It caused me to stumble a bit, like Bambi trying to walk on ice, and another woman asked if I was OK. I shook it off and kept running, vowing not to change anything again and just keep moving!

I look happy enough at mile 25. Almost done with this thing!

Those last few miles were so rough and felt like they took forever, but according to my splits on Strava, I kept a pretty even pace: 9:06, 9:07 and 9:06 for miles 24-26. I did stop for maybe five seconds at mile 26 to quickly stretch my calves for the final sprint, which I did at 8:24 pace.

Get. Me. To. That. Finish. Line!!!

I saw Hallie and her kids, Evie and Aaron cheering alongside the flags lining the final stretch and was sooo happy! I freakin’ did it and overall felt stronger and better than any other marathon I’ve run!

I finished in 3:54:16, a five-minute improvement on my previous PR from the 2013 Chicago Marathon (3:59:13) and a 20-minute improvement on my most recent marathon time from Big Sur in 2015 (4:14:12). It may have been a downhill marathon, but it came with its own challenges and required just as much strength to get through as any other!

Take the splits with a grain of salt because, y’know, tunnel:

I smiled the whole way across the line, then burst into a kind of dry heave/ugly cry, feeling so overwhelmed to have come so far, literally and figuratively. I couldn’t wait to hug everyone.

Bless these people for waiting and cheering in the rain. How often do you get a cool, wet marathon at the end of July?? Perfection!

I spent the rest of the day relaxing at home, attempting to stretch and foam roll but not getting very far because my legs were in so much pain, and hobbling around. I hobbled pretty solidly for three or four days. I don’t think I’ll be doing another downhill marathon anytime soon. 🙂

I’ve taken this past week off from all exercise, and will probably take next week off too since we’re going on vacation! Then, I’m excited to gradually begin running again and work toward my next goal.

For now, I’ll continue to bask in the immense joy I’ve gotten from achieving this one.

Shoes: Brooks Glycerin 17
Tank: Lululemon Swiftly Tech Racerback
Bra: Senita Sarah
Shorts: Brooks Chaser 3″
Hat: Oiselle Runner Trucker
Vest: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta
Hydration: Watermelon Nuun
Nutrition: Vanilla Bean Gu
Headphones: piece of shit, don’t buy them 🙂

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

From Injured Runner to Marathon Finisher

I’ve neglected this blog in favor of the ease of Instagram, but I want to catch you up on everything that’s happened since last fall. Spoiler alert: I just ran a marathon! And not just any old marathon; I ran a five-minute PR!

I’ll write a full race recap to share all about how I got to the finish line. But first, here’s how I got to the start line.

After I got injured in July 2018, I went to physical therapy once a week through September to correct my SI joint dysfunction and build strength in the surrounding muscles. Then, I began working with a running coach in October to improve my form and slowly begin to run again. And by slowly, I mean sloooowwwwlyyyyy.

My coach gave me strict orders to not do too much, too soon. That meant sticking to an easy mix of running and walking, and keeping my heart rate between 135 and 145 bpm, which was equivalent to about a 12:00 min/mile pace. It was so hard to be patient, but I followed his recommendations!

We met several times through November, working on things like a warmup routine and form drills, and then I took a complete break from coaching and running through the holidays.

However, I stayed active by walking on the treadmill for an hour at a time several days a week. I watched a lot of Scandal. I also started the Bikini Body Guide program (BBG) from the beginning again just before Thanksgiving to get stronger and help keep holiday pounds at bay. It worked on both counts!

On January 1, I felt full of hope for 2019 and ran a symbolic mile around my neighborhood to mark my return to running. I ran it in 9:16, which was definitely too fast for my fitness level, and it made me feel achy in the SI joint area. 😦 I went back to a mix of walking on the treadmill and very slow running/walking outside, and scheduled another package of sessions with my coach.

I was so pleased to see big improvements in my ability to complete my coach’s drills with proper form due to my increased strength (especially core). Thanks, BBG! It made me think, “Huh… there’s really something to this idea of whole-body fitness when it comes to running.” (Duh.)

I continued to follow my coach’s guidelines with easy running/walking, and gradually decreased the amount I walked and increased the amount I ran.

Finally, on February 23, I felt good enough to run a full four miles and completed them in 38:34 (9:38 pace). I wasn’t exactly following coach’s guidelines… but it felt great to me, mentally and physically.

From there, I just kept on running. Three miles one day, five miles another day. By the end of March, I felt solid enough to start training for Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon—the same race I’d trained for in 2018, but couldn’t run due to my injury.

My coach wasn’t exactly supportive of my jumping right into marathon training, but I chose a fairly conservative 18-week training plan (Hal Higdon’s Novice 2) and figured I’d take it one run at a time and see how far I could get. Highlights of the plan:

  • Four days of running per week
  • No speed workouts
  • Two rest days per week
  • 1 hour of cross-training per week
  • Peak week of 36 miles
  • Longest run: 20 miles

Compare that to the aggressive plan I followed last year (Hal Higdon’s Advanced 1):

  • Six days of running per week
  • 1 speed workout per week
  • One rest day per week
  • No cross-training
  • Peak week of 58 miles
  • Longest run: three 20-milers

Like night and day!

And, no surprise, I felt so much better following this easier training plan. It was so manageable, and I never felt burned out.

Unlike any other time I’ve trained for a marathon, I actually completed all the runs (except when I skipped the entire first week of the plan since I was so sick with a cold) and cross-trained by riding my bike for an hour every Sunday starting in week six.

I think the cross-training made such a big difference. I ran long on Saturdays, rode easy for 12-13 miles on a local trail on Sundays, and on Mondays my legs felt so much more recovered than if I hadn’t done anything at all.

I also grew to really love my time on the bike! Riding in (mostly) perfect weather in the spring and summer felt like total bliss. It was awesome and freeing to be able to cover so much more distance in an hour on the bike than any hour I’d ever spend running, and I got to see my usual running routes in new ways. I was also able to do a few rides with Aaron when the grandparents were watching Evie, which was super fun for me and probably very slow and boring for him. 🙂

Another thing I did differently: I consistently worked on my core strength with The Dozen workout (recommended by my running coach) and on my hip strength with the routine my physical therapist gave me to do at home. Well, I did all this sporadically for the first several weeks, then really buckled down for the final eight weeks and did core 2x/week and PT 2x/week.

I figured out that I could use my lunch break at work to go down to the (free!) gym in my building and do these strength workouts, then run in the evening. Breaking up the work made it seem less daunting and gave me more free time in the evenings. A typical week looked like this:

  • Monday: midday PT
  • Tuesday: morning core + run (I work from home on Tuesdays)
  • Wednesday: midday PT + evening run
  • Thursday: midday core + evening run
  • Friday: rest
  • Saturday: long run
  • Sunday: bike

I quickly established this routine and never looked back. Hitting the gym added a nice break to my day and made my lunch (eaten afterward at my desk) taste so much better. 🙂

I can’t stress enough what a huge difference this strength work made in my training and in running the marathon itself. In the past, when my long runs got up to 15+ miles, I always remember my lower back and shoulders feeling so tired and sore by the end. This time around, they felt perfectly fine. Sure, my legs were tired, but the rest of my body felt well-supported and strong.

Game = changed.

A few other things that happened during training: when I started the plan, I no longer had time on weekends to meet with my running coach, so I phased out our work together; we last met in April. I learned so much from him—a proper warmup routine, form drills, etc.—but private, in-person coaching is expensive and not something I can afford on an ongoing basis. It’s something I’m certainly open to doing again in the future to continue improving my running.

I also ran a few races! At the end of April, I did the Mt. Si Relay with a team of four other women. We covered 59 miles altogether; my legs were 6.1 mostly flat miles (7:56 average pace) and 6.8 entirely uphill miles (8:27 average pace).

I was thrilled with those paces given that I hadn’t done any speedwork since getting injured. I just ran comfortably hard while listening to podcasts to keep my mind occupied. I was definitely spent by the end of each leg, but I felt strong while running and nothing hurt. It felt amazing to run fast (for me) and not trigger any of the familiar old aches and pains.

Oh, and we WON the women’s open division of the relay with our overall average pace of 7:49! It was a beautiful weather day, and we had a ton of fun to boot.

I also ran the Nordstrom Beat the Bridge 8K in mid-May. I work for Nordstrom, so the event is a big deal in our office every year. The race benefits the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and every Nordstrom team is tasked with raising a certain amount of money. I volunteered to help lead the marketing team’s efforts this year, and we raised more than $20,000, beating last year’s fundraising! I raised a little over $10,000 of that by asking for donations from friends and family on Facebook, raffling off prize packages on Instagram and selling a whoooole lot of Aaron’s amazing homemade cookies and treats at work over the course of seven weeks. It was fun to be able to make a meaningful contribution to the race this year beyond just running it. Huge thanks to any of you who donated! 🙂

As for the race itself, my only goal was to have fun and hopefully PR, since I was sick (again!) that weekend and spent a lot of energy helping with packet pickup the previous day and the morning of the race.

Luckily, I was able to shave four minutes off my 2017 time for a PR of 40:06 (8:04 pace). I also ran 10 more miles later on to complete the 15 miles I was supposed to do for the day. (This all seemed very normal while I was doing it, but now sounds crazy looking back!?!? I was really terribly sick, but somehow felt better while running!)

I think that about brings us up to speed on everything that’s happened since I last wrote! I documented most of my training on Instagram, so you can always catch up there, as well.

Next up: my recap of Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon, aka three hours and 54 minutes of the most fun I’ve ever had while running!!!