After my head hit the pillow, I slept for a few hours then I kept waking up imagining I had missed my alarm: 12:06 am, 2:20 am, 3:15 am. My alarm was not set until 5:30 am, but around 5:15 am, I finally surrendered and started my day. I tried to be as quiet as I could as I made my first breakfast of the day (peanut butter bread and applesauce) and began to put on my layers. At the last minute, I added leggings over my shorts/compression socks and under my throw-away sweats to
try to keep myself as warm as possible before the race. Around 6 a.m., I headed out to make the trip to the T. As soon as I stepped outside, I received a taste of what was to come – cold, blustery winds nearly took off my hat and poncho. I quickly fixed my gear and continued on to the T station. Only 2 other runners got on the train with me and we all had a look of concern on our faces. As we traveled to the Arlington stop, more and more runners boarded the T all with waterproof outerwear to try to stay as dry as possible.
Once I arrived at the final stop, I headed to gear check to at least leave a dry sweatshirt and pants to put on after the race and then started towards the buses. Going through security wasn’t too bad but many runners were stopped due to trying to bring unapproved bags on the bus, including me. The email sent the night before mentioned we could bring dry shoes in a clear, plastic bag, but they did not specify a size. I had to discard the bag I brought along and shove my shoes into another gallon-sized bag. No big deal and an easy fix. I heard one woman arguing with the inspectors about not being able to bring more due to the awful weather.
Jeremy and Mario had informed me the bus ride was about 40-50 minutes long so I hit the port-a-pots before boarding the bus. The ride was long and I kept drifting off in little cat naps while I listened to the conversation between runners from Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Minnesota. We finally pulled up near Athlete’s Village and I watched runners trudging up a slight incline through rain and gusty winds. We tried our best to avoid puddles as long as we could and once we entered Athlete’s Village, yikes. Mud everywhere. Jeremy said to look for him and Mario near Tents 1 & 2 and I was determined to find them among the sea of runners. I passed Tent 3 and continued to the back side of the school in search of the other tents. Walking from the blacktop to the tent was so mucky and I was so glad I brought old shoes to wear
before the race. I tiptoed through the mud towards Tent 2 and went inside. Wow, runners nearly covered every square inch of real estate under the tent, huddled on the ground on trash bags and blankets. I circled the tent looking for the guys with no luck and headed towards Tent 1. Tent 1 literally had a moat around the outside and I thought, “no way Jeremy and Mario are in there” and headed back towards Tent 2 for another loop. No luck. Still I was determined and headed back to Tent 1. I grimaced as I trudged through the mud and looked just inside the tent to see Jeremy sitting there. Bingo! So good to see a familiar face.
I spread out my trash bag and huddled down with my heat sheet while Jeremy told me he couldn’t find Mario at the bus area and still hadn’t seen him. Although we sat there for over an hour, we didn’t chat much. I think we were just focused on the challenge we were about to endure. We looked up at one point and saw Tom Thomas who Jeremy met at 2017 Shamrock. Tom had a great pre-race outfit – disposable galoshes and a full rainsuit – smart guy! We said a few words about how most time goals were probably out the window. Jeremy offered a fellow runner who came in looking a bit overwhelmed an extra trash bag to sit on. We both ate a little more food – I had more peanut butter bread and a banana. At times, the winds would gust through the tent and we’d have to hunker down. This weather was no joke – the rain falling off the tent had turned into slushy snow/ice on the ground. Soon, announcements were being made for Jeremy’s wave to start lining up. I looked outside the tent and saw Mario standing at a trash can and we yelled to him. He was so excited to see us! Jeremy joked he looked like a baked potato because he had a silver heat sheet tied around this waist. Jeremy wished me luck and went to join Mario for the walk to the starting line. Mario and I waved or maybe threw a thumb up; I can’t remember. I watched the two of them start their trek to the starting line while I tried to stay as warm and dry as possible. At one point, a huge gust of wind came through and the gentleman making announcements said, “You are all dedicated. There is no way I’d run in this.”
I made my 3rd trip of the morning to the port-a-pots and then came back to change into my racing shoes. Using the extra trash bags I brought, I tied one around each of my legs to ward off the mud and rain until I was closer to the starting line. Throughout the morning, I kept making gear adjustments – I put my ear warmer over my hat to help keep the hat on with the winds, I decided to run with Goodrs on to protect my eyes and I decided to just keep my leggings on to have less skin exposure to the elements. Sometimes you just need to go with the flow and make game-time decisions on what you feel will work best for you. As my bib color was called, I confidently walked through the mud moat and out to the next stop. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep my extra clothes on for and I definitely took them off too soon; now I have a better idea of distance and how much time I have until the starting line for a future Boston. We walked down the street towards the starting corral area and I entered into #6. I kept looking around for other runners who were slated to be in my corral, Jill and Anna, but did not see them. I took off the last bit of my gear just as we were released to begin our 26.2 mile trek. My heart pounded as I crossed the starting mat and clicked my watch. Here we go!
(Side note: I keep clicking back to my Garmin stats as I write this because I lost track of exactly when certain things happened.) Right away, I was so excited and appreciative to see spectators braving the conditions to cheer us on. A few miles in, I passed someone blasting Rocky music (how can that not pump you up?) and then Jump Around by House of Pain. This song reminded me of my college days with my teammates Keri and Andy and I started singing the lyrics out loud as we passed by.
Every now and then, I’d have a sense of panic. I’d get a cold chill and I did think to myself, “Am I going to finish today?” I promised myself to just keep moving forward and not worry about my time. Reminded myself of two things over and over – one was something my son had said to me over the weekend: “Mom, no matter what, you are going to have a course PR!” Keeping this in mind and also the fact I had already qualified for Boston 2019 kept me in check. As the freezing rain fell all around me and the winds gusted, I realized it was going to be a long race. Just keep moving forward.
Around mile 11, I realized I had to pee. I have never stopped in a race to pee, but I think the cold, wet conditions caused me to have to go. I actually contemplated not stopping and again thought, “Just go. Make yourself as comfortable as possible.” I veered off course to the next port-a-pot. I was not as speedy as Shalane’s pit stop; trying to pull two layers of wet clothing back up was very difficult. I tied my left shoe and jumped back in the race. I had been averaging pretty decent miles and this stop caused me to clock a 9:36. “Oh well” I thought. Next stop, Wellesley!
The Wellesley girls did not let the weather keep them inside. I ran right up the fence and high fived every girl I came across. The noise from their screams was deafening but so motivating. Soon, we were at the halfway mark and I think this is where I had to tie my other shoe. Trying to tie your shoe with wet, freezing cold fingers is not easy. Somewhere around here I was once again reminded how brutal this race was – I heard the announcer say there was a warming center set up for anyone who needed to stop. By this point, I had seen several runners being walked off course by medical personnel with heat sheets and the medical emergency carts going up and down the course picking up runners who could not continue. I can remember running past a gentleman who was on his cell phone calling a family member and I heard him say, “My race is over. I’m done.” It was heartbreaking.
Somewhere near this point, my feet hurt with each step. I felt like I was running with ice cold bricks for feet and it certainly was uncomfortable for most of the latter part of the race. Here are a few things I thought of or things that happened every time I would get start to feel very uncomfortable:
– One runner I passed was running with an AFO which made me think of my friend Kris and how she would love to run Boston one day. Run for Kris.
Running past the enthusiastic spectators and athletes of all kinds of abilities kept me going. At times, the rain absolutely dumped on us which for a second I’m sure we all thought “Really??? Could it be much worse??” However, when the deluge happened, the crowd went absolutely wild and made you feel like a beast. So I trudged on. At some point, we passed an area that was blasting the Cupid Shuffle and when they said “to the right, to the right” you better believe I shuffled right to the fence line, high fived a few people (who roared) and then shuffled back “to the left, to the left” then kicked now! I did what I had to stay sane. Also at points, I remembered listening to Deena Kastor speak at the RRCA convention the weekend prior about smiling when you were hurting which will help your body relax. I probably looked like a deranged goofball, but I smiled through the insanity several times. Even around so many runners, the race felt lonely at times and I was glad Jeremy and Mario were together. Some of my (crazy) family was around 17-18 and were able to capture a photo/video of me.
Right around Heartbreak, I wanted to fuel again and could not get my food out of my bag. I decided to stop, take my time getting my fuel out, eat and then get moving again. And I did. I’m unsure what sparked my reboot, but after Heartbreak Hill, I felt like I was on fire. I just felt like I was flying and I knew I had about an hour to go until I would cross that finish line. Heading into the these last miles, I have never seen so many people walking in a race ahead of me, standing on the side against the fences trying to stretch or limping along the route. I felt grateful to be still moving at what I thought was a decent pace (I had stopped looking at my watch after the potty stop). Mile 22, 23, 24…getting so close. I see the Citgo sign – keep pushing! Soon, I recognized the area where I had run the 5K with Dylan just 2 days prior. I looked ahead and saw the arrows pointing us right – Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. I was almost there. I glanced around hoping for a glimpse of my family; if I saw them I was going to go over and hug them but the noise was deafening so I wasn’t able to hear anyone calling my name. I looked ahead and saw the finish area ahead. I was about to be a Boston Marathon finisher. I raised my hands in a double thumbs up and crossed that line with a smile and continued through the chute.
As that medal was placed over my head, I choked up and tears came to my eyes. The final 26.2 miles to this medal was most likely one of the most brutal, difficult runs I have ever experienced. I won’t lie, I felt like a complete badass (or completely insane; deranged; call it what you will). I ran directly into that storm and I prevailed.
After I was given my medal, heat poncho, food, water and continued through the chute. I will never forget looking ahead and seeing hundreds of runners in their ponchos slowly moving forward away from the finish line. I started
shivering badly. When I arrived at the gear check area, it was a zoo. I almost considered leaving my gear because trying to find your bag was a nightmare but I really needed more layers. Thankfully, it didn’t take me too long to find my bag and I headed towards the family meeting area. My heart dropped as I didn’t recognize any familiar faces and then realized my phone battery had died. At this point, I feel I went into survival mode and was a little panicked. All I could think about was, find a warm area. I boarded a warming bus they had for the runners and pleaded to use anyone’s cell phone. I dialed John’s phone; no answer – I left a message with somewhat garbled information of where I was. Several minutes later, I borrowed a 2nd phone. Called again, no luck. Called my mother-in-law and tried my best to relay my location. I heard someone at the front of the bus call, “Becky McGraw?” I quickly grabbed my bags and went outside to find no one. Maybe I had imagined my name? Shivering, I headed back onto the bus to wait. A few minutes later, I saw John outside the window. I yelled up front, “Someone please yell John!!” Several people realized I was freaking out a bit and thankfully yelled until John heard and headed onto our bus. I was so glad to see him.
Hitting the pavement as the world sleeps
Sound of footsteps beside me
SVR track workouts
Stupid, “punny” jokes
RIT group runs
Feelings of success after nailing a workout
- remember running around Handley as you ran your first track workout.
- remember running and listening about the infamous fowl attack.
- think of running from Winchester to Woodstock with you.
- think of sharing a glass of wine and pizza with you after a tough run.
- remember running 14 miles through the streets while kicking a ball with you.
- think “the floor is lava!” and want to jump onto the nearest ledge.
- remember sharing in your successes and in your failures.
“You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a week, or you can quit and your mind will hurt for a lifetime.” — Mark Allen
A few months ago, I discussed the mental battle many of us feel when running whether you are a beginner or an experienced runner. A friend read my post and mentioned I should read How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald.
So, during a cold winter weekend, I downloaded a copy and curled up on the couch to gather some knowledge about the mental game. I knew this book would speak to me, but I wasn’t prepared for the negative emotional effect.
I’ll admit the beginning of the book was tough for me to read. To be brutally honest, I was pissed off. Sometimes reading the truth and admitting previous self defeat really sucks.
In college, I felt like that athlete who “pulled up lame”. I was tired. I had lost interest. My passion for running was at a low. I’ll confess I claimed a fake injury once or twice during a race when I couldn’t hang. So many life changes had occurred when I was in college and some days I felt I was just a lost ship at sea. Or maybe I just stopped trying.
For years, my goal was to use my running talent to earn a college scholarship. Looking back, once I achieved this major feat, I don’t recall setting a new goal. No goal to win the 800m at ACCs or qualify for NCAAs. Did I stop dreaming? Was I just happy to settle and have college athletics be my final destination? Unsure.
I’ve strayed – back to the story.
This book is a collection of stories about athletes who share their experiences; their battles and the coping mechanisms they have used to conquer the beast within themselves. I especially enjoyed reading about a runner named Jenny and her disaster of a race at 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships. Later, you find out her married name – Jenny Simpson – who was just in the most recent Olympics.
Upon finishing this particular chapter, I thought, “thank goodness”. I am not the only one. This fierce battle between mind and matter even happens to the best of the best.
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone into the area where running is HARD is difficult for everyone. During a typical 5K, you have at least 3,000 steps to conjure up many thoughts – good or bad. And the bad tends to scream much louder than the good.
Since finishing the book, I have utilized a couple key tips while racing.
Embrace the hurt. Accept the fact that some of your run/race may be tough.
One of our local 5ks ends with a windy, gradual uphill about a half mile long. During the race, I knew it would be in front of me soon. I told myself, accept the challenge; yes – it will hurt. But you WILL run the hill and you will be finished soon. Fitzgerald mentions bracing yourself for a tough race or workout can boost performance by 15% or more.
Preparing yourself for the inevitable helps.
Also, reading and being reminded your brain is going to try to quit before your body is ready to give up. Studies show although you mentally feel you cannot take another step, your muscles are not at maximum effort yet. Mind over matter or matter over mind??
I encourage you to read this book if you’ve ever engaged in this mental war while running. You can admit you do – it’s more common than you think.
Whether you are an elite runner or a recreational jogger, I’m sure your mind has tried to make you quit before your body was ready. Arm yourself with a few coping tools and next time, you’ll be prepared to power through!
Now years later, my passion has been reignited and I’m back to racing. I feel as though I’ve been given a second chance to give it my all.
From here on out, and especially when I toe the line chasing that BQ, I will I ask myself, “How bad do you want it?”.
Bad…very, very bad.
“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.” – Tom Landry
Although once a seasoned and competitive runner, returning to running after 1.5 decades was intimidating. When I was younger, I regretfully never kept a running log of workouts, which would have been great to help create a skeleton training plan. Now, older and out of shape, I had many worries. How do I start? How much is too much? Am I going to get hurt?After researching online, I decided to start with a popular couch to 5K run/walk program which definitely helped me as a beginner.
Prior to training for a full marathon, I Googled the heck out of marathon plans. Let me tell you, there are a LOT of sources to choose from and also a variety of training levels on each plan. Taking into account what I knew would be feasible for me, I created a patchwork plan sourcing information from about three different sites. My goal was simply finishing the marathon, so I chose what I felt would work best for me to achieve that goal.
During my early searches, sites for running coaches would often appear. When thinking of coaching, I would just think of high school sports or elite athletes. Honestly, I was unaware adults were hiring running coaches. As I set my sites on looking to qualify for Boston, I began to consider having someone tailor a specific and personalized training plan for me. I enjoy creating my own plans for shorter races, but the marathon is a whole new ballgame.
My prior experience with coaches has varied from bad to good to best. The best running coach I had was in high school – he tailored the workouts to my needs (my body didn’t respond to traditional long distance workouts), he listened to my aches and pains, reined me in when needed and we communicated well. I’ve also been on the flipside with a coach I didn’t connect with – and honestly, I never performed my best (fault on both sides). Once I decided to have someone help guide me to BQ, I knew it was essential to find a coach that would mesh well with me and my goals.
One of my training partners just happens to be a Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach. Today, Coach Jeremy of RunningDad.com takes on questions I posed to him regarding coaching runners.
Off the track, long slow runs with friends are hard to beat.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to tell us more about you and why we should hire a running coach.
Be sure to visit RunningDad.com to check out a plan that might work for you whether it be monthly coaching or working towards a half or full marathon. I am fortunate he lives in the same city I do; but Coach Jeremy is able to coach you no matter where you live via apps, phone/web chats and more.
I am nervous, yet extremely excited to work with a coach to help guide me to a (hopefully) BQ time. I’ve selected an early September marathon, so look for BQ training updates to begin in early May. Game on!
Until next time,
“For as long as there’s anyone to ask ‘Why?’ the answer will always be, ‘Why not?”
― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
In 2016, my mantra was to be intentional. If I was going to spend the time working out or running, why not make every second count? Mentally, I kept these simple two words in mind day in and day out. Staying mindful and focused on the task at hand truly helped achieve my 2016 goals.
As this new year started, I began to consider what my mantra would be this year. What phrase would keep me in check and continue to keep me motivated?
Sometime last week, my husband posted a comment on my social media and hit the nail on the head. With the goals I have set for myself this year, I am going to need to BE DETERMINED.
Determined: showing the strong desire to follow a particular plan of action even if it is difficult.
Honestly, I was a bit hesitant to add qualify for the Boston Marathon to the list. Although my 1st marathon was an overall great experience, a few of those last miles were ROUGH.
Committing to training to BQ was hard to say out loud. Thinking about shaving almost 10 minutes off my first marathon does make my heart rate pick up a bit and cause a little anxiety kick in. However, I think having a difficult goal that also scares you a little is awesome.
So, how am I going to stay determined and committed to my goals?
A few guidelines I created for myself:
- Note down my goals and make them public
- Surround myself with those who inspire me as well as help me become stronger
- Remind myself why I run. Why did I start? Why do I continue?
Recently, I sat down to jot down a few reasons why I run.
Nearly everyone who runs has attempted to answer this question at some point. Although running can be tough, it can hurt, and feel boring to some; an estimated 64 million people in the U.S. went running in 2016. And, many of us to continue to do so.
I want to know “What’s Your Why?” Do you have a mantra to keep you on track?
Until next time,