My love for the Twin Cities Marathon is no secret; this year was my ninth time lining up in downtown Minneapolis. But October 9 was not my day. All signs led to it being a struggle. It was clear early on that I’d not only give up my A goal, but my B goal as well, and eventually, I knew I just had to finish the damn thing.
Finish this. That was my mantra.
Early in August, I strained my left hip flexor during a track workout. Wait, let me rephrase: it was the track workout of my life. It was one of the best interval workouts I’ve ever thrown down, leaving me practically giddy when I got home and saw the splits on my Garmin. This was a workout to help me define marathon race pace (along with half and 10K), and the result was this: I’d been markedly improving since I started training by heart rate back in May.
But that strain. Yes. I did. Bad. I felt it as I started my final 2K interval around the track. I switched direction, hoping it would help. It didn’t. I pushed through anyway. It was more important for me to finish the workout, to see it perfectly executed on Strava. So dumb.
It took me three weeks to fully recover. I went to the sports doctor, had an x-ray, considered an MRI, and just flat out stopped running. Eventually, I got in to see a PT, but by this point, the pain was gone and I was diagnosed with a bad strain. I was easing back into running, but each step was filled with hesitation; I expected it to come back if I made the slightest misstep. It never did, but I was sore after every run. It was like my body was giving me the finger and had forgotten that I’d put in 18 weeks of consistent training.
I never eased back properly into the tail end of my training plan. During my hiatus, I missed two 20 milers (I’d put in an 18, 20, and 22 before the injury). I took a trip to Boulder, CO over my birthday weekend and couldn’t run at altitude; I could only handle walking. I don’t regret it one bit—my body needed the break—but it was another week of training lost. And then it was taper time. I’d been tapering for a month and a half, so yeah.
I’d put in enough work to get me through this race without walking. I really believe that. I’ve done more on much less.
But there were factors.
Let me introduce you to Herr Walnut, an ovarian mass I’ve been living with and having scanned and tested.
From what I can tell, we’ve been together now for almost four years, maybe longer. Last winter I started feeling off. Just not myself. After pursuing it with my doctor (after past doctors had dismissed it as nothing), we finally saw it on camera. I don’t know how much of an effect HW has had on how I’ve felt, but he’d been barking a little during the last few weeks. And let’s be honest: he’s on my mind a lot. It probably took a toll.
I wanted to run Twin Cities if I was able, and the doctor gave me the OK to run the race and have surgery afterward.
Race weekend: my seasonal allergies reared their assholey head; I had no problems all summer and fall to this point. I popped a 24-hour Claritin the night before the race, hoping that the good would outweigh any bad that might happen from taking an antihistamine the night before I planned on running 26.2 miles. In hindsight, I should have just stuffed a tissue in my nose and sucked it up. Literally.
But honestly? I felt good. I had an actual race plan, a joint effort between my incredible coach MK Fleming and me: I would run primarily by heart rate guidelines, just like I’d trained all summer long. I’d mind some pace caps if I felt surprisingly springy. The plan was conservative yet still left room for me to not only run strong but to set a PR by as much as ten minutes. I was pumped. I was owning this plan and this race.
My rest was fine. My fuel was fine. My heart rate was slightly high at the start but I stuck to my plan to keep the first two miles really slow, just like my normal warm up. My heart rate hovered high over my target by 2 bpm. I let it go. My average was in the ballpark. The first hour went by without incident, but I was already four minutes behind on my pace bracelet, a gem I made on Thursday before we left town.
I wasn’t happy to be that far off my marks, but I didn’t panic. I knew I could make it up later. After all, I was going to negative split the hell out of this race. That was my overarching goal.
But then mile 8 came, and my stomach started to feel off, a familiar feeling that has seriously derailed previous races. I told myself it would pass, took a slug of water, and it did. It passed. But then my legs decided to leave the party. They were just done. At Mile 10. The eleventh mile was one of the longest I’ve run. I choked down a pasty orange Hammer gel, hoping it would perk them up. It didn’t. By the time I saw my friends at Mile 14, I knew it was not a matter of wanting it enough, of mental fitness. My legs weren’t coming back, at least to run. I knew it was going to be one of those days I’d just have to do whatever it took to get to the finish line. The time goals were gone. There would be no negative split. This was not going to be my race.
This is my 13th marathon, and with the exception of my first marathon (which will always be special), the most memorable ones have been the ones that hurt the most. Yes, in most cases, those were not the ones with the fastest finishing times. I PRed at Twin Cities last year, but when I sat down to write this post, I had to go back and read my recap; I’d forgotten about most of the race. What do I remember? The final push from mile 25, my fastest mile of the race, to PR. And I remember it because it hurt.
After another five miles, the cheer squad reappeared. We ate a donut hole. We kept moving. I finished off a pickle juice shot (shockingly, not as bad as I thought it would be). And then more cheering at 25, and saw Coach. And did a pretty good job of not losing it, probably due to hydration.
We finished. 5:56. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t even close. Ugly doesn’t even feel like justice. But they aren’t always pretty, and they are never easy.
I know I’ll remember this race, but not because it ended up being a painful test of how much I could endure when my body wanted to give up. I’ll remember it for the friends I got to see and enjoy, who fed my family dinner on Saturday night.
Meeting my coach, MK Fleming, and having her school me at math.
Being reunited with these two and having the chance to introduce them to my family, the reasons I’m a mother runner.
I sat at dinner on Saturday night and looked around at a table full of moms, friends, runners, coaches, and mentors. It was a moment I wanted to keep with me forever. It is one of the reasons why I love this sport and why I do this.
It’s been said that the marathon is The Victory Lap—if you can get through the training, you’ve already won. It wasn’t my ideal race, and I’m okay with that. I’m just happy I get to make that lap around the stadium.