My journey of marathons

In 3 weeks I am running the Fighting Seabeas Marathon. This will be my third marathon, my first Fighting Seabeas experience.

Having just finished my last true long run of this training cycle yesterday, I am thinking on my progress. My goals. My dreams. My abilities. I am reflecting on the half and full marathons I have run. I should be planning out the nuances of the next race day- how am I getting there? What are the details on packet pickup? Which Oiselle singlet should I wear? But I’m not. Instead I’m looking back- seeing how far I’ve come.

When in college, in a Fitness Walking class that satisfied my gym credit, I overheard my professor talking about how she had run a marathon that weekend. I said to my friend, ” I could totally do that.” Ummm, yeah, ok Meaghan. I was only occasionally running a mile or two at that time. Totally clueless.

Then after a couple of years of more consistent and longer running, including several halfs, my sister mentioned she was going to run the Hartford Marathon that fall. She discussed her training plan for that summer. I laughed, wasn’t sure if she was serious, and insisted that I couldn’t follow a training plan. They were just too rigid for me. So I didn’t but I made sure to run long every weekend. We ran Hartford in the fall of 2014 and it was the best possible first marathon experience. My crazy far off, secret goal was to break 4:30. I knew that wasn’t realistic but had secret hopes of doing that someday. I ran while live tweeting, singing out loud, and talking with Katie the whole time. We started off with the 5 hour pace group and the proceeded to pass so many pace groups, while laughing and having fun. Looking back I feel a bit bad for the people in the pace groups who were literally crying in pain as we cheerfully passed them but at the time I just felt good. At the 20 mile mark I looked at my phone and told Katie that we had the ability to finish in 4:30. And we took off. Katie left me around mile 23. We both finished in under 4:30. I burst into happy tears as I crossed under the arch. My first marathon. Crushed. And I was immediately wanting more.

And yet, I didn’t think of myself has someone who could run a marathon ‘fast.’ When a colleague asked if I would ever run Boston, I laughed and explained that I was not fast. I was slow. I truly didn’t think I would ever be that fast. It did not cross my mind that I would have that potential.

I did have some time goals though. I was hoping to be able to break 2 hours at the Colchester Half that winter, February 2015. That had been my goal for a couple years. The first time I ran it, I finished in 2:28, then  2:08 and then was fighting to break the two hour mark. But I didn’t really train that winter. I thought I did but looking back on it, the longest runs were 8-9 miles and I wasn’t ready for the killer course. I finished in 2:01 and once again burst into tears as I crossed the line. Not because I missed my goal but because I had pushed myself so hard. Because I was so proud of my mental tenacity.

That winter, on an excited whim, Katie and I entered the NYC marathon lotto. Katie’s idea again. Forever grateful and amazed that we both got in. I got the crazy idea of breaking 4 hours in my mind and decided I was ready for a training plan. I trained all summer and into the start of a busy school year. Long runs on Saturday mornings were the best excuse for not going to all my students’ football games. 8 mile speed workouts before school changed my attitude and stress level. I felt so badass that it was hard for people to shake my mood.

NYC 2015 was a crazy experience. From taking the midnight train to NYC on Halloween night ( the costumes! The weirdos! Just let us nap!), to walking to our hotel in the bright streets of NYC in the middle of the night (those Canadian guys!) to the actual race, it was amazing. So glad I got to experience it but honestly, the race sucked. Everyone talks about how cool it is to run with the “masses of humanity on the streets of New York,” but it is really hard to run fast in such crowds. My first twenty miles were exactly on pace. But it was hot and I got dehydrated and had explosive stomach problems that required a porta potty stop. My legs cramped up while sitting and the last six miles were such a tunnel of pain. Tears were flowing down my grimacing face as I pushed myself to the finish line. Stopping never crossed my mind. I was just disappointed.

Did that make me want to give up the marathon? No freakin way. Just weeks after, Katie and I were talking about our long terms crazy dreams and faster marathon finishing times came up. Then the conversation ended for a couple weeks. Then I mentioned to her the idea, that if we had such awesome marathon goals, we should run more than 1 a year. We looked at possible spring marathons but then it seemed too stressful to train over a busy winter so we let it go again. And then I researched the Fighting Seabeas marathon and told Katie I was registering. She panicked, threw some dirty underwear at my head, and registered. Winter training was not as bad as I thought it would be. We were fortunate to have a pretty low key winter, weather wise. Having big goals outside my work, helped me stress less about my job.

We started training in January and the Colchester Half 2016 was part of a long run. I went into the half with a totally different frame of mind. I set a goal pace, 8:45, instead of a goal finishing time. I never calculated what my finishing time would be (pretty impressive restraint for a math teacher) because I knew that would stress me out. The night before most races I am nervous and look up Lauren Fleshmen videos to inspire me. This time I didn’t. I felt a bit nervous but mostly confident. Katie and I had ran the race course as part of longer long runs the weeks before hand. We did marathon goal pace intervals on the hilly course. We fueled with RunGum, Gatorade, Cliff Bars, and Gu’s. And the race rocked. It was amazing. I ran steady and strong. I hiked the two BIG hills. I focused on running and didn’t let my mind drift. I occasionally had doubting thoughts – could I actually do this?! And I figured it was worth a try. Katie pulled away at 11.5 and I stupidly let her go. I let that old thought that she was more capable than me take over. My one small regret is that I didn’t push myself even more in those last few uphill miles. I still finished way under 2, with a PR of almost 10 minutes. I was not in any pain until the last few miles. It was a hell of a confidence booster race. I knew I could and I did.

And now ahead of me looms my next race. My third marathon. A small, reasonable flat marathon by the ocean. My goal? A steady 8:30 pace. Crazy? For sure. But I’m also pretty darn sure I’m capable. Nothing to lose by trying. It will be hard. It will be painful. But I’m ready. I figure in the very least I will break 4 hours. However I do, I am proud. Because the me from four years ago is jumping around dancing with pride over the person I have become. The athlete I have become.

So freakin grateful for this journey.

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