We just got home from the best weekend in Los Angeles. We celebrated Liv’s third birthday, spectated the Olympic Marathon Trials, celebrated Jared’s and my sixth wedding anniversary (plus Valentine’s Day), and I ran my first Boston Qualifier at the LA Marathon!
So so so much awesomeness!
Let’s work backwards though, starting with the LA Marathon:
I’m on cloud nine right now, but a week ago, I was a wreck about this marathon, because it was the “goal race” I’d been training for since September – or for six years, really. You see, I’ve been dreaming of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, since I ran my first marathon in 2009 in 4:28:33. That’s a pace of 10:15/mile. Back then, it was impossible to imagine finishing a marathon in under 3:35 – more than two minutes per mile faster than the pace of my first marathon… But I’m a dreamer and I’m stubborn…
I wanted to make it happen at LA. I’d worked harder than ever, but I was overwhelmed with anxiety and doubt and it seemed the cards were stacking up against me.
Liv came down with a cold and I worried I was getting sick too. I worried about not getting enough sleep. I worried about not feeling my best. I worried about the shortcomings of my training. I worried about the progressively worsening weather predictions (90-degree temps!). I worried that I was worrying too much, ha!
Clients often ask me for advice on how to deal with pre-race jitters and I tell them, we get nervous because we care about these races. We can channel that energy to our advantage: reframing the nerves as adrenaline, butterflies, and excitement.
Every time I got that uneasy, flip-flop of insecurity, I tried to turn it around and think: “I’m so excited!” I tried not to limit myself before the race even began – reminding myself that there’s magic in the race.
On Sunday morning, Jared got up with me at 4:00 AM – reminding me that we were up that early on our wedding day six years ago, because we had yet to write our vows! We reminisced about the five-miler we ran together that morning as Jared snapped pictures of me pinning my 22nd marathon bib to my shirt. My hands were shaking, butterflies in my belly. I’m excited, I’m excited, I’m excited, I thought.
My dad walked me to the shuttle in the pitch black of 5:00 AM, where we spotted a rat, scurrying through the street. Lovely, LA… The shuttle got me to Dodger Stadium in no time at all, where I paced around, nervously waiting for the start.
I was curled up in a corner of Corral B for what felt like forever when the race announcer finally sent the “chairs” (wheelchair racers) on their way, followed by the elite women. At 6:55 AM, the gun went off for the rest of us. I hustled along with the rest of Corral B, grateful to be on my way, finally.
The first mile coming out of Dodger Stadium was crowded and chaotic, but exciting. I had the 3:35 pacer in sight, clipping along with his red and white balloons, promising to lead the group to a sub-3:35 finish. “We’ll be averaging 8:10-per-mile,” he said.
I can do this, I thought, just follow the balloons.
- Mile 1 – 8:11
- Mile 2 – 7:48
- Mile 3 – 8:09
- Mile 4 – 7:55
I warmed up immediately, shedding my long-sleeves before Mile 2, and searching for my family, who were planning on spectating between Miles 2 and 4. I hadn’t spotted them by Mile 5, and realized I was wasting energy weaving through the sea of runners, looking for them, so I told myself to focus on my race. Jared will find you, I thought.
Moments later, I heard the SLAP-SLAP-SLAP of Jared’s size 13 flip-flops sprinting up the sidewalk, shouting: “Meg!!!! MEG!!!!” I didn’t see anyone else from my crew, but we threw each other I-love-yous, and I ran towards Mile 6. He’d found me.
- Mile 5 – 8:22
- Mile 6 – 8:22 + Gu #1
- Mile 7 – 8:03
- Mile 8 – 8:01
- Mile 9 – 8:02
- Mile 10 – 7:57
- Mile 11 – 8:13 + Gu #2
- Mile 12 – 8:02
- Mile 13 – 8:14
At Mile 14, I felt amazing. It can be daunting to realize you’re barely half-way through a marathon – you’ve come so far, but still have so far to go – instead, I felt overwhelmingly grateful. This is going to be over before you know it, I thought. Soak it up.
The miles ticked away, one after another. Soon, the I-could-run-forever-feeling slipped away. My feet and legs ached as I recited mantras over and over: This is easy, this is easy, this is easy, I tried to convince myself. You’ve got this. Make today count.
- Mile 14 – 8:04
- Mile 15 – 7:39
- Mile 16 – 8:00 + Gu #3
- Mile 17 – 8:15
- Mile 18 – 8:07
- Mile 19 – 8:06
I was grateful to spot my dad, several times, and soak up some of his boundless energy. I recalled how excited he’d been as the sole spectator of Jared’s and my very first marathon in 2009. One day I’m going to qualify for Boston, like him… One day, I promised myself.
At Mile 19, I saw Jared again, with Liv high on his shoulders. They bounced beside me, with giant smiles, and words of encouragement that propelled me forward.
At Mile 20, I “hit the wall.” If you’ve never experienced it before, I don’t know how else to explain it, except to say, it’s this overwhelming desire to give up. Physically, mentally, I felt empty and done. And so, as they say, I ran with heart, remembering the dusty Post-it that’s been taped inside my bathroom mirror for over a year.
The 3:35 pace group had pulled ahead, but those red and white balloons were still bobbing within sight. I choked down my fourth and final Gu, desperately clinging to that tiny spark of hope within me: You’re not out of this yet! Be brave, I thought, Hang on!
- Mile 20 – 8:10
- Mile 21 – 8:23 + Gu #4
- Mile 22 – 8:12
At Mile 22, I thought of my friend, Eve, who’d run her first marathon at Chicago a few months earlier. She told me it was at Mile 22 that she knew she was going to finish. I tried to channel how she must’ve felt, stoked and confident in the strong finish she was reigning in.
Mile 23 was the first time I looked at my watch, (did some very poor math), and realized there’s no way I could finish under 3:35 and qualify for Boston. I thought, I can still run under 3:40. I’ll be proud to finish in 3:30-something!
I was probably doing that bogus math when my buddy, Scooby, saw me and tried to chase me down. I got this picture from him after I finished, and although I can’t believe I missed him, it means the world to me that he was there.
- Mile 23 – 8:18
- Mile 24 – 8:10
- Mile 25 – 7:54
A lifetime ago (i.e. before Liv), when Jared and I ran together all the time, we promised ourselves we’d never walk in the last mile of a race. With one mile to go, you run your heart out, no matter what. This marathon was no exception and I’d promised to run the final mile for him, thinking: Just get to Mile 25. Jared will “carry” you to the finish.
When I passed the marker for Mile 25, I dug deep, pulling strength from every corner of my soul, because my body was done. My heart was pounding in my ears when I spotted my dad on Ocean Avenue. I smiled at the promise of the Finish Line drawing near.
I glanced at my wrist as I headed south, shocked to see 3:29 on my watch. I had 5 minutes to get across that Finish Line a half-mile away. Go, go, go, I pleaded with my legs.
The final straightaway was lined with thousands of spectators, clapping, cheering, waving signs, ringing cowbells. I ripped out my earbuds and forged ahead, flying to the finish.
- Mile 26 – 7:33
- Last 0.45 – 3:13
When I crossed the Finish Line, I stopped my watch and broke down in tears. I looked at my watch: 3:33! I checked it again, and again. 3:33, still 3:33!
Garmin Finish – 26.45 miles, 3:33:24 @ 8:04/mile
Official Finish – 26.2 miles, 3:33:22 @ 8:08/mile
My legs wobbled. Volunteers rushed towards me, asking if I needed medical assistance. “No!” I exclaimed, “I just forget how to walk!” They ran off to help other runners, who seemed to be going down left and right, one vomiting in a trash can, another, sprawled out on the ground.
I clutched my chest, feeling like my heart was going to explode with joy, trying to soak it in: I did it, I did it! Ohmygosh, I really did it!
Another volunteer placed a medal around my neck with a “Congratulations!” and I made my way through the finisher’s chute, which I remembered from previous years is extremely long. I walked for what felt like an eternity, stopping to take a couple photos, and check my watch again. I filled my arms with water bottles and snacks for Liv.
And eventually, finally, I came to the end of the finisher’s area. I spotted Jared, pushing Liv in the stroller, making his way through the massive crowd. I threw my arms around him in what felt like a scene from an epic 80s movie. We hugged forever, surrounded by the buzzing, cheering crowd around us, and he said, “You did it, you did it!” over and over.
It’s a moment I plan to remember for the rest of my life.
Three days later, I’m still processing what this means, and what comes next, while reveling in what a tremendous journey it’s been.
I may be terrible at math, but I know I’ve run more than 10,000 miles since I first started running in 2007.
That’s 10,000 miles declaring that I am not a victim of circumstance. I am a survivor. I’m free. I run this body. I can make the impossible possible. 10,000 miles of discipline and determination, successes and failures, passion, and life.
LA Marathon 2016 – Rundown:
- Finish Time: 3:33:22 (8:08/mile)
- Days since my last Marathon: 28
- Lifetime Marathon: #22
- BQ: #1 !!!!!!!!!!
- Spectators: 6 = Jared & Liv, my dad, mom, & brother, visiting from Ohio, & Andrew (though he’ll always be “Scooby” to me)!
- Favorite Fuel: Gu Roctane Chocolate Coconut
- Favorite Post-Race Treat: Philz Coffee
- Favorite Song: “Confident” by Demi Lovato
- Favorite Mantra: “Be brave”