Bib #48 – Kiawah Island Marathon
A Marathon Personal Record: in three acts
Act 1: Are you kidding me with this weather?
Thunder. Actual, honest-to-God, claps of thunder echoed through the second floor bedroom of the rental house on Turtle Cove Golf Course in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, muffled only by heavy rain sitting the clapboards sideways.
Absent the thunder, the weather was the same as when my husband, David, and I made the 75-minute drive to the Island from Charleston airport the night before. He’d flown in from Seattle; me, from Austin, where I’d been working for the week, and where the weather was also soul-stealing rain. (In Austin, it would turn to snow shortly after my departure, stranding flights on the tarmac for hours).
For nearly 12 months I’d been planning for the Kiawah Island Marathon, chosen for its flat course and generally favorable marathon weather. After three unintentional near-misses earlier in the year, I had my sights set on a personal record.
And now, compulsively checking my weather app for changes to the 41-degree, rainy, race-day forecast, I can see that record washing away. I’ve yet to run in these conditions without flirting with hypothermia.
Act 2: Maybe I’m doing this wrong.
I was drinking wine when I got the email: 2017 Suncadia Multisport Canceled and moving to 2018. The marathon an hour outside of Seattle was hilly, but beautiful, as I recalled from the 2016 race, which I’d completed in slow and disastrous fashion, days after embarking on a 3-day juice fast. I was returning in 2017 with a full belly not only to run strong, but to attempt a personal record. Having come within 2-minutes of a PR without actually trying to do so on flat courses but without a taper at Disney, in Dubai and in Washington earlier this year, Suncadia felt doable. I also thought that a small PR there, seconds even, would bode well for a more significant PR in Kiawah Island in December.
And now the race was cancelled.
Not for the first time, I flash back to an article I read by Elinor Fish earlier in the week. The one where she talks about accounting for total stress load when training; not just mileage run, but work stress and home stress. The article in which, like a cartoon hammer bonking me on the head, I’d realized my Monday “rest days” from 6-day per week training schedule weren’t really rest days if I still had a full workday. Holy crap, I’d thought when I read the article. I haven’t really had a “rest day” since I started doing Saturday-Sunday, back-to-back long runs when training for my first stage race in the Spring of 2015.
Two years is a long time to go without a real rest day. And it could explain the nagging pain in my right glute that didn’t away after PR-ing the Chicago Marathon last October; the weird throbbing in my left ankle that came and went through the Spring; oh, and the rash on my neck that, while not visible to others, itched like crazy periodically through the day and after exercise, causing me to raise my chin in the air and scratch at the skin around my wind-pipe, like a retriever seeking reward for good behavior.
For a week I’d been sitting on this newly-discovered insight, unsure what to do about it. Suncadia’s cancellation was a divine sign: To speed up, I obviously needed to slow down.
Over the course of a week, I turned upside down the running schedule that had gotten me through 35 marathons and ultras. I emerged from this self-imposed reset with Sundays off, with 20 weeks to go before Kiawah Island.
Act 3: We talked about this. You just need to go.
My alarm went off at 6:00am. With my eyes still adjusting, I tapped the weather app. 6:00 – clouds. 7:00 – clouds. 8:00 – clouds. 9:00 – clouds. 10:00 – clouds. 11:00 – clouds. 12:00 – clouds. 1:00 – clouds. 2:00 – clouds. 3:00 – clouds. 4:00 – clouds. 5:00 – clouds. 6:00 – clouds. Last night’s weather reports showed rain all day but, overnight, they’d proven wrong. The rain had completely moved out of the area.
Downstairs, Cathy, Tammy and I twittered like little girls on Christmas morning, while our husbands waited patiently to drive us to the start line, 2 miles away. We’d armed them with a course map, and precise times at which to look for us among the pack. Tammy, running the half marathon, could be spotted at Miles 2 and 7 in the vicinity of our rental house. Cathy and I, running the full, expected to see them at 2 and 21.5. They would also meet us at the finish, where Cathy planned on pacing me to a PR.
We’d had The Talk the day before. We were running together, but if either of us felt particularly good, or particularly bad, we would separate. Cathy just set a marathon PR in October, and had her sights set on her next “A” race — the 2018 Boston Marathon in April. Kiawah was my “A” race.
We crossed the 13.1 mile split exactly on goal pace. We wouldn’t need to negative split — run the second half faster than the first — but we couldn’t go slower.
At Mile 16 I started to pull ahead slightly, but held back once Cathy appeared off my right shoulder. I’d made a similar move at Mile 15 of the Blooms to Brews Marathon in April, and I had proven the wrong decision; I’d missed a PR by 20 seconds.
At 19, despite an inkling to move faster, I hung back with Cathy. Afraid of burning out to early, I’d decided at the beginning to run comfortably until at least 20 or 23. And, to reach my goal, I just needed to maintain. But Cathy would hear none of it. “You’re looking strong. We talked about this. You just need to go.”
Do or die, you’ll never make me… I unwound my left earbud from the strap of my sports bra, where I’d tucked it before the race so I could both listen to music and hear Cathy. My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade” played into both ears now, an anthem for the final stretch. Go and try, you’ll never break me… I crossed the 20 mile marker and, for the first time since the 13.1-mile split, looked at my watch. Cathy had been our time keeper, but I was now on my own. I’m unashamed, I’m gonna show my scars… I could slow by approximately 20 seconds per mile for the next 10k and still make my goal time. Not a reason to slow, but still, piece of mind. We’ll carry on…
I turned right onto our street and counted the mailboxes to #7, the house we’d rented. Once in sight, I began waiving my neon orange mitten into the air. Tammy descended the porch steps, followed by my husband David, and her husband Chris. “I’m good!” I shouted. “I’m right on time!”
“Good!” Tammy shouted back. “Where is Cathy?”
“Right behind me!” I didn’t wait for a response. I rounded the corner, and they were gone.
I crossed the finish line with a 4 minute and 52 second PR, nearly two minutes faster than my goal time. Cathy came in shortly thereafter, having also met her goal of helping me hit mine.
After 48 races, 9 marathons and 5 ultras, the PR was the last thing I felt like I needed to accomplish this year. I worked hard for this race, but still wonder, vaguely, if I can finish much faster with a proper training plan — one that doesn’t involve 3 marathons and a 50k in the eight week run up. For now, I’m content not to know the answer. I don’t want to stop marathoning long enough to find out.