City of Trees Marathon Race Report

Last year, as I stood at the starting line of City of Trees, I was excited and really nervous since it was my first time facing down the 26.2 distance. Running a marathon was something I promised myself I would do as I watched my own Mom (Hi Mom!!) run her marathon in May of 1995. She inspired me. I only ran for fun and rarely more than 5k back then and unfortunately, I didn’t keep it up. I got married, had five children and gained a lot of weight. In the back of my mind, I used to wonder, “Will I ever really run a marathon like Mom did?” It didn’t seem likely since I became winded just walking up a flight of stairs.

But something changed. I turned 35, my youngest was one and I was no longer pregnant or nursing. I realized I was halfway to 70 years and it just seemed that I had to make some serious changes in my life if I wanted to be happy. So, I bought myself a pair of running shoes and started the Couch to 5k program in May of 2008. The whole point? To eventually run a marathon by age 40 like my Mom.

When I stood on that starting line last year, at age 36, I couldn’t believe I’d really made it as far as I had. I went from a size 14 to a size 6 from May ’08 – Oct ’09. I went from huffing and puffing after running a block to being able to knock out 20 miles in training. But, could I run a whole marathon? Turns out the answer was yes.  I ran my first (in 40 degree temperatures with pouring rain the entire race) in 4:57:33. It wasn’t as fast as I’d hoped — but I had done it! I was a marathoner!!!

This year was a new experience. Since last year, I’ve ran the entire 26.2 distance or more a total of 6 times. Race day would be my 7th venture into that distance – and my 3rd marathon. I’d trimmed down another 10 lbs and was fitter overall. I felt like a sophomore. Or maybe a toddler. But, I wasn’t a total newbie anymore. I had some experience under my belt. I’d grown mentally and physically stronger, gotten faster, discovered trail and ultra running and even earned some age awards in my shorter races this year. I was ready to prove to myself that I could do the distance – and do it faster this time around. 

The temperature this year was warmer – about 59 at the start and 75 or so at the finish. Hotter than I would have liked. But, at least it wasn’t raining.  I felt a little off right from the start, as though I couldn’t find my “cruise control” but I kept the pace I needed to for the first 18 miles — a 9:09 or better. I was proud of myself for accomplishing that. I hit the 13.1 in about 1:57 (and I was walking the last .10 while eating a GU and drinking water.) Pretty exciting!

Here’s a picture my friend, Emily took of me right at the 13.1 spot in the race. I’m eating a GU and drinking water and feeling STRONG here!

There is a huge hill at mile 19, which brought back memories of “Heartbreak Hill” in Boston. I was holding on for dear life to my pace and then, when you already know the “wall” at mile 20 awaits – you have to run up about a 1/2 mile steep hill. Last year I walked a bunch of it. Not this time. I was wearing down but I ran every step. I saw my five kids and husband cheering me on about 1/2 mile after and for the first time in the race gave them the “thumbs down” sign since I realized my dream goal of breaking 4 hours was not likely to happen. Wayne handed me some Gatorade and I pulled out the mini pack of Skittles from my sports bra and walked a bit while I refueled and adjusted my race plan.

I decided at that point, I’d be proud of a 4:30. I took off, slowly but surely and knocked down that wall at mile 20 (which I hit right about 3:09 into the race) and kept going. It occurred to me that if I could just run a 50 min 10k (an attainable thing for me to do on fresh legs) then I’d still have my goal. Unfortunately, that was just not seeming a possibility anymore since my fast-twitch muscles were nowhere to be found.

Ironically, at this 20 mile point, there is a sprawling grave yard so I could have just keeled over and ended it, but thankfully, I knew there was still some life in me and my legs.
I love the views from about mile 21-23. After winding along through Boise, along the Boise River on the Greenbelt and staring at the distant foothills and enjoying the city views, suddenly, you’re up high on the rim, looking down at the parks, the trees, the ponds. It’s really a lovely view and very nourishing for the soul at that stage in the race. I’d practiced running this exact section twice in training, the last time ratcheting up my speed with each finishing mile, thinking it would help me mentally the day of the race. I tried to channel that inner speed demon, but she had walked off the job after the tough first half and I was on my own with my fatigued legs and screaming glutes. So, I did what I’ve learned to do in ultras: Keep moving forward. I forgot about the pace. My husband also sweetly jumped out of the vehicle and decided to offer me some coaching advice. He said, “Honey, the 4 hour goal isn’t happening today – but I really think you have a 4:10 in you. Dig deep! You can do this!” I appreciated that. He’s a good man and knows what to say to me to get me going.

Something really special happened in this race that didn’t happen last year: I joined the “mid-packers” group. Last year, I spent most of the last 6 miles entirely alone on the course. It was lonely. I got lost. Not this year. For the entire race, I ran with others around me – at least in sight – both in front and behind and I found that very comforting. I could just pick a runner ahead and focus on their shoes and keep my legs moving like pistons in rhythm with theirs. Sometimes, their rhythm would start to fade and I’d end up passing them. Other times, mine would fade and others would pass me. Something else was interesting about the other runners that I took note of: I didn’t see any Galloway runners this time around (those that take walk breaks during the race at timed intervals.) I saw one in the first mile of the race and never again. I did notice that most of the runners did stop and walk through each water station, though and that’s the method I used too.

Speaking of breaks. I had one personal goal the entire race: To not stop to pee. Last year I stopped at mile 18, right before the giant hill and I swear my legs locked up once I sat down. I was so tempted to just sit in that porta potty and never come out again to face the last several miles. I swore I’d avoid that whole incident and the time it would cost me and just run the whole thing without a bathroom break. As a Mom of five, my poor bladder isn’t what it used to be — so this was a hard thing to do. I dealt with it by not taking in fluids as often as I probably should. I drank – just not as much as I would have liked to. And – it worked! I didn’t stop for the bathroom once. 

Unfortunately, since the sun was bright and it was a warm day, that did catch up with me a bit at the end. I was a bit dizzy from miles 24-25. I poured water on my head and my legs and drank sips at the last water station. Now that water station was pretty special and I actually laughed out loud as I approached. Two of my ultra friends were manning in and it felt great to see familiar faces. Lynette and Dennis are two of my ultra heros. They accomplish mileage I can only dream of still. Dennis is kind of a jokester – a really funny guy who always knows how to make me laugh. He saw me coming and got down on the ground and started bowing at me as I approached. Who could keep from cracking a smile at that — even 25 miles into a marathon?!!!
Now, I had one more rule while I ran: To not talk. I’m a fairly chatty person normally, so this wasn’t easy, but I’d learned over the last year that talking during a race wastes precious energy you’ll need at the end, so I tried to conserve mine. I had to break that rule at mile 23. Two runners passed me while we were in the park where I got lost last year. The previous year, I had entered the park alone, couldn’t see any other runners and it had been pouring down rain. I saw three possible directions and didn’t know which way to go and there were no volunteers or signs. I spent 3 min. standing still last year before someone helped me find the right direction, and it had haunted me.

Right after the two runners (a gal wearing a shirt that said, “Running Ho – 29th marathon” which made me laugh and a young guy) passed it was time to veer to the left onto a smaller path. I knew the route since I’d done it the year before and I looked down and saw the white flour arrow on the ground — right UNDER a car that must have parked there hours after it was added.) The two runners had missed the turn and were zooming off in the wrong direction. I was tired. I wanted to just keep moving and I had tried not to talk the entire race — but there was no way in heck I was letting these two miss the turn. So I stopped and I yelled “HEY! Come back! You’re going the wrong way!” The guy behind me realized what had happened and joined in yelling after them. They stopped, turned around and came back . When the gal caught back up to me, she smiled, thanked me and then pulled out a package of Life Savers candy and said, “Here! You were a Life Saver! I owe you one!” That made me laugh.  I was glad I’d helped her.

I was surrounded by supportive friends, my loving family and great crowd support this time around. It made me feel great! Now, the best was saved for last! Just as I came to about mile 23, I saw my entourage: Three of my male running pals were running side-by-side towards me and my best running buddy, Bertha was stretching along the side. They were coming back for ME!!! Ryan, Bertha, Sam and Mike all smiled and just their presence eased my suffering. Ryan went on looking for our other friends, Otto and Andrea, who were behind me and the other three fell into stride with me and we started the slow progression to the finish line as a mighty force.  I seriously could have hugged each of them. I wasn’t speaking at all at this stage. I was just too tired, but my soul had sprouted wings when my pals showed up. They didn’t push me. They were just there for me and that meant the world. They had each ran the half marathon and were “pacing” me to the finish. They chatted with each other, light-heartedly and it was a wonderful distraction for my brain.

As we passed each final milestone, Bertha would clap and cheer and say, “You’re doing it! You’ve got this!” I love that girl! She’s got so much pep. The best I could offer her back was a blank stare as my feet shuffled forward. I’m always brain-dead and quiet at the end of this type of distance. I kept hoping my legs would start to feel stronger and I’d be able to really kick it up a notch – but it wasn’t really how it happened. I just kept slowly jogging towards the end. That last 1.2 miles is seriously the LONGEST 1.2 I’ve ever ran. It just kept dragging and dragging.

Finally, I saw the red bridge and the 26 mile sign and knew it really was almost over. The agony was horrible. I just wanted to sit down. I faintly noticed my friend Randy on the side of the road cheering for me. I couldn’t even make eye contact I was so tired and so eager to be done. I just kept moving forward with my gang. We crossed the four lanes of traffic and finally I saw the long finishing chute and two of my pals dropped off and my buddy, Sam stayed with me and said, “Ok, Christie, NOW – give it all you’ve got left” and my feet just obeyed him. My last .2 was at a 7:33 pace. Thanks, Sam! I couldn’t have pulled that off without you. My finishing time: 4:20:59 (chip) and 4:21:04 (gun.) I came in 37 minutes faster than last year. 5th in age group. Very proud of myself!

Now, since I’m kind of an obsessive data junkie, I have reviewed the splits from last year and compared them to this year’s seeing how things had changed, looking for anything interesting. It was actually pretty cool to play around with. Turns out I ran the first 5 miles about 8 min faster than last year, the 2nd 5 miles about 8 min faster than last year, the third – yeah – 8 min faster than last year, the fourth (the big hill and the wall) 3 min faster and the fifth again – 8 min faster!  My final .2 this year was 7:33. Last year: 9:03. It was pretty cool to see I was fairly consistent in my improvement over last year and my overall pace was pretty close to what I was expecting. I wanted to hit the half with a 9 min ave and I hit it with an 8:58. That gave me a cushion, I reasoned, since I always slow down in the second half some. I had hoped to do 9:20s for the second half and finish in 3:59. I did well – but not quite as well as I’d hoped. I’m totally ok with that, though. It was a pretty lofty goal. I’d actually written “4:15 or close” as my guess in my running log the morning of the race. I was, in fact, pretty close to that. I had 7 miles in the 8’s this year and the majority in the 9’s. That was so much better than last year! 

It really was a good race! I gave everything I had in training this year and I laid it on the line on the course. I improved my fueling from last year and ran a smarter race. I’m still new at this. I’ll keep improving. The biggest thing that I think would help is doing more long distance runs at marathon pace, gradually increasing the miles throughout the program so that it’s not such a huge leap on marathon day. I train fairly slow. It’s kept me injury-free, but I think it also has hurt me at the longer distances. I’ll keep tinkering with it. 

This last picture is me crossing the finish line. You can see the level of exertion, the pain, the tiredness in my face. To me, that’s what it’s all about: facing down a tough challenge and then giving it all you’ve got! There’s nothing like that feeling of knowing you poured your heart out in your race.

One thought on “City of Trees Marathon Race Report

  1. Christie, I read this looking for elevation data and just bawled my eyes out. I read this when you posted it on DM but reading it again as I contemplate the full 26.2 I realize I truly have no idea what I’m up against. I’m motivated by your perseverance and grace to yourself. How amazing! I’m so lucky I get to call you a a running friend.

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