After the Ottawa Marathon, I began to doubt that I was going to be able to better my BQ time of 3:04:35 which I knew wouldn’t get me into the Boston Marathon. I had worked hard all winter long, and what came of it was a result far from what I needed. Unlike what happened in Montreal, I did not come away from the race feeling like I had a ton more to give. I knew I had more after Montreal, so I signed up for another marathon 6 weeks later almost immediately. I ended up being right and getting that BQ. This time, I wasn’t so sure.
At the same time, I wanted to try again. I wanted to know if I was really that far off, or if I just had a bad day. As silly as it sounds, part of me thought I just got lucky in Hamilton when I BQ’d. Truth is, you never get luck in the marathon. There’s no room for it. You earn every part of it.
I whispered to a few people I was thinking about trying again before summer really hit and I had to train for an all or nothing race in the fall. I was encouraged to try, but I wasn’t going to be foolish. I found a race that looked relatively flat, and I waited until the last possible day to register so that I could see the long range forecast and have an idea of how hot it would be.
Enter the Charlevoix Marathon. It’s about a 4 hour drive from where I live, and it’s a Boston Qualifier. As race day was getting closer, the weather report seemed too good to be true. Right around 60 degrees with a slight chance of rain. And 60 was about the high. At the end of June. That’s unheard of. I would like to say I quickly registered, but I second guessed myself about 2.8 million times before I actually clicked “Register”.
Now I was in. Now I was going to find out exactly where I was at.
Charlevoix is a cool little cottage town in northern Michigan. This race is ranked one of the top 10 small town races by Runners World. As I stood at the start line, they announced that there were 22 countries represented and 40 states! In a race of what seemed to be around 2000 people across all races.
It wasn’t flashy. The expo was really just a tent with a bunch of Charlevoix Marathon shirts and a place to pick up your bib. As I drove along the marathon route, I got a sense of how long a marathon is once again. Somehow it never ceases to amaze me. This race was an out and back, and I just kept waiting to see the turnaround as I drove along it, but it just never seemed to come. On top of that, I was noticing every little incline and hill. Gotta say, I was not pumped. It wasn’t a super hilly course, just wasn’t as flat as maybe I had predicted.
As we lined up on Saturday morning for the race, they have a cool tradition of faking that their anthem singer got sick the night before and can’t sing, so one of the runners has to do it. I thought to myself, if there’s any awkward pause here, I’m volunteering. How funny would it be for a Canadian to go up and sing the American national anthem. Or I could’ve just gone up and sang Oh Canada. Anyways, there was no pause and another guy stepped up and sang. He wasn’t great, but huge respect for anyone to get up and do that. So good.
As the race started, I fell in with some guys that I thought looked like they wanted to hit about a 3:00 marathon. Our first kilometre was a bit slower than I wanted, so I was a little worried what their plan was, but it picked up after that. Being in the states, this race was marked in miles, but I had my watch in kilometres. I know kilometres better, and there’s more of them, so it helps me to stay on pace better and feel like I’m covering more ground. However, on the back half of a marathon, I like to follow the miles, because telling myself there’s 6 miles left instead of 10km’s seems so much easier. Just a mental trick.
About 6 or 7km’s in, I was hitting my paces pretty consistently. I had some pain in my hip and my achillies was bothering me a bit, which has been normal over the last couple months. I figured it would all work itself out and go away like it does in my training runs. This day, that wouldn’t be the case. I would feel both of those spots the entire race. It was early in the race and I was already thinking about whether or not I wanted to push through all this. That made me nervous, because 4 miles in is far too early to be questioning yourself. Save that for mile 20, haha.
Luckily I shook those thoughts pretty quick and just decided to settle in. The guys I was with started to pull away, but my pace wasn’t changing, they were just speeding up. I told myself, “Let them go. You run your race and don’t worry about anybody else.” So that’s what I did. There were people that I passed, and others who joined me for a bit and passed me. I chatted with a few of them, many who said they were new marathoners shooting for a sub 3:00. I was cheering for them, but as they passed me, I could tell that they didn’t seem confident and I had a sneaky suspicion I would see them again. And I did.
At mile 5 of the race, you run on a boardwalk for the entire mile. It’s also on a bit of an incline. I thought I would hate this section, but it was actually nice and not as hard on the body. I made a mental note of where it was at because on the way back, it would then be a softer surface with a decline. So something to look forward to if I was struggling a bit.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. It held at about 60 degrees for the entire race and on the way back there was the slightest headwind that helped keep me cool. So much of the race was shaded as well. I was fueling with my custom Infinit Canada sports drink. The plan was take water at every station and drink this mixture every 5k. I only had a 20oz handheld, so I mixed it at 5x the regular ratio and made sure to drink it at aid stations where I could drink a bunch of water with it too. I waited to start drinking it at 10k to make sure I would have enough. This was my downfall in Ottawa and I wasn’t allowing it to happen again.
When I hit the turnaround, my time was 1:29:20, which means I had a 40 second buffer. This is about where I was at in both Hamilton in Ottawa. In Hamilton, I would start a 7k decline, so that helped. In Ottawa, I knew I was already in trouble and even though it was a good front half, I knew I would probably struggle on the back. In Charlevoix, I was feeling great. My first kilometre on the back half was much slower though which I thought was weird. Trees had messed with my signal a bit on the way out, so I chalked it up to that, but truth is, it was just a slow kilometre. I hadn’t felt like I had slowed, but I guess I had.
As I got to 28km, I started to wonder where I would begin to feel the pain. Both Hamilton and Ottawa I was doing alright at this point, but by 30km, it was getting a bit rough. Where would it start today? I’ll be honest, it never did. Yes there were challenges the rest of the way. Yes I hit some hills that I wanted to curse at and thought about stopping on. But it was never the pain and struggle I faced in any of my other races.
Mentally, I was feeling really good. If I had to point to one thing I’m most proud of in this race, it was my mental game. I felt pretty positive the whole time. Usually I’m shaming myself into not quitting. This time, I was turning to gratitude of having two healthy legs and a healthy body. The word “Gratitude” was constantly on repeat in my head.
They say mile 20 is where the race begins. As I hit that mile marker, I took it as my challenge. Unfortunately, there was a good hill in mile 20. I lasted quite awhile and I hadn’t been expecting it, even though I had ran down it on the way out. Funny what you notice on the back half. Half way up the hill, I wanted to stop. I wanted to give up. At the same time, I knew that if I quit, I would be quitting, because I was feeling pretty good and doing really well. So stopping to walk would be simply giving in just because it’s hard, and that can never be an excuse.
It was on that hill that I remembered the boardwalk. That was at mile 21. That means at the top of this hill, there is a softer surface that goes downhill for a mile. Let’s get it. I kept those legs turning and made it to the top to be greeted by the boardwalk. I enjoyed every moment of it and wished I could ride that home.
By the time I finished that, there was 4 miles to go. Two and two. That’s how I break it down in the final four miles. Looking at my time, I knew that I should have just under 30 minutes to go. I felt like I could do that. I felt like I was going to be able to get my BQ. I felt like nothing could stop me now, I just had to endure these last 30 minutes.
It was only 3o seconds later that I began to notice my hamstring fluttering a bit. I had felt this in Ottawa in my calf a bit, as if it was about to cramp up. Normally I just try to ignore any aches and they go away. It’s a mental thing. I was doing the same thing here. Unfortunately, this was different. My leg was definitely cramping up. I had to stop for a second and grabbed my hamstring. I tried to massage it a bit and it stopped. Luckily it wasn’t too bad, and I managed to keep moving and it didn’t come back.
Two miles done, two to go. Miles 25 and 26. Mile 25 wasn’t very nice. it started with a steady climb and finished with another climb. Not cool at the end of a marathon. It ended up being my slowest mile of the race. Despite that, it never got too far off the rails and I was left with one mile to go. I used every ounce of energy I had left and ran that last mile like I needed it to be my fastest. I kept looking for that finish line hoping I would see it around the next turn.
Finally, that last turn came and there it was. I pushed as hard as I could and as the clock came into view, it read 3:02:xx. As I crossed the line, I saw the clock read 3:02:22. The BQ was mine!! I couldn’t believe it. I still cant’ believe it. Instead of collapsing and heading to medical like in Hamilton, I raised my arms in victory and let out the loudest yell I could. 2nd in my age group, 11th overall and one big stinking BQ!
I was doubting myself so much after Ottawa. This race was validation of all my work this Winter. I managed to PR by 2:23 on a course that was harder than the course I got my first BQ on. Luck had nothing to do with it. It was not a fluke. And pending a record cutoff for the Boston Marathon, I will be toeing the line in Hopkinton in 2018!!