9 Tips to Running the Race of Your Life

"Suck it up buttercup"
This was the racing mantra I used for the 2011 Oxnard Santa-to-the-Sea half marathon. I wrote it on my hand on the drive down to Oxnard for the race. Every time I felt tired, or wanting to slow down, I would think to myself, “Suck it up buttercup.” And push forward.
This race was particularly special because it was the first time I ran relaxed, strong, and was extremely happy with my performance. I raced better than I could have ever dreamed. Here are nine ways that made the race so special for me (written as tips for your next half marathon).
1. Sign up for a race last minute… spur of the moment.  I signed up for the race last minute, just three days before. I didn’t have any grand expectations. I didn’t know much about the course, except that it went from the Santa to the Sea. All I knew was that it was time to race…I hadn’t raced since Boston, but had been training hard. I wanted to run a 1:35, to qualify for the New York Marathon. My best time was 1:36, so I really needed a PR.
2. Pick a course that is flat. The course was flat, and slightly downhill. I didn’t know much about the course, so I was really happy when there weren’t any hills.
3. Use pacing groups as a bench mark. After the gun went off, I held back, ran with my music, and took it slow. I didn’t know my pace because I wasn’t wearing my Garmin GPS watch. But I could see the 1:30 pacing group ahead of me…”Oh shoot!” I panicked. I need to slow down… I’m going to burn out… I did my best to pull back a little. But I was feeling really good, so I just tried to maintain my pace. It’s only a half marathon, I thought… You can’t burn out during a half!? Right?! Just try to keep behind the 1:30 group… you’ll break your 1:35…
4. Bring a spectator.  Even with a perfect flat course, and gorgeous weather, nothing beats having someone you know out there cheering you on. For my race, my father in law came along… Every time I saw him, I got a bust of energy to go faster. I saw my father in law at the bottom of this overpass…
5. Make the decision to break your PR or not… during the race. I didn’t go into the race with any grand expectations. I wasn’t trying to keep any particular pace, except what might help me qualify for the NYC Marathon. But suddenly, half way through the race, I decided wanted to break 1:30. I saw the 1:30 pace group a head of me, and knew that if I caught them, I could at least finish in 1:30. I thought about what Chad said to me… “Rusty told me to just real them in. Just keep your eye on them, relax, and soon they’ll come to you.  I did it, running 8:30s, and soon I was running 6:30s.”  I wanted to replicate this so badly… My husband would be so proud of me if I broke 1:30!! I love making him proud.  After several LONG, boring miles… I caught the 1:30 guy. It was about mile 10, and I could-not-believe-it. I was running faster than them to catch them, so I just kept up my pace. Just 3 miles to go… I got this…

6. Know the last two miles before the finish… backwards and forwards.  The last 2 miles, it felt harder and harder to keep the pace. Felt like vomiting, the lactic acid was setting in, I was t-i-r-e-d. I wanted to stop, and had no idea when the end was coming. I wished I had studied the course better, or walked the end of the course… I was so grateful for that 1:30 pacer… Just tried to stay ahead of the 1:30 pack. Gotta love those pacers!! I used my new mantra: “Suck it up buttercup.” :-) I was definitely tired, but my legs were fine.

We made our final turn for the home stretch, and I heard the 1:30 pacer say, “Almost there. You are going to break 1:30.” I couldn’t believe it, I was sort of in shock. I was gritting my teeth, hurting in pain, but didn’t want to miss breaking 1:30 because I gave up. I sucked it up, and picked it up for the last 300 meters or so. I turned the corner and sprinted to the end. I couldn’t believe it! 1:29:23!! 

I saw Doug and started jumping up and down. He gave me a BIG HUG. Love that guy so much.

Four more lessons learned from this race:

5. Be patient with your threshold training. It will take time to build up, but enjoy it. It will pay off… I paced a marathon at 9min pace, and it brought me strength. Run 26.2 as a fun run leading up to your next race. You’ll be surprised how much fun you have, and how much it will help you improve.

6. Don’t eat beats the day before the race. I didn’t mention this part during the post, but we ate beats with our pasta the night before. I didn’t feel sick until after the race. I DEFINITELY don’t recommend it!

7. Run with a mantra. I’m surprised how well this worked for me. Focusing on one quote, saying, proverb, verse… it can really help you make it a reality. Tell yourself to “Suck it up, buttercup,” or “it wouldn’t be a marathon if it wasn’t hard.” Google them, pick one, and write it on your hand. You’ll be glad you did.

8. Run with music. If you haven’t done this yet, you really don’t know what you are missing. Every time a good song came on, I felt like dancing. Pick music that has a good rhythm, beat, and/or makes you want to dance. I normally feel distracted by the music, but it really helped me relax. When I wanted to slow my pace down, I told myself to just keep moving my legs to the beat of the song, and it really helped. Songs came on that I LOVE to dance to… it felt like a dance party out there!

9. Suck it up buttercup. You will feel tired, but for a half marathon… if you have been putting in your long miles, don’t worry about burning out. You’ll be fine, you won’t hit a wall… Or at least you won’t hit it until nearly the end, so you won’t have to run too long on tired legs.

2011 Boston Marathon Recap

The Full Story…of the 26.2

I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started the Boston Marathon. I knew I trained harder than I had ever trained before, tapered, and carbo-loaded better than before, and hydrated well (drank my traditional gallon of water the day before the race). I packed warm running clothes, chemical hand warmers, thought I was prepared. I figured that anything I did wrong would be made up by the fact that I’d have thousands of fans there to pump me up, and my adrenaline would kick in. I planned to start out slow, running about 8:00-8:30 pace in the first few miles, then slowly bring it down to 7:50… then race the last 5 miles as fast as I could. Little did I know what the next 26.2 miles had in store for me…

The Race Begins in Hopkinton

We woke up at 4am to get to the race. It was quite an adventure just getting to the start line, getting to the buses downtown Boston, riding for an hour to Hopkinton, and waiting in Athlete’s Village until the race started.

Waiting for the Boston Marathon to start in Athlete’s Village, Hopkinton

My race started at 10:20am, as I was in the second wave of runners. Everyone was lined up by what ever time they had qualified with - I was runner #12321. I kept my sweats, long sleeved shirts, and jacket on because I was afraid of shivering my energy away. (Our coach had warned us to stay as warm as possible). The starting corrals were sort of crazy, with so many crazy runners packed in, and frantically trying to find their spot in the correct corral. Finally the race started.

Start of the Boston Marathon (picture from Endurance Sports http://endurancesportsnw.com/blog/2011/05/jeff-martins-boston-marathon-race-report/)”

Sure enough, the ENTIRE CITY came out to cheer us on. Thousands of Bostonians lined down the marathon course, 3-4 people deep in some paces. It looked like they were all there to watch the Rose Parade. I couldn’t help but start to cry, because they looked so proud. It was such an honor to make these spectators happy, and be part of their tradition. But they weren’t just watching… they were going nuts!! Even with all the adrenaline, about half way I was winded, and my legs started to hurt. I started thinking I wanted it to be over. I couldn’t settle into a good pace - as soon as I’d pick up my speed, I’d nearly run into someone. (Learning to dodge people during a race is something I need to work on!) But I said to myself, you gotta see Rusty (my coach), make him proud. Be strong. I passed Weslley, and all the girls cheering, and that was uplifting. I wore my name tag on my shirt, and tons of people yelling “Go Jill!” However, I felt the most encouraged when I saw people I knew. We were so fortunate to stay with family, David and Barbara Spinner, and they came out to cheer us on, and I saw them just when I needed to: right before Heartbreak Hill. They were holding a helium balloon so I could spot them as I came down the road. It was hot. I totally missed my coach Rusty, and my pace dropped from the 7:50s to 8:20s… I was thinking just get through the hills and then bring it home.

The Last 5 Miles

After the top of Heartbreak, I started flying down past Boston College, and was feeling like a rock star! I was running a 7:05 pace!! I thought, only 5 miles to go, I totally got this, and thought I’d fly home. But just about 4 miles to go, my quads felt totally thrashed, and each step was extremely painful! I started checking my breathing to see if I was winded, and I was feeling weak, I was losing gas, and was scared I wouldn’t have enough to finish. I saw my running friend Jay at mile 24, and yelled, but he didn’t hear me. The streets were packed with runners, and the crowds were going nuts!! The T train was pacing with me for a while, then passed me. Even with all the support I just wanted it to be all over. And I wanted to finish strong. I looked down at my watch ad could calculate that I wasn’t going to PR, but at that point I didn’t care, I just wanted it to be all over! I just wanted to finish strong, I knew I could pull out a sub 8:00 mile for the last mile. I wanted my last mile to be sub 7:00, but it wasn’t easy. I remember going downhill and picking up some speed, and then I lost it coming back up. I made a right then the final left onto Boylston, and gave it all I had. I had I keep looking at my watch, to hold myself accountable. Sometimes the watch said sub 6 minute miles, and sometimes it said sub 7 or 8. It was excruciating, but it was almost over. I finally saw the clock, it was 3:59:42, so I sprinted to the end, so my picture would look like I broke 4 hours! (Even though this clock was from the start of wave one, and I was in wave two). I finished in 3:36:28 and stumbled through the finishing area. I wanted so badly to sit down, but I knew it would be hard to get back up again to find my husband. I was very lightheaded, and really exhausted. I got my bag, and wandered around for nearly an hour looking for my husband who had started before me in wave 1. I went to the hospital tent to find him, thinking, “If I’m feeling this bad, Doug MUST be in the medical tent.” The medical personnel looked up his race number, but he wasn’t there. When I finally made my way through the crowds, and back to the family areas, getting lost multiple times, I finally found Doug. I hugged him, thinking he probably had run just as bad of a race as I had - I thought - my misery had finally found company. Then he told me his time: 2:58 - I WAS SHOCKED! This was the time he was shooting for, to break 3 hours! I was so surprised and happy for him! Then he asked me how I did, and I burst into tears, so ashamed of myself and not getting a PR like he did. He was so sweet to hold me there, shivering in the wind, until I could pull myself together. I guess I was feeling pretty bad, even though those last few miles I didn’t care about anything but just that it would be over soon! It was his day. And I am so proud of him. I remember thinking wow, I don’t want to run his course again, I’m not happy. Then when I finished my husband said “I want to do this course again. The water stations every mile really helped.”

Doug and Jill after finishing the Boston Marathon”

The Play by Play: Average Minutes/Mile

Mile 1. 8:44 - starting out in Hopkinton, downhill
Mile 2. 8:33 - still downhill, trying to hold back and save my quads for later
Mile 3. 8:32 - still downhill
Mile 4. 8:28 - slight uphill
Mile 5. 8:22 
Mile 6. 8:20 
Mile 7. 8:15 - entered Framingham, mainly flat, TONS of fans!!
Mile 8. 8:08 - slight uphill
Mile 9. 8:13 - slight uphill
Mile 10. 8:05 
Mile 11. 8:06 
Mile 12. 8:00 - ran past Wellsely College’s girls screaming, “Kiss Me!!”
Mile 13. 8:09 
Mile 14. 8:06 
Mile 15. 7:56 
Mile 16. 7:54 
Mile 17. 8:00 
Mile 18. 8:08 
Mile 19. 7:58 - saw family we were staying with, David and Barbara!
Mile 20. 8:30 - Heartbreak Hills begin…
Mile 21. 8:38 - Heartbreak Hills end
Mile 22. 7:45 - flew past Boston College, downhill!
Mile. 23. 8:14 - quads fell apart
Mile 24. 8:18 - every…step…was…excruciating!
Mile 25. 8:23 - every…step…was…excruciating! Slight uphill…
Mile 26. 8:05 - every…step…was…excruciating!
The Final “.2” - 6:32 pace, to the finish!

Final Thoughts…

I built this race up so much in my mind, thinking I would be on a magical cloud 9 during the race. However, I had no idea how grueling the course would feel on my body! Those downhills tore my quads to shreds, making the last 10k of the race extremely painful! I was happy to walk away with negative splits, but sorely disappointed not to get a PR…Seems like the road to getting PR in the marathon is long, especially when it takes multiple marathons. Now that I’ve completed 3 marathons, I want to cut back and focus on my goals in the 5k, mile, and half marathons. I’m feeling inspired to chase my dreams of breaking my PRs in the shorter distances. I always wanted to break 20 minutes in the 5k, and 6 minutes in the mile. Looking forward to getting some speed in my legs, and bringing this speed into the marathon, and hopefully getting my PR in the 26.2!

Lovely family hosted us, and bought us a Congratulations cake! Thanks Barbara and David!

2010 Santa Barbara International Marathon

It was a pretty amazing race. The weather conditions were perfect, and I was as prepared as I could possibly be. I broke my time from last year, but still finished thinking of what to do differently next time. I ran hard, and pushed myself all the way to the end.

JILL’s STORY of her 2010 MARATHON:

We woke up really early (4:30am) to get dressed, and put the final touches on our race jerseys. We picked up our friend, who was staying at the Bacara, and drove over to the start at Dos Pueblos High School. 

The start was amazing - 1300 runners all got together at Dos Pueblos High School to start this event.  The race started 30 minutes late, which gave everyone extra time to use the bathroom (which I appreciated!).  The mayor of Goleta addressed the runners and shot the gun off right after we listened to the National Anthem, and we were off!

I started out at a pretty quick pace, even though I was trying to keep my pace at 8:00 miles for the first two miles.  At about mile 2 Kara found me, and we ran together for the rest of the first half.  She is quick, and keeps a fantastic pace. This was really great because she she is really fun to run with, and was wearing a Garman watch, and could tell me what our pace was.  Before we knew it, the first 5k was over with, and we were running by Citrix Online!

At about mile 7, I saw my husband’s cousin Bob, who was taking pictures! It pumped me up to see a familiar face.  I caught up with a couple running club friends, who were also wearing watches and confirmed the 7 minute 30 second pace I was aiming for. Things were looking good.

At mile 12, I saw my friend Elizabeth with a sign cheering me on! That was really special because it was so early, and cold outside, but as I came running down Cathedral Oaks, there she was, jumping and yelling “Go Jill!!” I felt a surge of positive energy and picked up the pace!  Here is a picture of the sign Elizabeth made me (it’s now on my wall at work!)

Just after mile 12 I heard a little girl yell out, “Your are like the 8th girl.”  I said, “Really?”  I couldn’t believe it!  I kept running, and then saw some fellow Citrix people cheering us on, and saying they saw Doug just a little while before I came running by.  Suddenly I saw “Tall Mike” from our running group, and ran with him from mile 14 through 17, along with Jerry. They paced me for a few miles, and they both have very positive energy and are great to run with.

Somewhere before mile 20 though, I started to slow down. I could tell something wasn’t right, but couldn’t tell exactly if I was just getting more tired, or if my pace was slowing.

Right around mile 20 my legs started to fill with lactic acid. At this point I knew I was slowing down significantly.  I couldn’t get my legs to turn over fast enough to keep up with the other girls that I had been pacing with the whole race.  I was starting to get really bummed out.

I remember at about mile 22, just as I was turning to run down Las Positas toward the great “Killer Cliff” Drive, two spectators yelled out “You are in the top 10 women. Pick it up, make them work for it.”  I was shocked.  How could I possibly be in the top 10?  I kept thinking of how neat it would be to finish in the top 10, but could not get my legs to go faster.  It was the strangest feeling.  Then at the end of Las Positas, another man came running in the opposite direction and told me again, “You are in the top 10 women. Pick it up if you want to make it.” Still my legs would not listen, but I thought after I get over this hill, the .6 mile hill of Cliff Drive, then I will pick it up.

As I was running up the hill, just about getting to the top, I could feel a small cramp starting in my left ankle.  I started to get very scared.  Also nearly 10 girls passed me, and that glimmer of hope to finish in the top 10 was slipping away.  And then, I had a breaking moment where I started to cry.  Not really over the fact that I wouldn’t finish in the top 10, but because my plans of running at 7:30 pace the entire race did not happen. I kept thinking of how I’d be disappointing everyone I asked to come out and support me, my coach, etc. I was in pain, bummed out, and disappointed.

Then suddenly at about mile 24, I saw two running club buddies screaming, “GO JILL!! YOU GOT IT!!” These two individuals are extremely good runners, and I really look up to them, so their encouragement meant the world to me! We were going downhill at this point, and I just had to hang in there.  I was still amazed that my legs just didn’t want to go faster, but the downhill helped them move.

I saw Elda and Jamie at mile 26, and they were very encouraging.  They yelled, “Great job Jill. Its almost over. Hang in there. Finish strong.”  It was the kind of positive encouragement that I was trying to tell myself, but when I heard it from more running buddies that I look up to, I believed it.  I came flying down Cabrillo to the finish with all the energy I had left.  The finish was one lap around the Santa Barbara City College track, and it was EXHILARATING! It was a brand new track which was rubber and very bouncy! I felt like I was running a hundred miles an hour (even though I wasn’t)! I turned the corner of the lap and saw the Finish line.  I looked to the left and saw Drea yelling, “Go, go, go!! Jill!” (Drea was the first place girl in the inaugural Santa Barbara Marathon. So it was so neat to see her cheering me on!) And then I saw Doug’s Mom, Elaine with the biggest smile on her face! I then charged for the finish!  It was over, and done, finally. 3:27.

The Nitty Gritty

Mile 1-13.1 (7:33 pace) - right on pace

Mile 13.1-20 (7:59 pace) -I started slipping…

Mile 20-26.2: (8:39 pace)- I couldn’t get my legs to turn over fast enough

Finish: 3:27:57.

Keep on Moving

Marathon Runners learn to be efficient.  They try to cover more ground in less time.  When they can’t shave off time, they try to cover more ground, with less energy.  It is all about becoming more and more efficient - the most efficient runner wins.

"The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare."~Juma Ikangaa, NYC Marathon Champion

Preparing to win a marathon means preparing to be the most efficient runner. If you are willing to prepare, your will to win might actually mean something.

This idea also applies to other ways we want to win.  Obviously, without the will to prepare, we can’t win at anything.  But what is interesting to me is the techniques and strategies runners choose to use to prepare to win.  Speed workouts, rest, long runs, recovery, and cross training all go into that preparation.   Metaphorically speaking, can the same techniques be applied to cover more ground with the work we do?