Baystate Marathon Recap: Goals and Strategy

Thanks for so many well wishes and congratulations on my race! I love how supportive the running community is!

Funny enough, this memory popped up on my Facebook today:
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It was from 8 years ago when my husband ran his first marathon ever. I wasn’t a runner at all and it’s what motivated me to train for my first half marathon. The comment exchange between my friend and is so representative of what I thought about runners. THEY were incredible, but I could never run that far or run that fast.

Race Week:
I meant to post during the week leading up to the race, but never got around to it. The weekend before the race I woke up feeling like I was getting sick and I spent most of the week trying to fight it off. Zicam, eldeimg_9004rberry, and multiple nights of 10 hours of sleep helped me keep it at bay. All week long I felt incredibly run down and was worried about running a marathon sick. In the end I think it helped in a way because I rested and slept more that week than I have in years! Saturday we drove up to the expo to pick up my bib. The expo itself is tiny – I think there were maybe 4 vendors – but very well run and easy to navigate. They had sample race shirts out so you could try them on to decide which size you needed which I thought was a nice touch. The race shirt is a long sleeve tech shirt, with men and women specific fits, and the women’s shirt even had thumbholes!

My goals:
After my half marathon PR I plugged my race time into McMillan’s Running Calculator which predicted a 3:35:49 marathon time for me. This calculator has always been pretty accurate for me and I’ve always slightly outperformed the prediction so this goal was always in the back of my head. It’s the time I based my training off of, but I wasn’t confident that I could really pull it off.
A Goal: 3:34:33 – this was my dream goal that when I was tired on a treadmill or training run I would visualize. This would get me a BQ -5, virtually guaranteeing that I would make the cut-off into Boston.
B: 3:37:00 or faster – a BQ with enough buffer that most likely I’d make it into Boston.
C: sub 3:45 – this would give me a PR and I felt like it should be achievable, but a lot can happen over 16 weeks of training and 26.2 miles of racing. I feel like nothing is a given on marathon day.

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Looking up, totally thrilled to finish while the race clock still said 3:34:XX

Strategy:
Far before the race I had plugged all the numbers into a pace calculator to figure out what pace I would need to accomplish my goals. Using 26.4 miles as the distance, knowing that I wouldn’t run tangents perfectly and that Garmin isn’t 100% accurate, I calculated that I’d need to average an 8:07 pace to run 3:34:33, 8:13 pace to run under 3:37, and 8:31 pace to run under 3:45. Obviously the difference in pace between my A & C goals was pretty substantial. Going into the race I decided I was going to push for an aggressive goal. There was really nothing to lose – maybe I would implode and limp it in, but I didn’t want to be left wondering and regretting not aiming higher. I wanted to stay between 8:07-8:13 pace and run as even splits as possible. This made made me a bit nervous, because it left really no room to slow in the later miles and still meet my A or B goals. My plan was to break the race into sections – get to mile 7, get to 12 where I’d see my husband, the halfway point, mile 20, mile 22 where I’d see my husband again, the finish – it felt more manageable that way.
Part of this strategy was to be aggressive, yes, but not reckless. In the miles when keeping an 8:07 pace felt ridiculously easy I didn’t push it and think that maybe I should go for an even faster goal or try to “bank time”. I enjoyed it feeling easy and told myself that this would pay off in the later miles – and it did. I was able to run the last 2.2 miles of the race as my fastest miles of the marathon. I never hit the wall or felt like I couldn’t do it, it always seemed manageable even when it was tiring.

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I also made a vision board the night before the race. Cheesy, I know, but I read about an elite athlete who did this and I’m a big believe in positive visualization so I went for it!!

And perhaps the biggest part of my strategy was to stay positive and strong mentally. Going in to the race I told myself that it would hurt, that I’d have to tough it out, and that I could do it. The night before the race I rewatched the video of Ironman Chris McCormick that I talked about before. After watching it I went through my training log and pulled out my key workouts that made me feel like I could crush my goals – my long tempo runs running 8-10 miles at GMP in the middle of a training week, my last two 20 milers where the last mile was run under 8 min/mi pace. These were the positive folders I’d think back on when I needed to during the marathon.
Race Pace Jess had a great, and timely post about how to prepare mentally race. The articles she linked to, including one by Chris McCormick, really resonated with me. No negative thoughts would be allowed. When I felt tired early on in the race I reminded myself that a bad mile is just that – one bad mile, it doesn’t dictate the rest of the race and more good miles would be ahead. When the 3:35 pace group would get further away from me I told myself that I was running even splits and that energy I was saving would help me  finish strong. I played games during the race where I’d work on increasing my cadence, but not pace, for a few minutes. When I got tired around mile 20 I told myself that’s okay, that’s good, everyone is feeling tired here and staying comfortable early on left me with enough energy to keep going. And in the last half-ish mile I just counted down over and over from 60. It was something I would do during speed work and it gave my brain something to think about other than feeling tired.

The Course/Race:

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photo courtesy of Baystate Marathon


Baystate was a fantastic small race! They bill themselves as a race For Runners, By Runners and it really shows. The medal is really cool, with a moveable runner going across the bridge and they make a big deal about reaching a PR or BQ – adding keychains to symbolize hitting those goals to the race swag this year. The course itself is a flat, partial double-loop course (you run miles 3-12 again as a loop), and pretty. I will say that there was a fair amount of road kill along the course – 2 skunks, 1 snake and one other large and unidentifiable animal that I noticed. The is also a half marathon option that starts at the same time as the marathon, but splits off shortly after.
While the course is open to traffic the volunteers and police do a great job of making it safe for runners, as did the drivers who were courteous and patient. Because the course is open to traffic there is a small section of the road that is coned off from traffic. If you run Baystate beware of these cones! There are large parts of the course where cones are only about 2-3 feet from the shoulder of the road which would basically mean everyone had to run single file in the race. This obviously doesn’t happen and runners seemed to take up more like 5-6 feet of the road. I saw a man trip and fall over a cone less than 4 miles into the race. He hopped back up and seemed okay, but nobody wants that to happen to them in a race! My husband commented that the same thing happened when he ran Baystate and nearly every blog I found recapping the race mentioned someone tripping and falling over a cone.
The post-finish line area was easy to navigate. Bottles of water and volunteers with heat blankets were ready for you once you  crossed over the finish line. On the way to the food stations was a tent dedicated to live results. All around a table were machines set up where you could look up your results and print out a ticket with you all of your info – division place, 3M, 10k, 8.5M, 13.1M, 16.3M, 30k, and 23M splits, net time, gun time, and if you BQ’d. Along side of the tables was a clock that you could type your bib # into and it would show your name with your finish time.
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I easily found my husband as I was making my way through the finishing area – another benefit of a small race – and made my way over to the food. Baystate has, in my opinion, the BEST post marathon food ever – chicken noodle soup! During one of my long runs over the summer I mentioned to the other runners how when I was in the hospital having my daughter they had chicken broth available that was fantastic. I remember drinking it and thinking it tasted like liquid gold, and told them I felt like it was be so delicious after a marathon. Well what do you know, one of the runners told us how Baystate has chicken noodle soup and it is amazing! As silly as it sounds, I thought/talked/obsessed over this soup so much during training and was so looking forward to it. And yes, that’s me holding my cup of chicken noodle soup in the above picture! There were also Yasso ice cream bars (also featured in the picture above), bananas, Honey Stinger bars, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. There were 2 other kinds of soup, including a vegetarian option, but I was laser focused on getting my chicken noodle soup that I can’t recall what they were 🙂

How do you prepare for a race?

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Baystate Marathon Recap!

You’re going to Boston. This is the day your going to BQ. Enjoy it and take it in.
This is what I told myself over and over during the 26.2 miles of the Baystate Marathon. I’ve talked about it on the blog before, maybe even in my first post, but I’m not a natural athlete. Growing up I didn’t play sports, I don’t come from a family of athletes, I sat the bench during my freshman year of high school soccer and didn’t make the cheerleading team again after my freshman year, and hated the mile test we had to take each year in high school. Each time I would finish with my lungs burning, out of breath, and barely finishing within the 15 minutes required to pass. When I started running 7 years ago, I couldn’t make it a mile without stopping. Now, at 36 years old with two kids, I’ve earned my way into the Boston Marathon!

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I LOVE reading other people’s race recaps – how they fueled, what mental techniques they used, what the course was like, etc. I always find these helpful so, for other people who like them too, here it goes!

The Race:
I slept really well the night before and woke on my own about 4:30. My alarm was set for 5:00, but I decided to get up at 4:45 and get going. My outfit was laid out the night before – an old Lululemon skirt that has amazing side pockets in the shorts underneath, a lightweight Gap breathe tank, the Lululemon Run Stuff Your Bra, and an old pair of sweatpants and zip up hoodie as throw away clothes. Weather was picture perfect. About 40-45 degrees at the start, with a high of 70 for the day – though I don’t think it was above 60-65 when I finished, sunny, and a slight breeze.
We arrived 90 minutes before the start of the race and parked in the garage directly next to the finish line. Race day packet pick-up was in the Tsongas Arena which meant we had a warm place to wait and real bathrooms to use before the race! This may have been the strangest part of the race – the mens room had a huge line all morning long while the women’s room had almost no line the whole morning! My husband had come with me and we hung out, I did my MYRTLS, and like before my half-marathon, I visualized myself crossing the finish line in 3:34:33.
About 15 minutes before the race start I headed to the corrals. I saw the 3:35 pacers and stopped to ask them their race strategy. It was the first time I felt like I could actually do this. I decided against running with a pace group and headed further back in the corrals. I chatted with a few other people in the corral, discussing our goals, and wishing each other luck.

Miles: 1-7

Immediately on taking off I felt good. My plan was to use the first mile to warm up, no jockeying for position, no worries about pace. The ladies I’d been chatting with at the start commented that it felt like we were running 9:00 miles and I looked down to see that I was already running just over an 8:00 mile. It felt effortless and I forced myself to hold back, telling myself to not go any faster than 8:07. This was the best I’d ever felt at the start of a race. At mile 2 I saw a buddy from my local running group who’d come to cheer on the nearly dozen of us running the half and full. A mile later I saw my husband and after I passed him I popped in one earbud and thought how I just had to get to mile 7 from there. From mile 5-6 I took a few Honey Stinger chomps and started telling myself I was going to Boston. I was going to BQ. Keep holding back and stay steady. I tried to take in the scenery and thank the volunteers and spectators out along the course. I had been staying steady about 15-20 seconds behind the 3:35 pace group, which had about 30 people in it, and water stops were a major bottleneck. They were stationed every 2ish miles which was great, but around mile 7 I had to turn and go back for water because the volunteers couldn’t keep up with the amount of people.
Splits: 1) 8:04 2) 8:10 3) 8:05 4) 8:08 5) 8:07 6) 8:12 7) 8:05

Miles: 8 – 17

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Tyngsboro Bridge

Just before the 8 mile mark we crossed over the above bridge for the first of two times during the race. It was so beautiful and I tried my best to take it in without tripping. After we crossed over I was running out of water in my small handheld bottle and started thinking about when to fuel next. My husband had another water he was going to hand me at mile 12, but I wanted to take a GU around mile 10. Shortly before the 10 mile mark was another water station and I slowed down a bit as we approached – hoping that the 3:35 group would be far enough past that it would be easier to get water which I was desperate for at this point. The water stop was a shit show and I ended up completely stopping to grab my own dixie cups of water off the ground. It was enough water to take with my GU, but I was super annoyed and it threw me off.
Race karma for being annoyed (I’m sorry!) bit me and I started to feel like it was getting hard to hold pace. This was the one part of the race where I started to have doubt and feel worried. Going in I prepped myself that I was going to need to “embrace the suck” to get my goal, but the idea of struggling for another 13+ miles scared me. I pushed that idea out of my head and thought back to my long tempo runs where I had to stop over and over for traffic lights and traffic, always getting back on pace and settling in.
The cluster of the water stop broke up the runners quite a bit and I found myself running with just another woman and a guy who turned out to be Dave McGillivray, the race director for the Boston Marathon and an amazingly accomplished runner! I wasn’t positive it was him until we saw my husband and he yelled “Go Dave!” (after he passed me a new bottle of water – ahhh!).

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Just me and my buddy, world renowned Dave McGillivray, out for a run.

After we saw my husband we crossed another bridge to repeat about 10 miles of the loop we had just done. This bridge was filled with spectators and they went nuts for Dave! The half marathoners were running up the bridge from the opposite direction and cheered on the marathoners as we ran by. It was a really fun part of the race and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of spectators. My running group buddy was here too and snapped a picture as I went by.
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We weren’t far from the 13.1 mark of the race at this point and I focused on getting to that point. I knew when I crossed that my splits would be sent to family and friends tracking me and that was a huge motivator to stay on pace. I reminded myself that another good mile would be around the corner, don’t push, but don’t back off, get to my check-in points – the half way mark? Made it, okay, 2 more miles and you’ll fuel again. Fueled? Okay, make it back to the bridge. The bridge, that beautiful bridge marking no more loops and a mostly straight shot to the finish? Okay, you did it. You’re going to Boston. You can do this.
Splits: (8) 8:03 (9) 8:11 (10) 8:05 (11) 8:08 (12) 8:12 (13) 8:14 (14) 8:10 (15) 8:02 (16) 8:11 (17) 8:12

Miles: 18 – 26.2
Lo and behold, by the time we crossed over the Tyngsboro bridge again and hit mile 18 I felt amazing. It honestly felt like I had just started running and I couldn’t believe how fresh my legs felt at mile 18. Suddenly the 3:35 pace group, which had pulled further away from me, were just ahead of me again and I was forcing myself to hold back on pace. I enjoyed feeling great and thought how I just had 2 miles to get to the 20 mile mark where I’d take another GU. I chatted with an older gentleman who was also shooting for 3:35 and we talked about what a lovely day it was. We also started passing a lot of people at this point. Soon I was at mile 20 and took my last GU of the day and was relieved at how good my stomach felt.
Around 21 I started to feel tired again and was really looking forward to seeing my husband at 22. This was when I noticed how tired I was. He asked if I wanted the Gatorade I’d had him bring and how I was feeling and I felt too tired to answer. We were now out of the shade for the rest of the race and it was starting to feel warm. At the bridge where my husband would cross to head to the finish line he told me I looked strong, that I was dead on 8:07 pace, and that I was crushing it. I remembered wondering to myself if he was lying and just trying to help me stay positive!
My watch was set to show overall average pace, total time, and lap pace and at this stage of the game I couldn’t do the mental math to figure out where I was expecting to finish. The 3:35 pacer was long gone, but my overall average pace was still showing 8:08 so I thought I was still within my A & B goal range, but I couldn’t figure it out. My breathing didn’t feel labored, I hadn’t hit the wall, I was just tired. I went up an overpass with a sharp embankment to cross the river one last time and head to the finish line. I was still passing a lot of people and don’t think anyone had passed me since mile 20. It felt like I’d sped up, but I wasn’t sure. At the bridge, which is a mile from the finish, I was met with a wall of wind. It felt like I was barely moving and I had the smallest flash of thought to just stop and walk.

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Across the bridge, left towards the finish, just .2 miles away, quick right, oh look, there’s my husband, should I wave? (I didn’t), quick left, almost there, just count to 60, look at my watch, holy shit I can make it under 3:35!, quick left, just count to 30, you can make it in before the race clock hits 3:35, sprint, I’m freaking going to Boston!  3:34:26

Splits: (18) 8:08 (19) 8:08 (20) 8:09 (21) 8:10 (22) 8:11) (23) 8:15 (24) 8:07 (25) 7:53 (26) 7:59 (.2) 7:53
A BQ with 5 minutes & 34 seconds to spare, a PR of 13 minutes, AND I ran the last half only 22 seconds slower than the first half! It was far away the best I’ve ever felt in a race and I’m still floating on cloud 9. Thanks for all the well wishes and support!