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More than Meets the Eye

TLDR; I qualified for the Olympic Trials on Sunday, running 2:40:11 for 2nd place in the Philadelphia marathon. If you want the longer version, grab a cup of coffee and settle in!

If you’re a follower of mine, you may have noticed my absence from blogging. The truth is that blogging stopped serving me these past few months. Mostly, I got to the point where I found myself writing my blog in my head during a race or workout before I was even finished running, instead of focusing on the workout. This reminded me of freshman year of college after I first got facebook and statuses could only be written in the format of “Anna is….”. I had been so obsessed with social media that year that I found myself thinking in third person. I enjoyed neither experience.

This year, in general, I have chosen to take a step back. I have largely kept quiet about my training. This isn’t because I don’t have anything to say or want to keep it secret. Instead, my public voice has largely mirrored what has been going on in my head: silence.

For maybe the first time ever, I just haven’t focused that much energy on thinking about running. Not because I don’t love running or don’t want to succeed, but moreso because I just needed to be a passive participant in my running career for a little while.

In July I handed my coach the reins and for the first time since high school asked him to write 100% of my plan. I stopped keeping a training log. I would receive 2 weeks of workouts at a time, email him every Sunday to let him know how they went (or text him after the big workouts), and then he would adjust my training as necessary. That’s it. No overthinking, overanalyzing, or running on Sunday night just for the sake of seeing “100” in my training log instead of “94.” I did what was written down to the best of my ability and left it at that.

The result? The best, most consistent training cycle of my life. I covered about 950 miles in 10 weeks and didn’t miss a single workout. In 3 months I took one day off (beginning 3 months out from a race I take days off as needed). My coach wrote workouts for me that I likely would not have come up with by myself and peppered in some old favorites. Even better: for the first training cycle ever, I didn’t even have any aches or pains arise. I had some great races throughout the last three months as well:

August: 17:14 5k

September: 18:10ish xc 5k

October: 1:15:59 half marathon

I knew my training was indicating I was in PR marathon shape. My goals were as follows:

A: sub-2:35 or top 3

B: sub-2:40 or top 5

C: sub-2:45

2:45 is the Olympic Trials standard, which is truly the only goal that mattered, since I hadn’t hit my 2020 qualifier yet

Here is a recap of the weekend:

Our plan was to fly to Philly on Thursday, arriving around 5 PM. We woke up to an ice storm that apparently hit the entire east coast, as well. Our flight from Chicago to Philly was cancelled, leaving us with the only option of flying into Baltimore at 6 AM the next morning and driving the rest of the way to Philadelphia. This was probably a blessing in disguise since Philly was covered in ice and snow, and the last thing I needed was to slip and fall on the sidewalk.

Dave and I had the chance to go the Berghoff while we were in Chicago, which is one of our favorite restaurants.

We woke up at 3:50 AM on Friday and made it to Philly around 1 PM. We immediately picked up my coach and drove the course. First impression: not flat. At all. I don’t mind a hilly course, but I was definitely surprised since I had heard from everyone how flat and fast it is!

The first 10k is flat/downhill throughout downtown. The next 15kish is a lot of climbing with some steep ups and downs. The final 12ish miles is an out and back with sizeable rolling hills.

We grabbed lunch at the turnaround (mile 20) of the out and back in a cute little neighborhood on top of the hills. I was exhausted, cranky, and tired of sitting in the car. After lunch I checked into my hotel around 5 PM, which gave me about an hour and 40 minutes to run, shower, and relax before we met my sister and brother-in-law for dinner at one of their restaurants, Rex 1516.

I napped for a half hour, went for a slow 24 min run and called it 3 miles, showered, and walked over to my coach’s hotel. We walked to Rex and I was EXHAUSTED.

I fell asleep very easily around 9:30 PM, didn’t set an alarm, and was happy to have woken up feeling very well rested around 6:45 AM on Saturday.

Saturday morning I had a to-do list that I wanted to complete as quickly as possible so that I could relax as much as possible. I had to run, go to the expo, drop off my water bottles, pick up groceries for dinner, shave my legs (yes this was a to-do list item because I had been lazy and hadn’t shaved in 4 weeks since my last race), and paint my nails.

I completed all of the above by noon and was rewarded with a 6 hour Sex and the City marathon. Seriously, there was literally nothing I would rather do than drink coffee and watch Sex and the City the day before a race.

At 6 we headed over to my sister’s house to make dinner. I made salmon, millet, and roasted sweet potato, parsnip, and Yukon gold potatoes. In all, I consumed about 500 grams of carbs on Saturday, which included popcorn, oatmeal, orange juice, millet, red wine, root vegetables, left over grits, and lots of rice.

I wasn’t at all nervous heading into the race. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have some feelings. Above all, I didn’t want to fail. I am tired of feeling like I’ve failed. I knew, though, that failure would only happen because of something outside my control. I was ready. The weather looked perfect. I had nothing to fear, except for that moment in the race when you have to say yes even though your body wants to say no.

Race morning had an early wake up call of 4 AM. I like to be up 3 hours before the gun goes off. I drink my coffee, eat breakfast, go through my every day morning routine of apps and journaling, and then put on my racing kit. I was happy to have raced in cold weather in Columbus because I knew what to wear (or so I thought!)

Dave and I jogged about a mile to the elite tent and he left me with a good luck and a quick kiss.

The weather felt a lot colder than I anticipated. My toes were frozen on the starting line. We weren’t given the opportunity to do any strides, so I was a little worried my legs would feel like lead when the gun went off. I had warmed up about a total of 1.5 miles.

My plan was possibly the best I have ever concocted, because it made me excited. When I run workouts and long runs, I always focus on 25% of what’s left. So, if I’m running a 20 miler, I will first only focus on 5 miles, then on 25% of the remaining 15 miles (3.75 mi), then 2.xx miles, and so on. For the marathon, this roughly equated to:

10k, 8k, 6k, 5k, 4k, 3k, 2k, 1k. To make up the final 3k, my coach suggested I do a 400 m pickup in between each section. PERFECT.

My plan was also to negative split. I did not want to run faster than 6:00 pace that first 10k, although I knew I likely would be fast with the cool weather and slight downhill. My first mile was 5:42 and I was in 5th or 6th place. By the time I made it to 10k (36:12) I had worked my way into 2nd. The woman who was in 3rd stayed with me through 9 or 10 miles. I did not care, though. I knew I was on the perfect pace and only focused on what I needed to do.

I actually went through the 10k and 10 mile splits in paces I had visualized leading up the race. My 10 mile split was around 58 minutes. The hills on this section of the course were pretty brutal. I had lost the large pack of men I had been running with, which was probably good. They were aiming for 2:30, but we had dropped a couple fast miles of 5:37 and 5:39. By the half marathon mark, I was largely alone. I went through half in perfect position of my goal: 1:17:08.

I still felt fairly effortless at this point. I know in every marathon there will be a dark mile where you have to say yes when you want to say no. I have no idea what happened between miles 13 and 15, but I hit that spot. Around 15 I had a wave of I don’t want to do this anymore. This isn’t fun. I don’t just mean like, this kinda hurts, I’m ready to be done I mean I literally thought I don’t really enjoy this running thing anymore and I think I would be happier if I walked off the course right now and retired.

The thing is, I have DNF’d two marathons in my life. The first DNF was the worst feeling I have ever experienced in running. But, the thing is, IT DIDN’T MATTER AND NO ONE CARED. I will be truthful here: I believe that has opened up the door for me to take thoughts of DNFs more seriously since then. It literally doesn’t matter, it’s just running. Before my first DNF, I thought I would be a massive failure and everyone would judge me. When that didn’t happen I realized it’s just running.

While this is a good thing, it also means when things hurt, walking off the course doesn’t seem like a terrible option.

What I didn’t know at the time is that this might have been the beginning of what I suspect was hypothermia.

As I was struggling with the internal debate of whether or not to walk off the course, I decided to just take a mile to relax. Just run. Chill. Get out of your head. I knew based on my half split that I could run the 2nd half in 1:27 and still qualify. JUST RELAX I kept telling myself. Get what you came for.

That next, relaxed, mile was 6:15. Then I had another talk with myself: Anna. You are acting like the world is falling apart and you slowed down to a pace that is still under the standard and you are continuing to bank time. Woman up.

So I continued on with my plan, which at this point was just get to mile 18 (since I was in the midst of my 5k segment).

This part of the course was difficult. I expected the out and back to be easy for me since I love out and backs and I was familiar with most of this section (except, apparently, the hills). I guess the key here is expectations.

I realized recently that expectations are what get us in trouble. When I am not in great shape I tend to race really well because I KNOW it is going to hurt. When the pain comes up, I’m not surprised.

When I’m in amazing shape, I feel as though I sometimes underperform because I expect it to feel easy. Then, when it doesn’t, I panic. That is why I have always struggled with running conservatively. You expect a conservative race to feel good, but running will always hurt to some degree because it is not energetically favorable.

Anyway. I expected the out and back to be easier than it was and that might have bitten me in the ass. I was struggling. When I got to 17 the thought of having 3 more miles, and then 6.2 more miles felt impossible. I used every mental game trick I had: the announcer game, the counting game, the mantra game, the break-this-up-into-little-pieces game, the try-to-chase-people-down game, the bargaining game….I did everything in my power to keep my legs moving.

Once I finally turned around (after what felt like forever and a day), I used this opportunity to see how far behind me 3rd place was. I had about 2 minutes on her. At 20, I knew I had 45 minutes to run 6.2 miles and still qualify. That was all I truly cared about.

At the same time, though, I was in position for winning $5k. I knew 1st place was out of reach. I just had to not screw this up.

Around this time I became acutely aware of a blister that had formed beneath my first metatarsal. It wasn’t overly painful, but it wasn’t comfortable either. I was playing around with finding a better strike pattern to minimize stress. If I had been thinking clearly, I wouldn’t have done this. Not more than a mile later my hamstring (THE GOOD ONE) locked up. Duh. Change in biomechanics = compensation.

I was on the pain train. I was struggling. I wanted to be done.


Going into this race, failure avoidance was my number one goal. I am tired of failing. By failing, I mean not showing up to the starting line at CIM last year, and not showing up to the finish line at Pittsburgh this year. Each mile marker that I passed I would calculate how much time I had left in order to not fail. It was coming out to be ~7:00 pace and I was still running 6:20s through the pain.

As I neared the finish line, the people running on the out portion were becoming more and more excited. I got a lot of “USA” chants. When I got to mile 23 I told myself I had 20 minutes left. I then focused on just running for 5 minutes. That was the longest 5 minutes of my life. Then, I focused on 3:45. Then 2:30. While driving the course I set a landmark for when I knew I was almost finished. Where was my mark? Why wasn’t it showing up fast enough? I made it to 25 miles and was happy to know I had 2k to go. Then I made it to 40k and was devastated to know I NOW had 2k to go. I wanted to be done so badly.

I told myself I had 8 minutes to go. I focused on running for 2 minutes. Then 90 seconds. Then I tried counting to 100. I heard a woman yell at her husband to pass me because I was limping. (bitch).

I finally made it and crossed the finish line in 2:40:11. I had just missed by B goal, but I was 2nd place so I also made my A goal? I don’t know, it doesn’t matter.

A kind woman was assigned to help me and make sure I made it to the awards ceremony. The only problem? I couldn’t stop shaking. Violently. I was shivering and shaking so badly that people were giving me their jackets, hats, and gloves. Strangers were bringing me soup and hot chocolate. I have never felt so cold. But I could at least still smile.

I shivered nonstop for nearly 90 minutes, until I was finally able to take a hot shower.

Then the stomach issues started. I was unable to eat anything for about 24 hours after the race. Unfortunately, Dave and I had to cancel our dinner reservations, and instead I laid in bed miserably and watched Jurassic Park while Dave brought me Gatorade and peppermint tea.

Fortunately, I am feeling better now. But, not getting sufficient calories in after the race has definitely taken a toll on my body. I feel like I have been hit by a truck.

I didn’t have a chance to really reflect on what Sunday meant for me.

There was a point where I wasn’t sure I was able to train at this level anymore. I wasn’t sure I would run fast again. I wasn’t sure I wanted this anymore. I am indebted to my coach, who rebuilt my confidence and got me into the best shape of my life. There are obviously many more thank you’s: Oiselle, for being so supportive the last three years, especially when things weren’t going well in the running realm; Dave, for absolutely everything he does to help support my dreams. Winning substantial prize money this month is huge. Last month I struggled with buying a new pair of running shoes; my PT and massage therapist for keeping me healthy; the oiselle volee for breaking the tracking system (I always feel like I am the most supported runner during a race!) and my athletes for being so supportive of me!

I’m not sure what’s next. Right now I need a couple weeks off and then I will decide what I will do in the spring. I might jump on the track, or maybe I will focus on a half marathon. Next month my coach and I will meet to plan the next two years.

It’s so weird to take stock of the differences between how I feel right now and how I felt 3 years ago when I qualified for 2016. I was on top of the world. I am definitely happy right now, but I think more than anything I am relieved. I have zero regrets about my race, and I do believe that there was more to Sunday than meets the eye, with big things coming in the next two years.

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