Grandma’s Marathon 2016 – Race Recap

June 21, 2016

Grab a cup of coffee, get cozy on the couch, and brace yourself for the longest post I’ve ever written.

I’m not sure how well organized these thoughts will be, so I apologize if things are kind of all over the place.
Grandma’s Marathon was my 8th marathon and the third one on this course. It was my first marathon in 2010 and my Boston-qualifying one in 2012. So while this isn’t a ton of races, I’ve definitely experienced the highs and lows of this distance. This race was definitely a low. Besides Boston, which will be an ultimate low, I’d say this was the next lowest race.
I just still can’t believe how tough the marathon is. It is literally a beast, and I don’t feel I have yet conquered it. I like to say, “You can fake a half-marathon, but you can’t fake a marathon.” On Saturday it wrecked me and beat me up like I wasn’t expecting.
My training had been spot-on. I can’t think of a single workout I missed, I lifted weights twice a week, ate well, slept as well as I could (with a toddler who just started sleeping through the night less than 2 months ago), and did a lot of those ‘little extras.’ But even with all of those things, I still struggled when it came to race day, hence why the marathon is a beast.
Going into the marathon I was confident–maybe too confident–that I would have no problems snagging a sub-3 hour marathon. Like I said, training was going so well, I have been injury free, and I just run a 1:24 half-marathon three weeks prior, which put me on par to run a sub-3 hour marathon had all boosted my confidence.
The night before the race, I slept terrible (as to be expected), but I got ready, couldn’t stomach hardly any breakfast (half of a banana, 1/4 of a bagel with peanut butter, Picky Bar, and UCAN), barely made it to meet up with my ride to the start, but once I finally got to the start, my game face was on. I did a very short warm-up, and then waited nervously in the corral for the race to start. I saw the race officials switch the weather ‘alert’ flags from green to yellow indicating a moderate risk for racing and “less than ideal conditions.”
When the air horn signaled the start of the race, the nerves disappeared, and I focused on the race. I did good maintaining the pace my coach and I had targeted for the first 3 miles: 6:59, 6:53, 6:52.

Miles 4 – 10 clicked by pretty quickly. There were small areas of shade, but not much. I grabbed water at every aid station. I didn’t drink much as it is hard to drink a lot while running fast, and I hate having a ton of water sloshing around in my stomach. In order to break 3 hours in the marathon, my average pace had to be 6:52, but I kept thinking 6:50 just to give myself a little bit of wiggle room.


The 6:50 pace came okay, but I was hoping for some more splits around 6:45.

Mile 4 – 6:49

5 – 6:48

6 – 6:50

7 – 6:47

8 – 6:50

9 – 6:53

10 – 6:46

11 – 6:53

12 – 6:51

13 – 6:50

I really tried to stay positive during the next couple of miles. I came up on a fellow runner, who is actually much faster than myself, which boosted my confidence. I could tell she was struggling too, so I did my best to stick with her. (She ended up finishing ahead of me.) I thought back to the sports psychology podcast I have spent time listening to and tried to focus my thoughts on those positive things. And I really still thought, “This is your chance, Michelle, you can still make this happen.” I thought about all the people cheering for me and all the people who had sent me texts and believed in me.

However, my pace started to drop, and I could feel the sub-3 slip through my fingers.

Mile 14 – 6:59

15 – 7:07

16 – 7:10

17 – 7:23

18 – 7:36

I definitely gave up mentally, but I also knew I didn’t have it in me physically. I was just too broken down already. The heat, humidity, and sunshine were getting pretty intense, and my breathing was getting out of control. I was having a hard time catching my breath, and I couldn’t get it under control.

At mile 18.5 I finally had to walk. Oddly/sadly I have only ran 3 marathons without stopping. I really didn’t want to walk, but my breathing was too labored. I stopped to walk, and I was literally gasping for air. (Imagine someone very out of shape doing wind sprints.) I tried to slow my breathing down, and then I started running again.


Mile 19 – 8:18

20 – 8:09

21 – 9:10

22 – 7:37

23 – 9:21

24 – 7:36

25 – 7:30

26 – 7:24

I continued to take walk breaks every mile and sometimes every half mile. I would walk through the aid stations and drink an entire cup of water (rather than just a few sips), which was good because I was very thirsty by this point. I ended up running the last 2.5 miles without stopping, which I was proud of. Thankfully there were some nice downhill portions that also helped.

Mile 26 seemed to last forever, but I finally saw the balloons and flags for the finish. I pushed with all my might and willed my legs to go faster. I thought about Cullen and made him my motivation to get to the finish line as soon as possible.

Finally, I crossed the line, closed my eyes, and immediately my legs turned to Jell-O. I stumbled around but my legs were too weak to hold myself up. Two volunteers rushed over to hold me up and prevent me from collapsing. I didn’t have the energy to open my eyes or even talk. I was bearing all my weight on the two volunteers as they helped me through the finish chute. I saw Cullen and my mom off to the side and went over to say hi. Cullen wanted me to hold him, but I was too weak and exhausted to do that. After about 5 minutes of the two volunteers walking with me and drinking a little water I was able to walk on my own. I shuffled through the finisher’s chute, got my medal, picked up my t-shirt, and took a cup of Powerade.

The rest of the day I accepted the race for what it was and decided, “it was what it was,” but oddly as time has gone on, I’m feeling more depressed and defeated about the race. I failed. I didn’t meet my goal, and my fear of failure has been with me since I was a kid. I guess that’s the overachiever and perfectionist in me.

But what can I do but learn from the experience and move on. There will always be another marathon. (However, it does get tricky when you are the one who has to bare children.) I still truly believe I have a sub-3 hour marathon in me, so we will try again. And like someone said, it will make success that much sweeter.
And just a few other thoughts about the race. . . .
Yes, the weather was not ideal for racing a marathon. When I finished, I believe the temperature was 75* with 75% humidity, and not a cloud in the sky, so that sun was beating down on everyone. Thirty minutes after I finished the race, the weather alert flags were raised to “black” or “extreme,” which means the weather conditions are so bad, the event should be canceled. They did not cancel the race but hoped people would make the right choice about whether they should continue running. However, honestly, I feel bad telling people that it was “hot” at this marathon because compared to the Trials and Boston this year, it really doesn’t compare to the 90* heat they had to run in. But even for me (lover of the warmth/heat), it was too warm to race a marathon.
As far as my breathing issues, I’m not sure what happened there. I have had problems with my breathing like this when I have been anemic, but I continued to take my iron supplement prior to the marathon. I did stop taking my multi-vitamin and instead took some Nurtilite vitamins. I remembered my coach saying the Nutrilite vitamins didn’t have any iron, so I took my iron supplement twice a day. Usually I have 30mg in my multi-vitamin and 65mg in the iron supplement, so the fact the iron supplement had 65mg–and I took it twice a day for the last two weeks–I should have had enough iron.
BUT the other time I have noticed this labored breathing is when the weather is warm. I truly do love training in the warmer weather. . . actually it has become more of a novelty than anything probably now. (I still think it is better than freezing cold temps.) However, since I spend so much of my time training in the 50s/low 60s in Alaska, my body isn’t used to those temps. I don’t why this would be, but I have noticed this in the past.
I’ll end this post by saying ‘thank you’ to all of you who sent well-wishes, texts, and have cheered for me along the way. My running career is not done, and while I am feeling defeated about what happened on Saturday, I know my coach and my assistant coach (a.k.a. Craig) will light that fire again and convince me to lace up my racing flats again soon.

    1. Great race report! I’m sorry your race had tough weather. It’s those days that are on the edge of being obviously too hot that get everyone (like Boston was this year for many, and it was about 70 degrees). When I overheat and am dehydrated, the first sign I usually notice is that I can’t catch my breath. That’s what it sounds like happened to you. You’re such a fighter, I know you’ll get it next time.

      Who knows, you got faster after one baby, maybe you’ll get even faster after a second (assuming you want more, as it sounds like you’re saying above)?

      1. We do want more kids, but I’m not sure I will be able to devote as much time to training after #2.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Michelle. I am sorry that the race didn’t go as planned, but you still did a great job. I had a baby around the same time as you did, and I am just getting back into exercising. I just started the couch to 5k…you have inspired me!

    1. Don’t beat yourself up-it takes courage to run a marathon. Sounds like you pushed yourself to the limit even in the extreme weather conditions. So- congratulations!

    1. So sorry to hear that you didn’t have the race you wanted, but honestly, I feel like the weather explains it all. I remember reading somewhere that ideal marathon running temps are in the 40s! I once ran a marathon in 75F & full sun & it also epically sucked, so I empathize with you. I say try again in the winter!

      1. Very interesting! It accurately predicted my actual finish time!

    1. I had a few issues with breathing like that when I was running in Florida heat. Looking at your sunburn, I’d bet money that the breathing issues were 100% heat related. Did you also have some tunnel vision and nausea?

      1. No, no tunnel vision or nausea. I had no appetite afterwards but that’s pretty normal.

    1. It’s never fun to “fail,” but I definitely learn more from races where I perform poorly that I do from races where I run well. When I ran a 16:17 5k in 2012, it was a PR by 43 seconds. My training had been going well at that point, and it showed on race day. Still, factors out of my control played a big part in my PR. The weather was cool and overcast, Gerad Mead, a running friend, took off at a 5:02 pace, and the course was flat and fast.

      You had a tough day, but a lot of it had to do with factors out of your control–sleep, appetite, and weather don’t always cooperate. Keep at it–that sub 3 will come 🙂

    1. Also, if you want to be a math nerd for a while, you can use some of the tools here: to see what you may have run had it been a cloudy day.

    1. Nice race report. It sounds as if the weather was miserably hot. Isn’t 50 the ideal marathon temp?You’ll get the sub-3 hour marathon. I mean, you had a baby less than two years ago. When my son was Cullen’s age, I barely had the energy to tie my shoes and you’re out running marathons, and running them fast, too. That is totally (totally!) the opposite of failure/defeat. P.S. There was bear poop off to the side of the Coastal Trail a few miles from Kincaid on Sunday. I thought maybe that would cheer you up. I always get excited when I see bear scat because, you know, how cool is it that we run on the same trails as those smelly and burly animals?

      1. Yes, I believe the ideal temperature is about 45*. Aren’t you scared that the bears will get spooked by you and mull you??

    1. I’m so incredibly proud of you Michelle. I totally believe you have a sub 3 hour in you. You inspire me with your continual dedication and unwavering discipline. We are all here rooting for you friend.

    1. Did I hear that correctly? You ran a 3:12 marathon and see that as a failure? Michelle – You are such an inspiration and you should be so proud that you can do this. Oh… and you like grew a human and gave birth not too long ago – You are amazing. You run for fun… repeat that. You run because it makes you happy. Don’t let not getting the sub 3 bring you down. I can barely run one mile. I really can’t. I would do anything to be able to even run 6 miles. I am trying hard in the gym and I read this blog as inspiration! You are awesome!!!

    1. It was the heat. But I know that doesn’t make you feel better, after how hard you trained. I’m sorry that you had a disappointing experience. You really deserved to meet your goal. What else can I say… there’s always a next time.

    1. I am so proud of you for fighting through to the end. The first year I trained for the NYC marathon I got injured the day before and couldn’t race. They let you drop out once and defer a year so I maintained hope through my disappointment. The plantar fasciitis continued though and I thought I would have to quit and not be able to train at all. With physical therapy (and mental encouragement from a friend) I was able to finish. And it did make that finish feel that much sweeter because I had worked so much longer to get there. There is so much we don’t have control over but we do have control over how we respond to roadblocks. Your response is what makes you who you are. When I was feeling down I would read this post by Kara Goucher about her NYC 2014 race. I hope it helps you feel better:

    1. I didn’t know you when you did Grandma’s, but I did the half marathon the same day. I thought it was a odd that they started the half marathon so much earlier than the marathon. It was only starting to get warm when I finished, and I remember watching the marathon leaders come through and how sweaty they looked. I have another friend who dropped out of the race because of the heat.

      I don’t know that I had a real problem with the heat during the half, but it was pretty uncomfortable with the sun beating on the back of my head the entire race. I tried pouring water over my head, but that only helped occasionally. Mostly I just ended up really wet and not relieved. Still, it’s a good course for running fast, and I know I left a lot out there. Sounds like you did, too.

      I’m glad you’re one of my coaches, and it’s good to get to know you.

    1. […] out of a race–unless something harmful to my health happened. I really struggled during Grandma’s Marathon last summer, but I did […]

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