As you know, I have been training for the virtual Twin Cities Marathon this year. I signed up for the marathon when it was still an in-person race back in March. I had a great race last year, and was so excited to see what I could do this year.
And then all of the cancellations started happening. There was no refund option for the race and it was just switched to virtual, meaning you just had to run it by yourself and submit the results. Marathon day is the highlight of the fall for me, and the race is so exciting with all of the other runners and people cheering, so this was really disappointing.
I decided to still run the race, because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to train and improve. I also knew that running a virtual race would be such a challenge that would make me stronger when real races come back.
I worked with a running coach this year to help with my training. Like everyone, it was just a really off year and I really struggled with running at times. Although I was frequently frustrated, I stuck to the plan and kept trying my best, even though that was different each day.
One of the biggest things that I worked on this summer was mental strength. My coach gave me workouts that were harder than anything I had ever done before (like 3 x 3 mile repeats at a fast pace). At first, I would break down during these workouts and have to stop early. But as I practiced, I became better at staying strong mentally and getting through to the end. In previous marathons, I had a similar challenge where I would stop and walk during the last few miles when it was really hard, and end up ruining my pace.
I knew I would need extra mental strength for the virtual race. I was really worried that I would break down, especially those last 6 miles where the crowds really carry you. I also just really wasn’t looking forward to race day. Maybe it was just sadness over the real race being cancelled, and just knowing the challenge ahead of me.
As per normal, I started to feel really sick in my taper. I have enough experience now to know that’s just what my body does. I think its a mix of reacting to the taper and nerves! I skipped a few runs in the weeks leading up to the race just to give my body extra rest.
The challenging part of not feeling great the week before a race is that you really don’t know how to plan your paces for the day. My coach gave me pace ranges for each part of the race, and due to how I was feeling, I planned it on the slower, more conservative side. I was hoping to run somewhere between 3:40-3:45, which would be around an 8:30 pace.
I was super nervous race morning. It was nice to be able to start on my own time, but I also didn’t want to give myself too much time to doubt and second guess, so I tried to start at 7am sharp. I totally forgot to even do a warmup run. The first few miles felt stiff and I had a lot of nerves. My heart rate was super high just thinking about what was ahead of me. I knew it was important to keep those first miles slow and controlled to save my energy for the rest of the race.
I did a 10 mile loop of 3 lakes for the race, and I had a water bottle stashed at mile 3 of the loop. I hate carrying water with me during a race, so this worked out well. I also carried a small bottle in my sports bra for when I was further out from the water stop.
After my first water stop at mile 3, I started to cruise through the miles. Counting down miles in a 26 mile run is not the best thing mentally— because even though you check off miles, there are always so many more to go! So instead, I counted laps of lakes. I knew I would do 8 lake laps during the race, so it felt better to say I’ve done 2 of 8 lakes, instead of 6 of 26 miles!
I was surprised that I felt really good during the early and middle parts of the race. I felt comfortable hitting the goal pace, and was running even faster at 8:20’s and below. Its a delicate balance of running the pace that feels good, but also not running too fast and being too tired at the end of the race.
I started to feel some fatigue and soreness at mile 17. I knew this was the part of the race that would be a challenge. They say a marathon is really about the last 6 miles, and its true! I just kept telling myself I was counting down single digits now, and that I had run so fast so far that I didn’t want to give that up in the last hour of running.
The last 6 miles were 2 laps of the first lake, where my parents were stationed to cheer. I was definitely hurting but wanted to keep picking up speed. I ended up running behind a guy who was doing about an 8:00 pace and told myself to just keep up with him. I stayed with him miles 20-23 and it really helped me zone out while pushing a difficult pace. After that, I knew it was only 1 more lap of the lake to go and wanted to run it as fast as I could!
At this point, the faster I ran, the faster it would be over. My face changed from a smile to a grimace, but I knew I was crushing my time goal and that it was only a few more minutes of pain. I ended up at my parents finish line at exactly 26.2 and finished in a time of 3:36:41– 11 minutes faster than last year!
My time exceeded anything that I thought I was capable of. I was so happy that my hard work had paid off, and that I had done what I vowed to do during this race– stay strong even when it wasn’t easy. Although I have a little post race self doubt over how I will ever be able to run this fast again, I know its the process that got me here and that I will keep improving if I keep showing up!