I wasn’t going to write about Buffalo. I was going to pretend it just didn’t happen and move along with life and recovery and training. But I changed my mind a few weeks ago, when I started this post. Now I’ve let more than a month elapse since the marathon (and since starting this post). I’ve let most of my resentment go from that day, but I still want to write about it. Now I have a little more perspective and my mentality going into the run.
This is your one and only warning: buckle down for a long, emotional post, providing myself with some much-needed catharsis…and providing the 2 or 3 of you who read this whole thing: a look into the unraveling of my 7th marathon.
Directly following the race, I was really upset. Someone said to me the week before Buffalo that “you just don’t get a second chance at the playoffs. Why are you running another marathon so close to Boston??” I was pissed at him for saying that, but he was right. I was trying to squeeze something out of my training and my body that just wasn’t there. My fitness might have been…okay…but my head was on a different planet, and I completely underestimated how mentally grueling running a marathon is–so much that I found myself at mile 22 in the middle of Buffalo saying out loud, “wow, I’m actually running this thing, aren’t I?
Yeah. It’s not really a great idea to realize you’re running a marathon AT MILE 22 when traditionally that last 10k is where you’re supposed to grind it out and pour your heart into the run.
I ran a lot of this marathon as though I was carrying a white flag. I gave up. The effort was over…I had nothing left to give. “You expected it to end this way anyway, remember?” the demons said in my head.
The biggest issue I had was that I signed up for all the wrong reasons. I thought I “should have” PRed by more in Boston. I guess you can say I was greedy; but the proof was in my training and the data was there – it was there all winter long. Of COURSE I wanted more. The big PR would’ve happened in Boston if it wasn’t so damn hot.
So my motivation behind Buffalo was simple. I wanted to run another marathon this spring because when the dust settled from Boston, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach with regret. I got back to work and normal life…and couldn’t help but remember all the workouts, runs, and breakthroughs I had going into Boston. A 3:06 was so dissatisfying when I considered all of the training and proof that suggested a completely different outcome.
But the dissatisfaction wasn’t enough to run an entire new marathon. I was missing the deep-rooted drive to run another PR in Buffalo. Sure, I wanted to do well. I was fine with the idea of training for another 5 weeks after Boston. But when you run a marathon…you need to fight for it. And I just wasn’t there this time, not entirely.
And that’s what made me most upset immediately following Buffalo. Not because of my finish time. Not because of how I placed. Not because the weather was shitty…again. I was upset because I didn’t fight for it.
I even went into the run with a shitty mentality. I said if I felt tired, I’d DNF. I gave myself an out before even crossing the starting line. That’s the WORST thing you can do going into a race, especially a marathon.
And the worst part is that the option to not run Buffalo didn’t even really cross my mind. I put myself into this damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation. To not run Buffalo meant I’d be settling for the 3:06 at Boston.
I needed to at least TRY. I was too stubborn not to.
The training between Boston and Buffalo was actually great. I took 2 weeks of easy easy running/XT, then had 6 key maintenance workouts leading up to the marathon.
|Workout 1||Workout 2||Long Run||WKLY MILEAGE|
|Week 1||3 x 1.5 mile||7 miles @ marathon||14||48|
|Week 2||4 x 2 miles||10 miles @ marathon||(workout 2 was LR)||61|
|Week 3||12 x 400 w/ rest at pace||3 x 2 miles @ marathon||10||45|
|Week 4||5 x 4 minutes @ threshold||n/a||n/a||32|
My legs went from feeling incredible…to absolutely terrible…to pretty decent, all in a span of 4 weeks. It was an emotional rollercoaster. I also was dealing with an extremely irritated high hamstring and hip, which made me completely question the even thought of doing the marathon at all, especially when pain started searing into my lower back and SI Joint week 3. Luckily, after consulting an orthopedist and with the mileage reduction of taper, by the time I got to the marathon, I had very little pain going into the race.
I knew going for sub-3 in Buffalo would be foolish. Not only was the spark not there…but my hamstring issue concerned me. The hamstring was never something that bothered me while running, but I experienced a lot of irritation post-running, so I didn’t know what a marathon might do to it.
And the long runs and workouts after Boston just felt crappy. I was hitting my paces, but nothing felt good or easy, as it did before Boston.
Because of these two factors, I thought 3:01-02 would be an acceptable goal for Buffalo..but THEN when I heard it was going to be 80° and humid, I decided anywhere around 3:04 would be a fine goal. The plan was to be much more conservative than Boston – starting around a 7:00-05 and whittling down once I got to the halfway mark.
It was also necessary to devise a plan for the heat. Thankfully, Gabe came with me to Buffalo, and he agreed to be my own personal support crew around the city. So we rented him a bike and loaded him up with a backpack of ice-soaked washcloths, water bottles, electrolytes and extra nutrition. Because the race has so many out-and-backs around the city, we determined about 6 different places that he’d meet me and offer support if I needed it.
In addition to Gabe’s help, the city of Buffalo went above and beyond to keep runners cool, adding extra aid stations and tons of extra ice-soaked washcloths, especially towards the backend of the marathon. I can’t say enough great things about this marathon and the way it was organized. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Miles 1-3: 6:59, 7:03, 7:02
It was humid. Like REALLY humid. A reading of 85% humidity to be exact. I tried to not let it bother me and appreciate that it was only 70° at 6:30 AM…but it was humid. The pace in these beginning miles felt really easy, which was encouraging, but I saw Gabe at mile 2 and he said that I (and everyone around me) was already completely soaked with sweat.
I took my first gel with water pretty early, 30 minutes in, because I knew nutrition was going to be an issue today.
Miles 4-6: 7:07, 7:05, 7:01
These miles just clicked by and this pace felt really great. We passed through downtown Buffalo again and I was hanging with a group of 3-4 guys, most of whom were running the half. It was really great to have company, and my stride matched up really well with one of the guys in particular…didn’t even get his name, but I was REALLY thankful for his company. We ended up distancing ourselves from the other pack we had started with, and clicked through several miles together, chatting the entire time. Turns out he was 19 years old, from Wisconsin, on the track team in college, and running his first half marathon as a training run.
Miles 7-9: 6:59, 6:57, 7:02
These were all run with my new Wisconsin friend. This felt SUPER relaxed and really easy, which made me optimistic. We were also running along Lake Erie, so while it was still really humid, the course was pretty shaded.
I took more nutrition and it went down really well. Everything so far was according to plan.
Unfortunately, my new friend started running 6:50-40s around mile 9, so I let him go. I had no business running that fast that early.
As I let Wisconsin boy go, I started running alongside someone else, whose name I didn’t catch either. He said something about his goal being 3:10 and it freaked me out because I wanted to be well under 3:10. I looked down and saw we were, at that moment, around a 7:10-15, so I picked it up a bit and dropped him. In hindsight, I probably should have just hung with him for a couple of miles, but I had no idea how poorly the rest of the race was going to go.
I saw Gabe just before mile 10 and a few things happened –
1: I peed my pants for the first time in the race and it felt AWESOME.
2: Gabe shouted to me that I looked really great and smooth…and I felt that way too. I remembered that mile 10 was when shit started hitting the fan in Boston. And today, in Buffalo, I was floating along, still REALLY happy with how things were going.
3: He also told me that the humidity had broken a little. Which meant, looking back at the weather archives from that day, means it dropped from 85% to 78%. Awesome. But in the moment, hearing that was mildly exciting. I was SOAKED from sweat and from dumping water over my head, but I still felt okay, so I pushed on.
Miles 10-11 is also the only out-and-back where you see runners passing each other, so I used this as an opportunity to count what place I was running over all women. Half marathoners were wearing a red bib and marathoners were wearing blue bibs…so I counted myself in 7th(ish?) place.
“Ok,” I thought. “There is money for 5th place. You can work your way up there. Just keep your shit together.”
Miles 12-13: 7:02, 7:09
These miles were lonely and through a sketchy part of town. Running suddenly didn’t feel so easy, as this is also where a small but steady incline began. I hit the halfway around 1:33, which was the plan, but out of nowhere, my quads and legs felt heavy and fatigued. Shit. It’s only halfway. This isn’t supposed to happen this way.
Miles 14-15: 7:06, 7:10
This course is pretty forgiving, but these miles were evil. Just after the halfway point, the half marathoners turn left to finish…and the marathoners turn right to climb up a hill…and it was definitely a soul-sucking hill.
I thought to myself, “just get up this hill and settle back down,” but once I got over the hill at 13, I found myself wiped out. Shit.
Then, suddenly, at mile 15, I started feeling a shooting cramp in my calf/ankle. “STRESS FRACTURE.” I dramatically whimpered.
So sometimes I have really tweaky Achilles (plural), and from time to time, they REALLY act up, usually because of increased mileage. The pain goes away within 24-48 hours. But of course, in the 2-3 days leading up to Buffalo, my right Achilles and calf started getting that familiar tweaky, tight feeling for no reason at all. I was tapering, so it seemed really weird that it was happening with the decreased mileage, but in hindsight, I’m pretty sure it was because of that jacked up hamstring, wreaking havoc on the entire right side of my body.
Anywho. Back to the stress fracture/cramp/Achilles issue.
It wasn’t so bad that it was altering my stride – yet – but I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Luckily, I saw Gabe in these miles, who was armed with some homeopathic runners cramp pills that were in our Boston goody bags. Yeah, yeah…I know you’re not supposed to try anything new on race day, but I was desperate. I popped the cramp pills and over the course of the next mile, the stabbing pain in my ankle started to subside. Whether it was in my head or maybe they really helped…the world will never know.
Crisis diverted. God bless the homeopathic cramp pills!
Mile 16: 6:58
Just after mile 15 and into the 16th mile, I passed the 6th place girl. I had been behind her watching her run for a few miles. And FINALLY, I saw her slow down and I bounced past her.
I hadn’t felt great for about 3 miles, but thought maybe things were starting to turn around. I reminded myself about an interview I had recently read about Shalane’s Olympic Trials marathon, where she admitted that there are a LOT of ups and down in a marathon…it’s inevitable that the whole race won’t feel magical. “You’re fine. You just hit a low point and now you’re back into it,” I convinced myself.
Mile 17: 7:04
Yeah…no. It wasn’t a second wind. Or maybe it was…maybe I just succumbed to the self-doubt inside my head that was screaming at me saying: “you can’t.”
But here is where things started to go downhill.
Instead of fighting that little voice, I started listening to it and started feeling sorry for myself. As a runner who prides herself on mental tenacity and grit…this is where I let myself down, and this is why I was so upset after the race.
I didn’t feel great at mile 17, but I also didn’t feel THAT bad. Yet instead of paying attention to the pace and running a smart marathon, I just ran like a novice marathoner. I started feeling sorry for myself in this particular mile because it was completely unshaded and really freaking hot.
Looking back at the photos, I laugh, because I looked like a wet rat running around in a bikini. There was nothing strong or athletic about the way I felt. I let myself play into the, “OMG IT’S GOING TO BE SO HOT TODAY, HOW ARE YOU RUNNING A MARATHON?!” hype…so here, when things started getting hot, I didn’t exhibit my best self, and I regret that.
Mile 18: 7:16
IT’S SO HOT, LOOK AT ME, SPECTATORS. I’M RUNNING A MARATHON IN THIS HEAT. DON’T YOU FEEL BAD FOR ME?!? I CERTAINLY FEEL TERRIBLE.
But I passed the 5th place girl in here, so hey, let’s just keep going and I’ll win $500 for placing 5th. YAY!
Mile 19-20: 7:10, 7:25
Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, I had to go to the bathroom at mile 19. Like really bad. I spotted porta-potties at the 19 mile marker and thought to myself, “no. NO. You do NOT have to use them, you only think you have to go because of the novelty of them being there,” so I kept running.
At mile 19.5 it was bad. For the first time EVER in any race…despite the 2-tablespoon serving of Imodium I took before the race…I HAD to go to the bathroom. It wasn’t my imagination.
Usually, I have no shame. If I was on my way to sub-3, I gladly would’ve shit my pants.
But I knew Buffalo wasn’t going to be that magical day. So at mile 19.5, after a 1/2-mile of profusely squeezing my butt cheeks together and trying to convince myself that it was all in my head, I looked around and saw I was alone in the middle of a random street in Buffalo. So I spotted an alley, ran over, and relieved myself. The whole production didn’t take more than 25 seconds, so when my mile marker beeped in for a 7:25 20th mile, I was pretty pleased with myself.
Mile 21: 7:14
But despite my emptied bowels, I continued to feel sorry for myself. It was still pretty humid, in the mid-high 70s; and every aid station was buzzing with medics, ready to help overheated runners. Because I was pretty much running alone, I remember looking at the faces of medics who were passing out ice-soaked cloths and they looked really concerned.
“Yeah, that’s right, self. You poor thing. No one runs a marathon in a heatwave. Just keep on keeping on. Your chance of a good race is done.”
I hit mile 21 in Buffalo almost exactly 1 minute slower than in Boston, and I knew it. The biggest difference between the two runs was that in Boston, I was ready to gut it out. In Buffalo, I was ready to go home, and I subconsciously shut things down knowing this.
Mile 22: 7:16
I looked at the 22nd mile marker and distinctly remember thinking, “wow, I’m actually running this thing. Holy shit.”
This was a defining moment in the race.
While I had mentally given up on any sort of big PR way back at mile 17…mile 22 is when I just gave up entirely. Anything I was hoping for out of this race was over. I was tired. I was hot. I had just taken a shit in an alley.
The fire inside me was already extinguished before I even stepped foot on that marathon course, but the ashes totally blew away at mile 22.
Miles 23-25: 7:30, 7:44, 7:43
Miserable. These miles were completely miserable. I told myself to finish because I thought I was in 5th place…otherwise, I would’ve DNFed. I didn’t care about a good race anymore. I didn’t care about a PR. I just wanted to win my $500 and get the hell out of Buffalo.
I got a little emotional going through the rolling hills on this portion of the course. Being the drama queen that I am, I teared up thinking about how my spring season was a bust, and how every time I tried to run a decent race this spring, the weather thwarted my plans.
Mile 26-26.2: 7:24, last .41 at 6:44
Gabe had been biking alongside of me for the past 3 miles, and we were completely silent. He knew better than to try to encourage me, but I was silently immensely thankful for his support and love.
As I ran the final mile, back into the city of Buffalo, I passed an elite runner who was rubbing her belly from GI discomfort. Passing her, I wasn’t sure if I was in 4th or 5th place…but either way, I was just finishing to get the cash. I had zero concept of what my time was going to be.
Any time I tried to go any faster than a 7:30 in the final few miles, I felt my insides exploding again. My stomach wasn’t happy with me either, and I desperately needed to finish the race and refuel.
FINAL MARATHON – 3:09:12
It was the most unexciting marathon finish of my life. It didn’t even seem like I had run an entire marathon. The Buffalo Bills tried to loop the finishers medal around my neck, but I just extended my hand to receive it, head down in shame. At that point, I just felt empty; in shock about how much that experience had sucked. (I was also still relishing in the fact that I had just taken a shit in an alley of downtown Buffalo).
I chugged a bottle of water and started the hobble back to the car with Gabe. I didn’t make it 2 blocks before I HAD to go to the bathroom again (this time in a Dunkin Donuts, not in an alley, thankfully). From there, I was only able to walk 5 more blocks before I had to go to the bathroom again. And then the stomach cramps were completely unbearable. I spent the rest of the morning feeling like I had been hit by a truck, alternating between the toilet and a horizontal sprawl on the floor of our non-air conditioned, 90° Airbnb. I could barely choke down a protein drink, I was so sick. I eventually ended taking another dose of Imodium to calm my stomach down.
Once my GI system was under control (literally hours later), we packed up the car to go to my childhood home just outside of Syracuse. My legs felt fine and Gabe actually marveled at the fact that I had just ran a marathon and was moving around like no big deal. It was bittersweet hearing him say this, as I knew I didn’t nearly push myself as hard as I could have.
It was over. While I never saw the marathon result I wanted this spring, I finally had closure of 10 months of training. In a way, I was relieved to put an end to it all.
Now I see the silver lining with the whole double marathon thing. The biggest takeaway? I realize how really freaking hard it is to run a marathon, let alone two back to back. Respect the distance, people.
On a personal level, running two marathons back to back is something totally new to me. Before this, I had only run one marathon per year. Doing Boston and then immediately jumping into Buffalo was a huge learning experience.
I also haven’t run any other marathons besides Boston in 3 years and I forgot how fun marathoning is in new places. I had a really great time in Buffalo with Gabe and the race went by pretty quickly because of the new sights.
I found out a few hours after the marathon that I did not, in fact, get 5th place, nor did I get $500. I came in 6th place out of 1,436 women. I missed out of 5th place by 21 seconds – aka, the time spent taking a crap at mile 19.5. Apparently the 5th place woman passed me while I was relieving myself…and I had no idea. Had I realized this, you bet your bottom dollar I would’ve fought for that finishing place.
And this is why it’s important to never settle.
So I’ll move on from this, and from the marathon for now. I have no desire to run another marathon this fall…so I won’t. I’m craving speed again, and my body needs a break from the 20 milers. I’ve decided to focus on the half and 10k.
Running a sub-3 marathon doesn’t scare me, but this wasn’t my year for it…so we’ll see what happens next time. It was the first time I didn’t hit a big running goal on the first try. Guess I’m not invincible. All I know is that I’m happy and so SO thankful to be healthy and uninjured right now. My running career has been nothing but a seemingly endless injury cycle and, until now, I haven’t been able to string together 12 healthy months of running since I first started training in 2013. Buffalo left me feeling upset…but also ridiculously motivated to never put myself in a position like that again. And, after a solid recovery month of June, I’m rested, pissed, and hungry for more.
Hey summer running: get at me. I’ve got PRs to hit in the fall.