My name is Shannon. In 16 short weeks, I will be running the Vermont City Marathon. My big fat goal (BFG) is to qualify for the Boston marathon. The qualifying time for my age group (F, 18-34) is 3 hours and 35 minutes. To improve my chances of actually being accepted into the 2016 Boston Marathon, I am going to shoot for 3:30. This means I must run 26.2 miles at approximately 8:00 min/mile. Whelp.
I ran my first marathon, also the Vermont City Marathon, on May 26th, 2013. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but boy did I learn a lot. Let’s back up for a second – In 6th grade, I joined the cross country team after a traumatic incident involving my nose and a soccer cleat. Middle school cross country races were about 1-2 miles long, and despite walking and complaining during most practices, I somehow managed to display some talent when it came to running.
When high school rolled around, the distance increased but my motivation did not. I joined the cross country team in 9th and 10th grades, but ultimately quit for good mid-season during 11th grade. Although I knew I had it in me to be “fast,” I was missing the mental strength/determination/whatever-you-want-to-call-it required to excel in the sport. I dropped out of more races than I finished. I faked ankle sprains to get out of practice. I wanted to love running, but I just could not force myself to get with the program. When I left cross country practice the day I quit for good, I remember feeling an immense sense of relief that I would never ever ever ever ever have to run again.
Obviously that feeling wore off pretty quickly, because throughout college and law school I ran on and off to keep in shape. I generally maxed out at about 4-5 miles, which seemed like an insanely long distance to run at the time. I flirted with the idea of running a marathon and even briefly “trained” for one, but quickly realized that I did not possess the necessary determination, perseverance, and dedication. Still, I could never fully shake my desire to join the 26.2 club.
Fast forward to February-ish of 2013. Realizing that the Vermont City Marathon was a few months away and for reasons I cannot explain, I found a training plan on the internet, condensed it from 16 weeks to 12 weeks, and got to work. I will never forget my first “long run” of 7 miles. I did it on the treadmill at 5.2 mph. I thought I was going to die. My second “long run” was 8 miles and I ran outside. Again, I thought I was going to die. However, slowly but surely I increased my distances until one day I completed 16 miles. That was the day I actually registered for the marathon. I knew upon completion of that run that, barring tragedy, I could finish a marathon. I finished my first marathon in 4:39:45. I knew nothing about pacing, garmins, or BQ times. I maxed out at slightly over 30 miles/week. (Less than I will be running during Week #1 of marathon training this time around.) I simply ran to finish.
Once I regained my ability to comfortably use the toilet (QUADS!), I realized that I had been bitten hard by the marathon bug. I immediately started thinking about my next race. I set goals. I bought a Garmin 10. However, my body had a different plan. A few weeks after the marathon, I suddenly developed debilitating posterior tibial tendonitis (fancy name for shin splints). I tried EVERYTHING to make the problem go away. KT tape. PT. Compression socks. New shoes. Yoga. Bargaining with the running gods. Eventually, after 6-8 months, the pain subsided to the point where I could run and train comfortably.
I decided that marathon #2 would also be the Vermont City Marathon. I wanted to finish in under 4 hours, but based on my time from the 2014 Unplugged 1/2 Marathon, I think I was realistically trained to run 4:10-ish. To make a long story short, I dropped out of the race around mile 10 due to illness. Boo. There were tears. Lots of tears. And also lots of vomit. (TMI?)
This is when things started to get interesting. A couple of months later, in July of 2014, I ran a local 5K and finished in a time that involved 7-something minute miles. I had not run a mile that started with a 7 since middle school. What had just happened?!? This was a defining moment for me. I realized that I had potential, and I just had to figure out how to tap into it. Around this time, I became increasingly active in my local running club, the Central Vermont Runners. I ran a bunch of races and did well in many of them. Some highlights included:
- Berlin Pond 5 Miler – 3rd in my age group, 38:12 (7:39 min/mile)
- Sodom Pond 4 Miler – 1st in my age group, 28:54 (7:14 min/mile)
- Leaf Peepers 5K (aka the hilliest 5K ever) – 1st in my age group, 22:56 (7:23 min/mile)
Meanwhile, throughout the summer I chugged along training for Redemption Marathon #2, the Green Mountain Athletic Association (GMAA) Marathon on October 12, 2014. I had a big mental boost 3 weeks prior twhen I ran the very hilly and very windy GMAA Common to Common 30K (18.64 miles) in 2:38:27 (8:30 min/mile) as my last long training run. Despite some calf pain about 2 weeks before the marathon, I managed to toe the line feeling incredibly strong both mentally and physically. My goal was still to finish in under 4 hours, but I secretly thought I could pull out a time around 3:50.
The race started out well. I ran the first half in 1:53:13. Right on track. I didn’t even feel like I was running a marathon until around mile 16, at which point my stomach started to hurt. The gels were not sitting well in my stomach AT ALL. I normally eat a gel every 5-6 miles during a race/long run, but after mile 16 I could only tolerate water. By mile 20 my stomach was in very painful knots. I dry heaved a bunch. I wanted to quit. I could see my pace increasing on my watch and my goals slowly slipping away. Luckily, the race was small enough (and the runners spread out enough), that my parents were able to catch up with me on their bikes. They rode next to me for the next 5 VERY PAINFUL miles. I think I would have given up had it not been for them. I did the math and realized that if I could just maintain 10 minute miles until the end, I would still finish in under 4 hours. At mile 25 I knew I was home free and I told my parents to meet me at the finish. However, about 400 meters from the end my legs began seizing up and I almost tripped several times. Several of my friends later told me that it looked like I was hopping toward the finish line. Somehow I managed to dip deep and fight through the pain to finish in 3:56:49 (9:02 min/mile). Had the race been 0.5 mile longer, I probably would not have made it. But I did, and I only shaved 43 minutes off my previous time. 🙂
While there is certainly a big difference between running a 3:30 marathon versus a 3:56 marathon, I feel confident that with the right training and a little bit of luck, I can pull it off. Three weeks after the GMAA marathon, I ran the Race Vermont Fall Half Marathon on the same day as the New York City Marathon. As you may recall, it was a tad windy that day. Despite the wind and hilly course, I managed to set a major PR of 1:41:43 (7:46 min/mile). If I can run that pace for 13.1 miles, I can certainly run 8:00 min/mile for 26.2.
I have a lot of work to do. Boston here I come!