Boston

I learned a new trick today.  If you’re ever running behind for a flight and are afraid waiting in the baggage check or security lines may cause you to miss your flight, I have a simple solution for you.  Just stagger limp scoot your way up to the guys waiting at the curb by the passenger drop off zone and fall into a wheelchair.  They’ll push you past the lines and right up to your gate in record time!  I could have slept in an extra 30 minutes had I known this trick beforehand.  Aaron joked with me as we arrived at our gate 75 minutes before our flight (I dont recall EVER being that early for a flight) that it was all worth it!  I didn’t laugh but was at least able to smile.

As I evaluate the race yesterday and the few weeks going into the race, there are many things I hope to be able to smile about or at least make sense of and learn from over the coming weeks.  That race was by far the most difficult and painful race of my life.  Before today when asked if running a marathon is as challenging as birthing a baby I would always reply “no way, not even close.”  But now I have reconsidered.  Sometimes under certain circumstances, marathon running does rival birthing.  On a day like yesterday, I think I would actually prefer birthing.  After hours of difficult labor at least you get the reward of a sweet little baby to love and nurture for his/her entire life.  The hours of excruciating pain I endured yesterday only  left me with a thrashed leg, a deflated spirit, and well, a ride in a wheelchair.  As I ran the last 16 miles with stabbing pain in my leg I was drawing strength from my birthing experiences.  The only thing that brought comfort was knowing that there were a finite number of miles to go and the pain would eventually end.  Yes, I wanted to quit. Yes, I wondered if I was damaging my body needlessly.  But my own commitment to NEVER give up combined with my pride and stubborn character pushed me onward.

Aaron reminded me that two key ingredients are required to form both diamonds and butterflies.  Time and pressure.  A lot of it.  Well I got a big dose of pressure yesterday. Now I need time to heal and grow.  I thought before the race that my injury three weeks ago was the trial of my faith that would sufficiently humble me and prepare me to dig deep and run well in Boston.  I felt healed and strong going into the race.  My foot was better than it had been in weeks and my hip and quad were pretty loose. I felt great on my pre-race run Saturday night with BYU girlies, Anika and Emily (who also raced) and I felt even better Monday morning in my warm up with Danielle.  Had I known what was in store for the race, I probably wouldn’t have even gotten on the starting line but all of my pre-race self-check and evaluation led me to believe I could run the entire 26.2 miles and run it well.

I talked to Clara Grandt before the race and asked her if she wanted to work together the first half to help each other stick to a 5:45ish pace.  Its tempting in Boston to go out too fast since there is so much downhill in the first half but according to Coach D and everyone else I have ever talked to on the matter, going out a little too fast in Boston almost ALWAYS catches up to you and leaves you with a slower finish time than if you would have saved your legs for the second half and run even splits.   Clara was happy to work together and stick to the plan with me.

The elite women’s start went off right at 9:32 a.m. and about 20 women shot out like cannons with Kim Smith way out front.  That first steep downhill was as easy as falling but Clara and I kept the reigns on and stuck to the plan.  With a slight tailwind and so much downhill in those first 8 miles, 5:39-5:45 pace felt effortless.  I was happy and excited, feeling very confident that I could hold that pace for the entire race.  It almost felt too easy but I was trusting Coach and his advice to stick to the pace while resisting the temptation to run faster.  I hope I didn’t bother Clara with my chatty comments.  I was enjoying her company feeling like we were just on a nice pleasant training run in Boston together.

Its interesting how quickly the tide can turn and amazingly easy can change into excruciating within a matter of minutes.  It wasn’t like I stepped wrong or hit a pothole or anything but over the few miles somewhere between miles 8-11 my left leg started resisting the running motion.  It felt as if a little gremlin crawled out of hiding in my leg, set up camp on my left quad, and began gnawing away at the muscle tissue.  It was bearable at first.  “I’ll just slow down a little” was my initial thought.  So I did.  And it worsened.  Between these miles I saw a few different women who were also having “one of those days.”  I passed Blake Russell walking back on the sidewalk, an African hobbling on the side of the road, and Catherine Ndereba slowing dramatically but still pushing forward.  After leading the entire race alone, Kim Smith also dropped out later on due to a severe muscle cramp.

By the time I got to mile 16 my own muscle cramping gremlin had invited his entire family over and they were having a campfire with the chopped pieces of muscle fiber they had chewed away.  Every step shot pain up my leg and taxed my body in an unfamiliar way.   I prayed that I could push through and ignore it, but pain-free euphoric running was not what God had in store for me today.  Coming up the hills between mile 16-21 were slow and excruciating.  I thought I could make up some lost time on the downhill but that was almost worse.  I tried to just enjoy the scenery and soak in the Boston experience of the enthusiastic crowds and energy out on the course but it was a challenge with my leg requiring all of my mental focus just to keep moving forward into the next step.

Somewhere around mile 23-24 I was asked by a race official to stay to the left as the men were about to pass.  About 8-10 cars and motorcycles passed me on the right as I moaned in pain.  When the men flew by at world record pace I felt as if I were standing still.  They looked so smooth and effortless like cheetas running through the African plains.  I longed for that feeling and felt uplifted and inspired by their amazing bodies and animal-like prance.  A few minutes later another African runner flew by with Ryan Hall shortly behind.  I had just finished reading Ryan’s book, Running With Joy on my plane ride to Boston and it was awesome to see Ryan running so strong near the front, running an unofficial American Record.

With only one mile to go the crowds were amazing.  Every sideline was 2-5 people deep with screaming and cheering marathon fans.  I wished I could have run faster and looked more happy to be there but my face was clenched in pain as my body limped to the finish.  I was passed by a woman who must have been going through similar excruciating pain only in her stomach and bowels which had disagreed with her profusely and left their mark all down her legs.  I felt sorry for her and was impressed with her finishing kick despite the obvious discomfort she must have been in.

The left turn onto Boylston Street could’t have come soon enough.  I let the crowds carry me home in a pace that was over a minute per mile slower and a hundred times more difficult than those first easy 8 miles.  I shed tears of relief as the finish line neared.  Moments after passing over the Boston Marathon Finish line paint stenciled on the road as I slowed to walk, my legs completely seized up and brought me to the ground.  I have never experienced that type of muscle cramping before and the medical people were concerned about my hydration and mental state but I assured them I was fine, my legs were finished.  I had executed my fueling plan perfectly and felt properly hydrated and fueled along the course, having taken 70-80 calories of EFS electrolyte drink in 6oz. flasks every 5K, but the problem was simply a mechanical disruption that was disabling the use of my left leg.  The problem was Mr. Gremlin and his family.

Two kind gentlemen held my arms and walked me to the athlete recovery area.  I had a nice cry, lots of liquid, and a gentle massage.  I saw Clara in the recovery area and my tears of disappointment and pain turned to tears of joy and excitement for Clara.  She stuck to the pace we had initially started out at and ran 2:29:54 in her debut marathon!!!  Amazing!  Clara is a friend I’ve made over the past year of racing in the USA running circuit races.  She is a tenacious racer and has a very sweet demeanor and magnetic and friendly character.

I called Aaron and shed more tears of disappointment as he comforted me.  He was just glad to know I was ok and hadn’t torn my planter fascia or anything drastic.  Aaron, Coach D, and my agent Bobby were waiting for me in the lobby so I made my way out to them and we sat and talked for some time.  We all commiserated together and they comforted me and reminded me that every runner has a disappointing race from time to time, unfortunately its just part of the job.  I know they are right and I know I will move forward from this but I just had to feel sad for a bit.

As I take a step back from those feelings and look at the big picture, I have to be grateful for where I’ve come.  A few years ago I wouldn’t have even dreamed of running 2:38 in Boston, much less on a bum leg.  I’ve been blessed with a podium finish in four national championship races over the past year and countless PRs.  I’ve been able to train at a higher level with more mileage and have been relatively healthy (despite the past few weeks.)  I’ve learned a ton about how to strengthen my hips and core and keep certain niggles at bay.  I’ve deepened relationships with running friends and made countless more friends in the nation-wide running community.  I’ve gained a stronger belief in myself and faith in the possibilities.  My faith in God and gratitude for His goodness is deeper than ever.  The support from my family and friends has cemented in my heart and instilled an urging to continue striving to be my best self.

Although ending my season on a less than ideal race was the last thing I wanted, it has been a great season and the journey all along the way has been epic and life changing.  Boston, I’ll be back.  Next time with a healthy leg and vengeance for redemption boiling deep in my soul.

Aaron played this song for me the night before the race.  It put me in a good mood then and is giving me peace and healing right now.  We truly ARE only getting better.

Joshua Radin, We Are Only Getting Better

Last, but certainly not least….some pictures for your viewing pleasure.

The LDS Church in Cambridge where we went to Church with Emily Mars Raymond and her family.

Walking home from Church with Emily, Anika, and clan.

Ryan Hall setting the American RecordTop three women.  Desi fought a HARD battle and won 2nd place overall, top American.Kara Goucher, 2nd American, 5th place overall femaleClara’s sub 2:30 debut! 3rd American, 16th place overall femaleDo I look like I’m hurting?  I am.

6th American, 21st female overall

15 Comments

  1. jmock

    Awesome report and reflections.

    Best of luck in the recovery.

  2. Tiffany Strong

    Nan, you really inspire me. You are a mother first, and then one heck of a runner. I admire your openness and honestly when you write.
    My 5th graders think you are “very pretty!”
    It has been fun to share your running with them.
    I love you, I am praying for you.
    ~Tiffany Strong and Baby Strong

  3. Anna Hughes

    What a race! Nan you are amazing, running a marathon with a family of nasty gremlins. OUCH! You are an inspiration. I wish you a speedy and full recovery.

  4. Jon Allen

    Nan- that’s hard, having a tough race on such a big day. You have had a heck of a year so far and will bounce back. Good luck and thanks for being a great example to all of us.


  5. Nan, im amazed at your running! Boston is a course that I have not figured out yet. Ive done it 3 times and my splits are great till the Newton Hills. I have been learning how to transition from running uphill to downhill and reverse and it is my downfall. Some runners it doesnt even effect. I hold you as an athlete of great admiration. Keep up the good work! Thanks for the Bday wishes also! See you at the next event!

  6. Amy

    Hi Nan,
    I stumbled across your blog a few months ago but have never commented. I am an aspiring sub 3 hour marathoner and am in awe of you. I was at Boston this weekend supporting my brother and was thrilled to see you run by at mile 16. I’m sorry it wasn’t your best day but I love your attitude. I know you’ll be back with a vengeance!
    Amy

  7. Ashley j

    All it takes is all you’ve got! Way to give it Nan!

  8. Emily Dunn

    You are such an inspiration! I loved reading this and especially, despite the disappointment, your final paragraphs of the amazing progress you’ve made in the last year. Truly amazing! Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  9. Robin Perry

    Nan. You are amazing. How do you do all that you do? I marvel at the accomplishments you’ve had–especially over the past year. Thanks for sharing this experience and inspiring me to be my best self. You’re awesome!


  10. Nan – way to leave it all out there. Stoked to see you make the run at the US Oly team.


  11. Nan – great run! I’m certain that you’ll come back stronger for running the race that you did on Monday. Of course it wasn’t your best day, not even close, but as a test of character you came through with flying colors. Build on that and take it to Houston!


  12. Wow – thank you so much for documenting your races on this blog. It’s truly inspiring. GREAT job!!!


  13. Nan, regardless of what happened, you are still a superstar. I am so glad I met you, and I have been really thankful I have been able to follow this site and learn a little more about you and all the things you do. You are amazing. Boston 2012! I’ll be there, I cannot wait to see what you do there. Chin up!


  14. Nan I saw you on TV during Boston! I was so excited to hear you were running Boston! You did so amazing! That’s so cool you get to be in the mix of all the top in the world and meet them and associate with them and living the dream that so many of us wish for! It would be amazing to be in your shoes, even with an injury, but I hope you recover quickly!


  15. Hi Nan,

    I met you after your phenomenal race at the USA Half Marathon Championships in the massage room. I continue to be amazed at your tenacity and strength, especially after you finished in a 2:38 with a gimp leg at the Boston Marathon. There will be more races for you to win and for you to shine. So many people believe in you and find inspiration in what you do on the roads, no matter if it is a bad race or a good race for you. Keep up the good work. I look forward to following your career as it unfolds!

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