a new PR and the power of positive thinking

I have a story to tell.  I’m not sure where to begin.  Do I start with 6 months ago when my baby was 4 weeks old and I ran my first mile postpartum?  Do I retell how I fought so hard to regain my strength and courage to get out there and run, despite my out of whack SI joint, awful hip and back pain, a tail bone that hurt in the middle of the night, my incredibly weak pelvic floor, etc?

It has not been easy, but it has been so worth it.

Since my third baby was born 7 months ago, I have set a new PR in every race I have run except for the first one which I ran when he was 10 weeks old (and I was not out there to race at all – just to cover 10 miles on my 35th birthday).   I am living proof that hard work, determination and belief in oneself makes a difference.  That the only limits to what we can achieve are those we place on ourselves.

Yesterday I ran a marathon and I set a new PR by just over 25 minutes.  I only signed up for it a week ago.  It wasn’t on my training schedule to do it but I got the idea that maybe I could run a BQ time for the 2012 race before the deadline.  I was ready and I was sure I could do it.

So, with less than a week to go, the closest race I could find  (the Lehigh Valley Marathon in Allentown, PA) was a 4 hour drive away and registration was closed.  I emailed the race director and tweeted Bart Yasso (who created this race) and was amazed that within a few short hours I had a bib number and was going to be running this marathon.  I was so excited.  I was dreaming big.  Last week can only be described as insane for me.  I ran a race on Sunday (the VA Beach half marathon) and PR’d by more than 13 minutes.  I rested like CRAZY during the week only running a handful of miles.  My daughter started first grade, we had a wild amount of rainfall and then by Friday two of my three kids had a bad cold.  Guess who came down with the cold on Saturday?  Yep, ME.  I did my best not to worry about that though.

Saturday morning my husband Robert (a.k.a, the most amazing man in the world) and I drove the two big kids to my mom’s house where they would stay for the weekend.  I filled several bottles with water and nuun and hydrated like it was nobody’s business on the 4 hour car ride.  By day’s end I drank more than 150 ounces of fluid.  I wanted to do an extra-good job with hydration because of my cold. 

even baby G is a fan of nuun (the bottle, anyway)!

The car ride was lovely and peaceful.  I slept when the baby slept and we made it to the expo before it closed at 5pm.  I was calm and felt incredibly ready for this race, despite a week of major emotional ups and downs.  Self doubt was washed away and I was feeling so grateful and excited.

This was a very small race with just over 900 marathoners.  There was also a marathon relay going on and a half marathon too.  The expo was teeny-tiny but the vibe was great.  This area of PA is so beautiful and picturesque.  The expo took place at the old Bethlehem Steel Stacks which have been converted into a place for the arts.  It was *oh so very cool* in my opinion, that they could take this huge steel mill and turn it into such a wonderful place for the community.  I loved it.

old steel stacks

We didn’t stay at the expo too long because we had to get checked into our hotel and get to dinner before it got too late for me and baby Gus to eat.  But I have to tell you this – being away with my amazing husband and my cute baby was such a gift.  I couldn’t believe this was all happening.  My husband is so supportive of my running and of me and I am so grateful to him for believing in me and for giving me this amazing experience.  As I type this, I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.  I love that man so much.

handsome husband + cute baby = happy me

The hotel we stayed in was excellent, about 10 minutes from the race start.  There was even an Italian restaurant next door so after checking in we walked over there and had dinner.  I ordered a very plain pasta dish with steamed broccoli and spinach.  I tried to keep it as simple as I could and wanted to eat at least 12 hours before race start to avoid stomach issues.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and got the baby settled in for sleep.  This was maybe 7:30PM so for the next 2 hours I got my things together for race morning, we played cards and then got some sleep.  I had a pretty decent sleep despite pressure in my sinuses and a clogged nose due to my cold.  Gus woke up around 3:00AM and I nursed him back to sleep pretty easily.  My alarm woke me up at 4:45 and I began to get ready for the race.  Robert had gotten me a cup of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts the night before and I put it in the fridge of my hotel room so I just microwaved it when I woke up.  All my stuff was all laid out from the night before so I didn’t have to worry I was forgetting anything.

everything I need to be ready to race

Robert and Gus got ready too, I nursed the baby and we headed to the race start around 6:15AM.  I was feeling really strong, confident and ready to race – except for one thing.  My stomach didn’t feel right.  I waited in line for the porta-potties for a long while and when it was my turn (5 minutes before the start!) I just couldn’t seem to make my stomach feel better.  I knew going into this race that I would more than likely have to stop at some point to deal with my stomach.  But it was go time so I headed to the start and tried to put it out of my head.

ready at the start

When I crossed the start line I hit start on my Garmin, but about 3/4 of the way through the first mile I realized it had not started.  I didn’t let it bother me and just clicked start at that point and knew my distance and time were going to be off a bit.  My pace was really the most important thing to me anyway so I didn’t feel worried or too annoyed.

I was aiming for a sub-3:40.  My plan was to do the first half of the race in 8:35 and the second have in 8:00 miles.  I did the first two miles closer to an 8:00 pace but was right on track by mile 3 and felt incredibly strong and comfortable.  My stomach felt full but wasn’t bothering me one bit.  I ate my gel at mile 5 and again at mile 11.  I drank water from my hand held consistently.

This course is SO beautiful!  They had to change the first 5 miles and the last 3 miles because of all the rainfall last week, but it was a gorgeous route.  Much of it was on a lovely tow path with the river on one side and a creek on the left.  Some of it we ran through the woods.  Some of it on paved bike trails.  It was very hilly – mostly rolling hills but a couple of quite massive doozies (especially mile 24).  It was the most beautiful marathon course I have ever run.

I was feeling so strong and steady and then, like a ton of bricks, my stomach could hold out no longer.  I knew I was in trouble and started looking for a spot to “pull over” along the trail so I could take care of my tummy troubles but there was literally no place to stop.  There were woods on my right (between the path and the river) but no openings in them for me to duck into.  I knew I was coming up on the end of mile 17 where there would be an “exchange station” as they called them.  There were 5 of these stations along the route and at each one there were about 4 porta-potties.  In my opinion, as someone who was suffering from stomach troubles, this was not sufficient!  These stations were where the relay runners changed up and they were extremely crowded with spectators and relay runners – many who were planning to use the bathroom.  When I approached this spot I saw Robert for the first (and only) time along the course.  I was so happy to see him but I was in trouble – I was now in “stomach emergency mode” and needed a bathroom NOW.  There was a huge line and I could not wait, so I ran behind the potties to take care of it.  It was awful.  I was so uncomfortable.  My stomach has never been so upset during a race.

approaching the potties, trying to smile

After I was done I felt a lot better and Robert gave me a big hug.  He said “You are doing awesome, babe!  Right on pace.  I’m so proud of you!” and I smiled and told him I was feeling so strong and that up until now I was having zero issues.  I had to go though!  I had a race to finish!!  I zipped back onto the trail and for the next two miles I was cruising along at my planned pace.  But just before Mile 20, it happened again.  And again, there was no place to stop.  I was so frustrated.  It was so bad that if I ran, I was sure I would have a serious accident (and later Robert told me he saw someone who actually did just that – she ran covered in her own excrement – I was not going to do that, sorry!).  So I slowed down and then found myself walking just to calm my stomach down.  From that point on it was a run/walk combo.  I kept scanning the trail to stop, but for the life of me there were no stopping points for someone with my problem.  When I came up on the next exchange at Mile 22.6 the lines for the bathrooms were so ridiculously long that I just did not want to wait there.  I was jogging at that point and figured I knew no matter what that I would PR and that I would finish though would not get a BQ time.

It was hard for me mentally at first.  I was mad that my legs and my heart felt so strong, I felt so fit, yet my stomach was so upset that I could not run this race the way I wanted to.  I ran the first 20 miles on track to finish the race under 3:40 (averaging an 8:23 mile).  The last 6.2 miles took me more than 90 minutes to complete.  BUT I NEVER GAVE UP.  I was determined to not let negative thoughts get the best of me and ruin this day.  I was going to PR!  By a lot!  Despite how awful these last several miles were!!  I began to reflect on how I had gotten to this point, how strong I am and to dream of all the possibilities that lay ahead of me.  Even though I was walking a lot,  I wasn’t being defeated.  I was finishing this race faster than I had ever covered 26.2 miles before.  This was something to be proud of.

I was wearing a very special bracelet on my left wrist during this race.  It says one word on it: BELIEVE.  Throughout the race and especially in these final miles I glanced at it for reassurance and for the reminder of all that I am capable of and all the work I have done.  I looked at it and was reminded not only to BELIEVE in myself but also that there are many people in my life who BELIEVE in me.  I was doing this for me.  I was doing this for them.  I was also fighting to finish for anyone out there who ever doubted themselves or their capabilities because I want to show everyone that with BELIEF in oneself, we can accomplish things we would only dream of.  This bracelet is really special to me and I am going to do a post tomorrow all about it – and will be giving one away! – so if you like it please come back tomorrow to enter my giveaway.

enough said.

The last few miles were sheer survival.  I have never been so happy to see a finish line!  I crossed in 4:09:55 which is over 25 minutes faster than my previous PR of 4:35:09.  I am so proud and grateful.

I am also hopeful.  I know with 100% certainty that I’m capable of a much faster marathon and the one that I am training for, Marine Corps Marathon, is just 7 weeks away.  7 weeks!  I have a few more long runs to do and then taper time.  This time I will not be traveling so I can make sure I eat things that I am sure won’t upset my stomach.  I have time to figure things out and to get myself completely race ready.  Although I rested a lot last week, it was hardly a taper!!

wearing my hard-earned finishers medal

Today I’m feeling good.  My legs are sore but in all the right places.  My feet feel fine.  I’m not hobbling or struggling in any way and I feel ready to get back into my training plan.  I’m taking a rest day today and will resume my normal training tomorrow.

day after the marathon = happy

So, that is the story of my shiny new marathon PR and the fight I put up to get it!  I truly believe that the stomach issues I was having could have ruined the day for me had I let them, and that my determination to think positive is what got me through those last 6 miles yesterday.  There is no question about it.

How do you deal with race day not going the way you planned?  What are your mental strategies for staying positive?

13 thoughts on “a new PR and the power of positive thinking

  1. Wow!

    You don't need any advice from me about positive thinking under duress. I will try to channel your good energy in my race this weekend. That's a massive PR and a week after your blistering half-marathon! You should be seriously stoked for MCM. :^)

    One thought (and you may have already thought of this): I am a chronic sufferer from stomach issues. One thing that has helped (though not cured) me has been eliminating all artificial sweeteners from my diet, at least for a couple of days ahead of efforts that I care about. Nuun is awesome for hydration, I know, and I really like the taste and the low calories….but it has sorbitol in it. That stuff is the devil–they use it as a laxative in constipated infants. I'd never drink it in a race now (though I'll guzzle it after).

    Hope that's not TMI in a blog comment! The main point is that you rocked!

  2. Wow! Amazing story. You set both a marathon PR and a half marathon PR within a week of each other! Incredible! And they were major PRs too. Sorry about the stomach trouble. I have been there and had to run/walk the last 4 miles of a marathon and it was very difficult. But kudos to you for dreaming big and pressing on!!!

  3. You made me cry! So beautiful and you totally rocked it! So sorry you had stomach issues but your attitude is amazing. Thank you so very much for sharing your story! You are one blessed mama and wife and we are for you sharing!!!

  4. Great blog entry, Jessica! Sounds like a hell of a race. Way to be strong and finish. And PR!!! Under duress too!

    My marathon in April went well (PR for me as well) but not exactly as I had planned. I didn't train enough for the hills that happened at the halfway point and my legs DIED. Luckily, I happened to meet up with a guy who was feeling the same way as me. We kept passing each other back and forth from about Mile 17 on… I think we just fed off of each other's energy and determination to get it done in under 4 hours. So I stayed positive by making a friend. 🙂 Sometimes it gets lonely out there. It's comforting to know that someone else may be feeling the same way as you.

    As for staying positive, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I just keep going.

  5. WOOOOW. You are unbelievable. So amazing lady. Thanks for sharing this story. I can't believe you just ran it out of the blue like that, wow wow. Congrats be proud. Meanwhile, i can wait to see you speed through the finish lane at MCM

  6. Jess! Congrats on your amazing PR! I totally understand! I had stomach issues for both of my marathons and for one half so I can totally sympathize. For MCM I wish I could add an * to my time to say “had to stop for bathroom so subtract x minutes”. I have no doubt that once you figure out your stomach issues you are on your way to a BQ. Best of luck!!

  7. haha ok that might have been me your husband saw. finally stopped at mile 17 (in the woods). at least a 3 minute stop!! what the heck was in the water at allentown?! haha oh well, you will kill it at mcm im sure, best of luck!

  8. OH MY!!! i got teary from the point you mention your sweet husband, on… SO proud of you for going after this race for a BQ and when your stomach wasn't going to cooperate you pressed on. Pure inspiration. I love everything about this post. You are amazing!! I love your determination from defying the 'closed entry' to defying the stomach monsters. MCM course better watch out…you are coming after it and will kill it!! Great job, my virtual 'friend'!!! Someday I will have to run some miles with you…

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