Last weekend, StudiOne instructor Michelle and I traveled to the west coast to run in our Jack and Jill Marathon. We'd been training for 16 weeks in hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I, Sprenkel, was originally planning to accompany Michelle on her BQ attempt and check off the half marathon distance of my 21st state. But, on the day we registered back in February, the half was already sold out. So I committed to the full, but only reluctantly. I, Sprenkel, who after my last marathon in 2013 called my dad to make him promise to never let me sign up for another one, was game to run 26.2 miles again (never say never, eh?) but was not interested in the work or idea of qualifying for Boston. Well, ok the idea of it because what runner isn't? But I am a half marathoner, a recent 5k racer and never in my 10 years of running would I have considered myself strong enough to qualify for Boston. Never. (This is important, are you getting it?)
Somewhere between the time of signing up and starting our official training, I'd been convinced by two women that I could at least train like I wanted to qualify. One of them was Michelle, who was begging for a training partner, and also believed in me before I did. The other was Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to register and run in the infamous 1967 Boston Marathon. I listened to her speak in April and this line brought me to tears, "We are very good at underestimating what we're capable of." That settled it. I flew home to Michelle and we started training the very next week. Who am I to stand in my own way?
The first half of training went really, exceptionally well. Our schedules matched so we were able to run most of our training days together. The weather was great, we were hitting our paces and the grudge of weeks and miles of training hadn't set in yet. Then more than halfway through, our schedules changed, the weather turned nasty and the long miles dragged on. I was making bets left and right to help me eat right and get the last of my miles in. But we dug in and got the training done.
Going into the race, we were both unsure of what to actually expect. Michelle scoped out the course that was most likely to get us a fast time, which is why we hauled ass across the US to run. The 40 degree temperature difference would certainly work in our favor and so would the downhill. But still, that doubt lingered that we could hit the low 8:00 paces because we hadn't been in the Tulsa heat and humidity. I almost tossed in the BQ towel before the race even started.
We had a beautiful first full day in Seattle that we spent carefully eating and touring around. We went for a shakeout run on the river at noon time and barely broke a sweat. It was heaven. There was a lot of chatter about our race strategy to keep us from going out too fast. I definitely couldn't pull one of my 5k race starts where I bolt out of the gate - too many miles for that. We made sure to stock up on fuel for during the race (my Aunt Annie's fruit snacks) and a blanket for the start line since we would be waiting around for an hour. We tried to go to bed early but our nerves kept us up later than we would have liked. Luckily we were running on more than 12 hours of sleep from the previous night.
Race day came at 3am on Sunday. We got dressed in our layers and put our glide on all the proper seams. There are so many sequential things important in this time period. We had to leave by 3:45 am to make it to our 4:30 bus on time. After we were dressed and made sure we had all the watches, headphones, playlists, snacks and pills (salt and Aleve) we would need, we made our breakfast of steel cut oats and ran out the door.
I stayed surprisingly calm throughout the whole morning. I get more nervous for 5ks than I did for this. I was calm on the bus, although I did get a little annoyed at all the race chatter going on on the bus. At that point, you've done everything you can to get ready for the race and I didn't want to hear any more what if this happens or what if that happens? I stayed calm as we huddled under our blanket waiting for the start. Even stayed calm on the walk to the start line and the quick hop into the bushes for one last bathroom break (hey it happens, and you don't want to have to stop on the course if you're going for time). Before I knew it, we were off, and I was still calm.
It felt so good to be running. The mountains were incredible, the temperature was perfect and I had my best running pal by my side. Without a definite plan still, I just wanted to run by feel and keep a mindful approach to my breath and effort levels. About half a mile in we hit the famous Snoqualmie tunnel. For about 2.5 miles of disorienting darkness, we paced behind the 3:35 pace man. It was quiet except for the steps of runners, and occasional drip drip of water in puddles and the steady breathing of a dozen people around me. I didn't have any signal in the tunnel so had no music in my ears.
At mile 3 we popped out the other side and I was so happy to be able to see the whole ground beneath me. I shed my top long sleeve layer and tossed the headlamps into the bucket. Soon after, a flood of my Motigo messages for miles 1-3 came all at once. Michelle and I laughed out loud in excitement of the familiar voices.
For a good amount of miles after the tunnel, we ran together, comfortably and steadily. The scenery was indescribable and I wished often that I wasn't racing so I could have stopped to take pictures. We were surrounded by beautiful green trees, an expansive blue sky above us and the green landscape was dotted with bright, colorful flowers beside the trail. Somewhere in those middle miles, I looked at Michelle and said, "I think we can make it."
When we got to the mile 15 water stop, I knew some of the toughest miles were ahead of us. I was still feeling strong so I kept a pretty good pace. I have to walk through the water stops or I'll swallow too much air, but I tried to move as quickly as I could. Working for the next mile marker and Motigo message with every step. The water tables were about two miles apart and by 17 I didn't have Michelle in my sights anymore when I looked back over my shoulder. We'd made an agreement that we would stay together as long as we could, but then if one of us needed to push on, to leave the other.
There's a famous quote in the running world: "The first half of the marathon is 20 miles, the second half is the last 6.2". And y'all is there truth to that. When I hit mile 20, I was still moving along at goal pace but then it's like all at once all your systems start to shut down. Knees, feet and ankles were aching. Soon the shoulders joined in the party. I felt like I was going as fast as I could but I also knew I had slowed down. But I kept moving. Keep moving for the cheers! I was always excited to see who would be there to greet me at the next mile. And I even got a little miffed on a few miles when I knew there were certain people aware of the difficulty of those miles (18 and 20).
Those final six miles passed so slowly and at this point, after the 3:35 pacer passed me, I had no expectation of hitting a qualifying time. But I was still so so amazed at my own run. The last mile was the hardest: Motigo had no option for cheers at mile 26 (something I plan to speak to them about), a man on the sidelines cheering shouted out, "Just under 500 yards to go" and I spent at least 500 yards trying to figure out how far that is in meters, and still had no finish line in sight, and my shoulders were aching so much. I'd developed a calf cramp that had modified my gait a little bit and was pretty much shuffling along the trail. Then I saw it. And perked up a bit. Despite all the pain, I still felt surprisingly strong so I put on my best sprint and crossed the finish line.
I took my medal and two bottles of water before trotting back to find Michelle. She finished strong, not far behind me. We both hobbled around gathering up snacks and our start line bags. We called or texted our biggest fans with our times and limped over to the shuttle bus. Michelle couldn't feel her legs and I had such a bad cramp in my shoulder that I couldn't move my left arm.
Looking back, a week later, I don't remember any sadness or disappointment from either of us. During the race I was reminded so powerfully of the magic of running, and especially the magic of a well-trained for marathon. They're not always enjoyable, and not every step of Jack and Jill was bliss. But, for most of those 26.2 miles, I felt fearless, strong and capable. I thought back on training struggles, days I wanted to give up, and doubts I had in myself. I remembered years ago when running used to be a punishment to myself for overeating or indulging in delicious food. And I celebrated that now running is a tool I use to feel strong and able. I listened with so much love in my heart to my messages from friends and family, near and far. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and humility that so many people would take time out of their days to cheer for me (Motigo founder reached out to me to tell me I set the record for cheers in a single race <3).
Before the race, I thought of one of my favorite quotes, "Maybe it won't work out, but maybe seeing if it will is the greatest adventure ever." I was at peace at that starting line that even if we missed it, I grew as a runner in that training cycle. My perception of myself and my capabilities completely shifted. I never missed a track workout. I completed long runs in the 80+ degrees of the Tulsa summer, while friends were in town and before vacations. I ran on treadmills on cruise ships. I said no to brunch and dinner plans, donuts and ice cream for 16 weeks. And oh man, did Michelle and I adventure through the city streets and weather of Oklahoma. But I grew. I stretched. I pushed. Michelle gave me the nudge I needed to at least think about it, and then the support I needed to get through it. Kathrine gave me the push to commit to trying. And I gave myself permission to fly. I can't wait to go back and get that BQ!
Don't stand in your own way y'all. We are our biggest critics, doubters and obstacles. If you need a nudge, or a support team like I had, myself, Teresa and the students and teachers at StudiOne can help you. It's fall racing season in Tulsa - pick an October or November race and see what you can do!