Friday, June 22, 2018

Grandma's Marathon: Boston Bound

I have sat and thought about how I'd begin to write this blog. And still.. I'm drawing a blank. Call it writers block, a loss of words, whatever you will. But I'm pretty sure the reason I can't seem to find my keystrokes is because I still can't believe it actually happened.

That's not to say that I didn't have high hopes. Because I certainly did. That's not to say that I didn't KNOW that I could do it. Because I've known for years that this would happen one day. That's not to say I didn't have the faith. Because the good Lord knows we had many conversations regarding running over the last few months. I'm just a realist. My running body isn't young anymore. My left hamstring has never felt fully 100% over the last few months. I know exactly when my body will begin to break down during those 26.2 miles. And I have yet to find a way over that dreaded 20 mile wall. I guess I'll just put it this way. I had more faith in myself than anyone. But I was also just as prepared for this race to not go as I had planned.

Spoiler Alert: It did happen.
And the beginning of mile 19 was one of my stronger moments of the entire race

I woke up on Saturday morning and I couldn't believe how soundly I had slept. I barely heard Rob sneak in and out of the room. My night shifter can't exactly flip his schedule completely so he took a little late night drive on the course while I got my beauty sleep. I made my way to the 4am breakfast that my hotel was serving and I certainly wasn't alone. The room was full of runners, all eyes fixated on the TV screen. The local weather station. The storms that were predicted from the 5am-10am hour had slowed course, now entering the Duluth area mid-afternoon. The high temps would hover around 55 degrees with a low hanging fog. Did I hear that right? The weather was ACTUALLY in my benefit? I even heard rumor that there would likely be a tailwind. You gotta be shittin' me smalls.

5:15am. No rain. Whaaaaaaat?
I got ready pretty quickly since I had everything laid out the night before. Rob might have been lucky to get a few hours of sleep and when I waltzed into the room at 4:45am and flipped the lights on he immediately covered his eyes. "You said we didn't have to leave til 5:30, wake me at 5:29" he said. What actually happened was this: we pulled out of the parking lot at 5:15am so Rob could drop me off at the busses because he know I wouldn't be able to actually wait until 5:30am.

We pulled into the mall and could see all the half marathoners getting onto their busses. That's how early we were. Rob finally kicked me out of the car. I don't know why, but it was hard for me to leave him. I knew that once I did, everything was real. The next time I'd see him would be on course. Mid-race. And that seriously scared the shit out of me. 

The day before, just a few blocks from the downtown/finish line area

I love his love for architecture and boats and bridges

I gave him my kiss goodbye and went to stand in line. I got on the bus and almost immediately I was greeted by an older lady who sat next to me for the 26.2 mile journey from Duluth to Two Harbors. I never caught her name. But she was not a newbie to this sport, Grandma's was her 25th marathon. She rambled on and on. I listened, nodded, and giggled when appropriate. But I couldn't help but stare out of the school bus window, because the sun was actually shining.

Once I got off the bus I started my game of, "how many times can I go to the bathroom before the race starts?" I was all alone, no phone, and had over an hour to kill. I immediately jumped into the porta potty line and made my first peeps. I then went to the medical tent and snagged a couple of tylenol in an effort to be proactive with the pain that was coming my way. Then, I stood in the porta potty line again, because what else do I do? 2nd potty successful. After that I found some open ground and sat down to stretch. Of course it wasn't long before someone noticed my jacket and asked if me I knew Ryan. I met new faces, mingled, and made my way back to the porta potty line for my final bathroom break before I dropped off my gear check bag. I pealed my sweats and was greeted with a nice little chill. I made my way to the start and could feel the wind at my back. Seriously Megan, if you waste this opportunity you'll never forgive yourself. I knew before the gun went off. Today was my day.


Mile 1 - 7:43  The gun went off and it was a lot more crowded that I anticipated. I started right behind the 3:25 pace group and was still shuffling my way through the first quarter mile. It didn't take long though.. the road opened up and I was feeling mighty fine. Fine enough that I had to pull in the reins immediately. I'm really good at taking off to fast at the beginning of the race. I know it. Ryan knows it. And he even gave me permission to "bank" some time in the beginning. Not to much, but he knew it was a losing battle to ask me to run anything under an 8 minute mile. I don't think he expected the first 20 miles to all be under 8 minutes. {Spoiler Alert}.

Mile 2 - 7:51 I had to WORK to make sure this mile wasn't in the 7:40's. I barely scraped by with a 7:51. I didn't want to burn to many matches in the early miles of this race. I kept repeating my early mile mantra in my head: "If it feels to easy at that fast pace, slow down." 

Mile 3 - 7:51  Consistency can also be hard to come by. Yes, it was still SO early but I liked what I was seeing right now. I like these miles. Let's hang out here as long as possible. Mile 3 is also when I met my new friend Emma. Long and short of her story: she had the same exact goal I did. BQ with a 3:30 or under in order to secure our spot. "Hey, my name is Megan... we should try and hang out together as long as we can." This was my plea to the nice 21 year old stranger I was about to cling to for as long as possible. She had no arguments. YES.

Mile 4 - 7:50  I had a feeling I was going to be in trouble if I kept these kinds of miles up. I can pace myself... but I've never been successful at it over such a long distance. I had the angel on my left, Megan, you should really tuck down into the 8:00 range. It's safer. But the devil on my right, Take it and roll with it girl. Chances like this don't happen every day.

Mile 5 - 7:46  Have we been going downhill this ENTIRE time? I swear, I'm not doing ANY work. Also, fog. Like serious fog. We were running within feet of the Lake Superior and couldn't see ANY water at all. Finally, if I keep up this pace I'm sure Ryan will text Rob and tell him to make me slow down. Speedy is gonna yell at you, especially if this race comes back to bite you in the ass. 

This was during the most visible portion of the race

Mile 6 - 7:50  "Emma, are  we really at mile 6 already? How did the first 6 mile FLY by?" She agreed, the miles were ticking by like crazy. Also, I think I took my first gel around mile 6. I don't remember needing it. But I wasn't about to screw up the cardinal rule today: Fuel early and often. 

Mile 7 - 7:51 ROB SPOTTING! I knew I'd see him sooner or later, but it's always a surprise. I couldn't contain myself. 

My friend Emma in the orange hat
Another lady we befriend for about 4 miles before she decided we were to slow for her 🙄

I mean, we're having like ZERO fun obviously 💙💛
Mile 8 - 7:51  The consistency is seriously CRAZY to me. I'm not questioning it though. Just go with it.

Mile 9 - 7:57  Speedy warned me about a "hill" around mile 8. I wasn't sure exactly where it would fall. I thought was going to be around 7.something. Turns out it was around 8.something and it was barely anything. But I made sure to slow my roll going up to make sure to conserve all energy.

Mile 10 - 7:46  Seriously? How am I still (not only) sub 8 but THIS far under 8? Nothing is falling apart yet. My hamstring is still in tact. Emma and I keep taking turns dodging people as we make our passes. We separate but also find our way back to each other. Overall, I did more talking than she did throughout the race. But there was a decent amount of time where we fed off of each other's body language. We knew when to speed up, when to slow down, when to make the pass. It was the weirdest thing. Perfect strangers, in perfect sync. 

Mile 11 - 7:53 Another forewarned "hill" that wasn't truly a hill. But a little later in the race it was noticed a touch more. 

Mile 12 - 7:55 Consistency on point still. Another gel into the gut. Gel miles are always a tad slower for me. I'm still good at choking on water at aide stations. 12 marathons and 6 Ironmans under my belt and every once in a while I take a solid amount of water up the nose or down the wind pipe unsolicited. ::facepalm:: Also, for the record, I'm almost positive I've been running downhill this ENTIRE race. 

Mile 13 - 7:53 Emma and I still hanging onto each other through the halfway point (1:42 and change). I noticed that every once in a while she would fall a half stride behind me. This perfect stranger had me seriously cheering for her. She told me that her last marathon was also a BQ (3:33) but she was unable to register for the race because there were that many FASTER qualifying times than hers. Come on girl we're not playing that game today.

Mile 14 - 7:49 I could tell Emma was possibly going to fall back. I couldn't sacrifice my good day for her but I wanted to make sure she knew exactly where she stood. "Emma, if you happen to have a bad mile, just know that we have 2.5 minutes in the bank. Any mile over 8 minutes, subtract from your bank."

Mile 15 - 7:50 Emma fell back every so slightly. Literally, I could turn barely turn my head to the left and see her a stride or 2 behind me the entire mile. I SO hoped this wouldn't be the last time I saw her. I made sure to stay focused and not lose my rhythm just because I lost my pacer. I got into such a groove that I almost missed Rob.

Oblivious to how close I am to Rob
A runners paradise 😍

Mile 16 - 7:50  I never expected my body to hold out this long. At all. I knew for a fact that any mile moving forward that I could log under 8 minutes was HUGE. Looking ahead of me I could tell my downhills were coming to an end. I wasn't about to start climbing. But when you've been cruising for 16 miles downhill and all of a sudden you're expected to run on FLAT ground it can start to zap the energy.

Mile 17 - 7:56 At this point I'm so used to running damn near the 7:40's that for a split second I was actually MAD with this "slow" mile. HA! Megan, have you forgotten that you still have 9 mile sto go? Take it girl. 

Mile 18 - 7:58 Another mile that seemed like an uphill but was truly just flat in comparison to rest of the miles. Fatigue started to set in. I fully expected my "wall" to hit from this point moving forward with ANY step that I took. Because if you've ever run a marathon you know how quickly that wall can face plant you. One step you're on top of the world and the next you're makin' deals with the devil himself.

Mile 19 - 7:50  WHAT. Where did this come from? I seemed to have gotten a 2nd wind. I spotted Rob on the side of the road and all I could muster was, "I'm still under!" He knew what I meant. He didn't dare say anything in response because he knows just as well as I do how badly the last 10K of a marathon separate the boys from the men. Instead, he proceeded to get on his bike and cruise next to me for a few minutes asking me all sorts of questions I couldn't answer. "Did you see the chef that's beating you? Yea, a guy dressed like a chef carrying a huge pot is beating you." Thanks honey.

Running on top of the world at mile 19 

Apparently this guy was not far ahead of me and I had no idea.
Mile 20 - 8:03 I knew my sub 8 minute mile streak wasn't going to last forever. I just can't believe it lasted damn near TWENTY MILES. Alright Megan. Head down. Eyes forward. Open heart. These last 6 miles are what you trained for. 

Mile 21 - 8:11 I was definitely having to work for my miles at this point. But I had only given up 14 seconds OVER an 8:00 mile and was still WELL below an 8:00 minute average. This is what your bank is for, but ONLY IF YOU NEED IT. Keep your stride long, shoulders relaxed.

Mile 22 - 8:26 Sub 8:30. You're doing just fine, keep it right here and you're golden. Nothing to worry about. Legs weren't feeling the best at this point, but I couldn't believe how much BETTER they felt compared to this point of past marathons. I knew I had a significant "hill" coming up so I did everything I could to keep my bank as full as possible in case I needed to cash it in on Lemon Drop.

Mile 23 - 8:33 Lemon Drop Hill. Not truly a hill, but a bridge you have to cross. But at mile 23 of a marathon anything can be considered a monster hill, curbs included. I made it to the top, gathered myself, and was able to bring my mile time back to where I wanted it without draining my bank, and I didn't feel like I had nothing left.

Mile 24 - 8:31 This was EXACTLY what I knew I had to train myself for. And not just my legs, but mostly my mind. I've been here ELEVEN times before. EVERYTHING inside is telling me to stop. Slow down. Walk it out. Stretch out your hamstring. But I was damned if that devil was gonna win. I thought about 2 months ago. I went to my parents house after work and watched the Boston Marathon with my mom. I watched Desi fight for every step in the worst weather I've ever seen. I watched all the age groupers muscle through with everything that they are. I sat and cried as the first American women took home the Boston Marathon title in 33 years. I remembered how emotional I was that day. And I wanted NOTHING more than to run that course with the Greats of our sport. I wanted to run in the Superbowl of running. 

Mile 25 - 8:17   HUGE mile. Just after my watched beeped at mile 24, I needed to turn the last few miles around. Thankfully, I had a little help. I heard a faint voice behind me on my left, "Hey, I'm back!" EMMA! YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME! I squealed like a school girl. I may have leaped in the air, I was SO excited to have my buddy back. "Emma, we're gonna do it!"  She smiled and laughed. Within a quarter mile of Emma finding me again, I heard my name from behind. "Megan! Kati's friend!" A girl I had met at the Illinois Half Marathon, Kim, who recognized me solely by the logo on my jersey knew who I was and introduced herself. We quickly found out that we were both running Grandma's in attempt to BQ. Mile 24.5 of Grandma's Marathon was the next time I saw her. "OMG KIM! WE'RE GOING!!" I yelled back at her. I couldn't believe it. And just like that, I brought my head up and spotted Rob. I couldn't stop smiling. I was going to Boston and I fuckin' knew it. 

The EXACT second I spotted Rob at around 24.6ish
Notice Emma is back! ORANGE HAT! 
I couldn't get to him fast enough. He was on the other side of the street and I did my best to make my way as close to him as I could. I was almost 25 miles into this marathon and I had damn near solidified my day. I had no reservations with more emotions pouring out of my heart than you can truly imagine. I ran past Rob and belted as loud as I could, "PACK YOUR BAGS BITCH WE'RE GOING!" Without meaning to I created quite the scene and made a lot of spectators bust out laughing. I didn't care, my dream was actively coming true. I was living the moment, I knew it, and I was busting with all the joy. Rob responded with the biggest laugh and yelled back, "You're gonna beat me to the finish line!!" Damn right I am.

This is what we call...



Mile 26 - 8:25 Crowds were thick. My legs felt like they weren't attached. Someone else was moving them, surely not me. One lady was in the middle of the street pointing out all women and getting in their faces. She made her way to me, "You, YOU'RE GOING TO BOSTON!" She told me. I wanted to kiss this woman. Truly I did. But I still had a few strides to go. 

FINISH 3:30:27 I did it. Rob truly almost missed me at the finish line. I played this moment out in my head a million times. I was convinced I'd ugly cry. But no, I smiled and spotted Kim, hands on her knees, panting. I let her know I was close and we embraced in the grossest hug 2 strangers could share. 

Captured on film by Grandma's marathon
Screenshotted by a friend of Kim's
I glanced to my right and saw my Spectathlete. I trotted (yes, trotted) to him and made him kiss me in all my sweaty salty glory. Finding my way out of the finish area I spotted Emma and flagged her down. I congratulated her, thanked her, and wished her well. Talk about one of the coolest stories. This, this is what running is capable of. 

See you in Boston 🦄

Thank you's for this one will certainly get me choked up and are quite obvious, at least to me.

My family. My parents. My brother. As kids, Mark and I were never given limits. Sky's the limit. The older we got, the more mad our goals sounded to our parents. We definitely received a few funny looks. But at the end of the day, we always had 2 permanent cheerleaders. And they are certainly the number one reason I ever dreamed of chasing that unicorn in the first place. And Mark has NEVER thought twice about setting an early Sunday morning alarm to shuffle around a race course when I ask him. He's always willing to pace me on the bike when I ask. He's truly my sidekick that I can't live without. 

As promised, every run is an adventure with my pacer

Rob. My Fiance. My forever Spectathlete. He's about to marry into this mess. He may never truly understand my passion on the deepest level, and may he does. But he's definitely accepted it and knows that it's a package deal. And I can't thank him enough for loving me for who I am, running/triathlete included. We aren't an easy bunch to handle, and he's taken it like a champ over these last 8 and a half years. Next April I'm going to run the Boston Marathon as a Hode and the following month I'm going to marry into the Sloan family ready to continue the fun.


Ryan. I probably sound like a broken record at this point but I can't help it. He gave me full disclosure that my training cycle for Grandma's wouldn't be pretty. It wasn't until around April that I truly understood what he meant. Sure, the legs underwent a little speed and some discomfort. But this time around it was all about the mind. I can't tell you how many times Ryan had to dig me out of a mental hole. I can't tell you how many times I dug myself out of a hole because I was to embarrassed to let Ryan think I was that weak. Ryan Giuliano. Resume includes but not limited to: Ironman 70.3 World Champion. Ironman Texas and Ironman Lake Placid Champion. Sub 9 hour Ironman stud. Clinical Therapist. #truth

No questions asked. RyBread For Life

I still haven't found the proper words for all of my emotions almost a week after the race. The obvious is true. Happy, joyful, excited, and beyond. But the deepest of feelings.. Do words exist for those? Sometimes I wonder. I get choked up thinking about next April. For YEARS I was the runner who just needed to move. Times were never important. And then at some point my fire was sparked and here I am. Sometimes it's hard for me to comprehend. Wait.. Boston? Didn't you just run a 4:30 marathon a few months ago? No, no Megan. You're shipping out to Boston.

I've challenged myself over the years. I've dedicated my life to this sport and truly don't know what it's like to not have half of my dresser taken over by spandex running shorts and athletic apparel. I'm living, breathing proof that you don't have to have ALL the talent to chase your dreams that seem untouchable. Saturday's marathon shaved 1 hour and 57 minutes off of my first ever marathon. Nothin' but good ole hard word, dedication, passion, and a fire in my heart got me to Boston. If you want it, go get it.


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