Two Fast Halves Make a Fast Whole.. And an OTQ
Picture this… It’s race day, the legs are feelin’ good, you’re cruising along in an effortless motion, nothing can stop you and you end up running your fastest 13.1 of the year.
BUT... your race still isn't over, which is fine because you're feeling yourself. These are legs of pure power. You run an even faster half than the first, in fact you PR'd. Aka you now have a massive marthon PR and the big ol’ OTQ.
Well, as far-fetched as that may sound, it’s exactly what happened to Volée team member, Cate Barrett, at CIM last weekend, so naturally we have to hear all about it.
Training prep and highlights
I started my CIM build in June this year, but I was dreaming about running the OTQ for a year and a half before that. I had been injured in 2016, so for 2017 I just wanted to train healthy and find out if I liked marathons. I ended up running three in the span of 8 months, so I guess the answer was yes! My PR before this weekend was a 2:54, that I ran at CIM in 2017.
My weekly training plan for this year’s race was pretty typical: a midweek speed workout, a long run, and easy runs. I run with an awesome local group, Rogue Running, for the workouts and long runs. The speed workouts were a mix of intervals, hills, fartleks, and tempos. They consisted of 3-5 miles of “work” at 5K to half marathon paces. The long runs followed a three week cycle: easy long run (16-22 miles), workout long run (same distances, but with workouts included), and 12 mile drop week runs. My easy days were 6-10 miles, and I average 7:45-8:30 pace for easy runs.
In total, I logged between 40 and 55 miles per week. I lifted weights twice a week, and I occasionally swam and went to yoga. My only other training was biking to work about 25 minutes each way.
I’m surprised that this training approach has been as successful as it has, for a couple key reasons.
First, the program is relatively easier than what I’ve done in the past. I only run 5 days a week, which provides wiggle room when work gets hectic or if my body needs to recover. I call this my “minimum viable product” training methodology, which is a term I stole from the software startup world. The idea is that you just do enough to validate that your plan is working. If it sticks, you can keep going and keep improving.
The second reason I’m surprised this worked is that I barely did anything that made the goal (6:15 pace for 26 miles) seem possible. I ran two halves earlier in the year, and I only ran 1:24 and 1:26. So I was supposed to double those distances, and run them faster? Right. Well, since I live in Texas, a lot of my training was done in warm weather. We slowed my marathon goal pace to 6:30 / mile for long run workouts. But I couldn’t even hit that until mid-October. For most of my training cycle, I felt dumb for being as blindly hopeful as I was. Nothing on paper was indicating this was possible. But I knew that other women who had similar PRs to me had run the OTQ, and I knew I was training a lot harder than I had the year before. So I kept grinding and hoped it would all work out.
How I felt going in:
Thankfully, once we turned the corner into real fall in Texas, my workouts started getting faster. I hit 10 miles at race pace in a long run workout one day, then I raced a hilly 10-miler at 6:04 pace. Those performances made the goal seem more doable.
Also, my coach Chris ended up having the same goal time for CIM as me. We decided to run together. One of the things I appreciate about his coaching is how level-headed he is, which contrasts well with my hyped-up “SQUIRREL!” personality that comes out on race day. Knowing he’d be on the course gave me a lot of confidence that I could weather the mental ups and downs of a race.
Race thoughts and feelings.
The race went very, very well. I almost can’t explain how good I felt. I’m not sure if you can do anything to make these kinds of days happen, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let it slip away. I locked into my pace after two miles. I didn’t care what other women were doing. My job was to stick with Chris, at 6:15s. I felt anxious at first, but after 3 or 4 miles I realized that I was feeling better and better every mile.
There was a couple from Alabama running nearby us. Kelsey, the wife, was wearing a striped blackbird crop so I said hi. Her husband was pacing her, and we traded a few jokes. It was only mile 9 but we felt so, so good. We were practically giddy. I’ve never laughed out loud in a marathon before.
We crossed the half in 1:22. I tried to keep my excitement under wraps, but I allowed myself a fist pump and to brag “That’s my fastest half marathon in three and a half years!”
I was really looking forward to miles 16-20, because it’s downhill and has some lovely tree cover. Then I was excited for 20-26 because I wanted to turn on the burners and race. Chris cracked a smile (his first possibly) at mile 17. “We’re gonna do this, Chris,” I told him. And at that point, I knew it. I felt so good.
I was itching to get faster, and I was starting to feel other women pulling up and passing us around mile 21. We crossed that marker at 6:20, just a hair over our goal pace. We were going to start our fast close at 22, but I whined, “That felt slow.”
“You should go,” Chris said.
“Really?” I asked. I didn’t want to leave him, but we’d talked about this moment for either of us.
“Find your rhythm,” he said. So I took off. 6:05.
I crossed the last bridge, from Fair Oaks Blvd. into east Sacramento, waving at the spin class rocking out and cheering there. I headbanged a little to their music and got lightheaded. I knew I was going to qualify. But now, how fast?
I hit the Oiselle cheer station close to 24. I waved excitedly. I was afraid people were going to think I was having too much fun and wasn’t running hard enough. So, I ran a little harder. But I kept smiling.
I barely remember a thing from the last five miles of CIM in 2017. Tunnel vision had set in. But this year I was soaking it all in. The crowds. Big buildings. The little shops lining the streets. The fall colors.
I wanted it to be over, for sure, but I was still having a lot of fun. I danced a little every time I heard music.
You don’t need to look at your watch at mile 26 of a marathon, but I did. Validation. Now, kick! I hit those last two sharp turns where it feels like your legs will buckle after doing nothing but running in a straight line for 26 miles. And then, the finish.
Running it in, I gave three “f**k yeahs” a la Shalane winning NYC--and like Sarah Mac OTQing here a few years ago. Serious everywoman inspiration. I envisioned this moment so many times. It gave me chills back then. At the race, it was just exuberance. I put my hands up like I won a gold medal. My friend James, one of the most encouraging running buddies I’ve had, was there waiting. We hugged. I screamed. I turned around and saw my Rogue friend Sarah Rimel finishing, also in an OTQ. You can hear me in her finisher’s video. It’s loud. “SARAH!” I yelled, hands up again.
We scooped her off the ground and into a hug. “We’re going to the Olympic Trials,” she said.
And we screamed again. An emotional release. I started coughing because I had a cold earlier this week. We caught teammate after teammate through the chute. 2:48 for our first-timer, Katie. 2:49 for Beck, an 11-minute PR. 2:52 for my workout partner, Kaitlyn, a 7 minute PR. James had ran a 7 minute PR too, 2:36.
It was a blur. I tried to call my mom, but she didn’t pick up. I kept seeing more and more of my Rogue teammates. How did you feel? Way to go! There’s hot soup over there. My feet hurt. Where’s the massage tent? We need a photo. We need another photo. There’s Jake! He’s got tears in his eyes.
And then again, because it didn’t get old, we’re going to the Trials!
I’m extremely encouraged by Sunday’s race result. I haven’t decided what I’m running next. Everything sounds fun, from racing the 1500 on the track, to blowing my half PR away (1:21:30, technically...I beat it in the second half of the race), to shooting for the A standard in the marathon, to trying a trail ultra. I just love this sport so much. Fortunately, now that I have the qualification, I have some more flexibility.
Loosely, I want to be as competitive as possible at the 2020 Trials. I doubt the course will be as fast as CIM, but with the 11-minute improvement I made last year, I think chasing 6-7 minutes faster is realistic. Why the hell not? I think there are a lot of routes I can take to that improvement, so I’m not worried about the specifics for now.
Runners are notorious for never being satisfied and believing that they can do more. That used to depress me, but now I’m looking at that as a blessing. It keeps feeding into a growth mindset. I do think you should celebrate your victories along the way, but I’ve been doing that. I was so happy just to win a dog 5k last year. I was happy to run my first 50 mile week in two years earlier this summer. Running this qualifier is of course thrilling, and I can’t wait to compete at the Trials, but I know that it’s not gonna be my end point.