I turned 44 this year.
This age sends most suburban moms to their inboxes in search for Botox Groupons, but not the runners. Runners love getting “more mature.” They know that the older you get, the slower your qualifying time is for the notoriously elusive Boston Marathon. My training has gotten more serious over the last few years and my times have continued to get faster. I knew this year was my best chance to make it.
My running partner Abby and I decided to train with Hanson’s Advanced. This is similar to the training we used for Chicago 4 years ago, but with even more miles. It was an 18 week training program were we ran 50-60 miles a week, often starting before 5 am in order to get all the workouts in before life started. Abby, being younger, needed to finish 10 minutes faster than me to get in to Boston, so we trained for time of 3:40 (I needed 3:50).
I originally heard about the Wineglass marathon in a Runner’s World article. It’s a point to point well organized race, with minimal hills and cool fall weather in a small town that is ideal for a BQ (Boston Qualify). The race turned out even better than promised. I would highly recommended it for anyone wanting to BQ or looking for a beautiful, well organized fall marathon or half.
The Town of Corning
We flew into the precious little airport of Elmira, New York on Friday night. Originally we had booked flights into Rochester which is two hours away; not realizing Elmira was an option and only 15 minutes from the hotel. On the flight I read Meb Keflezighi’s book 26 Marathons where he details the lessons he learned in each of his professional marathons. His book and amazing story of the American dream were so inspiring. He gave a talk at the pasta dinner Saturday night before the race, but we were bummed that we had missed out on getting tickets.
We stayed at the Radisson which was the race hotel and uber convenient for all the race festivities. The rooms were comfortable and the restaurant was tasty and reasonably priced. My first 2 marathons were large races (Nashville and Chicago) that required walking miles after the race to get back to our room. Having to only walk two blocks and not having to fight any crowds was perfection after running 26.2 miles.
Saturday morning found us well rested. We drank coffee in bed and walked down to the hotel buffet for a tasty breakfast. We relaxed and read books uninterrupted, without hospital pages or small children demanding snacks. It was amazing. During our “shakeout run” we explored the town of Corning in an unsuccessful attempt to calm our nerves.
My brother, who lives in Syracuse, came to spend the day with us. He joined us to pick up our packets at the Corning Museum of Glass. The museum is famous for their glass pumpkins and you can actually sign up to make your own. Sadly these spots were sold out; but we did get to design our own wineglasses which was a cool experience and a great memento.
Saturday night we went to bed early with hopes for a good night’s sleep. It is a point to point race, so you must get up early to catch buses to the start. All the race material encouraged us to get on as early a bus as possible. Neither of us could sleep well, so we ended up getting up at 4 am and having plenty of time for our bagels and coffee and to catch an early bus at 6 am.
The bus ride was supposed to take about 30 minutes, however we ran into a bit of a hiccup. When our bus driver exited the freeway and pulled up to the stop sign at the end of the off ramp; she pulled out a large paper map and asked if anyone knew where we were going, because she wasn’t quite sure. Those of us in the first few rows laughed at her funny joke initially, but then an awkward silence developed as we realized she was not joking. A runner in the front row kindly pulled out his phone and used his GPS to help guide her to the starting line. When we got there the police stopped us to notify the driver she had to enter through the back streets, which required us to backtrack for another 20 minutes. As the bus driver attempted to turn the bus around, mumbling under her breath and running over a few curbs in the process, the nervous energy in he air was almost palpable. Despite the hiccups, the bus full of type A marathoners and New Yorkers, was amazingly kind to this bus driver. No one complained, and everyone thanked her for volunteering for us. She did eventually get us to the starting line and really, I would have much rather spent that extra time on a warm bus than waiting around at the start line.
The Starting Line
At the starting line there were plentiful port a potties and a large tent with chairs for you to sit in while you wait for the race. Yes, you read that correctly, chairs to rest your legs. I have been in a lot of races, and I have never had this option. It was FANTASTIC!
Thanks to the tent, we did not have to spend an obnoxious amount of time in the que before the start. There were not enough people to need corrals, so all the racers lined up by the appropriate pacers and before we knew it, we were off. The initial few blocks were down hill and the crowd thinned out quickly, so we were able to find our stride almost immediately.
After a week of taper, I felt strong and ready to run. The first 10 miles seemed to fly by. Our plan was to start out at an 8:20 pace and then attempt to go faster in the last 6 miles (when the race really starts), but every time I looked down at my watch I was going closer to 8:10. I kept trying to go slower, but I couldn’t seem to calm my adrenaline enough to hit my desired pace. After training in the draining heat and humidity of Tennessee for four months, the 50 degrees on race day was indeed perfection.
With picturesque small towns, country roads and colorful fall foliage, the course felt like we were running through a Bob Ross painting. A decent hill took up most of mile four, but otherwise the course was mostly flat with a net downhill elevation. The small towns were lined with spectators, but the roads in between were peacefully empty.
As we approached the half way point, I could tell that I couldn’t hold this pace for the rest of the race. I wasn’t hurting, but I was having to put forth more effort than felt comfortable. Abby’s goal was faster than mine, so I decided to try to stay with her through 20 miles and then slow down; however at mile 15 she picked up the pace further, so she went on ahead without me.
At mile 17 was when the race really started for me. It began to feel like someone was jabbing toothpicks under my left toenails with each step. I have lost toenails before, but never felt such sharp acute toe pain. It was time for all the mantras and to focus hard on my pace. Many times during this stretch I thought abut the lessons learned in Meb’s book and all the many ways he pushed through the pain to go on to marathon victories.
Luckily, by mile 20 the toe pain had subsided, but now every other part of my body began to hurt. The Wineglass used the Race Joy app for friends to track you during the race. Not only could they track you, but they could send you messages during the race that would play through your earphones. There were preset phrases and songs they could send or they could type out a personalized message. Hearing encouragement from family and friends in those final miles was a huge boost. The app also gave you your mile splits, average pace and estimated finish time in your earphones at each mile. By mile 20, I don’t think I hit the wall; because I never felt that I couldn’t keep going; but I knew that I could not go any faster than I was currently going. I was secretly hoping to qualify for both New York and Boston, but I realized around mile 20 that wasn’t in the cards. In those agonizing last few miles, I was totally fine with that. The idea of running 2 marathons in 1 year seemed ridiculous. I was so ecstatic that I was going to BQ, and I didn’t care about anything other than getting to the finish line to make the pain stop.
I passed Abby at mile 21, neither of us had the energy to even talk. I felt bad for not trying to encourage her, but I could tell she was giving it her all. I wish we could have both crossed the line together hand in and with a time of 3:35, but it was not meant to be.
The last five miles were a blur. It was a weird feeling, I was in so much pain, but I knew I was almost there. As long as I kept moving, then I was going to Boston. The course was wound through the town and through several parks. Some areas of the the paths were at little uneven so you had to pay attention not to stumble–this would probably be my only compliant about the course. I walked through one water stop in the last mile and quickly realized that was a mistake as my legs started to seize up and it was challenging to start moving again.
The Finish Line
The final stretch of the race was down the quaint main street of Corning. It reminded me of the final stretch of many of our local races that finish in downtown Franklin. When I crossed the finish line, I had nothing left. I gave that race all I had. My gait was so pained that one of the volunteers offered me a wheelchair. I was tempted but I knew if I could keep moving I would feel better. My final time was 3:40. I was going to Boston! Then I saw Meb.
Meb was at the finish line congratulating the winners. I was overcome with emotion and I stumbled toward him, arms outreached like he was my son returning from war. I gave him a giant sweaty hug and thanked him for the inspiration in his book. As the tears ran down my face, I told him that I qualified for Boston. He graciously congratulated me and didn’t complain about my body odor. I then heard Bart Yasso announce my name as a finisher of the race. It was an epic way to finish a marathon.
Abby finished a few minutes after me. While she didn’t qualify for Boston (she is younger so her cut off is 10 minutes faster), but she set a 6 minute personal record and she was content with that time. The Radission was thankfully only two blocks from the finish, but it felt like another two miles as we limped to our rooms. Every muscle fiber hurt in our body hurt, but we had never been happier.
I can never wait to get into the shower after a race, but after the Wine Glass it was more like a crime scene than a spa. Between the screams of pain from the water hitting our chafing and the blood stains on the floor from our bleeding toenails, I’m surprised no one called the police while we were showering. After celebratory naps, we ate dinner at The Cellar, a fantastic restaurant that was only a few blocks from the hotel. Sunday night we slept like babies and spent Monday visiting a few of the local wineries near Watkins Glenn which was only 30 min away and near the Elmira airport . We had a late flight, so we got to explore the country side a little more.
The Wine Glass Marathon was phenomenal race. It still seems surreal that I actually qualified for the Boston Marathon and that I will get to participate in such a significant race. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would ever qualify for Boston, I would have laughed at the absurdity of that statement; but now at age 44, I am making plans to head to Hopkinton April 2021!