Race Reports, Running

Wine Glass Marathon Race Report

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.

After running 804 miles together in the 18 weeks we started to get a little goofy.

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.

Shakeout run on Saturday

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.

A visit from my brother Jerod.

Race Day

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!

The warming tent was one of the many details that made this race amazing.

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.

Starting line (don’t worry mom, that’s a temporary tattoo)

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.

3:40 finish. A BQ And a 14 minute PR. Meb and I at the finish!

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.

I am amazingly thankful to have such a wonderful running partner and friend. So proud of her and her 6 minute PR.

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.

Wearing our medals on the plane, of course!

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!






Race Reports, Running

Chicago Marathon 2016: Triumph of the “Hanson Method”

The Chicago Marathon 2016. 45,000 Runners going the full distance. The weather was 55 degrees of perfection. I had trained harder for this race, than any other. I stood on the starting line feeling rested and strong, with no excuses not to run my best race.

Shannon, me, Abby and Christina giggling our way to Chicago
Shannon, me, Abby and Christina giggling our way to Chicago

Marathon training for me is more about the camaraderie of the process. Seriously, who wants to get up at 4 am in the dark and run by themselves? I trained and traveled with 3 fabulous runners who also happen to be my dear friends. Our last marathon was also the first for Abby, Christina and myself (Shannon’s our veteran). When we tackled the hills of Nashville in 2014, our goal was simply to finish. I did complete it, but I crashed brutally into the “wall ” at mile 16 and never fully recovered for the rest of the race. Chicago for us was not about just finishing, it was about finishing fast ….at least “fast” for middle age suburban moms.

We read The Hanson Method book and followed the training plan excruciatingly well. It calls for 6 days of running, including intense speed work and blister making tempo runs. The plan packs in a ton of mileage but keeps the “long” runs at 16 miles every other week. We pushed each other to give it our all. I can’t can’t imagine training for a race alone, especially the grueling tempo runs. Even when we couldn’t physically train together due to our hectic schedules, we were constantly texting each other encouragement and/or complaining about how every last fiber of every single muscle in our legs was tired. Despite the intensity of the training we were all a little worried about the lack of the classic “20 miler” in our plan.

My last Tempo run
My last Tempo run

When we boarded the plane from Nashville to O’Hare on Friday, we left behind 10 kids, 4 husbands and all our responsibilities. We were all giggles on the way to the airport. We were going to Chicago. To Run a Marathon. Without Children! It was definatly helpful to go up 2 days before the race to have plenty of time to rest and hydrate before hand.

I was all nerves as we checked in to the hotel (the ‘W’ on Lake shore drive). The training had consumed so much of my most prized commodity: my time. As much as I wanted this opportunity to prove myself and finally have a few days of down time (yes, I consider running a marathon “down time”), there were many times I had felt selfish for choosing to run this race. Granted most of my miles were run before my kids/ husband even woke up, but working mommy guilt is often not logical. Regardless, I didn’t want my training to be in vain. I don’t get the chance to do this often. I wanted it to count.

I tried to follow all the rules including cutting out sugar and alcohol and keeping my caffeine to a minimum (one small cup of coffee… which for a busy OB/GYN isn’t nearly enough) the week before the race. I counted my carbs, which consumed 70% of my calories; which is annoyingly hard when you are not eating sugar. However, I did make an exception that was well worth it. Our dinner Friday night at Geja’s Cafe. I always eat at this quaint fondue restaurant when I’m in Chicago. It did not disappoint. The food, wine and atmosphere were spectacular.

Decadent dessert of chocolate fondue at Geja's Cafe
Decadent dessert of chocolate fondue at Geja’s Cafe

We rested surprisingly well, considering we all stayed in one room. The rooms at the W were quite small so I wouldn’t recommend 4 adults in a double, but we made the most of it. Saturday we slept in and ordered room service coffee. It cost a million dollars, but was worth every delicious drop. We scarfed down a breakfast of pancakes and then made our way to the expo. We walked a mile down Michigan Avenue to catch a shuttle from the Hilton. The skies were crystal clear and a brisk breeze wafted off Lake Michigan. It was a perfect day and the weather man promised race day to be its equal. The city was full of runners and you could feel the excitement in the air.

Checking out the starting line on our way to the expo

The expo was ginormous and by the time we made it there, I think all the other 45,000 runners were also there. I would have loved to spend hours browsing the booths, but we were determined to save our legs. The convention center that the expo was held in was confusingly huge, and we had trouble getting an Uber back to the hotel.  When we finally did head back to the hotel, we got stuck in traffic. It seems that President Obama had come to watch us run as well. While that was nice of him; his motorcade kept shutting down the roads.

Christina ran her 4th Marathon in Chicago set a 20 minute PR
Christina ran her 4th Marathon in Chicago and set a 20 minute PR

The night before the race, we ate pasta in the hotel restaurant and headed to bed early. As much as I love Chicago, this was not the time for sightseeing or late nights out on the town. This was time for race prep.

With 4 marathoners sharing the same bathroom, this came in quite handy on race morning.
With 4 marathoners sharing the same bathroom, this came in quite handy on race morning.

Race morning I ate a bagel with peanut butter and banana, chugged as much water as possible, and headed out. The hotel lobby was packed with runners; the air was electric with race jitters. We were about a mile from the start and decided to walk rather than try to catch an Uber. In hind sight, we would have been fine driving, but I was worried about road closures and getting stuck in traffic.

Ready to Race
Ready to Race

We walked down Michigan Avenue then entered into Grant Park for bag drop and one last trip to the plentiful port-a-potties. Standing in the corral, I once again began to doubt my training. Per the Hanson Method training plan, I had never ran more than 16 miles… could I really run strong for 26? My mantra became “trust the process and stick with your plan.” I was determined to not go out too strong, so I had set my Garmin to alert me if I was going too fast for the first 20 miles.

Sometimes it seems that you are in the corral forever, but it was only a few minutes before I crossed the start line. As I ran through the city over the first few miles, the spectators were several people deep cheering on the runners with the typical cache of funny signs and encouraging mantras. But it wasn’t just the first couple of blocks, there was crowd support for the entire 26.2 miles. Not simply people standing there bored, staring at the phones and looking up at you annoyingly as you pass by because you are not their wife, but people cheering their heart out for every random stranger. I had read this about the Chicago Marathon, but I thought it had to be an exaggeration. It was completely true: the crowd support was amazing.

Me and Shannon before the race
Me and Shannon before the race

The first 13 miles my hips felt sore and tight, not painful but I was worried they would get worse. Thankfully they loosened up at about mile 14 and didn’t bother me anymore. I tried to keep my pace around 8:50, but my Garmin was off due to all the buildings. It was hard to know exactly how fast I was going. I was definitely conservative in the first half. Despite 45,000 people running the race, the course was not too crowded. I made sure I fueled frequently, taking in either a GU or gatorade every 4 miles. I loved running through downtown, across the bridges and down the middle of famous streets with the breezes off Lake Michigan keeping me cool. Mile 16 came and went in a blur, and when I rounded the corner at mile 20 I felt strong. I realized the the Hanson method had worked. I didn’t hit “a wall” instead I put a determined smile on my face and picked up my pace for the last 10K.

View of Navy Pier from our hotel
View of Navy Pier from our hotel

The last few miles I started getting texts from my family on my Garmin. I got an extra bolt of much needed adrenaline knowing that my family was cheering me on from 2 states away. When I saw the finish line, I started to cry. I had done it. I wasn’t sure of my time at that point but I knew I had ran my best race. I had trained hard and ran smart. I finished strong and ran the second half of the race 6 minutes faster than the first. At 3:54 it was a 30 min PR for me. That crazy Hanson Training Method had worked.

I did it! Marathon PR 3:54
I did it! Marathon PR 3:54

The volunteers at the finish line were so excited. I cried again when they put the medal around my neck, overcome with emotion and exhaustion. As I walked the famous 27th mile after the finish line, I felt euphoric. I was a real athlete.  A competitor. During those 26.1 damn miles I wasn’t a 41 year old mom, wife, doctor, friend or Sunday school teacher. I was just Heather, proving to myself that I could do something I never thought I could do in my wildest dreams: run a sub 4 hour marathon.

We all finished within 10 minutes of each other. After downing a celebratory beer, we hobbled back to hotel. The mile back felt more like 17 miles at that point. Fourluxurious showers later, we went out and ate our weight in Chicago style pizza. We slept like babies that night and headed home the next morning with new medals in our suitcases and giant grins on our faces.

We did it!
We are smiling because we are DONE! Abby also finished sub-4 with a time of 3:56.

I went to Chicago searching for marathon redemption and I found it. My first try at the classic distance in Nashville left me feeling defeated as I limped across the finish line. For my second try I trained harder, ran smarter and ran 26 glorious miles without hitting “the wall.”

Added my medal to my "wall of glory" in my closet
Added my medal to my “wall of glory” in my closet