By: Mandy Stoesz
On a whim, I decided to register for my 11th full marathon in mid-March. Over the winter months I maintain a long run of 10-13 miles, so I had a good base built and figured I would give it a go.
A little back story: After a spectacularly awful marathon experience at Twin Cities Marathon in October 2014, I had vowed to never race another open marathon;
You see, I have a love hate relationship with marathoning. I have been running since 2008, and did my first marathon in 2009, Grandma's in 5:23. Shortly after running that race, I decided I would run Boston, someday. It was a pipe dream but something I have been focused on- obsessed with ever since. I started training to Boston Qualify seriously in 2012...much to my dismay, I would often end up puking, injured or mentally destroyed and fall very short of my time goals.
I came closest in 2013, at Twin Cities Marathon with 3:41. I have decided that I work myself up into a complete anxiety ridden lather in the days leading up to the race. So, if I was ever going to run another one it was going to be a 'secret' covert operation. And that is how I came to run my 11th full marathon, The Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon on 5/9/15. I told only a few friends and NO family. I made no public announcements on social media, it was a low profile 'need to know' race.
I trained. I tapered. I was hydrated and fueled. I was calm. Excited for what I was about to do. My boyfriend Tim was super supportive of Operation Covert Marathon and planned to travel along the course and cheer with my daughters, Mollie (8) and Allie (7). I also told another training buddy, Dan who drove us up that morning and was excited to spectate and take in the whole marathon experience. So, that morning the boys and girls dropped myself and my training partner, Nancy off at the start and off we went!
Until I got out the car I had no idea which shoes I would wear! It was a tough choice between the SKORA Tempo or SKORA Core. I had done most of my long runs in the CORE, but liked the idea of more cushion for the marathon. I ended up choosing the CORE, because it was what felt right that morning.
Nancy convinced me to start on the line with her (she won overall female and set a course record that day!). It was 38 degrees, a brilliant sunrise and we were in for an incredible day. The first few miles are always hard. I want to take off at 5K pace...it's so hard to rein in. But I did! I was super stoked, took off at 7:45 and held that for the first part of the race.
I saw Tim, Dan and the girls around mile 4 for the first time. They said I looked terrified. Which I was! I felt GOOD but it's so hard to know what will happen for 22 more miles. So I kept steady, my watch bounced between 7:45-7:55 for the most part. I took only a small amount of liquid at the stops, rather than slamming a couple cups. I stayed calm and collected, focused on the mission at hand. I saw my family a couple more times before the half way mark.
At half way I was at 1:42, exactly where I wanted to be. That was a confidence booster but I didn't let myself get to excited. I enjoy racing half marathons and I also love racing half ironman distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) so mentally I broke the race up into, half marathon and half ironman run. This worked really well for me. I started taking some of the fuel I was carrying then too. I had a package of Bonk Breakers Chews, which seem to work well with my weak stomach.
Mentally around mile 15-18 is my wall in a marathon. Every time I have ran one I always struggle there. I hate myself, my run, life...I am never running again, I doubt my sanity, I want to quit (but never have). This time I was determined to NOT go there. I stayed positive the entire race. When my legs got tired and I knew I was slowing my cadence (leads to injury and soreness) I picked it back up!
As I approached mile 20, I kept doing the math- how much I could slow down and still make my goal. However, I decided I was NOT slowing down. I was going to blow my goal out of the water. I felt strong and unstoppable. Around this time I started passing people, frequently passing people. I have been there- someone sailing by me as a I struggle to stay upright. So as I passed I gave everyone bits of encouragement.
At 23, the final 5K- I was euphoric. In total disbelief that I was ACTUALLY going to do it! I could slow down to a 10 min mile and STILL PR and BQ. This fueled me even more. I picked it up, mile 26 was one of my fastest miles at 7:44. I then looked at my watch and saw 3:26, 3:26!! One of my favorite songs came on as I sprinted to the finish, Cher's, "If I could turn back time". I was smiling, on a total high as I blew through the finish at an all out sprint. As I crossed the line, I burst into tears (after stopping my watch of course). All those years, the failures, the doubts the tears all disappeared. I did it. I DID IT. I had an incredible race (no bathroom stops) I never let myself go into that deep dark place. I freaking did it. The second half was just a bit slower, held an 7:50-8:05, with a second half split of 1:46. Total time of 3:28!! My ultimate goal was 3:30 and BQ time was 3:35.
Tim, Mollie, Allie and Dan greeted me at the finish. I called my parents immediately who were shocked to hear I had run a secret marathon and unbelievably proud I had finally hit my goal.
My mission in sharing my (long winded) story is to inspire people, never give up! "The harder you work for something, the greater you'll feel when you finally achieve it." Work hard, stay positive, believe in yourself and always RunReal!
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