How Can I Love You, I Don’t Even Know You

As someone who has never run the Boston Marathon, who doesn’t know first-hand the magic of Marathon Monday and the rush of the finish down Boylston Street, I sometimes feel “unqualified” to feel for the race like I often catch myself doing. No, I don’t have a connection to the city that those who have run it do. I can’t pretend to understand the cursories towards the Newton Hills or the elation the Citgo sign brings. I haven’t sat in anticipation during registration week wondering if my qualifying time was fast enough, or felt the camaraderie of boarding a flight at Logan International with dozens of people wearing the same jacket as me.

(I haven’t let myself daydream hard enough to decide whether I’ll be “one of those” people or not yet)

Millions of people have more of an earned love than I, yet I still feel a little piece of my heart is colored blue and gold. Why do I care so much?? Is this desperation or obsession – claiming to love something you don’t even know? The only other time I’ve felt this way was about Ben Affleck after Armageddon and come to think of it… if Pinterest is today’s taping Teen Beat pullouts onto you bedroom wall, then yeah actually this is kind of the same thing.

boston pin

“2 years ago” – have I been a delusional masochist that long?

Like many others, I set out after last year’s race with a renewed vigor to train hard, qualify, and stand at that damn start line in Hopkinton. I wanted to pin that “2014 Boston Marathon” bib to my race singlet, stick my fist in the face of last year’s terrors, and prove first-hand just how resilient and damn proud runners are.

My anger and scorn towards the 2013 attacks seems a little surface-oriented, since I was thousands of miles away watching from the safety of my office, well out of harm’s way of the bombing. But as I sat in front of my computer streaming the live coverage this year, just as I did last, I felt all those helpless emotions rise back up. Only this year instead of fear, worry, and concern for everyone in the city, I felt excitement, gutting disappointment, and long-awaited satisfaction.

Yelling at the screen hoping Meb could hear, “he’s closing! Keep pushing!!” Hearing the gun announcing the start of the age group waves. Crying when Shalane told reporters that she wished her best was better. Wondering what it really felt like to run an entire 26.2 miles packed with spectators, like a home stretch crowd the entire course. Seeing paces creep higher and higher late, worrying a million worries and hoping it was “just” that their legs were shot from the hills. Staring un-blinking at the live finish line feed searching for triumphant friends, swelling with happiness for them and even the complete strangers distracting my view.

And wondering what it’d be like to cross that line some day.

I realized then that while being a participant is obviously the highest of regards, just being a runner is so much bigger than it seems. This bond, the community – the one you see when a cramping runner is carried across the finish line by fellow finishers, when your Twitter feed blows up with hundreds of fellow virtual cheerleaders completely immersed in the event, when you care so deeply about someone else’s day it feels like your own – that’s fucking special. One of the most individual and lonely sports is surrounded by so much support the minute you look out from within, and it just blows my mind.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to Boston or not. Lord knows my stubborn side will give a few more hacks at a qualifying time – cursing the whole way I’m sure – but I’d be lying if I said it was my main focus. Yes, the allure is there, so much that I’ve put myself on a one week “holding period” to try and avoid any secondhand endorphin highs instigating decisions I might regret a few months from now. But I’ve had my share of ups and downs with this maniacal hobby, and through them I’ve learned that the relationships rooted in the miles are what matter most. The training partners, mentors, converted friends, all of you!, and mostly, the relationship I’m building with myself. While I think we’ve debunked the claim that running is the “cheapest” form of therapy, there’s no denying that the best place to find yourself is a few miles into a therapeutic run. And that’s what I want to focus on.

I know earning one of those Adidas finisher jackets doesn’t define me as a runner, that I’m no more or less a part of this community with or without one. But as I strive to keep bettering myself and maintaining these healthy relationships I’m rebuilding with running, I hope someday it does take me down a path that has an April stop in Massachusetts on the itinerary.

I’ll keep avoiding the jacket-on-the-plane theoretical scenario until then.

flat sarah boston

If you’re wondering whether I ran in an obnoxiously “Boston from afar” outfit Monday anyway, Flat Sarah has been resurrected from the hamper to tell you, you’re fucking right I did

Sarah OUaL

Ventura Marathon–Another Faltered BQ Attempt

.Well let’s just go ahead and get straight to it.

After 10 weeks of training, including falling back in love with “running to run”, squeezing in miles on an 18-day road-trip, tackling the track solo, and an odd late-season crash, the Ventura Marathon did not exactly go as scripted.

I can’t say I’m completely shocked – I’ve not felt great the last few weeks, running-wise and in general, but kept hope that if the day was nice to me I might have a fighting chance at my 3:35 BQ goal.

And for a good part of the morning, I thought that was going to be the case.


standard – threads, tats, breakfast, and a 6am selfie with K

From the good night of sleep, actually waking up to the first second alarm, a no-hassles drive with Kristina up to Ventura, and easy peasy prime parking we were already off to a better start than 95% of other races. I felt “with it” – energized but contained, focused but lighthearted, and totally void of the sense of doom most long runs had haunted me with. Don’t underestimate the marathon beast, but by god don’t go in already defeated.


don’t let the ironman champs hashtag fool you, this was obvs directed personally to me

We met up with Pacer Dave, Kristina’s parents randomly in from Delaware, Pam, and a few other friends/readers/teammates. I felt the buzz of the start line and the infectious nervous energy from everyone around me – so many with big goals on the eve of Boston registration opening. I answered every “how are you feeling? are you ready?” with a big smile – genuine, actually – and,

“I guess we’re gonna find out!”

I had re-read my HTC recaps from last year, which uhh, may seem narcissistic, but was the last (/only?) time I went into a race with the shit scared out of my butt and managed to power through. I feared those Runner 5 hills with my life, but tackled each of the three runs with a task-at-hand focus and hopeful will that my body would find a way to succeed. Which, spoiler, it did, and even better than I could’ve imagined.  I figured with a similar “thrive, don’t just survive” attitude I could do the same today.

As part of my Get the Fuck Out of Your Head strategy, I didn’t wear a watch. I handed all control to Dave, an experienced pacer, putting my faith in him to lead the best race I had in me. I wore a heart rate monitor strap synced up to his watch so he could monitor my effort and was told to just let him do all the work.

We got lined up, further back in the corral than I would’ve liked, but for a smaller race I didn’t bother bulldozing my way to the front. Dave told me to take the lead to break the pack, and after a mile he’d come up and pull me onto pace to settle into.

Just as planned, Dave came up next to me at the mile marker and I waited to respond to his move. But he just stayed there next to me.

S: “Are you still following me or are you leading now?”

D: “I am but you’re right on target. Locked in, girl.”

In that moment, I thought the day was mine. How often do you kick out of the starting gate – watch or no watch – and lock immediately onto target goal pace? Any runner knows those first few miles are a constant battle of finding a rhythm that feels good and syncs up to the blueprint. To have it happen immediately, and feel completely comfortable in it? Lord have mercy this marathon is fucking mine! WATCH OUT, NEXT 25.2 MILES!

We headed out into the out-and-back and around mile five the half leaders came through, a favorite distraction of mine. Kristina went flying by – top 10 female I thought I’d counted – cruising in to what ended up being a huge PR, a sub 1:32 finish, and 12th woman overall. WHAT! Girl needs to graduate from running with me and find some equi-fast training partners.

Shortly after though I could feel the wheels starting to come off. We’d been on a slight incline for a while, which I was thinking would be SO nice running final miles on, and told myself at the top of the “hill” I’d feel better. My stomach was off and I was oddly dizzy. It was perfectly foggy and cool, so I knew heat wasn’t an issue, and my heart rate was in normal range. Why did I feel so weird?

ventura marathon course map

ventura marathon elevation


Almost instantly that slightly squeeky shopping cart wheel turned into the one that spins all around and won’t let you steer straight.

At mile eight I took a big swig of Nuun and immediately ran to the side of the course for a little dry heave. Which, up until that run with Margot two weeks ago, is completely unheard of for me. Did you not know my nickname is Iron Stomach? I caught my breath and we started again – I could see the 3:35 pace group just ahead and felt confident we’d get the lost minute or so back in no time. But then I tried to take a chew… and a gel… and more Nuun (all my usual, tested and proven products), and nothing would stay down. Fuck.

I pulled to a complete stop at the next aid station – mile 10? – and managed to keep some plain water down. There was no way I’d be able to stay on pace having to stop for hydration, and plain water with no fuel is NOT enough for my body. Hi I’m Sarah and I’m a super heavy, super salty sweater.


get it?

My legs were refusing to give up – after each stop they took off at a pace determined to get back on track, but the nausea and accompanying dizziness would not subside. Once 3:35 was out of reach, I decided trying to push through just for “I ran a marathon!” sake would be dumb. Call me a quitter, call me a snob, or call me smart, I don’t really care.

I had the mile 15 aid station call in a Saggin Wagon “reservation” and shooed Dave off to finish the race, assuring him I was fine both mentally and physically (there may have been a small “catch me I’m blacking out” moment right before.) He crushed out the last 11 miles at sub7 pace like NBD while I made fast friends with Annette at the Wagon pick up zone waiting for our ride of marathon defeat.

saggin wagon

wasn’t big on taking photos this weekend. car source

While I believe every marathon is an accomplishment worth celebrating – covering that distance takes a lot of heart and hard work, regardless of your finish time – it’s a hard pill to swallow when you’ve set a hard nose goal to it and find yourself out of the running for it. After eight marathons and one other DNF, I didn’t feel that sacrificing my body and any future training was worth just putting a finisher’s medal around my neck. (not to mention what would’ve likely been a pretty poor time on my athlinks profile)

Am I upset? God yes. After weeks of wavering confidence I finally got into the race feeling like it was mine to conquer, only to have a new, honestly slightly concerning, ailment knock my ready-to-run legs out from underneath me. I’ve had races turn sour from injuries and mental struggles, but a surprise cockblock from an organ that’s never wronged me hurts. Like, what the fuck, stomach? Jerk.


Pam’s medal, because obviously I don’t have one of my own to show

Some of you have suggested redemption, to find another marathon to tackle and not waste the training. I don’t think I will. There aren’t any feasible options nearby or within my budget, and Boston 2014 registration will be closed by then (it opened today for qualifiers of 20+minutes or more and goes through next week.) Plus I’m realizing, ahem again, I really just don’t love the marathon. That long, dull ache of 26.2 miles is really not my barrel of monkeys. I’d rather be in extreme pain for a short amount of time than be uncomfortable for hours.

Plus, you need to be a really special kind of stupid crazy runner to devote months of diligent training to a singular goal, line up race day, and not get eaten up by the pressure of “this is your one shot.” I’m still working on that.

So this is me signing off from the Boston Qualifying Attempt Camp. I’m not saying I’ll never be back, but don’t expect to hear those two initials together here anytime soon. I’m gonna go hang out in the energy gel-free zone for a while and see where that takes me. (also maybe figure out what the heck is wrong with my body)

To all of you hoping to register for Boston this week, BEST OF LUCK TO YOU. Sincerely. It will be a magical year in Hopkinton and I can’t wait to cheer everyone on from afar.

I’ll totally be drinking while you’re running.

Sarah OUaL

Marathon Training–Commence! (my plan for Ventura)

Day One Two (funemployment has not made me any more of a timely blogger) of Ventura Marathon training – 5 easy miles, strides, and core on Monday, 6mi fartlek Tuesday. IN. THE. BOOKS. Off to a good start.

I want to say something like, “this cycle is going to be COMPLETELY different. I’ve figured out all my shit and I’ma BQ this bitch like nobody’s business!”

But 1) hahahah I’m like 8% of the way to “figuring my shit out” and 2) the overcompensated confidence is unconvincing and annoying and I would’ve wanted to punch myself in the throat if I read that.

I’m keeping parts I’ve found that work for me and making changes to what seemed not to. Call the presses, get me an agent and a book deal, I know that’s some real earth-shattering logic.

Here’s how training for marathon #8 is breaking down…

10 weeks to BQ

The Same Old Shit

“Schedule Skeleton” : M Easy, T Speed, W Easy/cross train, Th Hills/Tempo, F Rest/Easy Sa Long Run, Su Rest

“Little Things” : Strides after easy runs, preventative rolling (not just when something hurts!), regular yoga — *note – these are all “old” but can be executed better

“Core Schmore” : This is a dumb title because it’s actually really important, and I need to be better at. Planks, Lesko Dirty Dozen, Lolo’s routine from the RW piece below, and a hodge podge of other exercises 3x/wk.

“10 Weeks” : This could fall in either category but there were fewer Sames than News so I put it here. I’ve wound up injured and MAJORLY burned out each time I’ve attempted a traditional 16 week cycle (Cleveland, NWM, CIM), so I’m opting for a shorter stint this go-round. I did 10 for Eugene last year, and that turned out alright. I’ve kept a base of 20-30mi/wk with 8-12mi long runs, so I’m not going in from zero, and I feel ready to dive headfirst into training. It’s easier letting yourself get fully submersed in something knowing you’ll be coming up for air somewhat soon. My tentative long run schedule is :

wk1 14mi  |||  wk2 16mi  |||  wk3 18mi  |||  wk4 12mi  |||  wk5 18mi  |||  wk6 20mi  |||  wk7 20mi  |||  wk8 16mi  |||  wk9 12mi  |||  wk10 – BQ time, baby

  • I’m not certified in anything and neither is this plan – do with it what you will but don’t come to me if you end up hurt or short on your goals or broke down drowning in a pint glass somewhere (jk you can blame me for that as long as it comes w an invite)

The New / Different / Altered

Muscles, baby” : An old Runners World piece popped up on Twitter about the importance of strength training, what key muscle groups to target, and a few must-do exercises. I’ve always known it was something I should do more of, but “strength train” was just so open-ended and willy nilly and kind of intimidating. “But I’ll be sore for tomorrow’s workout” or “I did like a minute of wallsits that’s prob good enough” or “Ugh I don’t want to drive all the way to the gym” plagued my past (half-hearted) efforts. So I balls’d up and made a little list of easy-to-do, non-scary, no-gym required exercises that will literally take like, 5 minutes to do. No excuse. 2x a week I’ll pick 3 of them to do 2-3 reps of. I’ll probably add other moves for variety and such down the road, but simple stupid for now :

  • Legs : Squats, Walking Lunges, Bridge w alt leg lift, Single-leg Deadlift, Clamshells
  • Arms : Push ups, Chaturangas, Chair dips, Med ball lat raises, Bicep curls


sent this to Brian after doing 10 REAL push ups IN. A. ROW. for the first time since college softball. actually I’m not even sure I could do that then… anyway, he was impressed. (that’s a shadow not a hairy armpit, btw)

“Put it in your Piehole (and in your phone)” : I’ve tracked my food sporadically in the past just to make sure I was in line with some semblance of a normal diet, but never stuck with it. I want to really make a habit of it now as workouts gear up to make sure I’m fueling with good quality carbs and recovering with protein, and not going overboard on the “but I ran today!” calorie binge game. I have the MyFitnessPal app and no you can’t be my “friend” on it.

“Booze” : I have no creative title for this because it’s sad and doesn’t deserve one. For the last two weeks I’ve ‘experimented’ with cutting alcohol out during the week. I love a good IPA or glass of wine with dinner, but have found it actually pretty easy to give up. Probably because I’m not coming home from a hard day at work “needing a drink” anymore. Plus it’s more of a treat when I do have one. Anyway, this one’s on the fence. We’ll see if there are any realized benefits after a few more weeks.

“Fine, I’ll freaking smile once in a while” : I claimed to have hippie dippied my way back into truly enjoying running, and vowed to bring that joy with me into my training. So while I curse the long runs and dry heave through repeats and nitpick splits I’m going to make an honest effort to keep the purpose of all this in the forefront : I RUN BECAUSE I LOVE IT. I’m training because I want to, not because I have to. I’m chasing goals set by and for myself – no one else.

runner love

get the same joy out of the training as the race – 10 whole weeks of fun vs. 3.5ish hours? duh.

That’s the game plan. I’m a little nervous, a lot excited, and really trying to ignore all the painful memories from marathons past.

Forget the last one before you can run another, right Frank Shorter?

Sarah OUaL