The Sarah to whom I'm referring is THE Sarah. Yes, the one often talked about it this blog. The Boston qualifier and runner, the personal trainer, fitness instructor, registered dietician and the friend like no other. For four months, Sarah the teacher became Sarah... the student.
I'm not sure how it came about. I think we were running shortly after I took my certification class. I had convinced her to come with me on a slow run... the comfortable, conversational kind. Not the usual kind we did where the conversation was more like "I. KNOW. WHAT(gasp). YOU. MEAN(pant for a few breaths)". No, this kind would require a tall amount of restraint on both of our parts. And because we were going to go slow, we were going to go long... twelve miles to be exact. Little did we realize just how sore we would be from using muscles that normally slept while we ran. Both of our hips ached toward the end of that run. I think it may have been then that Sarah told me she'd like me to coach her for a fall marathon. I must say, I was quite taken aback. I was pretty certain that at least for a few years, she was not going to consider training for and running any marathons. She once talked about how the training beats her up so much physically that given her busy schedule, she just couldn't commit the time anymore. Ok, that was BEFORE she became an early morning riser and BEFORE the concept of slower and more comfortable runs. She was intrigued by the concept. When she trained for Boston, she trained HARD! Sarah pushed herself on her runs and even on scheduled "easy" days, did not really go easy. Boy did it pay off! Sarah PR'd in Boston with an amazing 3:30. So why change anything at all? Clearly speed training worked for her. Here is the thing... the girl was exhausted all the time and had also received some sort of injections weeks prior to the race for a bad knee. A knee that she spent hours in physical therapy trying to fix just so she could run Boston. Unbelievably, and like magic, it all came together that day... the weather, the knee, the whole damn thing. Sarah had run the race of her life. What a perfect ending to marathoning for her!
The year that followed brought several other races of shorter distances for her. Sarah ran a PR half marathon at the Pig two weeks after running Boston. We took first place in the Morgan's Little Miami triathlon a few weeks later, with Sarah's time being what else... a PR. She PR'd in a hilly ass 10k that summer after running 5k pace and missing the turnaround (intended to run the 5k... had to do the 10k). She ran a few 5k's, each one a bit faster than the last and last February, finally brought her 5k time below 21 minutes. Clearly she was on a roll, so why in the world would she want to change anything? I think appeal of a more comfortable training cycle with a good chance at a marathon PR was too much to resist.
Sarah filled out her marathon questionnaire. She set her three goals and they were as follows: Primary was a 3:25, fall back 3:29, BEST DAY EVER... 3:20. Now why didn't I listen to myself? Why did I let her fall back goal be a PR? A fall back is just that... a goal you focus in case all hell breaks loose and you are merely just surviving. I don't care who you are... it should NEVER be a PR. Too many unknowns in marathoning. Hers was a very small PR, but still a PR. I had no problem with it at first. As a matter of fact, I convinced Sarah she was short changing herself and that I thought she was capable of a 3:15. I changed her BEST DAY EVER to that. Not her. I began giving her speed paces based on a 3:15 time goal. Sarah would often do these workouts after teaching a morning cycling class. For the first many weeks of base building, Sarah adapted incredibly. Her pace HR range correlated with that of a sample 3:06 marathoner in my book. She said she could not believe how many miles she was running and not feeling exhausted. This was in addition to teaching roughly 5 cycling classes a week and 4 TRX classes. This was in addition to having 4 boys home all summer long and working on building her business. I continued to pile on the mileage. She continued to do her 6 days of running.
I'm not sure at what point I began to notice the not so low heart rates with the paces she was normally keeping. It was right around the same time she began to skip a run or two and began to complain of sheer exhaustion. She was sleeping very little and things were just not feeling right. She began to have some pain on the bottom of her foot that sounded pretty concerning. If I dug out her paperwork, I could tell you the exact week it happened as I printed off everyone's garmin splits and made weekly notes to myself to help make schedules. I had Sarah take a solid week off. She went to see the orthopedic doc that took care of her knee (or an associate I think) and got an unclear semi-diagnosis of either sesamoiditis or maybe a sesamoid bone stress fracture. Either way, she was told she could run on it. I thought she was full of shit at first and that she was just trying to cover up what he may have REALLY said, which naturally would be "No running until pain free..." But I also realized that she had too much at stake to risk screwing up her foot. Staying healthy and injury free was crucial to her job. So she began running again and actually, the week off did something right because the pain eased up and she did just fine. I realized that given the physicality of her work, Sarah was classically overtrained. No way I could continue to increase her mileage. We agreed on 4 days a week of running, instead of 6. She was benefitting so much aerobically from the cycling that she really did not need to do 6 days of running. Within the first week of decreased days, Sarah reported feeling so much better. We also changed her speed day to one where she had not taught cycling that morning. Soon I noticed that she was again was having some incredible pace runs with awesome heart rates. She felt much better and was once again, really confident that she was ready to nail a terrific PR. Even though 3:15 was her best day ever goal, Sarah was just never REALLY sure that she could run that pace for that long. So I told her to not even think about that time goal. We'd make a plan to pace for a PR and that after 20 miles, if things felt ok, she could run however she wanted to bring it down. So the plan was to pace for roughly a 3:25 and see what she could do after 20. If she needed to stay there, great... no problem. If she could speed up, she would. I was very clear, however, that race strategy would win this race for her, not just pace. There are many ways to get to that overall average pace and I preached quite a bit about the concept of negative splits. It requires a great deal of restraint in the beginning, but the payoff is awesome if done well. Sarah knows this. This is how she originally qualified for Boston in Athens.
The other thing I focused on heavily toward the end of training was how to fuel for the marathon. I was practicing this during my own training and was astounded by how I could run marathon distance and then follow with a normal week of running. I attributed this to how I learned to fuel during my long runs. I carb loaded for three days... had never ever done that before even though I knew I was supposed to. If there was just one person in my group of runners that I could count on to do this right, it was Sarah. Post graduate degree dietician who had dominated marathons before. I was not concerned about her fueling one bit. Yes, this is foreshadowing... guess where the girl royally screwed up?
I am going to skip to the race now. I've given too much away.
On marathon morning, Sarah was the only person I did not see. She did not come to the bag check with the rest of us. I waited and waited. Got no response from e-mail text or phone call. As a matter of fact, her phone went straight to voice mail. I was sure she'd been murdered at the hotel as this was SOOO not like her. I was getting pretty pissed off to be honest. There is always someone with a phone you can use. I finally just decided that for whatever reason, she needed to just be alone, get to her corral and start her run (but now let's just see how SHE likes it on Saturday morning.... HMMPH!). I had my phone and I checked FB for her "tweet my time" update while I was running the half. Sure enough, Sarah had crossed the 10k mat with an estimated 3:23 finish. So she was on the course and was doing well. I did raise my eyebrows a bit at the estimated finish at the 10k. Seemed a bit faster than our plan. I decided she knew what she was doing and like Boston, she was going to amaze herself. I checked again at the half. She had crossed the mat once again with an estimated finish time of 3:23. Jen had jumped in to run a couple of miles with her and texted me that she felt great. Sarah was happy, chatty and having a terrific race. I was thrilled! That all changed when I checked the 20 mile report. Sarah was now at an estimated finish time of 3:25. Oh God... PULLEEEEZZZZ let her have just gone to the bathroom or something. I was completely helpless and now simply had to wait for her. 20 miles and beyond sucks so bad and if she had begun to tank, it was only going to get worse. I could not for the life of me understand what was happening to her. Nor could I go out and meet her and run with her. I couldn't survive her pace on a regular day, let alone after all the miles I'd just run in two days. She was really REALLY ready for this. I say that with the utmost confidence. Sarah was not over paced given her capability. What was going on??
I waited anxiously close to mile 26. Soon, the 3:25 pacer went by with no Sarah in sight. I wanted to cry really. I felt like I did last year in Columbus when I was running. I was not her coach at that moment. I was her friend. Her friend who knows how competitive she is, what kind of racer she is... how strong and tough she is and that she was out there struggling to finish and unlike her running me in twice during my marathons, I was helpless. I could do nothing but wait and PRAY that I'd see her before the 3:30 pacer passed. It was a terrible few minutes.
Then I saw her... no 3:30 pacer had passed. I was unbelievably excited. No matter what, she was going to PR. Even if by a second, she was going to make it. I hopped in to run with her for just a minute. She was struggling, but listening and responding physically. She picked up her pace with me and we ran until the turn to finish. I told her where I'd be.
I came to the gate where the finishers exit. There she was, wrapped in her blanket (and I'm sorry, but those damn things don't keep anything warm!!! Fleece blankets would be nice, JEEZ!). I hugged her and looked at her Gamin... 3:31. Slacker! Well, ok... official time was 3:30:55... Um, yeah... this was not supposed to happen. But I was proud of her and in my very coach-like manner, I instructed her on an ice bath when she got home. We then proceeded to walk in the windy cold to meet her nephew, who drove her home.
What happened to Sarah? Well, even though she feels she went out too fast, I do not think that was the case. Most times, people know when they are over paced. Especially an experienced marathoner who has run many races well. I felt that way during my first Columbus Marathon. I knew at mile 10 I just didn't feel like I could hold the pace, but I held it for a very long time and came in 5 minutes under my goal time. Not too bad for feeling over paced. You can feel good, but still know you are running a bit too fast and it does catch up to you. Sarah never felt over paced and said at mile 14, she knew she was going to hit an incredible PR. At mile 18, she began to feel really bad and that is where the struggle began. After careful review of her intake, she and I are certain that she simply ran out of fuel. For starters, she ate ate only Cliff Bar for breakfast. Ok, no biggie. Lots of people do that. But then they proceed to fuel adequately during their run. She carried her own Gatorade, of which she drank maybe 20 ounces total. She brought some Power Gel Blasts... three packs I think. At the finish she handed me a completely unopened pack and then proceeded to tell me that she lost a few from a previous pack when they fell to the ground as she was getting them out of her baggie. Now, Sarah is 5ft 10 inches tall and nothing but solid muscle. The girl requires some serious fuel for something like a marathon that she is RACING!! And yes, she is a dietician. And no, there is nothing I can say that she already hasn't said to herself. And yes, this is her third consecutive Boston Qualifier and she got a DAMN incredible marathon time. But it wasn't what she wanted and it wasn't what she was trained to run.
And eventually, none of that will matter. Especially when I am walking to the start of the Boston Marathon together in 2013, fulfilling a long time dream of mine with my best buddy.