Earlier this year I was asked to participate in a project called 26 Strong sponsored by Saucony and Competitor Magazine. 26 teams across the country made up of one marathon vet and one first timer. I was paired with Christine Sinclair and we chose the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon in Hampton NH for our race. While we only had one opportunity to actually run together – thanks to Marathon Sports Wednesday Night Run Club – we exchanged a lot of emails and text messages where I would check in and see how her training was going and answer any questions she had about the process. I tried to offer any knowledge and advice I had acquired through my years of distance running and be a resource she could turn to for support.
Summer flew by quickly as it always does and suddenly we were just weeks from the race. I felt prepared to run the marathon with a goal of under four hours and started my weather watch about 10 days out. I was a little concerned because it looked sunny and warm early in the week, but then each day the temperature began to drop. Then, just a couple of days before the race the meteorologists began predicting rain. If you’ve been following the blog for a while now you know that I don’t care for running in rain and my last marathon in Vermont was pretty wet so I was a little nervous but wanted to stay positive for Christine.
Christine and I drove up to Hampton, NH on Saturday afternoon. Being a California native, this would be her first trip to New Hampshire so we admired the foliage along the way. We drove straight to the beach to pick up our race bibs, t-shirts/ bag and got a chance to take a look at the route and where the start line would be. Christine was so excited and I was really pleased to see how confident she was.
After checking into our hotel we unpacked a little and then went back down to the beach to meet everyone for dinner. Dinner was going to be a fun big group at Mama Leone’s right on Ocean Blvd. Along with Christine, me and my parents we also invited Jennifer and her family to join us. Jennifer was also part of the Saucony 26 project and Smuttynose would also be her first full marathon. Her Vet, Gael, would be meeting us in Hampton the next morning to cheer us all on. Jenn, Christine and I talked throughout the meal about how we trained and our plans for the race while our families traded some spectating stories and strategies.
We were back at the hotel early with plenty of time to get ready for the morning and get to bed. I gave Christine a card letting her know how proud I was of her and how the race would be a celebration of all her hard work thus far. I wanted to congratulate her on the training and preparation rather than just the race and I think it meant a lot to her.
Neither of us slept well but every time I woke up I listened for rain and there was only silence. I checked the weather in the middle of the night and the hourly forecast continued to change. I was only hoping that the rain would hold off until after the start so we could all just get going and into a groove before we got soaked. We drove over to the race and found parking quickly and then waited for Jared who was driving up from Boston for the half. I forced down as much food as I could and then the three of us headed to my parent’s hotel which was just a couple of blocks from the start. We were able to finish eating and stretch a little while staying warm before heading down to meet Jenn. We found Gael right away and everyone was ready to get started. It was windy and a little cold but the rain was holding off so I was feeling good about the race. We all walked down to the corral where Jenn and Christine would be starting and I hugged them both wishing them a great race.
The race began on time and we were off. It was one of the smoothest race starts I have ever been a part of and I was able to run at goal pace immediately rather than waiting for the crowd to break up. The race began with a quick loop and then running along Ocean Blvd with a big crowd cheering us all on. Both the half and full marathoners stayed together for the first 11 miles and just as promised it was a flat and fast course with just a few small hills. When we split from the half marathon course it got a little lonely but the volunteers and spectators that came out were full of energy. It started to rain not long after the split but the cool temperature felt great and I didn’t let the rain bother me too much.
My goal for the race was to finish in less than 4 hours and stay at or right under an average of 9 minute miles. The first two miles I took off with Jared so they were faster than I should have been going but I knew we would split up soon and I could slow down if I wanted. I was doing great for the first half and was holding on to an average of 8:54 but I was beginning to lose some steam. Some of the miles were very quiet and I would begin to get a little lazy. I remember shuffling at one point and realizing that I was slowing down a lot so I shuffled my ipod a bit and picked up my pace. Around mile 17 I was ready for my second Gu but had to wait for the next waterstop a bit past 18 and tried to find some energy then.
According to the website there were 11 waterstops along the course and while I definitely didn’t count, it seemed like less and I had a hard time predicting when I would have water again. Also, only four of those stops had Gatorade and I wish there was more electrolytes on the course. That being said, the orange Gatorade mixture at this marathon was the best I’ve ever had. Usually the lemon/lime Gatorade is too concentrated and really sweet but the gang at Smuttynose used orange and it was perfect…there just wasn’t enough of it.
Since it was a colder damp morning there weren’t a ton of spectators out for the full marathon but the ones that braved the elements were amazing. I specifically remember a group of woman with cow bells cheering like crazy and a man and woman that I saw at least three times who made me feel like they were out there just for me. My mom had written my name on my arm in sharpie to encourage the crowd to yell for me and these two people really went for it. The girl was screaming for me ‘Way to go Laura! You’ve got this! Go Laura!’, and the guy was chanting my name as I ran on. They did this at least twice on the course (I saw them again when we looped around the neighborhood) and then I saw them at the finish.
Once I hit mile 20 I started to find some confidence again. My splits had slowed down significantly but I was still on track to finish under 4 and I was feeling okay without any of the pain or cramping I had felt in my last couple of marathons. Around Mile 21 I heard a song on my ipod that has been a favorite for a very long time. Right Now by Van Halen reminds me of someone in my family who has had his fair share of struggles and he told me a long time ago that he found the lyrics motivating. I’ve had the song in my rotation ever since I started distance running and when I hear it during a run, I begin to run for him. It could not have showed up at a better time and I was able to bring my pace back down towards 9 and find some energy in my tired legs.
(This is for you U.B!)
I took my last Gu a couple of miles later and got ready to finish the race. I started skipping songs on my ipod to find just the perfect soundtrack landing on favorites like GnR’s Paradise City and Pat Benatar’s Fired Up. Yes – my collection does need a makeover but if it works, it works.
I felt amazing heading toward the finish and spotted Jared on the course at the 26 mark. He ran me in a ways helping me find a last push and then told me he would be meet me at the end. I found Gael then my Dad reaching out to high 5 them both. Mom was excited to see me too but was trying her best to get a finish line photo. I crossed in 3:57:11 – just the race I had planned to run. I was very pleased.
After some hugs and pictures we all walked to the car so I could sit down and change into dry clothes. I had a little while before Christine was coming in but didn’t want to risk missing her. I sent everyone home when I found Gael again and we hunkered down at the Hampton Beach Arcade waiting for Jenn and Christine. Gael had seen a runner in trouble a little earlier and spent some time with him and his family so she was concerned she may have missed Jenn during that commotion. Her suspicions were confirmed when Jenn called a little while later to let us know she had crossed the finish line. She eventually made her way back to us where we had a bit of an emotional reunion while Jenn told us all about her first marathon.
I had known what Christine was wearing so every time I saw someone wearing pink I ran closer to see if it was her. I was wrong so many times but finally I caught site of her pink top, white headband and signature backpack. Gael and I ran to the sidelines and jumped up and down screaming for her. I could see her smiling as she ran toward the finish. We reached out to her and then headed to the finish line to meet her – Gael ran…I hobbled. Seeing Christine finish was one of the proudest moments of my running career. Being a part of her first 10k all the way to this marathon was so special and all I wanted to do was keep telling her how amazing she is. Christine’s friends had come to the race to support her as well so after she got a chance to relax and warm up we went to grab some food. It was fun to listen to Christine explain to her friends what the race was like. They were so impressed with her accomplishment…she’s officially a marathoner.
A few days have passed now and I’ve checked in on Christine to make sure her recovery is coming along. She’s appropriately sore but feeling okay and already looking into signing up for her next marathon. It’s so rewarding to me that she not only accomplished her goal of completing her first marathon but that she enjoyed the experience and plans to continue. I’m incredibly proud and honored to have been a part of that. Thank you, Saucony, for bringing us together so that we could enjoy this as a team.
Congratulations to Jenn and Christine for completing your first marathon and to all the runners that raced this weekend.
A big thank you to the race volunteers and race organizers for accommodating us and welcoming our teams to your race – I will definitely be back to the Smuttynose Rockfest again!
Next on tap is my first Tufts 10k for Women this coming Monday. With the NYC Marathon less than 4 weeks away there’s no time to rest!