Race Recap: The Marathon Project
Despite 2020 being a doozy of a year, I was fortunate enough to have had several unique racing opportunities that grew out of the pandemic. The most recent was The Marathon Project in Chandler, Arizona.
I’ll start by saying that there couldn’t have been a better “bubble” than the one we had at The Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass. We were shuttled to our ghostly quiet host hotel straight from the airport and there we stayed for practically the entire weekend. All of our meals were eaten at the lodging including the Italian carbo-loading that I enjoyed on my hotel room bed the night before the event.
The pre-race experience at The Marathon Project was the antithesis of the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials. The Trials was a madhouse of energy with people everywhere, countless things to do, and a high decibel of excitement. The Marathon Project, on the other hand, had the vibe of a college library before finals. It was quiet and calm, but there was an element of nerves bubbling below the surface. I spent the day before the race finishing the book I started on the airplane and that night I soaked in the hotel tub while drinking my Shirley Temple from the bar.
Kitted out and masked up, I boarded the bus race morning for the short ride to the starting line. It was the first time and only time that weekend where all the racers gathered (our technical meeting the day before was via zoom and there was no post-race party). We unloaded into a large building that was not unlike a warehouse. Not only was it roomy enough for everyone to spread out, but there was even enough space for us to do drills and strides.
The early morning desert air was brisk, and as we loosely gathered behind the starting line, I kept my outer layers on as long as possible. Knowing my place, I joined the ladies at the back of the women’s group that occupied the right-hand side of the Gila River Indian Community road.
Being that it was the first time that we were meeting our fellow competitors, there was some discussion regarding what everyone’s goal was for the day. It was obvious that even the slowest runners were hoping to run FAST. I figured I’d start out with these ladies and see how I felt. It was the last train leaving the station and I was getting on it.
As often happens, the gun went off before I really realized what was happening. Our first mile was around 6:00 minutes/mile pace, and I felt comfortable. We passed by some speakers blasting music, and I was having fun. I believed it was going to be a good day.
But in the back of my head, there was a faint buzzing of a tiny alarm that was warning me that these miles were only a warmup for the other ladies.
It’s hard to know exactly how much we sped up since I never completely trusted my watch on that loop course, but I knew we had picked it up and were probably running closer to 5:50 minutes/mile pace than 6:00 at some points. Other than the roundabouts which caused some congestion while running with the pack, the course was pancake flat and fast. So, I tried to ignore the ringing of the alarm that appeared to be growing louder. I decided I’d stay with everyone until around the halfway mark where I could get an official split.
I went through halfway in 1:18:16, but at that point I already knew that I couldn’t tack on another 13.1 that quick. I was still optimistic for a fast day when another racer and I teamed up and backed off the pace a bit. I was hoping that we could work together and both reach our goals. However, once we lost contact with the pack, we started slowing much more than what I wanted. And unfortunately, once I allowed myself to let off the gas, it was all over. It was the first bite of a decadent chocolate cake. My body wanted more. And by more, I mean it wanted to slow more! And, let’s be honest, it probably wanted to stop.
But I kept running even when my new teammate dropped back. For a while, I tried to stay optimistic and salvage the race as best as possible (maybe even PR!), but when I grabbed my bottle around mile 19 I knew I was falling apart.
I passed by Abdi Abdirahman (you know – the five-time Olympian who’s representing the US in the Olympic Marathon this summer) and he was cheering so hard for me. My first thought was how embarrassing it was that Abdi was seeing how terrible of a runner I am…My second thought was how bizarre it was that here was Abdi Abdiahman cheering for me (not the other way around!). And how did he know my first name since only my last was on my bib?
More than once, I contemplated dropping out. It would have been so easy with the loop course! But it was honestly my friends and teammates that kept me going. I knew I would be more of a disappointment if I quit than if I posted a slow time. So, I kept chugging along.
I had looked back previously on a turnaround and presumably seen the last place female, but on the final stretch headed back towards the finish, I couldn’t see anyone behind me. I knew then that I was probably in last place.
But as I made the last right turn towards the finish line, I realized that I wasn’t far from the girl in front of me. In fact, I was gaining on her. Straining, muscles screaming, I made one last push and passed the other runner on my way to finishing in 2:42:18. As I approached the finish and saw the clock, I remember thinking “Well, I’ve never run a 2:42 before.” I also had never run a marathon quite like The Marathon Project before.