By Lindsay Willard
Today is a warm and dreary October Friday, which would actually be my favorite type of weather to go for a long run, but I am proud to admit that I am taking some time off. This past weekend was the end of a jam-packed training and racing season, that I won’t soon forget. After a great Boston last April, I started my Spring training the very next day and headed into more than 20 races over the summer. I was competing in all of the Charles River Road Race Series, the New England Runner Pub Series, and the USATF Grand Prix Series. I didn’t expect for them all to go well, but it sure would have been nice.
I had a lot of PRs in the earlier weeks of the summer, but once I set my goal on the Hartford Marathon in October, I had to change gears and get serious about some long runs. It was hard to focus, and I missed the entire summer of track practice workouts to instead hit a Thursday or Saturday 5K or 5 Miler, and I made some great friends along the way.
The Hartford Marathon came up quickly this October, so much so that I threw in two test half marathons just a few weeks before to check my progress. The results were not what I had hoped for, but exactly what I expected… I was quite burnt out. Back in April, Bob Fitzgerald of New England Runner Magazine had warned me “don’t burn out before Hartford!”, and I was afraid that was exactly the problem. I had been running loud and heavy, with my quads feeling strained - like lead weights for several weeks. I was seeing my massage therapist, my physical therapist, and my chiropractor for every last minute appointment I could make and afford, looking for some relief. Beyond the physical, I also faced the mental challenges by lowering my expectations for Hartford twice.
I knew that I wasn’t in the shape I was in back before Boston in April, but that I was absolutely willing to go through the pain and still shoot for the best. It was almost funny to find out that the finale to the New England Pub Series (where I was trying to maintain my lead for the series title) was the day after the Hartford Marathon. Very unfortunate, but I fully intended to put my legs through it. I mean how bad could a 5K feel after 26.2? It was called the Shileleigh Shuffle in Newton, MA - and I joked that I certainly would be shuffling.
So October 13th came, and I was with a few other BAA teammates in the New England’s Finest sponsored group at Hartford. It felt so foreign to me to be racing anywhere other than the Boston course. I had no idea where we would be going on this race, what it looked like, what the fan support would be like, etc. I knew that my parents had driven into town the night before and
that I would see them somewhere after the halfway mark, along with my Hello Kitty decorated “elite” water bottle (that I was so excited for).
I had warned my parents in the prior weeks about the shape of my quads, and my frustrations. They of course had said they would be proud no matter what, and they knew that dropping out was not an option for me. I stood no chance of winning, but I just wanted to see what I could do. And when the gun went off I was delighted to feel fresh legs for the first time in weeks. I felt
fluid, controlled and ready…clicking off 6:15s, 6:20s, even some relaxing 6:25s. I was thrilled at the idea that I could do the 2:50 pace I was still hoping for. Far from the 2:45 I originally wanted, or the 2:48 I had bumped it to… But I was actually banking time for the second half.
I had a little tummy grumble at mile 11 and feared that I was hungry, but when I ate a GU gel at mile 14 and started to vomit - I came to the sad realization that I wasn’t hungry, I had acid reflux. I got sick over 6 times in the last miles of the race. I lost over 5 minutes in the final miles, even stopping to walk for the first time in years of marathons. Nothing could fix my stomach. I cried to my Mom when I passed her at mile 17 and she just begged me to hold it in, but it kept coming. I even threw my head back on the finish line trying not to get sick again. I was so upset to have watched my goal times drop out of sight over something I had no control over; t wasn’t even about tired legs. But my goodness, I still got 3rd place and I still ran a better time than my last Marathon, so what am I complaining about??? I did it! It wasn’t pretty, or planned, but it was a PR. It was also my parents’ favorite Marathon experience to be able to see me out on the course, actually talk directly to me, and watch me cross the finish line, and most of all - to place on the podium.
After Hartford was said and done, and the New England’s Finest Program had taken such great care of me, I realized that I had to drive myself back to Boston. I had to throw in a load of laundry and wash my uniform for the Pub Series race the next morning. Very poor planning ;p but I was taking a smiling, sarcastic look at it, just like with Hartford. I knew I was tired, but I wasn’t going to miss it.
I showed up late to Newton, scrambled for parking, then darted out in the rain for a four minute warm-up. It felt so strange to put on racing flats again, but I could care less about what I was wearing, since I wasn’t exactly committed to wearing it for 26 miles, like the day before. I know that I had made jokes about dragging myself across the finish line, and walking it in, but I think anyone who knows me knows that I was still gonna go for it. I looked for the second place Pub Series runner, and any other woman doing shake-outs on the starting line, and I just put my head down.
I didn’t freak out at the sound of the starter, or try to go out fast and hold on like I usually do. I just pumped my arms, kicked up my feet, and got moving. The 5:45 wasn’t a fast first mile, but better than I had expected. I was in third at that point, with my eyes on a pink t-shirt in the lead. It was a downhill second mile and I managed to maintain pace and slowly get closer to that pink t-shirt. At 2.25 miles I approached her, then I slipped in front of her. I waited for a reaction, and when she stayed put I just tried to hold on. I though to myself “how cool would it be to actually win this thing, the day after your marathon!?!” How cool indeed.
I came around the final turn in Newton and saw the balloons. I heard the cheering and I saw Bob Fitzgerald hold up a finisher’s tape for me to break, and it felt amazing. I think I cried out as I crossed that line. Now I was officially tired, now I had left it all out there, now my stomach officially hated me and now…I could go have a beer at Paddy’s Pub and celebrate a great weekend all around.
Congrats to Lindsay for pulling off this epic double.