Kristina’s Sub-3 Quest

Standing on the starting line, I did not know what to expect. No clue. It was June 4th, 2006 and it was 70 degrees in San Diego. I had never run a marathon before and I didn’t completely get why people were freaking out about the warm temperature. I would soon find out.  At about mile thirteen, I was toast. I was overheated and knew I would be slowing down.  At mile twenty, I had my IT band lock up on me and had to step into a med tent and have it massaged. At mile twenty-two, I threw up most likely due to dehydration. Still I knew there was no way in hell that I wasn’t finishing. Three weeks prior to the race, I had lost my dad to cancer.   This was a race that I had trained for and raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. My dad himself had donated. Paul (my husband) with our 7 month old son Nicholas had made the trip cross country to support me. Knowing all of this, I persisted on and finished in 4:26.

At the finish, I headed straight to the porta potty and stayed in there for what seemed like hours. I swore off marathons. However, the next day I was already thinking that I wanted to do it again. I had caught the bug. And so it began.

Kristina after her Marathon in 2016

Over the next few years, I broke through many barriers. I broke 4 hours.Then I broke 3:45. After that the seed was planted to qualify for Boston. I can’t say that I was one of those people that went out and easily met the goal. I ran two more marathons and fell short, but I wasn’t giving up.

On May 6th, 2007 the stars aligned and I ran probably the most evenly paced marathon that I ever raced and hit my first Boston qualifier. I was ecstatic. The following April, I towed the line in what would be my first of many Boston marathons. No words can really describe what an amazing experience it was.

In 2008, I continued to run many races and have fun in the process. My friend Holly and I traveled around to quite a few destination races together and made mini-vacations out of it. In 2009, Paul and I learned that baby Liam was on the way. I ran throughout most of the pregnancy until I had to switch to swimming due to the risk of preterm labor. That gave my body a break from the pounding, and by 2010, I was back at it to work towards my next goal of breaking 3:30.  

It took me about three tries, but in January 2011 in Miami I ran a 3:29. Next up 3:25. A pattern was developing. Through persistence, hard work, determination and sheer stubbornness, I was slowly chipping away at my times. I loved (love) the day in/day out training process, the setting of goals and putting in the work to meet them. 

When I got to the goal of breaking the 3:20 barrier, I loomed around this for quite some time. I was stagnant. I could run between a 3:20-5 marathon in my sleep but just couldn’t do 3:19. I became a bit frustrated and as a result, I raced a bit too much and developed several nagging aches and pains. Some turned into injuries. I was told in June 2013 that I needed knee surgery. I had torn my meniscus and could not run a step. The MRI also showed early onset arthritis and a gaping hole in my knee cartilage. I was scared. I decided to go ahead with the surgery and had it done in July 2013. Slowly but surely, I rehabbed and very gradually added mileage in. It was at this point in my life, that I realized the high importance of strength training and physical therapy. I incorporated strength training into my routine several days a week, getting up earlier than ever to get it done. I now had three boys and time wasn’t something that I had in abundance. After 10 weeks of very conservative training, I lined up for the Columbus marathon on October 20th, 2013. I had no idea what to expect and I started very conservatively.  This ended up being the marathon that I will always remember as feeling so immensely relieved and joyful to be running again. I felt invincible. I ran a nine minute negative split to finish in 3:19.   I had done it!

The following year and a half, I took a shot at 3:15 but kept falling a few minutes short. I thought to myself, “what can I do to change things up, to improve and not staying one place.”   I decided to do the unthinkable and skip a fall marathon and all out race a half instead. That summer I hit the speed work hard. I ran a bunch of shorter races (5K’s and 10K’s)and slowly chipped away at my times in those distances. It was then that I fell in love with tempo runs. I just loved the feeling of going out and pushing hard. That fall I ended up racing not one but two half marathons and taking my half PR down five minutes to 1:26. In the process, I had the time of my life.

In February 2016, I headed to the Olympic trials with friends. We were there to run the LA Marathon the day after the trials. I hadn’t run a marathon in nearly a year so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Friday before the race, I forgot that I was there to run a race and may have had a little too much fun. On Sunday as I lined up, I didn’t feel the greatest, but I followed my normal pre-race routine. The race itself was a blur. I hardly remember a thing. I was on autopilot. I do remember hitting mile 25 and seeing the clock at 2:59 and thinking, “oh my god, I am going to hit a huge PR.” I finished in 3:07 taking eleven minutes off my best marathon time.   I had run a completely even split marathon which is a rarity for me.

That fall I was scheduled to run the Richmond marathon (2016) but by Wednesday that week I had a high fever. I had caught Benny’s (my youngest son) upper respiratory infection. I pulled the plug and thought a Saturday race would be out of the question. Instead I ran the Philadelphia marathon a week later. Conditions were less than ideal with high winds (20-30 mph) and cold temperatures. The last 10k was brutal with the headwinds and I slowed a bit, finishing in 3:06. I do remember feeling just so happy to have been able to still race that fall. I really enjoyed that trip and that race. I was wavering on running it at all. Paul encouraged me to and for that, I will be forever thankful. 

Kristina at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in 2017

I stayed steady in 2017. A highlight of the year was joining a newly formed racing team, the Rogue Racers. After a warm Boston in April, I did manage to PR by three minutes in Indy for a 3:03. I was making progress, albeit slowly. I was all set to aim for a sub 3 this year in Boston and we all know what mother nature brought to the table. I had a really good training cycle and felt strong going into the race. Conditions were insane. Words can’t accurately describe the setting in Athlete’s Village. At that point, I decided that I was going to put my Garmin on time of day and just run by feel. Coming down Boylston, I really had no clue what my overall time was.  I kept praying it was under 3:15. When I crossed in 3:05 I was elated. Later I found out that I was the third place woman from Ohio, and I was blown away. There is much to be said about running on feel.

The rest of 2018 was mostly good, but it had its ups and downs. In hindsight, I don’t think I took enough down time after Boston. Throughout the spring and early summer, I began to feel a little lost. I had a flare up of my clotting disorder which scared me. I have a genetic clotting disorder (Factor V Leiden) which basically puts me at risk for developing blood clots. I had had two previous clots in my left calf and this time I was told it was chronic. Also during this time I went through a few coaching changes. I had ran Boston self –coached, but to be truly honest with myself, I absolutely need a coach to keep me on track and to help me to not over-train. I was looking for someone who had a similar training philosophy, someone who understood me, and someone who would give me honest feedback. In August, I found Becki and I started to feel myself again. I felt it was an excellent match.

From August through October, I trained hard for the goal of a sub 3 at the Columbus marathon. Earlier in the summer, I had found out that I qualified for an elite bib. I had already registered for the Indianapolis Monumental marathon much earlier in the year during an entry sale, but decided on Columbus since I knew of several others racing. All in all, the training cycle was a huge success. I felt like I really progressed and was hitting paces right where I needed to be. 

On race morning, I was not feeling very well. Not to reveal TMI, but I had severe abdominal pain and cramping. I tried to ignore it and give it a go, knowing that I still had Indianapolis as a backup plan. Despite the cold temperatures that I love, I couldn’t get into a groove. I honestly was not feeling myself. My abdominal issues were getting to me, and by mile 15, I honestly felt that I wouldn’t be able to maintain goal pace. So I did something that I normally would never do. I pulled out at mile 16. I was disappointed, but I told myself to be patient and to think of this as a quality workout for Indianapolis.

Kristina at Columbus Marathon in 2018

The two more weeks of taper was not fun to say the least. My goal was to take it one day at a time. When I finally got to Indianapolis I was so relieved. It was finally here. I could spend some quality time with friends and then wake up and run. I started out well and I actually fell into a steady pace. Around the halfway point, it occurred to me that my legs felt heavier than they should but I kept on going. At mile fifteen I had an issue with getting my gel out because I couldn’t feel my hands. I even stopped for about thirty seconds but was unsuccessful in digging it out. So I kept on and took the next one they handed out on the course which was a few miles later.

I was beginning to fall off pace. I tried to ignore that and keep on. I saw Julie and Paul came up to me on his bike at around mile twenty. I cannot express how grateful I am for that because even though I knew it wasn’t my day, this was my last race of the fall and I was finishing it. I started focusing on other things to ignore the discomfort, like how beautiful a day it was, how lucky I am to have the support of my husband, how lucky I am to have my amazing friends, and how I couldn’t wait to get home and hug my boys. Well, that worked to pull me through to a 3:04. Not the race that I wanted, but still a weekend of amazing memories.

Before the race Jason (one of the founding members of Rogue Racers) had asked me to write an article on the chase for a sub 3 marathon. I love to write and agreed. He said he hoped it would have the Mickey Mouse ending but it didn’t. And that’s okay. Marathons are very humbling. They teach you so much and have so many parallels with life. You have to learn that like life, there are going to be things on race day that you cannot control like the weather and your body and health that particular day, among other things.  

It took me awhile to reflect and sit down and write this. The time after marathon season is hard. Many runners, myself included, have a let-down period. We don’t know what to do with ourselves and we feel out of our element recovering and resting. I did feel disappointed with the result, I am not going to lie. That is because I felt in my heart that I was in much better shape than the time reflected. I went through the what ifs for a bit, thinking the outcome could have been different if I had skipped Columbus. 

But here is the thing, I have to put it in perspective. No one (besides me) truly cares what my marathon finish time is. My husband doesn’t love me any less, my kids certainly don’t care, my best friends don’t think any less of me, and a lot of the world doesn’t even realize how long a marathon is. I do this because I love it. I truly enjoy the training process, the everyday plan. The race is just an added bonus. So no matter what I run in any given race, the next day will be the same. I will get up and go a bout doing what I enjoy.  

There is one final point that I want to make. This running journey has been a very gradual process. I am far from perfect and I make many mistakes. Over these last twelve plus years that I have been running marathons, life has not slowed down. There have been highs and lows. Paul and I are working full time jobs and raising three boys whom we simply adore, but our days are busy beyond belief. We have lost my dad and both of Paul’s parents. I have dealt with issues like my clotting disorder,depression, and disordered eating. I am far from perfect.

 I tell you this not to gain sympathy but to hopefully inspire you. I have persisted through the good and bad. I keep showing up each day and putting in the work because that is what I enjoy. Some days I struggle and that is okay.There is always tomorrow. I pray that my boys will learn from my example the value of hard work, determination, and persistence when it comes to anything that they are striving towards in life.

This upcoming year I will turn forty years old. I am excited for what masters running holds for me. Maybe in time I will break three hours in the marathon and maybe I won’t, but I will sure have fun trying. I am so very thankful beyond belief for all the amazing friends that have come into my life through running. This truly means so much more tome than any number on a clock. My heart is full and that is what matters.