Jennifer’s journey to the sub-3 marathon

I am so thrilled to be writing this!  Running a marathon under three hours was not on my radar two years ago.  Honestly, I never thought it would be something I would add to my vision board. 

My marathon journey started similar to so many others.  Simply run a marathon and mark it off of the “to do” list.  I am not even sure why my husband and I decided to run a second marathon.  It was likely as a way to avoid buying bigger clothes.  It was not until after my second marathon that I had even heard of the Boston Marathon.  My husband informed me that I “was only seven minutes from qualifying”.  After a quick Google search, I realized that the Boston Marathon was THE marathon.  Of course I had to give it a try. 

My first Boston Qualifying race was the Cincinnati Flying Pig in 2007.  I finished with a 3:31:59.  I ran Boston that following year.  After battling a femoral stress fracture during training, my goal was to simply participate and finish the marathon.  I nabbed another BQ with a 3:36:44.  At this time, my husband and I were starting to get the itch to start adding to our family.  In 2009, and again in 2010, my “marathon” of choice was casually running the total of eighteen months I was pregnant, followed by a six week break following each birth.  I did not think about marathons again until 2012.

Once again, I was not sure why I decided to run another marathon.  Probably because of the baby weight and the desire to get my maternity clothes out of my closet.  I signed up for the Pittsburgh Marathon with the goal of breaking the 3:30 threshold.  I also joined my first running group – FrontRunner’s marathon training group.  During my training I battled a rough case iliotibial (IT) band syndrome and was told to quit all hill training.  After months of physical therapy, the pain was so intense, I ended up with a cortisone shot weeks leading up to the marathon.  I did not break the 3:30 threshold at that marathon.  The IT band syndrome was my nemesis that entire summer and early fall.  I am definitely a goal oriented person, so once I have an idea I can do something, I tend to obsess over it. 

I continued training with the FrontRunner running group, forming some amazing relationships and signed up for the Columbus Marathon that fall.  I finally broke that 3:30 barrier – 3:17:54.  By this time, my husband and I were once again talking of expanding our family.  I continued to run through my pregnancy and once my son was born, I was determined to catch back up with my newfound running buddies, many of whom banded together to run a sub-3 marathon at Columbus two weeks after my son was born!  

My next goal was to qualify for the New York City Marathon – which would require a 3:14 marathon.  With an eight month old baby at home, I ran the Cleveland Marathon and finished with a 3:15:40.  I knew that 3:14 was obtainable.  In September of that year, I ran the Air Force Marathon in 3:08:56 and qualified for the New York City Marathon!  Only a few weeks after the NYC Marathon lottery opened up, I discovered I was once again pregnant.  I was invited to the 2015 NYC Marathon but deferred my entry to 2016.  I continued running with my FrontRunner team, many of whom were planning to run Boston in 2016.  I already had the qualifying time from the Air Force Marathon, so I signed up.

2016 was a rough year for my relationship with the marathon.  With a nine month old at home and three toddlers demanding my attention, I went to Boston under-trained.  I talked myself off of a cliff for over 22 miles that day, but I finished with another BQ.  I decided to set my focus on training for NYC in November.  I was set to run the Emerald City Half Marathon that August as a training run to test my fitness.  Two days before the run, I felt a sting in a space between my hamstring and my groin.  I had a tear in my adductor magnus.  Ten weeks out from the marathon, I cross trained for the next eight weeks, running only a total of 26 miles in the two weeks leading up to the marathon.  Once again, my goal was to simply cross that finish line.  Which I did, barely squeaking out another BQ. 

I took the first half of 2017 off, running only to get back in shape and for the enjoyment of it.  I really enjoyed the group of people I met through my training group.  In the summer of 2017, I was approached by a running friend who was trying to get a group together to break a three hour marathon that fall.  At first, I laughed.   Up to this point, I had never actually used a training plan.  My runs always consisted of “I have an hour for lunch, how far can I go and still make it back in time to shower and get back to the office”, and long runs with my FrontRunner group.  I had already signed up for the Chicago Marathon that fall.  I told my friend, that I would follow the plan he provided and I agreed to meet up early one day a week for a group speed session.  I was NOT a morning runner.  Here is where my sub-3 story begins….

Every Wednesday morning, I would literally roll out of my bed, already half-dressed, and meet the five other guys who agreed to this nonsense.  I followed the plan as best I could with my schedule, but I never missed a 5:15 a.m. run with the group.  When I toed the start line of the Chicago Marathon, I was not confident in my ability to run a sub-3 marathon.  I had my A goal (break 3), my B goal (break 3:05), my C goal (get a personal best), and a D goal (enjoy the run).  I knew from the get go that my A goal was aggressive.  I knew my B goal was more realistic.  I set my eyes on the pacers and held on for as long as I could.  At mile 18, I had lost the pacers and was on my own.  At mile 22, I knew I was out of the game, but at mile 24, I knew I was getting a personal best.  At mile 26.2, I was done with a 3:03:13.

In the Spring of 2018, I decided to concentrate on the half marathon distance.  The mileage of the training wasn’t much different than my full marathon training, so in addition to focusing on the Cap City Half Marathon, I signed up for the Cleveland Marathon.  During this training cycle, I was also introduced to a local group of women known as the Hilliard/Galloway Sole Sisters (HGSS).  I met up with a group tempo-ing at a pace I felt comfortable I could run and made some great new running friends.  One of those friends “introduced” me to a friend of hers who recently joined a new racing team, Rogue Racers, and had a similar personal best time.  She thought we would hit it off.  We set up a run and Kristina became my new running best friend!  We did everything from long runs to tempo runs together.  I even joined the Rogue Racers on one of their long run workouts.  I ended up choking at my half marathon that spring, but I will never forget the start, the race, and the end of the Cleveland Marathon.  Kristina, and another new running friend, Julie, were running the half, and several other Rogue Racers were running the full.  We all chatted at the start line.  Long story short, during my training for the half, I realized I was running on marathon legs, so I readjusted my plan and cut my mileage.  I did not feel properly trained for a marathon. Somehow, early in the race, I found a Rogue Racer.  I spent most of the marathon focusing on his singlet and chatting to him in the moments I could keep up.  At mile 23, my legs were feeling the under-training of the marathon distance, and I was looking for the closest empty chair to take a seat.  Kristina and Julie find me at that exact moment and run me in to the finish.  As I crossed the finish line, with my second best marathon time, and I was immediately greeted by the team of Rogues, many of whom I met that day. 

Jennifer before Boston with her husband and 2 of her 4 children.

Shortly after that finish, I joined the Rogue Racers.  My first run was the Columbus 10k, where I got a personal best in the distance.  I was ready to kick some serious butt in the fall.  I was signed up for Columbus, I had my plan ready to go and I was going to run a sub-3 marathon that fall.  Unfortunately, my body had other ideas.  I spent the entire summer and fall dealing with a terrible case of plantar fasciitis.  After months of therapy and exercises and pain relief, I transferred my Columbus Marathon bib and was ready to admit defeat.  During the Columbus Marathon, I did the second best thing – I cheered my heart out and ran one of my Rogue teammates to her personal best time.  My foot was finally feeling better.  At that time, a friend ended up transferring his Indianapolis Monumental Marathon bib to me for November.  I decided I would simply try to finish the race.  It was not the sub-3 marathon I was hoping for that year, I but I finished with a decent time and felt my foot was finally on the mend. 

My foot was still a mess in September when I signed up for the Boston Marathon in 2019.  Boston and I have not had the best relationship, so I had no intentions on actually racing it.  I signed up for another marathon later in the spring and that was going to be my focus.  I decided I would train for Boston as though I was going to race it. I used the same plan I used when I ran Chicago in 2017.  I was able to do speedwork with various teammates and I was able to take advantage of some of our faster runners for my marathon pace miles during long runs.  I was up for 5am runs nearly every single day.  I was committed to making this happen. 

Jake, Jason, Ryan, Jennifer and Brian C, part of the sub 3 group in the starting corrals before the start of The Boston Marathon.

About a month before Boston, Jake, one of my Rogue teammates mentioned he was thinking of trying to break 3 hours at Boston. I casually mentioned that if he was up for it, I would love to tag along.  A couple of weeks later, he agreed to pace me and assembled a team of six Rogues who were going to work together to break that 3 hour barrier.  I was nervous, especially given my previous Boston experiences, but my training pointed to my ability to do this.  And I had my team to help me out.  The five guys agreed to drop back to my corral so we could all start together.  We agreed to target a 2:57 marathon knowing the course would be at least 26.4 miles.  When we all met up to get on the buses, the weather was already warm, there was a torrential downpour which included thunder and lightning.  By the time we make it to Athlete’s Village, the rain had subsided, but the humidity was high.  We made our way to the start line as a group.  I set my invisible leash on Jake and our journey begins. 

Jennifer cruising along at The Boston Marathon!

Throughout the first couple of miles, we are battling the crowd and losing a bit of time, but Jake was quick to remind me that we should not make up all the time in one mile.  He helped clear the crowd, he offered to get my water.  Early in the race, we find Chris, another Rogue teammate in the group of six trying to run a sub-3.  For most of the race, it is Jake, Chris and me with appearances by Brian.  We stay close together, remind each other to smile at the cameras, talk each other through some of the tough parts – particularly the countdown of the Newton hills! 

Chris, Jennifer and Jake working together to break the 3 hour barrier at Boston!

I think it was about mile 22 or 23 when I looked around and could no longer find Jake.  I had Chris in my sights, so I clung on to him the best I could, but I could tell my body was getting tired.  By mile 24, I did the “if you can run two more sub-7 miles, you can do this”.  By mile 25 Chris was out of my sight, but the CROWD!!!  The cheering at mile 25 is by far the best.  I went right on Hereford, left on Boylston and hit mile 26. I looked down at my watch and used a trick my friend and teammate Julie had shared with me…the 0.2 of any race is just under a quarter of a mile and on an easy day, you can run a quarter mile in under two minutes.  My mind is now fully aware of what is happening… “on an easy day, you can run a quarter mile in under two minutes”.  This is less than a quarter of a mile.  You have three minutes to run less than a quarter of a mile and come in under three hours.  You have come this far and you are not going to be one of those stories where you finish in three hours and some change.  GET MOVING.”  So on tired legs, I let my heart and head move my body. 

Rogue’s Chris, Brian C, Jason, Jennifer and Jake all celebrating their sub 3 marathon together!

The video of the finish line brings me to tears more than the fact that I got my sub-3 hour marathon.  Me crossing the finish line in disbelief, with a big smile on my face, stopping and turning around to see my teammate Brian crossing only seconds behind me.  Chris, who finished shortly before I did, coming up to the both of us, high fives and sweaty hugs.  Shortly thereafter the video shows teammates Jason and Jake crossing the finish line, sweaty hugs and high fives.  We all find each other at the finish line.  Hugs and fist bumps.  Together, we made it happen.  Five Rogue Racer teammates all finishing under three hours within 80 seconds of each other, all with Boston personal bests.  Nearly two weeks later, and the meeting at the finish line still gives me chills.  This team is definitely where I belong.  My new personal best: 2:58:32. I broke the three hour marathon. 

Jennifer’s sister surprised her with a Sub 3 balloon arrangement upon her return home from Boston!