I started to taper two weeks ago. I dedicated around 18 weeks of training to this marathon, and the training went pretty well. I had a couple of setbacks when I got sick, felt an injury coming on, or had so much to do I didn’t have energy to complete of the workouts. Still, I felt like I had trained well. The paces I had trained at would indicate the ability to run a 3:40 marathon - if it was flat. Nordmarka Skogsmaraton is not flat. So I figured 3:50 could be realistic, and decided I would try to pace for that.
The last week before the race, I felt pretty lethargic. I wasn’t nervous, but I felt like I just wanted the race day to come and all the time in between was just waiting. By race morning my nerves came, and that felt good too - it’s nice to be excited before a race! The start wasn’t until 11 am, but Dad and I travelled to the arena early to pick our bibs. The start arena was in a slightly different place than last time, on an Astroturf soccer pitch. It was sunny and nice out, and racers lounged around on the soccer pitch, relaxing and waiting.
Pre-race nap.I had a short warm up jog, and fiddled around until it was time to line up for the started. I lined up near the back, not wanting to get caught up in a starting surge. This turned out not to be a problem; the number of runners combined with the limited width of the course kept me running slow for the first kilometer.
After the first kilometer, the crowd started to disperse, and I started to watch my pace. I tried to run at my predetermined pace, but my heart rate jumped up - way too far up. I felt slightly confused and not a little deflated. With all of the training I’ve been doing, 5:30 /km pace (which I was trying to hit) should not be this hard! What was wrong?
In hindsight, the first 15 km of the course are all gradually uphill, and I probably freaked out too much. My heart rate was probably jumpy due to race nerves, and I should have just ignored it and just focused on running. Looking at my heart rate being that high, I convinced myself there must be something horribly wrong. I must be having a bad day, I told myself, which of course is the exact opposite of what one should be telling one’s self.
Although probably no more than 20 C, it felt really hot out. (Well, in my defense, it’s been 5 degrees and rainy all spring in Trondheim. I’m not used to the heat at all!) At the first aid station, I dumped a cup of water on my head and stomped on. I basically spent the first 15 km trying to convince myself not to quit. Don’t be a whiny baby, I thought, just because you aren’t hitting the exact pace you want doesn’t mean you can’t finish.
I kept waiting for the magical endurance flow to kick in - that feeling that you’ve found the perfect pace, that you could run like this forever, that you are just loving life. My contemplations in boredom were interrupted by a man, telling me I was running strong. “Thanks!” I answered, “I don’t really feel like it though.” He told me he was struggling with an Achilles injury that he hoped wouldn’t flare up. At least I’m not injured, I thought, Actually, I feel pretty fine. No good excuses to quit. I was not having fun.
This is my ‘actually I kind of want to quit’ face.After about 15 km, the course does an out-and-back. As I ran the first stretch of the out-and-back, I saw the race leaders running towards me. They were running hard, and it didn’t look like they were having fun either. It was somehow inspiring to see that it wasn’t easy for them either. I decided I would not quit; I would adjust my goal from 3:50 to breaking 4 hours. At the speed I was going, this was still realistic. I passed the half-marathon point in 1:58.
The three kilometers between the half-marathon point and the aid station Kikut were the high point of the race for me. This was the only time when I really found like I found my legs.
And then came the Hill of Death. Three kilometers of pure uphill, between kilometers 25 and 29. The grade was never steep; according to my GPS date we only gained 100 vertical meters in these three kilometers. The evilness in this hill is that it is so gentle it looks like you are running flat, but steep enough that you can’t run very fast. I got passed by several people, and was feeling super demotivated. Then a group of 5 people chugged by me, two girls and three boys. I decided I would not let these guys go. It was actually surprising how easy it was to keep the group’s faster pace once I got going. The group crested over the top and broke up on the downhill.
Some people managed to muster more enthusiasm for the camera than I did!Now my legs were starting to hurt. I forced down another gel, thinking about the strange magic that allows one to keep moving through pain. The next section of the race was technical trail; I struggled to keep up with the two women I had been following on the uphills, but I flew by them on the technical downhills. When the course transitioned back onto dirt roads, I tried to keep my pace up, hoping I could keep the gap I had put on the two women behind me. They caught up, but I didn’t let them out of my sight.
The course started to do big, painful rollers, and many people around me were walking the uphills. I thought about walking too, when all of a sudden I saw Dad. I was catching up! I immediately resolved not to walk the uphills.
Luckily there was a photographer snapping pictures right before I passed Dad. There I am on the left, preparing to attack!The course rolled through Ullevålseter at around 35 km, and I was slowly drawing closer to Dad. On a steep hill just past Ullevålseter, I saw my opportunity and jogged past him. “It all goes numb eventually!” I joked. He was moving slowly, and had definitely met the wall. I had made up a 5 minute deficit on him in the last 14 km, mostly due to him slowing down.
I chatted with another woman as I tried to keep my momentum going, and we jogged past a man with enormous hair, no shirt and long tights right behind a woman pushing a baby carriage. As we passed them I did a double take, realizing it was the explorers Aleksander Gamme and Cecilie Skog. I almost went all fan girl and asked for a picture again, but this was not the time for taking pictures. I had less than 5 km to go, and I needed to beat the 4 hour mark.
After a while I let the woman I was chatting with go and with two kilometers to the finish, another woman passed me. I was devoid of all competitive instinct, thinking that I could not possibly go harder. Letting these two women go pushed me out of the top twenty - maybe if I had known that I would have found the legs to give chase!
As I round the final stretch and saw the finish line a couple hundred meters away, I saw the clock tick to 3:59. I had less than a minute to cross the line, and I found I had a little speed left in my legs after all.
Almost at the finish line!The loudspeaker announced that I was the last person to cross the finish line in under 4 hours, coming in 22nd out of 105 women. It had been a hot day, and the winners’ time were several minutes slower than the year before.
Dad at the finish line. Team Strazilchek!Dad finished 3 minutes behind me, and 5 minutes slower than his 2012 time. He was a little disappointed, but we both admitted that maybe our goals had been a little ambitious. Cecilie Skog and Aleksander Gamme, who had started two hours before the main race in the group for people planning to take more than 6 hours, finished in 6:10 minutes, winning the ‘pushing-a-baby-carriage’ class.
And now: recovery, and a trip to Scotland before I start training for UltraVasan 90 km in August!
- The Wild Bazilchuk