I woke up easily at 5:30am, a few minutes before my alarm went off. Did that mean I was well-rested and going to have a good race? I sure hoped so!
We packed up, hopped in the car, and headed down to Newport, with me frantically typing away on my laptop and trying to finish my Hartford race report before I got to the start. It’s so much harder to think back and remember all the details when there’s another marathon in between to confuse it with! Thanks to a traffic jam as we approached the shuttle buses, I got through about mile 16 when we arrived.
I have to say, the Breakers Marathon has really terrible organization. Last year, there were several places you could get the buses to the start, and there was also plenty of parking at the finish for spectators. This year, there was one central pickup spot for the buses, and you weren’t allowed to park at the finish (despite the fact that it was the same finish as last year). As a result, traffic ended backed up for miles on the way to the parking lot, and there were tons of runners just arriving at the start area after the gun had already gone off. It was pretty obvious to me that it was an idiotic idea to have everyone converge on one spot, particularly when that spot is only accessible by a few small one-lane roads, but I guess I’m not the race organizer!
Lucky for me, we had left with an extra hour to spare, so I ended up getting to the start area with about 30 minutes to spare. Of course, I hadn’t done packet pickup the night before so I still had to get my bib. It was a madhouse in the building, and at first I couldn’t figure out where the heck I was supposed to go, but I soon discovered that the packet pickup seemed to be up a set of stairs. A volunteer stood at the foot of the stairs, asking everyone if they knew their bib # – if not, you had to go look on the wall to find it out before you could go upstairs. But since the walls were also lined with people who were queueing for the bathrooms, I realized that it would be a huge pain to try to look up my number on the wall, and figured I would just look it up online with my phone instead.
My plan worked, and soon enough I had my bib and goody bag all set to go. It turned out to be a pretty decent goody bag, too – lots of freebies in it, including a Luna bar, some super thin rice cakes, and some sundried tomato and basil wheat thins. Yum! I had forgotten to bring something to eat for breakfast, and now regretted that I had chowed down on two mini Payday candy bars that my mom had stashed in the car. A Luna bar for breakfast would have been great from an energy perspective – I hoped that the quick sugar of a candy bar wouldn’t affect me on my run.
On the bus, I had made a new friend, Tobias, who was from the Providence area, and we had stuck together so far to figure out where we needed to go and get our packets. Now, we debated the merits of waiting in the extremely long line to check our bags, or opt to just ditch them in a bush and hope they were still around after the race. Lately I haven’t really been one to check bags – I either arrive just as I am to race, or I give any extra things to my mom (who’s been at my last two races this fall). Today, though, she wasn’t here, and it was cold enough to warrant sweatpants to keep me warm until I started running. Knowing that the start was chip timed (and we therefore wouldn’t miss anything by not being lined up and ready to go), I persuaded Tobias to check our bags. Sure enough, the race started while we were still in line, but we made it to the start just a few minutes late – nowhere near the last, as there were buses still unloading people when we began the race.
I called my mom and discovered that she was actually just getting to the start – too bad that we had missed each other by only a minute or so! She assured me that she’d see me at the halfway point and finish though, which was good enough for me.
Since I had started with next to no preparation (I literally walked out of the bag check line and directly across the start), I wasn’t quite ready to sink into my usual running routine. My sneakers were tied, but I still needed to attach my fuel belt around my waist, put on my headphones, turn on the appropriate playlist, put on some chapstick, etc. Some people would stress about not being all set before the race, but this was old hat for me, so I had no problem getting myself all ready to go while actually running! The course started by heading uphill and away from the beach, so people weren’t going too fast up the hill anyway, giving me time to regroup.
It was pretty packed, particularly when we turned onto a side street that took us through the neighborhoods. I headed for the sidewalk, which was a bit less crowded, but made sure I was on the “outer” side of the course for any turns coming up – I didn’t want to cut corners and cheat the race. I was able to pass quite a few people in this manner, since I had started long after the gun and was therefore mostly among people who were much slower than I was. The whole time, I was keeping my eyes peeled: I knew that there were two former Biggest Loser contestants doing this marathon (as part of a double – they had run the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon the weekend before!), and I thought it would be neat to run with them as I had run with Blaine and Dane in Nashville.
Instead of seeing Biggest Loser contestants, I ran into my friend and fellow Maniac Kino, along with his friend Jackie. They had run Baltimore the day before (nowdays whenever I see Maniacs at a marathon, they always make me feel like such a slacker for “only” doing 6 or so marathons in the fall season!) and gotten in late the night before, so they weren’t going for a fast time. We settled into a good pace though, and I enjoyed chatting with them for a while.
As we came to mile 4, I was amazed how quickly the time had passed. We were now at a part of the race that I recognized (the new course hving merged with the course from last year), and I knew we were now slated for an out-and-back with water stops on either side. As we approached the water stop for the second time, Kino introduced me to two more Maniacs, a husband-and-wife couple named Laurie and Travis, and we all stopped to take a photo. I love the camaraderie of being a Maniac at a marathon!
After we took the picture, though, everyone else stopped to grab a drink, while I preferred to keep going – I felt plenty hydrated, and the stop for a picture had been break enough for me. I thought that Kino and the others would catch up to me after their drink, but I ended up not seeing them again until we met going opposite ways on some out-and-backs later in the race.
with the distraction of my friends’ conversation, I thought I might start to get bored, so I turned my music back up (I had lowered it to silent before) and settled into the groove. I had been keeping up some really strong pacing so far, and was feeling great, but I didn’t feel like pushing myself to hit a certain time goal – it was far too early in the race for that, and I didn’t want something to go horribly wrong and get another DNF on this course. I’d settle for just finishing!
We headed down a hill and soon we were in the gorgeous mansion-by-the-sea district that I remembered from the previous year. Last year, I kept thinking how pretty it would be if the weather were nice, and it turned otu to be even more beautiful than I could have imagined. With the mansions on the left and the oceans and sunny blue sky on the right, it was stunning, and I tried to decide if this was indeed the prettiest course I had ever run. Hard to compare the ocean waves to the regal Rocky Mountains (such different scenery), but I’d definitely say this ranks among my top 5. Just have to get the right weather!
And this was a perfect day for running. I was thrilled with my decision to stay with just a skirt instead of keeping on my sweatpants, and after the first few miles, I hadn’t even wanted gloves. I stuffed my headband into the pocket of my ultrathin jacket (really more like a zip up shirt) so I could be even more comfortable, and just enjoyed basking in the sunny fall day as I ran. That ocean breeze sure felt better than last year’s hurricane-like winds and rain!
Shortly after crossing the 7 mile mark, my mom called and let me know that she was at mile 12. I wondered why she was there instead of the actual halfway point (where the finish was and where she wouldn’t have had to walk at all), but didn’t question her on the choice – it certainly didn’t make any difference to me as long as I knew where to find her. Mile 12 would give me an additional point to look forward to anyway – it meant that I could look forward to seeing her there and look forward to the halfway point.
As we left the coastline and headed down some sort of mansion row (it has a name that I don’t remember, but it’s basically these walled estates that look like palaces!), the day started becoming even warmer. I couldn’t get over what a change it was from the year before – this race was really hit or miss depending on the weather! I reminisced about running with my friend Jackie at this point in the race last year – I was at my hypothermiatic worst, but she was still cheerful and optimistic about our ability to get it done (and she did finish). This year, there was none of that – just a beautiful day for a run.
The familiarity of the course was comforting, and I was excited to see my mom soon. When I got about 1/2 mile from where she was supposed to be, I made sure my jacket pocket was zipped (to keep my headband secure), took off my jacket, and rolled it into an easily-carryable ball. When I saw my mom in the distance (waving her awesome “youngest woman to run a marathon in all 50 states” sign that she now brings to every race!), I gave her a big smile for her camera and then prepared her for the handoff, letting her know that she could just put the jacket in the car or whever – I wasn’t going to need it anymore that day.
Shortly after seeing my mom, we made the turn onto the long downhill avenue that would bring us to the halfway point of the race. Last year, the strong wind tunnel here was what ripped the garbage bag off my body and tore it into shreds, soaking me in the process. How nice to be able to run fast and not have to worry about the wind and rain! I tried to look at bibs to see who was doing the full marathon and who was doing the half (so I could encourage the half marathoners to push it in the last 1/4 mile), but it was difficult to look backwards and read the bibs as I was running. I did my best, though – even when I’m not an official pacer, I like to encourage others to hopefully hit their goals.
As we neared the halfway point, I joined up with a friendly group of guys who were going the full distance. With our half marathon time around 1:55, one of the guys tried to tell me that I could break my PR (3:49). Sorry, but unlikely. To do that, I’d have to run the second half of the race even faster than the first – and not only is the second half where you start to get tired and slacken the pace, but the second half of this course was known to be much tougher than the first because that’s where all the hills were. I decided I did want to aim for a 4 hour finish – a reasonable goal but one that would force me to push myself a bit. Plus, how cool would that be to finish in 4 hours after getting a DNF the year before?!
After crossing the marathon halfway point (and seeing the half marathon finish next to us), we were finally given some Gu at an aid station. I had been wondering if they were going to hold true to their promise of giving that out! However, I noticed that like the water stations in this race, the organization had been a bit shoddy with regard to what runners want. In all the aid stations so far, they had been organized with the water first and then Gatorade at the last table – not very helpful when most runners like to follow their sports drinks with a water chaser. In a similar manner, they put the Gu at a table after the water and Gatorade, so the only way to have a drink afte ryour Gu was to double back. Not good! Organizational mistakes like that tend to bother me a lot more than bigger challenges, just because it’s so easy to switch the order of the stations and it’s not going to cost the organizer anything to do so.
The path out of town took us by some cute hotels and beachy restaurants, then up a hill into another residential district. The hill wasn’t bad – a very gradual incline, but it was definitely a taste of what was to come. At least I could remind myself that it would be downhill on the way back to the finish! The day was now sunny and absolutely gorgeous, and by this time, many residents had come out of their homes to sit on their lawns, blast music, and cheer us on. Yay!
The residential section took us to a big steep downhill heading back to the ocean (yikes, that was going to be a nasty uphill around mile 23 on the way back). As we descended, we came to an aid station with signs proclaiming it to be “Scaretown”, with volunteers dressed up in scary costumes like a haunted house. While I appreciated the effort, I was surprised that they had chosen a Halloween theme – it wasn’t that close to Halloween where I had even begun thinking about it. It didn’t matter though – the volunteers were friendly and helpful, and the Gatorade and water were plentiful (albeit in the wrong order).
We saw runners coming back from whatever out-and-back we were being sent on, and I tried to gauge their pace so I could then figure out about how long the out-and-back was. There’s something to be said for not knowing the course in advance – gives you lots of calculations and other things to ponder so your mind is busy while you’re running!
On the out segment that again ran along the ocean, we had some wind that didn’t seem to be at our backs – I figured that when we turned around, it would get easier. However, the sad truth was that it actually got harder – the wind had been sideways before, but more on our backs than our fronts; now, it was really pushing us back now. But what can you do – at least with an out-and-back, you get it equally both ways.
On the way back, though, I did get the excitement of seeing one of the former contestants from The Biggest Loser! I didn’t see him until he was almost upon me, since he wasn’t wearing the official Biggest Loser shirt and was instead wearing something custom-made that said “Back to Back for Beckwith”. Because of that, I didn’t get a good enough look at him to tell whether he was Jay or Mark, and I didn’t end up able to formulate something intelligent to say – instead, I just yelled “Go Biggest Loser!” He seemed happy to have the support, in any case.
I didn’t see almost anyone else I knew in the out-and-back, which was surprising – but it was only a mile or so long. When we got back to Scaretown, we turned to the right for what would be our final out-and-back before heading back toward the finish. This road took us through some woods and fields and then into a residential area, with pretty fall scenery all along the way that wasn’t too different from what I had done in Hartford the previous week or Maine the year before. However, the section ended up being a bit hilly. I cheerily reminded the guy running next to me that “any hills we were going up now would be downhills on the way back!”, but privately thought to myself that we were certainly doing plenty of downhills now that were going to be brutal on the return. Just have to stay in the present!
As I was headed down one of those downhills, I saw my good friend Peter on his way back up. I knew he was shooting for a sub 3:10 sign, so I had been watching for him for quite a while, and was surprised to see him so far back (for him). I yelled out a cheer for him as loud as I could, but by his almost complete lack of response, I could tell he was struggling. Poor Peter! I later found out that he had been running with food poisoning – what a champ to still be so far forward in the race.
While I was currently doing the downhill section, I knew how he felt – it was starting to be a tiring race. However, when I looked at my watch, I realized I was on pace for a sub-4 hour marathon – I couldn’t lose that! What an accomplishment to not only come back and finish the Breakers Marathon, but finish it in one of my faster times too. I was determined!
I finally reached the turnaround and then started keeping careful track of my pace. It would be far too easy to let that sub-4 finish slip away by easing up and phoning it in, and while I wouldn’t be able to get a new PR, I was confident that I could do sub-4 with some willpower. On the hills, I gritted my teeth and dug in, only allowing myself to walk when I could tell it was costing me more energy than ground it was getting me by running. As a result, I would arrive at the top of the hill still with some decent energy, which I could then use to fly by the other runners on the downhill. I made sure to encourage everyone I passed, with either a smile, a nice job, or the reminder that if they could just keep up a 10 min/mile pace (and we were doing around 9:15/9:30), they’d finish with a sub-4 hour time. People always love it when I do the math for them!
Finally, I was back to “Scaretown” and about to head up the final big hill in the race. Despite the great motivational music I was now listening to, I opted to walk part of the uphill – again, not to give up, but just to save some energy for the other side. My plan worked, and I was soon cruising around the neighborhood at the top of the hill, knowing that I just had a few miles of sloping downhill and then one last flat sprint to the finish. I was going to do a sub-4!
Now that my time goal was met (and not feeling like doing any calculations beyond that to figure out exactly when I’d clock in), I focused my attention on passing the people around me and not letting anyone pass me. There was one woman with whom I had played rabbit for a while in the race – one of us passing the other, then vice versa. Unfortunately, she seemed to have a strategy of saving her energy up as well – so when she passed me at a good clip, I was unable to surge past her and regain the lead. Drat! But there were plenty of others to pass, including a few women who looked like they might be in my age group 🙂 I gave them a smile and a thumbs up as I passed, and they seemed to be doing just fine.
As I cruised down that final hill, I took a moment to reflect on what a great race this had been. With the perfect weather, it made it one of the nicest races I had done – what a contrast to last year’s hurricane-like disaster! I couldn’t believe the difference. As far as recommending or not recommending this race, I’m torn – if you can afford a magical weather machine to ensure sunny skies, I’d say it’s a can’t miss; otherwise, you’re really taking your chances.
But for now, I basked in the sunshine as I sped to the finish. As I approached the turn to the finish chute, I saw a familiar sight – my mom and her sign, right at the turn where I could see her for a while in the distance before reaching the final turn. Though I had called her earlier to let her know that I would finish sometime between 3:50 and 4:00 (I tend to give broad time windows, just in case), ti was still great to see her there – and she later told me that since she didn’t know I had started so far after the gun time, and was therefore arriving long after the finish clock had passed the 3:50-4:00 time slot, she was afraid I had bonked. Not me! I was running strong.
I didn’t quite sprint through the finish chute, but I think my glee was apparent to all the spectators around me – I had a HUGE grin on my face, and while crossing the finish line, threw my arms into a V not because I was posing for a picture, but because it just felt like the kind of jubilant move I wanted to make. I did it!!!
The jolt back to reality came when I opened my fuel belt to pull out my phone and stop the Cardio Trainer app… and realized that one of my gels had burst and my phone was covered in the sticky mess. Yikes! But while that normally would have put me in a terrible mood, today nothing could dampen my spirits. Rhode Island had beaten me once, but I had gotten my revenge twice now: once by completing the 6 hour ultra marathon (33 miles run!), and now by finishing my original nemesis with a sub-4 hour time. How do you like them apples, Rhode Island?!
To further cement my victory, there was a great live band playing covers right by the beer tent – and the beer tent turned out to serve Harpoon, a fairly decent brewery that I actually enjoy! No better way to celebrate a race than by sipping a beer while dancing to “Sweet Home Alabama” (and calling my best friend Kelli, who went to school in Alabama and loves the south). My phone didn’t quite work so well, thanks to the gel that had covered the speaker, but after messing with it a bit, I figured I could get it working later.
Meanwhile, a bunch of people at the finish were intrigued by my 50 state shirt and my mom’s sign, so I soon had a crowd of people around me as I explained exactly how I had gone on the journey from “just one marathon” to breaking the world record. What a trip!
With beer in my belly and a great run under my belt, my mom and I jumped in the car and headed for Albany, where I’d stay the night before flying down to DC for work the next day. Victory was sweet!
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 298/1006
Gender place: 77/442
Age group place: 28/132