“Plan your run, and run your plan”

The Boston Marathon was everything I hoped it would be. Well, it would have been nice if the weather was a little better. But, hey….the weather could have been much worse. The temperatures were actually nice (started in upper 30’s and stayed in 40’s). However, there was a strong headwind (gusts up to 37 mph) and it rained pretty much the entire 26.2 miles! I was completely DRENCHED by the end of the race. But, do I really look like I cared?

What wind? What rain?

The rain started as soon as I lined up in my corral on the start line. But, I knew it was coming. I had been watching the weather for days leading into the race. I was at peace with it. I had trained on many cold, rainy, (sometimes snowy, icy) days during my buildup. So, I wasn’t really concerned with the weather. I did my best to stay calm and relaxed, and focus on the things I could control. When the race started, I reminded myself to hold back during the first couple of miles. I didn’t want to go out too fast. I also didn’t want to waste too much energy trying to dodge in and out of slower moving people. So, I tucked in and tried to be patient.

Just before the start of the race, my dad sent me a “good luck” text. He gave me one last piece of advice I kept repeating during that crucial stretch. He said, “You control the first mile. Don’t let the first mile control you.” He also said, “Plan your run, and run your plan.” That’s exactly what I tried to do. I ran my first mile in 8:13. That’s a little above my marathon goal pace. I knew I needed to go ahead and start trying to get into my rhythm.

boston20During the next two miles, I slowly started trying to work my way through the crowd to find openings where I could lengthen my stride a little and settle into a good pace. I hit my 5k split around 24 minutes.

After mile 3, I continued to speed up a little each mile until I had settled in a nice comfortable pace in the 7:40 – 7:50 range. I knew the real race didn’t actually start until mile 16, so I tried to just stay relaxed and comfortable on the miles between. I took this time to really enjoy the crowd support. I was literally smiling from ear to ear going through Wellesley College at mile 12. I’ve never been at a race with so much screaming and cheering. It was the coolest thing ever!

When I hit mile 16, I knew I had to really focus, stay relaxed, and prepare for the Newton hills. I felt pretty strong at that point. I had done a lot of hill work and incorporated hills into my long runs during training, so I felt pretty confident I was ready for this part of the course. The first hill occurs as you cross over an overpass going into Newton. It wasn’t that bad really. There were a couple of other hills in there as well before you reach “Heartbreak Hill.” That one was pretty tough. My quads were already feeling a little beat up from all of the other hills on the course, and I knew that this hill was definitely going to challenge me. However, I thought about some of the bombing victims I had passed out on the course. There were people with prosthetics and using crutches to walk the course. I thought to myself, “My pain will be over in a few miles. These people will go on to endure this for the rest of their lives.” Thinking about them gave me strength to power up Heartbreak Hill.

This is me at the 30K mark. The hills were definitely causing me to work a little harder….

Once I reached the top of Heartbreak Hill, I had a little boost of adrenaline. I knew I only had six miles to go! I also knew the last six miles are the hardest, but I thought, “Let’s finish this.” Even though my quads were really starting to hurt, I cruised through miles 21-23 pretty strong. When I hit 23, I started to hurt even more. That was the point when I started to think, “Holy cow! This really hurts.” I would run the next 3.2 miles in pain. But, I also took time to reflect. I thought about Travis and the girls waiting ahead for me to make it to them. I could not WAIT to see their faces, hear their voices, and tell them I was going to make it. I NEEDED to see them.

I thought about every single person who had sent me a text, email, or Facebook messsage. I thought of all the people back home tracking me, and how they were waiting on me, cheering for me, PRAYING for me! I thought about my kids at school. I hoped if I could finish strong, that maybe….just maybe…..they would see the importance of not giving up when things get hard. I thought about all of the kids on the cross country team. I knew they were rooting for me. I knew they would understand what I was feeling, and yet they would tell me to push through (because that’s what I would say to them!). I thought about the people I have trained with. I thought about all of the advice they had given me. I thought about Coach Gierlak dragging me around the track when my legs felt like Jello saying, “These are the ones that count.” I thought about all of the hard runs and workouts I had done with my daughter Cheyenne and her friend Baylee. I cherish those memories. I thought about how my youngest daughter McKinsey would run until she nearly passes out to finish a race because of asthma. I wanted to finish those last few miles with that much heart. I saw Travis and the girls right before I made the turn onto Hertford. When I saw them, I was overwhelmed with emotions. Travis was screaming at me not to stop, because he knew I was on pace for a PR and a chance to break 3:30.

Right on Hertford, left on Boylston.

Once I made the turn onto Boylston, the crowd was so thick! All you could hear were bullhorns and screaming! I could see the finish just ahead. I started picking up the pace and enjoying every stride of that last sprint to the finish with the crowd going wild!

Sherry CollageI crossed the finish line with a time of 3:27:39 (7:56 average pace), a new PR, and sub 3:30!!! Most definitely an experience I will never forget!

Sherry Spinks
Cartersville, Georgia
April 20, 2015
Age – 34
Bib # 17395

[Below is the story of my BQ run at the Virginia Beach Marathon.]

CAAnwZEVIAAXh9cI’m such a coward. At least that’s how I feel in the days leading up to a marathon. I start to get really anxious and even scared. I’m not scared of going the distance. I’m scared of the pain I know is coming. I know in a short time, I’m going to push my body to its limits. This is a fear I have come to accept. It’s become the norm. I’m starting to realize the marathon never gets easier. You just get better. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. That’s what makes it so special. However, when I toe the starting line there is a calmness that sweeps over me. It’s really hard to describe. I feel ready. I’m focused. I know I’ve done my homework. I have put in the miles and trained hard. I’m fit. All that’s left at that moment is me and the 26 miles 385 yards that lie in front of me. I’m going to conquer it! And I did. Here’s the story….

Passing Cape Henry Light

The Shamrock Marathon will be one my family remembers forever. It was truly a special weekend filled with so many memorable moments and experiences. One of the things that made this trip so special was having my daughter, Cheyenne, running her first half marathon. Last March, Travis and I ran our first marathon in Albany, GA. Cheyenne really wanted to go with us and be there when we crossed the finish line for our first marathon. We contacted the race officials. They were nice enough to allow her to volunteer at the finish line passing out medals. I think that experience made a huge impact on her. It was after that she said she wanted to run a half marathon. She was only 12. We told her she needed to wait until she was older. All year long, she was persistent about running a half. After praying about it, I finally asked myself “Who am I to hold her back?” We decided to let her enter. I’m so thankful we did. When I looked back at the pictures from the marathon, I saw how happy she was while running. Seeing that smile on her face, I knew I had made the right decision. She was as happy as she could be doing what she loves. My advice to all of the parents out there would be if your kids have goals/dreams (notice I said your kids…not yours for them), help them pursue them.

We flew into Virginia on Friday. We decided to head over to the expo to pick up our bibs on Friday evening. Travis happened to be scrolling through his Twitter feed on the way to the expo and saw that Bart Yasso was going to be running the half marathon and had asked if anyone would like to join him. Just for the fun of it (and not really expecting a response), Travis tweeted back to him and told him Cheyenne would be running the half and it would be an honor for her to get to run with him. To our surprise, he actually responded and said he would love to run with her. We were absolutely floored! First, at the fact he actually responded. Second, at the fact he really said he would run with her!

Bart and Cheyenne

Right after we saw his message, we turned around and he happened to be standing at the Runner’s World booth right behind us. We walked over and introduced ourselves (and of course got a couple of pics). The one thing that amazed me about Bart from the first time I met him, was how down-to-earth he was. He would talk to you as if he had known you your whole life. He truly is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. We really enjoyed seeing his slide show and listening to him speak at the expo. He is such an inspiration. I really don’t think he even knows how much of an impact he is having on the lives of so many people. God is really using him to do great things. There is no way I would have the energy to talk to so many people and shake so many hands weekend after weekend the way he does. I admire him for that. There was even this lady who came up to him about two minutes before he was going to speak at the expo and pulled him to the side to ask if she could get a picture planking beside him just because they were friends on Facebook and she wanted to be able to post it. He could have very easily told her it was not a good time (he was standing in front of the stage getting ready to speak in about two minutes.). But not Bart. He didn’t even hesitate to drop right down beside her and cheese it up for a picture while in the plank position. That speaks volumes about his character. What I failed to tell him that weekend, was just a few weeks before I had cursed his name while running Yasso 800′s around the track training to get a BQ. I had even put on Twitter a few weeks before I had a love/hate relationship with that workout. It really sucks while you are doing it. But, the payoff is great! I will definitely continue to use it for future marathon buildups.

The other reason this marathon was so special is because I finally hit my goal of running a time that would qualify me to enter the Boston Marathon! I had to run a time of 3:35:00 in order to qualify. My PR was a 3:43 from last October at the Southern Tennessee Plunge Marathon. I knew I had what it would take to run a 3:35. I also knew it would take everything I had. And it did. I cruised through the first 18 miles at an 8:01 average pace (I needed to maintain an 8:12 pace to hit a 3:35). Usually, by mile 18 the fatigue is starting to set in and I am already starting to have a hard time keeping the pace. Not this time. I had a burst of energy between miles 17 – 20. I felt so strong. I was picking up my pace and picking off runners one by one. All of those miles were around a 7:45 – 7:55 pace. I felt great and had a smile on my face.

Sprinting to the finish!

At mile 20, we made a turn as we headed back toward the last six mile stretch. It was during this stretch that I felt the pain of the marathon. I honestly believe it wouldn’t have been as bad if the wind hadn’t been in my face. The winds were SO strong throughout the race. When you had a tailwind, it was great! But, the bad part of it was the last six miles when I was already fatigued, I had to fight the headwinds. The winds were a steady 25 mph. with gusts up to 40 mph. and more. It was like trying to run with a parachute tied to my back. I kept thinking cadence, cadence, cadence. I remember thinking to myself, “Quick turnover.” Just keep the pace. At mile 24 my pace had slowed to an 8:17, and by mile 25 I hit an 8:34. I thought, “Heck, NO! You did not train this hard to lose it in the last two miles of the race!” I remember telling myself to just relax into the wind just like I would running uphill. I had to pick up my feet faster. So I did. I hit mile 26 at an 8:15, and then picked up the pace even more on the last stretch home.

I crossed the finish line completely depleted, but filled with joy. I finished the race with a time of 3:32:21 (a personal best by 11 minutes)! I had qualified for the Boston Marathon! And Cheyenne and Travis were both there to celebrate with me at the finish line. It was a day I will cherish forever!

I want to say thank you to everyone who prayed for me, encouraged me, sent me text messages to wish me good luck, and stood by me throughout my training to help me reach my goals. I am truly blessed to have such support from family and friends.

My advice to everyone would be to dream big and never give up on your goals. Stay focused and work hard! Eliminate excuses and surround yourself with people who will encourage and support you. YOU CAN DO IT!

Sherry Spinks
Aragon, Georgia