CIM OTQ: The Long Story

Gather round, it's my very first true race recap. A rambling tale of PowerGels and foot cramps and spoiler alert: ultimately crushing a life goal. 

I signed up for CIM 8 weeks before because I saw a glimmer of "why not me?' in a half marathon. I trained as hard as I could with a coach who apparently also believes in the rainbow connection. I was where I was. And if you'd asked me last Saturday night, "Can you do it?" I would have answered, "No." But if you'd asked, "Will you do it?" I would have said "Yes."

Unlike any race in the past I had this calm as the race got closer. Not because it didn't matter and not because I wasn't nervous. And not because I knew I would do it. I just felt life on either side of the day was so big. I had this room to play. I would give the race everything I had on the day and what ever shook out the other side would be. The older I get (and no I'm not some old sage yet) the more racing is (painful) playground. Outcomes don't define my worth. 

And of course Lauren Fleshman said it best: 
"Make the race your playground, not your proving ground."

This doesn't mean you don't get competitive or dig down into the pain, push through the pain because of goals you've set. It doesn't mean the goal isn't allowed to mean everything during the race. Because play can be serious. And serious can be fun! 

There were times during the last 3 weeks I questioned my sanity. I was really going to leave PJ for an entire precious weekend (working moms can I get an amen?) to run a marathon? Taper is always a mind trip, my legs felt heavy and can barely hit 6:19s for 4 mile tempos. I spent time trying to drown out the voice that kept asking who did I think I was? How did I think I would hit 6:12s for 26.2 miles?

But as the race weekend closed in I reminded myself to enjoy it. No regrets. No beating myself up over leaving my PJ behind. Or wondering if it was 'worth it.' Or sulking or feeling selfish. Just get there and enjoy the time with my dad, Lesko, Steph and my teammates. Enjoy the weird pre-race rituals and soak in the experience of being 'Elite B' squad. Then wake up on Sunday and run the very biggest, best race possible! In this dark world, what a simple bright privilege to have a whole weekend dedicated to running. 
bye to my crew before flying out

So I did! I flew solo for the first time in over 15 months. Reading on a flight? Actually being able to order coffee without the fear of it ending up all over me and my flailing kid? Not hauling a baby, bags and a giant carseat through security. I never appreciated things like that appropriately. The flight was a spa experience. 

We descended over pancake flat fields. I mean obviously I'd flown here for the fast course, but as I inspected the landscape from the sky I only saw one hill. I couldn't believe how flat it was. It was the first time I got the race day tingles in my legs. I thought this could be it. 

I shared a suite with Lesko and my dad. We were a funny little team. My dad had work off and on, meeting with clients. I rolled solo to grab my number on Friday in the elite room and filled out a W9 at their offer. Just in case I made the bonus for running B standard. I'm superstitious but felt like hopefully this wasn't in error with the universe for counting chickens before they hatch. Just in case. Just in case. 

The elite everything was so organized and well done. Big props to Danielle! This Elite B felt the love. 

Friday night I had dinner with my coach, Steph. My dad joined after meetings. It was fun to talk shop and actually be face to face with the person who brought me to this starting line. Steph is just a spark. I know this year has been hard for her but she's got her smile. She's the most positive human and not in some annoying Polyanna way. In a real way that's rare. Just like her steak, which she left when she had to get back to Hudson. I don't believe in wasting good food so I ended up eating nearly two full steaks. All about that fuel.

Saturday AM we did a shake out and some strides. Shakeouts should always be done with company so you stay out of your head. Because it never feels good and there should be no headspace for how will I run x:xx tomorrow for 26.2 miles?!?! Magic is how. 

Afterwards I hit the craft store and got decorations for my bottles. The Elite B squad would share one folding table for bottles. Over 60 bottles on one folding table. Gulp. I Googled 'how to decorate elite bottles' and copied Amy Hastings. All I can say is I owned bottles in the Elite B group.

shake ya water bottle feather

I made gluten free pasta and meat sauce at the hotel. Started overnight oats for the next morning and laid everything out. I ate some sweet potato and Cheerios and got in bed early. Lesko came in (yes, we were sharing a bed) and had the funniest stories from her day. We stayed up until 9 or 10 talking and laughing. I went to sleep pretty quickly and woke up in typical race night sweats at 3:45AM. Showered quickly (because: night sweats) and put on my kit!

The bus waiting area was crazy, but I remember in the elite meeting (where by the way I MET JENNY SIMPSON - random story) they were like 'get on the first bus round' so I made it happen and pulled Trisha (Oiselle teammate) with me. We chatted all the way to the drop off and then get into the elite tent village. The morning was perfect, already 48, and the tents were heated. Did some rope stretching, jogged around, and lined up. 

It was the most packed start I've ever been on. My arms were pinned to my sides. The Olympic Standard is gun time, not chip, so we all wanted to start up front. And there were A LOT of women going for it. I was maybe 6 rows deep. But only took a few seconds to get over the start line. 

photo credit: shal's facebook friend. Shal is in pink.  

Most of the race was like running in an elevator. Or a crowded 5k. My elbows were always in the wrong place and feet kept nipping each other. I'm a lot taller than most women marathoners and it was hard to find a nook to actually be able to stride out. It was like running in a pack of horses. Just the sounds of feet on the pavement, galloping. 

Somehow in the midst of this circus I actually grabbed my 3.3 mile bottle! But trying to get back out of the water way before the normal tables was crazy. Nearly trampled! I took a sip and part of the gel I'd taped. Tossed them. I hit the next table I think, but missed one between 7 and 13. Luckily if people had somehow grabbed theirs at any given stop they take it down and then yell out if anyone needed a sip. It seemed like it was always Gatorade. And I kept missing my water ones, but hitting my Gatorade ones, and I don't practice with Gatorade. So I took very small sips. 

When I missed my next bottle (10? 13?), was caught in a flail and tried to go back. I knew I needed it. Luckily Trisha yelled stop! I got mine!! So we shared her bottle. And finally it was water. We passed it back and forth until it was gone. I took a gel.

just missed another stop, trying not to panic. Trisha meanwhile is crushing the water stop, far left.

Nutrition over all was decent. I had dark times between 7 and 12 missing my bottles in the crowd, but once the carbs and water hit my legs and brain when I shared Trisha's bottle things got better. Things had thinned by 17 and I got another one. I took down a total of just under 3 gels and hit 3 or 4 water stops, plus got a sip of Gatorade. It could have been better, but it worked. After mile 21 or so I didn't take anything else. I couldn't physically or mentally run and fuel. I just had to run. 

I don't know how anyone recaps a marathon mile by mile. It was a blur. I saw my dad and Lesko and Steph so many times. I don't know where. I know around mile 12 Lesko told me Kara had won San Antonio Rock N Roll and that put a pep in my step. Steph was always calming and made me smile. And I think at mile 18 when I was massaging my crappy side stab my dad saw me because when I caught up on the family text they all thought it might be over for me. Molly was everywhere and any time I was half a step off the pack she'd yell GET ON THE PACK MAC! That was essential.

After mile 18 things were really thinned out. And I was on pace. I thought, wow if anything this is the fastest I've ever run 18 miles! Mile 22 things were real lonely and hard, and I'd broken from the pace group. I was nervous they weren't banking us enough time. And by the end it was me and one neon singlet dude. I sat behind him I thought, but photos show otherwise. It was all black, I was in the pain cave.

I played mind games with traffic lights and trees, just run this pace to that light, just run this pace to that tree, just run this pace to that drugstore, to that corner, to that crack in the sidewalk. Everything was shutting down. Shal (who I was with through at least 18 or 22) was floating away further and further. I thought just keep her in view. She'll run 2:41 something. Just keep her in view. 

The last mile my feet were cramping, my legs were cramping, I pushed up to the edge but held back terrified of being that person you see crawling just feet from the line. Missing it by 5 second because of cramping. I knew there were two lefts at the end. I started to think the two lefts were NEVER GOING TO BE THERE. 

Left, left. I never wanted to see runners ahead turn so much, where is this left?! Finally I'm going left, I think in my pain cave. Then left again and the clock! It's there! I can see red, but not numbers. It's 2:42 something. Holy nuggets!!! RUN!! Then I see the time just steps before and I know I'm in. And I can't play it cool I just feel something in my chest open and I'm yelling! Then I'm over the line and they put an American flag on my shoulders and I see Lesko and I lose it. I cried like I might never stop. 

photo credit: sean dulancy
 We are screaming and crying and shaking each other over the fence. I can see it clearly, it feels like I imagined all those years on a lonely run. When I'd escape into finish line fantasy. You know when you're running on some road shoulder and you're vividly imagining what it would feel like to run down that last 100m and crush it. To have a flag around your shoulders and hugging your best friends and your dad and your coach. 
photo cred: sean dulancy

I looked up and there were cameras, and Lyndy! Who just made it too. And we were screaming again! WE ARE GOING TO THE OLYMPIC TRIALS!!! It was a spectacle! 

Steph appeared and we hugged and sobbed. The past year had been pressing down on our shoulders, but it was lifted for a minute. We pushed it back and believed in something together despite odds. It felt so big to have a "win."

A news channel interviewed me and I couldn't stop crying. I left a message for Owen. "Owen I have imagined leaving you this message a million times, but I can't believe I'm leaving it. I'm going to run the Olympic Trials!!"

Three other Oiselle teammates made it that day! And then four days later, Trisha made it too when the standard changed to 2:45. She'd run the standard 2 years earlier! Hoping her achilles recovers for LA. Running with Shal, Lyndy and Trisha for so long was a huge help. I couldn't believe I could hang with Shal. And Lyndy is tougher than anyone. She just ran Chicago and came back to get the standard weeks later. Crazy. Cynthia took it out and ran a huge race. BTW she has three kiddos!

I couldn't find my dad. I'm called to  the podium with 12 other women, in American flags. I found my phone and my family is texting like crazy. My dad texts "Is everyone else crying?!?" I text my dad. We meet up and hug and cry. This goal was for my family too. My mom and my dad gave up racing at the level they could when they had me, neither ran the Trials though my dad had run the standard. And my mom had me before there was an Olympic Marathon for women. I wanted that name MacKay on the Olympic Trials list. And now it is! (I changed my middle name to MacKay, I just couldn't part with it.)

I took a week off, and tonight did a four mile shakeout. I felt good, but my calves are bricks. We'll need to tread lightly (pun intended). My goal is to recover while training and show up healthy and strong. And leave a little room for magic of course. 

The Olympic Trials Marathon is on February 13th in LA. There are 17! Oiselle women on that starting line, including one Kara Goucher. I'd be lying if a big part of my goal wasn't to line up in the same kit as Kara in LA. There's not a lot of life chances like that. And I've got that tingly feeling about her race.

This blog only took me four x as long to write as training for the marathon. But if I'm gonna go all long story on a blog entry, this had to be the one. That one magic marathon I've dreamed of.

Thanks for reading and for cheering. I could feel the energy absolutely. I was completely floored by people's support and excitement. Overwhelmed doesn't begin to describe it. And all the Oiselle on the course cheering, just wow!

I keep seeing the questions about 'how I did it'... hire Steph and Ben Bruce. Really all I can say. Work smart, and believe in magic


  1. Wow. Congratulations! You deserve every success that comes your way. I'll be running the LA Marathon on Feb. 14. I will be there on Feb. 13 cheering for you and all the other Oiselle birds at the Olympic Trials. Go Team Oiselle.

  2. Amazing job, amazing recap... congrats on a great magic race day!

  3. AHHHH I am nearly crying for you!! ALL THE CONGRATULATIONS!! :) :) :)

  4. Congrats Sarah!! You have worked so hard and deserve it! I hope you remember this feeling forever!

  5. CONGRATS!!! What an incredible accomplishment!

  6. Congratulations!!! You're incredible!!

  7. Incredible run. Inspiring recap. CIM was my "hometown" marathon as I lived many years near Sacramento and where I BQ'd. Congratulations on OTQ!

  8. I love everything about this recap. Congratulations! You are absolutely amazing and so inspiring!!

  9. so so so so so so so so incredibly excited for you! It was a fantastic weekend cheering on birds at CIM, followed by another weekend of cheering on birds at Club XC Nationals! NorCal sure does know how to spoil birds in December :) Can't wait for Olympic Trials - I think a small pack of us are planning on going down that weekend to cheer you guys on!

  10. Ahhhh, you get me every dang time. What an amazing life moment.

  11. Congrats my friend!! So proud of you. I have millions of tears falling as I read this. Cheering you on for your dreams!! ��

  12. I'm crying and just keeping thinking, THIS is why I run and THIS is why I love the Oiselle team. I won't ever run the Olympic trials but I have this urge to set big goals and chase them down. Thanks for proving that life doesn't have to stop when you become a mom, it changes and it's harder but you can still live your life and dream big. Congrats!!

  13. Fantastic retelling! Watched you come across the line and meet up with Steph and could literally feel how special it was in the air. Congratulations on a great race and best wishes for Feb 13th!

  14. That just gave me UNbelievable goosies!!!! You can and did do hard things. Atta girl!

  15. You are amazing, what a wonderful accomplishment! xoxo

  16. Love the long version! Tears for real lady. It is so nice to see someone dig deep and get it, truly get it. I had a XC race once in HS where it went well... like I was outside of myself running and I will never forget that feeling, that 'perfect' race. Also you motivated me to get a coach (Mollie from Piece of Cake running, go Oiselle love!) for my next half. Thanks again woman and way to kick ass. Can we please all meet up in Vermont some day!

  17. Sarah, I ran behind you from about 21.5 to 23.85. From 23.85 until 26.1 (the left turn to the separate finishes), I tried as hard as I could to run away from you. At 24.25, I heard someone shout, "Go Sarah, I read your book" [although he must have said 'blog.'] I thought, 'I gotta run away from this woman, whoever she is." You stuck with me (and beat me) despite your cramping feet and cramping legs. That ain't magic, that's just grit. Tough! I pity the woman who has to run away from you in the trials! Ain't gonna happen. Good luck! Peder Nestingen (aka, "neon singlet dude")

  18. Awesome recap, loved reading every bit of it! I'm literally tearing up at work but it's worth it. Can't wait to cheer for you in LA!

  19. And how amazing was it to squeeze your little one after this huge accomplishment? Every race I've done since having two babies I can't stop thinking of them during my race and waiting to hug them in that proud moment. Well done mom. You're an inspiration!!

  20. CONGRATULATIONS, SARAH! I love following you on social media and you are a wonderful writer and a fantastic runner. Cheers!

  21. Congrats on putting yourself out there and going BIG!!! Way to go-it was fun to read your recap. Best of luck in February! :)

  22. Your post made me cry! Congratulations!

  23. I can't quite seem to find the right words other than how incredibly happy I am for you. Every ounce of this is pure joy and the raw emotion on you face gives me goosebumps. Congratulations on the life changing accomplishment. It's great to see good things happen to good people. A true inspiration. GO GET 'EM TIGER!

  24. Love this so much. Waited until I had a good block of time to read it because I wanted to savor it. Love what you said about seeing the MacKay name on that list. Love it. WAY TO GO, sister. Way to go. xx

  25. Well I'm late to the game on this post, but your blog entry made me cry! :)! Huge congrats what an achievement!!! In a world where "inspirational" is used way too much, this is beyond inspirational <3.


  26. Amazing recap, Sarah! And awesome job. Way to put it all out there

  27. Amazing!!! A huge congrats! Loved reading this post - I don't have OTQ goals but I do have running goals I still want and need to accomplish. This is my inspiration!!

  28. Your story has really inspired me as I have the chance to take my training seriously the way I've always wanted to. Thanks for sharing. My new hero


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