I’m not even sure where to start with this one.

I guess I could start with the fact that for the last ten minutes, I’ve been staring at the little blank box about two inches north of here, unable to come up with an appropriate title for this post.

A few of the rejects: “California Love,” “Why you should definitely run a fast course in perfect weather if you want to PR,” “The speediest pre-race poop ever,” “The race that was a decade in the making.”

In the end, I decided to go simple and use the word that bounced around in my adrenaline-riddled skull like a stray coin in an empty dryer throughout the last ten miles of today’s California International Marathon.


Finally. Because until today, I had not run a legitimate PR in over a decade. And by that I mean: a PR that didn’t need some sort of ridiculous explanatory hyphenated adjective, usually framed by quotation marks, in front of it. You know, “post-college” PR. “Adult-era” PR. “I’ve-never-raced-this-distance-before-so-of-course-its-a-PR” PR.

I hadn’t run one at any distance, actually, but for some reason the marathon was the most vexing. Year after year, I signed up and showed up and ran, cranking out finish times that, while very respectable in the grand scheme of things, were oddly out of line with my performances at shorter distances.

“Maybe I’m just not cut out to race well at 26.2,” I’d say.

“Well, you know, most people get better at the longer stuff as they get older,” everyone answered.

And so I waited for it to happen, becoming more and more discouraged as my age crept up but my marathon times stayed the same.

But you know what I didn’t ever do, all of those years? Actually TRAIN. And by that I mean training hard. Sure, I did my 20-milers and the occasional Yasso 800 session, but I never really pushed myself to run more. To log 60 and 70 mile weeks. To race on tired legs. To do more than the minimum, whether it be mileage or track repeats.

Well, I did all of that stuff this time. And I had publicly declared my intent to PR or die trying. Maybe that’s why I was just a little tightly wound as I bounced nervously among the 8,000 other runners on the start line this morning.

Around me, everyone was gushing about the weather. And rightly so: the evening before, I’d tried to block out the sight of the branches of the tangerine trees in our friends’ yard, jerking around wildly as the wind whipped through them. High winds had grounded flights all over California just a few of days before, and even on the tail end of the storm, my own descent into the Sacramento airport had been a little harrowing.

But this morning was perfect. We were treated to a calm dawn in Folsom, with clear skies, temperatures in the 40s and the sweet smell of chapparal and fresh manure lingering in the air.

I, however, was kind of oblivious to that at first. I’d arrived at the race at 6:50 for the 7 AM start, thanks to a major traffic hassle getting to the drop-off area and a minor panic attack in the car. With barely enough time to make my port-o-potty offering, I arrived in the start corral just as the anthem was beginning. Stress.

You have to let this go, I told myself as the pack surged forward. You’re here, you made it, you have a perfect day and a fast course. Don’t eff this up.

For the first few miles, I hung with the 3:35 pace group. It was a friendly bunch with a talkative pacer and we cruised up and down the gentle hills at a pace that felt very mellow. I glanced periodically at my Garmin’s pace reading and determined that I was probably going out too fast, but decided I didn’t care.

At some point I drifted ahead of the 3:35-ers and again heard a little voice telling me to cool it. That little voice and I went back and forth for a few minutes. I eventually won.

You know was really addicting? Seeing those 7-something splits…and feeling really, really good.

Around mile 7, I came up on the 3:30 pace group, which was quite a mass of sweaty bodies. I hung on the periphery and let snippets of their conversations entertain me. At mile 7, I took an AccelGel. At mile 8, I started to pull away a little, the voices of the 3:30-ers becoming a little more faint. I never saw them again.

I’m actually struggling with what to write about these miles, far more than I struggled with running them. The innards of the marathon. I just felt…really good. It was actually fun. Half split: 1:44 and change, on pace for a sub-3:30 finish.

I remained sort of suspicious at this point, though. There was still time to implode. I took another gel at mile 14 and stayed with my strategy of swinging through every other water station, crossing my fingers that the fresh-feeling legs stayed around for a while.

Miles 16 and 17 were my favorite of this entire race. I can’t remember ever feeling so springy and fresh at that point. It was unreal. Somewhere during these miles, it occurred to me that I actually might do this. As in: even if I slowed down, I was still going to pull off a major PR and probably a BQ.


I started to wonder whether the wall would show up, and if so, when. Typically it appears around mile 18 for me. But I cruised on through to the 20 feeling pretty darn fantastic.

Well. Things indeed got unpleasant. The wall arrived just after mile 21, when all of a sudden it wasn’t quite so fun anymore. My feet hurt and my stomach cramped and the Second Surge gel, packed with sugar and caffeine, that I took at mile 21 didn’t really give me the boost I expected.

But I hung on. 8:30 pace was manageable and would still get me the a finish time that was within the realm of awesome finish outcomes. I walked through a water stop for the first time at mile 23, failing at one of the mini-goals I’d had for this race (which was: don’t walk).  But unlike marathons past where that first walk break was the start of a bad walking habit, I hung on and kept running at my slightly slower pace.

You guys. I can’t even describe how awesome it was to run down the final stretch toward that finish chute with 3:29:XX on the clock.

Okay, I can try.

It’s the first time I have ever smiled in a marathon finish photo.

It’s the first time I have ever been in danger of crying at the finish of a race…which I didn’t, but I thought I might.

It’s the first time in many years I’ve finished a race and been truly proud of what I accomplished.

Yeah. I know a 3:29 isn’t going to get me in to the Olympic trials or anything, but you know what? It’s kind of a big freaking deal to me. This PR has been over a decade in the making, and I’m damn proud of it.

In other words: Finally.

95 responses to “Finally

  1. Congratulations!! I was thinking about you this morning on my run. So proud of you :)

    p.s. I’d like to think that the unshaded, 90 degree day you spent running on the roads of NJ somehow contributed to this epic marathon PR. #TeamvodkaheistFTW

    miss you!

  2. Congrats Shelby!! You deserve every second of excitedness(yah, it’s a word) that this PR brings you!! Congrats on BQ’ing!!

  3. That’s awesome! It made me smile to read this post. I’m running my first marathon next March and I only hope I can write a similar post after that! (Note: I will NOT be finishing in 3:29. But hopefully I will finish!)

  4. I noticed you’d picked up from half – 20 while I looked at the splits and was pleased to see you were on better than 3:30 pace because I figured you had that one in the bag. Anyhow, consistently keeping the mileage up makes a WORLD of difference in the later stages of the marathon, as does running smart.

    Too bad I’m not there to do shots with you…

    • I really think that it does make a difference. Funny how running a whole lot of miles is good training for…running a whole lot of miles. :)

      Virtual shots all around! #telebooze

  5. I’m glad California wasn’t crazy windy this morning and that you had a great race. Although “Finally” is a perfectly good title, I’m partial to “California Love.” Congratulations! Hope your post race celebration has included/will include lots of west coast beer.

  6. Congrats!! On to the celebratory booze!

  7. Uh, I might have cried at the end of this race RECAP, so if you had cried at the end of the race, y’know, that would have been cool. Way to kill it.

    I have a feeling you have already seen this MS Paint video, but regardless, it seems like the right time to break it out in celebration.

  8. this is way awesome! many congratulations!

  9. Sweet run! Congrats! … But what shoe did you end up wearing…oh, the suspence.

  10. I am SO SO happy for you! That was an amazing race and you absolutely deserved it – a trip to Maui seems utterly appropriate!

  11. “Finally” definitely an eloquent title choice. Love it! You worked hard, stayed strong, and I’m so happy to hear you ran the race the way you deserved to. I was honestly thinking about you & your marathon all morning and hoping it went awesome. (I suppose that’s weird to admit, but I was totally rooting for you.) Congrats, and Merry Christmas a bit early I guess! Enjoy Maui. :)

  12. Awesome :) I love the voice of your blog — one of my favorites among the many, many running blogs out there. For reals. I was excited to read about how CIM went for you and so glad that California was good to you! There must have been some good air up in Sac. this weekend — my first nephew was born up there this weekend, after a crazily easy labor for my SIL. Good things do come from Sacramento! (despite what lots of my fellow pretentious SF peeps might think).

  13. Dude. (this is going to make me sound like a stalker but I don’t care) I woke up this morning and Seattle and ran to the computer to look up yours (and other people’s) splits. I was super excited to see your awesome half and 20 mile split…and then….the finishing split…dude….CONGRATS!!!!

    Way to run a smart, well earned PR =). So so happy for you and your speedy legs!

  14. um yeah… I also had to fight tearing up while reading this. thanks for reminding why we do this and welcome to the CIM PR club… brought back some good memories!

  15. oh and did you see your boy that commented on your goals post got his OT qualifier? do you know him IRL? I thought that was sweet too.

    • I don’t know him, other than coming across his blog recently after he commented on mine! I just looked at the results though – damn, he killed it! Awesome! Hopefully he posts a recap!

  16. SO glad you had such a satisfying race. Your splits are on fire! I liked the alternative title better — California Love. Come do all your races here. And next we’ll get our act together and actually meet up….

  17. Congratulations!! Just based on your posts, I thought you could do this and was relieved to read that the weather provided the final, perfect finishing touch! 3:29 is so fast, Wow. Hope you had a wonderful recovery meal(s) and beers :)

  18. Congrats!!! So happy you met your goals and then some 😀

  19. AMAZING!! congrats — you so deserved this PR!

  20. Oh wow! Congrats! You earned it.

  21. YAY!!!!! Congratulations!

  22. Congrats, Shelby!!! That is fantastic!
    And I would like to see said marathon photo when it comes out… :)

    • Me too. I definitely was smiling but it will probably come out looking like I’m trying to take a crap or something. :)

  23. Congrats! California was good to you :)

  24. Congrats! You SHOULD be proud of that PR because you deserve it!!!

  25. Congrats! This was a great recap to read and those are some AWESOME splits!

  26. Congrats Shelby!

    Those splits are incredible. Every bit of this post was filled with awesomeness. Way to go!

  27. Congrats! You nailed this one, in training and execution. It was your time!

  28. That’s really awesome. Congrats!

  29. Wow, congratulations Shelby!!! What an incredible race you had. I am so impressed by your paces through out the marathon. Great job girl!!!

  30. Wow, amazing!! Fantastic pace and you must be over the moon. Congrats!

  31. Congratulations!!!

  32. Congratulations! I know the feeling you are describing at the end of the race. I had the same thing when I crossed the finish line at the Fargo marathon, coming in 8 minutes faster than I anticipated.

  33. ::thunderous applause::

    You totally made that race your bitch. Well done :)

  34. Awesome job!!! Congrats!

  35. Wow. This is AWESOME!! Congrats!!!!!!!
    WAY TO GO!!!!!!!!

  36. Congratulations, lady! That is a fantastic time and it’s so great to see hard work pay off for deserving people. Three cheers for you!

  37. Congrats lady!!! That is really awesome – so happy for you!! :) Shots in your honor!!

  38. Congrats again–GREAT recap! Having fun in the middle of a marathon is a fantastic feeling. :)

  39. Mahahaha… I love that you considered crying but didn’t. I had tears pressing on the backs of my eyeballs merely from reading this. However, I am like the BSC Mary Anne of athletics and have cried at many sporting/race-related events & written pieces so that’s not so out of the ordinary.

    In any case: big, huge congratulations. A giant PR, a sub-3:30, a cool head and fantastic execution — definitely a race experience to savor. You 100% nailed this one.

    • Haha. I’m not really a crier. I think that although I very much wanted to be Claudia and even went through a phase of dressing in all black, white and red just to make that point…unfortunately, I’m Kristy. The stocky, emotionally-unavailable one who can’t dress herself. :)


  40. Wow, that’s awesome! I loved reading this post. Congrats!

  41. I was thinking about you this weekend, too. SO exciting! You should be very proud – you worked hard and it paid off. I owe ya a congratulatory drink if we ever meet someday :)

  42. Congratulations! Terrific recap and an amazing race. I’m so glad you saw our “toenails are overrated” sign. Hopefully you were one of the many strangers we got to cheer for yesterday! It was a wonderful race; though I’ll admit I was glad to be spectating and not running. Maybe 2012 will see me signing up for another full. Watching CIM was definitely inspiring!

  43. Amazing, congrats on a super fast race!

  44. CONGRATS!! 3:29 is amazing!

  45. I’m glad all of your hard work and training paid off! Congrats on an awesome race!!

  46. Woo hoo!! Congratulations Shelby!! I was thinking about you and so glad to hear that you had such a great race! That’s one that I’ve thought about running. :-)

  47. YAY!!! So pumped for you! You worked super hard & absolutely deserve it! :)

  48. Sooooo sweet to feel everything, I mean everything, coming together. HUGE CONGRATS!!! I’ve fought the marathon demon for awhile now, yet to be victorious but you’ve given me hope! The only race in which I’ve felt as you’ve described was my HM PR … effortless, relaxed, comfortable. When it happens like that you know every shitty run was so worth it. Recover well!!

  49. Congrats, Shelby!! You definitely earned this one- I’m happy for you! Hey, wanna come back to Chicago and PR again and we can go out for beers afterward again?? Just a thought. 😉

    • I do need another crack at Chicago. Maybe one of these years! Or I could skip the race and just come for the beers! :)

  50. Congratulations, Shelby! So happy for you!

  51. Shelby! I’m so happy for you. That “finally” moment is WELL FUCKING EARNED. I hope you’re still floating.

  52. Congratulations on your sweet new PR!

    CIM was my first marathon, and it was tough. But yes, the weather was perfect. The night before the race I wondered if it would be windy, given the rattling tree branches and chill. But really, I couldn’t have asked for better conditions.

  53. Hey Shelby,

    Way to go! Seriously, be proud of a job very, very well done! I think I speak for everyone when I say that I am really impressed.

    You rocked this race and your story is equally amazing. (Anybody ever tell you that you should be a writer? Haha.)

    I can’t know just how much this means to you, but I’ve seen how much you’ve given to your training over the last few months and you deserved to PR, no questions asked. I’m proud of you and very lucky to train with someone so kind, supportive and deserving of success.

    Looking forward to running with you again when you’re back from Hawaii!

    Congratulations again,


    • Thanks! I’m taking most of this week off, but already excited to be back and running with you guys next week!

  54. Hot damn! Congratulations on one hell of a race!

  55. Been following the blog for about 6 months. Nice wine and beer reviews. Good job!

  56. I ran another marathon this weekend. My training was awesome but my performance sucked. I’ve been really frustrated by my inability to run a decent marathon. But then I read your race recap and now I have hope that there is a better marathon time in my future.

    • I have been there…so, SO many times. Sometimes it just isn’t your day. It sucks with any race, but it’s especially hard with a marathon. Keep at it, you’ll get there!

  57. Congratulations on your PR! That had to have felt FANTASTIC!

  58. Again, congratulations, Honey…I just had to comment on all the inspiring and great comments this post is getting. I feel so proud to have been a part of producing such a wonderful person!
    Soak up some sun in Hawaii and we look forward to seeing you guys this Christmas! Love you!

  59. Oh! Almost forgot…..congrats on beating MY pr too!

  60. you could have also called it “BAM, BITCHES.” ah well, next time. and congratulations! this is a serious amount of ass-kicking, my friend.

  61. I saw your tweet and screamed for you – I am soooooo excited that you had such a great race FINALLY! :) and so glad it was at CIM just because 😉 yay yay yay is all I have to say.

  62. Awesome! Congratulations!!!!

  63. Hot damn those splits are impressive. Congratulations on an incredible time!

  64. Wow. Just wow. You’re my hero.

  65. Congrats on your BQ! You showed hard work and dedication will eventually end up with a win! Congrats!!

  66. I’m so happy for you! What an awesome time, and BQ minus 5, by the way, so you should have no trouble registering when/if you decide to go. Congrats!

  67. Congrats!!!!!

  68. I’m a little late on this {its been an open tab on my browser all week!} but I just need to say – congrats! You did completely awesome and totally earned this race! :)

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