Photo credit: Ryan Lange
Last Sunday, I ran the BMW Dallas Marathon. With a little more than 1,000 female finishers, and just under 2,000 male finishers, it’s a small marathon in a big city. I started with 10 “elite” (sub-3:10) females 40 minutes before the rest of the participants started. Also at the elite start was one high school female relay runner who would pass the baton every 2 miles to the next high school female. With eleven of us on the starting line, cameras in front of us, and the live feed on the jumbotron above us, I think we all felt like a rockstars.
When the gun went off, everyone sprinted. I was in last place for the first 1200 meters. Slowly, a few of the girls caught sight of their watches and slowed down. I continued to hang back at about 6:35 pace for the first few miles, which put me at about 5th place around mile 6. For the next few miles, I just ran my race, without worrying too much about anyone else, though I did try to keep Caitlin Keen in my sights.
I knew Caitlin had run a 1:20 half recently, but I also knew this was her first marathon at age 24. I was worried. She had good running form. But, I had both experience and age in my favor, and I knew it.
Taking the advice my teammate Francesca had given me the night before, I began to trail Caitlin by about 20 meters. Though not marked on the road, I ran the tangents of the course. With so many turns and curves to the road, I found it odd that she didn’t as well. Although looking at our Strava’s now, I see she only ran 0.1 meters more than me.
I surged twice to catch up to Caitlin during miles 10-15, because I thought it might be helpful for us both to run together. However, when I caught up to her, she and I “one-stepped” each other. I knew it was too early to push the pace, so I told her I was backing off. She said “I hear you. Totally understandable.”
Around mile 15, I caught up to her and ran next to her. I asked her how she was doing, and she asked me. We both said “good.” Then I told her, “You and I have 1st and 2nd place for sure.” And she responded, “Yes, definitely.” We ran quietly together for the next 3 miles. The go-cart with the camera was in front of us. I wondered if the exhaust was affecting my breathing. I wondered how I looked on camera. I could see out of the corner of my eye that her form was still pristine.
Throughout the marathon, I saw my family and friends at multiple places along the course. They had big signs and cheered really loud. The course was very hilly and because I hadn’t studied the course very closely, each hill was a surprise. But I did know about the Winstead Street hill at mile 20, which is longer and steeper than Harlem Hill. I knew that if I was in a position to make a tactical move, I wanted to do it after that hill.
However, I saw my parents at mile 18. Seeing them made me smile, and I felt strong. I continued running the same pace. But now Caitlin wasn’t next to me, she had fallen back. I got worried–now I was in a vulnerable place. She could hunt me down on the hill. I’m not a strong hill runner. I decided to tackle the hill slowly and steadily. I’d make up for it after the hill was over.
When I saw my parents again at mile 22, my dad made a hand gesture to show that Caitlin was far back. I couldn’t believe it. This was the first time I realized I was going to win the Dallas Marathon. I was so excited!! Then I looked at my time, and thought, geez I might even get a PR!! I declined fluid at the aid station. I was running so well, I didn’t want to interrupt my pace with silly water! It wasn’t hot outside and I didn’t think I was sweating much. My nutrition at that point was 3 clif shot block packages, one at 10K, one at 20K and one at 30K.
Then I was coming into the finish! I saw the finish line! And it was UPHILL. My legs gave out. Ariana Luterman, who was running the last 2 mile leg of the female high school relay team, saw me fall and came to help me. I asked her to stop touching me. I got up, and kept running. It felt like knives stabbing into my quads. The rest is on video gone viral.
Caitlin Keen is likely going to run a faster marathon than I’ll ever run. My marathon years are numbered, hers are just beginning. But for this race, I got to win a marathon. Which is probably about the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.
P.S. While I understand that Ariana was acting instinctively, I wish I had been able to convey that I didn’t want any aid during my finish.