Six is the Perfect Number

by Janne Rand Gilligan

As marathon number 6, Lake Placid was probably what I consider the most enjoyable and successful marathon I’ve ever run. It wasn’t my fastest and it wasn’t my slowest, but I attribute my feeling of success to running even splits and experiencing the rare gift of feeling good and happy for an entire 26.2 miles.

The marathon leading up to this race (no pun intended) began almost a year ago when after two years of hardly running, some spark of inspiration was set off inside of me after watching my husband compete in the Lake Placid Ironman. All of a sudden, I realized something had been missing in my life for far too long and I knew what I had to do – it was time to get back on a structured training plan and work toward a goal race. I decided to go all in and sign up for a marathon. Training would begin August 1st at dawn! I decided signing up for the Philadelphia Marathon would be the best approach, as it would give me time for a 16-week plan starting from scratch. I made my first very big mistake early on with delusional unrealistic goals, which led to tunnel vision and me only accepting going for that sub 3:15 goal. There was no A, B, or C goal. There was only A+++.

Although much of my 16 weeks was spent building a base and learning to be a consistent runner, I was very disciplined about staying true to the plan and not skipping days or missing key workouts. It was probably the most disciplined I have ever been and I definitely experienced good progress as a result. I finally learned to balance my heavy work life with running and fell into a consistent groove with my training. Despite the upward progression though, I never hit any workout paces that would suggest the fitness level of a 3:15 marathon, but continued to dream and attributed my workout performances to hot humid weather and/or doing them all after work when I was drained and tired.

Well, the Philadelphia Marathon came and went and after what felt like a successful progressive training block, I wish I could say the story ended with that sub 3:15 and some ice cream, but unfortunately, this was one of those disastrous marathons that you hear of people whisper about around the campfire. The morning leading up was very stressful, parking was hard to find, and I showed up too late to even bring all my stuff to baggage check. I went out too hard my first mile, completely stressed and frustrated that I was still carrying my bag, but still trying to chase that 3:15 goal. Somewhere around 1-2 miles in I chucked my bag across the street. For the next couple of miles I started feeling sad, wondering if I would ever see the green Fleece again.* I was keeping up a good pace and was on point for the first 7 miles. People were cheering, and strangely enough all of the overstimulation was starting to get to me. I was starting to feel like I was running in a tunnel and all of a sudden felt this dramatic low, soul sucking force like I wanted to disappear, float away into the sky and taken far away from there. I was fading and the famous wall was at my heels. At mile ten there was a long gradual incline and this is the point my pace began to slow, my legs stopped working, and the deepest feelings of worthlessness overtook me and I ended up in this very detached dark place. By mile 17 I was feeling the ultimate runner’s low and wanted to quit. Putting one foot in front of the other felt like moving cement blocks. My mind kept telling me I couldn’t stop because how would I ever get back to the car? I would be stuck in the streets of Philly forever and never get home. But by some miracle I made it one foot at a time and I crossed the finish line just barely under 3:35, with thoughts that it would be a long time (if ever) before I think about running a marathon again. I was defeated. I was broken. A chapter had ended.

After some recovery and mental healing, a longtime friend and knowledgeable elite runner decided to take me on as her next challenge and from that point on, a prosperous coach-athlete dynamic began. It is a magical thing when you are able to hit your paces because you know she is yelling at you with her eyes. Throughout the winter we worked on speed with the springtime goal to run the Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon. A half marathon and some shorter spring races sounded like a nice thing to look forward to, but somehow under the watchful eye of my wise coach, I found myself training for another marathon with some 21 milers casually popping up in my schedule. To my surprise, these long runs were becoming routine and feeling easier and easier. I was seeing paces in my workouts that I haven’t seen in years and was definitely surpassing the progress I had made in the fall and building some confidence.

Janne kneeling in front with coach Karen Bertasso 2nd from right and other Willow Street members

I gave into signing up for another marathon and picked sought out a fast, flat course for the spring so I signed up for the Steel Rail Marathon in the Berkshires. Come May, I was looking forward to my taper week and then seeing what I had in me. Unfortunately, things took an unexpected turn and with the weather forecast predicting 90 degree temperatures with high humidity, we decided it would not be a good idea to do this race and just like that, my taper week abruptly ended and I was back to doing big workouts and another 21 mile long run appeared on my schedule for the weekend. After all this hard work and training, I was left to scramble around looking for another race. There was no way I was wasting my mojo juice. After some back and forth it became clear that Lake Placid would be the winning choice and I went from being disappointed to very excited with a feeling that it was meant to be. I’ve done the Lake Placid half marathon many times, winning it twice back in my faster good ole days, but I never really considered the full marathon, as it seemed mentally tough and intimidating. Lake Placid is definitely not a fast, flat course and a June marathon is always risky as far as weather goes.  

Signing up for Lake Placid surprisingly gave me a huge sense of relief, as I felt like the pressure was off and this would be mostly for fun because trying to PR at this point was out the window. I spent the next three weeks building and tapering for Lake Placid and just looking forward to the whole weekend of being in my hometown and seeing my parents.

Race morning arrived and I showed up at the start line feeling relaxed and content like I was just getting ready for a morning long run. While I fantasized about how cool it would be to make the podium, my goals for this race were simple: Run smart, don’t go out too hard, and finish this marathon in good spirits and kick the bad feelings from the last marathon to the curb.

For the first three miles of the race, I held back and ran very casually enjoying my view of Mirror Lake, knowing I would be sitting beside it later in the day. I was about to enjoy a scenic ride on a course I know every curve and hill like the back of my hand. The weather was a little on the warm side, but I continuously dumped water on my head to stay cool. River Road was beautiful, familiar, and the soothing scent of the pine trees coming into my nose was comforting and brought me back to a comforting feeling of being home and nurtured. At mile 6.5 I was feeling like I was in a zen-like state and my legs were effortlessly moving me. I did not stray from my pace and continued to stay in the target range, despite feeling like I could crank it up a notch. Along the course I saw life size cardboard cutouts of my brother in law wearing his Olympic medals and it made me giggle every time I ran by. When I passed the half marathon turnaround point, I was curious to see how many of the faster women ahead of me would turn around. As many of them continued on, I made a mental note of the number of fast women ahead of me, and momentarily felt a little disappointed as I would likely not be making the podium in my hometown race this year (podium in this race is top 5). I quickly shook off those feelings and reminded myself that I came here to run my own race. The halfway point came and went, and I knew the second half of the race would mean running up the big hill by the ski jumps twice. The first time wasn’t so bad and I continued to stay in my pace goal range. Somewhere around mile 15-16 was the turnaround point for the second out and back and I was pleasantly surprised that another lap on River Road was not so mentally tough. It was actually welcoming. The feeling of knowing which stretches were safe to go harder on and which stretches were slower with more rollers gave me an edge in the later stages of the race.

Interestingly, as the last 10k approached, I began passing people that had been ahead of me the whole race. I never really sped up, I just continued to stay stable and zen-like. At mile 25 I ran up the dreaded hill by the ski jumps for the final time and still having juice left in the tank, I sped up for my last 1.2 miles. Mile 26 ended up being one of my fastest and easiest miles. I crossed the finish line feeling elated and fresh. Nothing bad had happened. My mind and soul were still intact and I was still me. I walked away excited to start thinking about planning my next marathon for the fall. I felt completely opposite of what I had in Philly and ran more than 10 minutes faster. This wasn’t a PR, but it was what I consider one of my most successful marathons because I never faded and I enjoyed the whole experience. I had run my own race and was proud of it. Interestingly though, to my surprise as I was chugging my chocolate milk I heard the announcer call my name – I made the podium after all and didn’t realize it!!

                                                   Janne is on far left

Looking back, I could wonder to myself, if I had run smarter in Philly, maybe I could have run the same time I just ran in Lake Placid and had a good experience, or, since I had so much juice in the tank, maybe I could have pushed harder and run a much faster time in Lake Placid at the expense of enjoying the experience? Well, we will never know and let’s leave it at that. I had a good day - I walked away with a podium, Boston Qualifier, even splits, and the desire for another round!

*Not to leave you hanging…Janne’s bag was returned, and she is again in possession of her beloved green fleece top that has been with her throughout her running career!!!


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