“Maybe I can qualify for Boston.”

These six words ran though my head for the first time (okay, the first time I actually believed them) three miles into the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon last March. Guys, I ran FAST. Those first three miles were at 8:15 pace and I didn’t let up much. To qualify for Boston I’d have to run a marathon at 8:12 pace.

After the finish, I took the bus from Issaquah back to Redmond where the race had started. It was naturally filled with people who’d finished around the time I had, and I couldn’t help but notice these people were mostly men. Fast looking ones. My seat-mate amiably asked me if I had any races coming up. He was clearly hoping I’d ask the same question in return because when I did he tried to tuck away a proud smile as he mentioned that he was heading to Boston in April.

Maybe some April I’d be heading to Boston too.

Because here’s the thing: I hadn’t really been training for a fast race. I’d signed up for the half a few months before as a way to force my post-partum self into shape before my beach wedding. I’d vaguely hoped for a sub-two hour half. My training times were a bit on the slow side (which in retrospect were due to the 20-40 pounds of babies that I was schlepping in front of me), so I was mentally unprepared for how physically prepared I was for the race. I ran the first few miles figuring my GPS was off. The next few miles I connected the dots and started thinking about Boston, and the last few miles I just tried to hang on.

So clearly I need to qualify for Boston NOW, while my kiddos are still young enough to cram into a jogging stroller.

Babies in the stroller

Luckily, Runner’s World magazine read my mind. Their July 2015 issue featured a training plan that Alicia Shay (a Run SMART coach) concocted for Meghan G. Loftus’s (the author) Boston qualifier. As with all training plans, I can’t quite keep up. I’m on week three and have missed a workout every week. And I’m headed out of town with my family and without my jogging stroller tomorrow, so things probably won’t improve on the whole schedule-following-front.

Marathon schedule

But maybe I’ll still qualify for Boston. Or maybe not.

I need to stack up my excuses now so that in September when I run a non-qualifying 3:40 I can look back and point to the reasons why, because maybe I won’t qualify this September. Babies and family and school and writing might throw too many workouts off track, and that’s just fine because I love all those things even more than running. But some day, I’ll qualify for Boston.

A phone conversation with my mom a few months ago:

Her: “Where did you find out about this race? Are you sure it’s legitimate?”  

Me: “Some website. And no, but I’m going anyways.”

Her: “O-kay-ee”

 A conversation with a bank manager soon afterwards:

 Her: “Are you sure about this company? Because once we transfer the money, it’s gone.”

Me : “Um, kinda. Transfer away.”

Jeez people, have a little faith!

The Genghis Khan Grasslands Extreme Marathon in Xiwuqi, Inner Mongolia, China is indeed legitimate. Not that this is the best word to describe it though. Adjectives like awesome, breath-taking, gorgeous, fascinating, well-marked, and fun come a little closer to describe the coolest thing I’ve done in China.

The excitement was palpable from the Friday morning flight from Beijing to Xilinhot, as a decidedly in-shape and western looking crowd boarded the flight. An hour later we were bumping along a dirt potholely road through the grasslands. Next to us was a brand-new almost-finished road, so the four-hour ride should be smoother and faster next year.

 After checking into the race motel we headed out to the main tourist attraction for some archery, Mongolian horse riding, yurt viewing, and a dinner banquet.

 

In addition to the marathon, half marathon and 10K race, the Genghis Khan event also includes a three day bike ride. The Day 1 finish and awards ceremony took place at this touristy yurt village as well.

 

Dinner was interesting. Most pre-race dinners feature plates of spaghetti, an inspirational talk, and everyone leaving by seven to rest up for the big race. Not here.

 

Despite the fact that I consumed more beer then water the night before, I woke up ready to run, figuring I was one step ahead of everyone that had shots of baijiu. Myself and about 50 or so other runners (half and full marathoners all started together) took off from the cultural square into the grasslands.  

Like Gengis Khan crushed China, the Mongolian landscape crushed my hopes for a sub two hour ½ marathon. The first 15K of green foothills was gorgeous, but tough. The real killer was the last 5K into the wind and through town. It was business as usual in the streets of Xiwuqi as runners shared the streets with cars, trucks, bikes and pedestrians. This type of finish kinda kills end-of-the-race adrenaline.  

Luckily (for me) no other female ½ marathoners finished in less than two hours either, which was how, despite my disappointing time of 2:20, I ended up here:

 

Race times aside, it was a great time. As usual, the event was made better by the people you meet. Congratulations on a successful race to…

  • Barbara, the New Yorker who has run a race on every continent (yes, Antarctica has a marathon).
  • The American-Chinese couple working on racing in every Chinese province.
  • Michele, an American student in Beijing, completing her first ½ marathon.
  • Aly, the gregarious 3rd place marathon runner and her entourage. And the other Allie who zoomed ahead of me at the 10K mark to win 2nd place in the ½.
  • Tina, who I followed for most of the race.  
  • The whole team of runners from Malaysia, some of whom have run 45+ marathons.
  • Florence from Singapore, my roommate.  
  • The other Jenn who won the full marathon (however her prize money was not equal to the winners of the male marathon…)
  • The always smiling FK (sorry I don’t know how to spell your name!) and his wife, the 2nd place marathon finisher.
  • Sue, who ran the full marathon and then commissioned a taxi to drive us around the countryside the next day. Thanks Sue!

Now…onto the next race. I’m going to break two hours this year! I’m thinking October 1st in Orlando, land of no hills. Anyone with me?