BQ(Q) – Heather I

I’ve posted well over a hundred Boston Qualifer Questionnaire and I think this is the first one where the runner BQ’ed and then went straight to the hospital. This is one of the most interesting BQ stories we’ve seen yet, and well written to boot!

Thanks for the inspirational story, Heather! Be careful out there runners!

Name: Heather I, @hlirvine

Sex: F

Age (at the time of first BQ): 27

Height: 5’2

Weight (at the time of first BQ): 115 lbs

At which marathon did you get your first BQ? What was your finishing time? Tell us a little about the race. 
Chicago Marathon, 2014. My goal time was a BQ (faster than 3:35, but I was targeting 3:30 to get enough cushion for entry…still awaiting 2016 confirmation!). I crossed in 3:31:42. This was my fourth marathon (2 Bostons – through a charity – and one NYC). My first true attempt at a BQ. As in I trained specifically for a 3:30, using Hanson’s, which meant the longest run I’d do was 16 miles. And only 10 miles at marathon pace. About a week before the race I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to maintain 8 mm for 26.2. But I told that voice to shut up and reassured myself that the work was done and my training went according to plan. That was affirmed as I PRed in smaller races along the way, much faster than BQ-needed splits.

Race weekend was perfect. I flew in from NYC and spent the weekend with a college friend and my husband. The weather was gorgeous. The pasta, plentiful. Race day was perfect. I could not have asked for better weather (OK, maybe 7-10 degrees cooler!) but low 50s at the start… can’t get much better than that. I felt fresh. I felt excited. I felt a BQ.

I went out with the 3:30 pace group. Focused on the pacer’s neon yellow hat. Sadly, I couldn’t take in the Chicago crowds as I may have liked. But the focus was sticking with that pace group.

Around mile 16 I started to fall behind. Not by much but enough to rattle my confidence. By mile 20 I knew the wall (which I’d been fortunate enough to have not yet encountered) was inevitable. But I skirted it. Somehow. Miles 22-24 seem to have disappeared from my memory. I wasn’t feeling too hot. I knew if I missed a BQ it would be by seconds. I couldn’t let that happen.

At mile 25 I needed to push like I’ve never pushed before. The pictures are ugly. I was running on empty. Not even fumes.
It took everything in me to make that final turn to the finish line. My vision was blurred (I later found out that was due to dehydration and not my contacts moving around). Nothing and everything hurt. I knew I was going to collapse at the end. I knew I was going down. I crossed. Hit my watch. Collapsed. I didn’t black out, despite what the medics told me, but I was down for the count. They carried me to the med tent. I was writhing. I couldn’t talk. I started cramping. They tested my lactic acid levels. Through the roof. They hooked me up to not one, but two IVs. I had four doctors at one point massaging out my cramps, in my legs and feet. I don’t remember them drawing blood, but the blood stains on my bib showed they had.

Then I started crying. Tears of joy. I qualified for Boston. I did it. Eventually they called an ambulance – I was in too poor health even for the med tent. As they were wheeling me into the ambulance I asked for my medal. They said they weren’t able to get it for me but I could ask it to be sent. I started crying. I wanted my medal. As the doors were closing, the most amazing volunteer literally JUMPED into the ambulance and said, “I got you your medal.” I started crying again. And then put it around my neck.

I spent the day in the ER. IVs, blood work, heart tests. I didn’t get my free beer. I didn’t get to lounge in the park with my teammates. But I qualified for Boston. I did what Pre said to do. I gave it my best. Because anything less, would be to sacrifice the gift.

And that night, I sang “Born to Run” at karaoke. Because they didn’t have “Love that Dirty Water.”

How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ? Did you run in college or high school?

I started running in middle school and took a break in college to play ultimate Frisbee. I picked it back up after graduation (2009). So I’d been running and racing regularly, all told, for 15 years.

What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?

Ooof. Races alone were 434 miles (thanks, Athlinks!). So let’s say ~2,000? I trained for five marathons (NYC 2012 was canceled), about 5 half marathons.. let’s say 2,000.

How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?

~600 miles

Approximately how many races did you run in that year?


Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?

For my BQ race (Chicago 2014) I followed Hanson’s. I swapped out two easy run days for a rest and a bike day.

Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?

I run with North Brooklyn Runners but I followed Hanson’s plan so did not join my teammates when the workouts differed.

Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?  

I did 1x week spin class and occasional swim days during this training cycle. I think it really helped because I was injured in 2012 from overuse. It helped break up the running with something active. I think it saved me. Mentally and physically.

Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?

Hanson’s does two segments of speed work: speed (3 miles on the track, 5K paces) and strength (6 miles on the road, 10K-half paces). I think these really helped since it was the first time I focused on speed work for a marathon. The cumulative fatigue also helped get my body ready to run tired.

Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?

In the words of Pre (again), “the only good race is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.” I took that a little too literally on race day!

In terms of “tips.” Don’t be a hero. Choose a race that lends itself to a BQ. I chose Chicago because it’s flat and the weather is generally nice and cool. I have friends who say they want to do it “the hard way” i.e. on the NYC course or something similar. Good for them. A BQ is a BQ. It’s already extremely hard and the registration website doesn’t care how hard the course was. Sometimes these comments make me feel guilty, less than. But then I remind myself, you qualified for the Boston Marathon by 3 minutes, 18 seconds. That’s all that matters. (And I ran a 3:47 NYC victory lap on a bum ankle 3 weeks later. #notsohumblebrag)

Choose a plan that comes vetted either by teammates or coaches or the marathon community. Tweak it to what fits YOU best as a runner. I knew running 6 days would kill me. So I modified it.

Rest. I have a friend who “tries” to BQ at every marathon. But then he’ll go run a 50K and wonder why he’s not getting any faster. You need to choose a race, make that your goal, plan everything else around it (don’t do that overnight relay 3 weeks before; don’t do that strength train day when you’re scheduled to rest).

Listen to your body (especially re: rest). I got really sick 5 weeks before Chicago. I was laid up in bed for 5 days. No running. No nothing. I dropped out of my time trial half marathon. I slept 14 hours a day. And the following week I got cleared by the doctor, ran a different half in 1:39. Your body needs to rest. And that often pays dividends later on.

Recognize that the mental game is real and it’s powerful. It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. My mantras? “Good girl. Good job, baby girl.” Laugh, but it works.

I’ve attached a photo that shows the happiest someone can be in a hospital bed…without a newborn baby. 😉

I say that my BQ day was the best day ever, second only to my wedding day. But off the record, it may even trump that 😉

Heather in the aftermath of her BQ

Heather in the aftermath of her BQ

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