Kimberly, on her way to the finish line.

Kimberly at mile 23, about to see her family and on her way to the finish line.


Kimberly Versak didn’t just run the Philadelphia Marathon last weekend. Despite every cell in her body protesting, Kimberly set aside her fears of failure and nailed those 26.2 miles to the wall..

“My secret A goal was a Boston Qualifier (BQ),” she says, ” I achieved it, even though I used a litany of excuses as to why it wasn’t realistic: a full time job, a 2-hour (roundtrip) commute to work, 4 children, a husband who doesn’t like when I’m out of the house for long periods on the weekends, my injury-prone body, etc… But that podcast. That podcast about fear and fear of failure with the mental skills coach. I listened to it twice. You talked how at some point you need to just put it out there. Try. So when I lined up at the starting line, I thought, ‘Let’s try. Let’s run 8:45’s as long as you can and then speed it up to 8:30s. That should give you a 3:52/53 or even a 3:50. That’s your 45-year-old BQ.'”

Kimberly, who was in the #FindYourStrong Marathon Challenge, ran 3:40:33 for a 15-minute personal best: a BQ for her current age group (40-44) and her 2017 age group (45-49) in 2017, the year she’ll run it.

You don’t have to be in the realm, physically or mentally, of a BQ to run your best marathon yet.

Here are Kimberly’s eight keys that will work for anybody taking on 26.2 and wanting their absolute best race.

ONE: I went out slow. In fact, my first two miles were my slowest.

TWO: I studied the course. Miles 11 – 25 were all along a river and out and back. I had read blog reports and studied the race map and knew that the stretch would be painful. I was prepared: I had my music geared up and ready to go once I hit the river.


A well-loved training plan.


THREE: I trusted the training. Unlike previous plans where I blew off the speedwork, I actually did the tempo runs (though I definitely took breaks during some of those miles). The only tweak of the plan was the days when we were supposed to run three days in a row (Thursday, Friday, Saturday). My injury-prone body balked at that. So I skipped the Friday run. Thanks to #FindYourStrong Marathon Challenge group, I realized I COULD set my alarm for dark o’clock and get it done. I began to crave my dark early morning runs. I hated going to work without that run. I strength trained at lunch. (see next point).

FOURI cross trained like it was my job. At the gym at my work, there are strength-training classes offered twice a week. They were perfect for me – lots of squats, quad, hip work, and I really focused on activating my glutes. I felt my glutes working working working during the run. When my ITB strained or my hips started to ache, I focused on activating those glutes, and guess what? This was my first marathon where I could actually bend my knee after the race. I also took a yoga class once a week.

FIVE: I carb loaded. I am sure I showed up on the starting line 3-5 pounds heavier than normal, but I was determined not to stress about it. (I wore black instead of pink on top as it’s “slimming.”) I started carb loading on Thursday. I know my stomach is sensitive so I stuck to white bread and white pasta and white rice and white potatoes. I told myself, there will be plenty of time post-race for high protein and more Paleo eating. Pre-race dinner was steak and baked potato; this was my dinner before all my long training runs, so I stuck with it for my pre-race meal.

I drank lots of Nuun and water during the day, even though it meant more stops during the car drive. The morning of race, I woke at 4:45 and choked down another large bagel with more Nuun and a cup of coffee.


No stopping until she crossed the finish line.


SIX: I managed my bathroom issues. I took a fiber supplement five days before—an idea I got from Yo Momma Runs—to encourage a gentle clean-out and ate bland white diet three days before the race. It worked. I didn’t use the porta loo at all during the race, not even when I arrived at the starting line way too late due to the long security lines. And I felt fine.

SEVEN: I rolled with the unexpected. Uber, my preferred method of race day transportation, announced a 3.5-times rate increase and a 16-minute wait. What?! I panicked and then chose my backup plan of getting to the race by subway. It worked well and I met some other runners with whom I bonded during the LONG security lanes.

Speaking of security lines, I remember other marathoners talking about giving yourself more time than you think you need. How right they were, I thought ruefully as I arrived at the lines at 6:22 a.m. for a 7:10 a.m. race. When the clock ticked over to 6:44 and we’d only moved about 30 people, I latched onto the guy in front of me whose friend told him about a security point on the other side of the barricades that apparently was open and free. We led a breakaway group of about 30 anxious runners to find that barricade, repeating anxiously, “22nd and Penn… 22nd and Penn” like some magical gate was going to open. Five-minute jog later, we found our entry point and were high-fiving each other like we’d won the lottery. (Note to self: At big races, don’t be a sheep and automatically line up where everyone else is. sometimes there are other options available…)

EIGHT: I stayed mentally strong. I dug deep. I ate pain like candy. I ate hills for breakfast. I said, “Kimberly is stronger than this. Kimberly has this.” Or “I get to run today.” “I’m so lucky”. “I feel good. My legs, they’re so strong today.” I practiced reframing my negative thoughts—something that made me roll my eyes during mental skills podcast: “Ouch, my feet hurt, but my glutes, they’re really firing.” (And yes, happy to report the reframing worked.)

I practiced two AMR favorite: “Stay in the mile. Stay in the mile. Stay in the mile.” and maybe my most important one, “ I didn’t work this hard to get here to give it all away now.” This “working hard” referred to both the first 20 miles of the marathon AND the past 18 weeks of training.

This is perhaps my most important mantra because I’ve been known to cast away my race goals like an old shirt in the later miles of race. When the tough get going, I start downsizing. Saying, well I’d be happy to squeak in under 4. Actually, I’d happy with a 4:08 and this is a tough course, and it’s windy. And I have bathroom issues too, oh screw it I just want to finish

Over the 18 weeks of training, I practiced the mental toughness that I always knew I had to do, but kind of avoided. Until I listened to lots and lots of AMR podcasts. And read lots of and lots of race reports from the #FindYourStrong Marathon Challenge.

I had you all with me. And I didn’t want to let you—or myself—down.

YOUR TURN: What are your keys for a strong marathon?