AMR Creative Coach Sarah Wassner Flynn recaps her BQ day at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.

A little more than a week ago, I crossed the finish line of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, my first attempt at the 26.2-mile distance in more than two decades. I won’t bury the lead: I finished in 3:28:43 and crushed my goal of going under the Boston Marathon qualifying standard! It’s been a while since I’ve gone after a big, scary challenge in running, and wow—what a satisfying experience. Ten-out-of-ten recommend. After a couple of years of more physical and emotional downs than ups (a pregnancy at 40, an emergent C-section, having a newborn in a pandemic while homeschooling three older kids, a bout with a killer case of plantar fasciitis, and a broken foot, to name a few hurdles!), I needed this. Maybe more than I even realized. 

While my training was solid and I felt confident that I could meet my goal of hitting the BQ of 3:40, I still went through every worst-case scenario, as one does, in the days before the race. What if I cramp up? What if I get GI issues? What if that annoying pain in my leg gets worse? I took comfort (and felt so seen) in one of Laura Green’s reels on Instagram—if you don’t follow her, do it now—where she so accurately portrays the ways our brain tries to sabotage our mindset pre-marathon. What if you forget all of your clothes and have to run naked? What if you start running and all of your bones just start breaking in half? 

My husband, Mark, who traveled with me, did his best to calm my nerves and tell me that I was being ridiculous. (He wasn’t wrong.) By the time we hit the race expo on Saturday, where I got to see Dimity and Sarah Bowen Shea work their magic in a live podcast and meet some other BAMRs, my anxiety shifted to excitement. “Look at all of these people, just going out to run a marathon tomorrow,” I said to Mark as I picked up my packet among thousands of others of all ages and stages in life. “If they can do it, why can’t I?”

Did you even run a marathon if you don’t get a pre-race bib shot at the expo?

That’s not to say I wasn’t a bundle of nervous energy on race morning. Despite waking up feeling refreshed and ready, I found tiny things to stress about, like why my headphones wouldn’t sync to my watch (we never figured that one out, so I wound up running with two watches: Mark’s for music, and mine for timing); the way my new Vaporfly shoes felt a bit funny by my right arch (they turned out to be just fine), and the fact that the hotel elevator was out of order, forcing us to walk down ten flights (hey, at least it wasn’t up!). But by the time we arrived at the start area, I became awash with a sense of peace. I had a bit of an emotional moment when I said goodbye to Mark with a big hug and kiss, but once I made my way into the crowd gathering in the first corral, I was calm and ready. 

When the gun went off, my instinct was to run as fast as I possibly could: I did grow up running track, after all. So I had to do everything in my power to temper that desire. I purposefully placed the song Hold Back the River by James Bay at the top of my playlist as a reminder to do just that. And just in case I felt the need to pick it up after that song, I followed it up with the ten-minute version of Taylor Swift’s All Too Well to put me back in my place—and relaxed pace. In fact, the first hour of my playlist was super chill, which really helped me keep my composure. 

Focused and feeling SO good around the 10-mile mark.

My pace was crazy steady for about two hours—I couldn’t believe how even my splits were. I initially hoped I’d feel strong enough to pick up the pace around mile 16, but I also knew that  the pace I was running would get me under my “if all things go perfect” goal (at one point, by four minutes), so it was just fine if I held it until the end. 

But the marathon always has a few tricks up its sleeve, doesn’t it? Even though the pace felt so good for so long, some tightness in my hip flexors began to creep up around mile 18. I adjusted my gait, reminded myself that I’d run through this tightness before, and that it wouldn’t be insurmountable. But it did cause me to slow from 7:45s and 7:50s to 8s, and then 8:15s, and then an 8:30. Granted, some of those miles were uphill, and I was hopeful that I’d be able to get the time back down once I got through the climb on Summit Avenue. But boy, did it become a mental struggle from that point on. 

The night before the race, my sister, Bec (who doubles as my run coach), told me, “Stay in the moment if things start to hurt and remember that your time will be a PR. That will stick with you for a while, so fight for every second even if a minute or two seems insignificant at the time.” 

Stay in the moment. Fight. I had repeated those words over and over as I was running from downtown Minneapolis to St. Paul. Stay in the moment while soaking up the cheers from the crowd and the vibrant colors of the trees around the Chain of Lakes. Stay in the moment at the two-hour mark, when I had a brief bout of panic about still having another 90 minutes to go. 

Fight when I felt my form deteriorate in those final miles (my race photos prove this), and when I began to hear the faintest of whispers of doubt creep between my ears, questioning whether I really had it in me to finish. After all, my longest run in decades prior to this race was 19 miles. Everything after that was a vast unknown. 

When all else fails, just smile and fake it ’til you make it!

But I embraced that unknown. I reveled in it. Even when it felt like I was shuffling through miles 22 and 23, I silenced my inner critic and managed to celebrate that I was still moving forward. The momentum eventually picked up and I found a groove again, just in  time to throw my hands up and give a big “woo hoo” to Dimity and the other Mother Runners at the cheer station at mile 24.1. I’d been looking forward to that moment for more than three hours, and I completely soaked it all in (how couldn’t I?).  It gave me a shot of adrenaline that propelled me down the lonnnng stretch to the finish line, which was at once pure agony and bliss. 

My absolute favorite moments of the day: Seeing the AMR cheer station at mile 24.1! This poster!

So truly happy to see the AMR crew–and to be so close to the finish.

Thank you, Dimity, for being the best cheerleader–on the marathon course, and in life!

I fought. I stayed in the moment. 

I finished.

That pain face was on full display in the final few meters of the race.

And that, regardless of my time, was a victory for me. Dipping under my “A” goal of running 3:30 was like a dessert after a five star Michelin meal. An added bonus. On a perfect day, I allowed myself to entertain the idea of going under 3:30—but I didn’t truly believe it was possible until I saw those numbers on my watch and felt the heft of the finisher’s medal around my neck.

So dream big, friends. Allow yourself to chase those scary goals. Or, if you’re in a bad spot (like I was last year, with my broken foot in a boot), know that your big, scary goal will be waiting for you—and will continue to wait, even if it takes you 22 years to catch up to it. Believe me, I know. 

Having a medal moment in downtown Minneapolis (hey, Bob!).