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RADJournals: Baylee Smith didn't let COVID stop her from racing 5 marathons in a year

The year 2021 was a whirlwind of running.  I refused to let COVID dictate my races so I kicked off the start of the year with the Virtual Dopey Challenge.  The Dopey Challenge consists of running a 5k, 10k, ½ marathon and full marathon back to back to back to back. I ran 48.6 miles for Give Kids The World virtually in Colorado over that 4 day period. Running that without the hype of running through the Disney parks was difficult mentally.  But I completed it and was so incredibly happy (and sore…) for completing the challenge virtually.

February rolled round, and after just completing the Dopey Challenge, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next.  My grandma threw out an idea of running the Newport, OR marathon in June.  My Grandma and Grandpa ran it in 1999 and my Grandma ran it again in 2000. Keeping it as a family race, I let my Grandma know that I would be out there in June to run it.  She was so excited.  Training kicked off shortly after! March was a busy month! I received the email that I was selected for the Chicago Marathon via the lottery! I was so excited and had no idea at the time what the whole Abbott World Majors was. I also received the sad news that the Newport, OR marathon turned virtual.  I was given three choices: participate virtually, request a refund or donate my registration money to charity. Since my Grandma was counting on me coming out and running, I decided to stick with the training plan and run it virtually.

June came and we set out on a road trip!  We drove from Denver, CO to Newport, OR with our Great Dane and Catahoula puppy.  We arrived and my Grandma’s entire retirement neighborhood was so excited about us being there to run the race.  I had made the decision to run it on the same course even though I knew it wouldn’t be closed off to traffic.  With the help of my boyfriend, Grandma and her neighbors, we came up with a game plan for them to help and watch me on the open road.  They did leap frog with the cars to meet me at various check points. I cried at mile 25 when I realized I was going to break 5 hours. Their encouragement and cheering was what led me to FINALLY break 5 hours.  I PR’d by 32 minutes with a time of 04:45:11.  I had ran 4 marathons prior and hadn’t beaten the 5 hour mark until this race. 

So, that was marathon #2 by the month of June.  I had Chicago coming up in October.  So after a 5 day break after running Newport, I resumed my training.  Then I got an email saying come run for Team For Kids and complete New York virtually for a guaranteed entry for 2022. I thought, "Why not?!" My training continued.  Then Disney announced they were back for in person races!  I decided to run the Dopey Challenge again for Give Kids The World. 

Graduate school started back up for me in August and that’s when training was really getting ramped up with longer runs since the Chicago Marathon in October was coming up.  With attending graduate school full time, working 32 hours a week and doing a long run every weekend, I was stretching myself a little thin…

 

October came and we were off to Chicago! I was SO EXCITED & very nervous for my first world major marathon.  It didn’t go as planned.  Mile 8 I got a side ache, which has never happened before.  I tried everything from bananas, to water, to Gatorade, but I couldn’t get it to go away.  I texted my boyfriend at mile 18 saying this is NOT going as planned.  He came and found me at mile 20 and ran along the side of the course with me until I found the Biofreeze tent.  I had so far ran 12 miles with a side ache and it was making my back hurt.  The volunteer in the tent sprayed my back with Biofreeze and I set off again.  Then at mile 22, a little girl was cheering with her family and saw me.  She looked right at me and said “Go go go!” I burst into tears.  It was so devastating to have trained so hard and have the race not go according to my plan, but I picked my head up and kept moving. At that point, I wanted to just cross the finish line.  At mile 26 there is a hill.  A guy turned and encouraged me up the entire hill and we sprinted our hearts out at the end.  It wasn’t the prettiest finish line as I almost passed out when I crossed the line. My body was done. I was put into a wheelchair and pushed around by a kind volunteer.  I completed it.  I was done.

I recovered and one month later, I set out to run the New York City Marathon virtually.  All was going well until I hit mile 15 and I panicked. I was so paranoid I was going to get another side ache like Chicago (I didn’t but my mind was still worn out from Chicago and I was still freaked out with what happened…).  My boyfriend came and found me at mile 19 and rode his bike with me until I finished. Shortly after, I was talking to my mom and she asked, “how are you?” And I burst into tears.  I was so burnt out with everything that I hadn’t given myself a break.  I let everything out: my frustrations, my feelings, everything came piling out. I took a breath and set my sights on January. January 2022 came and I completed the Dopey Challenge again but this time through the Disney parks. Marathon #8 was completed a year after my virtual Dopey, making it my 5th marathon in a year. 

I am still working on fixing my relationship with running.  Some days I am excited to lace up my shoes and go, and other days I don’t feel like going. I have a marathon planned for May and then New York City in November.  I'm just taking it a mile at a time, remembering to smile every step of the way! 

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