Renee Metivier Baillie Shocks The World (But Not Herself) at Chicago Marathon

Two nights before the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Renee Metivier Baillie and Austin Baillie, met some friends for dinner. The couple had just flown into Chicago that evening from their home in Bend, Oregon and Renee was absolutely bubbling with excitement that she was ready to nail what would be her first marathon.

Over a huge slab of beef, Metivier Baillie spoke openly of her goal on Sunday: She wanted to break Kara Goucher’s American record of 2:25:23 for the fastest debut marathon.

A lofty goal for any elite runner, but possibly even more so for Metivier Baillie who had only run a handful of road races in the past two years. Toss in the fact that she had only decided to run Chicago in late August and Metivier Baillie’s goal seemed especially bold. (To clarify, her name is pronounced Meh-tee-vee-ay Bailey.)

But, as Muhammad Ali once so prophetically said: It ain’t bragging if you can do it.

To be sure, Metivier Baillie fell short of breaking Goucher’s American record, but her time of 2:27:17 is still the fifth fastest first-time debut marathon by an American and was good enough for eighth place and top American in one of the most prestigious races in the world.

“I knew I was in really good marathon shape,” said Metivier Baillie, the newest member of Mizuno’s racing team. “I tried not to be too overzealous before the race, but I also didn’t want to sell myself short.”

No chance of that because if there is one attribute Metivier Baillie isn’t lacking in it’s confidence. But after a deeply disappointing Olympic Trials where she didn’t qualify for the 5000-meter finals, Renee and Austin—her coach, training partner and masseur—decided to reboot. Instead of slogging her way back on the track, they decided to make a full commitment to the roads. Once the decision was made, Metivier Baillie quickly set road PRs of 10-K (32:31) and 20-K (1:07:08).

Two days before winning the national 20-K title in New Haven, Metivier Baillie did the unthinkable: She entered the Chicago Marathon. “I was terrified of the marathon,” said Metivier Baillie who has short dyed platinum blonde hair and a huge tattoo on her right hip. “The marathon was just way too long for me and I was so intimidated by it. I had only run one half marathon {in 2010} and it was a bad experience. Eventually, I knew I’d run a marathon but I had heard so many horror stories about it.

“I can promise you my decision to run Chicago was not part of a long-term plan. But my foot couldn’t handle the turns on the track since my foot surgery {on her right Achilles} and I just didn’t want to go back to the track. I was healthy and decided to just focus on building strength, rather than speed. I started doing longer runs and found myself wanting to run longer and longer. I was really enjoying myself and starting to feel like my old self again. So I decided to run the New Haven 20-K and at the same time, decided to run Chicago.”

Certainly, training for Chicago necessitated a quick transition in her training. With only five solid weeks to go before Chicago, Austin jump started her track-oriented training from about 70 miles a week to 90 with one week topping out at 100. (Metivier Baillie takes every Monday off from running; instead, she aqua jogs.)

With Chicago just down the road, she couldn’t afford a leisurely mileage buildup. Austin planned her progression carefully with ascending weekly mileage and ever increasing long runs, culminating with two key workouts. Three weeks before Chicago, the couple entered a local 10-K in Bend. Before the race, they did an easy 3-mile warmup and then ran 8-miles at her marathon goal pace. With just five minutes rest before the start of the 10-K, Metivier Baillie jumped right in and ran 32:48 (just 17 seconds slower than her PR). She ran right through the finish and added on another four miles for a 22-mile total—much of it at race pace.

Then, the following weekend, just two weeks before Chicago, Austin and Renee used the Rogue Half Marathon in Medford, Oregon as another marathon simulation run. The couple warmed up with five miles and then ran 1:12:58 together, adding on another three miles to give her 21 for the day.

“I still had a healthy apprehension about Chicago,” said Metivier Baillie who will be 31 on Christmas Day, “but I began to see that I could handle the distance. I believe in myself and this is something I have fought my entire career. Throughout my life, I have had people say that I’m not built right or talented enough or whatever. My husband has never doubted me, but I wanted to prove that some people—who were always talking me down—were wrong.”

As Chicago approached, Austin and Renee set an ambitious time goal of 2:25. But, says Renee, “I was told by a few people to lower my expectations. They told me I was shooting too high. Nobody but Austin knew what I was capable of running and to be honest, I really thought I’d run faster than 2:25.”

She nearly did.

On a cold, calm, overcast morning in Chicago, Metivier Baillie settled in comfortably in the middle of a pack of regional-class men and went through halfway in exactly the time she and Austin had planned: 1:13. Running relaxed and under control, everything was working according to plan except she kept missing her water bottles at the aid tables. Inexperienced at drinking on the run, her pack didn’t slow down for water and she whiffed several times as she tried to pick up her bottles without losing stride

About 15 miles, her pack started to pick up the pace a bit (down to 5:28 per mile) and doubts began to creep in. “I was a little nervous I was going too hard,” she said. “It didn’t feel too fast at that point, but I knew we still had a long way to go.”

Rolling along with her pack through 18 miles, Metivier Baillie didn’t back off but began to get a little ahead of herself. “I began to see a 2:25 at the finish and got a little too excited when I should have been more patient. I still felt good though.”

But it was too early to start thinking about the finish and projecting a time because, as any seasoned marathoner knows, it isn’t over ’til it’s over. Metivier Baillie found out about that maxim at 22 miles when her calf muscles began to cramp, her stride shortened and she struggled up Michigan Avenue.

Her final 5-K split was 18:09 and Metivier Baillie lost, by her own admission, at least a minute. But by hanging in and finishing in 2:27:17—tying Amy Hastings for the fourth fastest time of the year by an American–Metivier Baillie immediately thrust herself into the conversation of the top echelon of US marathoners.

“Do I see myself as a marathoner now? Sure, I am a marathoner now,” says Metivier Baillie who took a two-week vacation in Kauai right after Chicago. “My whole focus has shifted away from the track. I really enjoyed Chicago and what excites me the most is I can see where I have room to improve. I made mistakes in Chicago and if I had trained for even a few more weeks, I could have run the final 10-K much better. So I know I can be better, much better next time.

“The minute I finished Chicago, Austin and I already began thinking about my next marathon in the spring. I’m not sure which one it will be {it might be London, Rotterdam or Boston} but I’m very excited about my future. Right now, I just want to keep the momentum going.”

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