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First-Timer: 5 Questions With Renee Metivier Baillie

The marathon rookie ran a 2:27:17 debut at Chicago this past weekend.

Renee Metivier Baillie has had plenty of success running on the track, roads and cross country courses since she concluded her All-American career at the University of Colorado eight years ago, but the 30-year-old Bend, Ore., resident only committed to running her first marathon about nine weeks ago. After failing to make the final of the 5,000 meters on the track at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, she switched gears to longer training, won the U.S. 20K championships in New Haven, Conn., on Sept. 3 and then finished eighth at last weekend’s Chicago Marathon. Just 16 months removed from surgery to repair her right Achilles, Metivier Baille was the top American and ran a 2:27:17—the fifth-fastest debut in U.S. history.

A year and a half ago, you were on the verge of possibly quitting the sport. Now you’re a 2:27 marathoner. How did you get there? 

I actually thought about retiring. Not quitting running, because I’ll always run, but I was thinking about letting go professionally. I thought it might be time to move on because I had so many setbacks. Even though you still believe in yourself, you start to think maybe it’s time because my body can’t handle it anymore. My Achilles has been a thorn in my side for seven years, and it’s hard to keep putting yourself through that. Even though I didn’t doubt that I had more in there, I thought maybe that wasn’t the path I should be taking. Austin [Baillie, her husband] never stopped believing in me, and I went to have that surgery in Sweden as my last option. [The procedure included the removal of a bursa sack, scraping of her Achilles tendon and removing a bone spur.] It worked and I came back healthy, but it was a lot longer comeback time than I anticipated. My right leg is still weak and I was forcing too much speed and track work, so it’s actually good that I switched to marathon training in that way. I didn’t anticipate running a marathon this fall. My agent has been trying to get me to do one because he thought I would do well, but I’ve kept saying, “No, no, no. I’m a 5K runner. I’m a track runner.” I’ve always loved cross country and I also love the roads. I was planning on doing my debut marathon next spring so I could more properly plan it out and be prepared, but my body was just transitioning well on its own as I started doing longer training runs. As I took a break from the speed on the track, I was doing so much better and getting stronger. I tested my fitness at a few road races and my foot and Achilles were fine, and I felt great.

You were on 2:25:50 pace for most of the race, but it sounds like some problems with rehydrating on the course caught up with you. What happened?

They put our bottles on tables ahead of time in an assigned space. I drank from my bottle at 5K, but after that I really didn’t drink too much because I could never find my bottle as I was running up to the tables. They all looked alike. I only got a few sips from a few Gatorade cups they have on the other tables for everyone else. I know I got one at 8 miles, but even when you pinch the top, half of it spills out of the cup when you grab it. So from 5K on, I barely had any fuel. I tried to take a gel at mile 20—even though that was kind of late—but it wasn’t a kind I had ever used before and I had trouble opening it. I should have held on to it for a while, but I threw it to the side because I was frustrated that I couldn’t get it open. My calves cramped like crazy with 5K to go and my stride got a little choppy. I tried to stay calm, because I was still doing well and was still holding under 6-minute pace.

I can’t be too disappointed because I still ran pretty well. I learned a valuable lesson, though. I’m going to have neon lights on my bottles in the future. I’ll bring my own bottles, too. The ones they give you all look the same. I’m going to have taller bottles that are bright pink or something like that. A lot of the guys had decorated bottles, but most of the women’s bottles looked all the same.

What’s it like being coached by your husband? [Austin Baillie, who also ran at the University of Colorado, has run a 1:04:18 half marathon and a 2:19:35 marathon.]

He has been an integral part of everything I’ve done to get to where I am now. He paces me on every run and workout. He hasn’t coached a lot of runners, but he studies the sport methodically. He knows a lot, has talked to a lot of coaches and takes a lot of notes and knows how my body works very well. Most of all, he developed and plan and helped me stick to it. On my 22-mile training run, I said “I feel pretty good, maybe we should go for 23,” and he said, “No” and made me stop. He can tell from my breathing with how I’m doing. He’s been a fantastic coach. I can’t say enough about that. He had a plan and it was perfect.

So what did you learn as a first-time marathoner?

For sure, you have to make sure you go in feeling good and smartly trained. But the biggest thing is to be prepared for the unexpected and don’t panic when something happens that you didn’t expect. Things are going to go wrong—either with the weather or with your hydration plan or something else. Just have patience and stick to your plan as best possible. I came through in 1:13 at the half, but then I picked it up for the next 8 miles. Maybe it would have helped to hold off, stay on pace and try to pick it up later. It’s really easy to get going quicker than you need to, especially for a track runner. You have to know what the pace feels like and stick to it.

Are you a marathoner now?

Chicago very encouraging. I never thought I’d be a marathoner. But now I’ve totally caught the marathon bug and I understand why people want to do them all the time. Not just on a professional level, just as a runner. It’s addicting. A few weeks into my training, I had never enjoyed running more. I actually really enjoyed going on my 22-mile runs. If you’d asked me if I would be enjoying that two months before, I would have said, “No way, but I’ll do it if I have to.” It’s kind of exciting because it’s brought me a whole knew chapter in my life and my career. I still want to run track and cross country, and I hope I can make the U.S. team for the World Cross Country Championships in 2013, but I hope to run another marathon in the spring, too.