“Risk taking is essential for success in all sports.”
Dr. Jim Taylor
Yesterday morning as I gazed out of my hotel room window, watching the sun rise over the Arizona desert, I felt a large range of emotions: excited, nervous, thankful, afraid. I had no idea what would happen on the race course that day. The last marathon I completed, almost a decade earlier, I had idiotically attempted on an IT band injury, ending with my hobbling across the finish line in 6 hours. I knew this would not be a repeat of that and was thankful to be toeing the line injury free and in mostly good health. I had been battling a cold earlier in the week and felt somewhat run down and exhausted, but free of any running relating injuries. I had waited many years to redeem that 2006 Marine Corps Marathon run and to have another attempt at the marathon distance, having had three kids and battled several injuries in the decade in between. I was training for St. George this fall, but that plan was derailed when I ended up in the hospital with appendicitis on August 19.
The weather was great. Upper 40s at the start, 60s at the finish and sunny. Light winds, but nothing too bad. According to my practice half marathon race that I had run four weeks ago, I was fit enough to run a 3:48 marathon. I thought 3:48-3:55 seemed like a reasonable target range. My ultimate goal if all of the stars happened to align just right would be to run a Boston Qualifying time, which for my age would be a 3:45. I thought this might be a tad ambitious, but I spent much of the week trying to convince myself that I am actually capable of running a 3:45. One of my weak links is self-confidence. Like everyone else, I am a work in progress. I have also felt afraid of declaring to the world that I have a goal of qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon. As I discussed with a couple of friends of mine, declaring this BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of mine to the universe is scary. I am a perfectionist and tend to like to create goals for myself that I know will be easy to meet, not ones that will likely take several tries to accomplish. Declaring this goal to the world, makes me feel vulnerable. But as my friends have pointed out and as I am finding, it also opens up a whole new world of support and a louder cheering section along the way!
So my “A” goal going into the race yesterday was to run a Boston Qualifying time of 3:45. My “B” goal was to run a sub-4 hour time, and my “C” goal was to run a PR. My previous marathon PR was 4:30. I thought a lot going into the race about how I wanted to take risks, try to define my limits, do my best and leave it all out on the race course. I thought about trying to brace myself for those tough miles between 18-23 and visualized pushing through those and having pride in my efforts. I felt that my training leading up to the race had gone well and I was proud to have made it though a full training cycle without injury or unexpected surgery!
I toyed with running with the 3:45 or 4:00 pace group and decided to just go for it and run with the 3:45 group. What did I have to lose? I asked the pacer if he had a pacing strategy and he said he ran evenly and perhaps the first few miles would be slow due to congestion on the course. I ran with the 3:45 group for the first 10 miles and then got tired of the pace group. One guy in the group was wearing a Bluetooth and took at least two phone calls during that time, another chatted on and on about how he was running this easier pace because he got sick and fell off his training plan. Also, the group did not slow down at aid stations to drink and I kept having to make small surges to keep up with them. I felt like it was starting to tire me out. So at mile 10, I pulled out my ear buds, started listening to music and decided to try to run my own race. I think in future races, I will run my own race from the start, trusting in my own abilities to pace myself.
In addition to getting annoyed with the pace group, I felt like I was getting too tired period and needed to readjust. Around mile 8 my legs started to feel more exhausted than I thought they should be at that point in the race, which was worrisome to me. Around the same time I looked into the crowd and saw a sign that said, “Only 18.2 more miles to go!” Worst. Fan. Sign. Ever. I felt deflated and immediately tried to put that sign out of my mind and focus on running the mile I was in. So by mile 10, I left the pace group and ran on my own. At that point, I slowed from about an 8:35 to and 8:45 pace, watching the 3:45 pacing sign slowly fade into the distance along with my dream of running a Boston Qualifying time yesterday.
I crossed the half at 1:53 and although I expected to slow in the second half, I hoped that I could hold on for the sub-four hour finish. I spent the next two hours trying to swat away all of the negative thoughts that would frequently pop up and try to distract me from that task. My coach will be disappointed in me for not running 3:45. I’m a failure of an athlete. I don’t want this enough. I should be skiing this weekend. What’s the point? I don’t belong here. I want to quit. Instead I tried to think of the people back home that I knew would be tracking me and cheering for me, and I tried to channel some of their good energy and support. I tried to keep my head up high and maintain good form. I tried to remember that others around me hurt just as much as I did and that we were all suffering together. I would speed up for a bit, and then slow down. I would walk through the aid stations for water and/or Gatorade, and every time it got harder and harder to start again. But I did start again, each time.
I passed the mile 20 mark at 3:00 hours and told myself that I could run just under a one hour 10k and sub four-hour marathon. I tried to use all of the mental tricks I could think of to get my legs moving faster, as I know I can run a barely sub-one hour 10K, even on tired legs, but the dreaded marathon fade kept taking me down. Somewhere around mile 23 or 24, the 4:00 hour pace group passed me and I felt another wave of disappointment. Since they had started in a corral a few minutes behind me, I knew that meant my time would be over four hours.
I fought to come in under 4:05 and ended up with a 4:04:06, an almost 26 minute marathon PR! Although I was hopeful I might run even better, I am happy with and proud of my run. I now have a starting point and a list of things to work on along with my coach for the next one. One of those things is mental fitness. I have been reading Matt Fitzgerald’s “How Bad Do You Want It?” and tried to as he says brace myself for how hard the race was going to be, but it had been so long since I had tackled the marathon distance that I think I had really forgotten how difficult it is. I also wish I had enjoyed the experience more. I tried to do that as much as possible, by noticing surroundings, thanking and high-fiving spectators, etc., but I think I spent a lot of the race not feeling well and therefore not enjoying it as much as I would like to enjoy a race. But how do you really “enjoy” an event where you are trying to push yourself to the max, or as Matt Fizgerald says, walk the hot coals? If anyone has tips on this, please let me know. Most of all, I am thankful that I am healthy and walking today, with soreness but no running related injuries. My hips, which have been an issue for me with my running for four years, feel great. After a little time for rest and recovery, I am looking forward to training with my running team again!