I completed my fall goal race today, the California International Marathon from Folsom to Sacramento. I trained for this race with the hope of breaking four hours. Until the past couple of weeks when a new leg issue started plaguing me, I believed it was possible. But these things happen and I arrived in Sacramento just thankful for the opportunity to be there and participate. Last night I sent my coach the following revised race goals:
I started this morning nice and easy. My legs felt good! I lined up well behind the 3:58 pace group and told myself no matter how good I felt, I would not pass them until after the halfway point. When I started to think about my leg, I employed one of many distraction techniques. I put my hand over my heart and thought about my running friends back home who cheered me on during so many of my workouts and were cheering me on then. I thought of my family. I looked at the beautiful scenery. I absorbed positive energy from other runners and spectators. I reminded myself of all of the strength training I did and told myself that my muscles were strong, that I was strong. I kept smiling, and I kept going.
One by one the miles ticked off. Effortlessly. I found myself inching closer and closer to the 3:58 sign and wanting to pass them, but reminded myself of my promise to hold back. I relaxed, stayed consistent, and enjoyed the view and each mile.
After the halfway mark I allowed myself to pass the 3:58 pacers and run my own race. I put my music in and looked forward to meeting my coach Gretchen at mile 15. She wouldn’t actually be at mile 15, but I had a mental plan to meet my coach and many of my running friends for one mile each during the race, and the first was Gretchen at mile 15. This strategy proved to be very effective. It not only gave me something to look forward to, but it kept me mentally present, running only the the mile I was in. I met Gretchen at the start of mile 15, listened to her words of encouragement, and followed her to the next mile where I met my next friend.
I have no idea how far ahead I pulled from the 3:58 pacing group but at some point just before mile 20 they caught back up to me. Also, around mile 18 or 19 the race started to get mentally tough. At mile 17 I was still smiling, having fun and running to the sidelines to Tap For Power on signs, but that stopped around 18 or 19 and then when the 3:58 pacers caught back up to me I started to worry. I felt like I had hit that inevitable late marathon slow down. I felt myself mentally starting to slide with thoughts of defeat trying to creep in.
At that point (and this happened a couple of times between 18-22), I remembered my commitment to myself, my coach, and my family. I remembered all of the hard work I had put in and what I came here to do. And at that point I thought “I commit. I will not give in, I will not give up. This is like my tempo runs. Hang on.” I focused on my breath, I focused on my form. I remembered Meb saying that he repeated the word “technique” in the later miles of Boston when he got tired, so I tried that. I thought of my coach Gretchen and her hard and beautiful effort at California International in the later miles when she qualified for the Olympic Trials. I focused on the next tree, the next street light, anything to keep me in the moment and to keep me from giving in. It was hard, I was hurting, but I was determined. I had a sub-4 marathon in my sights!
I used these techniques with success, as each mile (painful as it was) I found myself pacing close to a 9 min/mile and on my way to a sub-4 marathon. I passed the 22 mile marker and knew if I could do just four more of those, I would meet my goal. My leg was speaking to me, but I passed it off as late marathon muscle fatigue. “Hang in there, stick with the pacers and GO!” The pacers were women wearing pink, our running team’s signature color, so I pretended they were Boise Betties, which made it that much easier. I was hanging on for dear life.
At mile 23.5 I felt a sharp pain in my groin that radiated down my left leg all the way to my knee. I stopped to stretch it out and when I tried to start again, my body would not allow me to run. I hobbled to the finish, crossing the line in 4:22 something. I had to be assisted to the icing tent and am having a hell of a time walking.
With the way I feel now, I am so proud just to have finished. The race did not end how I ideally would have hoped, but I am so proud of my effort, I learned a ton, and I met so many wonderful people along the way. I ran a solid, consistent 23 miles, I finished the race, I had joy in my heart, met my revised race goals, and I am so thankful for the experience. I walk (well, hobble) away a wiser and stronger runner today. Thank you, California International Marathon. I’ll be back!