At the beginning of January I officially decided to run my second full marathon. I had been wanting to for quite some time but the amount of time commitment, physical support of others doing the same distance, and courage finally came together this spring.
My last 26.2 race was in April of 2011 in Oklahoma City. I had been running consistently for a few years, had a few half marathons under by belt and a few crazy friends willing to put in the work. I ran a 4:50.08 on a wet and cold April day and was so happy to cross the finish line that I burst into tears of happiness, pride, and relief.
Five years, a college cross country season, and lot more training later I was ready to actually set a time goal. And so I did and instantly took on all the pressure that comes with it.
Sub 4 hour
Based on my recent half times it would be feasible, but marathons have a way of intimidating us.
Race weekend came around and I was nervous, more nervous than I’d been for a race in a long time. Most people who know me might think that’s silly. They know I love running, I do it all the time, and I’d been training. What’s the big deal? I was physically prepared but I was antsy, irritable even (tapering has a way of doing that) and I had lost site of my goal.
Somewhere along the way I had started to look at my training times and think, “ I could do a 3:55 or a 3:50 or a 3:48.” I started wanting more than I had trained and mentally prepared for. Then I looked at the weather, warm with 16 – 18 mph winds. I officially freaked out in my head. The wind was from the south, the direction I would be running the last and hardest 6 miles of the race.
Thankfully I slept well the night before. Still, lots of adrenaline, plus a lot of hills the first 2 miles, and a lot of wind at my back made the first 6 miles fast, faster than my “goal pace.” I kept fighting 2 opposing strategies and I didn’t have a coach to ask what to do:
Plan A: Stick to the 4 hour goal pace even though it feels slow now so you can have something left to fight the wind with at the end.
Plan B: Let your legs go, get ahead of your goal time so w hen the mental and physical walls hit at mile 20, you won’t fall behind.
Plan B won out. After 16 miles at about 8:35 – 8:45 pace I could feel it. I started “holding on” rather than cruising – trying to relax. I was taking in calories at every hydration stop. Mile 20 came and so did that south wind. I got scared. I started slowing down quite a bit and mentally started battling every negative thought in the book.
“Will I even be able to finish?”
“This is miserable!”
“I’m not even going to make it under 4 hours…”
Wait, what? I had to get a grip on this negative chatter. So in came the mantras!
“Just smile, you really do enjoy running!”
“There are people who would give anything for the ability and privilege to do what your doing.”
“You are prepared for this…remember those back to back 20 mile weekends…don’t give up.”
And then the mile count down began.
“Ok, just make it to mile 23 without stopping. Focus on one mile at a time. Ok, you’re still alive. Now mile 24, just make it to mile 24.”
I was holding on to a 9:30 pace on tired legs and against wind gust of 18 mph. The thoughts would come back, “Why am I doing this again?” And so came the mantras,
“Just smile, you really do enjoy running”
“There are people who would give anything for the ability and privilege to do what your doing”
“You are prepared for this…remember those back to back 20 mile weekends…don’t give up”
And then I saw mile 25…
“Yes, I hear music and people. Another hill? I can’t do it. I see my husband. I think I’m going to cry. I think it’s been more than 4 hours. I don’t care anymore. I see the finish line…they called my name. Its over. The clock says 3:58. I can’t believe I’m not crying. Its over, I can’t believe its over. I’m not sure I ever want to do this again. I love this jacket. I placed in my age group?! I need a shower. How far is the car? What marathon should I do next? Wait, what am I saying?!”
Looking back I can’t really say if I picked the right strategy or if I would do things differently. I was content with a good race and a check mark on my goal list: a sub 4 hour marathon completed. I really do love this sport. It’s a game where the only real opponent you have is yourself.
I learned so many valuable lessons this spring. From speed work during the training cycle, to food preparation, to the mental games of discipline and self talk. I know some people think its crazy. But…I really do enjoy running AND there are people who would give anything for the ability and privilege to do what I get to do.