I ran my 11th marathon/ultramarathon last Sunday. It has taken me a week to process it and make peace with it.
It was another hilly road marathon (why do I never choose flat courses??). In the past, my road marathons have been
#1 Country Music Marathon in 5:17
#2 Mercedes Marathon (my least hilly) in 4:45:52
#3 Hatfield-McCoy (run/walk) in 5:09
#4 Ky Derby Marathon in 4:36
#5 Flying Monkey Marathon (sprained ankle during) in 5:03.
#6 Loonies Midnight Marathon in 4:57 (I think)
The other marathons were on trails and MUCH slower, and I've run one 50K and one 60K on gravel. So, technically, this was only my 7th road marathon. (It was my 5th mary/ultra since April though.)
I had been training for a 4:20 finish, and it was going well. That pace felt do-able. 9:55. That was my A-goal, but anything under 4:30 would have been good. Anything under my PR of 4:36 would have been acceptable. (Do others set an A-goal, a B-goal, and a C-goal?) I trained for 16 weeks. However, at the end of the training cycle, I somehow scheduled myself back-to-back half marathons, a week off, then this full. When I signed up for the half-marathons, I was thinking the marathon was November 10 or 17 instead of 3rd. Perhaps I should have checked more closely???
The first half-marathon on October 12 was a PR by 3 or 4 minutes. The very next week (with no recovery at all from training), I ran another one and PR'd the course by 8 minutes on a TOUGH course. I had never run half-marathons two weeks in a row before. Then with one week to go, I did start backing off the mileage some, running a 10-miler with 8 at race pace the weekend before the marathon.
But, frankly, I was WORN out by then. I came through race week just fine with no nerves. I felt tired, but the 9:55 pace should have come easily after half-marathons at 9:17 pace and 9:37 with little taper. Or so I thought.
On race morning, the goal was to start at a 10:00 minute pace, but I went out stupidly on this two-loop course. I was overconfident. I attacked the first 6 miles of hills. Granted, two or three of these miles had significant down-hills, but at 6.5, my chip recorded a 9:46 average pace. By mile 8, I was thinking, "Uh-oh, what have I done?" At mile 11, my right Achilles tendon started hurting terribly. It had bothered me once or twice during training, but not in a while. I slowed down some, but was still pushing. About that time, I realized I had run 3 races in 4 weeks. It had never occurred to me until then. How is that possible? My Achilles and right foot both began to hurt. I asked myself if it would be smarter to drop to the half-marathon and "live to run another day"? Before I had a chance to think it through, I was there.
At 13.1, I crossed the mat at 2:10:50 or so. I was still semi on pace for a 4:20, still, but I'd need to negative split it. However, fatigue had started to creep in, and I was upon the hilly section again. It just got ugly from there. I remember thinking at mile 16, "Well, the Achilles hasn't ruptured yet! Keep going." Some miles it hurt; some miles it felt just tight and uncomfortable. Until mile 16, I was still on track for a "good day," but by 18, the wheels fell off. The wall reared its ugly head. It became a complete struggle to run. By mile 20, I knew my PR was gone. I tried to Galloway it from there with a 4:1 (run four minutes, walk one), but running even 4 minutes felt impossible. Around that time, I was overwhelmed with emotion-- sadness and disappointment. I was also angry at myself for breaking the Cardinal rule "Don't go out too fast." At mile 22, I cried briefly. Luckily, I was alone on a quiet part of the course in a neighborhood. I ran all of the last 6-7 miles solo (which is ok if you need to cry!) I did feel better after crying a bit.
Finally, I was at mile 25. I had a dour look on my face-- unsmiling, feeling sorry for myself, looking down at the ground as I ran. I raised my lowered eyes for just a second, and I saw HER. A woman in a wheelchair on the sidewalk was clapping her gloved hands, smiling, and cheering enthusiastically for me, saying, "You can do it." She had come out to encourage the marathoners, had stayed on the cold course for four and a half hours, and she took time to remind this disheartened marathoner that I could run the last 1.2 miles, even though she could not.
Tears immediately came to my eyes. It was as if God was saying, "Get over yourself!! You have completed 25 miles, and all you are doing is beating yourself up." It was one of my defining running moments, one I will never forget.
My friend Diane Bolton surprised me just before mile 26 and ran with me (in her jeans!) for about a quarter-mile, and it was the boost I needed. I finished 26.42 in 4:43:52, my second fastest marathon time, but one of the toughest mentally.
My marathon training/travel buddy/great friend Andrea had a FANTASTIC first marathon and surpassed her goal. My coach and his wife both WON their races. I was really happy for all of them.
That right Achilles tendon and both feet have hurt this week. I've been tired and emotional. I have taken a full 6 days off from running. It has been nice. So much extra time! Less laundry!
What's next? I don't know. I'd really like a do-over-- to run the 26.2 I know I have in me right now that reflects this tough training cycle. But almost as importantly, I'd like to run one more with a good attitude, a smile, reflecting on the blessings in my life.