I set out to the start line of my 9th marathon with a BIG goal. I wanted to crush a sub-3:30 finish time, in fact I had set my hear and vision on an exact number- 3:29:57. Don’t ask me why…but that’s the number I saw, training run after training run, spin class after treadmill speed interval session- every time I closed my eyes, that was the number I KNEW was achievable. A few (crazy) supporters had thrown out a 3:27 finish prediction- Thank you for your faith in me (chuckle, chuckle). I knew that finish time was doable, so it didn’t even seem that crazy to me. Last year, at the same race, I’d missed the marathon turn off and prematurely finished the race with the half marathoners, adding a full half mile to my race. The official race time showed 3:33:20, but thanks to GPS tracking, we clocked my official 26.2 mile time right at 3:29 ish. Blows my mind, even now… that was the best race, if you don’t count my deficit in directional ability. (You can read that race recap here.)
Anyways, back to 2017. Three weeks earlier, I got sick. And I mean what they call “dog sick.” Due to various individual factors (autoimmune disorder) and the current health struggles we’re facing as a country, I went down hard. Even though I’m normally very adverse to treatment with antibiotics, I believe in the judicial use of medication on all levels- it can be VERY necessary and VERY helpful! After one round of a pretty strong antibiotic, I relapsed, and found myself back in a PCP’s office. This is a topic for another post, however, the dual usage of what they say is the strongest antibiotic out there and steroids WILL speed up recovery. It will also, however, create a landslide of residually manifesting side effects you may or may not realize at the time they occur. For instance, if I was not running a marathon 10 days post illness, I may not have known that this particular antibiotic can cause significant deterioration in the muscles, not excluding the potential for tearing, liver toxicity and tendonitis. But, because I ran a marathon, I got to FEEL those effects as they came to a head in my otherwise prepared and recovered body.
Back to the race…
It was cold. So cold that I actually kept on my long sleeve half-zip to run much of the race in, pulling it up to show my bib as I entered the coral. The National Anthem was beautiful, sung by local university chorus members. Rucksack (weighted!) racers and hand crank participants were off in the two minutes pre-start-gun. I started the tracking app then, which would cause all of my supporters to think I was running about two minutes slower than I really was…. kind of funny on the other side of things. I didn’t want my hands fumbling with an app while taking my first steps into the race!
We took off and it was perfect- cold, but perfect. I had energy in my legs, and I held onto a comfortable pace in the 7:30-8 minute/mile range with ease. I knew I wanted to run an average pace of 7:40 for several miles. My typical race strategy is to bank up time early when I have the energy, so that later, when I call on endurance, but the legs are aching, things will balance out. This is a marathon… you’ll never NOT hurt towards the end. It is pushing through the pain that gets you to the finish line. I found new meaning for that in this race though.
Mile 9 gave me a significant slowdown. People who have run the Charlotte marathon, or live in the area know this before you even say it- “Morehead Road is a beast!” Without looking at the map, I’d say it’s probably the highest and longest elevation of the whole course. But I recovered quickly and continued on strong. I executed my race strategy as planned, taking in my carry-fuel, and anticipating my number one supporter just after the half marathon marker. There, Jacob, my husband, will have a fresh bottle of hydration, energy and some love for the rest of the race. It’s not the cliche, “I couldn’t do this without him,” but it is that I WOULDN’T want to do this without him, his support, his understanding, and seriously- his belief in my ability. Sometimes, I think his belief in me is what gets me through things. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe in yourself, right?
Ok, almost to mile 13 and somewhere in that 12th mile, I had the strangest experience. It was as if, suddenly, someone replaced my calf muscles with bricks, or 2x4 blocks. They stopped stretching and moving with my stride- they locked right up. As said numerous times since then, this has never happened to me, but it was as if I had a constant charlie horse from that moment on, in both legs. Although my thoughts have evolved since then, at the time, I kicked into problem-solving mode. I began playing with my stride, reviewing all of my morning pre-race activities, trying to figure out WHY they were in pain so that I could address it and move on! Even as I varied stride every quarter mile or so, the pain and discomfort continued. At the halfway point, hanging on to Jacob’s arms, I let my heels fall down the curb to get that runner stretch we’ve all done… breathlessly muttering, “I need a minute, I’m feeling it.” I didn’t dare give verbal attention by labeling my pain, but in my mind, I was dumbfounded. WHAT? and WHY?
After that, my speed steadily fell. I managed to maintain something in the 8-8:40/mile range as I plodded through the Charlotte streets and city limits, but I could not get my sub-eights back. I’ve learned over the past several years that we all have a “happy pace.” It’s that place where we’re putting in the perfect amount of effort without having to toe the line of discomfort, but we can stop knowing we got a great workout in… for me- that’s around a 7:50/mile pace. That’s my happy pace, and I spent 13 miles looking for it on November 11, 2017. I never found it again. As the GPS tracker app spoke to me at each mile, I lost hope that the over-two-minute advantage I’d banked in the first half would be able to save me. Somewhere around mile 20 I lost hope in a sub 3:30, and began to focus on a PR. If I could beat a 3:33, I would be satisfied with the race, I would know I had improved over the past year.
Legs screaming, mind spinning, I couldn’t find speed. I even stopped a few times (runner tip- always walk through the water stations!) in the 20’s to find prop my toes up on a curb and get a little more length from my calf muscles. As I kicked back into my stride, they would ease up just a bit, but lock back up soon after. I leveled out in the higher 8’s, but even up to that last mile I thought I could PR. I think that’s where most of the BITTER in the bittersweet is…if I could have found that runner’s kick I usually have at the end of a race, I could have sprinted in, shaving 20-40 seconds off an average finish. But my legs wouldn’t do it.
I had asked Jacob to video my finish, but only if I was going to get a sub 3:30. I’d even said, if the clock is 3:30 or over, don’t worry with it! Because of the confusion between the tracking app and my declining pace, he didn’t know my time and was hanging just above the finish line. He began to film me coming into that last point 2, and it’s quite a disheartening little clip. No eye contact, pure disgust on my face.
I don’t know if you’ve ever cried while running, but don’t. It’s an experience much like a panic attack. As I crossed that line, the tears I’d shut down for miles came. After Jacob helped me to the grassy area, I dropped into child’s pose and there’s no other way to say it- bawled like a baby.
It may seem trivial to some. Life is full of hardship and disadvantages and obstacles to overcome… and this silly girl chooses to run a marathon and isn’t happy with her time. Boo hoo, poor thing. But might I ask you to see this as a metaphor for life in general. I go after big goals for many reasons, but achieving them is an admonition that it ALWAYS takes something bigger than yourself to overcome true limitation. Not hitting this goal was due to a myriad of factors that only became clear when crowd was silent and the fog diminished, days later. But, at the time, it was as if I’d let an entire world and my God down. At the time, it was as if I’d lost my ability to show up and inspire others. At the time, I had let myself down.
I believe failure is a part of life, a part of our process, and that it happens on many levels throughout life. This past year, I’ve gotten very in-touch with the potential for failure and am beginning to cross over the place where you learn to step into those opportunities, regardless of the possible fall-out. Thinking about that race still brings tears to my eyes and an ache to my chest. I grapple with the words I have not yet said to my PCP about the medication prescribed days before a marathon. I wonder how into detail I need to go with folks who want to know what I’ve experienced in my body. But the bottom line, the lesson, the follow through from this experience is this:
Take the steps forward, allow momentum to carry you as far as it will, but when it falls-out, YOU DON’T STOP. You keep going. Because, regardless of the time on the clock, finishing the race means you leaned on the ONE thing that will always get you through when you give in to it. It means you let God be the strength, the perseverance, the grit inside of you that defeats the odds surrounding you. The standards set in this world are there for a reason-whether legitimate or superficial- but they don’t really indicate your true worth. Whether it’s weight, a qualifying marathon time, a score on a test…none of those numbers will indicate the true effort, the training, the planning. Keep going after what you want to see, and be open to the journey along the way. When we shut off the process for the sake of the finish line, we will always lose. But when we keep perspective and recognize how we’re growing and changing along the way, look at how much we gain.
The goal is still there, and I’ll go after another sub 3:30 marathon goal before I hit the 35 age bracket. I have 1 year to go… and I kind of like the sound of 5 qualifiers (one of them being sub 3:30) in 10 marathons, don’t you?
Here’s the deal- amid the chaos of my disastrous last month of training, I watched 2 members of my coaching community finish their first marathon. I’ve now seen 3 members of Awarding Life Group Coaching cross a finish line they probably didn’t even dare dream existed before. That couldn’t make me more proud. Because of them, I was inspired to put the process on paper, including the recommendations for supplements, nutrition and cross training and package up the Awarding Life Marathon Method. If you’ve got a full or half marathon on the mind for 2018, I encourage you to apply my training techniques and approach. Although somewhat unconventional, I think you’ll see a lot of what I’ve said in this race recap come to life for you. Your body will be strong, your mind will be stronger, and you’ll experience a level of grit the world doesn’t want you to know you have.
Find the training packages by clicking here.