State #30/Marathon #38After 38 marathons, you think I’d remember how bad it feels to blow up in a race. It baffles me how I could forget that type of physical and emotional struggle so quickly. This weekend was certainly not my first ride on the struggle bus. I finished my 2015 marathons the same way I began them: with a disaster. In February, I ran the Lost Dutchman Marathon and had a ROUGH day. Before that day, I thought the days of blowing up at marathons were over. I hoped I learned a tough lesson in Arizona and would never have to “struggle” that way again. I was wrong. No, I don’t ever expect a marathon to be easy. But blowing up to the point where you feel like you can’t put one foot in front of the other…the kind of race that ends in walk/run intervals…those were the days I’d hoped I left in the past. I was so wrong. After a speedy 3:12 in Hartford less than a month ago, I chased that with a 3:57:53 at Indianapolis Monumental. Yes, you read that correctly.
What this all really comes down to was a decision I made in the first five miles of the race. I was not willing to sacrifice my spring season and the Boston Marathon over this race, so I backed off. I’d like to tell you that you’re about to read a tale of someone who backed off with grace, ran with a smile and held her head high. Unfortunately, this is the furthest thing from that.
At the start, I line up near the 3:05 pacer. I’m not running with a pacer – I’m running my own race and learned that lesson a few weeks ago. I know I likely can’t run a 3:05 today, but my bib number is 305 and that was my goal. I can’t ignore that sign. I know I haven’t had any indication over the past three weeks that I should still pursue this goal. I realize my calf could tear. I know watching the pace team leave me once again might break my heart. I have to just see.
Before mile 1 has passed, I watched the 3:05 pacer do his job and confidently lead his pack. I didn’t follow them, but it made my heart (and my calf) hurt just a little. Okay, you knew that 3:05 was probably off the table. But I’m running a marathon. I’m going to check state #30 off of my 50 state journey. I’m not going to let my calf ruin my spring season and I’m focusing on Boston. I don’t want to be injured when I begin training for the spring. I’m grateful to be able to line up at the start today. I’m grateful to be running a marathon at all. Back off, Allison.
At mile 2, someone cuts in front of me at a water stop. That happens during races, but today it made me change my stride and take a weird step. Oh no. That didn’t feel good on my calf. As I feel the sharp pain deep in my calf, I panic. I never should have done this, and I am going to drop out at the next medical station. I don’t want to ruin my spring. I’ll come back here next year. This isn’t worth it.
At mile five, I still haven’t dropped out. I see my friend Mark, and I fall into step with him. We chat a little, but I’m having a hard time talking at what normally is a comfortable pace for me. Maybe I can finish this race with my friend. He’s usually somewhere between 3:20-3:30. That’s reasonable. We go through a water stop, and I see the gap between us increase. I begin to pick up the pace to follow him and my calf, which seemed to have loosened up, makes it’s presence known. Boston. Don’t follow him. I back off, and my heart sinks a little lower.
At mile 7, the half marathoners break off. My calf has been aching off and on, and I’m struggling. It’s still so early to be struggling. Do I do it? Do I get scored for the half? I’ll have to come back to this state and do this race again. That was a really freaking long car ride. Maybe I can come back next year. I should definitely fly here next time, especially if I come alone. The opportunity passes, and I keep moving forward. One step at a time. I’m still averaging about 8 minute miles. I can do this today.
At mile 8, I want a walk break. But I’m still averaging 8s. Don’t walk, Allison. Make it to mile 10. At least get to double digits. My calf seems to be cooperating, so I keep the pace steady.
At mile 10, my legs feel trashed. How is this possible? If they feel this badly at mile 10, what’s mile 20 going to look like? I can’t think about that now. One mile at a time. One step at a time. I should take a walk break. No, Allison – make it to the half marathon point. At least you’ll be halfway.
At mile 11, I see a beer stop. Yes, please. I grab a beer, the people in the crowd cheer loudly and it tastes great going down. As I keep running, I hold onto the cup and keep sipping until it’s gone. If it’s going to hurt, maybe I can make it my mission to drink all of the beer on the course. My spirits are lifted, and I’m smiling. This might still end up being more fun than I thought.
At the half marathon point, I cross in 1:46 and my thoughts begin to change from actively seeking out beer stops to feeling sorry for myself. Why is this happening to me? Last week, I paced a 1:45 half like it was nothing. Three weeks ago, I ran a 1:30 half and felt like it was almost effortless (other than the whole calf deciding to freak out on me). Four weeks ago, I was running a marathon and crossed the half marathon point in 1:32. A month and a half ago I ran a half marathon PR in 1:29 and in August, I won the hilliest half I’ve ever run in 1:34. I feel the tears in my eyes, but I refuse to cry. I want to walk. Just make it to 14. Then you can walk.
At mile 14, I want to walk but I tell myself to make it to 15. I’m still in the 8 minute range and haven’t seen any 9s on my watch yet. My calf is still hanging in there. The course is flat, but every single time I see a tiny incline (these are little teensy tiny blips that would never even register with me on a normal day) I panic that my calf might give up on me. I just keep running. People are starting to walk, but not me. Not yet.
At mile 15, Ashley passes me. I know her goal is a BQ and she looks like she is has it. For a brief moment, I consider picking up the pace and running with her. It would mean around 8 minute pace through the finish. Could I? Maybe. Should I? No. She worked for this. I know myself well – things could very well get dark and twisty. I’m not going to ruin it for her. I muster up a smile and tell her she looks great. I want to walk. No, Allison – make it to 16. Then all you have is 10 miles to go.
At mile 16, my body wants to walk. Even step I take feels hard and it just wants to stop. But I’m still seeing 8s on my watch, and my calf isn’t freaking out on me. I will make it to mile 17. Then, I’ll be in single digits.
At mile 17, I walk. My pace has taken a nose dive. My right hip and my right knee are hurting, probably from compensating for the dull ache in my left calf. It’s time. I tell myself: 2 minutes of walking, 10 minutes of running. You can do this. I stick to the plan and after two minutes of walking, I begin to run. This doesn’t feel bad. Maybe I just needed that little break. I can do this. Instead of running for 10 minutes, I make it 20 minutes. A small victory, and I start to perk up a little bit. This isn’t so bad.
At 2:59, I take a walk break. I’m somewhere in the 20-21 mile range and I feel the tears in my eyes. No, I didn’t have hopes of breaking three hours today. But I was supposed to be closer to that goal today. Today, I am going to be lucky if I break the four hour mark. As my watch changes to 3:00, I feel a tear escape so I wipe it away and begin to talk to a random guy, also walking. He was cramping up and watching his goal slip away, too. I tell him that I’m going to begin running again at 3:01, and he should run with me. I start running, but he doesn’t follow.
At 3:05, I see my watch. I should be finishing, but now I’m looking at my watch in anticipation of 3:11, because that’s when I can walk again. I feel the tears again because I should be finishing the race, not praying for my next walk break. I feel the tears because I still have five-ish miles left, not five-ish minutes. I wonder how those two minutes of walking can fly by at light speed, but the ten minutes of running seems to last for an eternity.
At 3:11, I walk again. I don’t remember what mile I’m at, but I see my watch flip to 3:12 and I openly let a few tears slip out. Three weeks ago, at 3:12, I was running the .2 and sprinting to the finish at something like a 6:15 pace, racing another woman to make sure I came in ahead of her. I can barely manage 10 minute miles right now. At 3:13, I run again.
After that last walk break, the rest of the race, times, walk breaks are all a blur. I remember getting to mile 24.5 doing the run 10, walk 2 minute deal but I can’t remember much. At 24.5, I also remember Sia singing “Big Girls Cry” on my iPod and the lyrics make me tear up:
I may cry, ruining my makeup
Wash away all the things you’ve taken
I don’t care if I don’t look pretty
Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking
Side note: Looking back on this experience, I realize what a huge dork I am. Let’s be real: it’s running. I was hungry, tired and defeated which made me weepy and emotional. I considered writing a rosy race report with the attitude I’ve currently adopted (I finished! I’m 2/3 way done with the states! I didn’t make my stupid calf worse!) but that isn’t exactly how it went down. If I can’t tell the real story here, where can I tell it? Besides, I regret not recapping Arizona after it happened. I don’t want to forget this.
At mile 26, I see Mark and he cheers for me – tentatively. I semi-glare at him and semi-ignore him.
At mile 26.2 and 3:57:53, I cross the finish line. 45 minutes longer than my marathon less than a month ago. 52 minutes slower than my goal time. I immediately reset my Garmin – I didn’t wipe the splits off completely and I’ll go look at them when I’m ready. But I couldn’t face them in that moment.
I grab a Mylar blanket, my medal, a water and some food. I sit on the curb near gear check. I’m starving because I didn’t eat much before the race, and stopped taking gels at mile 15. I feel empty. I eat a chocolate chip cookie and drink some chocolate milk. I feel a lump in my throat and the tears start to fall. I wipe them away, pull my shit together and head over to gear check. I force a smile and thank the volunteers as they get my bag. I walk behind the tent and I’m relieved that no one else is in sight. I sit on the grass, wrapped in my Mylar blanket and bawl my eyes out.
I called my husband since I knew he was tracking me and was probably really worried. He was relieved to know that I wasn’t stumbling around with a torn calf muscle, and he listened to me cry in my post marathon fog, which was exactly what I needed. I’m sobbing about how I could spend 19 weeks working harder than I’ve ever worked to have it all amount to this. Finally, I pull myself together because I know my friends have been finished for awhile and are probably wondering where I am. I’m outside and I have no shame at this point: I use the Mylar blanket as a shield and change my whole outfit (sports bra included) into clean clothes. I don’t care. I’m freezing, and I know that will help make me feel better.
I’m very grateful that I was able to finish the race at all. I’m not disappointed with my time in the way that you may think. I broke 4 hours on my worst day this year, and I know many people dream of breaking 4 hours on their best day. The time on the clock is not what hurts and I am proud of finishing the race despite the emotions. Why did I feel terrible running what is normally my easy pace? Why, after 19 weeks of training and 965 miles in that training block was a sub-4 hour marathon so hard? Because this weekend – that 3:57 on a pancake flat course was much, much, MUCH more difficult and grueling than my 3:12 at Hartford. Or even my 3:06 in Charlevoix. I just don’t get it. It’s like my body just didn’t want any of it. That’s what hurts. I am thankful for finishing the race. I am thankful that my calf is no worse. I am thankful, but I’m also defeated.
This weekend was a huge reminder of something: we are not owed a PR because we ran the right amount of miles or trained at the right paces. We can take care of our bodies and do all of the “right” things. We can make one dumb decision and it can dismantle the whole plan, or we can do everything exactly right and still not achieve our goals. A lot of people train really hard – what makes me entitled to PRs and great race finishes? Absolutely nothing. I think because I had some really outstanding races over the past few years and thought I had this whole sport figured out that I put my time in and it was owed to me. It’s not. Will I have another wonderful, effortless, easy-breezy season of running again like I did in 2014? Maybe. I know one thing: I won’t take it for granted if that ever comes around again.
It also reminded me of what my marathons used to look like a few years ago. I consistently used to finish marathons in 3:40-4:10. I don’t know what I will do in the spring or if I will have another finish like today, but it reminded me of how far I have come. I’m also thankful for that.
Hollie at FueledByLOLZ said something in a recent blog post that basically sums up my feelings about this weekend:
“Despite both of those races being miserable, I finished healthy, and I never looked back. They were just a memory that running is hard and not every race is a dream race.
Regardless of the race time, every bib number, award or medal is a memory of something. They are a memory of doing something I enjoy. Sure I could donate half of the red, white and blue strung 5k finishing medals I have but I don’t want too. I don’t like to take for granted finishing every race.”
Because this weekend, I finished the race. This weekend, I had to walk. After 19 weeks of pouring my heart and soul into my training, it didn’t go at all how I’d planned. But this medal…this bib…it’s a memory. It’s a reminder that it IS hard. Those are the moments that make all of the PRs, all of the effortless races even more sweet.
I was worried that this race might crush my spirit. The last time a race crushed me, it resulted in a six month hiatus from running that I almost never returned from. But I woke up the next day and I wasn’t sore, and I smiled. I ran a marathon. On Monday, I woke up and it was absolutely gorgeous out. I really wanted to go for a run. I didn’t go – I need to heal – but just the desire to go made me smile. I will run a 3:05. I will break 3 hours. And when I do, I will read this post again.