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Where I have a little chat with myself about preparation & disappointment

by John on April 12th, 2015

Four hours. It’s my goal time for the marathon — it’s FAR slower a time than “Boston Qualifying.” But, it’s a nice-round number. And, well, it works for me, at present. Four hours — it’s what I’m striving for.

That said, today’s marathon, I knew I wasn’t going to hit four hours. I can tell myself any number of reasons – but, the truth is, running has not been my priority. I think I’ve been out, in calendar year 2015, 4 times. One of those times was to run a sanctioned race, where I put more care into how I was looking than I did into my stride rate and pace. None of those four even approached the 26.2 miles that I was set to run this morning. I’ve been working out, surely – but running – improving my distance, improving my speed, working to become a better runner . . . I’ve done none of that.

Before the race, I said, with complete honesty, that I “just wanted to finish.” I knew I wouldn’t hit four hours. But “just finish” was a bunch of bullshit, as well — I wanted to finish, finish strong, and finish with a smile. One of those three things happened.

I knew I was in trouble after the first mile. I started in the very back of the pack, but never fought to make my way to an area where I could run “my pace.” Where there were gaps among the runners, I’d move up, but I was far more a leaf in the river than the salmon swimming upstream that I feel like, at the start of most every race. The only way I could have speculated as to my time, after the first mile, was that I was just starting the third song of my playlist . . . which made me feel that I was running “average, maybe a little slow.” But, again, I just wanted to get through, so who cares what my time might have been.

What bothered me after the first mile was that I just wasn’t “feeling it.”

Every runner has to deal with running. I have yet to meet anyone who can go out for any run and can honestly say “yeah, that was amazing” the entire time. For me, I need to overcome the inner turmoil at the start, every time . . . usually, by the first mile, I am enjoying myself . . . but there’s a changeover that happens in there. The first mile hit here & all I could think was “something doesn’t feel right.”

Mile marker two came, and I started wondering if I should flag down a support vehicle. My right knee was very unhappy, and I was afraid that I might be doing some damage to it by continuing to run. But, the field was QUITE crowded at the time, and this was probably just me saying “you know you’re under-prepared and you’re looking for an excuse to get out.”

Mile marker three came, and I told myself that I’d flag down a support vehicle for a ride back at the half-marathon turnaround.

Mile marker four came, and my knee was no longer at the forefront of my brain.

As Winnie the Pooh might say, I started feeling a “rumbly in my tummy.” As my kids would say “Pooh!” As any experienced runner might say, “runner’s trots.”

Mile marker five came, and I told myself that I’d just turn around with the half-marathoners, get through the damn race, and chalk it up to a bad day.

Mile marker six came with the same thought.

The half-marathon turnaround saw a rather aggressive woman looking at bibs, telling people to move forward or to turn around. I was wearing a “full” bib. I was told to keep going. I kept going.

The next rest area, I stopped. I think I continued the run several pounds lighter than I had just previously been.

The marathon is fickle. 26.2 miles is a really fucking long way. But, it’s an attainable distance. I’d argue that most anyone can complete a marathon . . . it’s just that, well, if you don’t want to hate yourself & everyone around you when you’re done, you really need to train for it.

And, again, I hadn’t trained.

In addition to the physical endurance needed to keep yourself going, step after step after step after step, you need to do something to keep your brain occupied. This is where the “runner’s high” is so wonderful . . . there are times, during a run, where I lose track of the fact that I’m running. I am not actively thinking about much of anything . . . I am. Just, simply, I am.

In this run, I never got “the high.” What I started doing was taking a physical inventory at each mile marker. By mile marker 10, my knee and belly weren’t as pressing . . . as I was developing a nasty headache. “Duh, doofus,” I said to myself, you just dropped off a load of water — double up at every rest stop. And I did.

At mile marker 11, I told myself that I’d just “run a half marathon” and then flag down a support vehicle to take me back — my knee hurt, my belly wasn’t right, my head hurt . . . simply, I wasn’t sure I wasn’t harming myself by being on the course.

Mile marker 13 came, and there was a rest stop soon after. I stopped again. I got back on the course, again, lighter than I was previously.

The thing about running is that the act of getting yourself “up to speed” takes considerably more effort than “staying at speed.” So, while actually stopping left me feeling just a little bit better, and thinking “maybe I can get through this, after all,” the extra little bit of energy that it took to just go from “moving” to “running” left me sucking wind yet again.

But I was running again . . . I’d continue to 16 miles . . . that’s the “long run” minimum for marathon training . . . if you can get to 16 comfortably, some schools say, you’ll be able to complete the last 10. I got to 16 — my knee wasn’t hurting quite as much, but my head was throbbing. I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything in my stomach for my stomach to really be upset. My left big toe was hurting, and my right hip was starting to speak up.

Remember how I mentioned that the marathon was a mental exercise? Well, juggling all of that, and then trying to adjust your pace so that you aren’t damaging yourself – it makes for a long race.

By mile marker 20, my right foot went into a full cramp/spasm and I had to stop, take off my damn shoe, and work the muscle cramp out before starting again. As soon as I did, my right quad/hip/buttcheek started spasming. In addition to double water with every rest stop, I started adding a 1/3 of a banana to my intake. I was walking. Painfully. At this point.

I walked up “the hill”. Heck, I limped/walked most of the last 8 miles.

I never called for a support vehicle, though I was tempted to, often.

A big part of what had me going, as I approached the end? Poop – and not my own.

This race is part of a two-race series . . . the other race is in September, a half marathon — if you run both in the same calendar year, you get a plaque with hose poop shellacked onto it . . . I want this. Last week, I got a trophy for running a race in the best costume. 2015 will be the year of “weird race bling,” and, well, if I finished, I would be that much closer to this plaque.

Now, hours after the fact, my right butt cheek is still spasming and I have a greatly reduced range of motion in my right hip. I can’t walk down stairs without going step by step. I’m sun & wind burned most everywhere. The blister on my left big toe has opened up, leaving what looks like an odd biology experiment inside my sock. My right shoulder hurts like a motherfuck. My shoulder — from running. Bullshit (well, no – I can tell you that a shoulder will hurt from running in the same way that knees hurt from running — thousands of steps create shock, and that shock works its way up the body — it gets absorbed as it goes, but every joint is going to feel every step, in some way/shape/form — I’ve been having a lot of problems with my left shoulder, lately, from an ill-fated attempt at performing a muscle-up . . . it only makes sense that, subconsciously, I was favoring my left shoulder and . . . as such, punishing my right shoulder just a little bit more than the left, so, on a day like today, the right shoulder would, essentially, stop working . . . though, seriously, it feels like I’ve been stabbed).

Oh, the wind. Holy shit, the wind. The weather was just about perfect . . . just a little bit cool at the start, but, considering I was running, that’s not a bad thing. The sun shone brightly. But the wind? Wow. It was consistently blowing 20-25 miles per hour. Gusts were up to 45 miles per hour.

I’m lighter than I’ve been in quite some time . . . normally, when running a big race, having less of you to drag around is a good thing. However, well, in the wind? I don’t know if I wouldn’t have minded an extra 10-15 pounds, even if it was pure fat . . . just anything to help fight through the resistance.

My time was 5:25 — a good hour more than I finished, last year. Almost an hour and a half more than my target time. A minute away from my first (and worst) marathon.

But I made it to the end.

I knew I would fall short of my time. I haven’t been running . . . my diet? It’s been pretty-much spot-on target. My workout plan? I’ve been sticking to it — it’s just that running has not been my priority. I make explinations excuses, but when push comes to shove, I have chosen not to run. Yes, I have less body fat than I once did – and because of that, the cold affects me far more than it used to. Yes, I have a legitimate fear of slipping on ice and/or being seen around snow banks when running before the sunrise. Yes, I have severe guilt issues heading out for a run when my kids are awake (where I need to choose to leave the house rather than spend time with them).

I am getting really damn close to “having the body I want.” I’m lean. I’m strong. Fuck, I have honest-to-god six-pack-abs. Pull-ups, where the hope of a single pull-up was once a distant pipe dream, are “just a thing I do, when I want to some strength training but don’t have a lot of time”.

So, I’m left pondering things. Do I continue working on the marathon? Was today’s poor performance more a result of my lack of training or my body simply saying “fuck you” to my overloading it? Why does burlap chafe so? Was sleeping on my sister’s couch the night before the most prudent idea? Was the fact that I the statement “I worry about the amount of blood in my caffeine stream”

Was my inability to find the “runner’s high” a result of a fully-conscious knowledge that I had under-prepared for the race? Was it because I hadn’t been running and subconsciously felt the need to keep “in tune” with my body? Was it because I’ve packed my brain so full of shit/worry that my brain was actively trying to clear itself, but as one thought/worry faded, another would just rise to the surface? Were my physical ailments truly based on injury, or was my brain telling me that I had a long day/night ahead of me, and a little extra energy might be needed1? Were the thoughts that keep me from getting a good night’s sleep the same that allowed my head to clear during the run? Just how bad is the fact that I can say “I worry about the amount of blood in my caffeine stream” and have it only partly-be a joke?

I won’t be giving up running, entirely . . . but I may retire the marathon distance for the foreseeable future.

I once claimed that I was able to “pull a half marathon out of my ass,” and that holds true. I ran a difficult half-marathon course last week, where I put more effort into my costume than my actual running preparation. I fought a headwind and my costume throughout the run. I ran the race in just north of two hours. I was sore afterward, sure, but I went about & had a normal day.

I had planned to run “the marathon” in four hours. But, more than that, I wanted to turn running the marathon distance into “just another run.” If I ran one a weekend morning? It would be no different than if I had woken up and did a typical workout. Right now, where I’m barely able to walk, as I complete this post about 24 hours after the starting gun went off? I can tell you that the marathon was not “just another run for me.”

The half-marathon — I will finish in 2 hours, give or take. If I work on it, I’m pretty sure I can get my time down to 90 minutes. I can choose to run a half marathon in the same time that I’d take off to watch a movie. I enjoy the distance. And, truth be told, I believe I can excel at the distance.

I was five minutes away from my goal. I was 8 minutes per mile away from my goal. I was close. Reaching my goal was palpable.

But, right now, I am miserable.

This fall, I currently have two half-marathons scheduled — one in September and one in October. The Harrisburg marathon is in November. I head to the beach in July. I think, when I make it to the beach, if I can work on my tempo, start working on my endurance, and start truly establishing a training program . . . if if if. I’m not saying that I’m not going to run another marathon. Heck, I’m not even saying that I’m not going to run another marathon this year.

But I won’t run another marathon as unprepared as I was for this race.


1 If this was, in fact, the case, my brain was truly being an asshole. Yes, pushing yourself and going harder during any run requires extra energy. But, we’re talking about the difference of running 9-minute miles instead of 9-minute, 15-second miles. For this race, instead of being on the course for just north of four hours, I was on the course for five and a half hours — those added steps? That added time? It adds up. It takes its toll. There was a quote from some actual good runner about how running a five hour marathon is a whole lot harder than running a 2 & a half hour marathon . . . it’s just too much time pounding pavement. I kind of agree with him.
12 Comments
  1. During my last marathon (that sounds like I’ve run more than I have but anyway) I had the thought that I wouldn’t run another one until I could train for a four-hour finish.

    I’d run three in 18 months, all within just a few minutes of each other so I knew I had a pace that was my go-to and it would take a lot of work to lose those final 13 minutes.

    30 seconds a mile. Yeah. A lot.

    So guess what? I never ran another marathon.

    Maybe I should go back to basics and have my goal be to finish, to finish strong, to finish with a smile.

    I like that smile thing.
    Maybe.

    • The smile thing — honestly, the smile has been missing, on my side lately. It used to be that, when I “couldn’t find my smile,” I’d figure out a way to go for a run . . . but, running feels like a chore (and I haven’t been running), so something is broken (obviously, from the results . . . though this really reads/feels like a classic case of under-preparation).

      Now that I’m most of a week removed, I’m still looking back with a HORRIBLE picture of my performance in my head, but I’m not dreading the thought of a run quite as much. Heck, I’m even figuring out how I can start working some long runs into my schedule, to ensure that, when I next run a marathon, even if I don’t finish within four hours, I’ll, at least, finish with a smile.

      And the big thing about that is I’m thinking “when” but not “if”.

      So I think there’s, at least, one marathon left in me.

  2. You finished, and you weren’t injured. Those are the important things.

    For most of 2011, when I did run two marathons (finishing a little slower, around 5:00, then I wanted to) I would run 10-13 miles about 3x a week with relative ease. I would like to run one more marathon to finish a multi-year series of comebacks from injury, but I don’t think I’ll ever get to where it’s “just another run”. Ultimately I would really like to get back to where I was for most of that year, in which I could have signed up for any half marathon at the spur of the moment.

    • How has recovery been going? We need you to install Feedburner or something on your blog — I am horrible about checking in (though I’m heading there right now).

      As much as I’d like to say that the marathon will be “just another run,” I think I can, honestly, say that the half is “just another run” for me. Which, is something — as discouraged as I was on Saturday (and that’s an understatement), I haven’t lost everything . . . just stepped back.

  3. You showed up, you ran, you finished.
    It makes my getting up, taking a shower and having coffee somewhat insignificant 😉

    • But, well, getting up, taking a shower, and having coffee is something I enjoy. A lot.

  4. I am so very sorry. The marathon is an absolute beast. Yes, maybe anyone can do it, but it is hard and soul sucking and brutal. When you get to that start line, no matter how you’ve trained, you don’t know what’s going to happen: you can’t control the weather or the trots or all those other little factors. You do what you can, and that’s all you can do.

    Taking a break sounds like the best call. You’re doing so great and there’s nothing wrong with regrouping.

    • I’m back on the horse . . . hoping to run Harrisburg in November. I’m kind-of ignoring the 4 hour barrier . . . just hoping to finish strong. My kids are getting bigger, and they’re taking up more & more time. I want my last marathon to be a far more positive memory (not saying that I won’t run another one, after November . . . I just am accepting that it may be a few years until I attempt the distance once again)

  5. Take care of that hip! A sore hip from a hilly half marathon turned into my herniated disc.

  6. Laura permalink

    Dear John,

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this post. (I read it last week) I realize that your original post was more than 2 months ago. How do you feel about running a marathon now? Do you have renewed vigor? Or do you still have doubts?

    Anyway, let me preface this with the fact that I have never attempted to accomplish a marathon and probably never will. I was a runner back in the 1980’s and could run for an hour, got the runner’s “high” and loved it. I admire the determination of those who do do marathons, however, I feel that it is not the only fitness goal out there. And forgive me for the blasphemy, but I think it may be a bit over rated. There are many goals we humans can achieve, so rather than focusing on the marathon, I think you should move to another arena. I think as part of your fitness journey, running the marathon multiple times was an important part of your progress. But, listen to your body–it didn’t like the punishment of that race, and you’re in great shape! That should tell you something. I don’t think pounding the pavement for 4 + hours is the best thing for you.

    I truly feel that you should explore more yoga. The reason I say this is because of the direction you’ve been going, using your body weight as the main focus of your workouts. Check out the crow pose; check out the flying crow pose. Check out the peacock pose. Check out Marichyasana D. And finally, don’t forget the Shavasana pose where you rest, relax and regroup.

    I practice yoga about once a week. I’m pretty lousy at it, but think it is just the ticket for you. What do you think?

    Love,

    Laura

    • While, right now, I’m still very much “in recovery” from the shingles, and running is far from my mind, I believe I’ve talked myself into running the Harrisburg marathon in November.

      For the next few years, at least, I know I can’t devote the time & energy into being “a marathoner.” I’m going to retire the distance for a bit — but, I do want one last go . . . if only to feel a bit better about myself.

      With regards to yoga, I’ve started doing some, each and every day. My alarm goes off, I walk Benji, then I start making coffee (which is a HIGHLY regimented activity – I have things planned down to the minute). Once the coffee is poured (though still too hot to drink), I head downstairs for some strength training, but I start with: 3 sun salutations, then I hold a crow pose, then I do several “buddhist push-ups” before I work into my strength training routine for the day. I know it’s not a lot – but it does help. Shavasana is a regular part of my afternoon routine, assuming I can find a place where I can lie down for a bit 🙂

      Honestly, there are a LOT of changes that I’ve made over the past few years, but, since adding regular yoga (which has happened along with significant changes to diet and changes to the way I prioritize my exercise), I’ve seen my weight drop, my strength increase, my headaches decrease, and my blood pressure drop from 130-155/75-105 to 95-125/60-85.

      • Laura permalink

        Love it. I knew yoga was for you! Here’s to your continued recovery from the shingles. I hope I never get them. I suppose I will probably get the vaccine one of these days…

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