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