Saturday, April 16, 2011

What the Tough Races Teach Us: Part II

I wrote a race report shortly after finishing my first running of the Boston Marathon in 2009. It was a tough race that left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm heading back to run the race again this year ... this time with the goal of enjoying the course with a number of good friends while pacing one of them to her new PR (personal record).

I re-post that race report here as a prelude to what I hope to be a much more enjoyable report I'll write a few days from now.

Originally posted to Facebook on April 20, 2009:
When I ran track in High School, I ran the distance events ... the 2 mile. At one meet, our 400m (440 yds back then) runner was sick and the coach asked me to step in. I think I ran it in 72 seconds or something like that ... it was ridiculously comical. There is a picture of me in the yearbook from that year ... running that race. The caption is "the agony of defeat". It hurt ... not the caption, but the race. But that race has also since added context to all of the great races and amazing finishes I've had. Without the pain, we can never truly appreciate the glory.

I don't think it may ever be possible to finish a race and mirror the feelings I had as I finished the race that qualified me for the Boston Marathon. That qualifying race, as most Boston qualifiers will tell you, was the true moment of celebration for the entire event. But we keep chasing that moment. It's what keeps many of us out there training through the dark mornings, the sub-zero weather, and the heat of the summer. That chase is what keeps us coming back for more even after the tough races.

When I toed the line (figuratively speaking, as I was five corals back from the actual line), I knew I wasn't in the shape I was for my qualifying race. Accordingly, I knew I didn't have a 3:10 in me. But I knew I trained to the best of my ability. That's different from training to my full potential. For this training season, I took on a job search, a complete renovation of our second floor, and a trip to England. These are not excuses, but merely a recognition that we sometimes sacrifice a bit of the race in order to maintain ultimate balance in the rest of our lives. I'm truly surrounded by the gift of an amazingly supportive and enthusiastic family that excuses me when my running sometimes interrupts that balance.

In my last note, I indicated that I was intending to treat the Boston Marathon as the victory lap that it truly was. A celebration that I accomplished the qualification. Although I didn't intend for that victory lap to take me 3 hours and 50 minutes, I was allowed the opportunity to run with the worlds finest runners in the most historic race. I'm actually disappointed in my time ... and a bit embarrassed. So I'm hoping this blog will encourage me to stay in the celebration moment and to keep my gratitude close at hand.

Even if I had met my goal of running a 3:20:xx, I think the highlight of my weekend would have been meeting and hanging with so many great people I've met over the past months on the Runner's World online discussion forums. We got together Saturday night, and then a few more of us were able to connect on Sunday night as well. It's amazing when you can walk into a room and instantly surround yourself with great discussions and people who truly understand what it took to get there. These are people who know what I've done every morning this past winter as the alarm sounded at 4am. They know how that moment felt. I truly hope to stay connected with some of these friends for a long time and share marathons again in the future. I've got to especially get to the midwest and run Green Bay and Chicago.

As for the actual race, I'll share with you the brief blow by blows. I had hoped to go out at a 7:30 pace and then see how I was feeling at about the 16 mile mark before determining my end strategy. I secretly hoped that I'd have enough left to climb the hills of Newton and then finish strong for the final 5.

I had difficulty reigning in my pace from the start ... a classic rookie move at Boston ... and was lured into a quick start by the downhills of the first four miles. I managed to squeeze the brakes enough to stay in the 7:15 range, but would pay for those extra seconds later, trading them for minutes in return.

By the half way mark (1:37:xx), I was still on mark to finish in the 3:20 range, but I knew I didn't have a repeat in me for that second half. I just didn't know how long I had left. Just past the half way mark, I saw a friend from the forums walking along the sidewalk. Jason had started in the second coral and is an outstanding athlete. It was tough to see him walking, and I knew it probably meant he was not looking to finish. He's been battling a muscle injury and it had started acting up. I did a quick u-turn, and did my best to hand him some strength ... but I could see the disappointment in his face. He graciously offered me his remaining Gu pack, but I still had two left. Given that a few others from the discussion forum had to sit out altogether due to injury or last minute family concerns, I really wanted to finish in spite of my own pain and honor the request given to us a few days before the race that we finish it for those who couldn't be there. It really became an invaluable source of motivation in the final 5 miles. That's another thing fellow runners hand to one another with unselfish ease. Jason, for what it's worth ... you were a significant part of that for me today.

I had hoped to see my family in the 16-17 mile range, but was unable to locate them. By then, my legs had seized up a few times and I knew I would be in for a very rocky finish. I was struck, though, at how deflated I felt when I didn't see them. As it turns out, they caught my attention at mile 20 and I actually stopped to have a few words and to let them know that I was fading pretty quickly. I'm so glad we were able to see one another ... it's just something special to have loved ones on the road for you.

There's not much to the rest of the story ... it just wasn't my day, and I crashed hard. If you know anything about marathon racing, you can subtract 1:37:xx (my first half split) from 3:50:xx (my final time) and calculate a disastrous set of what we call "positive splits". The answer to that equation will translate very easily to anyone who has been on a marathon course as a very painful race. But when you've used up all you've got by mile 16, you're not going to find it anywhere but over the next few days once you cross the finish line. And, if you're lucky, you'll be given the opportunity to chase it again in the next race (my next opportunity happens to be at the Vermont City Marathon on May 24th).

But I kept my promises. I celebrated hard with the women of Wellesley and their wall of sound. I ran that gauntlet with my hand held high for the high fives.

I took the Newton hills to the best of my ability ... but I leave them knowing that I can give them better.

I took a tasty brew from a kind red-haired young man at mile 23. I didn't have much left in me at all right then, but he and his crew knew what I needed and gave me some strong encouragement as they handed me the red Solo cup. Cheers, indeed.

I turned on the Hereford and quickened my pace ... then left onto Boylston with an even greater renew to my vigor. I finished with the strength I could muster, but the crowd gave me the welcome of a king. It truly was a fine victory lap ... albeit considerably slower than I'd have liked.

But I want a re-match.

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