I can and I will

Race morning for the P.F. Chang’s Rock n’ Roll Marathon started out great!  It was in the high 40’s and the start of the race was literally right outside the front door of the hotel.  I met up with Ashley and we found the gear check station and then waited inside our hotel lobby until we headed out to the start to stay warm. I felt good.  I felt confident, not anxious.  I was excited to get out there and run a great race!

There were 8,000 runners signed up for the full marathon and we were assigned to coral 2.  We started out on pace and before I knew it, the first mile was already done.  I decided to start praying for people close to me at each mile.  That helped to keep my mind off of my running and made the miles tick on past fast!  Before I knew it, we had run 5 miles and it was time to pick up our pace and hold it steady until mile 23.  The first 2 miles we were a little off and constantly struggled to pick it up and hold it.  I was still praying for my loved ones and for myself, a new prayer for each mile.

Ashley and I had different methods of going through the water stops.  She kept pace, slowing slightly, drinking while running.  I have yet to master the drinking while running method and stopped to take in fluids at the water stops.  Hurrying to catch up with her, I found myself running at a 7:30 pace to get back in stride with her.  After 3 water stops, my legs were shaking following my sprint to catch up.  I knew that strategy was not going to hold.  We discussed how to slow down and then pick up the pace for a better race for both of us.  At that point, my legs felt shot and it took half a mile to get back into the groove.  That mile was a slower pace than we were shooting for.

Somewhere around mile 8, I noticed something black with a larger oval at one end, with a long tail curved around.  I jumped over it and as I jumped over it, realized it was a snake that had died and been blacked out by the sun.  EW! Only later, did I realize I was lucky it was dead when I jumped over it.  That is definitely not the roadkill I see running the streets in Iowa :).

As we hit the 10 mile mark, I did a mental check.  I was feeling good.  Getting into the groove.  AND this is the longest I’ve kept pace during a race! 🙂  I breezed through that mile, enjoying the moment.

As we continued running, I started to find it harder to keep up.  Ashley veered off course to use a porta potty.  I trudged on, trying to maintain pace.  Pretty soon, Ashley was beside me again, encouraging me to pick up the pace.  I told her I didn’t want to hold her back.  Soon she was a few strides ahead of me and we stayed that way through the halfway point.  It was then that my legs started to tighten up.  I was running with all my might, yet not going forward at the pace I felt I should be at, given the effort I was putting forth.  I felt like I was a gerbil on a running wheel.  Glancing at my Garmin, I was convinced it was broke.  There was no way it could be correct.  I was running hard, yet running slow.  I didn’t know what was happening.  My legs were literally shaking.  And just not moving at the rate my mind was willing them to go.  Miles 13-15 were the worst.  I was tight.  And I was slow.

At mile 16 there was a cheer squad from a local school that would get right in front of you, make eye contact, and encourage you.  I felt like they were cheering for me.  And that was the motivation that I needed in that moment.  Around mile 17, I had a renewed burst of energy.  I started picking up the pace again.  I looked at my Garmin and started to reassess.  I could still do this, if I picked it up and kept it.  I knew there was a hill coming at mile 22, but I knew from the course elevation, that would be followed by 3 miles of downhill and I could make up more time.  I’ve got this, I kept telling myself.  Not all was lost.  I needed to keep on pushing.

Around mile 18, a guy who had been running near me veered off the course, belching loudly.  As I kept on running, I could hear him puking.  Loudly.  I shook it off and ran on.  I couldn’t believe I was coming up on mile 19.  The course was going by so fast!  The combination of the bands (although not all good, did provide for entertainment), the local cheer squads, and the 5,000 spectators along the course, it made for a fast race!  And I was feeling great again by this point!

I started doing math, trying to calculate what I needed to do to get myself back on pace.  I had a huge glimmer of hope as I realized how doable this was!  Until, I realized that I had miscalculated and had another mile to run that I hadn’t counted.  That made it more challenging and more out of reach.  (just an example of why I don’t usually do math or anything complicated while running.  Running sucks out all of the smart cells out and leaves me brain-dead) I decided to keep pushing myself.  Mentally, I was in this!  I knew I had trained hard.  I had trained to run a faster pace.  For whatever reason, my legs were not doing what my mind was willing them to do!

I reached for a gel and it squirted all over me as I opened it.  The temperature had risen and my gels had melted.  I knew that it had gotten all over my face and hand, which I cleaned off (thankfully, a water stop also had a hose spraying runners to cool us off!).  What I didn’t notice until later was that it had also squirted all over my shirt.  Which, was quite noticeable.  And will be in every picture from that point on.  Including the finisher photo.  Awesome!

Mile 22.  This was the hill I had been anticipating.  It started closer to 22 1/2.  As we climbed, I kept telling myself to keep pushing.  The downhill I had been waiting for was coming.  As we crested the hill, we plateaued.  No downhill.  Instead, it felt like we were still climbing.  And my pace was slipping, slower and slower.  I turned a corner and what did I see??  Another damn hill!  No downhill, as anticipated.  I willed myself to push it up this hill.  My “pushing” it though, turned into what I kept telling myself was an unacceptable pace.  The hill continued until mile 25.  And as it ended, there was still no downhill.  We plateaued, again.  My legs were shot. As much as I willed them, they were not moving fast.

I could hear the crowd welcoming the finishers.  I knew I was close.  I tried to sprint it in.  My legs were just not having any part of that.  At that point, the 3:55 pacer put her sign in front of me.  HELL NO!  I think that was my breaking point.  That made it real, what time I was actually finishing in.  I had trained to finish faster than that.  I was going to beat that damn pace team!  Every time I surged, she followed. Putting that damn sign in front of me.  To make it worse, photographers were all over the course to capture the finish.  And here, that damn sign will be in all my damn photos.  A nice reminder of my failed race.  I started to get very cranky.  Every thought I had contained an F-bomb.  Mostly, towards other runners.  It didn’t really matter what.  I was just in a foul mood.  I was pissed.  I was annoyed.  It’s not lost on me that I started the race in prayer and ended the race cursing.  I know this is not cool.

I mustered a fake smile as I crossed the finish line.  As I stopped running, I noticed how tight I was.  I could barely move.  It hurt.  I had never hurt this much post-race.  I had never been this tight.  And I was still extremely annoyed.  As other runners walked around in a daze, I was irritated that they were getting in my way.  I could barely move and duh! they should know that and stay clear!  I got my medal.  I considered walking by the finisher photo op and decided I would regret it if I didn’t get a picture.  As I started making my way down the food line., that’s when it started to hit me.  As the medal bounced on my tummy as I walked, the nausea sank in.  With every bounce of the medal on my tummy, I felt the possibility of puking become more of a reality.  I grabbed water and some fruit and hazily found my gear check bag.  I threw the medal in it and asked for directions to the light rail.  Assuming Ashley had finished way ahead of me, I didn’t consider it a possibility she’d be waiting for me.  As I got directions to the light rail, I whined when the guy said it was 5 blocks away.  He laughed at me and said “you just ran 26 miles and you can’t walk 5 blocks?”  I wanted to punch him.

Instead, I turned and headed out.  I called my mom.  As I vented to her my disappointment in the run, the feeling that I was going to be sick was imminent.  I started repeating that I didn’t know where I was.  I didn’t know where I was going.  I didn’t know my way around Phoenix (actually, I was in Tempe and needed to get back to Phoenix) and eventually, told her I needed to hang up now before I got sick.  I’m sure I scared the daylights out of my parents.  I had just conveyed to them that I was confused, disoriented, and sick.  I wasn’t confused (well, ok, I was) or disoriented.  I was very irritated and didn’t know exactly how to get to the light rail and I didn’t want to walk 5 damn blocks to get there!  I turned around in hopes of finding a bathroom to get sick in.  Unfortunately, all I found were porta potties :(.  I decided to suck it up and try to make it to the hotel.  I turned around and headed back out toward the light rail.  As I walked, slowly, I heard my name called out behind me.  It was Ashley and her friend!  As we hugged, I lost it and started crying in crushed hope and disappointment.  I couldn’t hold it in any more.  She shared my emotion, as she had lost pace toward the end and finished behind our goal too.

We missed the light rail into Phoenix by seconds.  So, we hailed a cab and I fought back nausea throughout the ride.  I made it to the room before I got sick.  I was in horrible shape.  And I smelled.  And I was moving like a 90-year-old woman.  I decided to wash the stink off, put on my swim suit, and head (slowly) to the hot tub to soak my poor, beat up muscles.  I have to say, that soak felt glorious and when I left, I had a better range of motion!  Now, I needed to get some fuel back into my body.  I got down half a banana and chocolate almond milk.  And got sick.  I showered and stretched and tried again to eat.  This time, was successful.  I called my parents back to assure them I was fine and sane and safe.

I realize, this is the beauty, the draw, and the mystery of the marathon.  You can train and train and train.  But you never know what hand you’ll be dealt on race day.  This was the first marathon that I didn’t collapse and give up mentally.  I was mentally strong.  I was in it!  For whatever reason, my legs tightened and just wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do.  I don’t know what happened.  If you know the physics of what happened to me out there, please share in the comments!  My first thought as I came through the finishers shoot was that I was done.  This is nothing but disappointment over and over and over.  Why do I subject myself to this?  (of course, I had F-bombs and explicit language throughout that thought process) But, a few hours later, I was already plotting how to train more, train better, get my body in sync with my mind.  There is always another race.  And I will continue to get better.  Mentally, I am stronger.  It will come together.

I can and I will- that will keep me motivated.


3 thoughts on “I can and I will

  1. Firstly, CONGRATULATIONS on finishing – and a great race recap.

    We all have bad runs from time to time when the head or the legs just aren’t in it, and nothing that I do will make it better. If it happens in training, I’ll just shrug and think “bad runs happen” – maybe try to analyse if there’s something I can change for next time, a different brand of gel or a different breakfast. Unfortunately sometimesthe hardest run of the season is the race itself, which sucks because like you say – I KNOW I trained harder than the performance indicates – and it’s much harder to accept that bad runs happen.

    BUT you did so amazingly well to keep on going – and at a great pace! – throughout the race, even when you felt it wasn’t going as well as you had hoped. I winced in sympathy when you described the mental maths tripping you up with how many miles left to go, totally been there and done that! (Usually when I’m trying to convert the KM markers into miles) ; the horrible melted gels and the medal bounce making you feel nauseous – again, totally sympathise!

    You finished the race (with a great time, I might add – I’d love to do that someday!) and the victory of this being the first marathon you’ve fought through and stayed mentally strong. I really think the ‘perfect’ marathon takes quite a while to come together simply because the first time we really run that distance is on race day. And even if we do 26 miles in training runs, it’s a whole different story when RACING 26 miles – something that we might do once or twice a year.

    I hope you are wearing your medal with pride today, you deserve it!!


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