And then there are disaster races. When things fall apart and just finishing the race is a struggle.
But no matter the experience, racing is bound to bring out a cocktail of emotions. And at Sunday's Lakefront Marathon, I had 26.2 miles worth of feelings. It all started at 6:15am when I arrived at the race and felt my first bit of race nerves.
You know those people who calmly sit with their eyes closed as they listen to music before a race? Yeah, that's so not me. I got to the race a good hour before the start and spent my time pacing the halls, going to the restroom, adjusting my clothing, etc. I didn't feel as nervous as I do before some races, but I know there was a bit of anxiety since I couldn't sit still. However, I felt ready to race and couldn't wait for the start.
With Sara before the race start!
This year, I got to the start in time to line up in a good spot. And it ended up being right by my friend Alice! We started together but got separated by the crowd for a bit. However, I found her again - only to lose her at the first water stop. She looked strong and sped ahead and I had to let her go.
During the first five miles, I was on pace and felt completely in control. The miles went by pretty fast and felt as easy as they should. This fueled my excitement and made me think about how good a race can feel - running on fresh, tapered legs and running with others. It was the best possible start to a marathon.
After hitting the five mile marker, I began focusing a bit more on pace and rhythm. Things still felt good and I wanted to make sure it stayed that way. Every time I felt the urge to speed up, I reminded myself of Coach Matt's advice to not make any hasty decisions and if I felt like laying the hammer down at any point, to wait an extra mile and see how things feel at that point.
Photo by Bill Flaws - Running in the USA
So instead I started thinking about the half marathon point. It was getting close and at that point I would allow myself to pick up the pace a bit. On the way, I ran into Tracey, who was also aiming for a BQ. We were side by side for a bit but ultimately I had to let her go because I was still trying to reign in my pace. I was happy to see her running so well though!
Miles 10-15 were some of the worst for me. It was during this time that my knee issues from earlier this summer decided to reappear. Suddenly that nice, easy pace was uncomfortable and soon became painful. I thought maybe the feeling would pass if I could just keep going but soon realized that was not going to be the case that day.
So I had a choice: Keep running in pain at BQ pace and risk having to drop from the race OR slow my pace, manage the pain and hopefully finish the race.
I opted for the second option. It was such a tough choice to make because I knew doing so would give me zero chance at making any of my goals for the day. However, I really wanted to finish the race. I hate quitting and that is what a DNF would mean to me. I already have one DNF to my name and definitely did not want another.
So I slowed down, took a few walk breaks and got passed by so many people. It hurt but I told myself it was a smart choice.
It may have been the smart choice but I was so disappointed in myself. I had to stop looking at my watch because I couldn't bear to see my pace creep up. I kept thinking - all those miles and all those workouts - for what?
There was also the element of feeling like I was disappointing a lot of people. I set that goal of a BQ after my last marathon and was not shy about putting it out there. Along the way I've received so much love and support in chasing this goal that it made it really tough to let it go. For all the people that told me it was a sure thing - it made me feel bad that I couldn't deliver. My friend Tracey explained it so well in her blog post - in the grand scheme, these race times don't matter to anyone but the runner - but it still feels so bad to not achieve the goal that you've put so much into when there are so many people rooting for you. It's a tough pill to swallow.
Miles 18-23 seemed to take forever. I was still getting passed left and right and was stuck in my little cloud of disappointment. But I saw a few more runners I know and seeing them doing so well helped lift my spirits. I saw Anne fly by as well as Nikki. I also ran into Angie, who I ran with for a bit.
But really, I was just so done with the race and wanted it to be over. Anyone that knows me well, knows how terribly impatient I can be when it comes to work, dating, waiting in lines, people walking too slow, etc etc. It's a terrible trait and it was coming out full force. All I wanted to do was kick it into high gear and cross the finish line - but my pesky knee was holding me back.
Until I ran I to my coworker, Lisa, around mile 23.5. "Let's get this thing done!" she said, with the same impatience I was feeling. And I thought, why not? We're close enough to the finish line that I can pick up the pace and if my knee gives out I can walk the rest of the way.
And it felt great to speed up! I was able to ignore the knee issues and thought only about getting to the finish line as fast as possible. No one passed me during this stretch and instead, I passed a ton of people - many that had passed me earlier. All the bottled up frustration from earlier in the race came out and when that finish line came into sight, I felt like a giant cloud had lifted.
Photo by Bill Flaws - Running in the USA
After crossing the line, all I could think was that I was so glad to be done. I was all smiles, mainly because I wasn't out there slogging through the miles anymore. After a big race like a marathon, things tend to not sink in until later so once I had water and Gatorade, I was a happy camper. I had made it to the finish and that was all that mattered.
With Mom, the best spectator!
Now, a few days removed from the race, I'm feeling a mix of emotions. Happy, sad, disappointed, mad, relieved - but most of all, I feel determined. It's like I've said before - sometimes you try so hard for a goal and still miss. But you just have to pick yourself up and try again. So that's exactly what I'll do. I don't know when my next BQ attempt will be but you better believe it will be another all-in effort. The marathon may break you down but it's up to you to decide if it's going to break you!
To end this long recap, I have to say thank you to my wonderful family and friends that have been so supportive as I chase my crazy running dreams. I loved the good luck calls, texts and messages before the race and seeing so many people I know on the course. You guys are the best and I'm so thankful to have such great people in my life :)
Now, my questions for you:
- How do you recover from a disappointing race?
- What do you look forward to most during a training break?
- Random: what is your favorite apple treat?
I'm looking forward to making plenty of apple treats during my time off from training!