Yes, I did intentionally reorder the phrase, because I really am more focused on the good that came out of this race than I am on the bad and the ugly. And the best thing of all is that The Marathon is DONE.
The Marathon has been hanging over my head for a very long time. The Marathon that was supposed to be Boston 2016, where I'd finally break 3:30 and run a new PR. That turned into Philly, November 2016, which would be The Marathon that would be my redemption for missing Boston. And when Philly had to be scaled back to a half marathon due to my pre-Boston injury not healing quickly enough, The Marathon became Newport Rhode Races on April 15. And then that got pushed back due to illness, so The Marathon became Maine Coast.
So, all in all, I've been thinking about tackling this distance and going after this goal since I submitted my registration for Boston in September of 2015. That is a long time to have a race on your mind. So despite the fact that I missed my goal by an enormous margin, I'm still just so relieved to have finally completed the distance and run my seventh marathon.
I said to a friend today that I think I'm breaking up with the marathon for a little while. I'm not saying we'll never get back together, and I hope that we will, but I think we need some time apart. This sub-3:30 goal that I've been chasing has eluded me for a while now, and the effects of two intense marathon training cycles have caused that goal to lose some of its allure.
Add to that the fact that this marathon broke me down, chewed me up, and spit me back out, and, well, I'm just not so sure I'm eager to tackle this distance again in the near future, and am ready to shift my focus to shorter distances for a little while. * disclaimer: we all know how crazy runners are, and there's no ruling out the possibility that I'll sign up for another marathon two weeks from now.
But getting back to how this race completely destroyed me.....
I can't blame it entirely on the weather, although it did really suck. I think the main factor is that postponing a huge race goal by one month just did not work out well. I had trained to peak at a certain time, and then to taper and reap all the benefits of my training, and take advantage of that perfect timing and go out and run my race on well-trained, fresh, rested legs. That's how a training plan is designed, and when I tapered for Newport a month ago, I felt fantastic - it worked exactly how it was supposed to.
I'm still confident that my legs were well-trained for this race, but from the second I started running, I could tell that they were neither fresh nor rested. I hadn't felt particularly rested last week, either, but tried to brush it aside as taper crazies.
But now I'm questioning if maybe I was a little over-trained, and did too much in the additional two weeks (before tapering again) I tacked on between April 15 and this weekend.
There is no question about the weather, though - as noted, and as expected, it was craptastic. As soon as we woke up, we heard the rain falling. Not torrential, but a steady rain. And a quick step outside the door confirmed that it was cold. It didn't seem windy at my friend Erica's cottage where we were staying, but when we got to the race start, we could see that the wind was definitely kicking up.
Since it was so cold and wet and miserable, we stayed in the car as long as possible, just jumping out for two runs to the porta potties. And since it's a small race (less than 700 ran - I think more were registered, but some people were sane enough to stay home instead of running 26.2 miles in a Nor'easter), we were able to wait until less than 10 minutes before the start before we jumped out, took a quick photo, and then lined up.
Thanks to Erica's friend Rich for some of these photos -
I hope he doesn't mind that I'm using them!
Feeling optimistic, despite the weather, I lined up at the 3:30 sign. And about 2 minutes later, the race director blew a conch shell (cool way to start a race!), and we were off.
Miles 1 through 10 were pretty uneventful. It was cold and wet, but for most of these miles, there wasn't a whole lot of wind. We were running through a lot of neighborhoods and areas that were more sheltered, so it was just slightly breezy. There were even a few times where I almost felt a little warm. I kept my jacket on, though, knowing that if the wind started to pick up, I'd feel much colder. In hindsight, a very wise choice!
I was maintaining a pretty good pace for these early miles, too. But, as I said up front, I had noticed right from the start that my legs did not feel fresh from taper. They felt kind of heavy and tired - not the way you expect to feel at the start of a marathon, if you've trained and tapered properly.
But I tried to put that out of my head and concentrate on the fact that, even if I wasn't feeling well enough to pick up the pace in the later miles, the pace I was running now felt ok, so if I could just hold onto that, I'd still run a good race, even if it wasn't a PR. And I also remembered a few times "I don't have to do this, I get to do this."
There was a woman running near me for a while, and we chatted on and off a bit, and she was attempting to run between 3:35 and 3:40, as her BQ time was 3:40. She pulled ahead of me in the later miles, and I've been wondering if she made her goal. I really hope she did.
So, the first ten miles seemed to be off to a good start, despite the tired-feeling legs - 8:05, 8:01, 8:10, 8:01, 8:07, 8:02, 8:04, 8:17, 8:07, 8:12.
Then we hit a stretch where we ran by the ocean, and then out onto a two-lane secondary highway that was very open and exposed, so now the wind was becoming a factor, and miles 11, 12, and 13 reflect that - 8:18, 8:31, 8:56.
It was around this time, too, that I noticed my back and my piriformis and hamstring on my right side were all feeling very tight and stiff. I was a little concerned, but also reminded myself that I was running a marathon, and marathons hurt.
But as I continued running and continued fighting the wind, it continued to hurt more, and I started to get a little worried.
Mile 14 continued the slowing down trend - 8:23 - and given the worsening conditions and the pain I was experiencing, I basically accepted that there was no way a PR was going to happen. It would have taken a miraculously big negative split at that point, and I knew that was highly unlikely.
But I also knew that I was running in some really tough conditions, and if I could even come close to my PR, I'd still be happy.
In the meantime, though, the wind had continued to become more of a factor, and it was still raining steadily, and I was feeling colder and wetter by the minute. My hands were frozen, and my gloves were soaked. I kept trying to wring the water out of them, but since they continued to get wet, that obviously wasn't helping much.
I had brought headphones in case I wanted to listen to some music during the second half, but my hands were so cold, I didn't think I'd be able to operate my phone, so I didn't bother trying. And truthfully, my attitude was really starting to go south along with the weather, because in addition to my back, hamstring, and piriformis hurting, now my hip flexor and foot were hurting, as well.
My head was not in a great place at this point, and I was definitely not feeling good physically, and miles 14 and 15 were two of the least scenic miles of the race, so I just put my head down and readjusted, reasoning that even if I couldn't get close to my PR, I could at least still get a BQ. My BQ time is 3:55, so as long as I could come in around 3:50, I'd get a spot in Boston next year.
But my right leg was not having it, and it really started to affect my stride, and of course because of the left compensating for the right, now my left hamstring started cramping up. And then, just for fun, the inside of my left knee started to hurt. I was still trying to hold on at this point, but I was fading fast, and stopped to walk a couple of times - 9:04 and 9:00 for miles 15 and 16.
I can't really even remember if I still held out any hope for a decent finish at this point, but somewhere around mile 16 or 17 is where things just completely fell apart.
Everything from my hips down to my toes felt stiff and tight and painful, and the pain on the inside of my left knee was the most concerning. It's something that had cropped up briefly during training, but had gone away really quickly after just a few PT sessions. But it was back now with a vengeance. And I still had 9 miles to go.
Before the pain really set in - this smile is real.
I definitely walked a bit during mile 17 - 9:22 - and then for mile 18 we were back along the water again, and I was feeling terrible. My knee almost felt like it was locking up at some points, and I was freaking out a little bit about whether or not I should even continue - I didn't want to really injure myself and end up on the sidelines for weeks. And although the stormy ocean was beautiful, the winds were howling right in my face, and I was falling apart, mentally and physically.
Miles 18 to 21 were an absolute mess. I walked a lot, I ran a little, I cried on and off, and I said thank you to volunteers that I passed, who were very kind and very encouraging. I ran those miles in 10:11, 10:37, 11:34, 12:47. And I was barely even looking at my watch. I didn't care about my pace, I didn't care about anything. I just wanted to be done.
At mile 21, there was an aid station and an ambulance nearby, and I was the closest I've ever been to stopping and walking off the course. I was freezing. I was drenched. I was in pain. I wanted nothing to do with any of this anymore.
I had thought about calling Scott, crying, and asking him what I should do, but my hands were almost numb, and I didn't think I'd be able to get my phone out of my armband, never mind actually dialing numbers. And I'm glad I couldn't call him, because I know it would have just upset him and had him worried to death about me.
I was completely destroyed at that point, and knew I had a decision to make, and the thought of having someone else make it for me had been very appealing. But I knew it was my decision, and I was the only one who could make it.
And I also knew that if I continued past mile 21, there was no way I'd quit after that. Because, as I reasoned, you don't run 22 miles of a marathon and not finish.
So then I thought to myself - well, you don't run 21 miles of a marathon and not finish, either.
And as I do often when I'm in a tough spot, I thought of how much more disappointed I'd be in myself if I quit. As awful as those last 5 miles were going to be, I knew I had to get through them. I knew a painfully slow marathon would still be better than a DNF.
So I trudged on. And I took very long walk breaks, and I did some slow, shuffling running, and I cried some more. And I got through miles 22 and 23 in 10:41 and 9:23. There was actually a period of time during mile 23 where I almost felt like I could run the remaining 3 miles without stopping, as the long walk breaks seemed to be helping my knee settle down a bit. But then it started hurting again, and I backed off for mile 24, and walked much of that mile - 13:30.
Mile 25 was misery. My knee hurt, both my hamstrings were cramping, my calves were cramping, my foot hurt, I was absolutely frozen, and the entire mile was along the ocean, and the wind was bone-chilling. I walked the whole mile, because I knew I wanted to run mile 26.
I walked, and shivered, and muttered to myself about how much marathons suck, and just kept thinking oh my god, are we ever going to get off this freezing, windy stretch of road????!!! I didn't even cry at this point, because I was so miserable and cold and angry and just wanted to get across that damn finish line.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the ocean stretch ended and we turned off into a more protected area sheltered from the wind, and passed the 25-mile marker.
Knee pain or not, I was running that final mile. So I willed my legs back into action, and managed a 9:34 and 8:56 for the last 1.2, and I don't know if I've ever been so happy to see a finish line.
And what made this one even better is that I had a friend there waiting for me. She had run the half the day before, so was helping us out today, and had schlepped my bag of warm, dry clothes to the finish line and was waiting to cheer me in.
I knew she had been tracking me and seen me deteriorate in the second half, and I also knew that it was very apparent by the look on my face that I was completely and totally miserable.
And I knew that she knew how I felt. Because we've all been there. Whether it's a marathon, or a half marathon, or a 10K; whether it's the conditions or an injury; whether you're a 6-minute miler or a 16-minute miler - sometimes it's just not your day. Sometimes it seems like the universe has conspired against you. Sometimes your body just doesn't cooperate. Sometimes all the preparation in the world just goes to crap and your race sucks.
It really is some comfort to know that, on some level, we've all been there, and we all know how much it hurts.
And we also all know that those moments are not the ones that define us as a success or a failure, but they truly are defining moments, and ones that will be a part of us forever.
I was alone as this moment unfolded slowly over the course of many miles, but I'm glad I wasn't alone as it came to its conclusion. Seeing a friendly face and getting a giant hug meant the world after I finished that race, and I am so grateful that I was among friends this weekend.
I'm also very glad that the race ended at a college, and we were allowed to go in the athletic facility and use the showers in the locker room. Getting into warm, dry clothes felt amazing.
And I was able to shower and get changed quick enough to get back out to the finish line and see Erica finish her marathon (capping off her 39.3 Challenge!) hand-in-hand with Anna, who was running her very first marathon at age 19! I cried watching them finish, and I can honestly say that the happiness I felt for both of them far outweighed any sadness I felt about my own race. It was amazing to be there to see them both accomplish such huge goals.
And already, just two days later, those good moments are the ones that are first and foremost in my mind when I replay the day - the early miles, where I was having fun and chatting with someone; reminding myself to appreciate the scenery even though the day wasn't a particularly pretty one; seeing a friendly face at the finish line; seeing others reach their goals and cry tears of joy. Those are the things I'll remember most from this race. I've already blocked out a lot of the ugliness (that's why we're crazy enough to do these things again and again).
But what I haven't blocked out is that moment where I had to decide - quit or persist. That, so much more than the time on the finishing clock, is what defines this race for me.
I had moments of doubting my mental toughness while preparing for this race. But I don't doubt it anymore. Because that was, for many reasons, the hardest race I've ever run in my life, and despite wanting to quit again and again and again, I saw it through to the finish. So in my book, it's a success. Not by the numbers, but by the sheer force of will that got me through those final miles. You don't know how much strength you have until you're called on to use up every last ounce of it. And even then, there's always a little in reserve.
I've had more than a few moments where I felt disappointed about the way things went, but mostly, I am truly just so relieved to put marathon training behind me. Five months of training drained me so much, physically and emotionally, and I am ready to move on.
Physically, I'm feeling significantly better than I did Sunday. Driving 3 hours shortly after finishing a marathon is not something I would recommend - even with multiple stops on the way home Sunday afternoon, getting out of the car was a feat in and of itself. I literally had to grab my right leg with my hands and lift it up to get it out of the car. Not fun.
But once I got moving yesterday morning, things definitely started improving. I had thought about going for a short walk, but it was cold and rainy yesterday, and I shuddered at the thought of being out in the cold rain again, so I'll wait and walk a little today. And later in the week am hoping to get out on my bike for the first time this year.
My hip flexor and piriformis and knee are not as painful as they were, but they are definitely all still a bit 'off,' and I'm glad I have a PT appt. scheduled for later this week.
I'm hopeful that taking this week off, plus a bit of PT, is all they'll need, but if they're still feeling aggravated, I'll take a few more days off. And I will definitely be running much lower mileage for the foreseeable future, which I think is going to make my body very happy.
I've proven to myself that I can run higher mileage (some of my training weeks topped off at just over 50 this time around), but I feel like when I do so, I'm constantly flirting with injury. I think I need to accept that my body is much happier if I keep things in the 35 - 40 mile per week range. And that's more than sufficient mileage for half marathon and 10K training, which is what will be my focus for now.
Happy to put this one in the rearview mirror, and happy for the lessons it taught me. I hope to not be in this situation again, but if I ever again find myself faced with the prospect of postponing a goal race by a few weeks, I'm not so sure that I'd do it - or I would structure the interim training differently, because I really feel that what I did this time did not work out, and my legs just broke down because of it.
But all in all, it really was a great weekend. I got to see some dear friends, I got to run some beautiful miles along the Maine coast, and as I said to Scott yesterday - any day that you can go out and run 26.2 miles is a good day. There will be a day when I won't be able to do that, and I'm very thankful that Sunday was not that day.
Marathon number seven is in the books. It sucked, I finished, and I'm moving on.
26.81 miles (due to a misdirection on the course, we ran an extra half mile!)
9/34 age group