The morning after the Richmond marathon, I woke up feeling sorry for myself. I knew that dropping out was the right decision and that there was probably nothing I could have done to prevented my bad day, but it still hurt. I had just spent fourteen weeks training and knew that I had been ready to run a huge PR.
I didn't know if I really wanted to try again, but by mid-morning I was on marathonguide.com browsing December and January marathons. Turns out there aren't all that many. Or at least that many that don't require a flight. I ran the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon two years ago (also after another bad marathon), so I knew it was probably the best option. But that time I had eight weeks to prepare and after Richmond there were only four. I wasn't feeling too strongly about it until I noticed that there were only three spots left. I talked it over with Lauren and realized that I would probably be disappointed if I waited because I wanted to think about it and the race sold out. So after a quick call to my coach, I registered, booked a hotel and committed myself to four more weeks of training.
I spent most of that first week "recovering" by driving across the country. When I got back, I jumped back into training and it wasn't easy. My motivation was all over the place, but I told myself to push through the next few weeks. Shortly after I registered, I learned that a teammate of mine, John, was also running. John is a marathon machine who tends to run one or two marathons a weekend (he's done all 50 states and is almost to marathon #100). I knew that he had paced other teammates at races during the fall, so I asked if he had any pacing plans for the race or if he was planning to attempt a PR. The answer to both of these questions was no and he said he would be happy to run with me. With this plan in place, it was just up to me to decide the goal time.
Taper brain left me feeling less than confident about my abilities at the beginning of race week, but on Wednesday I suddenly became strangely calm about the whole thing. I ended up telling John to pace me to a 3:45 (the original Richmond goal) and decided to wear my watch, but not look at it at all. I wanted to have the data afterwards, but wanted to let John set the pace. So I set my display screen to show distance and heart rate (and I wasn't wearing a monitor). While I know that I am capable of running a 3:45, this decision was mistake #1 of the day (more on this later).
I was more nervous about this race than I've been for a marathon in a while. I slept very poorly on Friday night and had trouble eating my normal pre-race breakfast. I think my biggest fear was a complete Richmond repeat. If it was another really bad day would I stop again? Or would I finish regardless? To me, one DNF was a fluke, but two was a pattern.
Fortunately the race day logistics were a breeze and didn't add any stress to my day. My hotel was just two blocks from the start and I had no problems meeting up with John. After a few minutes of chatting with our amazing spectators, we were off and running.
The first few miles went by quickly. I had been hoping for a lot colder day, but at least it appeared that it would remain overcast and there wasn't much wind, so I tried to be thankful for what we had. John and I chatted for a while and he would periodically check in with me and try to assess how I was feeling. I was relaxed early on and hoped that I had a good day ahead of me. Around mile five I ate for the first time. In Richmond, I had first known that things were going wrong when I started burping up my first gu. I've always had a somewhat difficult time getting gus down, and with that memory still fresh in my mind, I made the decision to stick with Honey Stinger chews during this race. I would eat on the same schedule, but three chews instead of a gu. Mistake #2. For some reason, I had it in my head that three chews was about the same number of calories as a gu. I would learn after the race that it is actually about half.
My stomach was not perfect on this day either, but certainly much better than it had been in Richmond. All of the nerves before the race meant my stomach was churning. I was burping a bit, but it wasn't awful and I could get the chews down. I got to see my spectators around mile 4 and it was nice to wave and give them the thumbs up as I went by.
Miles 1-6: 8:48, 8:40, 8:39, 8:39, 8:37, 8:32
Around mile 7 we headed onto a crushed gravel trail that we would stay on for the next few miles and we picked up the pace slightly, as per the plan. I remembered really enjoying this portion of the race when I ran it back in 2010, but recent rain made it a bit more challenging this time. There were a lot of giant puddles which required weaving around and a lot of concentration on foot placement. It was also somewhere in this section that I started to feel like it was going to be a tough day. In theory, we weren't yet running at marathon pace and I was definitely working hard. I said as much to John, but tried not to focus on it, and kept pushing along. He pointed out that I wasn't drinking enough and told me I needed to finish the bottle I was carrying before we saw our spectators again, which would be somewhere in the 11-12 range. So I ate my chews again and focused on drinking.
Miles 7-11: 8:38, 8:36, 17:20 (8:40 pace, missed the mile 9 sign), 8:32
I got a bit of a second wind in miles 12-13 and started to feel more positive about the fact that I could hold this pace and maybe even pick it up a bit. At halfway we passed the only clock on the course and it read 1:53 (turns out our actual split was 1:52:05). Since up until this point I had no idea how I was doing, seeing the clock was an encouraging sign. If I could just stay steady in the second half, my goal was certainly within reach.
However, as we wound our way through the state park and took on the only "hills" on the course, I really started to struggle. John was encouraging, telling me to just stay steady up the hills, and take advantage of the brief downhills. Still, I knew that I was in trouble and was slowing down. It wasn't particularly warm (50s), but it was incredibly humid so I started dumping cups of water on my head at every water stop. This seemed to help a bit. John told me to make sure I finished my water bottle before we got back to our friends (around 20) and encouraged me to eat more. I listened to the water advice, but stubbornly insisted that I was eating enough. Hey, I was on my regular schedule! I was also still burping and eat more frequently sounded extremely unappealing. He could tell how much I was dragging and perhaps if I had listened, things would have been better.
Miles 12-19: 8:36, 8:37, 8:47, 8:40, 8:52, 9:02, 9:10, 9:10
We came back over the bridge to our cheering spectators and I swapped out water bottles again. They were so encouraging, which was good to counteract the dread in the pit of my stomach. I was feeling pretty terrible and I still had 10k to go.
To be honest, I don't remember a whole lot about the next few miles, other than the fact that I was miserable. John was running slightly ahead, trying to get me back towards marathon goal pace. I didn't work (at least in terms of picking up the pace), but I just focused on his back and told myself to keep moving. He would ask me how I was doing or encourage me to eat and drink more and my only response was a death stare. Sorry about that John! You're the best, really! I was wondering why in the world I had ever thought marathons were fun. Why did I need to prove myself and finish one this fall?
Somewhere right before mile 24 John had pulled ahead again and I just couldn't will myself to keep moving. I slowed to a walk. I could see the mile 24 sign in the ground ahead and told myself I would run again when I got there. John turned around to see me walking and got really concerned. I managed to grunt out that I would run again at the mile marker and he walked with me to that point. I did start running again, though it was not at all quickly. There was a water stop around mile 25 and going into it I told John that I was going to get a Gatorade, walk to drink it and then I would run all the way to the finish.
When we started running again, John asked me if I wanted to know our overall time. I immediately said no. I knew that my 3:45 goal was far out of reach at this point and I was afraid that I wasn't going to break 4:00. I knew that if John told me I needed to run a fast last mile to get there, I would feel totally defeated. I think that even if he had told me I needed to run a 10:00 mile, I would have been worried that I couldn't do it. It was better not to know and just get myself to the finish line. He was encouraging me to pick up the pace for the last mile, but I really just didn't have it in me.
Miles 20-26: 9:08, 9:08, 9:36, 9:47, 10:33, 10:18, 9:30
Finally after passing the 26 mile sign, I managed to muster some sort of kick. I couldn't wait to stop running, but I was also dreading seeing the clock at the finish line, as I had convinced myself that it was going to show a time starting with a 4. So it was actually a pleasant surprise to turn the corner to run the last 200 feet and see 3:55. I was so ready to be done that upon crossing the first set of timing mats, I almost came to a complete stop. Fortunately, John yelled at me that I needed to cross the second set and I managed to keep moving.
Last .2: 1:46 (7:56 pace)
Final time: 3:55:45
(second half: 2:03:41)
I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that my initial reaction was disappointment (well, after the absolute bliss of standing still and NOT RUNNING ANYMORE). I know that I should have been thrilled to run my first sub 4:00 marathon, but I knew I was capable of so much faster than 3:55. I think that it wasn't the time I was disappointed in as much as the way that I ran the race. I had blown up in the second half and I should have run a smarter race than that. I also completely gave up in the last 10k and without John there with me, I don't know what would have happened.
Fortunately after a hot shower and lunch (and beer!) with friends, I was in a much better mood.
Given the extended season, and my motivation issues for those last four weeks, and the weather (so humid!), I ran the race that I had in me that day. 3:45 was always the goal and I gave it my best shot. I may have fallen short, but I still PR'ed (by six minutes!). And, most importantly, my marathon time no longer starts with a 4!
Now, two weeks later, I know that a six minute PR on a day that I made several big mistakes is a big achievement. The most debilitating mistake was my fueling. Normally I will eat five times during a marathon and one of those times will be chews. This time I only ate chews, essentially cutting my calories in half. No wonder I was dragging in the second half! I need to figure out a gel solution and maybe it is not Gu. Let the fueling experiments begin! I also think I would have been better off telling John the goal was 3:50. He was spot on with his first half pacing for a 3:45, but think that a few minutes slower to start would have made a big difference for me in the second half. However, that's one of those decisions that easy to second guess post-race and going into the race I didn't want to sell myself short.
I can say with confidence that I have come nowhere close to my marathon potential. I can't wait to give it another shot, though I'll be waiting until the fall to do so. Spring 2013 is going to be all about teaching myself to race and figuring out how to stay in that uncomfortable zone when my brain is screaming to ease up. Bring on the 5ks!
I would be remiss if I didn't end this recap without expressing my thanks to everyone who made race weekend as great as it was. Thank you to John for pacing me to a new PR and putting up with my horrible attitude (and death stares) for the last 90 minutes+ of the race. Thank you to Amy, Jess, Steph, Lauren and Lauren for being the most amazing spectators ever. Knowing I was going to see you (and then seeing you), made such a big difference. The end of the year always leads to reflection and I feel so thankful to have such great friends and to be a part of such a great team.