You don’t really sign up for a marathon thinking, “oh, this should be easy.” I have done six so far and the training still fills me with anxiety, and the races are, well, some are fantastically awesome others just tear away at your soul, take no prisoners, and really let you know who you really are and what you’re capable of.
My latest marathon was the Vermont City Marathon. It was my second time doing this race and I was really looking forward to it. I had done it a couple of years earlier and it had been my PR race, in fact the one where I had BQ’d at. It hadn’t gone off without a hitch, but more on that later. I was hoping to repeat the time so that I could run Boston again.
Since my last VCM, I had been doing a lot of triathlons, up to half IronMans. During that time, I saw my triathlon times improve, but my running times got slower and slooooower. It took me a while to really come to terms with this and to really believe it. I did a marathon last fall where I finally realized that there was no denying it, I was slower. It really stressed me out.
To train for this VCM, I used the exact same training that I had for the race before, and even used tune up races that were the same or same distance/same date. I knew that I wasn’t starting at the same running level/speed, but I did see improvements over the months of training, so I knew the plan was working again.
I have a sensitive stomach. When I was training for VCM the first time, I was having a lot of problems with it and hadn’t yet cut out dairy and caffeine. Before the race, I read the book Eat and Run by vegan ultrarunner Scott Jurek where he included recipes of his natural running foods and ideas. First, I tried his seaweed-wrapped rice balls on a couple of training runs (the rice got too dry). Then I started to like his mashed potato balls, make mashed potatoes then form it into balls and cook in the oven until a little crispy. This was okay during the training runs, but they didn’t travel too well. By the time race day came up they were dry from sitting in the hotel fridge for a few days (and cold!) and they pretty much just crumbled to powder in my pouch. The long story short, my best race was run without any fuel except for water and a few crumbled mashed potato ball pieces. Of course my stomach still got the better of me and I had to make an emergency dive off the rail trail towards the end to use the bathroom behind a tree (and the best marathon story ever was where I then wiped myself with none other than POISON IVY!!). And I still managed to BQ. Wow.
This is why I wasn’t too concerned about not being at the exact level of training this time. By now, I have MOSTLY figured out what to avoid and do take Hammer Gel during marathons. I did have a fair amount of piriformis pain associated with my long runs this time. I was hoping that the taper would give me time to heal, plus, I had a massage a few days before the marathon and was told that my glute “wasn’t firing” she worked her magic though and I was hoping that I’d be all set.
My goal time was 3:40-3:42:30. 3:45 is my BQ time. My plan was to go out with the 3:45 pacers in order to be nice and conservative. Before the race, I asked one of them what their plan was and he said that they were going to run a steady pace (8:35). They wound up going out too fast. I won’t blame them though. I knew we were going too fast and I stayed with them for the first half which I finished in 1:51. Right at the midway point, I grabbed a drink from a fluid station and didn’t even realize it was Gatorade which I don’t drink (sensitive stomach, remember?). I got it close to my mouth and figured out what it was but decided, “oh, this can’t be so bad, maybe it will be good for me.” My body told me right away that it wasn’t and I lost my pacers while I was in the port-a-potty!
I continued, feeling dejected, like I had lost my 3:45 time (even though technically I was ahead of schedule). I made it up the big hill at around mile 15.5ish and was feeling worse and worse. The piriformis pain was back and I was developing a nice big blister on my big toe (some people were spraying runners with hoses because of the heat and my feet got wet).
The last ten miles were the worst ever. Remember in the beginning when I said marathons show you what you are capable of? I remember looking back several times and thinking I could just start heading back and DNF (did not finish). I mean this is number six! And I have never quit, aren’t I owed a DNF, just once? I started thinking that I would just go to the next relay stop and take a bus back to the finish. But just move forward for now. It was walk/run/walk/walk/walk/walk/stumble/jog/cry/walk/run all the way to the next relay stop.
At the relay stop, it was controlled chaos, I didn’t even know, who I should tell if I was dropping out and I saw a sign for the buses but never saw the buses, the stop came and went and like a zombie, I just kept going! I got a little pep when I saw that we were nearing the rail trail that would take us toward the finish and an orange slice, some tree cover, and a little downhill made me elated.
During the final stretch on the rail trail, I overheard a woman wearing a Miles for Miracles singlet that read, “My son is my hero” explain that her son was a cancer survivor and that if he could make it through 6.5 hours of chemo, she could spend 4.5 hours running a marathon for him. It was some beautiful–much needed–perspective to help me through my final miles.
The next day, as a family, we were talking about what our favorite part about the weekend in Vermont was. When it came to me, I realized that my favorite part was doing something I didn’t want to do, and not giving up when it got to be so much more than difficult. I guess that is what running marathon is to me.
Okay now. BQ for 2019—Let’s Go!!! 🙂
Official time: 4:19:09