|Photos by Josh Bassett Photography|
Over Memorial Day weekend, I ran my second marathon. It was a learning experience.
My training for this race wasn't the best. I spent two weeks being really sick and unable to run, missing a crucial long run. Then I picked mileage back up too quickly and dealt with nagging IT band and ankle pain throughout the rest of my training. I did very little speed work and focused on getting my long run mileage in. Which is funny because I set a goal to finish sub-4 hours, shaving 13 minutes off my time. Not the smartest...
In my heart, I never really believed I was ready to finish this race in under four hours. But I didn't want to doubt myself, so I held on tight to that goal. I started the race with Simon, my cousin Katy's boyfriend, with the four hour pace group. It was a hot day and, during the first mile, I had a feeling that we were running too fast. But I remembered an inspirational running quote "clear your mind of can't" and I pushed that feeling aside.
Simon and I stayed with the four hour group until mile 13, maintaining about an average 9:00 minute/mile pace. Simon was having knee pain and, not having fully trained, never planned to necessarily finish the full marathon. He finished the half and then stopped, cheering me on to keep pushing. I was pretty instantly certain that I couldn't hold the pace much longer. I spent the next two miles desperately working to keep up with the pace group but I was hurting - and it was too soon to be hurting. We got to the infamous Battery Hill, at mile 15, and I watched the pacers slowly move further away from me. Josh was standing on the hill and cheered, yelling that I could push it and catch up. But I was still 11 miles from the end of the race and I knew I couldn't.
The rest of the race was nasty. I slowed down so much. My aunt Joann, running the second half, caught me and passed me around mile 18. Usually, this would give me a kick of adrenaline but nothing was helping me run faster or find more energy at that point. I was running over 10 minute miles, slower than I'd run all but one mile in my first marathon. Around mile 21, we hopped onto the Burlington bike path. It is a "slight downhill to the finish" according to the VCM website and it was a spectacular, sunny day overlooking lake Champlain. But I was totally miserable. At mile 22ish, I decided to test walking to see if that would give my legs new life. I walked about five steps while drinking water and, the moment I resumed running, I knew I couldn't stop running again. It was so much harder to resume than to just keep pushing.
My legs felt like lead. My paces were slower than ever and there came a point when I wasn't even sure I'd PR. And then there came a point when I didn't even care. But eventually I got to that point, near the finish line, when you can hear the crowds and you know that you're so close to the end. I dug deep and picked up my pace just slightly. I crossed the finish line in 4:11:04, a PR of a little under two minutes.
Looking back, I am really glad that I set a PR, no matter how small. But I also think I'm really lucky that I did. I was not well-trained to finish a marathon in under 4 hours and I ran a purely stupid race. The last few miles, my pace was somewhere between 11 and 12 minutes/mile, much slower than I ever run, and upwards of three minutes/mile slower than I ran the first half of the race. That is called "positive splitting" and it is exactly the opposite of what you're supposed to do to run your fastest. I hit a wall too early, had a lot of lactate build up in my legs and slowed down significantly. I was disappointed for sure, but I knew that I had to take this race for what it was and learn from it.
The rest of the day was a fun celebration with my family, complete with lots of pizza, beer and frisbee games. It was a happy day and I acknowledged that finishing a marathon was a huge accomplishment, no matter what. But I don't plan to run another marathon for a while. I'd like to focus on fun, shorter runs and just have fun doing the things I love (running and so much more).