Marathons are hard. No matter the pace. The pain will always come. Physically and mentally. As runners, a road marathon is one of the ultimate tests of these capacities. I have had marathons where I have conquered both the physical and mental, where I have felt absolutely victorious at the end, crushing my goals. I have also had marathons where I have felt beaten and utterly depleted. My latest California International Marathon (CIM) experience on December 6th, 2015 turned out to be a combination of the two. My three goals for this race were #1 – Beat my 3:33 PR, #2 – Qualify for Boston (I needed to beat 3:45 to BQ), and #3 – Still love to run. The gun went off and that was the last I saw of my beautiful sister-in-law and training partner, Meg. I knew she was going for a sub 3:10 goal and I had no intention of trying to stay with her. Cassey and I, on the other hand, had been training together and are usually right around the same pace. We had both been training for a 3:35 finish. Although there were no expectations of staying together, I know we had secretly hoped to run together. At around mile 5, my annoyingly ‘impinged’ hip had other ideas for me. As my strong, in the zone, beautiful friend went soaring on, I fell back. Ugh. My hip has been my achilles heel for a while, kicked off three years ago with a stress fracture. So, for about 11 miles (miles 5 to 16-ish), the seed of doubt dangled in front of me, taunting me. Constant analysis of every stride became my very unhealthy, mentally draining mantra. I could not commit to the race with a very real fear that I was doing damage. What if I stopped and wasn’t really injured? What if I didn’t stop and was really injured? I would feel regret either way. I felt frustrated. I felt defeated. I had been hitting all of my numbers or coming darn close in my training. I had tapered well, slept well, and ate well. Everything was ideal for a solid race.
Except it wasn’t turning out to be a solid race. That’s when my friends Jen, Sandee and Jessica, helped turn the race around for me. I came upon Jen at around mile 10. She took one look at me – in what must have been a Walking Dead-like state – and told me she would run with me until mile 20. Gratitude overwhelmed me. I knew I was sinking into each stride in utter defeat. She must have seen that. Running with her at this point was exactly what I needed. She has a beautiful, bouncy, happy stride that began to rub off on me. When she told me that Sandee and Jessica would be ready to run with me at mile 20 all the way to the finish (she had somehow managed to text while we were running to coordinate this – I can never multitask like that), I again, felt overwhelmed with gratitude. I have come to realize that the friends I have made through my running journey are fiercely supportive, so generous, and compassionate. We have all been there and not one of us judges the other. They knew just how to support, encourage, coach and distract me. I am so grateful to them. Forever.
The pain in my hip was big. But was it injury big? I just couldn’t tell. Then I saw a girl, sobbing on the side of the road, clutching her leg. She had stopped. It was obvious that she was injured. Up until that moment, I had wanted to stop. But seeing the physical and emotional pain my fellow runner was in made me realize that although my physical pain would stop, the emotional pain would be much greater if I did. I thought of all the very early, cold, dark mornings of training. All the miles. All the sacrifice. I had to do it. It was at that moment – somewhere buried in mile 16 – that I decided to fully commit to the race. I was finally going to knock that seed of doubt that had been dangling in front of me out of my way. I was going to finish and try to salvage whatever I could of my race. Even though I knew my first goal to PR was toast, I decided then and there that I was going to fight for my second goal. Boston. I couldn’t even consider my third goal. I wasn’t too fond of running at that moment.
So when my girl Molly (the 3:45 pacer, incredible ultra runner and trainer at my gym) came up behind me, I realized that this was it. Either I wanted a BQ or I didn’t. If I wanted it, I was going to have to fight. I knew I had what it would take. But I also knew it would take everything I had. To will my body, to keep going, to hang in there, to focus…to stay. My yoga teacher is always encouraging us to stay in the fire. Stay when it gets tough. Go through the fire. Not around. With Sandee coaching me to lift my knees slightly more, Jessica telling me that I could do it, and Molly yelling at me from behind to drop my shoulders and finally with one mile to go to open my stride, I did. And then it happened – the finish line! Ahhh! Surrounded by these amazing women runners that I admire and respect so much and into the arms of my family and friends, with six seconds to spare, I finished my fifth marathon and qualified for Boston!
The seed of doubt can creep in so easily and hook onto every thought, every stride. I did not PR. I went through the fire, along with every other runner that day. I got my beloved BQ. Chip time 3:44:54 I still love to run. Two out of three. I will take that all the way to Boston.
Hydration: Nuun (with a pinch of raw salt) and water
Fuel: 3 power gels taken at every hour
Nature’s Bakery Fig Bar: Tried my first fig bar from Nature’s Bakery after I finished. It was so yummy!