"The glass is not half full or half empty, you just haven't finished drinking it yet."
~ friend & fellow coach, A. Ladd
The Tuesday before the race, which even then we still weren't sure about, I muscled my way through one more really challenging speed workout, the exact one I'd done a few weeks prior before the Shamrock marathon. It was significantly harder to get through and while it wasn't pretty, I somehow managed to pull it off. Doubt continued to hang over me heavily but my coach still had faith. I let him know that I was concerned that I'd lost fitness and wouldn't be able to hold pace. "Rebecca", he said "It doesn't matter whether you feel the edge when the race starts or even at the 5, 10, or 15 mile mark. You know you can run well past half way at goal pace, right? You don't know what is in the bottom of the well and you won't until you get all the water on top out of there. Just approach it with a willingness to work hard and try, which I have no doubt you can do, and it will all be good." I don't call him the Sensei for nothing. By Friday, I was trying to adjust my mentality and to put myself into a more positive frame of mind. I came home from my run feeling strong and, for the first time, excited. So I went ahead and signed up for the Cheap Marathon thus making it official. I would race. Lowell and I got on the phone for one last pep-talk before Sunday. I told him I was a crazy mix of emotions...excited, nervous, worried and yet totally chill all at the same time. He told me not to overthink it. Just to go into cruise control until mile 20 and from there my body would take over and do what it was capable of. It's exactly what I needed to hear and from that point on I did my best to stop thinking about the "what ifs" and to relax, or at least to try. The Saturday before the race flew by. I had to coach at 8:00am, then I cruised over to my daughter's soccer game, then my husband and I did a bunch of things around the house and then, as I was sitting down to get off my feet, my girls asked me if they could have a double sleepover. "Girls," I said "I have to get up at 4:45 in the morning for a marathon." "It's fine Mom. We will sleep in the basement and we'll be really quiet." Whatever. Two girls, four girls, it's all the same thing. Either way they'd be up late and as long as I was asleep by nine, it didn't matter to me. For the record, that earned me 'Rock Star Mom' status from both the girls and their friends. After dinner and a movie (I, Tonya...really good and incredibly depressing at the same time) I turned in for the night. Then, after what felt like five minutes, I was up again, making coffee at 5:00am. I had to be in Salisbury, MA at 6:30 and it was a 40 minute drive so I gave myself plenty of time to eat and get myself organized before I finally took off at 5:45. I won't lie and tell you that I didn't have a what the f*** am I doing moment on the way. I did. Though it was obviously too late to turn back at that point. I arrived at the Salisbury State Park at 6:25 and rushed over to get my bib. It was a brisk 28 degrees and I ran with a blanket wrapped around me like a cape. Then, I threw all my layers back in the car except my blanket and made my way over to the start. As far as races go, this was about the most low maintenance event I had ever attended. And that was the point. It was cheap, easy to deal with, no shirts (unless you bought one), no awards, basically no frills at all. They did, however, provide us with water and gatorade, thank goodness. The course was a 7K(ish) loop that we would be running six times. The downside being the repetitiveness but the upside being that there were people along the way the whole time. I honestly never thought I'd do a race like this, particularly a marathon, but there is a first time for everything, right?
If you read my Shamrock Marathon race review you'll remember that my Apple watch crapped out on me, giving me the wrong pace info, which was incredibly stressful. But, I'd also worn my Garmin for the marathon I'd done prior to that one and it had timed out on me at a little over half a mile into the race. So, in fear of either of those things happening again, I wore both watches for this one. After a Ready, Set, Go from our race director we were off. It was freezing, but the sun was shining and the vibe was mellow, so while I was cold, I wasn't super stressed out, which was a nice change. Once I got going, my Apple watch told me I was running a 7:30 pace, which I knew was wrong. Great. I looked to my Garmin which said 6:25. That seemed fast, but whatever. Then, like clockwork, my Garmin shut down right after half a mile and I had to re-start it. This is kind of laughable, I know. I decided I would use the Garmin for pace and the Apple for mileage. There were no mile markers so I was very happy to have worn both. The first mile (also the 7th, 14th and 21st) was a straight shot along the water followed by a hairpin turn to come back in the other direction. Miles 4, 5 and 6 zig zagged through the reservation including a second hairpin turn before finishing the full loop. After one lap, I realized the intensity of the challenge I had in front of me. The course was flat, yes. But those turns were brutal and knowing I had to do them each time was a bit daunting. Regardless, I settled into what I thought was goal race pace, somewhere between 6:45-6:50, and told myself to just zone out and focus on my music. I felt good. Really good. There was no pain in my calf, which was awesome. My legs felt springy and strong. And while I had been unsure of what to expect just days before, I was now wondering if I would not only finish but maybe even dip under 3 hours for the first time. It was right around the halfway point when the wind started to pick up. I fought it for that mile out to the first turn, but then had it at my back and worked to make up the difference in my pace, attempting to keep things even. Unfortunately, we had it working against us for a few more smaller strips on the other side of the course and while it wasn't terrible, it began to get harder to fight through as my legs got more and more tired. By the fourth lap, the wind on that one mile stretch out was at full force. My pace for that stretch was now dropping to 7, sometimes 7:15. It was around here that I began to worry that I would no longer be able to make up the time when the wind was with me because I was getting too tired. After finishing my 5th lap my time was 2 hours and 30 minutes. Thus, I had 30 minutes to run 4.4ish miles if I was going to come in under 3 hours. Maybe I can do this, I thought to myself. But, as I headed out again on the final one mile stretch with the wind against me and saw my pace dropping again to the 7s I knew it was likely not going to happen. Not that I didn't keep fighting. Knowing I was this close to being done was enough to keep me grinding. Around mile 24 I looked up and did a double take as I saw my family cheering for me up ahead. After 19 marathons, they no longer come to my races, understandably. So, to see them waving and hear them yelling my name was huge. They'd even brought our dog, Clover, who looked like she was ready to jump in and finish with me. As you'd imagine, I got a major boost and was able to pick up the pace as I plugged away to the finish. Those last couple, smaller stretches against the wind just about did me in, but I dug deep and gave it everything I had. I knew I wasn't going to get my sub-3 but I wanted to finish strong, which I did, coming in at 3:01:38.
Eli Bailin, the race director, found me and gave me a hug. We've been friends for a while and he knew I had been trying for the sub-3. He just shook his head. "That wind. It really picked up", he said. "I'm sorry". "I'd love to blame it on you, I said laughing, but it is what it is. I just couldn't beat it. And then I thanked him for a great event. It was exactly what I'd expected and despite the weather, had gone as smoothly as it could have gone.
After that, I went over and hugged my husband and my girls. I can't express in words how amazing it was to have them there. I was this huge mix of emotions and just seeing their faces totally grounded me. Grace asked me what I'd won. I showed her my ribbon which said, I ran a full marathon and all I got was this lousy ribbon. Well played, Eli. I saw him over to the side and shouted, THIS IS IT?? THIS CRAPPY RIBBON??
He shrugged as he laughed and said, "well...it's the Cheap Marathon. All I can offer you is some cheap snacks." Which my kids gladly accepted. Then we wrapped it up and headed to the coffee shop to get some food for them and a coffee for me before making our way back home. For a while, I just enjoyed being with my family and didn't think much about the race and how it had gone. But as the day progressed I started to digest the experience and give it some thought. I was really proud of myself for coming back from a DNF and putting myself back out there. And I was truly happy with my performance. But I was also disappointed and somewhat frustrated. I have made so many attempts to break the 3 hour barrier and have come so close it's almost a joke. I know it's in me. But for the last few attempts, there has been a single outside factor, something out of my control that I couldn't necessarily prepare for (heat, stomach issues, injuries, wind) that has kept me from reaching my goal. They aren't excuses. I just couldn't get it done. And I'm no dummy. There are always going to be variables that I won't be able to control and there is not a damn thing I can do about it. On Monday morning I chatted with my husband some more about it.
Me: I guess I just don't know where to go from here. I've worked my ass off for years and I can't seem to get the time I want. I just keep fighting and fighting but it's starting to feel like a losing battle.
Jeff: I think you need to let go of the time goal and run for the joy of running again. It doesn't mean it's not going to happen. But, time probably shouldn't be your main focus anymore.
And as I give it more thought, I'm realizing that he's right. I've started to lose the joy of running and to forget why I do it in the first place. Rather than celebrate what I've done, which is a lot, I'm just getting more and more down on myself. I didn't think it was happening but I understand now this it was. In less than a year I've run four marathons; the time for all of them falling somewhere between 3:00:04 and 3:04:41. I was one of the top three overall females in all four of them. Forgive me if I sound like I'm bragging. But the point is despite all these pretty great achievements, I've never once given myself credit because I've been so focused on the fact that I didn't hit my goal time. Which, when I think about it, is really kind of stupid. My 43 year old body has been nothing short of a miracle for me as I've trained through all of these races. And, what really matters here is that I truly love to train and race, not only to do well, but because I enjoy the process and the experience as a whole. I've lost sight of that this past year and I'm realizing that I need to stop and reset or I'm going to start resenting running on the whole. And that would suck. Am I going to keep training for marathons? Of course. Do I want to improve? Absolutely. Do I believe I've hit my plateau. I really don't. But, my focus clearly needs to shift here if I'm going to stick with it. So, that is what I'm working on now which may take a little time to figure out. It's not necessarily a totally new story, I suppose. Just a new chapter in the same one I've been telling for years, the one that centers not around a goal time but around my love for running.
Listen to this:
I Said Hi by Amy Shark