This past weekend I ran my second marathon in 5 weeks, and it was by far my worst performance ever. I decided to run the Las Vegas marathon with my neighbor to help raise money for MMRF, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Yes, I know it’s not really the best idea to run two marathons that close together. However, I was pretty confident in my body and I wasn’t too concerned. 26.2 long miles later, I had a completely different attitude.
Going into this race, I had already told myself to just have fun. After all, it was the Las Vegas marathon. But something happens to me mentally when I put on my running shoes and start playing my new favorite Eminem song. I go from oh I’m going to take it easy to Yes, I am bad ass, I run fast, and I am ready for my new PR. Well the funny thing about the marathon is anything can happen.
Due to the fact that the race didn’t start until 4:30 pm Sunday night, I spent all day preparing mentally. I practically refused to leave the room because I didn’t want to inhale any of that gross, smokey Las Vegas air. Instead, I reread some parts from A Life Without Limits, the poem If by Rudyard Kipling, and watched the movie trailer from A Peaceful Warrior a few times. Mentally, I was just where I needed to be to take on the distance.
Once I got to the start line, I was excited. The music was loud, the weather was perfect, and the energy was contagious. I ran up and down a side road a few times, did a few strides, and took my place in corral 3. I wasn’t nervous (which is not the norm for me), I felt at peace, and I was ready. Once they released corral 3, I set off in my normal, comfortable marathon pace. 7:45, 7:33, 7:28… and I was feeling great, for about 2 more miles. Something happened around mile 5 that made me start questioning how I was going to run 21 more miles. The right side of my abdomen really started tensing up and with every step I took, came more and more pain. Oh shit, I thought to myself. This could get really bad.
Somewhere around mile 7 or 8 the half marathon split off from the full marathon. Leading up to that point I seriously considered taking the half route instead of the full. Once I saw the split, I knew I had to make a quick decision. The very first thing that came to mind was Boston, 2012. I remembered the feelings of defeat I had after I dropped out of the race. The disappointment. The embarrassment. The thought of working so hard for something only to give up when things got difficult. It was in that moment that I decided to continue on for what I knew would be 19 extremely long miles. Well, what turned out to be my slowest marathon ever, also turned out to be most rewarding marathon ever. I am so thankful for my decision to continue.
As I began to fall apart, I thought slowing down my pace a bit would solve my abdominal pain. That kind of worked for half a mile or so but then the pain became too much. I couldn’t keep running and I had to walk. At first I was beyond frustrated. My legs felt fine. I had the energy. But the pain was too much. I just wanted to hurry up and be done with the dang race and call it a night. But with less than half the distance covered, I knew I couldn’t continue thinking about the finish line that was more than 13 miles away. I then started to search my mind for some positive words to carry me through, one slow mile at a time. Then I remembered the following quote from Chrissie Wellington’s book and it was in that moment that my feeling of defeat became one of relief:
You will remain the same person before, during and after the race, so the result, however important, will not define you. The journey is what matters.
A race, no matter how long or how fast, does not define who I am as a person. My value as a human being does not come from a number on a clock or my division place. My actions define who I am and I wasn’t going to let the remainder of that race get the best of me. I would continue on.
Once I had this realization, my experience with the marathon completely changed. Normally I run a race completely focused, not paying attention to anything going on around me. In fact, I couldn’t tell you much about the Chicago course other than what the finish line looked like. Ask me about the Las Vegas marathon and I could tell you pretty much anything you want to know past mile 13. I cheered with the spectators, I made friends along the way, I encouraged people who looked to be in much worse pain that I was, and I was more than happy to walk by and high five the crowd. During one of my lonely times when I was jogging/walking alone, I very clearly remember a little boy looking at me and saying you are amazing for doing this! I went right back to him and said you are amazing for being out here, and then gave him a high five. He was so excited. That made me happy.
It also made me happy to meet new runner friends. I never run with anyone. I never make any friends during a race and I never think to carry on a conversation with anyone when I’m running. I’m a lone runner but Sunday night changed that. As I saw other people struggling like me, I tried to cheer them along. Some people looked at me like I was a little crazy, but others were thankful for the support. Perhaps misery really does love company. I know I sure was thankful to have some company as I struggled along.
Once I saw the finish line, I did my best to keep running until I crossed it. Oh how I wanted to be done. As soon as I made it past the finish line, I went to find Mario as quickly as possible. (The one great thing about running a slow marathon is my legs felt great when I finished.) I was easily able to speed walk past everyone to get to Mario, who probably thought I had passed out somewhere along the way since it took so long for me to finish. It was such a relief to see him.
If you had asked me last week what my finish time would be in Vegas, I would have never said more than 4 hours. With a time of 4:23:31, a 10:04 pace, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world. I was able to truly enjoy the marathon and other than my right side still killing me (I think I pulled a muscle), I feel completely fine. I survived. We can’t always expect to have our best race and that’s okay with me.
Another quote comes to mind when I think about Sunday night’s race:
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same, as we are liberated from our own fear. –Coach Carter
I’m not afraid of “failing” at the marathon anymore. I survived. I’m still me. And I am thankful for my experience.
Happy Trails and Happy Running,
And a special shout out to Geoff, the leader of Team Patheon and the guy who helped us to raise nearly $93,000 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation!