This post is going to be long, and a bit melodramatic and sappy, so feel free to skip it, if you ain't in the mood.
I look like a slice of burned toast, I am chafed in areas I can't even mention, my quads are so wasted I cannot stand upright and manuevering stairs takes stupendous effort. But I am proud and relieved that Marathon #4 of 4 in 4 months is in the bag. Done! Accomplished!
I was feeling ready for this race. I fueled well, slept well, got up early, got all my fuel and gear ready and got up to Austin in plenty of time. I was ready to RUN.
Unfortunately, the course was more than a bit unkind on Sunday. We were greeted by warm, humid temps, and heavy winds. In retrospect, I should have started more conservatively and saved myself the bonk, but hindsight is always 20/20.
When it comes to races, marathons are truly a different beast than any other distance I have run, both mentally and physically. We spend months training and obsessing about marathon strategy, but unfortunately sometimes things don't go our way on race day, which can lead to disappointment. Yesterday I ran the 2011 Austin Marathon with the lofty goal of 3:10, and with the preceding introduction it's probably not hard to guess that things didn't go the way I wanted. The purpose of this post, however, is not to wallow in sorrow about a goal unmet, but rather to make it clear that despite my disappointment, the day was a great one and only strengthened my love for this crazy sport that I've become obsessed with.
The start of the race was fairly uneventful - I settled into a comfortable pace with the 3:10 pace group and felt really good at the outset. They were trying to bank some time on the course, so we were averaging 7:12’s. There were probably about 10 of us in the group, and I hung on with them right through about mile 10. My thoughts now about running with the pace group are mixed - the 3:10 pace leader was experienced and helpful, but I wound up running a faster pace than I had initially intended. It wouldn't have mattered with the crash that ultimately came, but I think in the future I'll opt to run solo and stick to my own plan.
What I find remarkable about the marathon is just how quickly things can go bad. I felt great through Mile 10, - ahead of pace for a 3:10 - and was still cruising through the miles. The crash came extremely quick (and unfortunately early), and once it hit, I knew the day was over for me.
If you saw my splits (haven’t been able to look at them after yesterday), I smacked straight into the wall at mile 11, and never again saw a split below 7:30/mile. It was heartbreaking for me, and once it happened, I was fighting the tears. I had taken about 1.5 gels and over 20oz of gatorade by that point, but it didn't help - I was done. I faced a tough decision as I saw the pace group head off into the distance - struggle through and try to salvage a strong PR, or slow down and try to lessen the risk of DNF. I swallowed my pride and opted to slow down, and it didn't take long to realize I had made the right choice. I had absolutely nothing left in my legs - they were deader than they've been in any of my previous marathons, and if I'd tried to struggle through I'm not sure if I could have finished. I had some minor nausea from time to time, but my legs were really the source of my demise - they just didn't want to move. The combo of the wind, hills and humidity had beat me down.
So, for the final 15 miles of the Austin Marathon, I trudged at what felt like a snails pace. I was actually surprised by the number of others I saw doing the same - way more than I had seen in my previous marathons. I leapfrogged a couple of other runners repeatedly, several of whom were also casualties of the pace groups. I had some nice conversations with a few of my fellow strugglers, including a younger guy who was in the same boat as me. We talked for awhile about how hard and unpredictable marathons are, and how shorter race performances don't say a whole lot about where you'll finish in the marathon (he was a recent 1:26 half marathoner). We commiserated about the fact that we wouldn't be meeting our pre-set goals for the day, but reassured each other that finishing was the most important result, and that simply running race was the true challenge. I think talking to him pulled me out of my hole a bit and I had my longest stretch of continuous steady running after the crash while we talked. Meeting like-minded people is one of the great things about running a marathon, and the support we can provide to one another is truly amazing. He eventually slowed down for a walk break while I trudged on, and I never wound up seeing him again - I hope he still got his PR.
I saw several friends along the way who kept me moving as thoughts of pulling out crossed my mind. I saw my husband, Dan, at Mile 19. He encouraged me, telling me I was a strong runner and doing great. Even though I felt like curling up in a ball and going to sleep at that very moment, his words spurred me on.
At Mile 20, I tried to remind myself that I only had a 10 K left, but that was no help. It just meant 6.2 more miles of agony. By this point, GU and gatorade were only minimally helpful. I was splashing water on my head and calves every mile, gasping in shock when the cold water penetrated through my overheated body. I was trying to not even look at my watch until Frank Forerunner beeped a 8-minute pace, then would attempt to pick it back up. But even the slowest run was extremely painful.
Most of the final few miles are still a blur to me - I've never struggled like that on a run to the same extent. As I approached the final 2 miles, I quickly realized that even sub-3:20 was out, but knew that I could come close to 3:20 if I could keep my splits below 8:00. I buckled down, chose landmark targets in the distance to keep me running, and managed to keep moving forward. As I approached the finish line I heard all of the cheers from the crowd. Their cheers gave me the final burst I needed to finish strong, and I crossed the line at 3:20:03.
The crowd support at this race was phenomenal. Though I did not have the strength to acknowledge all the volunteers and spectators on the course, I am tremendously grateful for everyone who showed up to support us in the crappy weather. You guys are the best.
After walking down the finishing chute and picking up my medal, I staggered out into the finishers area and began feeling dizzy, lightheaded and disappointed. I ran into some friends who immediately lifted my spirits. I had just finished a marathon, and regardless of whether or not I'd met my initial goal, that was something to be proud of. Now, a day later, I have no regrets from the experience. My disappointment in not coming close to a 3:10 is tempered by the fact that I managed a 11th place finish among women. My love of running still stands strong, and despite the pain, I know that I will be back at the starting line of another 26.2 in the not too distant future. This habit of mine is truly a bit crazy, but I wouldn't give it up for the world!
I was truly humbled by all of the nice comments, kind words and encouragement I received from the Daily Mile community, friends and family. I feel blessed to know so many great people. Thank you!