Those first few hours after the race, it was easy to mistake disappointment for devastation. I had put in so much work and gone, objectively, nowhere. 2:50:58 is thirty-three seconds slower than my time in Portland two years ago. It’s six minutes off of what I need to run to go to Atlanta next February. As I collected my gear and walked to the shuttle and drove to the hotel and stood in the shower and finally flopped down on the queen-sized bed with my fists to my face, I couldn’t stop wondering, “Why did I even bother?”
It’s a foolish question, of course. Anyone who competes at anything knows the answer. I was just disappointed. I still am.
The race really hurt. Not in that “I pushed myself to the physical brink” hurt, where you “give a race everything you’ve got.” I mean yes, it hurt that way, too, but my left foot, which had been plaguing me in the weeks leading up to the race, really, really hurt. This was not a surprise. Given the preceding weeks, I knew it was a question of when it would start to hurt in the race, not if. The answer was around mile 8.
|That's Mr. Ironman there on my right. Photo cred: CheerEverywhere.|
Three miles later, the half marathoners funneled away toward their finish line, leaving the few remaining marathoners strung out single file down a long, straight road. Ironman guy had broken away from me, and the effort it would take to catch up felt like too much. Should I even keep running? It felt bizarre to be asking myself that question as my feet continued to turn under me, but I couldn’t shake the thought: I could just drop out. No one would care.
I kept running, forcing myself to put in 1-minute surges at the twelfth and thirteenth mile markers. The little hope inside that refuses to die insisted. It might help. You could turn things around.
I lapped my watch at mile 14. It read 6:40.
F*ck this. My foot f*cking hurts. The goal is long gone. Why am I even doing this?
Yet even as my brain was sinking toward despair, I reached into my shorts for the gel I was supposed to eat at mile 14. Maybe it will help, whispered the little hope. Calories. Caffeine. You never know.
I kept running. My foot kept throbbing. I think a man passed me, maybe two or three. Otherwise I saw almost no one until I got to the boardwalk at Asbury Park, around mile 17. I was maneuvering up onto the wooden planks when two women went charging past me in the other direction.
Olympic trials qualifiers, I thought numbly as a third woman went whizzing by. I am so far behind.
Yet by the time I hit the turnaround cone at mile 19, something inside me had shifted. Thoughts of dropping out were gone. I had come this far; I was going to finish. The foot pain had sort of plateaued, but my right hamstring was getting tired. I’m compensating. It was a strange realization, because it made no difference. My foot hurt. Nothing I could do about that. My hamstring was tired. Oh well. My feet kept turning. My hands kept snatching cups of Gatorade. My eyes kept peering into the distance to glimpse the next mile marker.
“Never quit,” they say.
“If you believe, you can achieve.”
“You have to want it bad enough.”
|Don't be fooled; that's 75% of the crowd on the whole course.|
Photo cred: Kai Ng.
I wanted this 2:45:00 bad enough to invest incredible amounts of time and energy. To work on eating the right things and sleeping the right amount and doing little stretches and recovery exercises that I absolutely positively did not want to do. I wanted it enough to go to the weight room and to the pool and to parks and roads all over the city to run in the cold and the heat, the rain and the snow. I wanted it enough to do these things for months on end, and I know plenty of other women who “want” it just as bad. Some of us get it. Some of us don’t.
I carried my disappointment with me for a good majority of that marathon, and I’m carrying it with me now. But after letting time and space do their thing, I have also dug out a few nuggets of pride. I did not drop out. I desperately wanted to, but I did not. And while I may not have successfully adhered to my race plan, I adhered to my nutrition plan. I choked down my gels and gulped water and Gatorade on schedule, no matter how futile. And as terrible and sad and hurting and lopsided as I might have felt, I did not crash and burn. I held on and ran the second-fastest marathon of my life. So there is a silver lining. Or maybe at least a copper one.
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