Five weeks ago, I was on pace for a PR at the NYC Marathon before hyponatremia forced me to a walk in the final miles. A good friend suggested I attempt a revenge marathon in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware five weeks later.
I’m glad I followed his advice. The Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon rightfully boasts a friendly and lively Facebook page community, a no-muss, no-fuss start where you can arrive 20 minutes before the marathon and still have time to warm up, and good on-course support. I found a nice-enough, inexpensive hotel one block from the marathon start and enjoyed a 1.5 mile pre-race warmup along the gorgeous boardwalk.
About 3,000 runners raced in the combined marathon and half-marathon run. We all started together with no pacing corrals, but it was ok. I joined an impromptu pace group of others looking to run around 3:35 or 3:40 and started with them. We clocked an 8:46 first mile under crowded conditions. Though I was glad not to have gone out too fast, the group soon felt too slow for me. After the first mile, the crowds thinned and my body settled into 7:59 and 8:03 second and third miles. Perfect.
At mile four, the full marathon course split off from the half marathon and veered onto gravel trails through a beautiful state park. I am used to running on gravel only for easy runs and quickly slowed to an 8:18 fourth mile and 8:33 fifth mile. I didn’t feel comfortable pushing myself on that surface. I knew then and there that I was unlikely to be able to pull off a significant PR and that I risked blowing up if I tried to stick to my original pacing plan.
After some soul searching and thinking of my husband’s last words to me that morning as he wrapped me in a bear hug, “run within yourself,” I decided that I needed a good and enjoyable experience more than I needed an uncertain and unpleasant race, and that I would simply enjoy the amazing scenery around me. I admired flocks of migrating geese and an eagle soaring over a pond near the seashore, which was a far more pleasant experience than grinding myself down and still coming up short.
At mile seven, I fell into step with two runners from the Gotham City running club who were keeping a steady pace. We chatted for a while, which relaxed me. For the next five miles, I ran very even splits with them: 8:24, 8:24, 8:23, 8:20, 8:23. My heart rate hovered just below 80% effort (between 164-167 bpm), more appropriate for a long training run rather than the 83-85% marathon effort I put in at NYC five weeks earlier, but one that gave me confidence I would not blow up.
Along the way, I mastered two very important lessons about fueling and pacing. First, stop as little as possible to conserve energy. I stopped only once at a water stop with a pitcher at mile 11 to refill my handheld. I clocked an 8:37 mile there, and made it up in an 8:12 mile 13. Second, I learned to listen to my body and sensitive stomach on when it needed sugar from bland flavored gels, and when I was doing fine with sugar but sweating a lot, and took one electrolyte caplet which set well with my stomach. I’ll remember this for Boston in April.
I ran miles 14 and 15 with company, albeit silently, in 8:26 and 8:24. They were a focused group clearly aiming for a 3:40 BQ time and were perfect pacers. Another good marathon lesson learned: find people who are running strong and comfortably, and pace yourself off them.
Just after mile 15, I started to simultaneously look forward to seeing my husband and daughter who would be waiting for me at mile 18 which would be also, conveniently near the finish before the course headed back out for the final 7.5 miles. While the run had been good, it did not seem worth the pain I knew was coming for me if I continued on. It just didn’t seem worth it to finish the marathon in 3:41 and then have to ride 6 hours home that afternoon with my legs in pain.
Also, I’m beginning to plan my Boston training. If I ran 26.2 now, I knew I would need two weeks of recovery and four weeks of reverse taper before I could jump back into marathon training. I considered this for three miles and made up my mind when I saw husband and daughter. I made my family my finish line, running 18.5 miles at an 8:23 average pace. I called it a day without regrets.
We are supposed to finish marathons that we sign up for, but I have always marched to the beat of my own drummer. I think the day was a success because I ran with joy, got in some good training in a beautiful location, mastered pacing and fueling, and was gentle enough on my body that I will be able to resume regular training in a few days.
As we head into the winter, my plans are to reduce my volume of speed work and focus on base-building to the mileage that Jasmine talks about that serves as the foundation for significant gains in marathon times.
Have you ever run a revenge race? Is revenge still as sweet if you don’t hit your goal but feel okay with it?