Long story short: my Glass City Marathon finish time of 3:03:07 is disappointing, nowhere close to my 2:50 goal. Even worse, I enjoyed only a handful of the 26.2 miles I raced.
However, even just a couple minutes after finishing, I started to feel pretty happy about the whole thing: I faced failure, dueled with the DNF devil and chose to keep working.
Now for the long story.
Winter training pointed to marathon fitness in the low-2:50 range. As race day approached I felt less confident about hitting 6:30s, instead planning to start around 7:00 for the first mile and then drop to 6:45s. Then ideally, I’d be able to pull off a negative split like in Columbus.
Race day weather was perfect and the first few miles went according to the plan: 7:11, 6:48, 6:40, 6:46. I wasn’t expecting the first bit to be quite so crowded but I forced myself not to weave around other runners, knowing I could save energy now and make up a couple seconds later.
Mile 5 began with some turns and hills along with my first gel at the 30 minute mark. I was going back and forth with another woman running the full and made sure to focus on running my own appropriate effort level rather than getting competitive and matching her. I was discouraged when 6:34 for mile 5 felt overly hard, but I reminded myself that the first part of a marathon can be kind of a boring grind and that in Columbus my easiest miles were at the end. Ran 6:42, 6:49, 6:58, 6:51 for 5-8.
Just before mile 9, we entered Wildwood Park where I’ve run literally thousands of miles. I was casually monitoring my splits and starting to wonder how the heck I was going to be able to drop the pace. And of course my belly was starting to get angry but I refused to stop. I imagined the map of the race course and started to feel overwhelmed by the miles that remained. Just get to 13, I told myself. On the way there I clicked off 6:52, 6:49, 6:55, 6:53 for 9-12 with my second gel at the 75 minute mark.
My parents and JB cheered for me at the entrance to my high school and I managed a weak smile for a brief moment. Someone at 13.1 called out a number and I thought I heard 1:29:18. Even coming in at 2:59 – nine minutes slower than my original goal – seemed impossible. Did I have 90 minutes left? 95? I tried to motivate myself to just get it over with! The long straightaway was mentally draining and my angry belly flared up again. Then another long straightaway. The woman I’d been yo-yoing with was gradually moving away but spectators let me know I was in 4th place, giving me something to fight for – but then a woman in purple passed me. 5th place. 6:44, 6:43, 6:57, 6:57, 6:58 through 17 miles.
The great thing about the long straightaways on the Glass City course is that it’s easy to keep your momentum and run tangents. Happily, my Garmin was beeping almost exactly next to the mile marker flags. On the other hand, it was overwhelming to see two miles of road laid out in front of me — and know I had seven more to go beyond that.
As any marathon runner knows, 20 miles is a big deal. It’s often a turning point (the bad kind) and I was pretty sure that would be my fate. The DNF demon had been whispering in my ear for a while but this was where I started to engage with it: Instead of turning into the park for mile 20, I could take a left and lie down in my parents’ yard. No, actually, the neighbors have a spare key. I could take a shower. Or a bath. And eat a snack. My drop bag just had junk clothes in it anyway.
Mile 18, 6:58. An hour more of running? Or a nap? Next woman that passes me knocks me out of the money.
Mile 19, 7:03. Yep, no sub-3 today. Wonder if they have ice cream in the freezer?
There was a crowd at the turning point. I remembered how sad I was after quitting two marathons in the fall of 2014. I turned right.
My parents and JB cheered from the side of the path. I grimaced and threw them my gloves. That’s it, the moment was over and my decision was made.
Mile 20 was behind me in 7:34 and I was back on the paths I knew so well, remembering how when the long boardwalk was built, we sneaked in to check out the construction. Now I crossed it to mile 21 and the patio where my high school teammates and I would take “stretch” breaks. 7:12, 7:30 and then mile 22 brought us to the bike path, a three mile straight shot back to the university campus.
I’d started taking Gatorade at the 1:50 mark and continued to take a sip or swish at every station but fatigue was setting in hard. I realized I could close my eyes most of the way and still navigate by the yellow dashes on the center of the path. I vaguely wondered how close the #6 woman was but I’m not sure if I cared.
Closed eyes hidden behind green sunglasses, I told myself, I do hard things. My legs were still moving me forward after all. Mile 23, 7:28. The path looked just as long as it had a few minutes before. I do hard things. Mile 24, 7:28.
Then there was a small figure in an coral singlet stepping onto the grass. A woman, the same one I’d run with early in the day. A pacer near me veered over to check on her. She bent and stretched: “Cramps.” I was happy she wasn’t in real trouble but knew she could still come after me. Somehow I changed gears for a 7:06 25th mile.
And another woman walking. I was shocked. Seven minutes to go and I’d moved into third. I don’t know if I was more excited by the competitive aspect or by the idea of just being done but my legs were moving pretty well for mile 26 in 7:08 and then 1:34 for the final turns, the voices of JB and my parents rising out of the crowd.
I do hard things.