Two years ago, I ran the best race of my life, but since winning the Oil Creek 100K in 2014, a lot has changed. Over the last two years I’ve longed for the same race experience, but I also met my now-husband, moved in with him, adopted a cat, started graduate school, got promoted at work, got married and bought a house.
Before all of that, running was something I was getting to be pretty good at, and when I went to a race, I went there to win. But at the end of 2014, I was injured, and then couldn’t manage a good race through 2015 or most of this year. I was burnt out, tired, still slightly injured, and unable to deal with the fact that my life did not and could not revolve around running anymore. After another DNF at the Indiana Trail 100 in April, I ran my next two races with one of my best friends in May, then decided to drop from Mohican 100 and take some time off.
Early this summer, I decided to do something really crazy: train for my first road marathon since 2013!
I picked Wineglass in New York because of the scenic course, net downhill and idea that it would be good to try out a new race somewhere I have never been. Training started again slowly in July and I toughed my way through humid morning workouts and long, hot, humid summer runs. I ran a few tune-up races and PR’ed the 5K, 10K and half marathon. All signs pointed to a big marathon PR for me (3:56) and I was excited and anxious to get to that start line in Bath, NY.
I had one of the busiest work weeks I’ve ever had the week leading up to the race. I was stressed out, exhausted and getting over a sinus infection that wouldn’t go away. The night before we left, I was finally packing and putting together all of the race information for my husband so he could cheer along the course. It was so out of character for me to be so unprepared for my A race. I tried to stay calm and remind myself that life is different now and all was going to be OK. I just had to worry about running my best race.
Race morning was chilly, but slightly humid and it eventually got pretty warm. I was nervous and tried to chat with a few other runners as we waited around for the 8:15 start. I started between the 3:40 and 3:45 pace groups, figuring I would keep the 3:40 group in sight and speed up in the later miles. I felt pretty calm for the first few miles and enjoyed looking around and chatting with the other runners around me.
But around mile six, things started to fall apart. It’s hard to describe, but I just felt off. My heart was racing, I felt a little dizzy and my stomach was in knots. I started running on and off and almost every time I started to walk I would stumble a bit. A woman I met at the start line caught up with me around mile 10-11 and we ran the next few miles together until I decided to drop back.
I tried fixing my stomach issues by drinking more water and gatorade, but in hindsight that probably made it worse. No matter what I said to myself, I was really down and not wanting to keep going. I couldn’t motivate myself to keep running and keep pushing forward. At mile 22, nauseous and dizzy, I sat on a tree stump on the side of the road, crying and throwing up water. A man on a bike who was cheering on his daughter stopped and tried to help me. I told him I had to keep moving and that I was determined to finish. It felt like I sat there forever and I watched the 4:30 pace group go by. My big dreams of a big PR were long gone…and it was pretty much my worst marathon ever.
I stood up, told the man something along the lines of “I am an ultra runner,” and took off, determined to finish under 4:40. I continued the run/walk and even stopped for a beer at mile 23. I talked to some other women who decided they were retiring from marathons also and around mile 25, I decided I needed to run the entire last mile. And so I did (I think!). Pretty soon, I was crossing the bridge to market street, getting cheered on and making the turn to the finish line. I crossed in 4:35 — almost an hour slower than my secret A goal and one of my worst road marathon times ever.
After working my way through the finish area, I found my husband, sat down on a curb and cried. I told him that I probably took on too much — it was foolish of me to think I could handle work, grad school and marathon training at the same time. I told him that if I said, “hey, let’s go to Columbus for the weekend in two weeks!” or “I think I want to run Towpath!” to just say no.
On the drive home, I sent my coach an email with the subject “Wineglass :(“ and briefed her on what happened. I ended with, “Debating on signing up for the Towpath Marathon next weekend. Might be easier to sleep in my own bed the night before and be in a familiar park. Or just get back on the trails again. I’ll sleep on it!!”
I slept on it, talked it over with some of my fellow Saltines and with my coach’s blessing, signed up for Towpath the next afternoon. I kept it quiet and didn’t post about it out of fear that things might blow up again and I’d have another bad race. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I also never run on the actual Towpath and only use it as a connector from one trail to another. I was having a hard time wrapping my head around 26.2 miles on the flat, crushed limestone path and didn’t want anyone else to get in my head about it.
So, a week after my Wineglass marathon disaster, I was at another marathon start line. I had a much more calming, relaxing week in between and did everything I could to make sure I wasn’t sore and ready to run another 26.2.
The race is two out and backs on the Towpath, first south to the Ira Road trailhead, then past the finish area at Boston Store, up to Station Road Bridge and back to Boston Store. Race morning was perfect, mid-40s and partly cloudy. The leaves are starting to change and I was beyond stoked to give the marathon another shot in my favorite park. I started slowly and tried to stay relaxed through the first four miles. I listened to a TED Radio Hour podcast, then put my music on and cruised along. I cheered on other runners after I turned around and was having a great time.
Until the wheels started to fall off again. As I was nearing Boston Store at mile 17, I started feeling the worst pain ever in my quads. It was then that I realized I wasn’t entirely recovered at all and quick recovery wasn’t a luxury I enjoyed anymore after not ultrarunning for months. I slowed and walked a bit, passing the finish around 2:28, with just enough time to see the men’s marathon winner finish the race. I passed through the crowd and got another burst of energy and kept moving on.
The next 9 miles were super painful, but unlike the week before, I didn’t let it crush my spirit. Even though I had been on pace through mile 16 for a sub-3:50 finish, I had to throw that goal out the window and aim for a time between 4 and 4:10. All I had to do was keep moving. I couldn’t run much faster than a 9 minute mile and definitely had to take a few walk breaks too. Soon enough, Boston Store was in sight and as I neared closer, there was Cinnamon! I was so happy to see her! Then, I saw my husband, smiled big and made the turn to the finish! I crossed the line in 4:07. While not a PR at all, it was my second best marathon time.
For the past two years, I’ve been chasing down that “best race of my life” feeling, when all I really needed was just to have a damn good time running a race. I am so grateful that I finally found it again, at the Towpath Marathon of all places.
After the race, sitting in the grass with Cinnamon and my husband, I thought to myself that sometimes, running a race isn’t about crushing your PR or placing among the top runnings. Sometimes, racing is just about having fun, celebrating your hard work and being proud of what you accomplish.
Tell me about your experiences rediscovering the “best race of my life” feeling.