To be fair, most of us won’t be winning our fall marathons. Yeah, yeah, I know we have Salt(y) and Pepper here to think about, but the majority of us – mere mortals that we are – don’t have a huge shot at seeing the tape.
We do, however, have our own victories inherent in the race. What is it for you? A first time finish? A PR? Breaking 4 or 5 hours for the first time? Qualifying for Boston? The list is as long as the number of people running, and the “victories” as personal and individual as each of us.
The problem with the marathon? Well, it’s right there in the title. “The thrill of victory – the agony of defeat.” The marathon is HARD. And anything – anything – can happen out there. A dream can come true – and a dream can be shattered. All in the space of two-and-a-half to six hours.
For the amount of training and the months of work we put into these things, that’s a pretty big risk, don’t you think? So what’s a girl (or guy) to do? How do we reconcile that mountain of work we’ve put into this with the huge risk we take stepping on the starting line? How do we prepare ourselves – mentally and emotionally – for all the things that can physically go wrong? How do we stare down our fear of failure?
I’ve been open with our readers about my struggle with infertility, and it’s one of the few places that I’ve found a real parallel to marathon-running. Earlier in my journey through the tests and treatments, I was adamant that I had finally found something that running couldn’t solve; something that running fast marathons and epic 100-milers hadn’t prepared me for at all; something so difficult, so overwhelming, that running was downright trivial in comparison.
Well, except for one thing.
The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.
When one is undergoing fertility treatments, each step in the process is a bit like a mile marker. You live in equal parts unrelenting hope and utter despair. You always start out believing that THIS is the month; after all, if you were completely out of hope, would you really throw that kind of cash down and shoot yourself up with hormones every month? You get about halfway through and the doubts start to seep in; once the shots and procedures are done and there’s nothing you can do but wait, excitement turns to nerves turns to doubt. And then there’s that final moment – the last test – where you wait with baited breath to hear yes or no. When you know that no matter how many miles you didn’t run, no matter how many cups of coffee you didn’t have, no matter how much rest you got or how careful you were to keep your stress level down – that answer will fill you with tremendous joy – or utter despair. Again.
Sound at all familiar?
When we start our training cycles for a new marathon, we are filled with that unrelenting hope. We always start out believing that THIS is the race; after all, if we were completely out of hope, would we really throw that kind of cash down (entry fees, flights, hotels) and put ourselves through tempo runs, long runs and Yasso 800’s again? Of course not! We could still be runners, enjoying our casual 5 milers in the fresh snow as the holidays approached. But no. That unrelenting hope calls us to the track, to those early Saturday mornings, to something more than that recreational running. That unrelenting hope calls to us to take the risk – because one day, with enough of the right work, the risk will pay off.
But then the training gets hard and heavy, and we’re tired and sore and have a bad workout or two. We wonder if we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. We wonder why can’t just enjoy those casual fall runs with the leaves crunching under our feet for what they are; why we’re constantly chasing more. Is Boston really that important? And so what if you maybe never break 4 hours? I mean, isn’t it enough that you’ve done five marathons?
Yet you push through, you get your mojo back. You see the end of the training cycle around the corner, followed by the taper. You look at the numbers from the good workouts and see all the improvements you’ve made. You look at the people you’re running with, and realize they’ve all achieved the goal you’re aiming for. Hope returns and abounds; it is unceremoniously interrupted by the taper. You’re left with nothing to do but wait; obsess, worry, second-guess and doubt. You realize it is not going to happen; you’re scared of how much it might hurt; excitement turns to nerves turns to doubt and back again. You’ve worked so hard – you should be able to do this – you can do this – you will do this.
And then, of course, comes the race itself. And the most tragic part of the marathon is the thing you never see coming. No, it’s not the pre-race cold or the nagging hamstring pain that never went away. When those things happen, you know going in that it might not happen. No, it’s when that random thing goes wrong. It’s when, despite your regimented eating and “preparations,” your stomach refuses to cooperate and you leave your PR in the porta-potty. A couple of times. It’s when you run off to the side of the street to pee behind a tree, and when you stand back up, there’s some weird glitch in your hip that pinches and never goes away, and you leave your Boston time behind that tree. It’s when there’s an unexpected and epic rainstorm on the course, and your feet blister and prune so badly that breaking 5 hours is out of the question, because the pain of impact on that soft wet skin is unbearable.
It’s the little things.
And then there’s that final test – the finish line – where a simple number on the clock will give you the answer you’ve worked for for months. Where you find out that no matter how many cocktails you gave up, no matter how many pounds you lost, no matter how many 800’s you ran – this is the answer. Like it or not.
The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.
The marathon is HARD. But what’s most hard about it isn’t the training. It isn’t the workouts, or the pain or the fatigue or the miles or the sacrifice. It’s the risk. Racing the marathon asks you to live in equal parts unrelenting hope and utter despair.
What’s a girl (or guy) to do?
It took me 17 marathons to qualify for Boston. 17!!! I’m now a sub-3:20 marathoner seven times over, so hear that loud and clear.
I got stuck after I ran that 3:38:17, and it took me six more (yes, 6!!!) to get a new PR.
How did it happen?
I took the risk. Over and over again. I got knocked down. I experienced EPIC failure. Yes, ladies, I cried.
And every single one of those races made me stronger. Bolder. And yes, even less afraid. The worst had happened – I had failed “marathon.” But guess what? The sun still came up; my husband still loved me; the dog and Sunday School kids didn’t know the difference.
Feel the hope. Take the risk. And no matter what that clock may say, no matter the profound joy or the utter despair at the end, remember to do one thing.
Go for that easy run with the crunching leaves under your feet, or that slow run in a snowfall at the holidays. Come home with your legs red from the fall chill or your eyebrows and hat dusted with snow. Look at your beautiful self in the mirror and think about nothing but how damn good you feel and how wonderful and full your life is.
After all, isn’t that the real victory?