A Lesson About Respect

Sometimes you need a reminder that this stuff is harder than it looks on the Internet.
Sometimes you need a reminder that this stuff is harder than it looks on the Internet.

On Sunday, April 26th, I embarked on a 26-and-a-quarter mile journey through New Jersey that changed my running life. The short story is that I wound up running 3:53:xx, a personal best by sixteen minutes. This makes it sound like an incredible victory.

But really, there was no victory here. It was certainly an accomplishment, but the truth goes deeper.

See, the thing is, I was cocky at this race. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and now I know I could have done better, but I’m young at the marathon; this was only my third, and only my second in which I tried to race. And only my second in which I didn’t bonk, for that matter. And only my first at which I wasn’t humble. I made that mistake so many young people make: I thought I was in charge. I thought I was going to make that marathon my bitch. I thought I had this.

What do you think happened?

Pepper once wrote about the difference between running a marathon and racing a marathon, and I read that post (I may even have edited it!). Mint has written volumes about pacing and strategy. I’ve read it all. Collectively, we Salties have written hundreds of race reports, from DNF to major PR. We’ve written endlessly about the marathon distance, even those of us who prefer other races. So much of this site, of which I am something of an overseer, is dedicated to the marathon, and I have watched it all unfold over the last three years, taking notes, making connections and ultimately drawing the conclusion that I am capable of a great deal more than I initially thought. How awesome is that?

But there is one lesson about the marathon that, on this Sunday, April 26th, 2015, that I had failed to remember. In fact, it was the first lesson anyone ever taught me, long before the inception of Salty Running. I remember being on the phone with my sister, talking seriously about training for a full marathon, and behind her my brother-in-law said something. “What was that?” I asked.

“He says the most important thing is to respect the distance.”

Respect the distance.

***

Respect the distance, I did not. I felt undertrained, having stumbled through Hanson’s Intermediate plan in spite of a work schedule that would even send Jasmine to bed instead of to the track. My life just isn’t made for marathoning, so what I learned to do was to force it. I’d work a 15 (or more) hour day running on my feet (I work in TV and film production), go directly to the gym, do my workout, go home, sleep for as long as I could before I had to wake up (usually about 4 hours) to do it all again. By the time my job ended I was wiped. I had a couple of performance issues on the gig too, and looking back, it’s no wonder since I was training so aggressively at the time in addition to insane commutes and long work hours (sorry, Meg).

Luckily I had planned a vacation with Salty and was able to take time off leading up to the race. If it had been like last time, when I took a two-week gig on Law and Order SVU surrounding the marathon, I bet I would have bonked again. That was my big takeaway from Wineglass (marathon #2): Take care of your body.

So I took the time off, but feeling undertrained, I went into race day with a “conservative” goal of anywhere between 3:50 and sub 4 hours. My logic was that when I told people my PR I wanted them to understand, as I do, that Boston is not out of my reach. I wanted men to hear my time and say, “Oh sh*t, this girl is faster than me!” (They do now).

So I found the 3:55 pacers and followed them out of the gate. I felt so good though. Too good. The weather was beautiful and I was just out for a fine run at a pace that felt too good to be true. I was smart enough to know that too good to be true is the right pace at the beginning, so I stuck with it. Eventually, I met up with Hope from Central NJ and Katie from Washington, D.C. and butted into their conversation. They are so awesome! Katie was in a similar boat to me, feeling undertrained and working toward a conservative goal. Hope was at her first marathon and I could tell she was working hard to keep her pace slow and steady—she was like a racehorse at the gate! They were lovely to chat with and so positive, and together we decided to pull ahead of the 3:55 group, just a little early.

Oops.

I had a plan for myself, and the plan called for me to tick off half a mile at a time, ignoring overall pace and keeping a steady 4:20 half mile split until mile 20, when I would go balls-out if I felt I could. That was my lesson from Cleveland (marathon #1): play it safe until the end and you have the potential to sprint across the finish line. But Hope and Katie were so great, and they were keeping me such good company, and-and-and- my half splits were coming in at 4:02, 4:06, 4:13, 4:10…

Run your own race. Play it safe. Take Care of Your Body. Respect the distance.

Somewhere around mile 14 Katie dropped back (she eventually finished in 3:55:xx, well within her conservative goal—great work, Katie!). I hung on to Hope, loving my fast splits and wanting to keep them forever and ever. I could feel that same blind faith I had during the first half of Wineglass, that voice that says, “what could possibly go wrong?” and so I kept up. And then I hung on ten feet behind. And then we hit a water stop and she was gone. (That was Hope’s big play! She shot ahead like a thoroughbred and finished in 3:45:xx! Amazing!)

It was mile 16. We were on a desolate out-and-back. My split came in at 4:51, and it hit me: Respect the Distance, you twit.

I thought I could pick it up again, and I tried, but it was tough from there out. Miles 16-20 were The Dark Place, I was alone, I was far from any pace group, and I was resenting myself for running the damn marathon at all. I had planned to not have any support at the race initially, until my dear friend Julia insisted upon driving over from Philadelphia to meet me at the finish. It was seriously all for Julia during this part of the race—I just wanted to get to her so it would be over.

Somewhere between 20 and 21 I started to feel better (the end is nigh!), but I just couldn’t pull it out. My half mile splits were averaging 4:40. I had no concept of what my overall time was and just focused on working hard so I could get those splits down. At 23—finally!—I got another 4:20. And another. They kept coming! And then, blissfully, it was over, and the tears came and the hyperventilation…you know what it’s like after a tough race!

Even having no concept of my time, I knew I’d done well, and when the official time came in I was pleased. Very pleased! Still, I knew what had gone down out there. I didn’t respect the distance. I went out to make the marathon my bitch, and the marathon bit me, juuuust a little. It wasn’t a slap, just a little swat on the ass to let me know that I am the bitch in this relationship. Duly noted.

I can’t help but think of this marathon as just another piece of the puzzle. It was a stepping stone toward Boston, and with each step taken I can see more of the long road ahead. The good news is that means I can see more of what I need to get there, and that alone is a victory worth celebrating!

And yes…I’ll admit it… so is a SIXTEEN MINUTE P.R., MY BIZNITCHES! WOOO!

Yee-haw!
Victory is sweet!

Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. She has 8 more minutes to knock off her marathon for a 3:40 BQ, and will get there or die trying. Her writing is an eclectic mix of finding wholeness as an average runner, news reporting, curious reactions, satirical humor and more.

Leave a Reply

17 comments

  1. I’m going to run this marathon this year. This was one of the posts I read before training for my first marathon ( Columbus 2015) the ” respect the distance ” always resonated with me. I had to reread it. Besides this marathon giving you that 16 min PR, what else can you tell me about it? Thanks in advance and hoping for a nice PR myself

  2. Great job, Cinnamon. I love the attitude and have to agree with Mint, doesn’t seem like you disrespected the distance at all! The future is bright. Keep it up!

  3. Monster congratulations to you! I loved this report. You should be very very proud of your shiny new PR, and of the way you got it. Pushing through miles 16-20 like that is something you can look back on and remember, “Yeah, I can keep going even when it’s tough.”

  4. Awesome! Congratulations! Also, hind-sight is the best/worst. Way to both learn from your experience and celebrate your huge accomplishment!

  5. You rock!!! You ARE a badass!!!! And thanks for the reminder about respecting the distance – I will call it to mind in my race a few weeks from now.

  6. Woot woot – congrats on a BIG FAT PR!! I get you on the respect the distance thing, but your report showed no indication that you didn’t respect it. You were right in your goal range. There is no way of knowing what your exact pace should be on race day, and it sounds like you nailed it even if your training wasn’t 100% optimal. Just imagine what you can do when you do get that optimal training in!! Also, while you need to respect the distance, you never want to fear the distance (unless you are truly unprepared). Sounds to me like you went in with the right amount of confidence and took.some.names. Bad ass. Congrats.

  7. Loooove race reports!! I need to remember “respect the distance” – no matter the distance.

    1. Yes! OmniRunner is right about that for sure. Even the shortest races have their challenges. The longer the race, the more patience is needed. Glad you liked the report!

  8. Yes! That’s such a good way to put it. We try so hard to control our relationship with the marathon. You can see it when we flip out over the weather (that which we can’t control) . But really to be successful at it we need to cede to her control and do our best with what she gives us. Go with the flow, but respect that flow so she doesn’t throw us over niagra falls! If that’s not enough metaphor for you I don’t know what to tell you :)

  9. fantastic post! Your story hit home as I am less than 2 weeks away from marathon #4 CLE. I have never run a marathon to my true potential. “Run your own race. Respect the distance.” Love it!

    1. Yay! I’m so glad you got the reminders BEFORE the race, not DURING, like I did! Best of luck in Cleveland, let us know how it goes, either here or on Facebook or Twitter!

  10. So true. I tell everyone to respect the distance weather it is a 5K or an Ultra. Each distance requires a different strategy and if you don’t understand that and respect that you can get into a lot of trouble out there.
    Congrats on the great finish & PR.
    Cheers – Andy