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.
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!