When you’re a marathoner, you spend months training for your goal race. Race morning finally comes and you know you’ve done everything right for this race. This is going to be your day, your race, your breakthrough! Oh no! Something goes wrong. You cramp up, you drop all of your gels, you don’t sleep the night before, or your gastrointestinal system doesn’t cooperate. You muscle your way through the race and finish, but not nearly with the time you know you are capable of.
Your reasonable side reassures you that sometimes things just happen, but you worked so hard; how can you not be disappointed? You dwell on the race for a few days, thinking I don’t want to waste all of this training, and the next thing you know you are searching for another marathon in the next month so that you can run the race you were meant to.
Say you asked me for my input on this plan. “Don’t do it. Let it go, recover and get ready for the next race on your schedule,” I’d advise you. So naturally, when I found myself sick and riddled with side stitches at the Portland marathon, I had already decided that I was going to run the Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis five weeks later.
In my defense, I waited about a week or so before I actually signed up for the race. I discussed it with my coach. I reasoned that with the side stitches, I wasn’t able to really put in a hard effort anyway. In fact I wasn’t even sore after the race. I knew there was a possibility that I wouldn’t be recovered, but I figured worst case I could check another state off of my list.
I took a week off and then we repeated the last four weeks of my training cycle going into Portland. The longest run I did in those four weeks was one 15-miler that went well. I got a sports massage for the first time; my muscles felt so much lighter and looser than they had in weeks. I was feeling pretty good, but those darn stitches kept coming back during my training runs. I hoped that it was all in my head.
My husband drove to Indianapolis with me and after a quick expo stop and dinner, I actually fell asleep early and slept well. In fact, the nervousness didn’t hit me until we were walking to the starting line. I got all teared up and asked Steve if he would be disappointed if I didn’t run really well. Would he be mad if we drove all this way for me to run another crappy race? He looked at me like I was nuts, kissed me on the forehead and told me I would be great. The weather was cool and windy, about 40 degrees; perfect for a marathon.
My plan for this race was start off a little slower than 8:20 pace for the first few miles, then I would bring it down closer to 8:00 and then bring it down under 8:00-minute pace the last few miles. Goal was sub-3:30 or worst case, PR.
The first couple of miles were comfortable, 8:18 and 8:15, perfect. I saw Steve at mile 2.5 and threw my arm warmers and throw-away shirt at him as the race curved in front of a large monument. I felt the side stitch coming on and an overwhelming feeling of tiredness hit me. By mile three I stopped looking at the watch, focused on keeping the side stitches away by breathing through my belly and running on feel. Physically I wasn’t actually feeling that bad, but mentally I was in full burnout mode. I decided I was canceling my next marathon trip, telling my coach I was taking at least two months off, and that I was just going to finish this race, even if I had to walk it.
The course was relatively flat and wove through some nice neighborhoods. The crowds were sparse and the roads were in bad conditions. One guy next to me took a terrible spill when his foot caught a pothole. I’m not sure how he didn’t break his arm, but he hopped back up and kept going.
I kept running, fighting off the side stitch and just trying to get to mile 7.5 where I knew Steve would be waiting. I saw Steve’s smiling face and I gave him a bad look and said, “I’m just going finish this today, it’s not going to be a great day.”
The next few miles weren’t actually bad, but in my mind I had already thrown in the towel. At the halfway point I stopped and walked through the water stop. I remember looking at the clock and thinking I really wasn’t doing all that bad.
I struggled through the next couple of miles, mile 15 being my worst of the day. I was hoping to see Steve at mile 15, but he wasn’t able to get there on time. Going through a part of the course that was pretty quiet and had a high embankment on one side, a group of runners up ahead were having the age-old conversation:
“Go ahead without me,” said the dying runner.
“No, I’m not going to leave you,” replied his valiant training partner.
It didn’t sound quite so Disney-princess movie in real life.
As happens in all marathons once you pass into the Bermuda Triangle of the middle-later miles, people start to walk. I recognized some of these walkers as people who had blown past me earlier in the race. Something clicked. I wasn’t going to be one of these people who turned the back-half of the course into a walking disaster of pain and misery; I was going to run as hard as I could.
Before the race, my friend Amie told me that no matter what, my legs better be sore after this race. So, I pushed until my legs hurt. I started passing people left and right. I passed over 300 people on the second half of the course!
There was one guy in particular wearing a large uncomfortable-looking football jersey and breathing very loudly. (I get easily annoyed by loud breathers and loud chewers. I’m working on it.) I finally broke free of him only to find myself next to this tiny little woman who’s little tiny footsteps sounded like an elephant.
I pushed to get away from her just as we entered the Butler University Campus. It was beautiful with several good, loud groups of people cheering. I came across a photographer and attempted my second run jump of the race. The photographer and I made eye contact and I yelled, “That was weak!” He laughed. I pushed on.
I was starting to get hot, so I walked through the water stop at mile 18 to make sure I got some water dumped on my head and enough water in me. Then it was all about getting to mile 20, and once there, I told myself I could have a gel at mile 23. I walked for a second while I ate that gel, which threw me out of rhythm for a bit. I knew at that point I was running as well as I could hope for and I was proud of how I had turned the race around.
I couldn’t wait to see the look of surprise on Steve’s face when I came through mile 24 only a little slower than my “normal” marathon pace. I swore I heard someone say that the 3:40 group was coming. I wasn’t having the race of my life, but I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t stay under that 3:40 threshold (my BQ). I pushed on. When I hit mile 25 I gave it everything I had; there was no way I was letting that 3:40 group pass me. A couple waves of dizziness hit me and I thought oh no, Dill, you’re not passing out on the last mile. Mile 26 was my fastest of the day and I crossed the line in 3:38:17.
I started to cry as I spotted Steve just outside of the corral. I looked at him and said, “I’m so proud of myself.” I didn’t have a great day, but something happened on those last 11 miles; I found my legs and my passion again. I took a bad day and told it to go to hell. I negative split the back-half of the course and I finished strong. It wasn’t until I finished the race that I realized how much my bad race in Portland had gotten to me. Part of my burnout was because I was so full of self-doubt. I didn’t want to do my workouts because what was the point? I thought I had squandered my talent and fitness and wasn’t going to get it back.
So my revenge marathon did not turn out how I hoped. I didn’t come home with a 10-minute PR, but I gained something better. I came back with belief in myself. If I can take a crappy first half of a race and a crappy attitude and turn things around to BQ, imagine what I can do on a good day! I’m backing off things for awhile – no revenge of the revenge race planned! – but you better believe I’m coming back stronger than ever and I thank my revenge marathon for that.
Have you ever run a revenge race?