Well, after training that went south for the last month before the big day I knew deep down that CIM was probably not going to be the knock-it-out-of-the park, frosting on the end of a great year cake I wanted it to be.
My attitude tanked and my body seemed to take two steps back for every mile I ran forward. My naggy left hamstring ache has blossomed into a full-on issue, tightening up and hurting on runs to a point where I can barely lift my leg, let alone maintain anything close to race pace. I ran very little during taper with the hope that rest would at least allow me to finish the whole 26.2 miles.
During taper, I came to a few conclusions. One being that it has been a great year of racing and running and that I’ve enjoyed it immensely, and that one race could not erase the previous four successful races I’ve accomplished. Additionally, I decided I wanted to have fun and enjoy CIM no matter how the race ended up. In that light, then, CIM was a success.
I traveled down to Sacramento with my coach and two running buddies for a three-day, two-night road trip. How can I sum up all the hilarity that ensued? Happy hour margaritas, a loud jazz bar, a morning shake-out with two miles at pace (6:38/6:49) where my legs felt good, the expo where I picked up the CUTEST race shirt I’ve ever gotten. Coach and I hit up Costco to load up on cheap liquor to take home to Oregon where you can only buy hard alcohol in a liquor store (1.75 liters of Skyy vodka for $17? Score!), a trip to the sketchiest Good Will ever for throwaway pants, then a delicious pasta dinner and a good night’s sleep before race morning.
Coach drove us to the start, we warmed up (strides felt so fluid and I felt a twinge of sadness for what might’ve been), then we snapped a pre-race selfie and walked to our spots under a rosy sunrise. I went out with the 3:08 pace group, hoping to stay with them as long as I could until my legs started to tighten to the point of no return. Each six-mile split was a gradual and steady decline from the 7:03 pace for the first 10k as my hamstring tightness spread and I crossed the finish line in 3:23:20. My second-fastest marathon but a long way off from the paces I’ve hit on long runs for the past year.
I smiled the entire way and when I knew that a fairy tale PR was for sure out of reach mid-race, I instead did all the things I never do while racing. I high-fived all the little kids, I walked through several water stops and drank the whole Dixie cup of water without inhaling any into my nose, I chortled at signs and took donut holes and licorice from strangers who promised they weren’t poisoned, and I focused on the spectators, who read my name and shouted it out in encouragement. I made jokes with any of my fellow racers who weren’t wearing earbuds. The seasons seem to be about six-weeks behind in Sacramento so the fall leaves are still beautiful and bright, especially interspersed with palm trees, and I soaked up the natural beauty too.
At the end I found Coach for a big hug and the news that my buddy Sam broke 3:00 and Ryan finished in 3:12. We popped some bubbly in the room for a little celebration of the sub-3:00 then hit the road for home.
I had fun at CIM, that is indisputable. In all the pictures that my coach took during the race and all the official race pictures that showed up in my email I am smiling. In. Every. Single. One. Under that smile, of course, is some disappointment as well as some soul-searching about my priorities and physical limits and whether my goals are attainable or if my results are worth all the sacrifice that goes into training so hard. Under that smile is fear about this hamstring thing and what effect that will have on my running, because even with no big race on the calendar for next year running is my sanity and happy place.
Under that smile is uncertainty about what is next and how to fill in the gaps that not training will open up as well as relief that I won’t be on a schedule anymore, too. Sigh. So begins a new chapter.