It's not a good thing that I knew what the title of this blog post would be at mile three in Sunday's SF Marathon. I tried to be optimistic, turn that frown upside down and tell myself that it could still turn around and be a fast day at the races. But, the truth was, I just knew. I've run enough that usually from the very beginning of a run (and definitely by mile three) I know how things are going to go.
For some reason, from the starting line of this run, my legs just had nothing to give me - they just felt heavy and slow. The first seven miles were particularly uncomfortable as I had added a second insole into my shoes the morning of the race because I'd been feeling like my shoes were a bit big. Conventional wisdom on marathons tells you not to do anything new on race day - same food, same clothes, etc. So, new insoles definitely defied conventional wisdom and my toes paid the price (I currently have two fewer toenails than I did when I started the race). I sat on the curb at mile seven and pulled out and trashed the extra insoles. My toes thanked me, but it did nothing for my thighs which were quite clearly going to be the limiting factor on this run.
I've never given so much genuine consideration to how much I wanted to just bail on a race, but after a little heart to heart with myself, reminding myself that my friend Brad was slugging it out behind me, I decided that it would be better to be DFL than DNF. There are valid reasons to drop out of a race, but because it's not my day and the running just feels crappy just isn't a good enough reason. I tried to figure out why my legs felt so crappy - could it have been the cookie and raisinette diet regimen I followed during the movie marathon (Harry Potter and Die Hard) the day before the race? The fact that I completely discounted the terrain of the race and did all of my training on flat surfaces? The fact that even though I'd done many long runs in training, I'd never really felt like I got into a good groove (I had thought this had a lot to do with the 90-degree temperatures in Boulder)? Nothing I could come up with could really explain why I just felt crappy from the very first step. I just had to chalk it up to the fact that some days you have bad runs, and it's just a serious bummer if that happens on race day. But, as the title of my blog points out, it is what it is.
So, I decided to think of the run more as a character building experience than an opportunity for a PR (in the end, I was about 35 minutes off my PR). I just had to accept that sometimes a race wasn't going to be about how fast I could get from A to B, but rather that I simply continued to put one foot in front of the other and got from A to B. I tried to enjoy the fact that I was running in SF along some of my favorite running routes (across the bridge, down by Baker beach, Chrissy Field, through Golden Gate Park.)
There were a couple of good moments during the run - like when I missed the 23 mile marker and was so hopeful that the next sign I saw coming would say "mile 24" (it did) that I promised I would consider the possibility that there is a god (I'm pretty much an atheist, but as my friend Amy noted to me afterwards "There are no atheists in foxholes". Perhaps the same is true of distance runners.
In the end, I spent most of my time just focusing on ticking off the miles and thinking about how I was going to train differently for next year's SF Marathon. While I have been working on staying more in the moment, I felt that this occasion warranted an exception as it seemed that there was little I could do to improve my lot in the current race, and focusing on the next race distracted me a bit from the present situation which just wasn't that pleasant.
I've always found running to be a good way to clear my head, make some goals and formulate a plan, so, in the end, that's what I came out of Sunday's marathon with - a training plan for the year until next years marathon. A few key take-aways:
*Lose the 10+ pounds I've known I need to lose (according to a recent Runner's World article, this should shave almost 20 minutes off my marathon time)
*Train on hills
*Get out to the track (I've always avoided track work, but, usually the thing we avoid is the thing we most need to do in these kinds of situations. I avoid it because I'm bad at it, but until I practice going fast, I'm not going to race fast).
*Measure and analyze. I didn't time myself on any of my training runs this time around, just saying that I didn't want the pressure of time, just wanted to get back into a groove, blah, blah, blah. In the end, what this meant was that my training was more random than it should have been, I wasn't really adjusting training to make improvements and come race day I really had no idea what to expect in terms of pace or overall time. As the title of a book I saw but never read proclaims: Hope is not a strategy. Next time around I want a strategy based on hard numbers and real planning.
*Get on the bike. My best running has happened when I've been doing a lot of cycling for cross training. Time to dust my bike off, get it tuned up and start exploring the hills of Boulder.
I've got a bit over a year (next year's race is August 3) and I'm very fired up. I had been looking for a serious fitness goal and I've found two - first, to qualify for Boston marathon at SF marathon next year (this will be a pretty ambitious goal, but, I'm kind of in the mood/needing a really ambitious goal) and second, to do the SF marathon every year until I turn 50 (that will give me 15 consecutive SF marathons, 16 overall).
So, in spite of this race not going as I had hoped, I'm glad I did it. I finished with no real injuries, I know that marathons are still something I can and want to do (this was my fourth one, but my first since having Q), I got to spend time in my favorite city catching up with many dear friends and eating (too much?) amazing food, and I'm fired up with some new goals.