This bracelet tried to completely fall apart several times, I was able to put it back together with a safety pin, it held together for the race but only barely. This was my body.
Greed is the enemy of the marathon; the marathon requires a humble approach, a put your head down and work hard kind of attitude. It’s a good fit for my personality most of the time. I’m happy to grind out long training weeks and cram in as many miles as possible, keep my easy runs easy and do all the extra little things – extra mileage, extra recovery. But this time I got greedy following the Bronx 10 Miler; less than 2 weeks to race day.
Race week is usually calm for me, I don’t get particularly nervous about more than just not catching a cold. But I was terrified. The Sunday before, I attempted my last long run and had to stop several times to stretch, my back hurt, and I could feel that my glutes weren’t activating. On Monday, I woke up sore, my legs were not feeling good. I couldn’t tell if my body was hungover from the deep tissue massage or if I was truly wrecked; I also couldn’t tell if I should continue to massage it or back off and hope for the best.
I gave making it to the start line in one piece , it would take a miracle and a half but I was going to throw everything at it. I threw a hail mary and bought a Hypevolt, I took Aleeve to help reduce the inflammation and kept massaging, I ate anti-inflammatory and healing foods, I stretched regularly. Throughout the week, I continued to feel sore and none of my runs felt good. It wasn’t taper tantrums or phantom pains, I over did it and I was paying for it.
I was still a bit sore when I got off the plane on Friday so I went straight to my hotel to relax a bit and figure out a game plan for the day. I stretched out a bit, used the Hypervolt, ate, shopped then headed the expo. I was nervously excited but starting to feel a bit better. I met up with a friend and had a good time walking around, buying a few things then heading back to relax.
My hotel had a bath tub so I opted to make full use of it to help relax my muscles. I decided to stay in and rest instead of going out to dinner with friends that night. I was exhausted after getting up at 4:30 AM to catch a flight so I napped and took a second bath while waiting for Joe to get in. We got a late dinner nearby and I went to bed early after another massage.
Saturday I woke up feeling a bit better, especially knowing I had the whole day to focus on just preparing for the race. We did a quick shakeout with friends before we separated so he could finish his long run. I got coffee with a friend and we had a long conversation about everything from stomach issues with running to pumpkin spice. There are some people that just have a way of taking your mind off of feeling anxious and she’s one of those people so I was glad to hang out for as long as possible.
Afterwards I jogged over to the bean, saw the finish line then did a bit of last minute prep at Target. I realized, while on the plane, that I had forgotten my pumpkin spice clif bars. Everyone has their weird pre-race tradition and this was mine. Target had exactly one box left and that was when I knew it would maybe work out.
Race morning, I got up at 5 AM to start getting ready. The Starbucks downstairs didn’t open until 5:30 which made me a little nervous knowing I’d only have 40 min to drink the coffee and be able to let it work its (💩) magic and then hope that’s enough time pre-race to take Imodium. I wasn’t able to let my stomach hijack another 1:23 off of my marathon this time.
I left my hotel around 6:15, feeling a bit anxious about getting to the start on time and with plenty of time to check my bag, warm up and use the port-a-potty again. Joe and I walked to the start which took a little over 20 minutes. I was glad to have someone to nervously ramble at.
I got to the security line with about 40 minutes to the start of the race. I was cutting it a little close but walking there had warmed me up a bit. I changed shoes quickly, checked my bag then jogged to the corrals. I was able to get in a couple of strides and figured that was good enough, I wanted to have time to hit the port-a-potty again and not get stuck at the back of the corral.
I hopped in around 7:15 and wormed my way up to something that looked to be in between 3:10 and 3:05. I wasn’t 100% sure of how my body was going to hold up. You can’t put a bandaid on a bullet hole in the marathon, it will strip it down and reveal every weakness. I felt mentally apathetic from the get go but I let the marathon excitement carry me. I did not feel optimistic, I did not feel hopeful nor did I feel particularly bad.
We walked to the starting line, and in the words of Kanye, “the only thing that I pray is that my feet don’t fail me now”. I had a game plan, roughly 22 min 5Ks; speed up around mile 19 if feeling good. I settled in quickly with my first mile coming in at 7:08 and lining up decently with the mile marker. I came up to the first 5k right on pace and felt good about that, but still wasn’t entirely feeling it mentally. Around 40 minutes in, I hit my first mental rough patch where I just was tired. Knowing I was about to take a gel soon, I focused on that. It had caffeine, it would perk me up a bit.
Around this time I ran into a friend and we ended up running a lot of the race together since our goals were similar. At the 15k mark, I was feeling okay enough though my left foot had started to hurt and my legs didn’t feel sprightly. I felt anxious for the moment when the other shoe would drop, anticipation of that moment weighed heavily on me. I knew I could probably still manage a small PR even with a blow up but it would be miles away from what I was capable of.
11 miles in we hit a headwind and my knee began to ache. I tried to focus on anything but the pain, telling myself it’d loosen up. The crowds pulled me through and I focused on them. I had come through the 11 mile mark in 77 minutes so I was still right on pace and I wasn’t about to let that go to waste. I marched on.
At the halfway point I saw Joe out of the corner of my eye and was briefly happy again. I crossed through in 1:31:48. At mile 14 I began to feel terrible, and was in the dark place again. I was still on pace but fully started to understand what other runners call “fighting for it”. I was fighting, I was full of fear and loathing. I feared when the shoe would drop and my glute would give out, I loathed how I was feeling. I fought through it for the next couple of miles when I got to mile 16 I felt good again, briefly. I was coming up on getting to take the heavy dose of caffeine and I was fully looking forward to it. At mile 17, my mind went back to a dark place. My GPS had fully malfunctioned just after half way and I couldn’t quite figure out the mental math anymore – all of my mental energy had gone to keeping pace. I knew in 4 miles I would get to see Joe again but that seemed too far away.
I fought every mental demon possible, my knee was throbbing but I pushed my mind to another place. I thought of how hard I had worked since mile 1. I didn’t come this far, and go through this much pain to fade now. I started counting down in miles, a dangerous activity this early in the marathon.
We came up on more headwind and I felt fatigued. We hit mile 19 and I began to think of how I felt at this point in the marathon last time. I was so happy and feeling great, I tried to channel that energy here. Mile 20 felt okay but it was still years away from seeing Joe again and a lifetime away from the finish.
Mile 21 came, I scanned the crowd and threw on a smile so Joe could get some good pictures of me for “the ‘gram”. I saw him and swung over to the side to wave. It temporarily helped me keep it together but I was starting to hit a mental wall. I had slowed a bit to this point (a few seconds, so nothing to fret about) and I began calculating how slow I could still run and hit certain times. This provided a lot of relief, but did nothing for helping me keep up. My body was fatigued from pushing against the wind and my mind was slipping from trying to stay out of a dark place.
I was working so hard, I didn’t have much left to give and I could feel myself continuing to slow. I hit a mental wall as we approached mile 24; and when I clocked a 7:15 I felt discouraged. I was working so so hard. We hit 24 a few minutes later (my watch off a bit from earlier) but at least the mental math was finally easy again. 3:05 was still within reach but I could not afford to slow down. This was a kick but despite the effort I was throwing in, I could only manage 7:15 and then 7:21 for the next 2 miles.
With a ~3/4 of a mile to go, I knew I was going to make it. I kicked and kicked, I gave everything I had – we came up to the mountain that is the infamous finish line hill, the only real hill in the whole race. I didn’t think much of it except that I need to run hard. I saw a slight downhill past the hill and powered to it, knowing that was my time to kick it in. I wasn’t soaking up the energy or the crowds or even the excitement, I was emptying out the last bits of me that I had left. I saw the finish line, threw my arms up and tried to smile but I didn’t even have that left to give. I clocked a 6:48 pace for that last three-quarters, paused my Garmin then my body seized up and I could barely manage a waddle.
I finished in a state of shock and I don’t remember much else. I was in pain, a lot of pain. I had thrown a few hail marys and haphazardly stitched my body back together to make it to the start. I grabbed a beer to put another bandaid over the gaping bullet hole I had just created so I could get to my bag of warm clothes maybe just a bit quicker.
My mind carried me much further than my legs were able to. And at the end of the race, it was never about the time on the clock, it was about pouring out every last drop I poured in; pushing myself further and faster and feeling proud about the effort. I took up residency in a mental dark place for most of the race, but I pushed past it, I kept chugging along. In more ideal conditions, I could’ve run faster but it’d be a shame to dwell on that when I learned how to push past pain and discomfort, mental fatigue and that truly dark place everyone who has had a bad race has been in.