Marathon Blues

What if I told you that you could take up running from scratch in June, run your first marathon in October, then run your second marathon three months later, and finish a full fifteen minutes faster than your first?  You’d probably feel pretty good about yourself, wouldn’t you?  And you should, because that would make you normal. As for me, I’m pretty upset at my performance in this past Sunday’s Carlsbad Marathon.  Sure, I shaved fifteen minutes off my time.  Sure, it was only three months after my last marathon.  Sure, I’ve only been running for nine months.  Who cares?  I missed my goal time by a wide margin.

Somewhere back in June when I started this ridiculous running odyssey, I got in my head that I should be able to run a marathon at a ten-minute mile pace.  That translates roughly to a 4:20 marathon.  Why a ten-minute pace?  No reason, other than it was a round number and seemed like an aggressive, but do-able goal.

I trained for the first marathonaround that pace –reading every running guide I could get my hands on.  On the day of that race, there was a freakish heat spell in Healdsburg, and I knew by the half-way mark that I wasn’t going to finish at 4:20 or better.  The last 13-miles became about survival.  At the end, I was proud of “just finishing” – it was my first marathon, it was hot, and they ran out of water on the course (yes, really).  I fell well short of my goal time, but I was still happy for making it through.

Within a couple of days of that finish, I wanted to try again - and signed up for the Carlsbad Marathon.  Carlsbad is in late January (no chance of a heat spell) and is known for being a pretty flat course.  I trained harder and faster for this race – running all of my long training runs at a 9:45 or better pace.  It wasn’t easy, but I got them done.

So, come Sunday as we waited in a very cold, very dark starting line listening to Ms. Carlsbad warble through the Star Spangled Banner, I felt confident that I could pull off my 4:20. 

And I did – until mile 20. 

Looking at my splits after the race (my pace for each mile recorded on my running watch) was like reading a textbook on “hitting the wall” or “bonking”.  Right at mile 20, I started to slow down.  The more I slowed down, the harder I worked to try to keep the pace.  This, of course, made me slow down even more.  I went from a 9:50 mile to a 10:30 mile to a 12:00 mile – and the entire time I felt I was working harder and harder to just keep my legs moving.

Bonking, in and of itself, isn’t why I’m upset.  I’m upset because I became too narrowly focused on my 4:20 finishing time.  By mile 23 when it became clear that I just wasn’t going to make a 4:20 time, I slowed down even more.  It was incredibly difficult –both mentally and physically – to keep pushing myself at any sort of reasonable pace to keep going once my goal was beyond my reach.  As I continued to do the math in my head and see a potential 4:25 and then a potential 4:30 finishing time slip by, I just lost my cool altogether.

At that moment, I no longer really cared about even finishing.  I could justify being slow on the first race, but after all that extra training I just couldn’t believe that I was going to fail so miserably.  Somewhere between mile 24 and mile 25 I officially gave up.  I looked at Kerith and said something like, “what’s the point of continuing to push.  At this point, I don’t care whether I finish at 4:40 or 4:50.  It’s irrelevant – I’m so far off my mark it just doesn’t matter” (and, yes this is the edited version.  Those of you who know me well can imagine the more colorful language I employed).

I basically walked/shuffled the last mile or so, and we crossed the line right around the 4:45 mark.  Fifteen minutes faster than my first marathon.  Twenty five minutes slower than what I had trained for.

It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback.  But in the light of the day, here’s why I’m upset at myself:  I know that I could have finished that race somewhere between 4:35 and 4:40.  I still would have been well short of my goal time, but it would have been five to ten minutes faster than what I actually did.  Physically I had it in me to do it, but mentally I was just too focused on the 4:20 goal.  As that slipped farther and farther away, I just stopped caring.  And I gave up.

I’m embarrassed that I couldn’t see the big picture at some point during those last few miles and focus on taking some pride in finishing the race in my best possible time.   Instead I threw an adult version of a temper tantrum and made things even worse.

For those of you waiting for the wine related tie-in or punch line – sorry, I don’t have one.  I thought of a few, but they seemed trite and hackneyed.  Instead, you’ll just have to excuse my indulgence of using this post as an outlet for my venting and for proclaiming mea culpa. 

If nothing else, I’m putting this up online so that I can go back and read it before the next race.  Hopefully, it’ll remind me to relax, have fun, and just do my best.  And that is an important goal we should all aspire to.