Sunday, May 27, 2012

My secret marathon

In 2008, after I injured my hip, I promised myself I would not run more than 1 marathon a year, ever again.  I truly believed I would keep that promise.  Until about 3 hours after completing the Long Island Marathon on May 8.  The race didn't go as planned and I was extremely disappointed.  I tried to still be proud of the effort, but in all honesty, I really was not. My finishing time itself did not bother me as much as my failure to mentally stay in the race.  I wanted a do-over.

So the next day, I started researching marathons.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) there are not many marathons during the summer months.  The only one I really considered in the Northeast was the Key Bank Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vermont, scheduled for today, just 3 weeks after the Long Island Marathon.

Well, if there is any question about how this story ends, today I finished my 10th marathon in Burlington, Vermont. 

I kept the race a bit of a secret, so as not to add any pressure, all of which comes 100% from myself.  I told my running friends who I knew would be supportive, as I didn't need anyone other than myself questioning my decision. I told my parents, just in case anything went wrong.  I told some Run for the Memory colleagues, as running the races meant bailing on a prior commitment; thanks for covering for me guys!  And I told my long time running partner Brenna, and asked her to serve as my copilot, and luckily for me, she accepted.

I assumed if I ever broke my promise not to run more than 1 marathon a year, I would run them several months apart.  I was concerned about the physical impact running 2 marathons in 3 weeks would have on my body.  But I was also concerned about what the mental impact would be if I did not run.  I needed to prove to myself I was tough enough to hang in there for all 26.2 miles.  "I want to do this" beat out "I'm crazy" and at 8am today I was standing at the starting line.

Over the last 3 weeks, while my mileage was light, I put in a lot of time thinking through how I was going to correct the brain games that defeated me a few weeks ago.  I tried to remember what I how I felt and what I thought about during my last race that contributed to what I call my "unravelling".  I researched hitting the wall - what causes it and what helps prevent it.  Often, it is the lack of glycogen available to the brain that keeps a runner from doing what her body is still capable of doing.  I realized I can't go 4 hours sitting at a computer without a snack, WHAT would make me think I could think clearly at mile 19 with just 8 jelly beans since breakfast?!

So my goals were clear: 1) Take in enough food during the race to be able to think clearly and 2) Stay positive and focused, especially from miles 18-24.  Physically, I had no expectations; I had never run 2 marathons so close together and I did no know what to expect.  I had a time goal in mind, that was mostly to give me a reasonable place to focus.  As it turns out, it was completely reasonable for the first 15 miles.

Mile 15 through just about 17 was the longest hill on the course.  I expected my pace to drop during those miles.  I did not expect the cramps that began shortly thereafter.  They started and remained most vicious in my calves, but did not ignore my quads, adductors and even my toes.  But I kept going.  Slowly.  Aside from walking through a few water stops to ensure the water and gatorade actually went in my mouth and not down my chest, I only walked once when the cramps got so bad I was uncertain about my foot plant and was afraid I would turn an ankle.  As soon as the muscles loosened a bit, I was back at it. 

I finished the marathon today in 3:59:36, a minute slower than I finished the Long Island Marathon.  But it was by far my better race.  I never once did not think I would finish and never wanted to quit. One day my my body and mind will show up for the same race.  Until that race, or maybe even after, today's Vermont City Marathon will remain one of my best races ever.

Pre-race, by Lake Champlain. An amazing view, but probably the last time I noticed it.


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