Why Running a Marathon Makes You Cry
I don’t write personal race recaps. I can’t imagine who would want to read them.
There’s something deeply personal to me about what goes on in my own head during a race. Most often I prefer to keep it to myself (and a small circle of friends).
That said, I’ve never been so public about a goal before. I announced it at the beginning of the year and repeated it during webinars with Jessie from The Right Fits. Many of you knew I was trying to qualify for Boston.
I dreaded the thought of reporting back that I missed it. One runner (Jon) recognized me during the race. “You’re the Minneapolis Running guy trying to BQ, right? Me too! In many ways, all of you helped motivate me.
It was out there. I’ll spare you the drama and just say that I made it. I want to share a bit of how I fared during the race, three things I learned, and something weird that happened at the finish.
Overcoming a Cold, Slow Start
If you ran the 2014 Twin Cities Marathon or 10 mile, you know how cold it was at the start. I purchased a 2XL sweatshirt and sweatpants from the Goodwill that I wore right up until they told us to toe the line. Best $3 ever!
Needing 3:10 to qualify for Boston (7:15 pace), I lined up between the 3:05 and 3:15 pacers. The whole group ran slow the first mile.
Molasses slow. Mile 1 was 8:10. I planned to go out slower than goal pace, but not that slow.
Lesson 1 – Don’t Panic
Rather than panic (like usual) and try making up that time immediately, I stayed relaxed. I realized I had 25.2 miles to recover those 55 seconds.
The pace bounced around the next few miles, but eventually I found it.
Finding and Sticking to a Pace
Miles 4 – 10 were pretty steady. I ran 5 – 10 seconds faster than goal pace. I tried to get comfortable and forget about it until half way. I felt awesome!
Lesson 2 – Don’t change the Race Plan Before Halfway
Even though I felt great, I stuck to my race plan, holding my pace. At times, I had to force myself to slow down. This was new for me, and ultimately I think what helped me hit my goal.
The Half Way Mark
I rolled into the half marathon mark at 1:34:49 – 11 seconds faster than an exactly perfect half split. I had another brief moment of panic (Lesson 1), because this meant I couldn’t slow down at all during the rest of the race.
If I slowed down 1 second per mile, I would miss my goal by just 3 seconds.
It was around this point that I found Jon, Steve and a few others, all trying to break 3:10 en route to Boston. Somewhere on west river road, I declared, “It’s our day!” as we decided to help each other get to the finish.
Signs of Fatigue
Crossing the Franklin bridge near mile 19, I was right on pace.
As I looked to my right, down the river at the sky, trees and water, I had this overwhelming rush of emotion wash over me. It was the first time I thought, “I might actually do this!”
All those runs with the baby jogger… 5 am workouts in the dark… running twice a day… going to bed early and skipping weekend fun stuff may pay off.
I could feel my eyes starting to tear up thinking about the enormity of this until my quad started throbbing. Taking a deep breath, I ignored it and we pushed on, hitting miles 19, 20 and 21 at exactly 7:08.
At this point, I was getting nervous. Two looping conversations began playing in my head.
You’re not going to make it! Those hills coming up will shut you down like they do every time. Get ready for the crippling cramps!
Shut up idiot! You’re strong and you are fit. Trust the training. Let the pain move you forward…
…and on and on.
Lesson 3 – Energy Conservation
Knowing we had just banked a little time, I could slow down going up those hills and be OK. Instead of trying to power up them, I backed off the pace a touch. This is the first time during a race I had done this on purpose.
Getting to The Summit
After climbing the hills before St. Thomas like a Himalayan Sherpa, I turned the corner on Summit and took off. For half a mile I felt like I could run 6:30’s the rest of the way.
I finished mile 22 and 23 both at 7:23 pace. Hmmm… Not good.
I again started to panic (Lesson 1), but calmed down long enough to do some quick marathon math.
Realizing I had to run the final 5k in roughly 23 minutes, I felt more confident. If I could just hold this 7:23 pace, I will break 3:10.
The problem was my legs. They felt like they might cramp up at any moment. I had two choices;
- Crumple on the ground in pile of misery.
- Run faster.
That was a turning point for me. This was the mental battle that I had always fought and lost so many times. Somewhere along Summit avenue in St. Paul Minnesota, my brain told my body to run faster… and it listened.
Mile 24 was a 7:06. I don’t remember mile 25 or 26. All I know is that my brain kept winning the emotional and physical battle that too often crushes dreams in those final miles. I ran 7:15 and 7:08.
The next thing I remember was flying down cathedral hill and sprinting towards the finish.
Crashing into the arms of an EMT (who took this picture – thanks Chad), my watch read 3:09:33… 27 seconds to spare.
Here are the splits.
- 6:00 (that was the .2)
When Finishing Makes you Cry
As I stumbled down the finish chute, past the chips, chocolate milk and cups of broth, I stopped for a delirious finisher picture. It suddenly dawned on me…
I just qualified for the Boston Marathon…
Realizing how long I’ve been thinking, planning and training for this… I rounded the corner towards the sweats area when something weird happened. That pent up emotion and expectation of the past 12 months wanted to get out.
I started sobbing uncontrollably.
Covering myself with the foil blanket, I just sat on the concrete balling.
It’s not like I won the race.
I didn’t make it to the Olympics or win any prize money. I wasn’t running for my country or a loved one who passed away (but I was running for CaringBridge).
Last year, I had no expectations. Just a good training cycle and hoping to “do my best.” This may have been the first time in my life I’ve attempted something that was beyond what I thought possible.
When you dare to set an audacious goal, and overcome a mountain of self doubt to achieve it, this must be what happens.
I pulled myself together, got my bag, changed into warm dry clothes, called my wife and started the whole sobbing mess over again.
To the kind volunteer who asked if I was OK – I’m sorry I brushed you off, but yes… yes I am very OK.
Has anything like this ever happened to you? I know there are tons of great stories out there. Maybe it was your first significant race, or smashing a goal you had set. I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.