The weather was perfect. November 13, 2016 dawned clear, and cool, with crisp blue skies and brilliant sunshine. I parked the car, walked to the packet pickup area and gathered my things. I pinned number 836 to my thigh and wondered what to do next.
No lines had yet formed at the pot-a-potties, so I took advantage and completed another item from my pre-race checklist. I took my bag to the car and silently sat for a bit. This was going to be a long day, no sense in spending more time on my feet then necessary. My buddy Dave arrived and I walked with him back over to pick up his bag. We lingered together, as he completed the same tasks I had done just a few minutes earlier.
Pre-race is all hurry up and wait, minutes tick by slowly, palms get sweaty, and the conversation is often pointless and difficult.
Normally, I’d spend some time warming up, but I also normally race distances between 5 – 10k where you need to be at your race pace right from the gun. No doubt some marathoners planned to hit their stride during mile 1, but I wasn’t confident in the distance and felt it would be wise to just warm-up during the race. 26.2 miles would be quite enough for me this day.
Finally, the migration started, runners began to assemble at the start. Dave and I parted ways as we weren’t planning on running together. After a few anxious moments, then gun sounded, I hit my watch, and the race started.
In truth, the race had started months earlier, race day was more like the final exam. Did you train well for months on end varying your pace, distance, and volume? Did you procrastinate, focusing on other races and distances, only to run an 18 miler or two and declare yourself ready?
I did neither of those things.
Rather, I trained well throughout the summer and into the fall. Just as training was building into the big weeks, I lost my nerve. I was also coaching soccer and the season was in full swing. I got lazy, and my motivation waned. I started missing a workout here and there, and then I missed several in a row. Soon, I was barely running. I called it a 6-week taper.
As the actual race began and I took those first steps across the start line, I already knew my troubles were large. In reality, I was only doing the race as a form of punishment for wasting money on my registration fee. You see, I had two years ago, registered for, and then never even started the Garden Spot Marathon. Even though I had bailed on my training, I was not giving myself a free pass on skipping another marathon.
If I’m honest, I’m a bit afraid of the distance.
I tried to put a positive spin on the situation, and kept telling myself that I was simply well rested. Really well rested. But I was also realistic and knew that my goal pace of around 6:30 per mile wasn’t in the cards. I set out at a modest 7 minute pace. I was off.
The pace really was easy, but my weeks of minimal training soon began to interact with my body in unexpected ways. (I was delusional in every way possible in regards to this race, so when I say unexpected you should read expected). First, my left hip flexor began to bother me around mile 7. That is ridiculous, my hip flexors never hurt, I angrily ignored the warning.
Around mile 11, my IT band decided to let me know its location within my body, and my hip flexor was happy to have company. What worried me though, was that I was starting to feel a bit tired. In truth, early on the 7 minute mile pace had simply felt to easy, and I had begun to run miles in the 6:50 range. If I didn’t concentrate, my pace was beginning to slip, allowing a 7 or 7:05 to mix in before my mind interjected and I sped back up.
I managed to make it to the half way mark in right about one hour and 30 minutes. Surely, I could run another 13 in that time and finish right around 3 hours, maybe just under if I could handle a push at the end. Dreamland.
At this point, runners, I’d long since left behind were beginning to catch and pass me. The positive attitude I was attempting to maintain became like a puddle in the dessert, withering quickly as runners showed me their backs. I was not feeling good.
The mental energy required to hold the pace would have felt normal with only a mile or two left, but with 11 miles to go it was simply to much. I completed mile 15 and out came my parachute. My pace crumbled. My price for poor training would be 11 long miles.
In desperation, I began to do some math to calculate my time in purgatory. After each split, I knew my pace and could roughly compute the total time remaining. Sadly, my pace was slowing so dramatically, that there were several instances in which I recalculated after completing another mile, only to find that I still had nearly the same amount of time remaining. This was brutal.
My pace went from a respectable 6:53 per mile through 17.8 miles all the way to 7:42 by the finish. Over the last 8 miles I had taken 9:26 to complete each mile on average. I had dropped from 30th place after 17.8 miles all the way to 75th. My rank over the last 8.4 miles was 233rd. I finished in a time of 3:21:50.
As usual, they placed me in the female division, despite my claims at being male on my registration. I finished 5th in my age group among females. I often win races overall among females so this was quite a burn on my psyche.
As a runner, this was my worst race to date. I was unprepared, I didn’t respect the distance and I was crushed long before the finish line.
Have you ever completely failed in a race? Or completely failed in your training and then raced anyway with the predictable results?
I am racing the Pocono Marathon on May 20, 2018. The results will be different.
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