My Marathon that Almost Didn’t Happen
(Or at least not the way I’d planned)
There are two points I must stress as I introduce this piece:
1. Marathoners LOVE to talk about their marathons.
2. Whether I run to cover a marathon distance or just to jog around the block, I run to get out of my own head.
Funny enough, this is a story about how both of the above-noted points played against me.
Between 2008 and early 2016, I successfully completed 10 full marathons, two of them being the Holy Grail that is Boston in 2014 and 2015.
It has been an embarrassment of riches - running has been very good to me. It has opened up my mind to possibilities I hadn’t previously considered. I’ve met folks, forged friendships, and enjoyed experiences I’d otherwise have missed.
In November 2016, I set out to complete the NYC marathon. It had been on my bucket list for years. Through the lottery, I’d managed to secure myself a spot. On that fateful day, I set out from Staten Island to just give’er and make it through the 5 burroughs of The Big Apple.
Long story short, with less than 5kms to go in the run, I suffered a health issue and had to leave the course.
This isn't meant to be an article about my health, however. I'll tell you this, though: my pride suffered more than my body in the days and weeks following the race. I’m not going to lie. My confidence took a serious shit-kicking. So whether I made the decision or the decision was made for me, it was nonetheless time to take a break and regroup.
But that’s not the story I want to share today. It’s merely in print to provide a little bit of background and context.
So here’s another long story short: it took me almost 4 years before I set out to run another marathon. And I’m happy to say that with the support of my good friend Victoria, on October 17, 2020, I was able to go the marathon distance in my home community. It wasn’t an official event or anything, but I covered the full 42.2km and got that monkey off of my back.
But that’s not the story I want to tell either.
Let me bring this story into focus and a little bit closer to present day.
I decided to register for another full marathon. Or let me be a bit more honest: Two of my friends decided they’d like to run the Fredericton Marathon in May 2022; and I decided I wanted to be a part of it.
We may have been a little bit ambitious.
Ok, maybe I was a little bit ambitious.
We decided on a training plan for a 3 hour and 50 marathon time. Beginning mid-January 2022, we committed to three runs a week: speed work on Tuesdays, tempo runs on Thursdays, and long steady runs on Saturdays.
A 3:50 marathon means the runner intends to run no slower than a 5:27 mins/km pace on race day. It also means that if successful, for our collective age/gender groups (for myself, that’s as a 48 year old female), a Boston Qualifying time is assured (it doesn’t necessarily guarantee the runner a spot at the Boston Marathon, but it does earn the runner the eligibility to apply).
I won’t speak for my awesome training partners. They each have their own story to tell and I won’t begrudge them that opportunity.
I will say that, speaking only for myself, I ought to have known better and trained for the distance, not the time.
But like dreams, people who don’t have goals don’t have much. And a training plan is the perfect place to start. I would tell anyone that! I would also say that plans, like dreams and goals, ought to have a little bit of room for flexibility. You want to enjoy the journey, not dread it.
Suffice it to say, I thoroughly enjoyed our training plan. It was hard! And I pleasantly surprised myself more than once by sticking with it and coming dangerously close to meeting my targets on a fairly consistent basis. What’s more, I enjoyed the structure of having a plan - of having a guide to follow and people to share it with. Partners are the best motivation. The combination of the two kept me committed and moving - and much to my surprise, injury-free. And what a way to get through a long and cold winter!
So while my body cooperated, my mind had doubts - and I mean wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-panic-attack level doubts.
Running is a physical sport, no question. And marathon running has a strong mental component as well. You train your body to cover the distance… and you need to train your mind to keep you convinced that you can keep going.
That’s where I came up short.
And that’s on me.
I won’t belabour how I stressed myself out about whether or not I could finish - particularly during the three weeks leading up to the event. I knew my body could cover the distance… but I didn’t trust the pace I’d trained at and I didn’t trust that I would not choke.
In essence, I’d convinced myself I wasn’t capable before I even hit the start line.
The week before the race, I did everything right: I ate well, slept well, hydrated well, and resisted the urge to introduce anything new into my regimen.
And on race day, I instantly sabotaged myself from the time the clock started - I set out too fast.
I had trained for a 5:25 pace, but I went out of the gate at 5:10. That speed would have been great for a half marathon! But I knew I could not sustain that pace for long - not if I wanted to finish.
I knew I had to slow down. But I was torn between feeling good… and feeling stupid. I couldn’t decide if I was letting my body lead or if I was running for my life. I was running alongside Victoria who just looked so natural and so in the zone. Yet her pace is not my pace and we both knew it. When we could no longer chat or exchange words comfortably, it was time to pack it in.
By the time I hit the 17k mark, I slowed down... and that’s when things started to hurt and my breathing became laboured. I knew my heart rate was higher than it ought to have been and I knew in my heart that 42.2 was beyond my reach that day. I was making my body work too hard. So as I crossed the 20k mark at a 5:45 pace, I committed to making what was supposed to be my return to the full marathon a respectable half marathon instead.
I lowered the hammer and ran with what dignity I had left, crossing the 21.1k half marathon finish line in 1:50:40.
Then I thought to myself “Shit… Had I planned on doing a half, I could have gone faster!”
I got my medal, I went to the chip timing station to vainly ensure that my finishing time reflected the correct distance, and then I hauled my sorry arse into the medic tent just to make sure my heart and body parts were ok.
And I’m convinced they were simply because I’d stopped.
So… it was not the race I’d wanted. I still have some demons to exorcize.
But I’ll tell you - I had the honour and pleasure to watch my friends cross the finish line while I stood there sobbing like a proud mama bear. I didn’t feel bad for me - I felt great for them. I got to enjoy the atmosphere without the pressure I’d been needlessly putting on myself.
And then… 5 days later, on Friday the 13th of May, without telling anyone what I was doing, I ran a marathon in my home community.
It wasn’t the race course for which I’d signed up, nor the pace at which I’d trained. There was no chip timing, no crowd, no start and finish line, no medal.
But there was also no pressure.
It was just me, my demons, my playlist on my iPhone, and a snack bag of Skittles.
To borrow from Ol' Blue Eyes, I did it my way.
So, to confirm Point # 1, I had to write it down - marathoners just LOVE to talk about their marathons. Case in point. In this particular case, however, talking about and planning for it caused me some stress that I was not equipped to handle.
Regarding Point #2, if running really does allow me to get out of my own head, then why was I allowing myself to stress about it?
Like being on this side of the dirt, running is a privilege. If there is one thing the last 6 years have taught me, it's that my body needs to lead. My mind can interject, motivate and question, but when it comes to physical activity, my body is the boss.
Running is my stress-reliever - it ought not be a stress-inducer.
The cure need not be the cause.
Wherever your travels take you, happy running.
About the Creator
Ms. Carroll is a 40-something year-old veteran public servant and mother of three adult children. She and her partner Hal live in Amherst NS with a sweet, anxiety-ridden rescue dog. Shelley loves running, red wine, and laughter.
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