For the second spring in a row, I started a marathon expecting to finish in a time of somewhere around 3:05 and ended up disappointed. Both years I trained very hard. Both years I adjusted my expectations a little for the weather conditions. Eerily similar were these two starts. That is where the similarity stops.
Spring of 2012
Last April, I knew from the beginning of the Knoxville Marathon that something was terribly wrong. I could not figure out what it was, but running just seemed much more difficult than it should have been. I ended up with my first DNF (did not finish) and I was devastated. What is worse, I continued to get more and more weak for months. It wasn’t until September that I figured out what was wrong. I had suddenly developed gluten intolerance.
Fall of 2012
I had managed to put in some training before being diagnosed in mid-September, but that training was limited in terms of distance and intensity. I ran the 7 Bridges Marathon just about 4 weeks after going on a gluten-free diet. I went into that race with little to no expectations other than giving it a good try and hope to finish strong. The gluten-free diet made a big difference. Even though my longest training runs included only one 15 miler and one 20 miler, I was able to finish the 7 Bridges Marathon. I set a personal record with a time of 3:22:44, beating my previous PR by 4 minutes and 42 seconds. At 45 years old, that was good enough to qualify me for the Boston Marathon. Even with this triumph I knew that I had a long way to go before I was fully recovered from my illness. I ran the first half of the race at a 7 minute pace per mile and cramped throughout the second half. I would struggle, stop to stretch, jog for a while and start the cycle again. I ended up averaging around a 7:44 pace. This is not the ideal marathon strategy.
My training for the 2013 Shamrock Marathon was much more consistent, intense, and thorough. I used the Hansons Marathon Method, training as if I were planning to run at a 6:40 pace per mile. I carefully followed all of their guidelines and I could tell that I was faster than ever. If all elements were perfect, I should have been able to run a marathon in less than 3 hours. The variables that could go wrong included the weather and my gut. As for the weather, it ended up being a little cold, very humid, and very windy. For this I adjusted my expectations from a 6:40 pace to a 7:00 pace. As for my gut, however, this had been left untested. Without actually running a marathon, there was no way to know whether I could digest enough calories to provide the energy necessary to maintain a 7 minute pace for the full 26 miles. At the 7 Bridges Marathon 6 months before, I started having issues at around mile 16. The question was how much farther I would go before it hit me during the Shamrock Marathon.
Now at the Shamrock Marathon, I managed to maintain close to a 7 minute pace until I hit the really strong headwinds on the boardwalk. That slowed me down and followed us over to Atlantic Avenue. Six miles of headwind gradually wore me down, but I was still thinking positive. I believed that if my gut was healed enough, I would be able speed up later after the headwind died down. At mile marker 18, I had averaged 7:10 per mile. I had trained to run a 6:40 pace, so I thought I still had a shot at finishing in 3 hours and 5 minutes. By mile marker 22, I moving even slower and I was even more worn out. The headwinds had started up again and my legs were beginning to threaten to cramp. Each time I began to speed up just a bit, my legs would begin to twitch. I knew this feeling all too well. If I pushed it, I would cramp up. If I pushed hard, the muscles would cramp hard enough to injure me. It was time to reset my expectations.
By the time the headwinds faded around mile 22.5, I knew it was time to cut my losses and just manage. My gut had not been able to process all of the energy gels that I had managed to swallow throughout the race. I need to manage my effort to get the most speed out of my legs without cramping up. For the final 3.8 miles it was no longer about the pace that my Garmin told me. It was about the listening to my legs. I rode the line between just enough and too much all the way to the finish line. My calf gave the first full cramp with only about 100 yards to the finish line. I grimaced, calmed myself, relaxed the calf, and jogged the last 100 yards. I finished with a time of 3:13:22, about 10 minutes slower than ideal.
A New PR and a New Kind of PR
To tell you the truth, I REALLY wanted to finish in less than 3:05:00. This is the young man’s standard to qualify for Boston. That is just a pride issue, however. I can get that some other time. Yes, finishing the Shamrock Marathon in 3:13:22 meant that I had beaten my personal record by 9 minutes and 22 seconds. That is great, but that is not the victory that I am celebrating. First, I am celebrating that my gluten issue seems to be less of an issue as my gut heals. I am hoping that it will not be a factor in my next marathon later this year. Beyond this, I am celebrating something even bigger. I am celebrating an emotional victory.
Even though several things did not go my way, I never let them get to me emotionally.
- I did not lose hope when I knew the humidity went up. I adjusted my expectations.
- I did not lose hope when the wind pushed into my face more miles on end. I adjusted my expectations and pressed on.
- I did not lose hope when my legs threatened to cramp. I adjusted my expectations, listened to my legs, and coasted in as best as I could.
If I had pushed too hard against any one of these issues, I most certainly would have ended up sidelined by severe cramping. I would have either walked it in or DNFed. But I didn’t. Not this time. The thing I am most proud of is focusing on what I could control and letting go of what I could not control. Because of this, I know for a fact that I did the very best that I could. For me, those adjustments are a new kind of PR. They represent a personal record in staying positive and enjoying the run. Now THAT is worth the trip to Virginia Beach and all of the training that came before it.
Train hard. Race easy. Enjoy the run!
The Gift of Running,by P. Mark Taylor, is available in both paperback & e-book
- Paperback Version – Amazon.com $9.00
- Ebook Version – Kindle Store $2.99
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