Soul destroyer come to me
Give me shelter or give me death
Soul destroyer envy me
Bring me solace or bring me death
These where the lyrics blasting through my ears as I approached and crossed the finish line. The incredible searing pain in my legs made me wish for solace (and almost wish for death). It was not a horrible day but it ranks high among my worst marathon performances.
I hope that my experience is a lesson to others: a Boston Qualifying time is never a given. Even with numerous prior qualifying times under your belt hard work and effort are still require . The requisite hard work and dedication is precisely what makes qualifying for the Boston Marathon so special. Most people can achieve a qualifying time but it takes a very high level of dedication, commitment, and hard work. I admire those who achieve this accomplishment.
Back in May it was my goal to run better than 3:10 to earn a Boston Qualifying time for the 2016 Boston Marathon. My wife had just qualified for the first time and I badly wanted to run the race with her. I was very far from achieving my goal. Many weeks prior to the race I told my wife, Amber, that I wasn’t going to run the necessary time. I knew it. I could feel it and I could see it in the data. Mostly I could feel it. I know when I am in shape. I’ve been running marathons for close to a decade and I can accurately predict my fitness level.
Early this year my runs did not feel good. My average times had slowed and I generally did not feel good while running. This is evident in my training log as well as my performances at the Flower City Half Marathon as well as the Spring Forward Distance Run. I was concerned as I’d never experienced anything quite like it. Those around me believed that it was in my head — it wasn’t.
A prime example of how I felt during most of my training runs was my final run prior to the race. The plan called for 5 recovery miles. It was a recovery run and so I took it very easy. Still, less than 2 miles in I felt bad — very bad. My heart was racing. I felt slightly dizzy. I felt all-around terrible. The desire to walk was unbearable and so I did walk. I walked many times.
I wasn’t happy about this but I also didn’t feel that it meant my race was doomed. I had an optimistic attitude heading into the weekend. The evening before the race was nice and relaxing. Amber creatively cooked dinner for numerous friends while it was cold and raining heavily outside. The weather forecast had a chance of rain but I stubbornly held to the belief that the weather would be good for running. I was right — it was ideal for me.
I woke up on race morning feeling extremely good. I had slept well. I kept up with my tradition and found a song about Erie, PA to start my playlist. All things outside of my control were on my side. There was only one thing that would hold me back: my lack of preparedness.
Initially I felt great and my optimism soared! I had stated the day prior that, based on my level of fitness, I expected to finish between 3:10 and 3:20. Everything had fallen into place and I was feeling great during the run so I started to think that something closer to 3:10 might be possible. Shortly after the gun went off I was incredibly surprised and elated to see that my parents had driven out the morning of the race just to cheer for Amber and me! I ran based on feel and was churning out splits that could have put me very close to 3:10. Even the plantar fasciitis that had plagued me since November of 2014 (10 months) had seemingly disappeared. There was just one problem — I wasn’t in shape to run that far at that speed. Shortly after the halfway point my splits started to slow even though I still felt fine. Then, very rapidly, things got bad. I was hurting at mile 15. By mile 18 the 3:15 pace group passed me. By mile 20 my legs were screaming in pain. My mindset went from hoping for a miracle 3:10 to hoping to be in around 3:15 to just finishing the race without walking. After one walk break more and more happen. I was determined to accomplish something that day and I did.
The last hour was torture. I finally reached the finish line with such apropos lyrics in 3:21 and “who cares how many seconds”.
The weather was perfect. I arrived well rested, had no foot pain, I felt great, there were no travel issues nor any other obstacle.There is exactly one reason why I didn’t run the race I had set out to run — I wasn’t prepared. There are things that could have made it easier for me but my choices ultimately defined my fitness on race day. Yes, there were influences outside of my control but everyone has obstacles great and small to overcome.
The members of “my group” all did extremely well — they had prepared! My wife shaved almost 4 minutes off of her existing qualification time. Her friend broke 3 hours! Our other friends were pacers who completely nailed their pace times.
For now and the near future my focus is broad — to be in better physical condition. I’m back to lifting weights frequently and I’m sleeping better. I’ve even made slight improvements to my diet (it was never all that bad). In time I’ll get back to the performance I was it. In the meantime I’m doing my best to enjoy the journey.