Monday, April 18, 2011

The Journey of a Marathoner

Yesterday, I ran my second marathon, Glass City, exactly 6 months after running my first marathon, Detroit Free Press. I definitely didn't planned it that way...It was 4:30a.m. and I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for Glass City, when I had the epiphany that it was exactly 6 months since I had become a marathoner. I yelled at my husband that I had just made the connection and I truly believed this held significance in my marathon journey.

To quickly recap my first marathon experience, I must remind you that it was just 13 days before our wedding...and no, that was not the initial plan. After signing up for the Detroit Free Press Marathon, my husband and I decided to move our wedding date up by 8 months. No, I wasn't pregnant, but yes, we were beyond ready to start our union. Little did I know that it would be extremely difficult to plan a wedding in just a few months while simultaneously training for my first marathon. Needless to say, I ran my first marathon with inadequate physical and mental training. (Hey, it is hard to give it your all when you are picking out bridesmaid dresses, decorations, music, flowers, and the list goes on!)

During those months of preparation, I struggled with ongoing knee pain that included interruptions in my training schedule, a cortisone injection to help me manage the pain, and significant damage to my overall self-confidence. Despite my attempts to recover and become 100% healthy, I entered the race with an injured knee and high hopes of just making it across the finish line. I won't go into further details, other than saying, my knee gave out at mile 17. I spent the last 9.2 miles, walking, jogging, and slowly running to the finish line. I survived and I was thankful for that. However, I knew that my marathon journey had only just begun.

Even through all of the physical and emotional struggles of training, I knew that I would do it all over again. I was determined to train again, this time smarter and stronger with a renewed purpose and focus. I was now happily married, so I could cross at least one obstacle off the list. I was also determined to run a spring marathon in the hopes that this goal would keep me motivated to train during the brutal Michigan winters. I entered the winter months with a sense of purpose and motivation that I never knew existed. I must admit that I had been a fair weather runner, who often abandoned her outside running during the coldest months only to return to it when the temperature began to reach about 50 or 60. This year, I stayed focus and put in the most mileage ever. To put it all into perspective, I ran just 99 miles during the first 3 months of 2010. In 2011, I ran 795 miles in the first 3 months. My goal was to not only run a better marathon, but to become a stronger runner. Yes, I've been running for over 10 years, but I admit that sometimes I lose sight of my goals. I often allow fear and self-doubt to impede my goal attainment.

Once again, I knew that maintaining consistent training during the vicious Michigan winters would provide me with not only the foundation to execute a better marathon in the spring but the confidence I needed to obtain my goal. If I could survive running in the cold, ice, and snow, I could do anything, right? Thus, consistency was the name of the game!!

When race day came, I had high hopes but I was afraid to make my expectations known. I had failed at the marathon before, I was terrified of failing again. The two weeks prior to the race, I started having knee pain that I eventually connected to my intense speed workouts. So, I decreased the intensity of my workouts and really focused on easy pace running along with strengthening and stretching my leg muscles, core, and back. The week of the marathon, I drastically reduced my mileage, visited my masseur, and made a few trips to the chiropractor. The knee pain subsided but it didn't completely disappear. I woke up on race day with minimal knee pain but it still brought back horrible memories of my first marathon. I shook off all the negative energy and I prayed that I would simply do my best. Truth be known, I was hoping for a 3:35-3:40 marathon which would qualify me for the 2012 Boston Marathon.

The morning of the race, I made 3 trips to the bathroom which reduced the amount of time for my warm-up. I started the race with not even a mile of warm-up, but I held on to my self-confidence. I knew that I was ready. I thought about all of the long runs in the 0 degree temps, my 20-mile training run on a treadmill (that's just torture), and all my preparation until that day. After a brief stock of my training over the last 4 months, I continued my running, thinking, "just give it all you got."

I started out the race fairly conservative and I managed to stay with the 3:40 pacing group for the first 11 miles of the race. At mile 11, I had bathroom issues that I could not defer any longer. I had to stop but in the process, I lost a good 3-4 minutes of time. Right after my bathroom stop, I saw my running mentor, Tom. I was surprised and thankful to see him. He provided me with some much needed encouragement and motivation while he ran with me for about a half mile. I let him know that I had been staying with the 3:40 pacing group until my bathroom break. He told me that I could easily catch up with them. At that point, I started putting in 7:30 miles so I could catch up to the pace group.

At mile 16, Tom found me again. This time he had on shorts and was ready to go. We ran about 3 miles together, passing up the 3:40 pacing group. My splits were back to 7:30s and 7:40s. I felt stronger than ever. Tom told me that I looked great. He reminded me of my 60-70 mile training weeks and told me that I was ready for this day. It was exactly what I needed to hear. At mile 20, I started to slow down, I was afraid I couldn't manage the pace for another 6.2 miles. I began to doubt myself once again. There was no running mentor or friend to boost my confidence and encourage me the rest of the way. At mile 22, I really lost steam and was hovering around an 8:45 pace. I tried to adjust my ponytail and my hair tie broke. I had to finagle it back together while running in the wind. Have you seen all of my hair? There was no way I was running another 4 miles without my ponytail! :) Miles 23 and 24, I was just hanging on for dear life. I needed some motivation at that point!! Where's Tom when you need him the most? I just couldn't push myself. Physically, I was a little tired, but it was definitely the mental barriers that were holding me back!! Plus, that wind started to get brutal again!! It was smacking me in my face and literally pushing me around. At mile 25, I stuck with my mantra, "just give it all you got." I ran mile 26 at a 7:42 pace, my second fastest mile of the race. My official time was 3:38:41, an hour and 13 minutes faster than my last marathon. I had met my goal and qualified for Boston.

Lessons were learned during this race and I definitely have room to grow. However, I have to say that I was humble and proud to run across that finish line knowing that I had achieved my goal!!