Welp, it’s taken me about 6 weeks to get around to writing this post because, quite frankly, for a while I would rather have forgotten about what happened on October 12, 2014. It was a day I’d looked forward to for years, ever since I started running and came to the realization that “Someday, I’ll be a marathoner.”
Technically, yes, I can now consider myself a marathoner. Technically. But 2:17:43 is a far cry from the sub-2:10 debut for which I trained tirelessly for months on end. Could I have been more conservative and shot for 2:12 or 2:13 instead? Yes. But I wanted to strive for greatness. For me, the pursuit of greatness was worth the risk of failure. Sometimes you have to give up the good to go for the great. I certainly don’t mean to scoff at a 2:17 marathon – it’s a respectable time. Truth be told, though, running 2:17 on a pancake flat course in good conditions isn’t going to make me an Olympian. What did it do? It made me realize that a marathon isn’t over until you reach the finish line. You don’t get to stop at 13.1 miles, or 20 miles, or 25 miles, and still get to say you’re a marathoner. You can only say that once you’ve run the full 26.2 miles.
On October 12, I believed I was ready to achieve my goal. I was ready for sub-2:10. I still believe that. Unfortunately, the marathon is a fickle beast, and it’s a rare day that everything will go perfectly. This was my day, though. I could feel it. I knew it as soon as I woke up and reveled in it with every breath I took. I was relaxed and confident, so much so that I was in somewhat unfamiliar territory. I remember thinking, This is odd. For one of the first times in my running career, I’m more excited for this race than I am nervous. A piece of advice that I’d received from numerous people before the race was to respect the marathon. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what that means, but I think I had a good handle on it. In the past 6 years, I’ve run more weeks over 100 miles than I have under. In this marathon segment, I topped out at 135 miles per week at altitude. I took care of the little things – sleep, nutrition, drills, strength training, core, etc. I had every reason to believe I was 100% prepared.
The night before the race, Christo Landry, Bobby Curtis and I decided we’d try to run together for as long as possible to help each other along to fast times, and also found out that we’d have a pacer to help us get through half-way on target. 65:30 was the goal time at the half-marathon mark. With a little bit of inconsistency in our mile splits due to faulty GPS watches (darn that technology!), we came through, according to my watch, at 65:28.
We lost our pacer around 12 miles, but Bobby and I were feeling good, so we ran side-by-side for the next 7.5 miles, each stride no more difficult than the one before it. For me, that all changed between 19.5 and 20 miles. First came the pain in my hip. One step I was fine, and in the next, I’d strained something in my right hip. Don’t panic. You’ll be fine. It’s just a cramp that’ll work itself out. At this point, Bobby began to pull away from me. I could see my chances for Top-American slipping away effortlessly through the streets of Chicago. I knew my miles were slowing. My legs were getting heavy. Go faster! Get back on pace! I looked down at my legs disapprovingly, but they didn’t respond. Stop looking at your watch. You have less than 10k to go. Today can still go well.
By mile 22, I was struggling. That’s when a stomach cramp hit me. In 2012 and 2013, I dealt with a mysterious stomach cramping issue for 8 months. After trying everything from pickle juice to Graston to a gluten-free diet, and frustrated that I was still hardly able to run, I thought about taking some time away from the sport. Then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, it was gone. The pain in the race felt similar. I struggled to breathe. I tried to massage it out, I tried to breathe it out. In the meantime, I started to see darkness – literal darkness. My vision was going black. I’d lost my peripheral vision and was feeling light-headed as I plodded through mile 23. Less than 4 miles to go. Around 24 the cramp dissipated, but I barely noticed it anymore. I was in a haze. Should I just stop? NO, I am not a quitter. I only have 2 more miles. I can do this.
I would’ve sworn to anyone who questioned it that in those last two miles I was running at least 10 minutes per mile (they turned out to be in the 6:30s). I will tell you, that even with 1 mile to go, I did not think I was going to cross the finish line. There were signs on the course that said “1600m to go,” “1200m to go,” “800m to go,” “400m to go,” and “200m to go.” Surely I’ll be able to summon something from deep inside these dead legs to finish with a decent last mile. Surely when I get to 200m to go, I’ll be able to sprint to the finish line and maybe look halfway decent in the finish-line photo. Hey, at that point, it was really the only thing I had left going for me.
As I stumbled away, hardly able to think, let alone stand, I was hit with a wave of emotion. I tried to maintain my composure. I sat in the hospitality tent in shock. I knew I wasn’t the only one who had a tough day; I could see it on the faces of my competitors.
Immediately I began to question what went wrong. The pacing early on was a little erratic – 4:57, 5:03, 4:56, 5:02 – eh, I don’t think that played a major part. It was a little breezy in some sections, but they were few and far between. That’s probably not it either. Then it hit me. I hardly drank any of my fluids. I tried to. I took my bottle at every aid station along the way (with the exception of the first one at 5k – someone had inadvertently grabbed my bottle and tossed it aside). I kept thinking, It’s not that warm, I’m not sweating, I don’t need much hydration.
What I failed to think about as I was clicking off sub-5 minute pace mile after mile was that I had no other source of calories aside from what I’d put in my bottles. It is my belief that my downfall on October 12 can mainly be attributed to two things: 1) I did not adequately prepare my body to use fat as a fuel source in training and 2) My body depleted its glycogen stores by 20 miles and after that point I was running on empty.
The good in all of this? It was a tremendous learning experience for me. I still know in my heart that I am a marathoner. I still have every intention of making the 2016 US Olympic Marathon team.