So I am finally back on US soil after a whirlwind of a vacation. I was fortunate enough to cross off a big item on my bucket list this past week: running a marathon in another country. When planning our trip to England, finding a marathon to run while we were there wasn’t priority number one, but if I was able to accomplish this goal while being out of the states for the first time in my life then I wanted to do it. My husband graciously obliged, as long as he was able to get in some quality time on the links, more on that in a future post.
I found a smaller race held in the English countryside and the race date coincided with our work schedules and all that jazz. Schwing! Being a race entry of 26 pounds ($41.07 for those not versed in pound to dollar conversion) was pretty sweet as well.
Now months ago when dealing with my wonky hamstring, I wasn’t sure I would have even been healthy to run and finish this race, let alone in a fast time. But as the spring progressed, I was gaining strength, speed, confidence, and maybe, just maybe a wee bit of a cocky attitude. I was hitting solid workouts and scored some shiny new PR’s in the 10 mile and half-marathon distances. I was convinced that sub 3:20 marathon time I have had my eye on would be mine once and for all. What I failed to factor into everything was how I am clearly deficient in terms of deciphering and understanding race elevation charts. I mean most of the marathons I have run were relatively flat, except for Boston and The Flying Pig. I didn’t think I had to worry too much about hills as the course was described on the website in this fashion: ‘The route is almost all on secondary roads, undulating with small valleys, but there is a section of grass near the end.’ Easy, peasy.
Fast forward to race morning. I was feeling cool and collected three hours before race time and ate a banana, some peanut butter and some weird spelt bread that I had never had before, sucked down some lemon-lime nuun and felt good to go. Shorly after breaking the fast, my stomach began to act a bit out of character, making for multiple trips to the restroom between the hours of 7:00 and the 10:00am start time. By 9:00am I was starving, I kept drinking nuun and decided to eat a Gu, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Before I knew it I was being directed to the start line. My legs felt fresh, the sun was shining and I was confident a solid race was about to be run, but I was a bit worried about my stomach issues and the fact that I was actually expecting the weather to be a high of 50 degrees and overcast skies with a side of rain – weather conditions I would have preferred.
The first few miles I felt solid, I even dipped below the 7:00 mile mark for mile two! Miles were clicking off, but the undulating small valleys were quite the challenge. By mile 7 I realized that whoever was in charge of the course description chose their words carefully, I mean if they described the course as hills every flippin’ mile that make you want to barf on yourself as you reach the top - I’m certain they would not attract as many runners to the race.
At mile 7 I started second-guessing my finish time aspirations but tried to hang on for the ride. I came through the half way mark at 1:38:XX, if I could handle the second half of the race – which was a repeat of the first half, yep, the race was a two-loop course, then I would be good to go. I was confident I would be fine, I mean I had already faced each of the hills once, I could handle them each once more. Right? (Splits Mile 1-7: 7:20, 6:55, 7:12, 7:22, 7:35, 7:39, 7:26)
Also, around the half way mark I was excited to see my husband, even if it was for just a second, to tell me everything was going to be okay and I was going to finish this race. With this event being so small and rural, we runners were alone for the majority of the race. There were handfuls of cheering fans on the course, and then volunteers at each mile marker and water stop, but that was it. No live performers each mile, no course entertainment, nothing. After passing the mile 14 and 15 markers it finally sunk in that maybe I read the course map incorrectly, and the second loop of the race wasn’t an exact carbon copy of the first. This just made my heart sink. I was feeling my confidence dwindle, and all I could think about was wanting to see one familiar face, and the words of encouragement that he would shout at me, telling me I was doing great and I could finish strong. I have never felt so alone in a race in my life. (Splits mile 8-13: 7:32, 7:50, 7:40, 7:41, 7:37, 7:54)
In addition to the disappointment of not getting to see my husband and to the valleys that were doing a number on my quads and hammies, every few miles my stomach churned and I thought I was going to have to make a detour to one of the fields and fertilize the crops, but the pains would pass as quickly as they arrived. Spoiler alert: the stomach held up during the race and I didn’t have any sort of accidents. Thank God, victory is mine.
With the race starting at 10:00am, and the sun deciding to only get higher in the sky, I began to really feel the effects of the warmer temps and the sun beating down on me as there wasn’t much shade coverage on the course. I did my best to stay cool, pouring water on myself and taking wet sponges whenever they were offered to me and wiping my face, neck and arms down.
By mile 17, out of no where, my mind and my legs decided to fail me. The wheels completely fell off and my legs succumbed to the laborious task of hill repeats. When this happened my mental game fell apart. I had officially hit the wall. My legs had nothing left in them, they were so tight, every ounce of speed had drained from them. I never wanted to quit a race so bad in my life. I started talking to myself, giving myself pep talks, telling myself I could do it. I took each mile at a time and tried to just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. I told myself that if I really needed to I could walk through the water stops but there was really no point in walking because it wouldn’t get me to the finish line any faster. I just wanted that finish line, I wanted to sit down in the shade and just be done. This race was hard, I hated it, I was hating that I was hating it. This horrible out of character attitude lasted for quite some time. Really until about mile 25 if I had to be honest. When I hit the mile 25 marker I was directed to turn off the roads we were running and faced another hill, but a grass hill. The softer ground was a welcome for my destroyed legs, I ran the next half mile or so through the field and then eventually came back out onto a road lined with spectators and knew I would be home at the finish line very soon. I gave it one final push and crossed the finish line in 3:37:29, not my fastest, but definitely not my slowest performance either. I found my husband and gave him a high-five and told him it was hands-down the toughest race course of my life. He told me he was proud of me and that I did a really great job, that I should be proud of my finish time, especially considering how tough of a course it was. Well hellllo Mr. Glass Half-Full. (Splits mile 14-26.2: 7:50, 7:39, 7:49, 8:24, 8:07, 8:08, 8:50, 9:50, 9:48, 10:32, 10:47, 10:49, 9:39, 1:36 for final 0.2)
I wallowed in my self-pity for a few minutes after I crossed the finish line. And thanks to my husband’s pep talk, I snapped out of my funk and realized what a whiney, spoiled brat I was acting like. I was mad at myself for even thinking that I wanted to quit the race, I thought to myself a few months ago while injured I would have killed for this opportunity. So a shiny new PR wasn’t in the cards today, so are you just going to give up? You are going to quit because this isn’t the perfect scenario? It’s not your perfect day? It’s not the perfect course? You have a tummy ache? YOU ARE TOUGHER THAN THIS!!!! Seriously, if I was saying out loud everything I was thinking I probably would have been committed.
As the days continue on and I reflect back upon my race experience, I am happy things didn’t turn out perfectly. I am grateful I wasn’t dealt the perfect hand on Sunday and was faced with many challenges and obstacles. This race gave me the confidence that I WILL go sub-3:20 in the marathon. On the right course (cough, Columbus, cough), with shloads of family and friends along the course to support me. I can think about how lonely and challenging this past race experience was and it will validate that I can dig deeper during periods of future races that hurt and when my mind begins to play tricks on me. I don’t give up, even when my mind and legs want me to, my heart will never let me.