On November 19, 2017, I ran my first marathon. It was a chilly, windy day in Philadelphia. I hadn't slept particularly well and woke up well before 5 am. I ate my typical pre-long run breakfast of overnight oats with peanut butter, a banana, and coffee. Cold rain fell as I paced the hotel room my parents had generously booked for us. We left the hotel at 6:30 to walk over to the start of the race by the art museum. I felt pretty good all things considered. The sky reminded me of scenes from doomsday films and the wind howled in our faces, but it wasn't too cold and looked like it would clear up. I was in the corral closest to the elite runners. A naive verison of me put my expected finishing time around 3 hours when I signed up back in May.
The gun finally went off, breaking the nervous aura near the starting line. I tried to run easy at first, around 7:30 per mile. I felt antsy and struggled to resist the urge to pass people and move up the pack. Things were going well. I caught a boost from seeing my parents a few miles in. I surprised my old XC coach and teammates at an aid station on a hilly section through Drexel. Around 8 miles in I starting burning matches, thinking I had plenty in the tank for the next 16 miles. As I neared the half marathon I started to get the feeling that this wasn't going to be the day I wanted. My legs began to feel heavy and achey. I never felt like this in training. I trudged along and stopped for a bathroom break around 15. This is where I knew things were bad. It took way more effort than it should have to get going after my stop. My legs were shutting down. Every step started to feel painful. At 16 I stopped to walk for a bit. I was honestly contemplating quitting right there. I felt finished. I have no idea what had happened. I suspect it was a combination of lack of training over the past month (more on this later) and lack of nutrition/dehydration. I stopped at several aid stations to drink water and gatorade, but that wasn't getting me anywhere. I walk/ran for a while, depressingly watch all the runners I had passed earlier in the race go by. Some offered words of encouragement but my mind was in a dark place. Every walk break made getting going again even more difficult and I had no idea how I was supposed to move 10 miles. My pace ballooned to 10-11 minute miles. I gritted my teeth, put one foot in front of the other, and kept going out of sheer stubbornness. I had made a habit of telling everyone I knew there was 0 chance I would quit and I wasn't about to go back on my word. I reached the finish line, defeated and broken. I could hear the sound of friends and family cheering but I wasn't listening. I didn't care about anything except crossing the line and going to lay down by myself. I held back the tears as I received my finisher's medal and a goodie bag of snacks and refreshments from the generous volunteers. I broke down upon seeing my family. This was without a doubt one of the hardest days of my life. I have never wanted to quit something more than I did during the lass 10 miles of this race. I'm happy I finished and I do feel accomplished but I cannot help but feel disappointed in my performance.
My training started with a 4 mile run in June. I had spent the previous month on a study abroad trip in Amsterdam, where I rode my bike a lot but for reasons unknown to me elected not to bring my running shoes. I kept the training light for the first month, alternating runs and rides to avoid the shin pain that has plagued my running career. I tried to increase the mileage throughout July and August but my shin pain persisted. I made sure any soreness there never progressed into something serious by aggressively stretching, rolling, and resting when it flared up. Instead of increasingy the frequency of runs, I tried slowly adding to my long runs, eventually building to 10 - 15 mile long runs by september. I hit peak mileage between Oct 2 and Oct 8, running 34.8 miles with 27.3 miles of cycling. This week also likely tanked my training. I started to notice my left foot feeling sore after my 17 mile long run that week. I shrugged off the pain as it wasn't severe and I assumed would heal. I took a few days off, did some speed work and a ride the next week, dialing back the mileage significantly. I tried to keep training but this wasn't going away and I knew it could progress to something serious if I wasn't careful. As much as I wanted this to be an epic Boston qualifying marathon, I decided to live to run another day and just take it easy the weeks leading up to the marathon. Of course, my bike's front wheel broke so I was pretty much stuck sitting around waiting for my foot to heal. I am certain ending my training a month out from the marathon had an effect on the horrible day on race day, and in hindsight I would have trained through the pain since the injury wasn't severe.
I'm already thinking about signing up for my next marathon. I'm going to start building my mileage base up again as soon as my legs heal completely. I'm going to be smart about this and do it as slow as possible. I'd like to be doing at least 60 miles per week 10 weeks out from the marathon. Most importantly I do not want to get injured. Injuries have crippled my running career going back to high school. Staying healthy will not only allow me to perform at my best but also improves my day to day life. As insane as my obsession with running may be, it keeps me sane and allows me to feel healthy both physically and mentally. I learned a lot about myself during those ten miles of struggling. I now know I can push myself way further than I thought possible and have the confidence to take a second stab at the marathon. Looking forward to 2018.