On October 8th I ran my 8th marathon through the crowded, lively streets of Chicago. This was, by far, the largest marathon I’ve ever run (in fact, it’s the second largest in the world, and the fact that they pull it off so smoothly is pretty incredible). I trained all summer, using the FIRST program, to break 3:30 (A goal), or to break 3:36:55 (a PR; the B goal), OR to qualify for Boston ’19 (sub…3:40? Who knows!; C goal), or to finish without being broken – physically, emotionally, or spiritually (D goal). It’s good to have goals.
I missed my A goal by an almost laughable three seconds, running a 3:30:02. The rational part of me is thrilled by an almost 7 minute PR and a nearly 15 minute BQ on a hot day. The rational part of me is amazed to be setting big PRs at 39, and grateful to have emerged uninjured and eager to keep running. But that emotional part of me is plagued by all those things I could have done to get those three seconds back. If only I’d taken a turn tighter, pushed harder, left my iPod alone, skipped the deep dish pizza on Friday night, walked less the day before, eaten one more gel, eaten one less gel, lost a few ounces. You name it. I didn’t collapse at the finish, so I surely had something left! Ok, stop. Stop!! It’s a win.
The Chicago Marathon is famous for being flat and fast – a world record course if the weather is kind. But that’s a big if. For us, the weather was…ok. The humidity was on the lower side to us Virginians, after training through the sticky summer months. But after about mile 18, the sun was definitely a challenge. And the crowds! I called this race “the introvert’s nightmare” only partially in jest. If you’re someone who thrives on cheering and cowbells and funny signs, it’s your jam. But if you, say, want to listen to an audiobook, forget it. Too loud. If you want to listen to your own thoughts, even, you may have a hard time. I’m still figuring out the kind of races I like best, but I suspect that this was a little too overstimulating for me. It was a great experience and I’m glad to have done it, especially with good friends. But I also like to run my pace, feel in control of my thoughts and of my body, and be able to access a toilet at the start.
Even though I’m still figuring it out, I love any opportunity to talk about running, so I’d agreed to give a guest lecture to the JMU marathon class the Wednesday after the race (this is a class that trains students to run their first marathon in a semester – so cool, and very unusual!).
Knowing this was going to happen, I’d been taking mental notes throughout the training cycle and during the race itself. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but my tips for them included:
- Work your core. Planks, bridges, etc.
- Mimic race day as much as you can – clothing, fueling, terrain, waking up early. Mimic race day as much as you can. Study the race website and learn all that you can about the event.
- Plan to be cold at the start (or to discard old clothes at the start). If you’re comfortable before the race, you’ll be too warm during it!
- Fight the urge to go out too fast. You can’t bank time.
- You can’t cram for the marathon. It’s not an exam. Training must be spaced out over many weeks or even months.
- The wall is real. You will have dark moments in those later miles, you’ll want to quit, or maybe to die, and you will learn about yourself as you fight through this.
- You’ll feel the full range of emotions. You can go from feeling strong and triumphant to defeated and miserable in a matter of minutes. [At this point in the lecture, I started to wonder why I loved something that sounded so dreadful.]
- You will redefine what you think is hard and what you’re capable of.
- You might become a lifelong runner, or you might cross this off your bucket list and never want to do anything like it ever again. Don’t feel like you need to decide right away.
- Afterwards, walk around, stretch, roll. Fight the urge to be catatonic. You will thank yourself later.
- [I didn’t tell them this but I thought about it.] The marathon is like the worst boyfriend ever. You put so much thought into your outfit for it. You try to lose weight for it. You bring your A game. It exhausts you. It calls the shots. It’s unpredictable: one minute, it’s making you feel strong and beautiful, the next it’s breaking you down, leaving you powerless and pained. And yet you may keep coming back for more, and very few people understand why. But hopefully your time with it will ultimately make you stronger.
What’s next for me? My least favorite part: recovery. Then:
- The CAT Trail Half, October 28th. Practically in my own backyard, yet very much outside of my comfort zone. I suspect I’d like trail running, if I can keep my competitiveness and Garmin-obsession at bay.
- The Richmond 8K, November 11th. Also running the last few miles of the marathon with a friend who’s gunning for a BQ.
- The Rehoboth Beach Half-Marathon, December 2nd. Driving some of the JMU marathon kids up there for their big event, and shooting for my first sub 1:40 half.
- Some other stuff, probably ill-advised.
- The biggie, the unicorn, the life goal: my first Boston Marathon, April 16th. What a way to celebrate turning 40.