From the Worst Marathon of My Life to the Best

On Sunday, I ran my sixth marathon. According to the clock, it wasn’t a personal record, but I consider it my personal best.

Rewind

This time last year I was finally admitting to myself, after at least two months of denial, I was injured. I had managed pain through Boston training and was able to eke out a PR at the race. Then, I hobbled over the beautiful mountains of Zion with my incredible Ragnar team (all of whom I’d met hours before the race) and made the pain significantly worse. After that, I tried to keep going. By the end of May, finally, I was ready to admit defeat.

My doctor diagnosed a micro-tear in my hamstring. I began physical therapy and spent June through August cross-training. By late October I was finally running pain-free again, but I wouldn’t start to feel like myself again until after the New Year.

Celebrating Ragnar Victory

Spring

Despite the frustration of coming back from an injury and the doubt of feeling like I’d never be the fastest version of myself again, as Patriot’s Day 2017 approached I began to realize that those thoughts held no merit. A March half-marathon showed me I was in almost the exact same shape I’d been in a year ago at the same race. Regardless of the setbacks, I’d worked my ass off and I felt strong again. This time, I was healthy.

For awhile I went back and fourth, deciding whether I’d leave it all on the course or play it safe in Boston. I want to run the Boston Marathon five times by 30 so the smart way to race would be to run just fast enough to BQ but not go for a PR. Until a day before the race, this was my plan. But once in Boston, I knew I was ready and I had to go for it. I reassured myself with the thought that even if I didn’t run the PR I wanted, I would qualify for Boston unless I had the worst race of my life.

I had the worst race of my life.

Boston was hot, I didn’t adjust my pace for the heat, and my body just felt off. By mile six or seven I knew it wasn’t my day.

Picking up the pieces

Boston tore me apart a little. I was devastated, yet grateful. I learned so much about myself and the marathon distance but I was angry at my mind and my body for failing to do what I knew I was capable of. I cried. I celebrated. I overanalyzed. Finally, I made a choice. I wasn’t ready to let my goal of 5 Boston Marathons by 30 just slip away. I found a small marathon within driving distance and registered.

Then I panicked.

I registered for the Pocono Marathon before I was able to walk down the stairs again post-Boston. I worried I wouldn’t recover fast enough and I’d become out of shape. Alternatively, I worried I’d start running too soon and I’d get injured. I saw other people write about how they planned to do what I did and scramble to sign-up for another race but decided against it. I got nervous that I’d made a careless decision that I was going to regret.

Then I stopped thinking.

I allowed myself to recover and when it felt right, I ran again. I listened to my body and I ran as often, as long, and as fast as my legs felt like going. I ran a trail race with no expectation and had a blast running without fear of the clock. I took extra rest days every week leading up to the race. I drank a little extra wine. I didn’t over analyze my sleep. I relaxed. Sunday morning I had a few jitters but thought, “Whatever happens, happens”.

Race Day

The Pocono Marathon is a small, net downhill race, with plenty of rolling hills. I had my splits written on my arm, but decided to ignore them and run with the pace group, aiming to run slightly faster than my day’s goal.

The starting temperature was around 50 degrees and the course was nicely shaded by the trees. It was a good day to have a good run. (This isn’t a marathon review, but if you’re looking for a quaint, small marathon, this may be your race.)

I fell into rhythm with the pace group and enjoyed chatting with the seasoned marathoners in the crew. My (almost) six marathons and two Boston’s seemed a wimpy feat compared to Dan, running along side me, on his way to his 42nd marathon, after having just completed his 21st consecutive Boston. It was inspiring, to say the least.

The miles began to fly by and the pace felt more comfortable than I ever imagined a marathon could feel. We cruised past the half and by then I was sure I’d be headed back to Boston next April. Nothing was getting in my way.

At mile 16 I spotted my mom and Tyler, waving and smiling as I ran by. I shouted “I only have 10 miles left!” At one point, between mile 18 or 19, I said to those around me, “I didn’t know I could feel this good running a marathon”. In retrospect, they probably wanted to trip me.

Around mile 20 I surged a bit and dropped the pace for a couple miles, I paid for that on the uphills in miles 23 and 24, but with every mile marker that passed, the excitement grew. This was my day.

Cheesin’ hard at mile 16

In the last few miles I knew I was just a little too far behind my PR pace to beat it, but I knew I’d done what I came for. I held back tears during the last half mile, overwhelmed by the past month, the past year even. Although mile 26 was my slowest mile of the race, it was the fastest slowest mile of any marathon I’ve run. I didn’t completely burn out like I’ve done in the past. I crossed the finish line more than five minutes faster than I’d hoped to.

This is what a personal best feels like.

My time was a few minutes slower than my personal record (PR) but I’ve never been more proud of a race. I could’ve given up after the horrible race in Boston and made myself an alternative, easier goal. I could’ve pressed on but allowed doubt to take over and control the race. I could’ve made stupid choices and burned myself out or gotten injured in the four weeks between the two races. I could’ve done a number of things that didn’t end in the result I wanted.

Sunday was not the fastest marathon of my life but it was the best, and I could not be happier.

It’s the result of listening to my body.

I relaxed. I made smart choices. I took days off when I was tired and ran hard when it felt good. I looked back on my many successful training runs rather than my one bad race. I toed the line with confidence and I savored the race. I remembered the confident runner I once was, the runner who loved running and ran well because she told herself she would. I’m becoming that runner again by listening to my body and trusting my legs. Sunday was not the fastest marathon of my life but it was the best, and I could not be happier.

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