This was not the race I wanted. I had plans and goals. I had worked hard. And what did I do? I went out too fast – at a fun and comfortable pace rather than the very conservative one recommended by the running magazines- and stayed joyfully ahead of my own goal pace for 10 miles. Then I sank back into my goal pace for about 5 more. Then I began to feel some twinges from my IT band, an old injury that had not arisen once during training. I ignored it and ran a little more. The twinges started to be pain. I stopped, stretched, continued. Stopped, walked, went back to running. Knew that this could not be happening! I was prepared! I had made it uninjured to the start line – this was supposed to be my triumph! But no.
By the time I got to mile 18 I couldn’t deny that I was having a real ITB flare-up. It was really painful, and, more to the point, I remembered how long it would take to heal if I did real damage. I scrapped my time goal and devoted myself to walking. I chatted for a mile or so with a fellow sufferer who was also not having the race she wanted, but after a while she recovered a bit and ran on. I walked, stretched, walked some more. I texted my husband not to hurry to the finish line to meet me. I felt very sorry for myself.
I don’t know where I was – mile 21? 22? – when I met a woman who saved my race for me. She was a Marathon Maniac – look that up – and she was on her 13th marathon of the year, on her way to 30, with another one scheduled the following weekend, and she was a fount of useful information. First, she confirmed that walking was the right move if I wanted to finish the race and also run again, and then she started throwing numbers at me. I could make it in under five hours if I could walk at such and such a pace for the next 3.8 miles, or if I could jog for a half mile here or there, or if I could run – but she didn’t recommend running. I could run again tomorrow if I soaked in an ice bath and ate protein all day. I could avoid this in the future by not trying to run faster than I had in training. Oh, look, there’s only 3.7 more miles to go! She walked and talked me all the way in, and I walked faster than I had thought I could. In the last mile she checked her makeup and hair to prepare for the finishers photos.
I admit that I was not delightful company. I was having some trouble enjoying the NOW, between the pain and the disappointment, and I felt guilty that she was walking in when she clearly could have run, and I kept apologizing to her, which even I knew was annoying. But she stayed right with me, and made me move faster and faster – use your hips! – and we finished in 5:04. I collected my medal, smiled for the cameras, made relieved faces at my husband in the stands and my friend who had waited over forty minutes in the sun since his own finish. I turned to thank her and she was gone.
Now, here’s the thing. This race was not the race I wanted. But it still counts! I worked hard for five hours and I crossed the finish line as well as I could. I spent a day or so feeling guilty that I had walked so much – but walking is still moving forward and I wasn’t walking because I was lazy or because I wasn’t fit to be out there that day. My marathon went the way it went and I lived to fight another day and I can’t WAIT to set my sights on a new one and try again.
Half way through, I had seen the race leaders streaming towards me, and those men and women who ultimately won the race looked fantastic – fit fast, and intense. I was impressed by their athleticism and can’t really imagine ever achieving what they did in a race like this. But they did not exactly seem to be enjoying themselves, in stark contrast to my race savior. She was waving at everyone, gabbing away, cheerfully high-stepping, and offering recovery advice to those around her. What an inspiration, and not at all in the place I expected. I had anticipated being inspired by the 2:15 finishers, not the 5:04 ones.
I have a new goal for my next race. Yes, I want to finish strong, and of course I will have a time goal because I am like that – but mostly I want to finish happy.
Thank you Debbie Lazerson, wherever you are!