Reflections on Marathon #7

My seventh marathon. I’m just going to let that sit there and sink in a moment. First of all, I’m still often amazed that I ran my first; but that was almost 20 years ago. Last year as I was starting to think about training for my fifth, I never would have imagined six or seven. I ran Chicago last October just about 18 months after my previous marathon, a feat which in itself was an anomaly for me. There were much bigger gaps between my first four (NYC 1997, NJ 2003, NYC 2005, NJ 2014) and after each of the first three, I was quite certain I was never going to run another marathon. I thought 18 miles, maybe 20, was the point at which I could still run competitively. In each of my first three marathons, I hit “the wall” where the wheels came off and it was all I could do to keep from sitting down on the curb to cry. So what changed?

In 2013 I ran 13 half marathons (13.1 miles each, get it?) as a way to attract publicity to a fundraising effort for my friend’s organization (AliveAndKickn which I wrote about in March). I guess I got bored with the challenge; I guess 13.1 started to seem easy. I guess I was addicted and like any addict, I needed something more. So I signed up to run the NJ Marathon in 2014, and I started working with my coach. Coaching was the difference. I surprised myself. I never hit the wall. And I finished in under four hours – a stretch goal – and I came within 2 minutes and 50 seconds of a Boston Qualifying time. That was a super stretch goal. But now I knew I could do it. In the two years since, I moved into a new age group and now only need to do what I did then. I know I have it in me. And that’s why I have run 3 marathons in the last six and half months. But I still haven’t qualified for Boston. Am I disappointed?

Yes and no. I realized I don’t care. I mean I do. It’s just that I know I’m going to do it…eventually. But before I get ahead of myself and start thinking about #8 where I am most certainly going to BQ, there’s the business of this reflection. What did I learn from this experience?

  1. Running 3 marathons in 29 weeks probably wasn’t the best decision. I ran into some trouble with my hip flexors and left hamstring during training for this one that I have to think was probably from over use.
  2. But wow! I’m pretty strong! I improved my time with each marathon…4:20:12 on October 11, 4:12:28 on November 15, and 4:05:13 this past Sunday.
  3. I found out that if you do have anything wrong with you the marathon is going to find it and probably make it worse. I thought I was cruising to a BQ through mile 22 on Sunday and although I never hit “the wall” my left hamstring wasn’t working right for the last 3.5 miles.
  4. Hamstrings are really, really important, and so necessary if you want to accelerate.
  5. Time doesn’t really matter…I finished 16th out of 62 women ages 50 to 54 on Sunday. And all 62 of us finished ahead of everyone who didn’t start. I have to remind myself that just simply doing this is something of which to be proud. It’s easy to forget that a large majority of people don’t do this when most of my friends are runners — and several of them just ran Boston.
  6. The reason I wanted to get into Boston 2017 so badly is because it falls on what would have been my mother’s 90th Birthday. Since she was my initial inspiration to sign up for the 1995 Corporate Challenge – my first race – I thought that was the perfect way to spend the day. I had thought a couple months ago that if I didn’t BQ on Sunday that I would still do Boston next year with a charity group, but I decided I want to qualify. I’m a professional fundraiser. Fundraising my way into Boston almost seems like cheating. I want to earn this. I also feel, at least for myself, that I need a real connection to the organizations for which I raise money. The list of charities working with the Boston Marathon is somewhat limited. My charities aren’t included and I think it’s important to be genuine and as donors, volunteers and fundraisers we only have so much energy, time and money and it should go to the things that matter to us. Who we are is reflected in the causes we support.
  7. While spending 16 weeks training to be be as perfect as I can be in everything I have some control over – strength, conditioning, endurance, nutrician, rest, recovery, shoes, socks, clothing, chafing, GPS, heart rate, etc – it often comes down to the one thing I have absolutely no control over: the weather.
  8. And speaking of the weather, I’d prefer a cold rain to heat any day. Yeah, Sunday sucked. It rained. Sometimes it rained heavily. It was cold. And just when I was good and soaked, it got windy. It was horrific. Several times I questioned why I was out in it wearing shorts and a singlet. But there was a positive. I wasn’t stopping. In Chicago it got hot. I felt better when I stopped. Not so Sunday. The weather motivated me to keep going in order to find warmth and dry clothes as quickly as possible.
  9. As great as it is to have the guidance, expertise, accountability, and motivation that comes from having a coach, sometimes I need to think through things on my own. I am grateful for the time – over 2 years – that I worked with Coach Rob McCarthy of De Novo Coaching. I appreciated the Wednesday night speed sessions my running club offered led by Coach Joel Pasternack over the past couple months. I know the workouts as well as everything I learned from them contributed to how far I got, but one of the things I learned is that no matter how much a coach knows about the sport, the one thing no coach will know more about than you, is YOU. On March 7, I sent an email to my coach: I’m just not running with the same mojo that I was 2 years, 18 months or even just a year ago. I don’t know what happened. It may be physical changes or it may be mental. Perhaps I’m not running “away” anymore. Who knows. I want running to be fun and it is when I’m just enjoying myself and not setting goals that I’m falling short of…”fun” for me now in running is the journey, the destination, and the company. Not the speed. But yet, I go out and am left feeling empty because I am not achieving a goal. And in wanting to BQ, perhaps I’m setting an unachievable goal…I want to go out with the group on the weekends and not care what my HR is…I want to run as far or as little as I feel like any given weekend…I think I need a reset. And no one can do anything about that but me.
  10. I realized too though, that sometimes when I let go, I still do pretty damn good.
  11. I so greatly appreciate all of my friends and family who encourage me and inspire me to be a better person everyday. Many of you run and understand this side of me; many more of you don’t, and yet support me nonetheless. Thank you.
  12. I love my fun, ridiculously supportive running club – De Novo Harriers! I can not thank my fellow members enough for sharing so many of the miles, for providing kindness and encouragement, and for being amazing, inspiring, and simply magnificent human beings!
  13. Running over 10 miles with your sister trumps every other spectacular detail about a race! Thank you, Jacqueline, for coming all the way from Ireland to accompany me for the first part of this journey (and thank you for standing out in the rain to cheer me at the finish).

So what now? My first priorities are to focus on my daughter and my new job, do a few things around the house I’ve been neglecting, and very importantly, get healthy; figure out what’s going on with my hamstring and do what I need to make sure I’m strong and flexible…creating the foundation that enables every runner to weather the storm. Then, and only then, will I be ready to sign up for #8.

480379_228829029_XLargeMy sister and me, Start of the NJ Marathon and Long Branch Half, May 1, 2016 (before the rain).

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3 thoughts on “Reflections on Marathon #7

  1. Inspirational as always, Mary. For those of us who can’t even imagine the distances you’ve run, it’s “nice” (meaning relatable) to know that even you hit the wall from time to time. We all do, in different ways, but your blog post shows that with determination, you can prevail!

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