So it begins...
Everything is a great idea until you're smack in the middle of it's misery. Like childbirth, hangovers and road marathons.
I ran the Tucson Marathon in 2009 on one 16 mile run through downtown Phoenix and a 20 hour R2R2R hike as my training. Nothing else. I finished in 3:53 on the help of 1600mg of delicious NSAID's and spent the next 8 hours on the Omni Tucson's tile floor with my arms wrapped around the toilet hoping someway, some how the ceiling would cave in and end my misery. Of course I wasn't that lucky and instead...was on the start of new obsession.
A month later I ran the Mountain Mist 50K in Alabama for my first ultra. I wouldn't run another road race for four years while running 30-40 trail races over the same span. Why would I? Road races were painful. My mind had etched in memories of that bathroom floor. That wretched feeling in my stomach. That horrible pain. No WAY was I going to run a marathon again. Instead I started running 24 hour loops, 100 mile mountain races, and horrible abusive runs in the Superstition Wilderness area. Because that was SOO much better for me...
Over time I started to get a little quicker and with that I wanted to see what I could now do on the same course, several years later.
I was going to run a sub 3 marathon. I was going to do it.
Because running 6:51/mile is super easy.
Jay Danek and I planned to run the race together in whatever way we needed to that ended with one or both of us hitting 2:59:59 at 26.2 miles.
Tucson starts you out right with a wonderful 90 minute wait on a children's bus seat built for 4'10" kids not 6'+ adults. My legs were rolled up like pretzels sitting in anxiety riddled anticipation as the minutes ticked off until it was close enough to stand out in the 30 degree temps before the start. We did a quick warmup, which did nothing, and we were off a few minutes later.
Miles 1-5 - I better not feel this way in ten miles...
My toes were frozen and my pace was uneven. I couldn't tell if the steep downhill at the start was causing a silver dollar blister this early in the race or if I simply couldn't feel my feet. At two miles in I thought, "Please let this just be the cold...I'll feel better in a couple miles. I know I will."
We click off some 6:30-6:40 miles to start, they are easy enough, but it's cold and we're not warming up. We are in a nice pack of 6 and we start trading off on the headwind that never goes away and beats you down, seemingly picking up as you come into a hill.
Mile five we put down a gel, grab some water for the first time and hit the flats. This "downhill" course has already seen us run up a half dozen hills. A theme that doesn't end for the entire 26 miles....
Miles 6-10 - This isn't so bad...
Miles 11-15 - I'm done...
Mile 16-20 - How bad can a car hurt you?
Mile 15 was rough. The rough miles where you stare at your watch thinking you are 15-30 seconds ahead of your pace but instead are 30 seconds behind and you want to just quit right there and sit down and pout. Full pity party, balloons and everything. Already exhausted, beat, broken, demoralized and a full mile later and barely hitting pace?? How in the world can I hold on for another ten miles??
Our friend Terri met us at 16 and planned to run the last 10 miles in with us to keep us on pace. She was a welcome sight although I could only think about which kind of car in the oncoming traffic lane was the best to jump in front of. I wanted any excuse I could to get out of this race. Jumping in front of the slow moving traffic seemed so logical at the time. I mean, how bad could it hurt? It can't possibly be WORSE than this...
I started at the back of Jay and Terri's shoes for mile 16, then 17 it got a little further away. Then at 18 I started to revisit the jumping in front of traffic idea...
I was hurting.
Like I've never really hurt before in a race. I couldn't stretch out my stride, my feet felt like 45 pound kettle bells and I just couldn't pull together the strength or motivation to go faster. I tried to catch them, tried to hold the same gap. They were pulling away and my motivation was dwindling...
At mile 20 of this "downhill" course you take off on another long extended climb. A 50 yard gap was doable and I tried to push on. I tried to push up the hill and catch them, picturing their surprised faces as I come from behind, back from the dead.
I was losing ground. I wasn't going to catch them.
I stopped, took a leak finally and when I got back on the road, they were gone.
I was now solo for the last 10K and even worse, the first 100 feet I was still pissing down my leg.
That's just perfect...
And then the wheels really fell off. Not just fell off but the whole damn vehicle exploded.
Knowing I wasn't going to hit 3:00 meant the rest of the race wasn't important. Pushing hard to get 3:01 meant nothing to me compared with say, 3:11. Plus, I didn't have an ounce of gas left in the tank. Nothing. What is usually my strong suit in a strong finish, at any distance, I had absolutely nothing.
The miles plugged away but slowly. People started passing me and I could do nothing but cheer them on.
"Way to go! Get after it!"
It's like a punch to the stomach every time someone blows by me at an 8 minute mile because I'm crawling along at 9:30's. And it's every ounce of juice I have to give.
Finally, I reach the last mile. A freaking miracle but I get there and again, have nothing to push on with for a strong finish. I get passed again, and again, and again. Finally a young woman in her early 20's passes me. Then promptly walks.
I pick up my pace, yell for her to come with me and lets finish this. I push past her and my calf muscles lock up and drop me to my hands. Curling up in the back of my knees, the pain shoots up my legs and renders me helpless. I try and walk it off and it's just worse. So I start to run and slowly it goes away. After I ignore it.
I can hear the announcer and see the crowds but I don't particularly care today. Normally I mentally picture this moment the entire race, gearing me up for a sprint finish passing people in my imaginary glory to a 104th place finish. It normally works but today it didn't.
Yet, sure enough I hear my name. My friend Boone ran the half earlier and there he is on the sideline cheering people on and I feel compelled to run a bit more like a runner and less like a corpse in front of Boone. I put my eyes on the last two that passed me, that poor young girl and some guy that looks like Antonio Banderas but fat and Asian. So really nothing like him....
I pick up the pace and come into the chute with the crowds pushing past Banderas, past the young woman in a full all-out sprint around the corner. My calves lock up and for a second I have a flash of fear that I'm going to get dropped and face plant in front of all these people 50feet from the finish line...
But I don't and I sprint hard passing two more people inside the chute. One was a half marathoner finishing likely near dead last in her event but I'm still counting it.
I finished. 3:16. Yippee.
Why a failure?
A lot of people would be excited to run a 3:16 marathon. I know I would have been years ago. But even though that's technically a 36 minute PR on the marathon, that means little to nothing to me. I set out to break 3 hours and I didn't do it. So to me, it's a failure.
Whether I'll pick another marathon one day to try it I don't know. But I do know it won't be in Tucson for sure and it won't be for quite some time. I miss the trails more than anything and that's where my strengths lie. Technical trails, climbing, downhills, power hiking.
Yet I also hate failing at something I tried to achieve. So you never know.
Never say never.