““It’s really wild to know, going in to a race, that you’re going to have parts during the race when you’re going to feel good and some points where you’ll feel bad. You’ll just need to have that emotional distance from what you’re feeling at the moment and wait it out,””
— Emma Spencer, “Run Your Mouth Podcast”
The most valuable advice I’ve ever heard regarding the marathon. Little did I know how applicable the advice was in my bittersweet day on the roads for the Marine Corps Marathon.
The gun goes off and the announcer booms, “Congratulations runners! Have fun out there.” Cue me —allegedly— wall-sitting with my back against the cold, corrugated metal wall of a construction site storage container…relieving myself.
I bolted out of the gate, jumping guard rails at 6:15 pace in my own action movie. Weaving through the rush-hour-like traffic of a race started proved to be hectic…hectic enough to forget to start my watch upon crossing the official starting line. On an uphill climb, weaving through amorphous blob of running, I started my watch.
Remember what Emma said!
I tried to do the mental math of where I was on the course, combined with my perceived pace for that section, which would be offset by the current effort. The angel on my shoulder told me that I was doing enough to stay on pace. The devil on the opposite shoulder told me that it was time to chip away and hammer my way down. I listened to the latter, cut down my pace on the Potomac.
After settling in to an ambitious pace with a stranger, I felt like the captain of my emotions again. The nerves were tamed by a metronomic cadence and conversation with a guy named Andrew whom I just met. We reeled in the 3:00 pace group and I decided to cruise with this group for a while. In my head, staying on this group through the impending storm of the marathon’s late stages could bring me to my goal.
We glided through parks lined with fans cheering beyond the Washington Monument, down and around the National Mall and by the Capitol building. The 3:00 pace group felt like it was holding me back at times, but I thought that restraint would pay its dividends in the end after my ambitious surge in the beginning of the race.
Could this be the turning point?
As we approached mile 18-19 on the course, the effort felt much harder. Either by some weakness of body or mind, I felt my effort decline. The 3:00 pace group, and its pack of runners, was supposed to be my life raft in this storm, but I felt like my boat was taking on water.
Remember what Emma said!
I couldn’t. I considered dropping. As the pace group and the teardrop-shaped pack extended their lead, I thought I lost it. I struggled and shuffled to see Alex at mile 22, where I would consider dropping officially. I had no idea of my time because of my starting-line mishap and then my watch mishap. Either way, I thought it would be best to drop if I was going to miss my goal by that much.
When I finally came through to mile 22, Alex met me in the middle of the road with a bottle of SOS Rehydrate and a Honey Stinger gel. She told me to run with her and I obliged. I felt tethered to her as if I was being pulled forward by her. She helped restore the balance and helped me be the captain of my emotions again, with the help of some electrolytes and motivational words.
With clarity of mind and “whatever” attitude, miles 23 and 24 clicked off easier than before. The “whatever” attitude wasn’t a casting away of goals or responsibility; It felt more like freeing myself from the expectation and the guilt of losing that pack. “Whatever” was the emotional distance I had to that time in my head and the obligation that came with it. I tried to do the mental math of figuring out my pace and factoring in the ten-ish minute differential and my late start, but I gave up on the arithmetic and decided to keep moving.
The finish clock was a surprise. It read 3:07 at the time I crossed, but I thought I was due for something in the 3:10 range with the abysmal 30k split I clocked earlier in the day. This moment was a pleasant surprise, but it was fairly bittersweet. I missed my mark.
I checked my phone after picking up my bag and a text waited for me: “3:01:27!!!!!!” My only response I could think of was “WHAT???” My mental math failed me through the dehydration. I forgot that I had 5 minutes on the time clock when I started the race. I was elated! Even faster than anticipated…but then…DAMMIT.
So close to the goal. So close to a qualifier. Hindsight is always 20/20—especially when its 1 minute and 26 seconds away from your goal. However, the sting of missing the goal by a narrow margin should not and cannot overshadow the lessons learned and the 19 minute PR on the day. While I can’t say I maintained my emotional distance during this race, I’m more aware of it now than ever before and look forward to smashing this 3:00 goal to smithereens.
About the Author:
When I turned 20, I wanted to take on a challenge that nobody, including myself, thought I could take on: the marathon. Starting in 2013, I started a journey of completing ten marathons in my 20s. So far I am halfway there as I approach my 25th birthday on October 12th. Some of these races included the Hartford Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Rock n Roll San Diego Marathon, Rock n Roll Las Vegas Marathon, and the Boston Marathon. In November, I get to chalk off marathon number six in Philadelphia. Now that I am graduated from law school and am no longer a student, I look forward to taking advantage of my time outside of the classroom and maximizing my potential through training more consistently and intensely for races. While I am on track to complete my ten marathon goal while in my 20s, I plan to gain admission to the remaining four Abbot World Marathon Majors in Tokyo, London, New York City, and Berlin. I also have the goal of completing a half marathon each month for twelve consecutive months. In addition to road racing, I am adventuring into trail racing and ultra running. Feet: don’t fail me now!