Warning: This is going to be a three part post, I am ready to pour my heart onto the keyboard, and I know once I start, I will not be able to stop, so if you are not interested in learning all about the ins and outs of a marathon from my perspective as an elite athlete, you may not want to read on.
When I envisioned writing this post a week ago, I thought it would be a post of absolute joy, one where I wrote about the incredible experience that was my first marathon. I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I knew exactly how my race would play out; how I had envisioned it in my mind for the last 6 weeks. I even had started a post on the power of visualization to show that races could go EXACTLY as you wanted them to. However, this is not how the world works, and even though I would have much preferred that outcome now……I trust that everything happens for a reason, and for that I have a different story to tell you.
Don’t get me wrong, I still wholeheartedly believe in visualization, and I believe one day that vision will come true, but on Sunday November 17, 2013 it was not to be. I learned so many lessons during the race, and even more in the reflection afterwards. I have learned more about who I am than any experience in my life, and I know somewhere down the road, I will be happy this race went the way it did.
It is hard to know where to begin, there is so much to say, so much to reflect on, and so many factors that could have caused my crash (which I have learned was not “the wall” as I initially thought). I have spent the last two days questioning everything I have done, gaining lots of valuable insight into the human body, and the effect the marathon has on your body (Boy, am I sore!). I will never truly know what happened out there, but all I can do is look back on what did, and hopefully prevent anyone reading this from going through the same thing (and hopefully myself) ever again.
I think I will make this into a Part I and Part II, just to build suspense…..haha, more likely because otherwise even my mum who would watch paint dry for me, would get bored with the length of the post. Today I will cover the first half, and then on Saturday you can read about the second half, and how I was able to survive eight miles of pure agony. I will then do a reflection and lessons learned….if you can bear it.
Before I begin, I just want to say thank you. To my family, friends, team, twitter friends, running friends, the citizens of Philadelphia, the crowds who supported me through every step of that agonizing last mile, and YOU for taking the time to read my story. I have realized through this that people are SO GOOD. It is incredible! There is so much beauty in this world, and I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the kindness and love I have received this week. I am absolutely blessed to interact with such wonderful people on a daily basis, so thank YOU!
The world aint all sunshine and rainbows
As many of you saw in my training update a few weeks ago, I was having a problem with my tibialis anterior. I had in fact strained the muscle, and it was a lot worse than I initially let on. I am a very optimistic person, and I believe if you continue to talk in the negative, you are bringing more negative back into your life, so I was very hesitant to elaborate. I actually only ran 43 miles in the ten days leading up to the race. Although that still sounds like a decent amount, 24 of those miles were the three days before the marathon.
I knew in my heart it was affecting me in more ways than just the physical pain. I barely slept in the weeks leading up to the race, tossing and turning all night, waking every hour, and eventually giving up and getting up at 6am….5am….4am….not exactly the sleep you should be getting before the longest race of your life.
My recovery time probably could have been lessened had I been smarter and less stubborn, but as usual I thought I knew best. I went against advice of my physical therapist, and ran before it was ready…..on the Schuylkill River loop….where there is no going back. On Monday I paid for this mistake BIG TIME. I could BARELY WALK. Every step was extremely painful and I was an emotional, teary, nervous wreck. With 6 days to go I began to consider the possibility of a DNS.
Thankfully, my wonderful physical therapist, Shannon saw me within a few hours of flying back into Philly after her sprint triathlon, taking the time to work on my leg and reassure my crazy mind. The next few days my leg continued to improve, but I knew it was not going to be healed. I hammered my body with ibuprofen, taking more than the maximum dose (800mg 4-5 times a day!) all the way up to the Saturday morning of the race, desperately attempting to reduce the inflammation. Little did I know I was actually risking kidney failure with this move, but as athletes we would take a bullet to be able to compete. Insane? Maybe, but I had invested way too much into this marathon to let it slip away now. In my mind I was still on target to break 2:40, and no-one could tell me otherwise.
The night before, and morning of the race, I was strangely calm. I did not feel scared, or nervous, but excited to do what I had been dreaming about for…..well, since I was around 15 years old as I watched Paula run by me in the London Marathon. I always thought “one day” I would run the marathon, and today was that day! The increased security was a little more tedious than expected, but otherwise the pre-race plan was pretty smooth. I had my bagel, banana, and animal crackers at 4am, and had been sipping water all morning. I had a good feeling about the race.
As I stood on the start line, I took my first gel, and began to bring my vision to life; looking behind me to see the art museum, looking out in front to see my city, smiling, as I finally had the opportunity to compete in the distance I was born to do. As we started the race heading down Benjamin Franklin Parkway a tear came to my eye as they played the “Gotta Fly Now” Rocky song. I was finally doing it! This is my race! On my home course! I can finally prove I was made for this!
The first 8 miles went by quickly, exactly as I had imagined other than some pain in my tibialis anterior, but I hoped knew it would go away as the race went on. Nothing was going to stop me now. I smiled and waved to people cheering, took in the scenery, and ended up running with a lovely girl named Megan, who had selected me to run with as I “looked like I was a smart runner who knew what she was doing”. We had an enjoyable chat, and I loved every second, but I was still eager to get to the part where I could really prove myself. My coach and I had agreed that I would run absolutely no faster than 6:10 for the first 10 miles, and the two miles Megan and I ran under, we immediately slowed down to be smart 🙂
As we went up a decent sized hill around 9 miles, Megan dropped back and we had to part ways. I ran by myself for the next few miles…..well actually the rest of the race….but that few miles I did not see anyone I knew! I took in my second gel, and was very diligent with water and Body Armor intake through my fuel belt (probably the only elite athlete possibly in the history of the marathon to wear a fuel belt!!!). Everything was going according to plan, and I couldn’t wait to reach the 10 mile mark where I could pick it up to race pace.
Even though I was under instructions to NOT try to make up time for going out slower than race pace, I am ashamed to admit that I had already decided before the race began that I was going to try get my average pace close to race pace by halfway. At the 10 mile mark, I began to pick it up, not significantly, but enough to run a few sub 6:00 minute miles a little too early.
|Cool Photo of the course just before the Art Museum from the Phl17 website|
As we turned onto MLK drive, I saw Steve around 11 miles, threw off my fuel belt as he asked how I was doing. GREAT! As I ran by the Art Museum, hearing the screaming fans, looking at the Rocky Statue wearing his Philly Marathon T shirt, the excitement began to build. As I crossed the halfway point I calculated that I had to make up 1 1/2 minutes if I was to run under 2:40, and there was no way I could make that much time up in the last 6 miles…..so I had better keep my pace around 6:00.
Little did I know, although at that moment it was completely achievable, the choices I would make over the next 4 miles would mean no matter how hard I pushed, It was not going to be my day.
To be continued….