Today was a very humbling experience for me. For as long as I can remember, my running career has been filled with PRs and great races. I’ve only gotten faster with time and every marathon and half marathon has thus been a PR over the previous. That is until today.
I have run the Tucson marathon twice before and both times I finished saying “I will never run that one again.” Funny what the memory can forget. The Tucson marathon is notorious for being mostly all downhill. With a net 2,200 feet drop in elevation, it is supposed to be fast, and that’s why I chose to do it again. I had planned on training on hills (and particular downhills) this time around, but those are hard to come by in Phoenix and I typically didn’t have time to drive 20 minutes away for my morning runs. I know – lame excuse, right?
Let’s start with the reasons why I love the Tucson marathon, and probably the things that keep me going back. First off, the size is perfect. There are usually around 4,000 people between the half and full marathons, which is not too large as to be crowded on the course, yet you are always running with people. Second, the race is very well organized. For example, we took luxury busses to the starting line and we were allowed to sit in the busses (with the heater on) until the start of the race. Since it was 38 degrees at the start, this was a welcome bonus. Plus, since it wasn’t too crowded, you could stay on the bus until 30 minutes before the start and still have time to use the port-o-potty and get to the starting line with time to spare.
The race is directed by Pam Reed, an amazing athlete who clearly knows what it takes to put on a good race and make runners happy. I like that she brings her own race experiences with her in planning this one. I paid particular attention to the water after learning about the fiasco at the Rock N’ Roll Las Vegas marathon last weekend and was happy to see it all being poured from 5-gallon water jugs instead of being manhandled out of a trash can (and it tasted great – definitely not from a hose or fire hydrant). And the food at the finish line was awesome, too – PB &J wraps, fruit, cookies, licorice, popcorn, etc.
Okay, so the race…It started out perfectly. In fact, at the 10-mile mark I was 2 minutes ahead of schedule (I had on a pace band that listed what time I needed to be at each mile in order to finish in 3:35). Those 10 miles were all downhill and then there was a slight uphill from miles 10 to 13 and this is where it all went wrong. By mile 13 I was still on pace, however I had used up my extra 2 minutes and was now exactly on pace to make my goal. This made me a little nervous since I was hoping to have a minute or two to spare towards the end of the race. This was also my first clue that maybe a BQ wasn’t going to happen. I think that after 10 miles of downhill, the uphills put my legs into shock and I suddenly realized that my quads were in a lot of pain. At this moment, I realized my lack of training on hills was going to severely hurt me. By mile 15, I was ready to call it quits. My quads were completely shot and my pace was getting a little slower each mile. By mile 18, I was walking quite frequently. My goal had gone from 3:35 to 3:40 to 3:45 to a PR and by now I just wanted to finish and forget the whole race ever happened. Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get much worse, it did. At mile 19, my left calf started hurting. This happened to me a few weeks ago on my last 22-mile training run, but I had been giving it extra special TLC since then in hopes that it would be okay come race day. I knew that if I pushed it, however, I could cause severe injury. So, this forced me to slow down even more. At this point I had come to terms with the fact that I just had a bad race day. I wasn’t going to BQ or PR, and I was okay with that.
Then I saw my husband at mile 24 and I suddenly broke down crying. I really didn’t have any reason to since I had come to peace with the situation. I often think that marathons are like childbirth in several ways. In this case, it was the range of emotions that I experienced. Just like in childbirth, during marathons I often find that you go through a range of emotions very close together – elation, anger, frustration, fear, etc. This also comes with crying for no real reason, which was the point I was at near mile 24. Then I said to my husband, “I have to finish this” and I went on my way. My final time was 4:06 – not my worst, but definitely not my best.
I took away several lessons from today, including better strategies on pacing and training for race-specific terrain. Yes, I will try again soon – I’m not sure when or where, but I’m not giving up hope in that BQ. Right now, however, I am very much looking forward to taking a few weeks off through the holidays and letting my body recover.