– Robert F. Kennedy
When I set out to train for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, I set a big goal. A scary goal. I dared to work for the one thing I've always wanted when it came to the marathon – a sub-4 finish.
Beginning on July 4, I ran race pace miles at 9:09 (often faster) and tempos at 8:30 or, again, faster. I ran midweek medium-long runs and I never skipped a long effort. When the training plan gave me a distance range, I always erred on the side of running farther. I knew that if I wanted to dare to dream big that I wanted to show up to the starting line on Nov. 5 knowing that I had done the work. I wanted to feel confident that there wasn't one more thing I could have done to better prepare myself for the 26.2 miles that lie ahead.
However, what I didn't factor in was showing up less than 100 percent.
On Halloween night, just five days for the race, I felt the niggle in the back of my throat. You know the one – it's caused a bit of sinus drainage and a sure sign that illness is coming. I was determined not to let it affect my race so I did everything I could to ward it off - zinc, hydration, essential oils. But come Friday night, after a stressful week, I had an annoying dry cough and loads of uncertainty about the race.
Nonetheless, I tried to remain positive and repeated the things my friends all said to me. I reminded myself of the training I had done and not to get ahead of myself. I lined up with the 4:00 pacer per the plan and prayed for a good day.
And a good day it was for a marathon. It was high 30s, low 40s at the start and in the 50s at the finish. There winds were calm and the few clouds in the sky offered just the right amount of protection.
But with the first step across the mat, I knew those things – the external factors – wouldn't make or break me. There was nothing short of a miracle that would make me that day.
I felt tired. My chest felt tight. My eyes seemed glassy and glazed. My heart rate seemed high and I couldn't catch my breath. And that was just the first mile, a 9:40 – the pace group slow because of the crowd of 20,000 runners on the streets of Indianapolis.
As hard as it felt, though, I tried my best to stick with it. The pace, the group, the race. I told myself that I would hang until mile 5 and see how it felt.
At mile 5, it still felt hard and I knew I needed to slow down if I wanted to cross the finish line. The pace group was running hot, more than likely trying to make up for the first mile, so I decided to let them go. However, as the sign bobbed farther and farther ahead, my legs didn't seem to lag. Miles 6-8 were all sub-9. It seemed like the more I tried to slow down, the more my legs had something to prove.
My new goal became to run through mile 10.5 strong. I am incredibly blessed to have a group of women to train with on the weekends, and all of them came down to Indianapolis to support me in the race. Their plan was to be at miles 10.5 and 17 to cheer me on and, maybe, 20 depending on traffic. They all believe in me so much and I wanted to do them proud.
So the grind continued.
While the miles between 8 and when I saw them (11.5, actually, because of logistics) were slower, I was staying as strong as I could. I was taking Gu every 5 miles and had taken salt at 7. I was staying hydrated thanks to my Nathan pack and Nuun. And there were points when I really thought I could maybe pull it off.
Then mile 13 came. I took my first walk break then, sipping as best I could from the pack and trying to, as I say, get my shit together. I turned a corner and approached a group of residents spectating. The one man commented that hydration is important, that it was good to take it in, and encouraged me to sprint the next mile.
"Hmph," I thought. "That is definitely not going to happen."
And with that acknowledgement, my mental race began to slip away. The walk breaks – 45 seconds to a minute – became nearly regular each mile and the idea of a time goal seemed ludicrous; finishing seemed like it would be a miracle. When I saw my friends again at mile 15.5 and they asked how I was doing, I just shook my head. It wasn't just that I didn't even have the energy to fake it; there was a part of me, too, that wanted to prepare them for a lackluster finish.
I handed off my hydration pack, which had become annoying at this point, and soldiered on for what I was sure would be a death march.
But for as disappointing and frustrating as the race felt, I had moments of fight. Moments when I decided that I was not going to let this day, this body, be in charge. Around mile 18, I thought there might be a chance that I could run a 4:15 – a finish time that I had quoted much of the summer when asked what I'd be happy with. Miles 19 and 20 came in at 9:14 and 9:20.
As a reward, I gave myself a short walk break but my mile 21 split was slowed further by a fuel station stocked with orange slices, pretzels and other goodies. While most of it did nothing for me, the oranges were a God send and I strolled as I gobbled up two. An 11:26 split meant that much of the time I gained in the previous two miles was gone.
Still, I pushed forward. I kept thinking if I could just run even as my buddy Joe had instructed that the race might not get away from me. However, my legs had no interest in running a 9:30 or even 9:45. They wanted to move faster, run the race for which they were trained, but the body didn't have it. And so I'd slow to a walk and see my split flash in the 10's and sometimes 11's if I stopped for water.
I spent the last miles of the race bouncing between disappointment, disgust, defeat and determination. It was a hard place to be, and I think it was made more difficult because my experience at Fort4Fitness five weeks earlier was such a stark difference. I had felt so in control and strong and, most importantly, I was proud.
I was none of those in the final miles of Monumental. In those miles, I felt as if I was failing greatly. Not just myself but all of those who believed in me, trained with me, supported me. And that was where I struggled the most. It wasn't just that my finish time would be so far off my goal, it was that I would disappoint them.
Looking back it days later, I know this isn't true. Because as I headed down the straight away, I could hear their cheers. I could hear the congratulations. I could hear the friendship.
Finish time – 4:18:54, a new PR.