If marathons were easy, everyone would run them, right? Is that what they say? I've learned plenty of running lessons in the last year, and of them, this is true: marathons are hard.
I finished the Lakefront Marathon on Sunday in a time of 3 hours, 33 minutes and 7 seconds. Just 4 minutes off a personal best. In fact, it's my second-fastest marathon. And I qualified for the 2017 Boston Marathon by nearly 7 minutes. I also kept a fairly even pace, which gets tough to do in the later miles.
But the truth is this: the run was miserable. I couldn't get my body to respond. My legs wouldn't pick up the pace when I needed them to. My nutrition was off, and I felt it. By mile 20 I was so thirsty, I was stopping at the aid stations to gulp entire cups of water.
I felt ready going into this marathon. The training was done, my friends were near, the weather cooperated. I was ready to run strong and happy and successfully with a smile on my face. But I couldn't find my smile.
Shortly after the halfway point, my training buddy and friend ran up from behind, joining alongside me. He and I had identical goals for the race. With matching qualifying time requirements for Boston and big dreams, we were ready to smash this marathon.
"Hey kiddo," he said, as he sidled up to my right. With that, I nearly cried. I was so ready for a familiar face by that point, and so relieved he'd shown up when he did. All I could do in response was give him the "so-so" motion with my hand, signaling my fading energy.
"We've got this," he said. And I knew that he did.
With his energy nearby, I pulled myself through a few miles at my goal pace before sinking back into a more comfortable one. My brain wanted to let it go -- all the training, all the hard work, all the goals. My mind tried to convince my body that it'd be OK to just stop. There were several points that I actually convinced myself to be done with marathons.
Just let it go. If you slow down, you'll miss your shot at Boston. You won't have to run it. You won't have to run a marathon ever again. You're not enjoying this. You said you'd keep running until it stopped being fun.
My mind was totally right. I wasn't enjoying myself. And I've told myself repeatedly that when running stops being fun, I won't do it anymore.
But there was still a small part of my brain, somewhere deep, deep inside, that knew I could do it. That knew, if I just shut up, I could not only get it over with, I could hit my goal. And then -- and only then -- could I truly have peace of mind and a break from the stress of fast paces and hopes of a return to Boston.
If I would just shut up and run.
So I did. And it continued to be miserable and reminiscent of those last few miles of Boston. And just like Boston, I finished. And just like Boston, I finished with a damn respectable time. But just like Boston, I felt underwhelmed. Not disappointed, god no. I got my qualifying time. I got exactly what I wanted out of the result.
But I didn't enjoy a step of it.
And that matters to me, I've come to learn. The journey is just as important as the result, if not more.
So, sure, technically Lakefront was a great success. But not emotionally, really. And as a person who has feelings about everything, that's an important piece of the puzzle for me. The most important.
Does that take away the joy of accomplishing my goal? No way. It just tarnishes my memory of the race.
My Grandma's Marathon experience, to me, is the pinnacle of running. I felt great, I felt happy, I felt strong, I felt everything, and I smashed my goal. Even the following fall, running a 50-miler, sure, it was difficult at times, but I loved it so much. I had the most wonderful day. A full day of running. In the end, that was successful, too.
I could have finished Grandma's Marathon with the exact same time, but if it hurt and felt awful for 26 miles, I'd never have the fond memories I have of it now. It's exactly why I want to run Boston again. So I can have the enjoyable experience I was meant to have.
This is no way means I'm done running hard or shooting for improvement. I'll get back to it when I'm good and ready, but that isn't any time soon. Right now I just want to run.
Until my body and mind tell me otherwise, it's back to the basics. Running because it makes me happy. Running with my friends. Running because I can.
In May I'll be running 165 miles in six days, averaging a marathon a day. I've got that to prepare for, which sounds like the opposite of what I need. But to me, it's exactly what I want. Miles upon miles of simply covering the distance. Not beating myself up over pace or stressing about speed work or worrying whether race day will go exactly as I need it to go.
The goals are still there. They're always there, they've just shifted.
I'm going to run far and wide for the hell of it. Just the way I like it.