Yelled with elation at mile 17.5 after I drank one cup of water, threw a second on my face and nabbed the final Gatorade from a hopeful outstretched arm – He did the three-peat!
In the midst of physically breaking down, my spirits were lifted and for a brief moment, I forgot about my painful predicament.
I haven’t written in detail about my running, mainly because I didn’t think it would appeal to a wide audience, however, my experience this past weekend at the Baltimore marathon was littered with lessons.
On September 8th during the ninth mile of a twenty-mile run, I knew something was different – and not the good kind of different.
I’ve run thousands of miles. I don’t say this to brag, I share this to give perspective.
I’ve run thousands of miles because I was not quite good enough for soccer and was cut from JV lacrosse. Unfortunately and thankfully, my athletic career moved forward through running, despite not being the direction I hoped it would be.
One summer I ran over 1,000 miles in ten weeks. Let’s just say my body didn’t exactly hold up well the following season.
So when I say the ninth mile on September 8th was different, I know it was because I’ve spent a lot of time hurling my body forward on roads, pathways, up and down hills – when something is off – I feel it.
Stubbornly I finished the run and even rested the following day and backed off a bit, but as the rest of the week unfolded, it became clear – I was in trouble.
Leading up to this run I hadn’t taken a day off in weeks, I convinced myself I’d be “making up for lost time” since I didn’t have a big summer of running.
Because I didn’t give my body a chance to recover during this training cycle, my body hit a wall and said – no more.
Shortly after, I was three miles into a half marathon and felt like I was sprinting even though I was going a pace I should have been able to run comfortably. I finished the race over eight minutes slower than my last half marathon.
After a down week where I didn’t do much running, my legs still felt like bricks. Even running two minutes slower than my normal pace was a taxing endeavor. With the marathon a month away, I made the decision to take some time completely off and most likely not run the race.
Whenever I am injured or unable to run for whatever reason, depression (or at least diminished joy) ensues.
It was a rough few weeks as I anxiously watched my friends log runs on Strava and post running pictures on Instagram.
With only fourteen days until the race, I decided to give easy running a shot and ended up convincing myself to run the race anyway.
Wanting to conserve energy, I only warmed up for five minutes before anxiously walking to the starting line.
Milling around before the start, a number of guys were saying they would be running six-minute pace as long as they could and a few others said they were shooting for 2:50. Realistically three hours was more of a reasonable goal for me but I decided to go 6:25-35 pace and go from there.
After the first few miles, I felt OK and even hopeful as we made our way through the Maryland Zoo.
My friend Nick kindly joined me for some of the middle miles and as we talked, I noticed the pace we were running didn’t feel easy.
As we made our way past the harbor, it hit me, this isn’t going to be pretty.
Around mile 12.5 I saw a couple of my friends and shook my head at them, mainly because my feet were hurting and I felt a lot of lower leg fatigue – fatigue that shouldn’t have been there so early.
With a majority of the hills on the course still ahead of me, I readjusted my goal to three hours, give or take a minute. I knew I had to maintain roughly 7:15 a mile for the second half.
As I made my way up the hills I ran past friends, course volunteers and people on their way to work.
Bolstered by the occasional words of encouragement, I just tried to focus on getting one more mile in around my new goal pace.
Desperately needing some energy, the water stop supported by Morgan State University appeared, and at first, I thought it was a mirage, but thankfully it was real and it rejuvenated me like an oasis.
There wasn’t anyone around me so I knew that I could get the hydration I needed – a lot of times I take one water cup because there are usually many runners around and I don’t want to be greedy.
As I ran through the stop the volunteers cheered loudly –
Water cup #1 – drank it down
Water cup #2 – threw it on my face
Gatorade cup #1 – took it to-go
The penultimate volunteer started yelling as I made my way past the group –
“He’s doing it!!”
…He did the three-peat!”
Immediately, with the folded paper cup to my mouth – I smiled super wide and started laughing.
Long story short, I finished the race in three hours.
My legs cramped terribly from miles 19-26 so I wasn’t able to manage a strong finish, but I did it.
Looking back on events leading up to my race I realized I was stubborn and neglectful – there is no “making up for lost time” when it comes to the marathon. Racing 26.2 miles requires consistent and intentional preparation. This work can’t be rushed.
Thinking I could do just as well with less training is a great lesson for my professional and personal life.
Goals need to be realistic and evidence-based.
Yes, I can surprise myself from time to time, but I need to be honest with where I am and what I’ve done to prepare for whatever challenge I’m facing.
At the same time, this experience taught me the power in making the decision to commit to finishing something, even if I might not be fully prepared or even if things might not go exactly according to plan. There can still be moments of joy – little rewards for not giving up the fight.
I learned a lot about myself in those three hours. I’m very stubborn, competitive and prideful, but I’ve also become a lot more humble and aware of the beauty and gifts around me.
I value these special experiences – the support of friends and loved ones, the playful joy expressed by a gracious volunteer.
Practical humility, a bit of courage, a healthy dose of determination, and expressions of love and generosity are all I need in order to keep going.