So life doesn’t always go as planned, right? We can practice, train, plan, prep, educate, and organize…but still so much is out of our control. When our running contributor Mike reached out to me after one of his many marathons about putting together a post, I of course said absolutely. However, this time he had a different experience than usual, as well as a different message to get across to all of us out there training (not just for races, but for life in general!). How do we process almost NOT crossing the finish line?
Throughout the year you are in training for “Race Season”. Recently you completed your first marathon of the season. Give us a summary on how the race went overall. When you are post race, what tools/strategies do you use to evaluate your performance?
Honestly, that’s a question I’m still trying to figure out. I didn’t hit my A goal, B goal, or even C goal… but I finished. It was by far one of my toughest races I’ve been a part of even though everything outside of my control laid out the metaphorical red carpet for me. I set out with a pipe dream of running a BQ (3:05) but would’ve been more than happy with a 3:12-3:15. When I realized those numbers weren’t going to happen it became more about just getting through the race than anything else. Post race I’ve been trying to examine all avenues to evaluate the race. Was it all I had in the tank? Did I give up? Did I achieve my goals? Could I have performed better? Could I have changed things? Did I race smart. While some of those answers are pretty obvious I find myself over analyzing the rest two weeks later.
How did you feel during the race?
Short answer, like death. Long answer, I started out with a buddy and my nephew & felt great. We had our goal in mind and we were hitting our marks right on the money. Around mile 6 I could tell I wasn’t as fresh as the other two and told them to run their race. I wasn’t feeling bad at this point, I just knew in an hour or so I was going to be in some pain.
Did you hit your splits?
I set out to run 7:00 minute miles for as long as I could. I figured I’d fall to 7:30 at some point around mile 20. Negative splits are never the goal but I knew at the rate I wanted to push it was probably inevitable. Those numbers would’ve been a huge PR but its where I’ve been training all season long & the plan was to have a friend to lean on when times got tough. Split wise, the race went as smooth as could possibly imagine for the first 12 miles (averaged around 6:57). It was at that point I knew I was in trouble. I backed off to around 7:30 to see if I could recover a bit. That gave me some short lived relief but soon after that the wall came.
What happened towards the end of the race?
I started to hit my wall around mile 14. I had the same thing happen to me back in 2014 at a different race so I tried everything I could to keep from completely bonking. I took my energy gel (until I had a fuel-belt malfunction), grabbed multiple waters/Gatorade, and ate oranges along the course every chance I got. The only problem was every time I put something in, my gut just wretched. I thought I could hold it off but I had to stop for my first ever bathroom break. Again, there was some relief but it was short lived. It was at that point I felt like I was carrying a piano on my back. My family was waiting for me at mile 18 and encouraged me to push on even though I would’ve much rather had the wife cart me off in the stroller. My splits at this point were around an 8:00 average. That’s a far cry from where I wanted to be but I knew it was only going to get worse from there. My race changed at mile 21. I stopped for what seemed like a gallon of water and some fuel and was approached\ by a medic (whom I happened to know personally). She asked if I would sit down for a minute so they could take my vitals and I obliged after they assured me I wasn’t being pulled. I sat there eating a farmers market worth of oranges for about 20 minutes until I could tell my sugars were where they needed to be. I told them I probably couldn’t run any longer after sitting for so long but I’d walk the remaining 5 if I had to. I walked the next mile and it was at that point I started to get some new
life. I attempted to run only to have muscles that I didn’t know existed spasm on me. Who knew your toes could completely curl under your foot mid-step?!?! It essentially became a run/walk pace for the next 4 miles. This isn’t me. I don’t walk during a race. God bless those that do and it’s nothing personal, I’ve just never done it. With that being said, those next 4 miles were pretty awesome. I struck up conversation with people who were feeling worse than me. It may have been their first marathon or their 10th. It didn’t matter. I helped them and they helped me. I’ve said it before but It’s worth saying again. If you want to find faith in humanity, go run a race. The people in it and around it are one of a kind. After checking my watch I decided to push for a sub 4 hour marathon. It was everything I had in me but I finished in 3:51:10. My slowest race since my first marathon nearly 3 years ago but different in so many ways.
Are there things leading up to the race you would change?
Countless things. I came out of the gate way too fast. I should’ve stuck with my original plan of a 7:20 pace. I didn’t eat pre-race because I didn’t want to upset my stomach (turns out it happened anyway). That’s fairly routine for me but I can now see I flew through whatever energy I had way too fast. I used a new fuel belt and couldn’t get my gels
out very easily causing even more frustration and wasted energy. To put it simply, I ran like a rookie. I did things I preach against fully knowing what could happen.
How was your mental toughness?
It wasn’t good. Training seasons was tough & for whatever reason I just didn’t have the faith in
my training. I logged more miles and did more speed work then I’ve ever done before. I think I just wore myself out physically and mentally. I even went back and read some of the old posts to convince myself I was ready. They say the mind breaks down before the body and it was very apparent mine did before the gun even sounded.
When was/is your next race?
I actually ran the following weekend in Columbus at the Capital City Half Marathon. It was originally planned as a “fun run” but after my blow up I wanted to rebound and run as strong as I could. I needed the race to prove to myself that the last race was just a fluke. I didn’t get a PR but considering I ran 26.2 just six days prior, I was more than happy with my 1:34:32. My legs gave everything they had in them so I’ll take it.
How are you prepping for this one?
Considering it was so close to the last one, prep for this one was a little different. I took the next 3 days off and then ran a quick 4 miler on Thursday. I didn’t want my next run to be on race day but I wasn’t going to push it either. I ate a ton of healthy fats, complex carbs, good proteins in an effort to repair all the muscles I could. Overall my body felt pretty good when I toed the line the following Saturday.
What is the biggest thing you have learned from this race?
As my six year old put it, You need to not worry about it so much.
Sometimes we put way too much pressure on ourselves and forget what we’ve accomplished. 26.2 doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of work and sometimes the assistance of others to finish. Along the same lines I hope my kids learned something too. When they seen me at mile 18 they knew I was in rough shape. I could’ve easily quit when my goals were out of reach. If not now, hopefully at some point down the line they understand that things aren’t always going to go your way and its what you do in those moments that say the most about you.
Do you think these lessons can be applied to other areas of fitness…other areas of life?
Without a doubt. Honestly I’ve put off a “race recap” interview because I don’t like the idea of me talking about me. I reached out to you this time for this very reason. I was hoping someone would get the lessons behind the story as opposed to me just carrying on. Whether its in the fitness world, a marathon coral, or the real world I think these lessons ring true.
What advice do you have for other runners gearing up to race?
Be smart. Think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I never try out new things on
race day but did this time. I never run someone else’s race but I did this time. You know your body and your experiences so stick with what works. If you’ve put in the work then have faith you’ll get it done. If it doesn’t go as planned, don’t worry about it. You’ve accomplished so much just by toeing the line and getting to this point. No one race will ever validate the type of runner you are so just enjoy the journey you’ve been blessed enough to take.
Wow! Thanks Mike for your honesty! I know we all can relate in one way or another. Powerful lessons here. Not just fitness…
Mike and Cassie