The Finish Line: Only the End of This Chapter

The 2014 New Jersey Marathon was, by all accounts, easy. I was four years younger than I am now. I was also five pounds lighter (okay, maybe closer to ten).  I was also coming off a year where I had run 13 half marathons, so I started my marathon training with a lot of miles in the bank already. When I started working with a coach, I had a goal to break my previous personal record for the marathon which was 4:11:16.

I crushed it! I not only broke my PR, I did it by almost 14 minutes! I reached my goal – and my stretch goal of completing the race in under four hours. I also surprised myself by being within striking distance of a Boston Qualifying time. Since this race was run two weeks after that year’s Boston Marathon and two weeks before my 49thbirthday, it could be said that I missed a BQ by less than 3 minutes – or two weeks. The idea that I could qualify for Boston though was no longer a far-fetched fantasy.  I set a new goal of qualifying for Boston.

It is with that goal that I started training for this year’s New Jersey Marathon. I had tried a few times already. The closest I got was New Jersey two years ago (read about that here). The flat New Jersey course was familiar and had been good to me, it wasn’t too far from home, and I would have support from my running club. I hired a new coach back in the fall and began my journey.

The 2018 New Jersey Marathon was, by most accounts, not easy. While I toed the starting line in as good as a place as I could have been, if I was honest with myself, I wasn’t prepared to run 26.2 miles as fast as the goal I had set for myself. I knew I wasn’t hitting the right paces in my training. And if my half marathon times were to be viewed as an accurate prediction of my marathon time, I was falling short. But I believe in the power of positive thinking, of visualization; my coach believed in me and I did run a very strong New York City Half Marathon six weeks prior, so there was hope.

I made one big mistake that, while I don’t think cost me my BQ, did cost me a better finishing time. After professing to a couple members of my running club just prior to the start that I “needed to run my own race” and noted how pace groups had been my demise in the past, I went out with the 3:55 pace group. That turned out to be too fast. Although I was averaging a pace just under a 9:00 mile through 15 miles, I began to fade not too long after that.

In mile 16, I walked through a water stop and started to feel sore as I struggled to catch back up to the pace group. In mile 17, they were out of sight. In mile 18, I was passed by the 4:05 pace group and all hope for a BQ was gone. I completed Mile 19 at a 12:59 pace according to my Garmin and the 7.2 miles ahead of me seemed pretty daunting. I texted my boyfriend, “Not gonna happen.” I walked as we texted back and forth.

“alright, take your break then bring it in the best you can”

“I might just DNF”

“no, don’t do that. walk it off then get back to running”

“Ugh”

“you worked too hard to DNF. get your medal”

“Ok”

“there’s more water in your well than you think :)”

“Not really”

“yes there is. go get it. i love you. now get going.”

He was right. Armed with his encouraging words, my mantra became just keep running. And at a few points just keep moving. That got me to within a mile of the finish. There I spotted a member of my running club who ran me to within sight of the finish line and helped me find what little energy I had left. And surprisingly it was a lot more than I thought! In that last mile, I passed the “Cheer Squad” from my running club. Some of them had driven 100 miles down the Parkway, just to cheer. Others had run the Half or the marathon relay and their own race was long over. But they stayed. I managed to muster a 9:19 mile pace for that last half mile. Their cheers allowed me to find that strong finish that I had envisioned.

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Last mile with my pacer (complete with tutu!). Photo credit: Vince Mullhaupt.

So, was I disappointed? You betcha! But more so out on the course when the reality of it was hitting me and I was still struggling just to finish. My new goal became not having it be my slowest marathon. I succeeded! It wasn’t even my second slowest. I got my medal. I also got lots of reminders that finishing a marathon – at all – is an accomplishment less than half of one percent of the population achieves (I hang around with too many runners and tend to forget). I have run eight marathons. All under 4:45. Five under 4:30. Four under 4:15. One under 4:00. My fastest was two weeks before my 49thbirthday and 5 weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. My two slowest were my first two, when I was in my 30s.

I’ve come a long way. I am courageous and strong. I am ready to start thinking about my next goal. There is always a next goal. Finish lines are only the end of a chapter. It’s always about the journey. I’m going to keep moving and writing. Thanks for sticking with me. Thanks for your support.

Last week of Marathon TrainingScreen Shot 2018-05-01 at 2.19.56 PM

 

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