Breaking 4: I Didn't Make My Impossible Possible and I'm Not Giving Up

breaking 4 in the marathon.jpg

My impossible goal for 2018 was to run a marathon in under four hours. No world records here, not even a BQ, but still a worthy goal and something that scared me to admit out loud.

I ran my first marathon in January 2016. I’m in a running club and am lucky enough to have a wonderful coach who recommended I treat this first marathon like a long run. No time goal, just experience it and finish. I’m slightly competitive (mostly at trivia games and other non-athletic pursuits because I know my limits), but I still had a few goals in mind. The first was of course to finish. The second was to run as fast as the average female marathoner – a 4:40:xx time I googled at some point in December leading up to the race. The third was to beat Oprah. A training buddy of mine had Oprah’s 4:29:20 as her albatross for years, and this was the year she was set to finally reach it. I didn’t tell anyone beating Oprah was my A goal, but it secretly was.

Race day came and I had the experience of a lifetime. The crowd support in Houston is incredible, and I saw many of my friends from my running club in Austin along the course. Every familiar face was a beam of positive energy right to my heart. I fought to not get caught up in the smiles and kept my pace easy, holding back the first 13.1 miles. After that point I figured I could go a little faster, but didn’t let myself go crazy. At mile 20, I was still feeling good. But this was as far as I had ever run before, I was in untested waters. My boyfriend (now husband) jumped onto the course and ran the next six miles with me, encouraging me and helping me pick up the pace.

I finished in 4:37:48, completing two of my goals and leaving me hungry for the third. I signed up for the same marathon, one year out, the next day.

Determined to cut time on my next marathon, I got back into training. Despite my coach’s best efforts, I made the cardinal sin of adding too much too soon. I tried to get faster and increase my mileage, rather than picking one at a time. I wanted to not only beat Oprah’s time, but I figured I could finish in 4 hours and fifteen – maybe even ten minutes. I started struggling with shin splints in the spring, and only two weeks away from race day, the pain had shifted. It became much sharper and pinpointed, radiating from one spot and hurt even when I was sitting or laying down to sleep. I took a bite of humble pie and decided it wouldn’t be worth running this marathon when I was flirting with a stress fracture. There was always next year!

I signed up for a third – to be my second – marathon for the following December. I trained smart this time, adding speed in the spring before switching to longer distances in the late summer and fall. I was in the best shape I’d ever been in. I didn’t tell anyone but my coach, but my goal now was to get under four hours. Shamelessly reveling in my new fitness, I joined a soccer team my friends started at the local indoor league. I always joked that I didn’t want to play adult rec soccer because people took it too seriously and I didn’t want to get hurt by someone trying to relive their glory days, but that was exactly what happened. One healthy shove and tangled cleat from a muscle-bound, graying lady later, I tore the deltoid ligament in my ankle and was boot bound one month and one day before my race. No second marathon for me in 2017.

That one hurt. The first marathon I pulled out of stung but I knew it was for the best. I hadn’t trained well and was going to hurt myself if I ran it. The second time around I felt like I’d done everything right, but still missed race day. On top of that, I’d been training for a dang marathon for over two years, and as much as I was looking forward to the race itself, I was also looking forward to taking a break after completing it. But as it might be becoming apparent, I’m a bit stubborn and now needed to sign up for another marathon.

I picked the Monumental Indianapolis Marathon in November 2018. It was flat, guaranteed to not be hot, and we could visit my husband’s best friend. After easing back into running all spring, I was back in marathon training mode in the summer.

I’ll be honest, it was a bad training cycle. I traveled for work and missed a lot of workouts. I’m an environmental scientist so when I travel for work it’s to bust my butt outside, squeezing in an easy 3 miles on a treadmill in the hotel is a rare victory. I also became lactose intolerant. That’s a thing that can happens! To adults! It took a while to figure it out, too. So more than a few runs were urgently cut short along the way. I also began getting migraines in the last year, and had to cut one long run short because the preceding aura blocked half my vision. Did I mention it was a bad training cycle? I considered switching to the half, but gosh darn it I wanted to finish a marathon. I wanted a break from marathon training, and I knew if I didn’t run this one I would just sign up for another.

But, miracle of miracles, race day came and I was healthy. My coach talked me out of going for a sub four time and to instead shoot for four hours and ten minutes. It wasn’t my big, shiny goal, but I accepted after the training cycle I had I would be lucky to pull it off. The weather was perfect and it’s not a very big race, so I was alone with my thoughts most of the way. This would be a race where I had to get by on my own, with only a familiar face at the few points my husband could get to along the course. His introverted brand of cheers included smiling and waving.

It was a beautiful race. Not without challenges – a porta potty pit stop at mile 12 due to my stomach still being wrecked from some bad lactose free milk the week before, and a migraine aura that started around mile 21. But I pushed. I was kind to myself, too. I told myself I was so tough, and I would finish the race before the migraine main show set in. I told myself I didn’t need to see everything, I wouldn’t fall. And I didn’t fall. Mile 25 was the hardest and slowest, but right after I saw my husband and he shouted in his bro-iest voice IF YOU WANT IT GET AFTER IT! I grinned/gritted my teeth (at this point in a marathon I can’t tell the difference) and finished in 4:10:27.

So, I didn’t reach my impossible goal. But then it wouldn’t be impossible, would it? And it pushed me to run a race I am so proud of. I’m going to take a well earned break from marathons and marathon training for a while, but when I come back (and I definitely will), I’ll still have that impossible goal beckoning. If I want it, I’ll get after it.