Never Say Never: What I Learned Chasing My Impossible
I ran my first marathon in November of 2017 in a time I was very proud of: 4:54:59. Going into that race, I just wanted to finish within the 7 hour time goal (with the hope of actually finishing in 6 hours). When I crossed the finish line, I felt amazing and had definitely succumbed to the Kool-Aid; I immediately signed up to run the marathon again the following year.
I was inspired by She Can & She Did and decided to push myself and see what I could accomplish if I really tried: So I set a goal to run marathon #2 in November 2018 in 4:30:00.
I hired a virtual trainer and followed a plan filled with things I had NEVER done before: Fartleks (had to look that one up on line to see what the heck I was getting myself into), tempo runs, hill repeats, and structured strength workouts. I gave myself some grace when I had to miss a few workouts but for the most part, I followed the plan I was given.
Although I was physically doing what my marathon training plan asked for, I was constantly fighting the negative chatter in my head. Before EVERY SINGLE RUN that called for a specific pace, I questioned myself. I didn't think I could run the times that were called for, but in most cases I did. I always felt accomplished when I was done, but that didn't stop me from questioning myself again the next time a workout scared me.
As my training continued, I started to question my goal. Running a 4:30:00 marathon would have me running at a 10:17 pace for 26.2 miles. I could easily handle that pace for a half marathon and could comfortably run quite a few miles in the low to mid 9 minute range, but 26.2? That was craziness.
Why did I set a goal that would really make me work? A goal that would take me out of my comfort zone? A goal that could quite actually cause me physical pain?
The questions continued to fill my head. Why not just run to run? Why not just run my race and end up with whatever time I ended up with? Why push myself? Why stress myself out? Why? Why? Why?
Then the questions got deeper. Am I questioning myself just because I am scared? Am I scared that if I really try I won't be good enough? Or am I questioning myself because a 4:30:00 time really isn't that important to me? Maybe I really do just want to run TO RUN, and don't want to be burdened by a goal?
Maybe I don't want running to hurt.
It's been said that running is a mental sport and I truly believe this. My body can physically do a lot of things...it's my brain that gets in the way.
This back-and-forth went on for months. No one cares what time I finish this marathon in, I'd tell myself. So why am I stressing out about this arbitrary 4:30:00 that I pulled out of thin air and declared would be my goal? My friends/family/loved ones/etc are all just proud of me for running a friggin' marathon. The stress I put on myself is mine alone.
As marathon day crept closer I kept teetering between feeling like letting go of my time goal was the right thing to do, and feeling like letting go of my time goal was me quitting.
I finally decided that I would have three goals: My “A” goal was a 4:30:00 finish. My “B” goal was a 4:45:00 finish (still a very respectable PR in my book). My “C” goal was just to have fun and finish the race. I KNEW I would be able to meet my “C” goal. “A” & “B” goals would be icing on the cake.
Race day came and I was feeling good. I was confident in my training and feeling like it would be a successful day, regardless of the outcome. The weather was beautiful and I was surrounded by friends and loved ones.
I ran. And I ran. And I ran.
I did not push myself. I ran at a comfortable pace. During my first marathon the previous year, I never hit a wall---I felt great the entire run. This time, miles 17-23 truly sucked. There was more walking than running. The negative chatter was loud and I was asking myself why the heck I signed up to put my body through this. Quitting was not an option, but running happily through these miles also was not going to happen. I willed my feet to keep on moving and I got it done. Miles 24-26 weren't terrible, but I knew I was almost done and a PR was still within my reach so I pushed through. That last .2 was AMAZING and I sprinted towards the finish with my hands held high knowing I had a PR.
I finished marathon #2 in 4:51:12. Just over a 3 minute PR. I'll take it. I'm not sure if my “C” goal was completely met because I didn't have fun the entire time----but I did finish the run with a smile on my face.
I also sent this text to my best girlfriends who had cheered me in as I crossed the finish line:
“I'll see you guys soon. Changing and then going to ring the PR bell. I am so fucking done with marathons.”
As my legs started to stiffen and I hobbled to change and ring that damn PR bell, I really thought I was done with this distance. But that's the crazy thing about this sport. By the end of the afternoon I was already flirting with the idea of marathon #3. Maybe if I did push myself I could hit that 4:30:00 or 4:45:00 goal....Maybe if I tried just a bit harder, I could have another PR.