I’m not sure why I did it, maybe to make sure it actually happened and wasn’t just a nightmare, but I just checked my Garmin stats from the Sugarloaf Marathon.
Yeah, it really happened, and it was as ugly as I remember. How ugly? Well, I’ll get to some of that, but here’s all you need to know: My average pace was a full minute slower than my goal pace.
It was that kind of day.
I guess looking back I shouldn’t be surprised that the wheels came off somewhere around mile 18 or 19 Sunday. I had my training interrupted by an injury four weeks out and I’m still not 100 percent. I wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be and surely not fit enough to try to run the race I wanted to run and tried to run yesterday. And my head was never in the right place. I was full of doubt and did not know how to handle the pain that always pops up during a marathon, the pain that is much worse when you are not quite healthy and definitely not fit.
Sunday just wasn’t my day. My goal of 3:47 (8:41 pace) turned into 4:15:02 (9:41 pace). I was questioning myself from the very beginning and by the time my friend Seth hopped in to pace me right around the 17-mile mark, I was ready to call it a day.
Going into the race, I knew I was undertrained and not quite 100 percent because of that hamstring/adductor injury, but I wanted to at least make an attempt to PR (3:50:12). I had heard plenty about the course and those dastardly hills from miles 5-11, so I set out to run conservative early and hoped to have something left in the tank for that “downhill” finish.
I started the race pretty much exactly as I wanted. I went out in 8:49, 8:50, 8:47. I tried to enjoy the views, including that spectacular view between mile 2 and 3 where you look to your right over the water and see the towering mountain ranges, and not push too hard. It didn’t feel too hard, but when my achy hamstring started to feel fatigued after mile 3, I was already questioning if I would be able to keep this up for 26.2. Not a good sign.
I stayed with that conservative pace through miles 4 and 5, when the climbing started, running 8:52 and 8:57. I understandably lowered from 6-10, which looking back I feel like was a constant climb (it wasn’t, but that’s what I remember). Mile 9 (9:32) and mile 10 (9:16) were the worst, but I figured once I was at the top of that hill and started to run down it, I would feel better.
That steep downhill leading up to Sugarloaf Mountain was awful. Gravity tried to pull me down the hill stupid fast, but my legs didn’t want to move stupid fast and breaking to slow down sent jarring shocks up to my knees, hips and back. That hill sucked. So did the fact that I had to duck into the woods for a pee break.
I think, looking back, this is where my mind started heading in the wrong direction. I was having hard time getting my legs to move the way I wanted and I had so much farther to go. When you start questioning whether or not your body can get you though the race with 16 miles left, you are probably in trouble.
It wasn’t long after that long hill and after passing the resort that my day really started to take a turn. My two biggest complaints about this marathon are the roads suck (there are a ton of potholes and a huge camber), and they are not closed to traffic. There were cars and trucks flowing in both directions, and spectators can drive to a spot, stop and cheer, then drive to another spot and cheer some more. That’s great if you have family cheering you on and helping you out. It is awful if you are having a bad day and a couple of obnoxious people keep telling you that you “look great,” (fucking liars) and “keep going Superman.” When I started to get grumpy because I was hurting and watching my PR, as well as a sub-4 marathon, slip out of my hands, it was the last thing I wanted to hear. I started to dread not just running, but running past those spectators again. I’ll never wear that damn Superman shirt again.
I kept trying to run that 8:41 pace I wanted through the half marathon, though I never was really close. Mile 11 was 8:57, mile 12 9:02, mile 13 8:49. When I passed the half marathon mark around 1:57, I knew my goal and a PR were not happening today. I think I needed to be under 1:55 for either to happen, and even if the finish is mostly downhill, I knew I didn’t have the energy or stamina to make up the time I had already lost.
I slowed down a bit, from 14-16 (8:50, 9:02, 8:58) and then the wheels started to come off. My right hamstring/adductor was really tired and a little bit achy. Then my left achilles started to hurt and my calves were on fire.
My mind was done too.
I passed the start line for the 15K and knew Seth would be hopping in soon. I wanted to be able to go, but I knew it was happening. I was starting to feel defeated because my legs didn’t want to go and I pretty much gave up. When Seth jogged out onto the road to join me he said something about, “starting the surge party,” and I waved my hands, hung my head and said, “nope. Nope. That’s not happening.”
And I pretty much shut it down.
Miles 17 and 18 were OK. 9:07, 9:09. But at mile 19 I just couldn’t do it anymore. I slowly jogged through mile 19 at 9:14 and then the walking started. Thankfully, Seth encouraged me just to get to the finish line, jog when I could and walk when I needed to. I drank more water and Gatorade over those last 6.2 miles than I did all week.
I was defeated. Demolished. Embarrassed.
I watched my goal tick by somewhere during mile 24, then watched 4 hours go by during my 25. My splits for those 3 miles are too embarrassing to talk about, but I’ve already come this far so — 11:24, 13:23, 14:09.
I jogged through the finish line, sheepishly accepted a finisher’s medal, and tried to work through all the shitty emotions I was feeling. Of course, I had been fighting through those emotions for about 6 miles, so by the time I got to the finish line I was nearly done. I did take a second in the food tent to kneel into a catcher’s squat, choke back a few tears and wonder what the fuck happened?
Looking back, I know exactly what happened. In the tail end of a pretty good training block I aggravated my bum right leg (which seems like it is going to be an issue as long as I keep running). I lost a bunch of fitness because cross training just isn’t the same as running. I slacked off on strength training and let my diet go to shit (I stop weighing myself, but I’m sure I put on at least 5 pounds in the last month). I just wasn’t ready to run the race I wanted. I wasn’t ready physically and I sure as hell wasn’t ready mentally.
I knew that heading into the race and tried to run a race I was pretty sure I wasn’t capable of, and I blew up. It’s really not a surprise. I mean, my longest run in the last four weeks before Sunday was 9 miles. What did I expect?
Moving forward, I’ll take solace in the fact that I didn’t just walk off the course and quit. I mean, I kind of quit because I did a whole hell of a lot of walking, but I still crossed the finish line. That has to count for something. I’ll remind myself that after a month of really lackluster (almost non-existent) training, I ran a halfway decent 20 miles, well, minus mile 20 (I crossed the 20-mile mark in 3:01:10). I’ll remember that I had a fun weekend with good friends.
And I was able to show up at the starting line and take a chance. I do not take that for granted. I’m lucky enough to have my health and can choose to put myself through this type of challenge. Even if my race went horribly wrong, at least I had the opportunity to try.
I’ll learn a lot from what happened Sunday and what happened in the lead up to Sunday. It will be a while before I run another marathon, but I have so many things I can take from this cycle into the next one, whenever that is.
Until then, let’s eat.