...And Part Time Marathoner
If at first you don’t succeed…yeah, yeah I know. I have been trying again, and again, and again. So far I guess I have technically tried 14 times. Well at least I have completed 14 marathons – all well under my self-imposed four-hour time threshold – so technically I have tried to qualify for the Boston Marathon 14 times by virtue of competing in races that are qualifiers. However, I have truly only tried three times in earnest and one of those times was this past weekend in Santa Rosa, California.
The other two attempts were in November of 2012 in Charlotte at the Thunder Road Marathon and the other time was in 2013 in Corning, New York in my annual trip to race in the Wineglass Marathon. The other 11 times were just to earn a respectable finish with eight of them just sheer acts of stupidity like the four marathons I completed in an eight week span in 2012 before my body said “no mas”.
But despite the successful finishes (I have the medals to prove that they were at least successful – see my photographic evidence if you care) I am still chasing my white buffalo, my unicorn, the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…the coveted Boston Marathon qualification time (henceforth referred to as BQ).
How hard is it to qualify for Boston? Hard. How hard? Hard enough that there are scores of runners who have spent their entire lives chasing a BQ and have never earned one. That’s how hard. Hard enough that the race really means something. Sure you can commit to raising money and sneak your way into the race without qualifying, but that’s not the way I am going to do it. I am planning on running a marathon in every state in the US and adding Washington, DC for good measure and I will tell you right now that I will not run a race in the state of Massachusetts until I earn my way into the Boston Marathon. It is so special that I will not even allow myself to purchase, let alone wear, a piece of Boston Marathon merchandise until I qualify. My running partner has qualified for the Boston Marathon countless times and even posted a personal best finishing time at Boston this past April and I will not even touch her Boston Marathon jacket until I qualify for the race myself.
So when I tell you that I was disappointed this past weekend when I missed the cut yet again, that is an understatement. Let’s just put it out there that there is not one valid reason that I missed the qualifying time again other than I must not have trained hard enough. This time as I head back to the drawing board I know that the only way to a BQ is through harder training, more discipline and a better diet. Those are things I must do, and I am here to say that I will do them and eventually you will be reading a post about how I qualified. It is a matter of time and training and it is coming. Sooner or later.
The weekend was certainly an interesting one. 16 weeks of training led up to what was supposed to be 3:09:59 seconds of running (I need a 3:10:00 to qualify for Boston). That is 26.2 miles at an average pace of 7:13 per mile. Sounds simple right? You are saying “Man, I can run a mile in 7 minutes no problem”. You are very likely correct. You CAN run a mile in seven minutes. But can you run 25.2 more of them – consecutively – right after that? I am thinking that you can’t. And on Sunday I found out I couldn’t either.
I can run sub-seven minutes for the first 15 miles though. And once again, according to my watch, I went out too fast and blew my race. Those – and my apparent lack of intense training – are my only two reasons for failure.
Sure I traveled cross-country to run the race. That is no excuse. Multitudes of runners do that all the time. And I got to California three days early to get acclimated. So check that excuse off. It’s not usable.
Sleep patterns? Yup. Check that one off too. I was in bed every night by 10pm and up by 530am to get myself on a schedule. No excuse there.
Gastrointestinal issues? Nope. And trust me, if you are a runner, you ARE concerned with this trivial-sounding little detail. If you wake up on race day and your internal plumbing isn’t responding to your requests, it can blow your whole race. I don’t want to get into the details, but I didn’t have a problem on Sunday. All good.
Maybe it was the earthquake that little scared the crap out of me. Oh did I forget to mention that? My bad. Up at 3:00am for a 6:00am race to eat something, get a mile walk in on the treadmill and put band aids on my nipples (yup – that old tale of “can’t run a marathon without band aids on your nipples is completely true. I defy you to try without them. Take my word for it). I was up for only 20 minutes when the strongest earthquake to hit Northern California in 25 years hit. 6.0 or 6.1 on the Richter scale depending on what geologist you are listening to. But even that was no excuse. Everything ran according to plan and I didn’t even see so much as a traffic delay on the way to the course.
Weather wasn’t an excuse either. Dead perfect. Light 3mph breeze and 60 degrees nearly throughout the entire race. And the course wasn’t nearly hilly. There were a few monsters scattered along the course (especially miles 13-15) but nothing that was a dream killer.
But despite all that, I still missed it. How? Judging by my watch, I went out too fast. And going out too fast was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. And I even tried to avoid it.
I needed 7:13’s/mile so I figured I would start slow and work into negative splits where I got faster. Sounds reasonable right? Sure it was. 7:40 first mile. So now I am down 25 seconds. And that is where it began. 7:10-second mile. So now I am only down 20 seconds. So let’s go 7 flat for the third mile and now I’m down only 5 seconds. Then another 7 flat. Now I am up 10 seconds. Let’s keep doing that. So that’s what I did, and that was the beginning of my end. 6:55. 6:50. 6:55. 7 flat. Now I have banked a minute. Pretty soon I am up nearly 1:45. I’m cruising and feeling great. A quick ports-potty break at mile 11 and I am still up 1:30. At the half marathon split my pace called for one hour and 35 minutes. I crossed the mat at 1:33:30 – a full 90 seconds up. If I just repeat that same pace over the second half of the race, I will shatter the 3:10 I need by three minutes and I will be toeing the starting line in Hopkinton, MA in April next year. And just like that…it was gone and I wasn’t fast enough to catch it.
It was like I was a completely different runner for the last 13.1 miles. At the 14-mile checkpoint I was back to running 7:05’s. Not bad. Still banking 10 seconds a mile. And then the wheels fell off. 7:45. 7:35. 7:40, then the first of the dreaded 8-somethings. I didn’t have it in the tank and the worst part is, I knew it. I knew it was slipping away and there wasn’t anything that I could do about it. Slam a caffeine-laced Roctane power gel to get sugar in my system and give me a boost. Yeah, that didn’t work. I became an idiot savant in my head. Able to do complex math problems with ease. “If I run this one in 8 flat, all I need to do is average 7:16 over the remainder and I will be able to get it done”. Uh, yeah. Sure you can. And I had actually said to myself “If I can get to 20 miles I can hammer out 6:30’s and still get it done”. Who the hell was I kidding? If I could manage a 7:30 pace now, how the hell can I actually believe that I can put together six consecutive 6:30’s? And lets not forget that pesky little .2 at the end. The dream was over and I had nine more miles to think about how I lost it.
Nine miles is a long way. It takes a long time to run it. It takes even longer when every single step you take you think about how it could have been. How it was supposed to be. How it was supposed to be the day I ran through the finish corral watching the clock numbers changing knowing the whole time that I have 90-plus seconds in the bank and I can enjoy that last .2 knowing I have a BQ in the bank. But it was not to be this day.
So I ran that last nine miles, the whole time thinking about how I missed out on Boston for 2015. But I also thought of a whole bunch of other things. Not self-pity. Not self-loathing. None of that. Sure, the thoughts of “you moron, you went out too fast” and “you disappointed everyone who was pulling for you” and “this sucks” were there. But not nearly as much as the thoughts of “man, do you know how luck you are to be able to be running and finishing this race?” I was sore. My feet were on fire. My lungs were screaming and my mind was asking itself why it puts my body through 26.2 miles of torture. But most of all, I was thankful. Thankful for the people who said I could do it (and even thankful for the ones who motivate my by saying I can’t). Thankful for being gainfully employed within an organization who let’s me take time off to run races and who compensates me fairly and literally affords me the opportunity to fly cross-country to run for fun. Thankful that my body is sound and I can run, unlike so many other people. Those are some of the thoughts that stuck in my head. I was in an almost Zen-like state, and for anyone that knows me, that is not the norm.
They say running changes you. Maybe that is the case. I guess we shall see.
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