The marathon is a strange beast. You read, prepare and do everything necessary to ensure success, and then, there you are, at the starting line the morning of the race – the one you have spent the past 16 weeks training for – excited and ready to make it happen. However, the beast may have another plan in mind for you.
Such was the case with me when I took my place to begin the 2014 Key Bank Vermont City Marathon in Burlington. This was my 7th marathon and the one where I was finally going to get it right. No, not necessarily run my best time but complete a nice, clean, fun race that I could be proud of. I wanted to cross the finish line exhausted but exhilarated, where PR would stand for “personal reward.” My training had gone great, I had decided on a conservative and doable pace and finish time, carb-loaded for 48 hours, hydrated for 24, knew what energy supplies worked best and affixed them to my clothes, which I had already worn for several trial runs. My sneakers were broken in but not worn out. I had even gotten a good night’s sleep. Yes, this was going to be my day.
And it was for the first half as I glided along with the 4:15 pace group, a smile never leaving my face. It was an unusually hot day, but I felt great as I high-fived and fist-pumped strangers along the route. Then, out of nowhere, the beast began rearing its ugly head; my calves started to spasm and completely cramped up between miles 16 and 17, sending me to the ground in shrieks of pain and fear. I had experienced leg cramps before in marathons but never like this. After ten minutes on the ground (and numerous runners who stopped to help), I was still in pain but able to stand. I somehow got through the final ten miles with a combination of walking, limited running and probably a bit of crawling. The spasms continued and when they got intolerable, I stopped and stretched. I finally crossed the finish line in just under five hours, happily accepted my finisher medal and burst into tears. I was exhausted and exhilarated – imagine that!
I then realized that having a bad race is not necessarily bad – there are actually some positives to it. This particular marathon featured a beautiful course and I had plenty of time to enjoy every part of it. I got to meet some really nice people both on the sidelines cheering and on the course. I was warmed and touched by the support from my fellow runners who offered to stay with me and help get me to the finish. They gave me their last gels, sports beans and salt pills. They handed me their water bottles. We joked that we got much more value for the same entry fee as those who ran the marathon in half the time!
There are added benefits after you cross the finish line, too. You are famished because you have been out there so long but there is no line at the post-race refreshment table by then! And the volunteers let you take seconds and thirds because they aren’t saving it anymore. Then, there is no delay in getting the printout of your split and finish times and no wait for the shuttle buses back to the hotel. And, once on the shuttle bus, it’s nearly empty so you can spread out in your own seat. You get to share war stories with those who are on the bus with you (everyone who finishes late has a war story, it seems). And, you get a really great tan – five hours in the sun will do that to you!
So while the beast may have taunted me, fought me and tried to wear me out physically, try as he might, he couldn’t beat me. However, I still hope that he decides to go into hibernation when I do Marathon #8.