Can you feel like you succeeded but also failed at the same time?
..because I am pretty sure that is exactly how I feel about Chicago.
My mindset was the strongest part of the entire race. I never let negative thoughts take over and constantly reminded myself of the infamous Kara Goucher line, “Once you make the decision to not fail, your heart and body will follow.” When my energy levels hit the wall, my mind stayed determined and focused. I knew my PR pace was fading at mile 17 but I repetitively reminded myself that I wasn’t failing, I was learning. I was learning how to keep the pace strong when the goal was no longer part of the plan. I put my head down and chipped away at each mile and fed my mind all the confidence it needed.
I didn’t fail at Chicago. But I didn’t succeed. I had my eyes set on a PR and this vision was new to me. In all my past marathons, I just ran because I love the distance. In my first 3 marathons, I was still so new to 26.2 miles and I was still exploring the territory. I gradually let down my guards with each marathon resulting in consistently faster times and constant PRs. I threw 2016 San Francisco Marathon spontaneously into the mix as my fourth marathon. Although I wanted to attempt sub 3:15, I didn’t have much expectations because it was such a spur of the moment race. I ended up taking a risk and started with the 3:15 pacers only to find myself diving head first into the wall at mile 18. The problem wasn’t necessarily my legs inability to tackle the hills but my mind’s inability to stay composed when this scary feeling of complete fatigue took over. I was experiencing the exact feeling I feared when I first started tackling this distance. I lost complete control of my emotions and just cried my way to the finish.
SF Marathon was an utter failure but once again, I had no expectations so it didn’t sting much. I easily shook off the experience and began to prepare for Chicago 2016 in the fall. Ultimately, Chicago was the big picture and San Francisco was like a practice run that served as a crash course on how to NOT react when you hit the wall. I still made silly mistakes in Chicago 2016, but raced my way to a 3:13 PR. I was ecstatic and SURPRISED. Going into the race, I just wanted another attempt at sub 3:15 now that hills were no longer in the picture.
Then there was Boston and Big Sur. I don’t need to elaborate on those two much because I have done enough of that. Let’s just say that snagging a medal at the end was the only pressure I placed on myself so despite running two of my slowest marathons (other than my first), it was still a success.
Chicago 2017 was the first marathon that I truly went into with a vision and a hunger for success. My mind was stronger than ever and I believed and still believe that my body was just as ready to PR. I was just ready. When the gun went off, I felt great. Bethany and I were hitting consistent 7:25s for the first 3 miles and we slowly crept to 7:20s with a couple 7:13/15. I was weary of the pace but I knew we were being smart and I genuinely felt solid. At the halfway point, I felt my mind wander to negative places but I reeled it back in quickly because when I scanned my body, there were no signals of crashing.
I had a little incident with my fueling which is why I think my mind started going negative. I stupidly only brought one gel with me to take at the first 10k mark and intended on using the gel on the course for the remaining 10k splits…however I failed to look at where the fuel would be located on the course and what it was. I would say that it was a “rookie move” but rookies don’t even do that!!! I had the course and the water stations memorized going into my first marathon.
When mile 12 was approaching, I was not seeing any fuel stations. I started to worry, consequently switching my focus from consistent pacing to scanning the crowd/road for a gel. When I race, I need to be in the zone to be successful and when I get taken out of the zone mentally, it impacts my mindset and my performance a bit.
I finally spotted a fuel station and was immediately relieved….until i saw that it was…CHEWS! yuck! Oh well..this is what I get for being stupid. I took down the chews more easily than I anticipated and my stomach didn’t react negatively so I was able to get right back into the zone by mile 14.
Around 14-15, Bethany started to creep up and although we try to stay together, I felt that my pace was perfect for me at that point. I was clocking 7:20-7:25 and it was a pace completely driven by my body. If I have learned anything in training over the last couple of years, it is listen to your body and be in tune with what it is telling you. I could feel that it was telling me, “This pace is just right at this point in the race and pushing for someone else was not how to run a smart race.” It is hard to watch someone go on without you but I reminded myself that 1.) I need to trust MY process. Being smart will pay off in the end and maybe we can meet back up later in the race. 2.) BETHANY IS A STRONG RUNNER AND DESERVES A PR SO GO GET IT GIRL!
Around mile 17 is when the heat started to get to me and I could tell my pace was slowing but just tried to stay consistent around 7:30-45. I was taking in lots of Gatorade and pouring water over my head. At this point, I knew I lost my PR opportunity but I wasn’t about to lose my mental control like at San Francisco. I reminded myself of how I went into the race and my readiness to fight hard. Although my original intentions were to fight for a PR, I asked for this fight and now I got it. PR or not, I better get fighting.
I kept doing mental body scans, something I learned in Chi Running, and despite feeling pretty zapped from the heat, my body wasn’t in pain. I was certainly capable of finishing it out as strong as possible.
Mile 22 -26 was an all out 7:50 grind. I was grabbing oranges and
popscicles melted sugar-water from spectators just to keep my blood sugar up. I am very sure that Jordan Hassay and Galen Rupp weren’t just grabbing random goodies off the side of the street in Chinatown..aka…this strategy is not something you will find in ANY marathon fueling plan. But when the heat hits, I just have to do whatever I feel is necessary during the race. Passing out is something I really worry about so I throw my fueling strategy out the window and just become a savage for electrolytes and carbs. My stomach starts to really hate me at this point but I just ignore it. I wish the camera man would also ignore it because it becomes a bloated and not-so-photogenic mess by the end. But I’ll take a stomach ache over an unconscious self in the medical tent.
I eventually hit the 1 mile left sign and just put my head down and did what I could. Getting from the 800m marker to the 400m marker felt like the longest part of the race! Then the finish was in sight and I just took off as much as I could.
When I finished, my Garmin congratulated me by saying, FASTEST MARATHON – 3:12…for a split second my exhausted brain believed that silly thing but the math teacher in me kicked in shortly after and was like nope, that can’t be right. Sure enough, my mom texted me my time and a wave of disappointment passed through. I met up with Bethany who ended up being within 45 seconds of me for the majority of the race and we hashed it all out.
After spending the afternoon with her, I felt like the day was a success. I posted about it being a success because my mental game was so strong despite all the unplanned/unfortunate factors that could have pulled it down. I felt more in tune with my racing body than ever before. The consistent and fast splits in the first half felt good and although the heat caused me to slip, I still felt strong and solid. I walked back to my hotel room feeling proud and happy.
I don’t know what caused this all to change as the day progressed. Maybe finding out that there were a lot of people who did snag a PR made me feel like the heat wasn’t an excuse. Maybe I really did execute the race poorly despite feeling so strong. The post race nausea made my body feel so bad and I think that drove my mind into a negative spiral. I replayed the day over in my head and tried to dig to the bottom of this weird change in feeling. How could I feel so successful earlier in the day and now the exact opposite?
Ultimately, I realized that this was the first marathon that I truly went into with an expectation. I showed up confident and ready to push the boundary. It may sound crazy that I have never set a goal for myself in all my previous 7 marathons but it is true. I woke up Sunday morning feeling more than just READY…I was excited, scared, motivated, determined and hungry for success.
In the middle of the race I was thinking about confidence and what it means. As a competitor, confidence is needed to push outside of your comfort zone and fight for a risky goal….but sometimes confidence is the reason you have to fight. When you don’t have a challenging goal then the race isn’t as hard, the struggle isn’t as painful and the end result doesn’t weigh too heavy on your heart.
Maybe I went into the race over-confident and now I am dealing with the post-race sting of not meeting my expectations. Falling short of something you want flat out stinks…but I am realizing now that my mindset and execution of the race, as risky as it was, is a sign that I am growing confident in my ability to take risks in this distance. I am developing more concrete goals. I am proud of how eager I was to get to the start and lay it all on the line.