I have a love-hate relationship with the out and back that is the second half of the marathon. I run this route fairly often and I know it well but it never feels quite as long as it does on race day. Around mile 14 I started to have some serious doubts. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pick up the pace much and I was starting to wonder if I could hold on for 12 more miles. I also remembered I don’t like running marathons (;-)). One trick I have learned though is to try really hard to stop any thoughts where I start to project how things are going to be bad in future miles of a race. All I can control is the now and if something’s not OK now, it does NOT mean it won’t be OK later. Thankfully, I think my GU chomps actually gave me a big boost and just like that, I felt lively. We had the 3:45 pace group on our heels and as they passed us at a water station, I felt the urge to stay with them. Nora called me back though, pointing out how fast they were going. We were running our steady pace and we would continue to run our plan. And with 10 miles still left to go, it was not the time to waste energy. We passed East Falls, did the West River appendix and a runner commented we were counting down in single digits now. That made me happy. Then we headed to Manayunk and as we passed the 21 mile marker on the opposite side of the road (for those who were already on the return to the finish line), I thought “I can’t wait to get there”. We passed the turtles on the crosswalk and did our sling shot around the end of Manayunk and headed home.
It’s the last 6 miles that I really called in my mantra for the day, which was “run your joy”. Joy escapes you when your feet hurt and your legs feel heavy and you are ticking away the miles but still are not close to finishing. This is why I had to call it back. I choose this. I want to enjoy being out there on the course.
At mile 22, Nora said “let’s hang tough until mile 23 and then…” and I replied “let’s hang tough until mile 24”. I could tell she was feeling that she could pick it up and finish strong. I did not have that same sense. I think Nora could tell that I was slowing and she said “remember, run your joy”. I said “I am. But my joy might not be your joy”. We have acted as a pacer for each other in the Philadelphia marathon before where your only job is to keep the other person company, carry water, nutrition or Gatorade and bring the racer home. This was not our job this year. We were out for ourselves, happy to help each other but not out there to sacrifice ourselves for each other. I realize this sounds really selfish to some but we each had goals to accomplish that we had trained for. So at mile 24, Nora’s pace and my pace started to differ. I felt no urge to keep up with her and as she was further and further ahead, I whispered “go break 3:50”. I wondered what the family would say when we weren’t together anymore but other than that, I just focused on myself. I hurt, a lot. I walked through water stations and I started pouring water on my face because it was pretty warm. I wanted to stop and walk more. That was the devil on my shoulder. The angel on my shoulder said ‘fight that urge’. So I did. I kept running – towards my family and towards the finish. I remember looking at my watch at one point not sure if I was on mile 24 or mile 25. To my delight, I was already on mile 25.
I saw my family one last time at mile 25.5 and I just reminded myself over and over again, ‘one foot in front of the other’. That last incline up from Lloyd Hall to the finish is long. Someone behind me was being paced in to break 3:50 and they made a go for it. I wondered if they knew that the finish was not really that close and I knew I couldn’t start my final push yet. I knew there was a possibility of me breaking 3:50 for the last few miles but as I was pushing towards the end with just about all I had, I kept thinking “I don’t care what my time is”. I passed mile 26 and I got the MOST amazing push to the finish when Karen saw me and practically jumped out of her skin. I was tired, but I ran fast to cross the line at 3:50:27, right into Nora’s arms waiting to congratulate me.
And yes, she did break 3:50.