Tuesday, March 20, 2012

RnR USA Marathon: race report (guest post)

The Marathon is an emotional distance, and I am an emotional guy. The only problem with this match made in heaven is that you (or at least I) can't sustain the level of intensity needed to run for four plus hours. I learned this in Philly last November. At that race I high-fived everyone. I noticed every sign. I road every downhill and fought every uphill with my intensity. I fed off the crowds and the start and the thousands of runners all oozing good energy and good vibes. I was the perfect empath, and for it, I had a great half. Then we split. The cheering crowds, the good feelings, the Rocky music. And for the second half of Philly I felt all alone - at best, surrounded by people in bad shape - at worst, the perfect little empath.


For National I had a different plan. My first goal was to run my own race. And that meant turning down some very kind offers from very cool people who were willing to do some, all or any of the course with me. It is not in my nature to turn down help, and I felt bad doing it. But, I had to run my own race.

My second goal was to be able to sing the last mile. I was informed this was a waste of pace and heart rate and looked silly and was really not a very good idea. But, I had to run my own race and I wanted that in my pocket in those last miles. To be able to, to just be able to.


My final goal, which I did not know was a goal until just a few days before the marathon, was to not get involved in the emotions of the day. Again, this is not in my nature. I am essentially all heart. But, I kept telling myself there was no race until the last 5k. Until then I would trust my training and my pacing and my coaches, and all the work I had done to get there. I would just be a calm animatron until somewhere near mile 23. That was the plan.


Race day came. I was seated next my calm and zen-like coach and wife who reminded me quietly in the car about focused breathing and remaining centered. OR, I was next to super-Katie who was already having a great day and who, if we had run out of gas on the way to the race, could have still powered the car with her awesome race day energy. And I stayed calm. I saw all the girls and was part of a team for the first time in my racing, and I was calm. I ran into an old boss of mine who was running her first race, and I was calm. Me. Spastic me. Calm. And with a kiss from Katie we were in our corrals and off.

Katie gave me a perfect race plan. It started with me going out at around a 10 min pace for five miles, no audio. Mile 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 49m 58s. Oh, one more thing, not only am I emotional, I am also verbal. WAY EXTROVERTED. So, I had no inputs and was not involved with any other runner around me, so I talked. Out loud. Too myself. And here is where I learned my biggest lesson for the day. If you are going to be in your head, be in there doing good work. I spent those five miles saying, "Good good, perfect perfect. You are doing great. Perfect. Perfect." The runners around me also appreciated the critiques, I am sure. Miles 5-10, take it up a notch to 9:30-9:45. Good good. Perfect. Perfect. Miles 10-20 just roll off 9:15s.
Here is where some decision-making had to be made. I didn't feel like I could go 15 seconds faster. I wanted to, but I had those goals about not wanting to race until 23, sing the last mile, and mostly don't hate the last 10 miles of the race. So I chose to stay around 9:30 pace, fight every hill, relish every downgrade. And I would love to say I saw signs and spectators and sights and wonderful beautiful race things. But, honestly, I was a robot through most of this. I remember seeing my in-laws. I remember seeing the tall girl. I remember Allison offering water at mile 12 (awesome!). I also vaguely remember seeing Mr. Incredible, but that might have been a hallucination.


From mile 20 things started to fall apart. The world had fallen away from us. There were no more buildings, no cheering. We passed the industrial park and what passes for trees in Anacostia. We were in that weird zone between the apocolpyse and coming back home. It was just long and brutal and hot. This is March, right? And somewhere in there I hit the wall, walked the water stops, got in my head (not doing good work) and then just screamed foul language at the top of my lungs and restarted running.
At mile 24, I hit the warm up music. Not the finishing playlist but the one just before that. I was still mostly trying to hold it in, but music helped and it was bubbling. At the end of the three songs I was ready for my last mile playlist, but before I got there, the prelude to one last song came on: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure..." This was the quote on my Philly jersey. This was the quote that kept me going for those last 10 agonizing miles in that far off city. How far I had come. This was the point where I could hold myself back no more. Flood gates. Anger. Tears. Desperation. But out of it all, in a surprise to me, determination. I would run the hell out of this last mile.
My last mile playlist can go one of two ways, uplifting or angry. I was glad it went uplifting. "Don't wanna wait until tomorrow. Why put it off another day?" Oh, and to the people just in front of me heading back towards the stadium a) Yes, that is my favorite Van Halen song, b) sorry for busting your eardrums while I screamed it at the top of my lungs and c) I couldn't hear a word you said to me as you passed or were passed by me. 
After that, with my hands and feet going numb, my sight blurring, and no idea why the finish was so far up the hill around the stadium, Forever. "It's like I waited my whole life for this one night. It's gonna be me, you and a dance floor. All you gotta do is watch me. Look what I can do with my feet." And there was my wife to sing to, and my family and my friends and the crowd. Later I found out that what Katie said, so calmly and lovingly to me, in that brief moment we ran together was, "Stop singing and f'ing run."
And then I was done. I nearly passed out on the bagel guy. I made love to a constantly shrinking block of ice I met in a water bucket. And everyone was so lovely and supportive and happy for me.
I did this. I made it. Not just the miles, but I held back my worst instincts. I listened to the good voices. I held onto my training and my coach's advice. I kept my head in the game and I had a great day. Running a marathon I had a great day.
I still contend it is too much. It is not a distance anyone should run. It's too emotional. Too detrimental. And we should all be a whole lot smarter. But I did it, and did it well. And I will do it again, for the same reason I did it the first time and this time, because I don't know, yet, until I get there, what I can do.

25 comments:

  1. Mr. Incredible was definitely not a hallucination. And Katie definitely could have powered the car with her race morning energy. I've had the Black Eyed Peas version of Time of My Life in my head ever since. Way to crush your PR out there Thom!

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  2. You, my friend, had the race of the day. I loved that I could be there to see you finish and was so, so proud of what you accomplished. And now I'm crying. This is what it's all about.

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  3. Amazing. Congratulations. Thank you for writing such an inspiring post. I can tell you that as I gear up for Boston, I will be pulling this up A LOT. I needed to read this. Great job.

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  4. Mr. Incredible was not a hallucination - I saw and high-fived him as well. Well written and spoken as usual, glad it was a great day :-)

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  5. You're an extrovert?

    I saw you at mile 5.5 and you ran right on past me totally in your zone. And then I watched your splits for the rest of the race and could feel the in-your-head good work and determination from across the city. Congratulations.

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  6. "And here is where I learned my biggest lesson for the day. If you are going to be in your head, be in there doing good work"

    Thank you for this. Valuable advice.

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  7. Yes! Thom, you out-and-out killed it. If I ever run another marathon, I hope it's half as strong as this one.

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  8. Well freaking done Poet!!! And I do love what you said about doing good things while you're in your head. Def a quote worth making a mantra!!! Cheers to Marathon #2!!!

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  9. Since you don't remember, at mile 8 when I saw you, you said "Find Katie at the finish and tell her I love her!"

    I can't think this much about racing or I won't be able to do it. But I'm with you on "right now." Love that song.

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  10. IT WORKED!!!

    I was tracking you and jumping around like a madwoman telling everyone how PERFECTLY you ran that race. Congrats!!

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  11. congrats!!! and it's totally emotional. if you don't get emotional at a marathon, you may be dead inside.

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  12. Congratulations!

    Best.post.ever. (Sorry, Katie, you know I love you, but seriously this post made me cry.)

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  13. Congrats!! Sounds like you had a great day and really pushed through. You made me want to run a 2nd marathon.

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  14. I agree with Cris,what a great quote! Congrats on your race, you looked great at 1, 12 and the finish! That's how you stomp it out, way to Rock the Red!

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  15. I was so happy for you on Saturday and reading this just makes me extremely happy all over again. You looked so great every time that we saw you and I could tell that you were running your own race and I knew that you would be singing that last mile, just as you wanted. Congratulations again!

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  16. Oh man, do y'all just write words to each other that make each other cry all the damn time? beautiful recap, and congratulations!

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  17. Absolutely love this guest post!! Good job! I like what you told him at the end :-) great pic!

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  18. What a fantastic guest post and great job. Ha-I am dying though at what she said at the end. Glad you could get your musical mile in though! :)

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  19. You used "calm animation" in your RR. WIN!

    And yes, Beth WAS jumping around going, "He is having the perfect race!"

    Because...

    You did have the perfect race! Awesome job Thom!

    I'll have the gu with the candle @ the 40K mark @ MCM waiting for you.

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  20. Great race report. You two rock!

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  21. SO. AWESOME. I am so proud to know you Thom!!

    That's indeed the problem with the marathon. You can run it noticing everything and soaking up all the vibes around you, or you can race it and it's like you see nothing.

    I know I've threatened before, but I'm taking you trail running.

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  22. Awesome report! Great perspective and wonderfully run.

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  23. Love this recap/guest post. Congrats!

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  24. Awesome job!!! Way to execute the perfect race plan.

    Well done.

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  25. This was such a great read, especially since I was there too!! I ran those same lonely miles at the end and when you said, "We were in that weird zone between the apocolpyse and coming back home." I was thinking, yeah that was mile 21-22 right? WORST miles of the race and awful with the sun getting hotter and no water station for almost 3 miles! We passed a lot of people breaking down at that point and I was almost one of them but thank goodness my hubby was there to keep me moving. Anyway, great post, so well written and your closing paragraph is absolute perfection.

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