Abbott WMM

Abbott WMM

Monday, November 21, 2016

When Life Hands You Lemons (my Philadelphia Marathon recap)

When life hands you lemons....sometimes you're just plain out of sugar and you have to eat the lemon. That's how I might quickly sum up my disappointing marathon yesterday in Philadelphia.

I mentioned in my post about pushing for a PR (sub 4) with the Hanson's Marathon Plan, I really pushed harder than ever in my training. And I can't deny - I was feeling very confident. So confident, I was actually considering going for a 3:45 if the first half went like I thought it could.

But by the time I flew to Philly Friday afternoon the forecast was calling for "gale force" winds on Sunday with a major storm from rolling in Saturday night and blasting the region until Monday with winds from 15-30mph and gusts much higher. The temp before the wind was in the 40s, which is my favorite running temperature. So I kept holding onto that and praying that at some point those winds would be at my back and "even out" the effort. Wrong.

I stayed with one of my running buddies and her hubs, who used to live in Philly and kept their place there. We had planned to run together as much as we could (if we would have hit out target, she would have gotten a BQ which I was using as my own sort of motivation).

Saturday night the storm rolled in and the wind was howling. On our walk back from dinner it starting sinking in that this was real. It wasn't going to maybe "go north" or not be as bad as they said. Trees were whipping around and small branches were falling. I started debating my race plan. When I was going to bed I honestly didn't even feel like putting myself through this run. But I woke up Sunday and had a renewed sense of determination. The winds were supposed to be 16-20mph for the first few hours. But they were predicted to pick up to about 28mph by 10am. The race started at 7, so I thought maybe if I could fight through the first 20/21miles, by then I could will myself the last 45-50 minutes. Or maybe the wind would be at our backs. Hey it could have happened...

Self talk. I was right for 3 hours, anyway...
We both decided we were going for it. Too much training, too many speed sessions, and too much unknowns with the wind patterns. The first 10K we were cruising, and my beanie blew off at mile 5. Our watches both had us at 8:15s, but the course already started getting long and we crossed the 10K mat at 6.35 miles on our watch. That meant our avg was lower, but still where we wanted it to be (52:53 for an 8:30 pace). There were wind gusts but it "seemed" manageable. There are a few big hills in the course and they are all between miles 7 and 10, so we knew we'd be a bit slower there, but we were still pushing hard through the gusts, which seemed to pick up and we tackled those hills like a boss and got to the halfway point still on target at 1:54:24 for an 8:43 avg pace).

This is where it really changed. The second half is an out and back on the river. I had really been looking forward to this because I happen to love out and backs. But we made that curve to the river and the winds just started whipping consistently. I was still hoping that maybe it would move direction, so I kept fighting. I felt like my effort was still the same, but the numbers on my watch were slipping. 9:21, get the picture. I crossed the 30K (18.6 miles) at 2:47:50, now an even 9 min pace. In theory I still could have easily broken 4 hours at my usual effort. But I was not running my usual effort. And I hadn't been. The truth is, I knew at mile 9 it probably wasn't going to happen. I was having to fight too hard to stay on pace. You can't be fighting at mile 9. It needs to still feel easy at that point.

I looked at my watch somewhere between 19-20 and I was now out of reach for 3:50 and 3:59 was only possible if the weather would have magically vanished. But in fact, it picked up. It was 10am, and right on cue, those winds got stronger. I was done. I think I just used so much more energy than normal, I was just plain exhausted. I stopped and walked for a minute. I watched my friend trudge on, bless her soul. For me, when I accepted the fate of the day...there just shy of mile 20, I lost all my fight. It wasn't in a temper-tantrum kind of way, or a quitting kind of way. I felt actually very rational. I worked my tail off for months to run under 4 hours. And it wasn't going to happen today. I've run a 4 hour marathon and I just had no interest in killing myself anymore in these conditions if I wasn't going to make that happen. I didn't want to get hurt or feel like absolute crap for a non-PR.

So I decided to walk to mile 21 and reassess. It was a long mile which consisted of the 7 stages of grief. Then I called my sister. Our conversation:

Crys: "Summer?? Are you in the race?"
me: "Yes." sniffing
Crys: "ARE YOU OK?!?!" always the protective big sis
me: "yeah. I just need to cry to someone for a minute."
Crys: "ok." (commence crying)

She let me get it out for about 30 seconds and then started saying lots of positive things like you would expect. And then she reminded me it takes a long time to walk 5-6 miles slow and in gusting 25-35mph winds that made the temp in the upper 20s, in soaking wet clothes with no hat, I could really be in trouble if I completely strolled. She pleaded with me to walk fast or run super slow just to keep my body temp up so I could get to the finish without medical assistance.

I did a combination of both of those things. And I will spare the details of that last 10K but it was rough. Even trying to walk fast in those winds was defeating. I couldn't feel my hands or my cheeks and I started shivering. But eventually I got there. And marathon number something (15?16?) is in the books.

Thawing out 
I have to say, as disappointed as I was/am, (all those early mornings, all that speed, all the family sacrifice), I have a lot of take-aways that are leaving me feeling pretty positive.

German Biergarten post race - YES

My Jenga block said it all.

First, I do feel stronger than ever. And more confident than ever in my ability to push my pace for longer distances. It wasn't too long ago (like February), that getting to mile 19 at that pace in perfect conditions was my best effort in a marathon. In fact, my 30K time yesterday of 2:47:50 was faster than my Tokyo 30K of 2:48:09, where I hit my 4:00 PR. Knowing I did that with bigger hills and crazy winds confirms this for me and gives me some peace.

Second, my mental state keeps improving. I was the most calm I have ever been in the weeks before this race. I was excited to run and test my limits. And, on race morning, I had the attitude that I was going to push as hard as I could and let the chips fall where they may. The me of prior years would have been crushed in the first couple of miles that everything wasn't perfect and would have not even tried to run on pace. I have really gotten over giving up before I start. And that has taken me a very long time.

Third, I feel like I've matured enough to know that you live to fight another day. I'm really glad I chose not to push once my PR was realistically out of reach. While the jaunt to the finish was cold and miserable, I knew it was the best thing for my body. I have a hamstring that I have to baby, and knowing this wasn't the day, I wanted to preserve myself so I can get back to running easily again. Once that thing gets injured, it can put me off track for 6 months or more. I'm not letting this training go to waste. I want to keep it up over the winter and assess when/where I want to push next year.

Last night when I crawled into bed at 11:45 after getting home, my husband was waiting for me and he actually said something to me that made me feel so good about myself. He told me he thought that my decision to take care of myself and preserve my training made me cross the line to really being an "athlete" yesterday. I was like "whaaaat?!" He said "you know, you see those elite athletes and sometimes they stop at mile 18. It's not that they can't finish. It's that they're in it for a purpose, and when it's out of reach, they stop so they can pick up again quickly and get right back to training." Obviously winning a marathon and getting a sub 4 are drastically different things, but I took his point. When the goal is out of reach, be smart, and do what it takes to get right back at it.

So. I guess that's what I'm going to have to do now. Onward. Upward.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I had a similar experience at last year's Philly Marathon. - @MalindaAnnHill (slower 1/2 of @TwinsRun)