Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Race Report: Cleveland Marathon, 2014

Well, this isn't how it was supposed to go.  Any of it.

I signed up for Athens because Cleveland is usually too hot for me.  Then Athens was 80 degrees and turned into a disaster.  So I signed up for Cleveland hoping I could somehow connect the dots to get there.  The double irony is that the weather in Cleveland was absolutely perfect.

So of course, I'm thinking that if I had just signed up for Cleveland, I would have hit my Boston Qualifying time.  Easily.

I was stronger this spring than I ever have been.  I hit every single training run and then some.

Everything went wrong, and I'm still pretty crushed.  There will be no Boston in 2015; that is now apparent.  Believe me, I've researched.  Even Presque Isle sold out on freaking May 13th, and when I put my name on the waiting list on May 18th I was already #268.

I was so upset that I even texted Coach and said, "Is this even a realistic goal?"  Maybe I'm not meant to do this.  I'm honestly not that talented.  She replied that I would NEVER say that taking off a few minutes is an unrealistic goal to my own children.  That Meredith Kessler DNF'd 3 Ironmans for various reasons and now look at her.

I know, it makes sense.  I know I'd never say that to my own kids. Or any of my friends.

It just hurts a lot.  For a person like me who this does not come naturally for, I only have 2--maybe 3--shots a year.  And I poured so much of my heart and soul and time into this, and came so close, and then this spring everything just went to crap.  The winter sucked the life out of me, but I still did it.  I got stronger.

And then I was crushed. First at Athens, and now in Cleveland.

The night before the race I found an old picture of me at the finish line of my first Cleveland Marathon in 2003.  35 pounds heavier, standing there with Matt, beaming after my time of 5:14.  I was almost last, and I didn't care.  I would have rolled my eyes in disgust at Me 2014 who was crying after finishing in 3:54.

3:54.  For years, I didn't think I could break 4 hours.  This race ended in disaster, and I still finished in 3:54.

Have I become so out of touch with things that I'm one of "those runners" who is upset with a 3:54? And more importantly, how can I stop?

I think it's time to back away for a bit.  Boston 2015 is probably not happening.  It's not, and I hate to say it and type it but it's the truth.  I'm looking at my running shoes with the same animosity that I looked at my Trek after Ironman Wisconsin.  GET IT AWAY FROM ME.

When this stops being fun, it's time to back away.

My plan was to hang onto the 3:35 pace group for dear life.  I figured if I could still squeak in around 3:37-38, I'd be okay.  I lined up with my friend and training partner Amanda (who is super young so she needed a 3:35) and we started.  The first two miles were either really slow or the mile markers were off.  Then the next few miles we were sub-8, according to my Garmin.  It's so hard to tell at these things.  The pacers said the mile markers were off, so I trusted them, but my splits were all over the place.  The half split was good, though, so it worked out somehow.  We made our way out of town and hit the half in 1:47.02, which is now a new official PR for me of 8 seconds.

Hey, at least one thing went right.

We entered Rocky River--where I teach--and I still get emotional thinking about all the support I had there.  It was pretty unreal.  My parents, Matt and the kids, and a whole bunch of people had lined the streets and were cheering at my friend Tracy's house, which we ran directly by.  I was still feeling pretty good so I gave them a big wave and smile.

Tracy and her adorable family had a "watch party" on her front lawn!
Jackson is behind me, holding what I thought was a cowbell.  Later I found out it was a cinnamon bun. That's my boy.

Then I ran another 100 yards and saw this:

I looked at it, pointed, and yelled, "Hey! That's me!" to the people standing on the lawn.  They all started cheering, and a woman yelled, "Pablo made it for you!" and I realized that it was one of my APUSH students.  Turns out he was in the house when I ran by, but it seriously made me tear up seeing the big sign.  Here I am running in Rocky River, photos courtesy of Pablo's mom:

Right on pace and feeling pretty good
I saw my awesome brother, who got ALL the running talent in my family.  He was out there in two different spots, and it moved me to tears.  I didn't know he'd be out there.  I thought of the times I went to his Cross Country meets to cheer him on and how fast and talented he is despite him feeling "slow" next to his eventual-D1 college-running friends.  Maybe some of that talent will show up in me today?  Having him there gave me a little hope.

Then we turned around.  And I saw about 10 million more friends at Mile 16, including my training partner Katie, who already punched her ticket to Boston last fall.  I still felt good.  I thought, this is the day. This is the day I do this.  I headed back through downtown Rocky River and my friend Pat snapped this picture--I'm making a horrible face with the sun, but I still felt pretty good at this point.  It was almost mile 18.
I kept with the pacer over the bridge and turned into Lakewood.

And then something happened.

My right calf seized up.  Like, a pregnancy leg cramp gone wild, for those who know what I mean.  If you don't know what I mean, basically, my right calf knotted up and scared the crap out of me and made me double over and go "AGGGGGHHH!"  People around me gasped.  "Are you okay?" people said.  I shook my head yes, tried to stretch it, and kept going.  The pacer surged ahead, but I thought no biggie--I'll just keep him a little ahead of me and I'll be fine.  I hit mile 19.

Then the other calf did it.

I stopped at the aid station, grabbed 3 powerades, chugged, and quickly stretched my calf.  And swore.  Willed it to stop.  Kept going.

I hit the 30K mark right on time.  Average pace, 8:10/mile.  This was the fastest and farthest I'd ever gone.

And then All The Muscles cramped.  Both legs, seizing up.  Toes curling. I had to run flat-footed, but was still holding an 8:30 pace.  No.  This is not happening.

I saw my awesome friends, Tom and Casey and Len and Kelly.  Len gave me a water bottle, and I chugged it.  I took my last gu.  I said a little prayer.  Please.  Please, not with a 10K to go.  Come on body. Move.

Mile 20.

I surged again.  The pacer was gone, but I was still hoping I could do it. 




It was awful.  I was doubling over, and spectators were looking at me with pity.  I did everything I could to keep moving, but I was now falling way off pace and into the 9s.

Around 22, the 3:40 pacer caught me.  Amanda was there.  She had has some trouble back at 17 but caught him and held on.  He was amazing and did everything he could to keep me moving.  I was stifling screams at this point and trying so hard to run.  I saw my friends Kim and Tim and they yelled some encouragement.  It was mile 23.

And then, one more stabbing pain, and I screamed. And stopped.

And they ran away.

And that was it.  It was over, and I knew it.  And I looked at the pavement tears welling up, too much pain to even get an f-bomb out.

I was crushed.  But I had to somehow get downtown. I stared at the shoreway in front of me and knew I had to get there, but at this point, I just wanted it to be over.  I wanted to jump in the lake and swim the way home.  The emotional hurt was almost as much as the physical, and the physical hurt was second only to the delivery of my two kids.

Over the past two days, I've been replaying that moment in my head, tormenting myself.  Was there any way I could keep going?  Amanda finished in 3:38.  I could have stuck with her and done it.  Couldn't I?  Was I just weak?

I don't think so.  But I wonder.  And it hurts.  It hurts almost as much as the hurt I felt staring at a long, empty road, trying to move.

The next two miles were basically a blur of shuffling.  I looked something like this:

Photo courtesy of my friend, Beth. I actually don't look like death here too much.

Here I do. Definitely look like death here.

I somehow miraculously shuffled my way to 13-14 minute miles these two miles.  This is how I felt:

Doin' the Zombie Shuffle

It was pretty awful. I was not proud.

I kept thinking the 4 hour group would pass me any second, and was ready to be crushed yet again when that happened.  But then I hit mile 25 and looked at my watch and thought, "Are you kidding me?"  I was still going to come in--comfortably--under 4 hours.


That gave me at least a little bit of a surge to not look like a total asshat the last mile.  I vowed to make it there and smile.  This was my 7th marathon (8th if you count IM Wisconsin), and I was still going to come in under 4 hours.  There had to be some kind of a silver lining in here somewhere.

The crowds were amazing.  I shuffled my zombie walk, and I smiled.
Heading down the chute
And wow, my finish line pictures are seriously the best I've ever taken. I'm smiling and look strong in every single one, despite feeling so heartbroken and bombing my goal miserably.  I guess the worse the finish line photo, the better the performance, right?

I saw my family.  I smiled and waved. I almost stopped--I really should have--to hug them.  Matt worked so hard to get the kids where they needed to be to cheer me on, to watch me BQ.  I felt like I let them down a bit. I know I didn't, but that's what I felt at that moment.

This might be the most flattering finish line photo ever taken

All I had left was a smile. Everything else was gone.

Emmy, cheering me on

My kids loved this statue downtown!
And I smiled and crossed the line.  3:54, my 2nd fastest marathon ever.

And then the tears stung my eyes again.  

But before I could descend into a spiral of self-pity, one of my favorite yoga instructors snapped this picture of me and gave me a huge hug and told me how amazing it was that I just finished, so I smiled again:
I honestly look happy.  I'm a pretty good actress.
Amazing that I finished.  I wiped the tear away again, and thought, you know what, it kind of is.  It's amazing that I finished.

I'm tired of being disappointed with amazing performances, and that's what I feel that this quest has done to me over the past 8-9 months.  I went 3:41 in Columbus and 3:54 here, and I was--I am--disappointed.  That's wrong.  The rational person in me understands that.

Looking at that picture, I look so strong and lean.  I almost didn't recognize myself.

Compare that with these two:
Finish line of my first marathon, 5:14

It rained a lot. I didn't care.

Elated.  Not lean.  Happy.

There has to be some kind of a way to put those two people together.

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to go from here.  I'm not making any decisions until I can walk normally again.  I'm overwhelmed with all the love and support that has been thrown my way.  Any finish line is amazing and something to be celebrated, and I think I need to somehow get in touch with that.  That might mean hanging up this goal for a while.  Or not. I'm not sure.

I do know that I am loved and supported, and that despite everything that went wrong, a lot went right.  I am still stronger than I ever was--at age 36 with two kids--and stronger than I ever thought I could be.  So that's good.
You wanna talk about strength? Meet this girl.  My former student, Blaire, who finished her first half.  She's kind of amazing. 
 I am sure I'll be replaying the what-ifs and coulda-done-this and shoulda-just-signed-up-for-CLE for a while.

Here's the thing: none of us have crystal balls.  I can't predict the future, the weather, or what my legs will do.  All I can do is try.  On Monday, I told my students (who I could tell were a little disappointed as I told them a second time that I tried and failed to reach a goal I set) that I reach high, but I fall hard.  And that's just my personality.  I'm not a play-it-safe person with this stuff, and sometimes it works, and other times it doesn't.  That is the risk you take, but that's a risk I still believe is worth taking.

My good friend Jo, who I am sad that I will not be attending Boston with, said it much better than I can.  For me, trying is the sweet spot.  I know I'll try again.  I don't know when.

But one of these days the girl who never should make it to Boston will get there.

1 comment:

Robyn said...

Hugs to you. You know you ran your heart out. You deserve to be proud of what you did -- easily sub 4 with whole-body cramping?? Holy cow. You rock. Own it.