Worst Marathon in a Decade Was Also Best

author : alicefoeller
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I didn't set any land speed records. But that wasn't the point.

I trained plenty for the Columbus Marathon this fall. I even figured out how to overlay a marathon training plan with my triathlon training here at BT, so I didn't have to ramp up my running distance all of a sudden after my last triathlon of the season, as I often do.

The only training I really wimped out on was toward the end. I had a 13-miler the weekend before, and instead I ran a 5K with my son and skipped the longer run. But I did my longest run of 19 miles alone, and felt fine.

I really didn't anticipate any major problems, other than a lack of mental commitment. I usually register for the marathon in the spring, or at least before the final price hike. But once there was nothing to be gained by registering any sooner, I just waited until race weekend. Our marathon never fills up, and this way if I sprained my ankle or something, I wouldn't waste my entry money.

So I showed up at the expo with my debit card in hand and registered on the spot, feeling very spontaneous. Unfortunately that meant I couldn't get my preferred finish shirt size. Strike one. Also my race number didn't have my name printed on it, of course, because I'd registered too late.

The next morning, I arrived calm and ready. I've done this thing six or seven times before. No big deal. I had my warm pants and jacket from the thrift store, so I could toss off the pants before the starting gun and toss of the jacket around mile two, depending on the weather. (Always get a full zip so you don't knock your sunglasses or hat off your head trying to remove it!)

I hung out in the starting corral, used the bathroom before the lines got too long, and made small talk with a lady sitting next to me. She was older than I and hadn't run a marathon in 20 years or so. Her daughter was running, so she got back on the training wagon one last time. She was sure she would not do the full again after this.

I was in Corral C, and they held us up purposely for 10 minutes and gave us our own start, complete with fresh fireworks and mayoral speeches. I ran into a running friend from a nearby city just before they let us start. There's no better place to see an old friend than in a giant crowd of runners.

And then we were off. I was calm and unconcerned. The woman next to me dropped her glove 30 seconds in, and I spotted it and grabbed it without breaking stride. Her look of horror quickly turned to gratitude when I handed it back a second after she realized it was gone.

I usually go out fast (for me). My first 10 miles are usually sub-9:00 pace. As a 43-year-old mom, I think that's pretty fast. But this year I thought I'd try an experiment. Everyone always says I blow it by going out to fast. I never really thought this was true, since I have better form when I'm going faster, and therefore I'm not pounding my body as hard. My aerobic capacity and nutrition are well honed from years of triathlons, so I'm not going to run out of fuel or breath over the course of a little marathon. The only really difference between starting fast and starting slow, I thought, was that I was farther along the course when things began to hurt and fall apart. Nevertheless, my marathon times had been getting slower the past three years, so I figured what the heck. I'll go out slow. I've got nothing to lose.

So I ran at about a 9:30 pace for the first 10 miles or so, intending to kick it up a notch at mile 10. Instead I felt sort of fatigued, so I just concentrated on keeping my head in the game and I uncharacteristically ate half of a gel with caffeine, in case that might help.

At the halfway mark, I wasn't feeling so great. I knew it was a slow and gradual climb, and the slow and gradual climb wouldn't really stop until about Mile 16. Still, I had to fight hard not to walk. Then I felt really tight and stopped to stretch, which was the death knell for holding any kind of pace.

Around the same time, I saw the woman I was chatting with before the start. I passed her and she said she wasn't doing well. Later I slowed to a walk and she passed me. I picked it up to stay with her and we started talking again. We ended up sticking together for the last 10 miles of the race. Although I was more likely to suggest picking it up to a running pace, and she was more likely to suggest a walk break, she had a race-walk ability that I did not have. Previously if I slowed to a walk, it was an 18:00 pace. But somehow she could walk at a 13:00 or 14:00 pace. That meant if we kept alternating race-walking and running, we could maintain a sub-12:00 pace, which was just fine with me. By this time, I just wanted to get to the finish line without calling an Uber and without my ride home giving up on me.

We chatted about our jobs, our kids, mental illness, philanthropy, our aching legs, how much the city has changed, when to start running again, our aching legs, and our parents. It was funny because one of the comments I made to her before the race was how hard it is to find people to talk to during races nowadays, since everyone has earbuds in. 

Near the finish, we heard a pace group coming up behind us and I groaned, fearing it was the 5 hour finish group. But when they passed, it was the 4:45 group, which was way better. My first marathon was more than five hours, and I'm so much more experienced now. I really needed to break five hours, and now it was clear we would.

We crossed the finish line holding hands in 4 hours and 51 minutes. Although I don't remember weaving around a lot on the course, my watch showed 27.1 miles run. It was by far not my best marathon. But I learned more than I have in any marathon previous, and I made a good friend.

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date: October 31, 2019

alicefoeller

Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.

avataralicefoeller

Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.

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