TITLE: Because 26.3 Miles Would Be Crazy AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 20, 2010 12:33 PM DESC: ----- BODY: 2010 Des Moines Marathon logo I awoke Sunday to a beautiful, sunny, crisp October morning, not sure of what to expect. My training for the Des Moines Marathon had begun back in July, and it had been full of ups and downs. My mileage had been reasonably steady, after one down week at the end of July, but I'd never developed much "long speed". Long runs were slow when they went well and tough when they didn't. I had a goal in my mind -- 8:36 miles -- but had no concrete evidence that I was ready to achieve it. I arrived downtown later than I had been planning. This could have been a bad thing, an opportunity to start worrying about all that was going to go wrong. Instead, I chose to do something I'd never done at a race before: make a conscious effort to think positively. Don't worry about Mile 23, or my 10K split, or whether my pace at the halfway point is fast enough for me to PR. The best way to run the race was to just keep running. It is a cliché, I know, but I decided to take the race one mile at a time. This year, Des Moines drew over 1600 marathoners, along with many, many more half-marathoners. For us runners, that meant a crowded start. When the gun sounded to begin the race, those of us back in the chute could only wait for an opportunity to start moving. When we did, moving was slow. It took a couple of minutes to reach the starting line (thank you for chip timing!) and several more minutes to break free enough to run full stride. While this put me behind my target pace from the outset, it also kept me calm and under control. Just before the 3-mile mark, the marathoners and half-marathoners split off onto different routes. A helpful spectator made sure we knew which way to go:
marathoners and half-marathoners split
It turns out, marathoners are insane. I held steady in my plan to just run. As I reached each mile marker, I clicked my watch and said to myself, "just another mile", in honor of the mile I had just completed. I didn't want to think about the fact that I had already run 8 miles, or that I still had 15 miles to go. I had just run another mile -- good for me. I looked at my watch to see how fast I had run that mile, in order that I could make an adjustment if necessary for the new mile I was beginning. This was so different from my usual practice. I had no long-term plan, and I paid no attention to my splits beyond the single mile. Throughout the race, I rarely knew how long I had been running overall, and I never knew my average pace. Just another mile. running strong Around the 11-mile mark, I noticed that my legs felt heavy. That wasn't unexpected; they had felt heavy through my taper. But I was running strong, so I didn't worry too much. Soon, we entered Drake Stadium, site of the nationally-renowned Drake Relays. There, we ran one lap on its blue track, which has hosted national and international stars, and passed the 12-mile mark of the race. I forgot about my legs. As the race wore on, I added two elements to my "positive thinking" regimen. First, I decided to smile more. That's not my natural state, so doing so involves some conscious thought. Second, I tried to thank as many people as I could along the way. When I passed a police officer holding back traffic, I said, "Thank you". I waved to the bands playing for us and thanked spectators who cheered us on. Having gratitude at the forefront of my mind did wonders for my mood. Marathon signage can be a great source of distraction and inspiration. On this day I didn't notice as many, but then I was mostly focused on the mile I was currently running. I did see a helpful T-shirt early in the marathon. It was a quote from Paul Tergat, a top marathoner and former world-record holder:
Ask yourself:
Can I give more?
The answer is usually yes.
This quote stayed in my mind. As the race wore on, I knew that it would come in handy. When I reached the Mile 24 marker, I asked myself, "Can I give more?" The answer was yes -- at least until we reached a steady incline leading up to a bridge. About that time, a fast runner passed us -- he must have been a pacer catcher up with his group -- and said, "You can do it. This is the last hill, and then it will be flat and downhill to the end." I thanked him for the good news and gave a little more. with my finisher's medal at the end Then came the sign for Mile 25. Just another mile. I recalled a long run from a couple of months ago that had prepared me for exactly this moment. "Can I give more?" Well, I can keep on pushing. The Mile 26 marker seemed to take forever to arrive. When it did, I had more to give, so I gave what was left. I did not run especially fast over the last 1.2 miles, but I ran hard, strong, and at a pace I was proud of. I crossed the line as strong as I have ever finished a marathon, with the crowd cheering me and with a smile on my face. I looked at my watch: 3:45:55. By all rights, I could have been disheartened... My marathon PR is 3:45:15, set in Des Moines six years ago. To work so hard, run so smart, and finish a mere forty-one seconds off of a new personal best! What about the slow first mile because I started too far back in the pack? Or the restroom break of over a minutes in the fifteenth mile? But there are no "what if?"s. After the last four years of off-and-on-again illness, with so many interruptions to my running, I was quite happy to finish strong, to feel good, to produce a race and a time that I can remember proudly. One other sign along the course made me laugh:
Because 26.3 miles would be crazy
That about says it all. -----