I have a mental strategy for every long distance race I run, telling myself easy for the first quarter, steady for the middle half, and burn for the final quarter. So I was very focused on my pacing myself during the first 10k. I knew that the only way to make it through this race in my physical condition was to go much slower than I wanted to. In the beginning, everyone was passing me up and as a male-dominated race, this meant I almost got knocked over a couple of times (I later heard that one woman did get knocked to the ground at the start). But I refused to let the speed of others influence me. The sun was already bright but most of the time there was a gentle breeze. By the 5k point, the 3,000 runners had spread out enough that I had plenty of space and was at times even on my own during the first half. It was a countryside marathon that passed through numerous villages, so a very different experience from a city race. There is so much energy and hype in a city marathon like Chicago (my first), but this time, it was mostly quiet and peaceful, which is what I needed. I passed a small village around 7k and the locals were lining the streets and all cheered for me. At that point I got a little choked up at their kindness. Pull it together. I really enjoyed that first 10k and smiled and waved at everyone who came out to watch and cheer. In fact, I think I was smiling the whole time.
The next goal was to keep a steady pace until the halfway point. It was getting hotter and I started to regret not wearing sunscreen (sure enough, I got burnt). This was the quietest part of the race for me, but I didn’t mind. I knew I would be catching up with some of the others later on. I was feeling good and positive, but knew that the real challenge was still far off. I continued to smile and draw energy from the scattered spectators. Thankfully the water stations were well stocked (as opposed to Paris!) and so every 5 kilometers I picked up a bottle of water which more than lasted me to the next one. I was breezing by the kilometers and all was well.
I was happy to pass the halfway point. And that is when I started to catch up with people who were burning out. It was also just after the half way point that I saw the first “drop-out” vans. I ran past every one of these stations defiantly. No! Not going to drop out. Defiant, but also thankful that my body wasn’t shutting down and forcing me to quit. I just needed to make it to 30k and then the ultimate challenge would begin. Steady. Steady. During this section the pain started to set in. For a while my back was really hurting. Then my left knee. Then my right foot. There is always the possibility of injury and at the frequent medical stations from this point out there were always several people getting treated for one thing or another. But for me the localized pain came and went, or at least I forgot about it. Toward the end of this section, I really started to feel the burn in my legs.
I reached 30k still going strong and braced myself for the final stretch, knowing that it would hurt. But so far, I was feeling ok. Am I really running a marathon? Is this all it is? Yet I was starting to lose speed by this point and had to tell myself to stop thinking about the time. Still, my plan was to get to 35k and then go all out for the final 7. However, I was losing steam and around 35k I went into survival mode. I didn’t have enough left in me to burn so I resorted to just keep going. No more tracking my pace and my time, the goal was to just put one foot in front of the next. A lot of people were walking in these last kilometers, but I decided that no matter how slowly I was running, I wasn’t going to stop now. You knew it would be hard. You knew it would hurt. Just keep going. I let out some groans in those last kilometers, which seemed to stretch on forever. I tried to focus on reaching the next, and then the next. I convinced myself to rejoice in the fact that I was going to finish and not think about how slow I was going. Nausea set in and my last bottle of water fell out of my hand and onto the ground. One man said, “Just 500 meters left!” and I wanted to yell, “LIAR!!!” because we had not even passed the 41k mark yet.
During the final kilometer, there were a lot of people walking by, many of whom had already finished, encouraging us, “You’re going to finish.” “You’re almost there.” “It’s the last stretch.” “You’re doing great.” At this point was impossible to smile and wave and say “merci” to these kindhearted people, who were looking more like blurry movements on the sidelines. I just did my best to not scowl at them and simply keep moving forward. Finally onto the red carpet, slight acceleration and DONE!
I stepped to the side, leaned on a side rail for a few seconds and tried to catch my breath. Then I turned around, wiping away a few tears and started walking. Ouch. A woman placed a medal around my neck and I choked back tears again but still managed to say, “merci.” It’s over. I finally completed my second marathon. Thank you Jesus.
On the bus back to St. Malo, I met a man from Portland and we talked for the entire journey back. He had completed 42 marathons and was having a blast racing all over the world. We talked about many aspects of running, from injuries to adventure marathons. But one thing he said really stuck with me. “You know, whenever you tell another runner that you run marathons, they always ask about your time. They don’t even consider that your goal might not be time-based. I’m happy to run slower marathons as long as I’m enjoying the experience and I think that I’ll automatically get faster as I get stronger and more experienced. I just don’t want to be so focused on time that I no longer enjoy running.” His marathon goal is 7 continents and 50 states. Very cool.
That was inspiring to hear. I just need to keep going. Even though my training was sub-par this time around, I still ran 22 minutes faster than my first marathon in Chicago almost six years ago. I think that this is evidence that all of my training in-between has made me stronger. Experience also makes me stronger. And the process makes me stronger. I’m already registered for the Paris Marathon in April 2015 and I look forward to continuing this journey.
I will always remember my first marathon in Chicago when my dad and sister kept showing up at different points along the route and also at the finish. They really kept me going. So it meant a lot to me that they both followed my progress online for my second marathon as well, my dad in Indiana (6 hours behind) and my sister in Japan (7 hours ahead). So they still kept me going, even from a distance!
I am thankful for the opportunity to celebrate life this past weekend and for the experience of pushing through something that is really hard because I know that it will be worth it in the end. God refreshed my spirit in the process and reminded me that as long as I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, I can endure whatever ups and downs still lie ahead on the roller-coaster of life.