what you get, when you don't get what you want
Last weekend, we traveled to Boston MA, visited my friend Lisa and her bf Matt, and experienced a unique cultural phenomenon.*
*In real life, this is the part where James breaks in and says: "SHE RAN THE BOSTON MARATHON!"* Which yes, I did, and I'm trying to remember to be proud of that.
After 9+ years of running and racing, I don't delude myself that every race will be a good race. Sometimes there's an obvious reason for an off race, sometimes, it's just not your day. If I could only run races where everything goes right, where I run hard and it feels smooth, where the pain is there but takes a backseat to the soundtrack of the crowd and the will to run, where my mind floats as my feet fly, I would. But after awhile, it'd probably loose some sparkle, so I guess it's a good thing I sometimes get knocked on my ass. Character building and such. Character still hurts.
We flew to Boston on Saturday, through NYC. While James secured us standby seats on an earlier plane than we were originally booked for, I tried not to worry about the possible effects of travel-induced sleep depravation, excitedly pointed out marathon gear on display at our gate, and reminded myself not to get nervous.
The marathon expo was insane. James watched our stuff while I went in to get my race packet and the key to Matt and Lisa's house (since they were volunteering). I felt like I ought to take a lap of the expo, so I waded through the crowds for a bit. It was total sensory overload. Walking was a challenge because people were packed into the convention center like a shoal of confused salmon and there were brightly colored displays in every direction. I definitely walked into people while staring up at the booth banners. Without a real plan to buy gear, I wandered aimlessly until I realized my heart rate was atypically high and my stomach was churning. Then I forced myself to stop worrying about missing things and beelined for packet pickup. I got my number, hugged Lisa, grabbed keys and went to meet James.
On Sunday, I didn't eat as simply as I should have given my nervous stomach and unavoidable marathon hype. But, I slept surprisingly well on Lisa's squishy couch and James, Lisa & Matt kept me well distracted and off my feet with card games & board games.
I knew Monday would be a little warm and my training hadn't been perfect, but I was feeling optimistic and made an effort to be determined and positive rather than pre-excusing. I am a million times grateful to James for walking me all the way to the bus for Hompkinton before boarding a green line to Lisa & Matt's running club's marathon watch party.
On one of hundreds of school busses to Athlete's Village, I chatted with the guy seated next to me and tried to ignore the complex knot my stomach was working itself into. He qualified at the Zion Marathon and his entire family had flown out for the race (or the vacation). Some guy behind us commented to his seat mate (over the din of the loaded bus) about how most start buses are silent as the grave, but everyone on this bus had already run a serious race (to qualify) so this was the party. I was still planning to shoot for a good time, but I tried to internalize his sentiment and considered ditching the 3:15 course-adjusted pace wristband I was wearing like a hospital bracelet. I kept it on, figuring it'd let me know the relative difficulty each mile.
Athlete's village was like a music festival (but with an auctioneer-style announcer hogging the speakers). I bummed some sunscreen and anti-cramp cream from better-prepared racers, made myself eat some applesauce & gatorade and filled out the emergency contact info on my bib. My wave started walking to the start 45 minutes before gun time, like a herd of brightly colored cattle in various stages of nervous-excitement. After one last bathroom break, I barely made it to corral 1 before the starting gun.
You don't know what you can do unless you try, so I started out close to ideal goal pace, but avoided doing too much dodging and weaving. I felt pretty good through the 5k, but could already tell the pace wasn't sustainable. I was thinking way too much, manually moving my limbs, too present and not altogether awake. By 15k I was tired and nauseatingly hot. I knew I was already too slow, and I could tell I was going to get slower. Sometime after that, I ditched the pace bracelet and tried to embrace the fact that this was going to be a long, hard, slog. Somewhere around 11 miles my stomach decided to pitch a fit and had me searching for course-side porta-johns every few miles.
The Boston crowds were as advertised, loud and out in large numbers, but my headspace wasn't particularly conducive to drawing energy from them. I found myself mentally grousing at everyone who yelled "you look great", and reminded myself to be grateful for the support. In Pittsburgh I felt like the crowds were bodily carrying me through the miles, neighborly and enthusiastic and eclectic (like the person in a pretzel suit with an "Ellen (Degeneres) is at the finish with pretzels" sign). In Boston I felt like an outsider witnessing an odd spectacle. Maybe it was all in my head, or maybe there's some truth to "hometown advantage".
It was a tricky thing, trying to recalibrate my expectations on the fly. I was tired, yeah. Everything hurt, yeah. I felt a little woozy, yeah. But was I actually in any danger of heatstroke? Probably not. I wasn't hitting any of my goal times, even my secondary goal times, and I knew I needed to accept that and dial back if I wanted to finish, but I also didn't want to just sandbag to the end.
Despite being highly unpleasant, this sort of mental test is one of the most valuable features of distance running. Facing 18 miles of "damn this hurts", and deciding every step to keep moving, makes you tougher (or crazy). Getting passed by 100's of people that your vain, petty, self-critical mind says you should be faster than, and being forced to acknowledge that you aren't as strong as you thought you were is hard. But, it teaches you to respect the distance, to respect your limits, to not judge books by covers, and to not make the egotistical and self-critical mistake of assuming you ought to be superwoman. When you don't like what the clock says, you can always find excuses, you can pout and beat yourself up (insulting everyone who's goal time is your train wreck), or you can take the arbitrary time standard out of it and think about what you gave and accomplished given the circumstances. By that metric, I could still have done better. Hindsight 20/20, I should have started slower. I could probably have pushed harder, but I'm proud of my effort, proud of my mental response, and proud that without being perfectly prepped and prepared, I started mostly optimistic and ready to race hard. I've come a long, long way since 8th grade, but pre-race anxiety is something I'll continue to work on.
I missed James cheering at 23.5 miles, but knowing he'd be there had kept me running to that point. Then I had less than 3 miles, so I knew I could get it done. I also knew there was no way I'd hit a requalification time. I'd held out hope for a late groove, and though I didn't get much faster, I did feel like I was racing those last miles. I passed a couple of people, ran the final, interminable straightaway on my toes and staggered on with the rest of the wobbly crowd to collect my hard-earned finishers medal. Then I limped a half mile to our designated meeting place, wrapped myself in my "official Boston Marathon Heatsheet" like a baked potato, and waited for James to find me.
So yeah, I'm proud of running Boston, even if I'd rather not hand out my finish time, and even if I think there's an inordinate amount of hype around the event. Maybe one day I'll go back and run well, but not just yet.
Right now I'm giving myself time to recover rather than punishing myself by jumping straight back into training, so I thought I'd share a recipe for my favorite whole-food recovery shake. This is what I made for after Pittsburgh, and I packed all the ingredients in a tupperware so I could have it after Boston too. Sorry, no picture.
Chocolate Recovery Shake #1
3-4 tbsp hemp hearts
3 large (mejdool) or 5 small (deglet) dates
1 tbsp raw cacao powder
a pinch each of salt, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon
1 cup of water (any temperature you like)
*Ice if you want more of a milkshake vibe - I generally don't
Blend well - a Vitamix makes this perfectly creamy, but a regular blender works too
Update on the whale: Since our last Asheville trip, we haven't made a ton of van progress, but we did manage to get it registered/plated. James's initial research indicated we needed an inspection before we could register, so we started with figuring that out. Apparently, it's hard to find a mechanic that can do a PA state inspection with emissions on a diesel van. The first six+ mechanics I called either didn't have the equipment run the emissions test on a high GVWR vehicle, or their ceilings were too low, or their lifts couldn't take the van... and everyone was booked for inspections for the next 2 weeks. Not going to work. Eventually, I found a GMC (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram) dealer who could fit us in on Friday if I agreed to a drop off. Unfortunately, when I arrived, I found out that they couldn't inspect without the registration. *groan* So, I drove back and (thanks to a recommendation from another customer at the dealership) James got the registration settled at AAA. We have to get the inspection within 10 days, so I'm going to do that this week.