Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity To seize everything you ever wanted-One moment Would you capture it or just let it slip?
"Lose Yourself" Eminem
It was a cheesy attempt at best to pump Dirrty Girl up as we drove from Lightning and Missile's abode down to the start of the Columbus Marathon yesterday, but in some way would be the question I would face out on the road. The air was cold enough for there to be frost on the car and both of our stomachs were awash with butterflies.
Dirrty Girl had one goal for her 1/2 marathon and that was to better her 2 hr 29 min finish earlier this year. She had been diligent in her training and followed a plan. Recent workouts indicated she was more than ready. She just had to believe in herself.
Me, well that was another story. With a PR of 3 hr and 24 min set earlier this spring and a bold prediction that a fall marathon would be the place where I would qualify for Boston, I had followed a plan of speed work and tempo until about mid-summer when I traded that in for mountains and a 50 miler. I pretty much had abandoned speed work and had little confidence that I could maintain that 7:15 pace per mile to get me to Boston.
At the expo, Lightning and I discussed race strategy and predictions and had even gotten one of those temporary tattoos with the 3:10 pacing that I never put on. Realistically, I told Lightning and Missile that 3:10 - 3:20 would be ideal. It was good to put on a front, because my inner dialogue was telling me otherwise. Before heading out for this race, my good friend, the Finkelstein and I had a conversation that if I was gonna go for it, I had to decide how much time I wanted to spend in the "pain locker". How far was I willing to push myself? I told him that I really didn't like spending time in that locker. I was more content to spend several hours of sustained discomfort during marathons and ultras then toeing that fine line between top speed and blowing up. Backing off and saving yourself is a favorite option of mine.
Despite several rookie mistakes like not grabbing pins for my race number and forgetting a drop bag, I deposited Dirrty Girl at her projected pace and wandered up to between the 3:20 and 3:10 pacers. Promptly @ 7:30 the gun blew and we were off.
The first mile was covered in a brisk 6:50 pace and I figured I had about a minute gap from the race clock and when I crossed the starting line. My legs felt really good. Between mile 2 and 3 I made a mad dash for the port a john and was quickly back on the road, not to far behind the 3:10 group.
By mile 5 or 6, I saw Lightning and Missile and was right with the 3:10 group. I pointed to them like "look...I am doing this!". The first 10k was covered in 43:40 and I slowly pulled away from the 3:10 group. I am good at playing games with myself, and so the calculations and strategy began taking shape. If I ran long enough before I blew up, could I build a big enough cushion to make it? At one point when I start to hurt, do I throw in the towel and just get a new PR? Hey, you haven't done the work to be running this fast, what the hell is going on? Do you really want to hurt that bad? How far could you get up the road before that 3:10 group leaves you wishing you had been more sensible?
I just put my head down and ran. I decided that I was gonna ride this train until the wheels fell off and let the chips fall where they may. However, I hadn't quite figured out my response to when I hit that "pain locker" just yet.
Passing the 1/2 marathon mark in 1 hr 31 min and 53 seconds which was right around 7:00/mile pace a real possibility began to crystallize that I could qualify for Boston. I started doing the math and figured I had about an 8 min cushion. I was gonna darn near need every second of that.
Somewhere around mile 16 is where I started to feel the twinges of cramps, the inevitable grip of fatigue and the "pain locker" was making a house call. It was gut check time. I don't remember much of the last 10 miles. Timing chip indicated I passed 20 miles in 2 hr 22 min and 21 seconds but I couldn't tell you. I know this. I ran, walked and reached deeper than I ever have in a race to keep moving fast. Under most normal circumstances, I would be fine to slow down, take in the sights, and enjoy my run. Isn't that what it is all about? Or is it on some days, is it what Steve Prefontaine said "A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. " I was punishing myself, but I did not care. I was gonna leave it all out there.
Around mile 22 or 23, the 3:10 group passed me and I heard the pacer, Dave? say "this is your day, don't squander this opportunity to qualify for Boston." The group looked noticeably smaller than at mile 5 or 6 and soon enough I was shot off the back, like the peleton shedding riders up the first climb of the Pyrenees.
I was faltering. I had made a mortal mistake in marathoning of going out to fast, and I was paying the piper. That freaking bouncing balloon of the 3:10 pace group leader, Dave? was bounding off. I didn't have another gear, but I pressed on. Right around mile 24, some guy, said "3:10 is right here, stay with me and you are punching your ticket to Boston." I could muster nothing more than a grunt, and followed him like I was hopping on to someone's wheel. It fricking hurt, and that cushion I had built was wittling fast.
Soon enough, the crowd appeared and the finish line. Missile, Lightning and Dirrty Girl, who had shattered her own half marathon PR by 12 minutes, were cheering me on, and as I looked up at the clock saw 3 hr 10 min something, but my watch was indicating 3 hr 09 min something. Spastically, my legs covered the last few steps, and crossing the line, my watch showed 3 hr 09 min and 53 seconds. I had qualified for BOSTON!!
I cried. I had talked about it, but didn't think this day would come. From my perspective, there was nothing fun about this race. I wasn't sure if I could dig deep enough when faced with challenge. Would I seize the moment or let it slip?
Official Finishing Time: 3 hr 09 min and 51 seconds
Now all I have to do is figure out how, when, where and how much this Boston thing is gonna cost me.