I prepared for the Hartford Marathon as if it was the race of my life. On Friday while I was lying on the floor with my legs stretched up the wall, Michael said, “I’ve never seen you rest this much the day before a race.” I replied, “I don’t want to have to break 3:00 again.” Breaking 3:00 had become a kind of quest over the past five months. In April I surprised myself by pulling out a 3:01 in Boston in suboptimal conditions, and I crossed the finish line convinced I had a sub-3 somewhere in me. Then I ran a 3:15 six days later in Big Sur with lots of miles between the two races. Between Big Sur and the start of the Hartford Marathon, I’d put in more than 2,026 miles. I was faster, stronger, smarter, completely rested, even more rested than I was coming in to Boston. And I believed on a good day I could put down a fast time. So why didn’t it happen? I’m healthier than I’ve ever been and running stronger and more consistently than ever. By all measures, it should have happened.
I don’t know. I can point to several reasons why I finished my goal race in 3:14, which is 15 minutes off where I wanted to be. The answer is probably some combination of the reasons below. And I know a 3:14 is not a bad time. Plenty of people would be thrilled with that time. Hell, it gets you in to Boston Marathon registration on the first day. It just wasn’t the time I was supposed to run.
- I went out too fast. I started the race about 10 rows behind the 3:00 pacer because I screwed up my seeded corral bib and then couldn’t inch my way up far enough. After weaving through people for the first mile, I found the group. The group’s pacer was going way too fast. I should have backed off right there, when the group members started mentioning that the pace seemed a little too fast. There’s no reason I should be putting down a 6:33 on an uphill mile seven miles in to the race. That’s running like an idiot. My legs knew this. They gave out around mile 16. I couldn’t convince them to move. The second part of the race felt like a training run — like I’d run 100 miles the week before. Like my Jello legs were running through more Jello.
- I was too nervous. In most races, I show up and just start running when the gun goes off. I haven’t mentally played out how the run will go mile by mile. I go with the flow and follow the crowd. I mostly follow my body, and I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised by my mile splits. Maybe I have a pace in mind, but maybe I’m there to have fun. Most of the time, I have no race jitters. This week, I must have repeated “6:47, 6:47, 6:47,” to myself 50 times. My heart was beating out of my chest at the start line, and I wandered up to the start line after my warmup like a zombie. I was mentally exhausted before I’d started.
- I ran too many training miles. While I doubt my high mileage was the only source of a bad race, I ran about 10 percent more miles this training cycle over last. When I ran the 3:01 in April I wasn’t also training to run an ultramarathon , and I certainly didn’t put in as many trail miles. The trail miles and mileage increase both seem to have helped me race stronger at other distances, so I tend to think more mileage isn’t to blame.
- The wind. When I started slowing down the most, I was running alone and against what felt like a pretty legit headwind. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. By the time I turned around with the wind at my back, I was mentally wrecked and had seen the 3:00 goal slip away a few miles before.
- I ate beets. When I ran a sub-par marathon in Austin in February, I had terrible stomach cramps around mile 25. I’d had beets the night before and the morning of the race. I ate a huge bowl of beets for dinner Friday night and had stomach issues around mile 24.5. No beets next time. They’re good for training, but I can’t have too many of them before a race.
But I really don’t know the answer for my poor performance. I beat myself up most of the day yesterday. I ate some cheesecake, had a beer, pouted. Why couldn’t it happen? What did I do wrong? I’ll probably never know the real answer. But I woke up this morning, and ran a 30-minute easy run at a startlingly fast pace. It was faster than I’ve ever been able to go the day after any race — even a 5K. I went to the gym and then later today went out for a second, even faster run. I think the race is out of my system.
Marine Corps is still on my race calendar for two weeks from today. I don’t know if I’ll try to break 3:00 again. It depends on the day, and I don’t want to stress about it (see 2 above). But Marine Corps has tons going for it.
I’ve run this marathon more times than any other one except Boston (2008, 2009, 2010, 2014). I know the course because I train and race on these streets. My friends and family line the racecourse; people I don’t expect to see will magically appear on the Mall or in Georgetown. I love it. So the goals for Marine Corps are to relax, have fun and be smart. There’s no crazy pacers to mess with my head. There’s just me. Dressed as Wonder Woman. Getting cheers from strangers and running because I love it.