I sprang out of bed at the chime of my cell phone alarm at 4:30am yesterday. I quietly got ready for the day, gathered my things, and quietly closed the hotel room door behind me as to not disturb my sleeping family. I headed downstairs to the lobby to meet some friends and to walk over to the light rail station that would take us to the start line.
In just a few short hours I would be lining up with over 11,000 other runners to run the Twin Cities Marathon.
It would be my 4th time, and I had expectations of a personal best as I had been training hard. My long runs had never gone smoother. I had done more hill and speed training, and my legs felt rested and strong from the two week taper period. I entered my starting corral and quickly found the pace runner that would help guide runners to a finishing time of 3 hours and 45 minutes.
If I could meet that goal, I would beat my previous best by 20 minutes.
At 8:00am the wheelchair race started, and shortly after that the elite runners. They then delay for 8 minutes as to allow those groups to get a sizable start as to not have the rest of us get in the way of potential records. When the announcer finally said, “Runners ready? GO!” goose bumps formed as I made my way to the starting line, and broke into a run just feet away from the pacer I was determined to stay with.
Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that I would not run a personal best.
I slowly watched the balloons on the stick the pacer was holding get further and further ahead of me. By mile 6 I couldn’t see them anymore.
At that point, I had very important decision to make that would likely dictate how the rest of my run would go. I could wallow in failure for the next twenty miles, or I could accept the fact that I had misjudged my conditioning, and simply enjoy the race and whatever finishing time came with it. Knowing full well the impacts of negative thoughts when exhaustion would set in later in the race, I chose acceptance, adjusted my pace to be comfortable, and continued on.
I interacted with the crowds lining the streets. When there was a line of children holding out their hands raising a sign saying, “Free high fives!” I swerved to the side and touched as many as I could. When I saw signs with a big star and the words “Press for Power” I did it. Every single time. I pointed and laughed at signs with sayings such as, “Run Like a liberal is chasing you!” and “You’re running better than the government,” and my personal favorite, “Smile if you’re not wearing underwear.”
By mile 21, I had hit the infamous wall. My hips and groin were killing me, but strangely enough my actual legs felt fine. I looked up at a very long and steep hill and decided I was going to run up it as a small personal victory. About three quarters of the way up, I saw a familiar face out of the corner of my eye. I saw my brother-in-law and my son screaming words of encouragement at me. I high fived them as a smile burst on to my face. About 50 feet later I saw my daughter and my wife also on the side of the road cheering me on. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and I felt like someone had just breathed life back into my lungs.
The next 5 miles were essentially a run/walk. I don’t remember much about them to be honest, but I know they were not easy. At about mile 25.5 I turned a corner to the left, and stood atop a hill looking down on two hook and ladder trucks hoisting a gigantic American Flag waving over the road, with the state capital in the distance.
I breathed a sigh of relief as every ounce of pain melted away.
With the Cathedral of St Paul on my left, I began my descent towards the finish line, breaking into a sprint. The street was lined with crowds of people shouting at anybody and everybody. I could hear the announcer at the finish line reading off the names of those crossing into the promised land. I found my family on the right side of the street, about a hundred yards from the end. Another brother-in-law and his kids, as well as my mother and father-in-law had joined them. I raised my hand in victory, and high fived each of them. I crossed the finish line in 4:25:41. Twenty minutes slower than my previous best, and 40 minutes slower than my goal.
I couldn’t have cared less about my time. My marathon experience was everything I had hoped it would be.
The journey of life will not always be what you had planned for. You can take a route of self-pity and failure, or you can accept those twists and turns, adjust accordingly and enjoy whatever happens. I promise you that acceptance and enjoyment is a much better choice.
On the other hand, you get the life you train for. I read an article about a week ago that talked about the dangers of adjusting your pace on race day. The article suggested that it’s OK to slow your pace due to weather conditions, but never push your pace to try to get a better time. Run the pace you trained for. I felt enlightened at both the common sense and brilliance of the phrase. I also felt stupid. I’ve been a runner for most of my 40 years of life. Never, ever have I trained for a specific pace. I just put in the miles, do the speed work and the long runs and then hope it magically translates to a personal best. Looking back, I had trained only to finish, and that’s exactly what I did.
Today I begin training for my next marathon. It is Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN on June 20th, 2015. My legs need to heal before I can lace up my running shoes again, but I’m already mentally preparing. While I’m satisfied with yesterday’s marathon experience, I want a very different experience in June. I have aspirations of bettering my time and eventually qualifying for the Boston marathon. This experience has taught me that I will have to train very differently if I want to achieve my ultimate goals.
Are you training for the life you want?