It’s the 2nd/4th Wednesday of the month and that means Blogapalooza where we are challenged to write a post and publish it in one hour. Here is this month’s challenge: “Write about a period or moment in your life when you were at your best.” Here’s my take:
Ten years (and a few months) ago, I ran my best marathon time ever. I was 36 years old and managed to pound out a 3:29:54 Finish Time at the Spirit of St Louis Marathon. It was an interesting week especially since that same weekend the Cubs swept the Cardinals back in Chicago. So it was a victory for all Chicagoans though obviously everyone was more into my success than those fleeting northsiders.
Training for a marathon during the Winter is rough enough under ordinary circumstances. It’s dark when you wake up, dark when you get home from work and cold all throughout. This season was extra demanding because my knees were hurting and I had gained some holiday weight. Because of the January weather it was hard to get any kind of consistency going where training was concerned. I couldn’t afford to miss any runs because I inadvertently started my training five weeks late. On top of that, I decided to try a new training program, adding my own on the fly adjustments to make up for those missing weeks. To make matters worse, I caught a terrible cold five days before the marathon.
The Sunday before this race, I had run the Shamrock Shuffle back home and also set a new personal best. But then I caught a very bad cold. I could feel it coming on Sunday evening and by Monday night, I had a full fledged virus running through my system. How could I run a marathon? I wasn’t able to get in the last few training runs of an already truncated training season. I had worked very hard for this marathon, training in the cold, dark winter. Doing speed workouts during my lunch break when WFH and cross training with spin classes and weights.
This had all the makings of a Greek Tragedy waiting to unfold. But I was registered to run the Spirit of St Louis on April 9, so I packed up my gear and headed down I-55. I was staying with a friend from my undergrad days at Northeast Missouri State University. Going to school there allowed me to get to know St Louis so well, which made it an excellent choice for a spring marathon. (a free place to stay did tip the scale a bit!)
I wrote a really long write up about my marathon race story back in the days when I blogged by emailing friends my marathon stories. The website I used is gone but I was able to find it using WaybackMachine so I’ll give a very abridged version by cutting to the chase.
Although the forecast was for cloudy and rainy, it turned out to be a sunny, windless day and I didn’t have any problems running. The first half of the course was shared with half marathoners and I did my best to not go out too fast.
At Mile 20 I introduced myself to my new friend. His name is Kevin and he told me that we were on pace to do a 3:25 or so. I said to him, I think I’m gonna open it up a bit and see what I can do. A gutsy move, especially since a Boston Qualification time (BQ*) was realistically out of the question. But the one thing I’ve learned that year is that even when you don’t have a prayer, you still have to take your shot. Otherwise you end up in your own personal purgatory.
For the next few miles I ran either just under 8 minutes, if the course flattened out enough or 820s if we hit a hill. At Mile 24 I confirmed what I had suspected a few miles earlier. If I were to walk, I would finish under 4 hours. While I could ease off and try to save something for the end, I realized that at this particular moment, whatever pace I achieved, however fast or slow I ran, that would be my new PR. I controlled my PR and in a small way my destiny.
Somewhere halfway between Mile 24 and Mile 25, on some highway underpass I’ll probably never see again, my watch showed I had been running for 3 hours and 15 minutes…the time I need to qualify for Boston at my age level. The marathon was 1.7 miles too long.
It didn’t matter. I felt strong, ran as fast as I could and the lactic acid meltdown never came. As I approached the finish line, I heard the announce encouraging the runners “if you hurry you can break 3:30”. It hadn’t occurred to me to go for any particular time once I realized I would set a new PR. I threw whatever I had left and pushed for the finish line.
Bending But Not Breaking
In a year that started out with great promise but quickly spiraled out of control, when at times it seemed my best just wasn’t good enough, I probably had no business running a marathon under the training conditions I experienced. Yet on Palm Sunday, the weekend when the St Louis Cardinals went to Chicago and were swept by the Cubs, the marathon gods graced me with a new PR of 3:29:54. I didn’t even have my best stuff, but it was apparently more than enough.
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