The last marathon I ran before Vancouver on May 6, 2018 was the NYC Marathon in November 2017. You can read the blog post here, but the short version is that I trained really hard, training was on point, but I got a head cold and a fever three days before the race, was only operating at ~70% on race day, and bombed. I was disappointed and angry at the bad timing of getting sick, but was also more determined than ever to train for a BQ (Boston Qualifier) as well as a substantial PR. I was going to be really smart, methodical, and laser-focused.
Like my training for NYC, my training for Vancouver was on point. I was exceeding my 30-miles/week goal and even exceeded 50 miles for 6 of the 18 weeks in my training plan. I did all the right stuff. I did speed work, strength training, marathon pace runs, tempo runs, threshold miles. I even did regular strength training, stretching, and foam-rolling. On top of all of this, I kept a light heart and a light mind. I didn’t view my training plan as inflexible and I adjusted it (spontaneously, even) to hike with the dogs and to trail run with friends. Throughout my training, I felt like an 8:20/mi goal pace (3:40 finish time) was probably too aggressive, but 8:35/mi (3:45 finish time) was more doable, and would get me a marathon PR and a BQ. I wasn’t feeling 100% confident of it, but I wasn’t entirely lacking confidence either.
As the race approached, things were fairly boring. Training was fine. I didn’t have doubt or injury. Work was work, but not too stressful. I was sleeping and eating well. All I had to do was be consistent, do what I had been doing, and things would line up. Done. Consistency is my middle name.
The forecast for race day seemed a little warm, and on race morning, it was was already hotter than expected. In my coach-brain, I knew the strategy should be to slow down and pay attention to my heart rate, but in my determined athlete-brain, I thought I was tough enough to hold my planned pace in the heat. I didn’t consider adjusting my race goals and, in fact, I started the race with an aggressive 3:40 target in mind, rather than the likely-doable 3:45. By mile 5, my pace was decent but my HR was nearing its threshold. Everything in my coach-brain told me to slow down, that my heart rate was way too high, but my athlete-brain didn’t want all of my training to go to waste, so I told my coach-brain to shut up and I just ran.
There is a substantial hill at mile 5 in the Vancouver marathon. It’s 1.2 miles and a 3.3% grade. In preparation for the race, this didn’t worry me because it was early enough in the race that I thought if I took it easy, I would recover. I’m a decent hill climber and a 1.2-mile climb wasn’t intimidating. The masochist in me even delighted in the idea of a marathon with a tough hill because, somehow, that would signify that I earned my victory even more than if there wasn’t a hill. (More irrational athlete-brain self-talk!)
At the top of that hill, my average pace was 8:30/mi. Not bad - but also not good enough to hit 3:40, so the pressure started to build. However, while that pressure was building, my HR was not coming down, despite the flat, even slightly downhill, road that followed the hill. I felt like I slowed to a walk, yet my HR wouldn’t budge from its new home in my threshold zone. I tried to relax, to eat, to drink, to breathe, but it was just getting hotter outside and this was an additional factor that contributed to my high HR. Over the next 6 flat miles, the negativity in my athlete-brain got louder. I saw Barry - happy as ever - along the course at mile-12, warning me of the long downhill I was thankfully about to encounter.
While this was the most gorgeous part of the race, it was the beginning of the end for me. It felt great to fly down the hill, but I was also trying to balance that freedom with holding back to save my quads. My average pace had slowed to an 8:35 - still not bad, and within my goal range - but at this point, I gave up. I decided I would not be registering for Boston 2019 and I fell apart. For real. I had a complete meltdown. On the course. Tears, anger, screaming. The whole thing. It was a spectacle that I am not proud of. Reliving this now reminds me of the number of times before this event, and since it, that I have not given up and I’ve overcome adverse conditions. I can’t rationalize what happened that day, but something snapped.
Barry was with me during all of this and tried to help me get my head back in the game, but it was useless. I was a slobbering, teary mess. We held hands and walked for a couple miles before I tried to start running again. We ran-walked to the finish. I enjoyed the last 6-miles which circumnavigated Stanley Park, a true Vancouver highlight. I caught up with Kim, an SGLRG friend, and saw that her heart was broken too. We both had a goal of qualifying for Boston and we both couldn’t execute that day. It was heartbreak, and as much as I didn’t want anyone to experience what I was experiencing, I was thankful to have some like-minded company.
To my athletes, I want to apologize for not being the example that I strive to be. And to my fellow competitors, I know you were struggling out there too, and it couldn’t have been easy for you to maintain your focus with my outburst on the course with you that day.
I am ashamed and embarrassed. Not about my race time - I now know that the time on the clock at the end of the race really doesn’t matter at all - but about my terrible attitude. Attitude is everything. Attitude determines a good race vs. a bad race. Attitude also influences people around you, which bounces off of them and right back to you. So what you put out there better damn-well be something that you want to receive back - because whether you like it or not, it’s coming back to you. I have said these words to my athletes before, but I don’t think I lived their truth until that day.
But, I’m really getting ahead of myself, because I actually didn’t learn this lesson until Part 2 of this story and it is only in hindsight now that I can write these words.