At the Jersey Shore Half Marathon this morning, I had hopes for a new personal record. I didn't have dead set expectations for one, but I had hopes. I've only officially run 3 other half marathons and this was to be the first one in my home state.
Here is a scrawling about my previous half marathon where I did gain a personal record. Reading over it again, I should have known that unless I could find a way to draw the energy and passion out of myself in the same way that I did on Long Island in May, that I'd have a hard time earning a new personal record.
Today I wrote a list of 13 sets initials of people to pray for on my arm. I donned my Marathon Maniacs singlet and skull and cross bone socks and off I went. It's been a long long time since I ran hard. Two marathons in a month and a few weeks of recovery running before beginning a new marathon training schedule does not build speed. (For me, at least.) I realized this last Sunday when I attempted to pace a 10 mile run with a friend. I could not keep the damn pace. So I shut my Garmin off at mile 3 and just ran. She was wearing her Nike+, so by mile 5 I had to stop asking her what our pace was so that I didn't feel utterly defeated. I was so off of what I thought I could do with moderate simultaneous strain and ease. (That makes sense to a runner, right?) I attributed my inability to pick up the pace to a weekend of indulgent eating and just shook off that sense of apprehension and disappointment. Shit happens. Sometimes a bad run is just that. And I let it go.
The weather was great for 13.1 miles. It was cool and sunny. The entire race took place on a closed course on Sandy Hook. As usual, the first three miles were a strain. I found my pace around mile 4, but I knew that I'd have to remain in a state of discomfort for this entire run if I wanted to get near a PR. Every time I dropped to a comfortable pace, I pushed my body back into that dis-comfort zone where you know you can keep going, but you have to fight with yourself the whole time not to slack off. I had pain in my quads by mile 7. I had cramps in both my lungs by mile 8. At mile 9, I realized that my pace was STILL not good enough to guarantee a personal record- my pace was actually seconds over the pace I held on Long Island. I'd have to push even harder for FOUR MORE MILES if I wanted that PR.
Then I saw the next clock and realized that unless I could run the last miles faster by more than a minute each, there was pretty much no way I could even match my current PR, let alone beat it....
So now what? With my aching quads (Leg pain is not normal for me) and my painful burning lungs, do I just take it down a few notches? What's the point in straining if I can't accomplish the new PR? I'm going to finish the race no matter what... why suffer at this point?
Why do I run?
Because I love it. Because I know that I get from it exactly and only what I put in. And if I painfully fought all this way for a PR, I'm not going to just slack off. I can still finish strong and still possibly surprise myself. (and defy mathematics, right?) If I slow down and essentially give up, how will I feel after the race? I kept pushing and pushing and I finished with dizziness and pain. The clock time showed a good minute and change slower than my personal record, but I am so glad I did not go down without a fight. It felt good to decide to push to the end, to keep fighting even though odds were stacked against me. If that clock showed 5 minutes slower than my PR, I would've felt shitty all week. I suppose I could muster up reasons to feel bad for missing a new personal record, but the fact that I knew that I needed to push even in the face of "failure" might be better than a new PR to me. Isn't that what running is all about? Perseverance even when it sucks? Today I learned another thing that I say to my sons all the time ought to be applied to my goals as well: Don't step up if you don't expect the best out of yourself. Expect victory and fight 'til the end like you want it. If you don't get it, at least you went down fighting the whole way. The next time, do it again.
I remember finding joy in the fact that I could run a mile with ease. Then that mile became 5k. Then it was ten miles. Now it's the half marathon. I may not be fast, but I can cover that distance on a whim without preparation. That's an accomplishment for me and I'm proud of it. I hope it isn't too long until I can say the same thing about the marathon.