"Behind you! There's a pace group!" A woman shouted to me, as if it were a big deal. Which, if I'm being honest, it was.
About 10 miles earlier, I separated that group, the 3:15'ers, because they had fallen far behind their advertised pace. Bumping into them to begin with, was as much accidental as it was unavoidable. Somewhere on the bike path, around mile 5 I'd say, there was this mass of runners that I couldn't pass, there were too many, too tightly packed together. Their pace seemed comfortable and I wasn't in much of a hurry at that point, so I ran with them. That is, until they inexplicably slowed down, which I think was because they were slightly ahead of schedule.
Later, at mile 20 where they excited woman was warning of the stampede, I got a rush of "here we go again," and the Summer flashed in front of my eyes. I saw how I had struggled all year and didn't have a training plan other than "winging it" for all but two weeks --of the whole damn year! Injuries had taken their toll on me. Now here I was, feeling pretty good despite a rough year, and about to be passed by this pace group. Was I going to let that happen? Hell no! I can do this!
Until they blew past me. I tried to keep up, telling myself, "today I fight!" It didn't work, the mental pep talk failed. I didn't feel I was running slow and my effort seemed near max, given the circumstances. I just couldn't get my legs to go any faster. It was inevitable of course. I was in shape to run a marathon, but not to PR it, and certainly not to race it. The reality was simple and I accepted it. I didn't like it, but it was what it was.
Rarely do I experience the "wall" anymore, and that day was no exception. All I took with me were a half dozen GU's and Cliff Shots. All my hydration was from half a cup of water at most aid stations (are they called that in marathons?). For the most part, it was a good day. I felt all right the whole way and the weather was pleasant. Except, I wasn't trained.
I'm not terribly competitive, but I strive to constantly get better, and that's often my motivation. Just "surviving" isn't fun anymore. I endured enough horror stories over the years, that sometimes I find it difficult to fight when the battle has already been decided. That's not me though. There are other reasons I run, and I'm not going to give up trying simply because I want the suffering to stop.
My mind began to drift, as it often does during races, to my kids. This marathon was no different. Despite falling back a few minutes, which quickly ballooned to about 10, I thought about my kids at the end and it stiffened my resolve. I want to finish not just looking strong and putting on a show, but fighting to that very last stride over the finish line. I took what I had that day and used 100% of it, and that's what I call living.
This race was nothing fancy, and I like that. It's not huge, but it's not tiny, and it's virtually flat. I tell myself each year that I will train for it, but that hasn't happened yet. I felt like a wily vet, using smarts and guile to get to the end as fast as possible. No more fancy fanny packs or complicated nutrition/hydration/sodium plans. Just go out there and run, using whatever God gives me out there. The volunteers were great as always, and if it's not apparent, I appreciate my family being there for me.
I'll be back next year, hopefully after a successful Summer of training.