In the 5 days that have passed since completing my first Boston Marathon, the question I've gotten the most (after "what place did you come in?") was "are you happy with your time?" And the answer? It's complicated.
I told myself going into the race that I would be happy with anything under 3:30. I had to hustle down the homestretch on Boylston in order to make this goal, but I made it.
But time isn't the only arbiter of success when it comes to racing. Like I wrote last fall, you don't have to run a PR to feel successful.
I was talking with Stevie the other night when she asked me a similar question: how did I feel about Boston now that I'd completed it and had time to reflect on it?
It was hard to put into words. Towards the end, I felt beat down by the marathon. Weak.
Stevie: But isn't that how you feel with every marathon?
Well, yes and no. I certainly feel beat down physically at the end of every marathon, but it's usually me delivering the beatdown, not the marathon. When I know I am pushing myself hard, I may feel tired and sore, but I feel anything but weak. The exhaustion I feel fuels a sense of strength in me, which in turn drives me to push even harder. Time doesn't always matter. It's usually that feeling of personal power and strength that I'm after.
But it's easy to feel strong when things are going your way. Being forced to confront the fact that I may not be as strong as I think I am is exactly why the marathon is so humbling, and why I love it. So while I felt weak and demoralized in the final miles of Boston, I reveled in the humility provided. Well, maybe not until afterwards. But I made my time goal and despite that sense of weakness I felt, I have still come away with an awe and respect for Boston.
Does any of this make sense? I told you it was complicated.
I did, of course, have a lot going against me, much of which I couldn't control.
- The weather. Probably the worst weather I've ever experienced in any race of any length. 20mph headwind, steady rain for over half the race, and 45 degrees.
- Poor race day nutrition. This was my own dumb fault as I forgot to bring my gels to Boston and again forgot to bring anything to the starting line with me. I didn't take in any fuel other than Gatorade until mile 18.
- Poor weather during training cycle. I ran every mile of training outside in some awful conditions including plenty of temperatures in the teens and an awful lot of snow and ice. This certainly made me feel badass, but the weather stopped me from doing much speed work.
- Probably went out too fast in the first half, which everyone warns you not to do, but I swore I felt like I was holding back based on effort.
- I'd picked up a nasty cough while in Germany with my students over spring break, and the cough hung on until the day of the marathon. The day after? Completely gone. Naturally.
- Lack of sleep. My son is eight months old and still won't sleep through the night. I have felt like a zombie since August, and while I got the miles in, the quality of those miles definitely suffered. Again, I barely did any speed work. Only a handful of tempo runs, and no track work like I normally do.
Overall, I'm proud of what I overcame, proud of the journey to Boston. The overall experience was an incredible one, despite the tough physical and mental hardships towards the end.
And I keep returning to that finishing stretch on Boylston Street, but rather than describe it again, I'll let Vladimir Nabokov take us off:
"Listen - I want to run all my life, screaming at the top of my lungs. Let all of life be an unfettered howl. Like the crowd greeting the gladiator.
Don't stop to think, don't interrupt the scream, exhale, release life's rapture. Everything is blooming. Everything is flying. Everything is screaming, choking on its screams. Laughter. Running. Let-down hair. That is all there is to life."
From the short story "Gods" by Vladimir Nabakov