Last Sunday I finished the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon in a personal record of 3:01:06. It was the fastest I've ever covered 26.2 miles on foot by a minute and 59 seconds, yet I still came away from the race with a feeling of disappointment because I failed to run under three hours.
This is not to say that I didn't rejoice in my physical capabilities or marvel at the triumph of the human spirit. I didn't exactly hang my head in shame afterwards or cry myself to sleep that night. On the contrary, I drank some awesome beers with my awesome dad and some awesome running friends and laughed the morning away.
But the disappointment was still there.
I do get how silly this comes across, especially to non-runners. It's an arbitrary time, one that I picked, and without any concrete rewards beyond the title of "sub 3 marathoner." The time I did run was a two minute PR, and as I mentioned three weeks ago, PR's at my age are becoming harder and harder to come by. Two years ago I was ecstatic to have run 3:03:05, and now I've bettered that time yet feel disappointed. It doesn't make sense and I know that.
The disappointment isn't just with the time goal. But before we get into that, let's reflect on race strategy first.
I had a distinctly different race strategy from two years ago. In 2013 I wrote all of the mile splits on my arm that I needed to hit in order to run a 3:05. At each mile marker I compared the splits on my arm with the time on my watch, and as long as I stayed under, I just kept doing what I was doing. This resulted in me going out too fast for the first few miles and hanging on for dear life towards the end.
This year I wanted to run consistent 6:50 miles while saving some juice for the kick at the end. I wanted to negative split the race. So my plan was to keep an eye on my pace on my Garmin and try to run as evenly as possible. As mentioned in my race report, I had a really tough time locking into a consistent pace. I ended up looking at my Garmin far more often than I should have, stressing over how slow or fast I was running, which may have added to my erratic pace. This may have also caused me to lose concentration on running the tangents and veer too far off. In 2013 I ran 26.23, but this year it was 26.43.
The problem with the marathon is that there are so many factors that go into a performance, good or bad, that it's sometimes hard to isolate exactly what helped or hindered during the race.
I think it's clear that one of the biggest factors in this particular race was the wind. I've never experienced wind like that in a race before. But how much can I realistically blame my performance on it? 30 seconds? A minute? When do I stop searching for external factors to blame and concentrate on myself?
This brings us to just why I'm so disappointed. One of the biggest factors contributing to my disappointment is how I performed in the last few miles of the race. Now, the casual observer will note that I kept going in those final miles, kept pushing despite the realization that my A goal had slipped away. I didn't quit.
But you see, in a way I did. In those final miles, as I did the math in my head, I knew it was going to be close. But at some point I gave up the fight. And it absolutely kills me now to think back to those miles and know I let the fight inside of me die. I never once said to myself, "This is hard, but I can do this." My two amazing pacers, Robin and Kim who had jumped in at mile 23.5, kept telling me I could do it, and in response I just kept spitting back in their faces, "I'm not going to make it." I let the pain win and accepted that I wasn't going to run sub 3, and might have imploded entirely were it not for them.
They say the marathon is a metaphor for life, and so it's disheartening to know just how easily I gave up. To confront the fact that I may not be as strong as I think is a humbling feeling.
I've gotten a lot of nice comments, tweets, texts and Facebook messages over the last few days, all of them proud of what I did and some of them assuring me the elusive sub 3 marathon is just around the corner. But the truth is, I highly doubt it.
Most marathoners peak at the age of 35, give or take a year. That means, at best, I only have a few years left to make good on the sub 3 goal. But the truth is I'm tired of training at the level I do, literally and figuratively. It's exhausting and quite frankly detrimental to my own sanity and the health of my family. While I would certainly like to do more marathons in the future, I just don't think I have it in me to train at this level again. This last training cycle was meant to be one last hurrah. I went into this marathon knowing it would likely be my one and only shot at sub 3, and I came up short by a mere 67 seconds.
Despite the gloom of this post, I still feel proud of what I accomplished. Proud of my running journey and what I've overcome to get to where I am. Grateful to those who have helped me along the way.
I am humbled by running, but above all, I'm still excited about it and all it offers, excited to share it with friends and family, to see where it takes me in the future. With or without a sub 3 marathon.