Monday, October 08, 2007

Trail Marathon

I have to be honest: going into the my first marathon, which was this past Saturday, I was excited, for sure, but I wasn’t feeling super, well, intimidated. I was feeling downright confident, actually. I had trained well. I had put in two 20 milers on the course and one 22 miler, done a few prep races, lots of speedwork and hill work—all of the stuff you’re supposed to do to ensure a good marathon. Now I understand the whole “aura” and “pinnacle” thing about the marathon.

I have done a lot of endurance races. When I was racing my bike, I did countless centuries, and one 130-miler for training. I was tired, for sure, at the end, but I was okay. I was still intact. The marathon is a whole different beast. I have never felt so spent and completely stripped after a race or endurance event. By stripped, I mean emotionally, physically--just raw. I had no control over my breathing, my tears—it just all came out that last mile. I knew I was in trouble when I started hyperventilating with 3 miles to go. Hyperventilating at the end of a race isn’t something new for me—I’ve done it a few times at the end of races, but I usually gain control pretty quickly, and I’m smiley by the time I cross the finish line. Not on Saturday.

What set me off was my knee: somewhere, early on in the course, I tweaked it, and throughout the race, I started getting sharp pains, but I ignored it, figuring that a surgeon is breaking my foot in a week, so if I hurt my knee, at least I’ll have plenty of time to heal up. All was well until the last six miles, and then the pain became a little more than I could ignore. By the last few miles, I was running on pure stubbornness. When I saw Cullen, at about mile 25, I just lost it. He rode next to me on the bike, encouraging me and reminding me to breathe (I sounded like a colicking horse by that point), but there was something about seeing the finish line, being pissed about my knee, feeling physically depleted, and—knowing that I was so close to the finish—that just left me completely defenseless. In a strange way, it felt fantastic.

I finished okay. I missed my goal time by 4 minutes, but I did well in the overall standings, so I guess it’s all relative. I know, that if all is well physically, I will absolutely do the same marathon next year. It feels strangely wonderful to have been beat down by something, yet not defeated. I have a new respect for the distance.

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