The day of reckoning always arrives, creeping up slowly at first and then suddenly it is front of you, regardless of your state of preparedness. I was relaxed going into the final tapering phase, which is rare for me. I was much more confident about being able to accomplish my main goal but had plenty of remaining doubt as well. I tried to keep my plan simple. I would go out running slightly under the overall pace I needed to meet the goal time and hold it as long as possible.
The weather race morning was near perfect. The sky was mostly clear and the temperatures in the low 40s, meaning the heat would not be a factor even after the sun rose completely. I wore shorts and singlet and some cheap gloves I could pull off as I warmed up.
I found my way to the assigned start corral and soon heard my name called out. Lewis and Brian, who had completed the Midwest Slam of Ultras with me a couple years ago, were calling me from the close to the front of the crowd, so I moved up to join them. After listening to the anthems and speeches about the race, I took of with them.
The first few miles did not feel too bad as I tried to settle in to the pace as we circled around the University of Toledo campus. It was a strange feeling to start a race running that hard, or even just running that hard at all since I never do it. I began to think there was a possibility of pulling my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
The course ran mostly through residential neighborhood streets and on a paved path through a park. I quickly realized that running at that tempo made even the smallest change in elevation very noticeable. The "hills" that I would barely even acknowledge in a trail race now seemed to drag me down, even though a quick look at the watch showed a minimal drop in pace.
Once I reached 8 or 9 miles, I started to struggle to keep the pace up. I tried to relax and just keep moving, hoping to keep up. The mile splits were getting longer and longer. By the time I was at 11 miles I knew they would continue to drop and the "A" goal was probably out the window. This was a bit disappointing but not unexpected. I was still moving much faster than my PR race pace and that goal was down to a matter of by how much would I improve.
I reached the half way point in a time close to 1:42, which if I could repeat in the second half would mean I could reach all my goals. However, my splits were still falling even when I felt I was pushing harder. It wasn't happening today.
The second half was slow. I just settled in and let the miles click off. I was not having fun and wanted to be done. The thought of jumping on one of the relay buses back to the finish crossed my mind very briefly. When this idea formed I quickly laughed to myself. I had forgotten how much a road marathon hurt. I was feeling a little miserable but was finally uplifted by a few spectator comments about my hair late in the race. Always good for a laugh.
So I had the remaining 13 miles to think about the failure to meet my goal. It would be very simple to have beat myself up over this but I soon made the realization that my goals only really matter to me. Any pressure that was created, was created by me, on myself. Whether or not I succeed has no bearing on anyone's day. I always appreciate any and all encouragement and I'm very happy if taking part in these races inspires others to try new things. It is hard to not compare myself to others and expect that I should be able to do what everyone else seems to do effortlessly. The fact is that these thing are hard for everyone, in their own way. Trying to meet an expectation based on what others are doing, that only matters to me is fruitless and in the end is meaningless.
The cliche is that it is the journey is what matters. I know this and still have to be reminded periodically. The work I did prior to this race was intended to change my focus and try to regain my joy of running. It did this by forcing me to do difficult things that I had avoided before. I'm very sure this will help my in my training for future ultras.
The final mile felt like I was dragging an anchor. The course wound around the football stadium before finally turning onto the field and finishing at the 50 yard line. I crossed the line in 3:40, which was well over my top goal but was my best ever marathon time by 4 minutes. The first half would have been my best ever half-marathon time. I should be and I am proud of the result.
The recovery over the last week has been good. I was fairly sore for a few days. I did go out an run the following day which I normally would not do. It did help and I have run every day this week. I am ready for the next challenge.
That next challenge is the Grayson Highlands 50k down in Virginia on May 5. Only 2 weeks between races so I will not do anything crazy as far as training goes. That will have to ramp up quickly following this next race since Ronda del Cims is coming quickly. I'll be reporting back shortly to cover the next race.