Today I Learned

For the first time since I started marathoning 17 years ago, I awoke this morning forgetting for a minute that it was marathon morning. I had no pre-marathon nightmares. I didn’t spend the night worried that I would miss the alarm. Instead I slept soundly and awoke with no nerves at all about what should have been my 15th marathon. But today I learned, among other things that sleeping well and waking calmly does not necessarily mean the race will go to plan.

Today I learned –

1. The start of the Marine Corps Marathon never loses its magic. Standing in the coral, waiting for the start, I watched as Marines jumped from airplanes carrying American flags. I listened to a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and I was once again in awe as I watched the Ospreys fly overhead. In addition to the pomp and circumstance of this event, I was once again amazed by the fluidity of the Marines in preparing for this race. From beginning to end, this race runs like clockwork.
2. The participants and spectators make this race. Okay, so maybe I didn’t just learn this today but I was certainly reminded today how much I love the people at this marathon. From the first timers who spoke with such excitement to the old veterans who have completed this race over and over again, to the two women who stopped in their tracks, gave me water and helped me to securely wrap a blanket around myself as I stumbled my way back to the Smithsonian Metro stop after I DNFed.
3. Training does not necessarily mean the run is going to be okay. I went into this expecting to do better than last year, the year in which I didn’t train at all, by at least 30 minutes. I had trained for this. I put in every workout until three weeks ago when I had to take time off to let my foot heel, used my bike religiously during that recovery and even did a good distance test run last weekend. I felt ready for this race. But you just never know what you will get until you are out there.
4. Listen to your body Okay, once again, this was a reminder. I know to listen to my body but usually I am listening for the niggling pain somewhere, not necessarily paying attention to the whole picture. I never sleep. The fact that I did last night may have been a clue to my problem. Waking up with a sore throat was probably further clue. I didn’t listen because quite honestly those things didn’t register high on my radar. Instead I thought about my foot, felt a little niggle but decided I would quit if it hurt too much. I have learned my lesson about hobbling through long distance runs.
5. I have nothing to prove. The decision to quit this race was a lot easier than I expected. Although I ran for three miles after making the decision, I was able access my situation early and I knew the last few miles would not only be painful but they would probably lead to me staying in bed for a couple of days recovering from dehydration or worse. Starting at mile 4 of this race my stomach was not right. I spent more time in the port-a-potty than I have ever spent in a race. The water I drank to replenish was not putting a dent in the loss of fluids and the chill bumps were a good sign that I was done.
6. But you have to own a DNF – This is why I kept going for a few miles. I needed to know that I wasn’t just in a lull. I needed to know that it was not going to get better and maybe I even needed to feel myself sliding into something worse.
7. I have the ability to still remain positive. When I looked at my tips about the marathon, two things stuck out, happy thoughts and candy. Even as I felt myself losing the plot, I remained happy and positive. I thought about the mile 22 aid station and all my friends there passing out candy. I thought about the young men and women who truly sacrifice for us and I enjoyed the incredible beauty of our nation’s capital on a fall morning.
8. DNFing is never easy. Even as I owned the fact I was making the right decision, I knew I would regret it. I knew I wanted to be at that finish line with my friends. I wanted that medal. I wanted to have number 15 in the books. And later as I looked through my friends’ photos from the day I was just a little bit gutted. I sat on the pity pot for a little bit and I felt like a loser.
9. I don’t want to just do better than the race I didn’t train for. I want to break 4 hours. I have a marathon scheduled at the end of November but I decided today that I am not going to do it. I want to be back to marathon shape before I do my next race. I want to break four hours and not just get around the course. I have done that enough. It’s time to put in more work. The next few months I will do that.
10. And finally, I will do another marathon. I know I keep saying I am not, but read number one again. Today I learned that the start of the Marine Corps Marathon never loses its magic. Next year is the 30th Anniversary of the Marine Corps Marathon. I will be on that line, celebrating with all of those people, runners and spectators alike.

Over the next few days I will probably ferret out more lessons learned but sitting here today I am glad I took a minute to think through this, to analyze what happened and to know where I want to be next.