This year 32,456 people lined up to make the journey of the Boston Marathon. It is one of the most popular and well known running races on the planet and for obvious reasons, this year was extra special.
But personally, I don’t overly enjoy road running or big crowds so I don’t ever see myself running at Boston.
However, this year I pulled an old goal from my master list. A goal I had added to it last year. The goal: Run a Boston Qualifying marathon time, which is known as; chasing the unicorn (The unicorn is the symbol of the Boston marathon). I wrote it down after being inspired by Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete and his Boston qualifying adventure that began his blog and inspiring community. At the time I was new to goal setting, healthy eating and running so it made the list but got placed on the back burner after I found trail running and focused in on the Big Brad Ultra 50 miler.
So why this year?
Like I said, I’m not a fan of road running. Last year I found an amazing peace and comfort in the quiet serenity and terrain challenges of a woods trail.
Just the thought of it made me uncomfortable. As I winced at the challenge of increasing my usual training pace by almost two minutes per mile, to come in under 3 hours and 10 minutes, I knew I had to try. I added it to my goal list and decided on the earliest marathon I could find.
It happened to be in the very town we live in, Fredericton, and it was also a Boston qualifier. Even better, being only a little over a mile from my front door, I could train on the exact course. Or so I thought. The course ended up being mostly covered by snow until the first week of May. So I did my training on the parts that I could access and threw in a few weeks of strength training (of which I did none of last year) as well.
So on May 11, Mother’s Day, I woke my wife up early, with a coffee of course, so she could give me a ride downtown for the 8 am start. She’s not only a good sport, she’s my biggest fan and supporter. It’s not always easy. Training takes a lot of time in our already busy family schedule and I couldn’t do it without her continual belief in me.
Over 2,000 people showed up to run and walk various distances from 5 to 42.2 kilometers. It was a big crowd and I situated myself toward the front in the under 5 kilometer pace area.
The race started with a loop through downtown before connecting onto the trail system that crosses the river heading north. The first half was fairly uneventful. I grabbed a few cups of water on the return back to town and at 16 kilometers downed the only food I was carrying, a bag of raisins(I still have never tried gels). I felt really good and I was familiar with every step of the course.
Once back into town and passing the start/finish line, I grabbed my handheld filled with coconut water from Shannon but passed on a banana (something I regret now) and headed back out of town for the last half.
Just before the last turnaround I started losing pace, my exertion was increasing and mentally things started going downhill. This was the point that most marathon runners call “the wall”.
Even during the lows of the Big Brad Ultra last year, I had never really experienced “the wall”. I stayed just far enough away to know it was close but walked for periods to avoid it. The goal for that run was to finish. This time I had a goal with a time that I still intended to reach. That meant no walking breaks.
What I didn’t know was, it was going to get worse. A lot worse.
I grabbed two cups of Gatorade (as much as I stay away from all processed items, I knew it was necessary) at the next station trying as hard as I could to reverse the effects. I’m not sure anything could have helped me at that point but I was willing to try. I was no where near ready to give up. The occasional glance at my watch and the calculations in my increasingly foggy brain told me I still had time to reach my goal. I pushed forward focused on nothing but where I knew the finish line existed. It wasn’t far away.
“Just get there”, I told myself.
Life really distills down at that point. Breathe in, breath out. Right foot, left foot. All in slow seemingly exaggerated motion.
And then I noticed I was starting to weave.
I had less than a mile left when distilling was no longer working. The last glance at my watch revealed 3:09:58 and 26.21 miles(the inaccuracy of a GPS watch). Problem one; I was still a half mile from the finish line. Problem two; I was losing consciousness.
I took a few deep breaths and slowed to a walk. Then I stopped and leaned on the rail on the bridge that crossed the beautiful Saint John river. My head hit my arms. My goal had just slipped through my fingers.
“Just walk to the finish”, I told myself. A few more breaths and I lifted my head. My blurred vision focused in on a young lady that had stopped on her bike. It took me a moment to comprehend what she was saying.
“Do you need some water?”, she said. Followed by, “Are you OK?”
I can only imagine what I looked like. I had pushed my glycogen levels to the absolute lowest point they could be while still standing upright and the unexpected heat wasn’t helping.
I took her bottle and squirted my face. The cool water was a life saver. One small drink and I was ready to move again.
I handed her bottle back and murmured the best “thank you” that I could muster and began to run again. My feet felt like anvils and each step was everything I could give. One step at a time I approached the finish line.
As I rounded the last corner a photographer said, “Remember to smile when you cross the finish line”.
I really didn’t know if I had enough left to actually do that.
As I crossed the finish line it was all I could do to let the finishing medal be hung around my neck before stumbling off the course and collapsing on the ground. Soaking myself with some cool water, I finally managed a smile.
Sure, I made mistakes. That’s for another post.
No, I didn’t reach my goal.
But one thing was absolutely for sure, I had given everything that I had.
It’s all anyone can ever ask from themselves really; their very best.
But I also realize winning doesn’t always mean getting first place; it means getting the best out of yourself. ~ Meb Keflezighi
So stay tuned. It looks like I’ll be chasing the unicorn again.
You didn’t think I’d quit, did you?