Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Personal Best

Some people assume I run marathons ALL the time. Given the moniker I've adopted, I get it. But, I only know one way how to tackle a race. I give everything and as anyone who has done this knows, giving everything is not something you can do ALL the time, particularly as one gets older. You have to pick your moments to lay it all on the line. Hence, I've only run '8' marathons.

This approach has paid dividends for every marathon I've done as I have managed a personal best for every one of them. But, as I approached CIM last year, I knew a personal best just wasn't in the cards.

I hadn't done the kind of training I needed for an attempt at a personal best. I knew I was in good shape, but not GREAT shape. What I did know was that I was in shape to run a 2:55 and anything faster than this would be a nice bonus.

Given the different set of expectations I had entering this marathon, I opted for a race day outfit that was a bit different from what I normally wear. I felt wearing something different would in some respects relieve me of any lingering pressure of attempting a personal best.

The other thing that was different from previous marathons was what was rattling around in my head as I toed the line. There was some lingering disappointment, frustration, and anger associated with a number of things that had played out earlier in the year.

Someone once told me I race angry. I don't know if this is necessarily true, but I know I race with a fierce determination that that may be perceived as anger. But, this time around, I was undoubtedly racing with a chip on my shoulder.

The race started and predictably the first couple miles were fast. Not markedly faster than what I had planned for, but fast enough that I had to consciously focus on relaxing and dialing things back.

It was actually more than a bit liberating to be in a space where I had no expectation of a personal best. I found myself enjoying the scenery and appreciating the multitude of spectators along the course for the first few miles.

This 'savoring of the moment' was unique as I typically enter what I can only liken to a 'fugue' state of sorts during all races. I am so dialed into my pacing and how I am feeling, that I lose myself to a certain extent and truly 'become' the act of running.

The savoring of the moment phase was relatively short lived (13.1 miles to be exact). The second half of the marathon would require full engagement. Fortunately, I was right on track with my baseline of 2:55 halfway through the race.

The wind kicked up a notch or two making a cold morning (sub-40) a bit cooler. I tried in vain to draft a bit, but the field had spread out considerably and finding someone to draft off of wasn't a viable option. I was forced to put my head down and endure the bracing wind.

Everything had unfolded thus far without any major hiccups. But, with the marathon (shockingly enough) nothing can be taken for granted. Around mile 18, I became cognizant of a tightening of my right hamstring.

I focused my attention on the right hamstring trying to do an on the fly diagnosis. Was this a cramp? Was the hamstring simply fatigued? Some vague frustration (and fear) set in as I was still 8 miles from the finish line and it wasn't clear if the hamstring was going to worsen.

I wondered 'why' the right hamstring was complaining. Quickly it occurred to me that I had been suffering from plantar fasciitis in the left leg for months and likely had been favoring the right side for months and most certainly was doing the same thing during the marathon.

Struggling to figure out what to do I found myself remembering a conversation I had with Jenny Lightstone (from PSOAS Bodywork) a few years ago when she was working on my foot. She told me I have to be nice to my foot. I needed to talk to my foot. While somewhat laughable at the time, I was desperate.

Thus began some of the most loving pillow talk imaginable between myself and my hamstring. Yes, strange things happen during a marathon. I vividly recall saying (in my mind),

'I know I haven't been good to you. I know I have asked a lot of you. What I can promise you is that I will treat you well once this is over. I will give you a massage. I will give you rest. I will give you whatever YOU need. All I ask is that you stay with me these next few miles. I will not do anything more aggressive than what I am currently doing, but PLEASE just hang around with me for a few more miles.'

The lovefest between myself and my hamstring appeared to work as the tightness didn't become more pronounced. It didn't go away and certainly limited my range of motion, but it didn't become any worse.

Mile 20 approached and rather than feeling like I was hitting the wall, I found myself rallying. For reasons I have never fully understood, I tend to get more psyched up the further I get into the marathon...particularly after mile 20. Each successive mile serves to bolster my confidence...despite whatever physical fatigue I'm feeling. My mile splits after mile 20 back this up.

Mile 21 was a 6:37. Mile 22 was a 6:35. Mile 23 was a 6:32. After completing Mile 23, the fatigue that had been vague/nagging became vociferous and pronounced. The mental fight was underway. Back when I ran in high school, I had this habit of letting out a 'war cry' in the last 1/4 of a race as a way of rallying myself for one last surge, one last sprint, one last gasp. I was desperate for one last second wind, so I let loose a war cry that likely terrified more than a few spectators in the vicinity.

But, it worked. Just as a shark smells blood and falls into a blood lust, I could smell the finish and nothing was going to stand in my way. Mile 24 was a 6:31. Mile 25 was a 6:26. I unloaded the coup de grace in mile 26 with a 5:54. The last .2 miles was at 5:27 pace.

My finish time was 2:53. This was 10 minutes shy of my 'personal best'. It was my 3rd fastest marathon. But, it was the best finish to a race I've ever mustered and on a personal level, it just may have been my best marathon ever.


Maria said...

I certainly hope you followed through on your promise to your hamstring. You know what happens when you break promises to your body?

Marathon Matt said...

I did, Maria :)

mike said...

Inspiring story, Matt. As I look forward to turning 60 next year, I have to find satisifaction with where my body is today. It is a lesson I keep trying to learn.