“Respect the Distance”

2010 Detroit Free Press Marathon Medal

Today I ran the Detroit Free Press Marathon.  I finished and got my finisher medal but I was certainly not happy with my performance.  This was my third marathon and my worst time by a lot.  I could point to a few different reasons but I must admit the main reason is I did not “respect the distance”. 

I trained well and the weather was perfect so I decided I would push myself more than I originally thought I would.  My original goal going into this year was to break 4 hours.  But today I got greedy.  I joined the 3:50 pace group thinking I could either hold that pace or at the very least I could drop back a little and still break four.  Now, any non-runners reading this may think, “what’s the big deal? It’s only a 10 minute difference.  Well in a marathon that’s about 30 seconds a mile faster, which can be huge.  

At the start I felt the pace was a little too fast but I convinced myself I could push through any issues down the road.  At the half-marathon I was still on pace with a 1:53:45.  That’s a good half time for an old guy like me.  The next 3-4 miles were okay but doubt was setting in.  My calves and shins were starting to ache.  My knees would give out every once in a while.  I pressed on until about mile 18 then took a brief walking break to stretch my calves.  I alternated walking and slow running until mile 20 then the pain in my calves felt like a knife.  I stretched and walked most of the next 2 miles but I was getting worse instead of better.  By now the 3:55, 4:00, 4:05 and 4:10 pace groups had passed me.  Each one yelled words of encouragement so I tried to get a slow jog going but my legs would have none of that.  I was done.  My choices at that point were to walk in if I could or to wait for the “sag wagon” that picked up runners unable to finish.  I decided the only wagon I was going to ride in was an ambulance, so I kept walking.  At each water stop I tried to get my legs moving but it wasn’t until mile 25 that I could put more than a few steps together.  As I hit downtown and the real crowds I felt like I had to keep moving or my legs would stiffen up and I’d fall over.  So I made the final turn onto Fort street and saw the finish line two blocks ahead. 

Several emotions hit all at once – joy at seeing the finish, extreme disappointment at missing my goal by so much, killer pain in my calves and shins, and satisfaction for finishing a 26.2 mile race, something only a small percentage of people are able to do.      

So now what?  Part of me wants to find another marathon and try to beat 4 hours while I’m somewhat prepared.  But I also dont’ feel I could compete at the level needed for a while.  I think I’ll take some time and rethink my plans.  In 3 years I’ll get an extra 10 minutes to qualify for Boston, maybe that’s a goal.  Until then I might stick to my plan I wrote about a week or so ago – focus on speed to place in some 5ks or 10ks.  (Of course, that’s when I thought I’d accomplish my marathon goal.)

Stay tuned.  And if you are a runner, “Respect the distance”.

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