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”.