The energy at the end of the race was electric. Music was blasting. Thousands of people lined the streets. And family and friends cheered as their loved ones ran by. I could even hear the names ringing over the loud-speaker as each runner crossed the finish line. But, just a couple blocks away, I was really STRUGGLING.
Nearly 25 miles into my second ever marathon, I was hitting the infamous ‘wall’. I thought I followed my race plan pretty well — start slow, finish fast. I planned to run around an 8 minute/mile pace on the first 13.1 miles, then speed up the pace to around 7:40 minute/mile on the back half of the race. However, around mile 18, that plan completely fell apart.
While this was my second marathon, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. Around mile 18, my wheels really started falling off. My form was different than usual. My pace was all over the place. And my body really wasn’t handling all that mileage well. I couldn’t even run more than a quarter mile without leg cramps.
Eventually, I was able to gut it out to mile 25, stopping periodically to stretch and walk, as needed. While my pace slowed significantly, and I was WAY off from my 7:40 minutes/mile goal on the back half, I was still moving and projecting for a decent time — Sub 4 hours.
But then, that plan too got derailed. Around mile 25, what started as annoying and moderately painful leg cramps escalated to ‘all hands on deck’, ‘what the f*ck do I do’ cramps. I mean, I’ve had really bad cramps before, but nothing like this.
My legs were in so much pain, I couldn’t think. You know that feeling when you’re in so much pain, or something is so important to you, that in that moment, literally nothing else matters? Nothing at all. Other than just stopping whatever is causing you to feel this way.
Well, that’s exactly the way I was feeling in this moment. I was in such blinding pain, I stopped in the middle of the road, with runners passing by, completely oblivious of my surroundings.
I couldn’t bend my knee AT ALL to try and stretch the muscle and ease the pain. I really was between a rock and hard place. I could even see each little striation of my leg muscle as it flexed without my permission.
After about 2 minutes of me just trying to stay on my feet, a Police Officer came to my side and asked me “Do you need me to get medical?”.
Here’s how I responded:
“F*ck that, I’m finishing this sh*t.”
My response was not made in disrespect or malice, but rather as a way to motivate myself. It was a big “F*CK YOU” to my leg cramps and the pain I was in. I was going to finish this race, regardless of if I was running, walking or crawling. I didn’t run 25 miles just to quit less than a mile before the finish line. I was going to accomplish the goal I set for myself. I was going to finish this marathon.
Eventually, after holding back tears (both from emotions and pain), I was able to slowly walk. That walk then turned into a slow jog. And the jog then morphed into a run. And somehow, with less than a quarter mile left and the finish line in sight, I started sprinting. My emotions were all over the place. I had just experienced some of the most excruciating pain in my life, and I not only overcame it, but came out the other side SPRINTING!
The finish line was ELECTRIC! Thousands of people lined the highway the street that the City of Pittsburgh shudown for the race. And they even put bleachers on either side of the finish line.
In that moment, it’s like the cramps never happened. As if the 25 miles I ran previously were non-existent. I felt fresh, light and ready to finish STRONG. And I did. So much so that I pointed at someone about 50 yards ahead of me (who obviously didn’t know they were part of my mental charade) and took off on a dead-sprint to cross the finish line before them. And I did that too.
So, while I didn’t finish the Pittsburgh Marathon exactly how I would have liked, I was able to add another experience to my life resume. And, boy did I have to work for this one!
No, I didn’t finish the race in the time that I set out to. And no, I wasn’t really satisfied or proud with my overall performance. But I am proud to say that I finished the race despite everything that tried to get me to stop and bow out. Sometimes, things don’t go exactly as planned. And that’s okay. That’s life. But the goal is to adapt, adjust your sails, and keep moving forward. I’m proud to say that that’s exactly what I did on that day.
So, yes, I did miss the mark on this one. But I’m going to readjust and keep moving. And I may not hit the mark on the next marathon, or even the one after that. But that’s okay. Because chasing the goal is almost as rewarding as actually reaching it. On to the next!