I’m not even sure where to start with this one.
I guess I could start with the fact that for the last ten minutes, I’ve been staring at the little blank box about two inches north of here, unable to come up with an appropriate title for this post.
A few of the rejects: “California Love,” “Why you should definitely run a fast course in perfect weather if you want to PR,” “The speediest pre-race poop ever,” “The race that was a decade in the making.”
In the end, I decided to go simple and use the word that bounced around in my adrenaline-riddled skull like a stray coin in an empty dryer throughout the last ten miles of today’s California International Marathon.
Finally. Because until today, I had not run a legitimate PR in over a decade. And by that I mean: a PR that didn’t need some sort of ridiculous explanatory hyphenated adjective, usually framed by quotation marks, in front of it. You know, “post-college” PR. “Adult-era” PR. “I’ve-never-raced-this-distance-before-so-of-course-its-a-PR” PR.
I hadn’t run one at any distance, actually, but for some reason the marathon was the most vexing. Year after year, I signed up and showed up and ran, cranking out finish times that, while very respectable in the grand scheme of things, were oddly out of line with my performances at shorter distances.
“Maybe I’m just not cut out to race well at 26.2,” I’d say.
“Well, you know, most people get better at the longer stuff as they get older,” everyone answered.
And so I waited for it to happen, becoming more and more discouraged as my age crept up but my marathon times stayed the same.
But you know what I didn’t ever do, all of those years? Actually TRAIN. And by that I mean training hard. Sure, I did my 20-milers and the occasional Yasso 800 session, but I never really pushed myself to run more. To log 60 and 70 mile weeks. To race on tired legs. To do more than the minimum, whether it be mileage or track repeats.
Well, I did all of that stuff this time. And I had publicly declared my intent to PR or die trying. Maybe that’s why I was just a little tightly wound as I bounced nervously among the 8,000 other runners on the start line this morning.
Around me, everyone was gushing about the weather. And rightly so: the evening before, I’d tried to block out the sight of the branches of the tangerine trees in our friends’ yard, jerking around wildly as the wind whipped through them. High winds had grounded flights all over California just a few of days before, and even on the tail end of the storm, my own descent into the Sacramento airport had been a little harrowing.
But this morning was perfect. We were treated to a calm dawn in Folsom, with clear skies, temperatures in the 40s and the sweet smell of chapparal and fresh manure lingering in the air.
I, however, was kind of oblivious to that at first. I’d arrived at the race at 6:50 for the 7 AM start, thanks to a major traffic hassle getting to the drop-off area and a minor panic attack in the car. With barely enough time to make my port-o-potty offering, I arrived in the start corral just as the anthem was beginning. Stress.
You have to let this go, I told myself as the pack surged forward. You’re here, you made it, you have a perfect day and a fast course. Don’t eff this up.
For the first few miles, I hung with the 3:35 pace group. It was a friendly bunch with a talkative pacer and we cruised up and down the gentle hills at a pace that felt very mellow. I glanced periodically at my Garmin’s pace reading and determined that I was probably going out too fast, but decided I didn’t care.
At some point I drifted ahead of the 3:35-ers and again heard a little voice telling me to cool it. That little voice and I went back and forth for a few minutes. I eventually won.
You know was really addicting? Seeing those 7-something splits…and feeling really, really good.
Around mile 7, I came up on the 3:30 pace group, which was quite a mass of sweaty bodies. I hung on the periphery and let snippets of their conversations entertain me. At mile 7, I took an AccelGel. At mile 8, I started to pull away a little, the voices of the 3:30-ers becoming a little more faint. I never saw them again.
I’m actually struggling with what to write about these miles, far more than I struggled with running them. The innards of the marathon. I just felt…really good. It was actually fun. Half split: 1:44 and change, on pace for a sub-3:30 finish.
I remained sort of suspicious at this point, though. There was still time to implode. I took another gel at mile 14 and stayed with my strategy of swinging through every other water station, crossing my fingers that the fresh-feeling legs stayed around for a while.
Miles 16 and 17 were my favorite of this entire race. I can’t remember ever feeling so springy and fresh at that point. It was unreal. Somewhere during these miles, it occurred to me that I actually might do this. As in: even if I slowed down, I was still going to pull off a major PR and probably a BQ.
I started to wonder whether the wall would show up, and if so, when. Typically it appears around mile 18 for me. But I cruised on through to the 20 feeling pretty darn fantastic.
Well. Things indeed got unpleasant. The wall arrived just after mile 21, when all of a sudden it wasn’t quite so fun anymore. My feet hurt and my stomach cramped and the Second Surge gel, packed with sugar and caffeine, that I took at mile 21 didn’t really give me the boost I expected.
But I hung on. 8:30 pace was manageable and would still get me the a finish time that was within the realm of awesome finish outcomes. I walked through a water stop for the first time at mile 23, failing at one of the mini-goals I’d had for this race (which was: don’t walk). But unlike marathons past where that first walk break was the start of a bad walking habit, I hung on and kept running at my slightly slower pace.
You guys. I can’t even describe how awesome it was to run down the final stretch toward that finish chute with 3:29:XX on the clock.
Okay, I can try.
It’s the first time I have ever smiled in a marathon finish photo.
It’s the first time I have ever been in danger of crying at the finish of a race…which I didn’t, but I thought I might.
It’s the first time in many years I’ve finished a race and been truly proud of what I accomplished.
Yeah. I know a 3:29 isn’t going to get me in to the Olympic trials or anything, but you know what? It’s kind of a big freaking deal to me. This PR has been over a decade in the making, and I’m damn proud of it.
In other words: Finally.