It is fortunate that I am writing this with a couple of days to reflect instead of right after I completed my 39th Marathon. One of the things that I love about endurance sports, and especially the marathon, is that it can be one of the most humbling experiences you can have. If you don’t know me well, one thing you should know is that I am an open-book. I am honest; I share the good, the bad, the fun, and the ugly, and this virtual marathon was good, bad, fun, and ugly. If you are looking for a feel-good race recap, this is probably not the blog for you, but if you are looking for honesty about long distance running, keep reading.
I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in March, before races had made the shift to offer virtual racing experiences. It would be my 17th consecutive Marine Corps Marathon, and as the hot and humid summer months came upon us, it was time to begin my 20 week marathon training plan. I typically train in 16 week cycles, but I also really wanted a fun MCM this year, so I decided to train for 20 weeks instead. When I realized that it would be my 39th marathon, I added in another fall marathon so that MCM could be my 40th because I like round numbers. The Air Force Marathon runs in September, so I could have enough time to train for it, could recover, and have a couple of more weeks to train for MCM, which would potentially give me a good running experience for the MCM. The plan was a solid plan until Mother Nature intervened, and Mother Nature always wins.
I live on Okinawa, and we experienced 3 typhoons in 3 weeks. Those would be the 3 peak weeks of my Air Force Marathon training. The key to these 3 weeks is that since this training cycle was shorter than I like (13 weeks vs 16 or 20 weeks), it was important that I really capitalize on them. However, with the inclement weather, and my attempts to keep my family-time sacred, I made the decision to use the first 2 typhoon weeks as taper weeks, and I would run the marathon a couple of days before the 3rd typhoon would hit. I could do my recovery during the typhoon. This felt like a solid plan, until I was actually actually out there running 26.2 miles.
The Virtual Race
The decision to run it in advance was last minute, so the first thing I did was call on a virtual race crew. I sent a message to my family to let them know that I would be running, and I asked them to be my virtual cheerleaders. They were all on board, and once again, I was so grateful to know that I would have their positive vibes supporting me though the race. I would check in with them every 5 miles, and they would send me happy messages that I could read every time I check in with them.
Race morning was a good one. I woke up at 3am and was out the door around 4am. I had a hydration pack, some Fig Newtons, and some yen so I could refuel along the way. This would be a fully self-supported 26.2 miles so having access to the many vending machines that Okinawa has to offer would be a gift.
The first 6-8 miles were in the dark. I love running in the dark because I love anonymous running. There was still a fair amount of debris on some of the sidewalks, so for moments in time, I felt like I was on a trail which I enjoy very much. The legs felt fine, and I had thoughts that I may actually “run” the entire 26.2 miles.
At about mile 10, I began to feel like it was taking MUCH longer than I felt, so worry began to get worried. If you are a distance athlete, you know that the mindset is the key. The legs will work if they mind stays focused. As I pulled out my phone, I realized that Strava said I was at mile 11, and my Garmin said mile 10. Since my Garmin hasn’t proven to be a consistent resource since I moved out here, I decided that Strava would track the race. I felt much better knowing that I was at mile 11. I let the family know about my technology discrepancies, and that the phone would be the distance tracker. They fully supported the idea, so I continued to press forward. I continued until I hit 13.1 miles on my Garmin because I wanted to finish before I got home rather than have to add mileage on the end. This would end up being foreshadowing to something unplanned and unwanted.
Miles 13-19 felt good, and at 19, I sensed that I would not be running the whole thing. I figured some run/walk intervals would be in my future, and I was comfortable with the idea. This would not be my race, and it didn’t need to be. It was simply my race 39 so that MCM, my race, would be a good one. At mile 20 on the Garmin, which was supposed to be over 21 on Strava, I pulled out my phone to do my check in with the family, and my Strava had paused. It had paused for over 20 minutes. I had lost close to 2 miles of tracking on the device. I was devastated. I knew that I did not have enough in me to do more than 26.2, and the tracking device that would get me to 26.2 so I could submit to the Air Force Marathon staff had stopped. UGH!!!
What do you do? You keep moving. You hope that you don’t have to go past the house and back to get the mileage you need because you may quit once you see home.
I struggled from miles 20-22, knowing that I needed to get my mind of the tracking and just focus on being present. I went into my shuffle/walk interval plan, which is basically shuffle to a tree or street, the walk to the next point, and do it again and again. However, all I could think about was that I would be running further an 26.2. I did not have the mental strength to focus on the beauty of the island or the strength of my body. All I could focus on was the negative, and it was rough.
By mile 23, I was tempted to call my friend to pick me up. I was done. The only thing that kept me going was that I did not want to repeat this again sometime in the month of September. I wanted to be done with it so I could get back to training for MY RACE. By mile 24, I became confused. I thought I saw an ice cream truck and considered buying ice cream, but it was a trash truck. Only in Japan do trash trucks play the same music as ice cream trucks. I also thought I was on a bridge closer to home, only to realize I wasn’t there quite yet. My devices were both wrong in distance, so my mind couldn’t focus on how far I had come.
As I crossed the last bridge, I had completely fallen apart. I poured the last of my hot Camelback water over my head because the heat began to get to me. I was supposed to be done by this time. The increase in walking vs running, and the additional distance had me in the warmer temperatures, which I had not planned. Now, I was completely out of any fluids, and on the search for another vending machine. I kept telling myself, “just put one foot in front of the other.” My mom had also sent me that reminder. She somehow knew that I was struggling out there.
A mile from home, I found a vending machine, bought a Fanta Grape because I needed sugar and the carbonation to settle my stomach. It was like the boost of energy I needed to get me home. My watch finally hit the 26.2 as I was nearing home, and I realized that my calculation hours before was necessary. I sent messages to my neighbor, who was the one on call to save me should I need it. I sent messages to my family so that they would know I was ok. I sent a message to my husband because he would want to know that I was home safe and sound.
Post Race Thoughts
Was it a good experience? It wasn’t good or bad. It was just an experience. Was it a necessary experience? Since I am a believer that we are often times tested so that we can build endurance, strength, and fortitude, I would say that it was necessary for me. I need to be reminded that I can do hard things. I need to be reminded that pain is our reminder that we are actually living. I need to be reminded that it’s just one foot in front of the other. Just don’t quit.
If you are out there, and you are struggling through something, remember that it is often through our pain and struggles that we learn; we grow; we become more equipped to handle more challenging situations, so just keep going. Just don’t quit.