Posted by: Steve Lackey on Aug 28, 2009
By Steve Lackey | Publisher
Last April I ran the Boston Marathon. For me, and pretty much any other marathoner, this is the most magical place to compete, a Disneyland for runners. From the moment you arrive, you notice the entire city and pretty much all of its residents are prepared and excited for you to run. Every runner is treated like royalty, and no matter what your level, you feel like an Olympian—it is truly a magical experience (even more so when you respect the challenge of the course).
At the start of the marathon, the crowds cheered as if we were crossing the finish line, and for 26.2 miles there was not a gap in the energy provided from the colorful personalities that lined the course—kids, parents, bikers, seniors in wheelchairs, college students. The first half of the Boston course is downhill. Veterans advise you to be careful not to go too fast—to stay within your ability. But with all the excitement of the crowd and the inspiration of all the other runners, that slipped my mind as I cruised almost effortlessly through the first 13 miles at a PR pace. It felt amazing—as if I were lifted by everyone else’s energy. My vision was wide, and around every corner something new and exciting was delivered.
With an original goal of breaking 4 hours, I quickly started calculating my potential finish time as I crossed the halfway mark at 1:45—“wow, I think I may be able to break 3:45, maybe even 3:30!”—though I had trained no where near that pace. I was pushing to each timing mat because I knew my friends and family were tracking me on their cell phones. The magic of the experience was overwhelming, and I was enjoying every bit of it. I was pumped . . . for about 20 more minutes.
When I hit mile 16, my ability to thrive on the energy of others diminished. My vision narrowed, and all I could feel was pain. I quickly started calculating how slowly I could run to still break 3:50. All I had to do was run 10-minute miles through the finish. Easy, I thought, until I rolled into the next mile split at 11 minutes. “Oh, crap, I’m falling apart!”
In miles 17 through 21, the course climbs three hills. My pace dropped significantly; I was struggling to stay under 12-minute miles. A friend jumped in to run with me through the hills, but I couldn’t even keep a conversation with him. In only a few brief moments, I had a shockingly sudden shift from feelin’ the love to feeling completely alone.
As I approached the top of Heartbreak Hill, I still had over 5 miles left. Every mile seemed an eternity. I had to find something to inspire me to keep running—to get back to a positive attitude—nothing I saw (and there was a lot) could do the trick. After finally recognizing that it had to come from within me, I felt a cool calm run through my aching bones (this may have been a last drain of any remaining electrolytes). I focused on what I knew was possible. My mind and my muscles knew I could run and, without allowing for any distraction, helped me pick up my pace and cross the finish in 3:58—albeit a bit dizzy.
After a few days at Disney, my kids are overstimulated, overfed, and overtired—they have a great time, but the sooner they get back to reality, the better they feel. In the first half of Boston, I ran clearly beyond my ability, and it felt amazing - until it almost cost me what I had been hoping to achieve in the first place. What was most rewarding was remembering what I could do when I felt like falling—when I felt like I would fail—when I felt like I had lost.
In the end, magic yielded to reality, as it typically does. But the genuine confidence reinforced in knowing I could count on myself delivered one of my life’s most rewarding experiences, and for that I am truly grateful.
Next time I get to run Boston, I may still go out as fast, but with a few more miles of training under my belt.
Inspire. Perform. Endure.
on twitter @stevelackey
P.S. Special thanks to Michelle LeBrun, Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, Scott Fisher, Amy Charney, and all those who sent me texts and messages along the way for supporting my experience—oh, and to the friendly people in the medical tent, a place I had never been before but now can confidently recommend.