What I Learn

My Journey Through 26.2

“We are 27,000 people all reaching for the same goal. This is incredible!!”

“This doesn’t actually seem that fun anymore. What happened to those thousands of die-hard spectators at the start?”

“I feel awesome! Unstoppable! Thank you Lord! This is incredible!”

“My left knee hurts. Bad. It feels like my body is deteriorating. Why am I doing this to myself again??”

“Just a 5K left. Just. A. 5K. I love 5Ks!”

“I’m gonna make it. Don’t stop. Actually don’t even slow down, or it will just take longer to finish and that’s just dumb.”

“Splashing my way through the puddles isn’t how I pictured this last mile, but BY GOLLY THERE’S THE FINISH LINE!”

These are just a smattering of thoughts that trickled through my brain during the 2017 Chevron Houston Marathon. What a day. My goal was to break four hours after running 4:01 in 2015, and I did it – 3:58:40.

A marathon is something you can train for of course, but when race day arrives, you aren’t guaranteed success. I had trained consistently since early September, building up my mileage and long runs, but on the morning of January 15th, I just didn’t know what would happen. So, I started and tried to take it the best way I knew how – one step at a time.

With so many people cheering and with fresh legs, it was easy to start, but even as early as mile 3, I began to doubt that I was up for this long journey. In that moment, I had the option of whether to be discouraged and anxious or to push aside that doubt and instead keep running. I tried to do the latter and actually enjoyed the next few miles.

At mile 11, one of the 4 hour pacers started talking about how humid it was – something that was already on all of our minds – and how bad she felt. It made me anxious. She kept running ahead and then walking for a few seconds to catch a break (which makes her a pretty bad pacer but girl had to do what she had to do). I shut out thoughts of “If pacer girl can’t do this, how am I supposed to??” and instead just. kept. running. My race mantra became, “He alone is my rock. I will not be shaken,” from Psalm 62.2.

When I ran through the half marathon point, I was feeling good but knew I wanted to run a negative split the second half. Before long, I was getting close to the place I knew my mom and stepdad would be spectating. I was fueling faithfully every 4 or so miles but began to feel  a stiffness in my legs. Between miles 19 and 20, I spotted my mom’s smiling face. She handed me a banana, bottle of water and a Gu, and I felt like I’d been given new life just by seeing them. Pure bliss!

Soon after mile 20, aka “the wall,” I approached one of the members of my track group who was walking – and hurting. He ran beside me for a couple of minutes and we talked about how hard it was getting but how close we were to the finish. Each of the three times I’ve run this marathon, this point along Memorial Park in the race is always the most dismal mentally and physically, as many people stop to stretch cramped hamstrings or are limping along. I knew I had to keep going. “I will NOT be shaken.”

At mile 25, I heard my name and turned to see my former neighbors and good friends, which was so unexpected and encouraging. At that point I knew I’d really actually finish. And after being humid and overcast all morning, it started raining, then pouring, and it was an almost comical (but not really) splish splash to the finish line. Before I knew it, I was guzzling a water and being rewarded with a lovely medal.

A couple of takeaways:
– There are a lot of opportunities to be brave or wimpy during a marathon. And brave doesn’t always mean to push through no matter the pain. It means to pay attention to your body and do what you believe is best.

– Feed the brain. One thing I think helped me run a better race than my last marathon was fueling earlier and more often – every 4 miles or so. It not only helped me physically have more energy, but it prevented my mind from feeling fuzzy and out of it.

– Volunteers rock. God bless those race volunteers, who hand out water and gatorade and spend all morning watching sweaty people and sweeping cups off the ground when they could be in bed eating pastries and drinking coffee. They are heroes and deserve a million thank-yous.

What’s next? For now, I’m happy to be running consistently still but less miles. I hope to get back into speed work next week. Alex and I plan to run a 10K in March and also do something I’ve never done before at a race – volunteer.

We can do more than our minds would have us believe. Go get your goals!

xoxo, Sar

Meeting runners Adam and Kara Goucher at the race expo: A dream come true!

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