Slowly but surely (emphasis on the slowly, namely my walking speed), I am returning back to normal since the *excitement* from Sunday. I have done a little yoga, a little swimming, a lot of sleeping, a lot of horrific foam rolling, and drowned myself in frozen yogurt—all of which are helping to cleanse away the fear and the beating endured in the race.
A BIG thanks to those of you who’ve offered your support, condolences, and general affirmation after reading my lengthy race recap. I truly appreciate your kind words and happy thoughts.
There are many things that have been going on through my head since Sunday, and I think I have started to unwind from the pure shock of it all into some more grounded, realistic thoughts. However, I am still quite askew in terms of my rationalization of the whole thing, and while there are a number of words I could use to describe my current state of mind regarding running, marathons, etc., I think the one prevailing thing I’m feeling is frustration.
Now, before I dive into the specifics of this frustration, let me first say that I realize there are many different opinions on how I decided to run my race on Sunday. I have heard everything from ballsy and inspiring to reckless and stupid (I believe the phrase”psych exam” was in there somewhere), and I want to say that you are entirely entitled to your own opinion.
Personally, in terms of how I view it all, I think that I fall somewhere in the middle. On one hand, I know that I should have never put myself in that kind of danger, and I’m mad at myself for scaring my loved ones and myself by not realizing I’d reached my limit. On the other hand, and I say this with marginal reluctance, but the truth is—I can’t say that I would have run that race any other way. For better or for worse, my mind was stronger than my body on Sunday, and while I will absolutely need to keep this in check, I am also not surprised it happened.
It might be stubbornness, it might be idiocy, it might be determination, or it might be an alternative chromosome—no matter how you characterize my mindset during this race, all I know is that it is 100% who I am as a runner, an athlete, and a person. Which is part of the reason this race has left me feeling frustrated, among other things, and I’m having a hard time trying to reconfigure how to prioritize my goals from here on out.
Part of me wants to run for fun for the rest of the year; just running without regimin or goal time in mind—simply for the love of it. The other part wants to run so many marathons that I’m able to drown out the memory of what happened in Tacoma. I am certain I will land somewhere in the middle eventually. Frankly, I don’t like that a sport I love so much and a sport I hold in such high regard chopped me to pieces so quickly. I spent months preparing to run this marathon—I was ready for it, I was both mentally and physically chomping at the bit to do well, and in 3 hours and 44 minutes it punched those months of hard work right in the face. Well, in the IT band, the hamstrings, the quads, and the calves—to be more specific. It was my own fault, I know that, but at the same time I feel like I was cheated by the laws of all marathon running and general athletic endeavors.
Allow me to explain: Every single sports mantra, coach, PE poster, whatever will tell you, “Pain is weakness leaving to body,” “You’re stronger than you think you are,” and “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift” (yes, I needed to include Pre). Since a very early age, we’ve heard all these mantras, and we’ve been told to believe that our bodies are much stronger than our mind allows them to be. Unfortunately, I internalized these ideas too much on Sunday—and I crossed over the line of my physical potential to my physical limitations.
The entire time I was running, particularly when it started to get really difficult, I told myself all these “mind over matter” sayings—I convinced myself that of course it was hard, it’s a marathon! I thought that the pain I was experiencing was the kind that everyone feels, and all I had to do was push it further—because I was stronger than any mental downfall or shortcoming. I knew I was in good enough shape to run a marathon, in fact I was in better shape than I was for my first 26.2, so the pain I was feeling must have been due to the hills and the speed—not to my own physical deficiency.
I realize how prideful this sounds, and it absolutely is, but more than anything it’s my obscene competitive nature. I am competitive with others, have no doubt, but my most fiery, ruthless competitive drive is with myself and my own goals. So despite knowing I was in more pain than I should have been, and despite knowing that running an 8:10 pace over 26 hilly miles was incredibly ambitious, I could not let up holding myself up to my highest standard.
I knew qualifying for Boston on this course was going to be miraculous. I said this to BF, to my family, and I thought that I knew it myself. However, I also knew, in the murky, victory-craving corners of my brain that it was still possible. I knew that if I had ideal conditions, perfect taper, and a little bit of race magic—I would be able to pull it off, even on a hard course. And…I suppose this was accurate, because had I not literally fallen at mile 26, there is a very good chance I would have qualified. However, instead of letting my training, the course, and the miracle come to me…I forced it, and that was my mistake.
I should have realized earlier in the race that should I qualify, the factors leading up to it wouldn’t be entirely in my control. Because despite how much we’d like to think it, miracle races (as BQing in Tacoma would have been) require a little something more than all the training and preparation we put into them. They require that certain race day magic that lights us up when we need it, and it’s somewhat intangible and undefinable. Unfortunately, I decided to forego the whole “let it come to you” notion and instead decided to make my own miracle happen. Once the image of myself crossing the finish line under a 3:35:59 clock got locked in my head, I couldn’t let it go—even though when I started feeling the wall around mile 19, I should have.
So instead of obeying the rules of “the wall,” something I had never before experienced, I decided to try and run right through it…and then when that didn’t work, I backed up and ran right back into it, over and over again. The funny thing though about walls is that they don’t move, and all that endless beating against my own wall ended up withdrawing every ounce of strength I had in me. I am sure that had I backed up my pace even a tiny bit, all the conditioning I knew I had within me would have regained a bit of control and I would have finished the race in a great time. I couldn’t accept “a great time” though, because I was chasing the 3:35 beast the entire race, and despite all the fire and poison it was spitting at me, I was determined to pin it down.
So, what do I take from all this? Well, there are many things—but more than anything, I think I have learned that on Sunday, my mental conditioning was stronger than my physical conditioning. So often our brains tell us to stop while our bodies have the ability to keep going—however, I experienced the opposite. I didn’t listen to my body, I brushed off my pain as durable, and eventually my mental stamina outlasted my body to the point where my body decided to no longer function.
There is, furthermore, a line between pushing to your limits and exceeding your limits—and this is something I had never really realized or grasped before. I’ll admit I’m a bit confused and worried about the line dividing “far” and “too far,” because up until Sunday, I believed we were capable of anything we set our minds too. Which I still believe…but now to a certain degree. I suppose what I will need to work on more than anything is listening to my body as opposed to pushing myself solely on brain determination.
At this point, I know I have the mental strength to get through a marathon…perhaps too much, and that is something I can still count on the drive me when the going gets tough. However, I am now going to have to work on deciphering between working to my full potential and working beyond my capabilities. Because, yes, I do have limitations…and despite the fact that my self-righteous subconscious would scoff at such a statement, it is the truth—as it is for everyone.
So where does that leave me? Well, I am going to continue to recover, reflect, and eventually I’ll get brave enough to put on my iPod and lace up my shoes. I’m actually still unable to listen to any of the songs I listened to on race day, and even seeing the clothes I wore gives me a bit of a shudder. No doubt, full recovery from this marathon—particularly the metal part—is going to take a while. However, I never shy away from an opportunity for self-improvement, and I’m happy to accept all the humility and re-prioritization it takes to get myself back in the swing of things.
I realize this post was rather stream-of-consciousness and didn’t have much of a thread running through it (I suppose not too many of my posts do though 🙂 ). However, this post was very expressive of the way my brain is working right now—just trying to process it all and regain a little composure. I ultimately just needed to get some of my thoughts down, and now that I have I feel a bit freer.
And now, because I am FASCINATED by this right now:
When is “pushing yourself” too much? Where do we divide the line between fighting through the pain and accepting it? Do you think runners are particularly susceptible to this kind of thinking?
I still say you are amazing and inspiring, though I definitely hope that never happens to you again! You have incredible mental strength.
Robyn, again I’m so glad you are ok and I’m so sorry about what happened. In terms of pushing yourself, I think it comes down to personality. I consider myself a motivated person, but there are many times in life when I am not hard enough on myself (when trying to run more than 5 miles, when trying to get out of bed earlier than 9am, when trying to stop eating chips, haha) and this is one of my faults and one of my strengths; I would never have had the experience you had on Sunday because as soon as I start to wheeze or feel muscle fatigue, I slow down or stop. But, I also don’t think I will ever qualify for a marathon like Boston, which you probably eventually will! So, your struggle, in fact, both of our struggles, will be to find a balance between the two ends of the spectrum! Hope this adds something…
Love this Maddy, thank you!
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