There are some days when the GU's you squeeze, water you gulp, and the endurolytes you pop are simply not enough. Sometimes, the pill you need to swallow is harder to get down. It tastes bitter, and even great men have choked on it. I'm talking about ego.
I had a tough 20-miler yesterday. I drove up to Lowell with the wife and kids to run part of the Bay State Marathon Course. My goal: to run pace , right around 9:04 for as long as possible and see how I felt after 20. This was to be a litmus test. A race simulation, a predictive aid. I rode the course last weekend on my mountain bike, and felt pretty confident about the course. It's fairly flat, with a few very small hills. I was admittedly nervous about the distance, but felt pretty confident going out.
I met some other runners about a mile in, and we chatted a bit. Turned out they were going to run SmuttyNose, where I'll be pacing my bud Fishadad during his first half-marathon. After a few minutes, I left them behind, with a bounce in my step, moving forward with alacrity.
The first 6-7 miles went by uneventfully. My heart rate was running a little high, but I kind of ignored it. My rationalization was that I'd stop when I met the wife for more water, somewhere between miles 9-10. The little hills came and went, and I was passing other people out on what seemed like their LSD's. I was so focused on the pace that I neglected to pay even the slightest bit of attention to perhaps the most critical aspect of this run - the temperature.
By mile 9, my HR was pegged in the 93-95% range. I thought "wow, I really need to slow it down and calm down a bit". When I finally stopped for water, I realized that this was going to be a tough run. I got back on the road, ran for a mile or two, and could not get the HR under control. Defeated and depleted, I started taking walk breaks.
I'm not sure why I didn't simply adjust my pace to account for the heat. And the heat was brutal - 88* or so. Unseasonably warm by any standards. I could have just slowed down and had a nice, enjoyable run. But I had it my head that I was going to run pace, and I had built up and placed so much meaning on this long run. Stubbornly, I couldn't let go.
I fell apart in mile 17. I was dehydrated, dizzy, and just a wreck. I got more water and walked nearly the entire 17th mile. While walking, I reflected upon my personal journey, and though a lot about my stretch goal of running a 4:00 marathon. I thought for sure that this was impossible. I felt pathetic. I had trained so hard, and was just falling apart out on the race course. What would happen on race day? Why have I invested 15 weeks of effort only to just fail on the main stage?
I started thinking about the weeks and weeks it took for me to lose 150 pounds, and then nearly 100 pounds again, 8 years later. Certainly there were times where I'd go to weigh-in, and gain 5 pounds. I'd be wrecked, and have similar thoughts. This effort in the heat triggered some really old emotions and thought patterns, that I'd long since buried.
As I moved slowly forward, a sweaty, disheveled mess, I had a moment of clarity. A lesson I'd forgotten. It's not about the goal, it's about the journey. When I didn't hit my mark at a weigh-in, I learned how to cope. I learned that slow, consistent improvement really was the key to long term success. I realized that it really didn't matter if I hit this arbitrary mark of 4:00 in the marathon. I had fallen into the trap of placing some high level of significance upon a number, a goal; instead of focusing on the journey itself - the running. The part that I truly enjoy. No. Love.
I waited for my heart to calm down, and started another walk/run regimen. By miles 19 and 20 I was doing a 1/2 mile walk, 1/2 mile run, finishing the last half mile at my intended marathon pace. I felt completely destroyed, but strong at the end.
Now, I've since had some time to reflect upon the foolhardy effort I put forth yesterday. I've read a bunch of sites that talk about slowing your pace in increased temperature (something I already knew, but decided to ignore). I went out for a fantastic brick workout this morning, and felt absolutely great at a pace fairly close to my target pace. All of these things have not changed my mind after yesterday's run.
I've got to trust my training. The numbers all point to me being able to run close to a 4:00 marathon. And if/when I do that, I'll be absolutely ecstatic, but, I've set aside that number. I have a new goal for Bay State in three weeks. A simpler goal -
Enjoy the run
And I think I'll be pretty damn happy to cross the finish line, regardless of pace.