I have a confession to make: I wasn't actually super thrilled with my time from my second half-marathon. I mean, I know in theory, I should've been proud, but I had a far higher goal in mind, and it drove me kinda crazy that I missed it by a few minutes. I was happy, but not Happy. So, still high off the product of so many months of training, I decided to sign up for another marathon, held a month after the second one. My secret goal was to finish in 1:50 or under, and though it was still a pretty lofty goal, I just knew that if I pushed myself hard enough, I would achieve it.
My plan for this race was to follow a pacer. I was planning to follow the 1:53 run/walk pacer, and had even met her the day before, but on the day of the race, I couldn't find her sign. Instead, I found a 1:48 continuous runner. Continuous. One of my most feared words in the running world. I've never continuously run before. I couldn't even imagine what it would be like to run a full two hours without stopping. I always take walking breaks, so I obviously hadn't trained for this at all. It was my only option, though, so I thought I would give it a try.
I forgot to mention that the race was the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon, so a really exciting part of it was running in a new city. I've never really seen downtown Toronto before, so I figured this would also be a great way to explore it (while, you know, being really exhausted and sweaty). The morning of the race was extremely cold. I've never run in October before, and here I was, back in adrenaline mode again, just a few weeks after my last "okay this is it for the year" moment. My body was definitely confused by this point.
We started running, and I was surprised by how leisurely the pace was. I guess those walking breaks really add a lot of time, so making them up requires quite a significant increase in running speed. I was feeling pretty great for about the first hour, and felt comfortable enough to really take the sights in. So much so that I sort of forgot where I was, for while, and stepped into one of the streetcar grooves in the road. I felt my ankle roll, and then felt an immediate shot of pain. I kept running, and luckily, the pain went away after about ten minutes. Yes, I persisted, but yes, I also cried. The real pain came at about the 1:15 mark. We had turned to run back- the last stretch- and as I grabbed a drink from a nearby station, I realized that I needed to walk. I just wasn't prepared for this much running. The worst part about walking breaks is, as I mentioned during the above-linked second half-marathon post, seeing your target disappear from sight in mere seconds. My pacer, from whom I had been just a few feet away for the majority of the run, was now a toned and motivated dot. I knew I was tired when even this couldn't convince me to keep running. I walked for about two minutes, and then picked up the pace, and really gave it my all for the last 30 minutes, and finally, I saw the finish line. What's funny is that by the time you see the word FINISH, it's not even a word anymore. It's not a finish line, it holds no meaning, people aren't really people, running isn't running. It's just a very loud silence, a bit of tunnel vision, a persistent RUN RUN RUN echoing in every step. I ran a few meters after crossing that line, because I was still in that weird zombiesque state, and then checked my race results. I was alone in the crowd at Nathan Phillips Square. I was surrounded by beautiful, exhausted, powerful champions: everyone. I was surrounded by trees, fences, brilliant aluminum make-shift blankets. A muffled voice congratulated us through the loudspeaker. The sun was shining on our heads. It was only me, and thousands of strangers. And in that moment, my race results came up on my phone screen: 1:50:49.
I didn't want anyone to think I was a wuss, so I hid the tears that ran down my cheeks with my puffy hands. Pride is the most elusive feeling to me, so, when somehow I manage to feel it, it takes absolutely everything out of me. Looking back on that day, I really still can't believe I did it. Every song that pushed me when my legs didn't want to listen, every thought I forced myself to think to shut out the voices of pain...they were aligned just so, just perfectly, for me to finish in my goal time. What a miracle.
When we reach a goal by a mere ten seconds, when we reach it against all odds, having gone beyond what we trained to endure...is it a fluke? Is it all just random luck? Could this ever happen again? Should I even bother trying for this time again, or for an even faster time? There's only one way to answer these questions, isn't there?