Monday, May 6, 2013

What I Learned From My Worst Race Ever

My worst race, by far, was the 2012 Manchester Marathon. 

(Before I go any further...It’s actually a very nice race. Runners start and finish downtown, the shirts and medals are nice, and I saw the funniest sign to date: "Keep Pushing! (That’s What She Said.)" Plus, the 2012 race was the same weekend as the cancelled New York Marathon, and Manchester managed to accommodate 750 or so displaced New York runners without any trouble.) 

Where did I go wrong? Let me count the ways. 

I went out too fast. I do this a lot. It’s fine in a 5K, 10K or even a half, as there’s no wall to hit. But I should’ve known the 7:10ish pace I started with was not going to last. 

I didn’t wear pants. It was cold and windy, as it usually is in early November in northern New England. (For those who cannot distinguish the New England states, New Hampshire is always cooler than the Boston suburbs.) Shorts were a bad life choice. 

I trained poorly. This, of course, is the biggie. My longest training run was a 30K (18.6 mile) race a few weeks beforehand. I should have done at least one, and probably two or three, long runs after that. I did not. The other thing I forgot: New Hampshire is far hillier than Massachusetts. My legs were NOT ready. 

I hit the wall around the 19-mile mark -- not surprising, in hindsight, given the length of my longest training run. I’ve bonked sooner in a marathon, but never this hard -- never have I ever walked more and jogged less in the waning stages of a marathon. Never have I ever more seriously contemplated curling up in the fetal position on a random lawn along the course, to be discovered days later by a man poking me with a rake as he attempts to commence yard work. 

After finishing in 3:51 and change -- nearly 20 minutes slower than my previous worst time and more than 30 minutes slower than my goal -- I spent several days in the typical post-marathon contemplative phase. This is where most runners wonder if they will ever qualify for Boston, curse they day they first laced up their running shoes, frantically search the Internet for another marathon to run, seek solace in friends who have been through the heartbreak and disappointment themselves, enjoy booze for the first time in months and nap -- often all in the same day and sometimes all at once. 

For the first time, I truly wondered if I was really cut out to run a marathon and not completely suck ass in the process. I also took my time coming back. After a marathon, I usually shy away from physical activity for one week and running for two weeks, only to get stir crazy and go for my first run after about 10 days, but this time my first run was 16 days after the race. I needed the extra time to pull myself together, frankly.

And this points to the one thing I did right regarding Manchester: I let it go. I learned my lessons, of course, and know now that I can’t amble to the starting line and expect to run a great marathon time. I know I should run hills, plan my training carefully and wear pants.

But I’m not going to dwell on my experience any more than I have to. I have many more marathon memories to make, and I fully intend for them to be happy ones. The next time I pass out on the grass, it’ll be from exultation, not exhaustion.