Going into race day, I was confident. I had had a great training cycle, I had stayed healthy and all my pace numbers indicated that I would make my goal. I was nervous of course, but also confident.
Hanging out with Ingo and Katie the day before had me relaxed perfectly to take on race day. Lining up in the corrals, I was ready for victory. Even though anything can happen over 26.2 miles, in my mind there could be no possibility of anything else. That’s how confident I was feeling.
I was running by feel and I knew the pace was supposed to be easy for the first 10-14 miles. And it was. I took it easy and nice and focused. My mind was relaxed.
Miles 11 -15
Just like that, it suddenly felt like I was running. My hip flexors felt the pounding. Which was weird as I’d never ever felt that before. I told myself that it was nothing that a few salsa walk breaks wouldn’t shake off – it was uncomfortable but not painful.
You know it’s supposed to be hard, so just keep going – I told myself. Not this early – said the devil in my ears.
Passing through the blue mile, an eerie silence descended on the crowd. There was no chatter, no music (I just don’t get why people run with loud music in races. Headphones were invented for a reason!), just solemn silence.
In the first half of the blue mile, I was running by just looking at the fallen marine’s photos. At some point I started reading their names and ages. That was my breaking point and I started sobbing. The number of marines lost between ages 19-23 were heartbreaking and even more so on realizing that the blue mile tribute is only a tiny fraction of the casualties of war . I thought back to some of my friends in the Indian armed forces and sent all my prayers for their safety there.
There was a long mile of funny motivational signs and really helped take my mind off the discomfort, especially one that said “Stop reading the signs. This is a race.” I came across Meredith pushing Logan and took over for a very brief 50 yards. I offered to stay with her, but she shooed me on.
Mile 16 – Beat the Bridge at 20
The miles were hard but what made it harder was the lack of water. I carried water in a 8oz bottle in my fuel belt and it’s always been more than enough at races, not this time. I was out of water way before we’d hit the aid stations. The need for water and the pounding I felt in my hips were sending me spiralling. I took some Tylenol to try to combat the pain.
I was staring down a dark alley again when I started looking around in desperation. I spotted this guy next to me running in compression shorts and asked if he was a triathlete (never seen any guys other than triathletes wear compression shorts while running). We stuck up a conversation and decided to run together. So Sean from Chicago (who works in IT and often visits their office in Norcross, who is doing a tri in Argentina in March, wants to do an Ironman in 2 years for his 45th, and has a 7 month old) and I both tried to talk each other out of our dark places. The turn around the capitol was particularly bad – we both wanted to stop in the openness for a photo but the mind was having none of the fun.
Mile 20 – 24
When we reached the bridge, I tried to pull myself out of it. I wanted to salvage atleast something out of the race. Worst case, I wanted to finish with pride and not give up and walk it home after the safety of the bridge.
Sean dropped back and I picked it up and went ahead. It was HARD HARD HARD. I knew I was visibly grunting and making all sorts of weird facial expressions and trying to think of the Gods of running to help me along.
The only thing I was hanging on to was – I may not make the goal, but I’m not going to give up. Not just yet. Not ever.
Photo from InkNBurn’s Instagram at mile 22.5
When I came to mile 24, I felt as good as good can be at that point in the race after knowing that I wouldn’t be making my time goal. I was in the home stretch and what’s 2 more miles!
Ha! 2 more miles was like 20 miles all over again. If I had hit brick walls before, I hit an Iron wall and came to a stop. HATED every ounce of how I felt, HATED every bit of how I could not make myself move.
If the previous wall was dark, this dark was way beyond anything I’ve experienced. Usually there’s negative thoughts in the dark and you have to be mentally tough to push through. This new darkness I found myself in, there were no thoughts, no negative thoughts to push it out or no positive to hang on to. Just empty. Burning blistered feet and the scorching sun beating down was nothing compared to that darkness. I stood in the middle of the road, just like that.
But even as I stood in the middle of the road, the only word I kept in my head was – GO. I could only manage single syllables. All the cute mantras and positive thoughts that I have a list of were long gone from my head. I kept moving ahead, the people around me were just colorful blobs at that point who had sensed the finish line and were picking up to run.
Mile 26 – 26.2
I could see the finish line, but there was no finish left in me. The marines cheered and encouraged, but I had no more heart left in me. The last hill to Iwo Jima monument (covered in scaffolding) and finish line were steps ahead, but I had no more emotion left.
This was probably the first ever race that I could not even pick it up for the last 20 steps. I believe that that’s what saddened me the most – no joy of the finish line, no relief at the finish line, nothing.
Past the Finish Line
I took a long time to move past the initial finish point, just dazed. After dry heaving a couple of times with a very concerned medic at my side, all emotions came flooding back.
Being medaled by a marine was way more than I deserved that day.
We waited for rockstar Katie and hung out in the shade until we realized that almost everyone at the finish line festival were gone.
Wanting to take one last picture, we hailed Jim, who’s apparently the #2 of MCM organizers and he gave us the Golden Ticket for entry into next year’s MCM! How crazy wild was that! Not 2 hours since finishing a marathon, all of us still in pain both physical and emotional, and here we are with an entry to next year!
1. What went wrong?
Obviously my first coherent thought.
Answer – I don’t know. Heat? Lack of Water? Tougher course than I thought? Pounding in my hip flexors? I certainly didn’t go out too fast. No excuses, maybe I just didn’t have it in me yet.
2. Could I have done anything better from mile 12-20 and then 24 and beyond?
24 and beyond, I don’t think so. I was gone past the point of self help. Earlier, I could’ve rallied harder, I suppose. Just that when things seem to go south way early at mile 12, it’s rather hard to hang on. And hooking up with Sean and not going on complete death march was the best I could, even though it wasn’t good enough.
3. What do I do now?
Chasing sub 5:30 for a long time, I thought I had it this time. I hadn’t thought of anything post MCM, because I was going to make the goal, you know. So it’s been very humbling that I’m not there still. Try to turn around and look for redemption quickly or try again next training cycle?
But I do know that I’m not giving up on that sub 5:30. I may not have made it this time, but I KNOW I have it in me. Sub 5:30 may not seem a great deal to most runners, it’s certainly not a BQ or something grand that people really chase, but it’s mine and I’ll keep chasing it no matter how many more dark places I have to get through.
I guess at least that’s positive – that I’m determined to continue to fight whereas last time after London Marathon, I’d decided pretty soon after that I didn’t want to go through that heartbreak again.
(I’m not sharing this version of the race report on social media. I only sent the link to a couple of people via text. If any of my friends happen on it directly on my blog, please don’t feel offended. I’m not ready to openly share how badly I failed, and I’d rather focus on the positives of the race to share.)