“So? How was it?!”
I’ve been answering this question since I crossed the finish line a week ago, and my answers have ranged from the all-I-can-physically-muster-is-the-pathetic-expression-on-my-sweaty-tear-stained-face look I gave my friends and family as I shuffled to receive my medal to a polite, but unconvincing, “really good, thanks! I’m ready for a nap!” I chirped to strangers during the hobble to the car.
That evening, I offered this honesty to a fellow runner and friend:
It sounds dramatic, but looking at those words now – I know they’re true.
But it didn’t start that way. It started with excitement! And 14 weeks of training! And registering for one of my favorite races ever!
It started with a fun afternoon at the expo and dinner with friends and an early morning selfie in the corral.
Don’t we look ready to run a marathon?? Happy! Energetic!
You’ll notice there are only three of us. Our original group of four was broken up a week before the race by stress fracture. #4, my friend Jeff, made the trip to Little Rock anyway and his being there meant the world to our group.
The morning started with all the energy for which the Little Rock Marathon is famous. Fun theme, great music, party at the start line.
We planned to run 11ish minute miles as long as we could and finish in the 5-5:30 window. I’ve been hunting for a 5-hour marathon for four years, but the weather was going to be warmer than ideal and we were practical about our expectations. A strong, 5:30 race. That was the goal.
We saw our families a few times in the first half — Amy’s husband and boys, David’s wife and daughter, my boys. And our buddy Jeff was there waving signs with inside jokes from our training runs and offering a hearty high-five.
I didn’t feel AMAZING in the first half, but we were keeping pace. We hit the halfway mark at 2:36. And right about then, I started to feel it unravel for me. I think it was just before the photo with the leprechaun… — both my calves seized at the same time and I almost fell.
Mile 13. Halfway there. Not good.
I shook it off, walked for a minute, and got back into it.
But it was too much. The temperature was warmer with every mile, my legs weren’t cooperating, and my attitude started to drop. Amy and David were both feeling stronger than me, and while I HATED to split up – I knew the drill. The unspoken agreement between marathoners. Ultimately, we each have to run our own race. They pulled away and I only saw them again during an out-and-back portion of the course.
By mile 17 I was walking more than I was running, and I was in PAIN. My legs were stiff, sore, and cramping. My head hurt from the heat, and I knew I had such a long way to go – especially at that pace.
My friend Greg – having run the half that day – was at mile 18ish cheering friends and I convinced him to walk with me for a bit. He cheered me up and told me he’d seen guys wearing Never Quit shirts out on the course — classmates of Tom’s. I loved hearing that and it gave me a little pep. After I split with Greg, I noticed I was on Tom’s mile. I hadn’t paid enough attention to the course beforehand to know it was coming, but right about mile 19 – there I was on Tom’s mile of the Arkansas Run for the Fallen.
By that point, I was an all-out mess. I was crying and lost in my own head. All the adulting I’ve been juggling the last several months bubbled over.
I sometimes just forget how much mental energy it all takes.
In tears behind my sunglasses, I had spurts of energy and took advantage of them. Mile 24? I have no idea what happened during Mile 24, but I felt like I was flying. Every time I would calm down and get my head focused on the remaining miles, someone would cheer “Never Quit!” at me and I’d just fall apart again.
SUCH. A. MESS.
Y’all, I know what “Never Quit” feels like. I knew my time was slow. I knew my friends were running a great race without me. I knew the months of training were in those legs somewhere and I got madder and madder that they were rebelling. I knew the heat was my running kryptonite, but WHY? Why today, Arkansas weather?
I crossed the finish line and have never been so DONE with anything. Just done. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t rewarding. I didn’t feel strong – I felt defeated. I accepted my ridiculously large medal and Colt jumped in the finisher chute for a photo. If you had asked me in those moments, “so, more marathons?” I would have glared at you rather than dignify the question with a resounding NO.
But then there’s this photo. The four of us. Jeff, on the end, didn’t get to run. Didn’t GET TO run. He trained and sacrificed — and spent the weekend in a boot on the sidelines, instead of suffering and crying through the last 10 miles with me. And then I cried again and begged for a cheeseburger — and vowed to find a better attitude. As Jeff Hood likes to put it, “everybody’s gotta pull their own happy wagon.”
Over the course of the last week, my feelings have come into focus.
Two years ago I trained for a marathon and didn’t get to finish, because of weather. Being cut short wasn’t fun, but I wrote this about the experience.
That’s part of the deal with marathons. You sign up to run in the elements — sometimes those elements are sunshine and a cool breeze, sometimes they’re a headwind, rain, and bitter cold. This ain’t no treadmill.
The year before that I trained for a marathon and had stomach issues that derailed my race.
I’m not gonna lie – miles 16 through 26 weren’t fun or easy or particularly inspiring. I knew I was off my pace and I was frustrated that my body hadn’t cooperated in what would have been a perfectly beautiful day for a 5-hour marathon. But I kept moving. I had trained hard and I wasn’t about to waste all those early mornings and all those miles on a bad attitude.
Marathons haven’t been kind to me, and I keep coming back for more.
This year, the whole thing almost broke me.
The wailing and gnashing of teeth during the last half of the Little Rock Marathon — it was the best I could do at the time. I never stopped moving forward, I didn’t quit, and I knew I could finish. There’s something very powerful about mental fitness that complements physical fitness in a way I now understand on a whole new level.
And that’s the brutal truth about marathons. I’ve been hearing it and repeating it for years — it’s as mental as it is physical. And I never understood that before this race. Truly. It took four years, hundreds of training miles, and five marathons — to learn the truth the hard way.
All those things in years past — torrential rain, ice, broken Garmin, stomach issues — were out of my control. But my mental fitness is 100% within my control. Sure – it was hot in Little Rock last weekend. But it was more WARM than hot. It wasn’t dangerous and it wasn’t debilitating. My attitude defeated me — not the heat.
It took me a week to find the courage to write “I had a crappy attitude” — but dare I say I owe myself a do-over? I’ve been chasing 5 hours — and while I’d still love to do that, I’d actually just love to train hard and pull my happy wagon over that finish line knowing I ran 26.2 miles at the intersection of physical fitness and mental fitness. Sound like a plan? #run