Sunday, January 30, 2011

Houston Marathon: The Good, The Bad and The DNF

Target: 26.2 @2:45:59 (6:19 pace) or faster
Actual: 13.1 @1:22:50; 6:20, 6:30, 6:40, DNF

First things first: despite the end result (or lack thereof), I'm actually feeling pretty positive about the weekend in Houston. Physically I am fine, emotionally I am stable (keep your snarky comments to yourself) and mentally I came away with some valuable lessons and, most importantly, a determination that is more fervent than ever to achieve the elusive OT qualifying time.

Secondly, race debacle aside, the overall experience in Houston was fantastic. I had a blast cheering on Caitlin, Ruth, Dave and Leo in Saturday's US Half Marathon Championships, mostly due to the cowbell that Ruth loaned me to help take my cheering up a notch. It was just as inspiring to watch Dave qualify for the Trials with a 1:04:20 half-marathon debut as it was heartbreaking to see Leo miss the same milestone by a mere 30 seconds. I have no doubt that Leo, like me, will rebound quickly and achieve his goal within no time. It was also wonderful to see my parents, who endured a ten-hour round trip drive plus countless minutes of circling downtown Houston at one time or another in search of a parking spot, all to stand in the rain and watch their only daughter fall short of the goal she had set for herself. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Jason Sosa and the elite athlete committee for even allowing me, someone who feels like an interloper among the true elite runners, access to all the accomodations and accoutrements that most of the other 20,000 race participants did not have. Caitlin and I agreed that after spending the entire weekend being pampered and catered to (both literally and figuratively), with everything from our amazing hotel to free meals to massages to separate bathrooms at the starting line, it will be awfully difficult to go back to being a "normal" race participant again. Honestly, if I didn't already have enough motivation to take my running to the next level, knowing that this sort of VIP treatment awaits at most major events is definitely an added incentive.

And now, finally, on to the race. I awoke at 4:30 on Sunday morning to skies that were overcast, breezy, humid and cresting 65 degrees. From a marathoner's perspective, the only thing that could've been worse were the predicted thunderstorms that had threatened to move in the night before; in their event, the race could've been postponed or, unfathomably, canceled midway through. I resolved to push thoughts of the weather out of my head as it was beyond my control, and instead I began my mental and physical preparations for the race. The next two and a half hours seemed to crawl by, but finally at 6:53 I was on the starting line. At the elite technical meeting the day before I'd learned that two men would be leading a 2:46 pace group; one planned to run through the half, while the other was committed to seeing us to the finish. The second pacer said he planned to come through the half just on pace and then negative split the second half, which was identical to my race plan. I was relieved to easily locate both of them on the starting line and resolved to stick to them at least through the half.

There was a prayer, a song, a cannon, and then we were off. I don't remember much from the first six miles of the race, other than that I was comfortably tucked in with the 2:46 group and looking forward to seeing my parents plus Caitlin and Ruth around mile 8. I took my first water bottle at mile 5--elite fluids were yet another perk--and even managed to squeeze down half a CarBOOM without incident.
The first familiar faces I saw belonged to Jennie and Leo, somewhere around mile 7, and at this point I felt great. A few minutes later the clamor of a cowbell signaled that I was approaching my cheering squad, and I couldn't help beaming when I saw Caitlin, Ruth and my parents screaming and jumping up and down. Aerobically I felt fine, perfectly controlled, as though I could've held a conversation with any of the 10 or so women clustered around me, and as far as my legs were concerned the pace felt very relaxed. At this point I was confident and optimistic that I was a mere two hours away from calling myself an Olympic Trials qualifier.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure where that changed. I continued to feel good through 10, even through 11, though in hindsight that's right around where we changed directions and began to run into the wind. Still, this wasn't a huge problem as I had two guys to block it for me. That is, until one of our pacers--the one who'd pledged to run the entire race--began to fall off the back of our group. I was in disbelief. For a minute I thought I was confused, as there were a few other random guys near us as well, but then one of the girls next to me said, "Did our pacer just fall behind us?" The other guy was still running strong, but I knew he would only be with us for a few more miles. Just like that, my plan for a 26-mile escort evaporated. But I didn't dwell on it. I knew I was strong enough to run the pace without him, and with any luck our group of women would band together. Mile 12 came and went.

As we approached the 13 mile marker and halfway point, I began to notice that my upper half felt much heavier than it had before. My legs were still solid, but my breathing had quickened noticeably. We passed through halfway at 1:22:50, perfectly on pace, but I felt the first sliver of doubt creeping into my mind. It didn't help that our lone male pacer peeled off just past the 13.1 marker and that our group instantly, inexplicably dissolved. I mean literally one minute we were all running together, and the next it was as though a rubber band surrounding us all had suddenly snapped. This was also when I began to feel lightheaded. Over the course of the next two miles I gradually drifted into no-man's land, falling off the pace a little bit more with each step. The lightheadedness turned to dizziness at mile 16, and after seeing a 6:40 split I knew I was done for. I thought maybe I could walk a little bit between 16 and 17 and regain my momentum, but by the time I gallowalked to that mile marker my watch showed an 8-minute split. That's when I knew I was done. I'd tried my best to stay hydrated throughout the weekend and during the early stages of the race, but apparently it wasn't quite enough.

Now, a word about dropping out of races. Some people are adamantly against it in principle, and I respect that. There is certainly something to be said for persevering in the face of adversity and pushing yourself even when the race isn't all sunshine and candy corn. I am not one of those people. To me, if the cost of finishing the race outweighs any potential benefits, then frankly I don't see the point. Yesterday, I knew that struggling to a 2:50 (or worse) finish and spending a month dealing with the toll on my body simply wasn't worth it. If anything, that outcome would actually put my OT goal out of reach by delaying my training and the opportunity to try again. So, while I am certainly disappointed in the outcome of the race and in my relative failure, I am completely comfortable with the decision I made. To be honest, the strongest negative emotion I'm experiencing is embarrassment. There were so many people, from my parents to CRC members to coworkers to Facebook friends, who had taken considerable time and energy out of their own lives to support me in some form or fashion. And let's not even mention Jordan. Knowing that I let them all down and didn't produce the results they were all so confident in is not a good feeling. One of the worst, actually.

So what does all this mean going forward? Well, simply, it means I'll just dust myself off and try again. I'm not sure when or where, nor can I guarantee that I'll knock it out of the park on the second attempt, but you can bet I'm not finished. On the contrary, I'm just getting started. And though it might be easy to dwell on all the negatives from yesterday--and believe me, I indulged in a mini-pity party involving a Domino's pizza and some dark chocolate Reese's peanut butter cups at the Holiday Inn Express last night--I'm choosing to move forward. That's not to say I won't process all the things, good and bad, that I learned from the race. But tomorrow is a new day.

And I think I'll probably go for a run.


Unknown said...

today, you're already back on your feet! you'll get that OT soon enough, just be patient and the day will come. i hope to be there with a cowbell again.

jayholder8k said...

I can assure you, you let no one down. When you are racing for a goal and that goal becomes unattainable, the smartest thing you can do is preserve your body for another try. I have no doubt in mind you'll hit the time.

mainers said...

Meagan, so glad you’ve got a positive attitude coming out of this. Physically it appears you’ll be able to jump back into training for the next attempt soon and mentally it sounds like you’re there too! Hope to see you for a run soon! And you let NOONE down!

Kevin Balance said...

When I looked up the results and didn't see your name, I knew something was up. Thanks for filling in the blank. No doubt the marathon is a beast. But I am inspired by your positive attitude in the wake of a tough day. I also liked the last line of the post.

Mark Hadley said...

Out of adversity comes strength and perspective if you perservere.

Thank you for demonstrating the "get up and dust yourself off and try again" mentality that we can all learn from.

Even in the face of adversity you have encouraged us. You did not hide from disappointment but were upfront, open and honest.

Thank you for your wonderful example of how to handle ourselves in these situations.

We are all behind you and know you'll get your home run next time at bat. And if not then the next. But we know it's coming.


Anonymous said...

Good assessment! You'll bounce back! There's nothing wrong with DNFing a marathon (esp. being at the elite/sub-elite level)-- 26.2 can take so much more out of you. It's definitely tough when you're running with a group, and suddenly you're running alone and have a long ways to go! Now that you know what that feels like, you'll be better prepared next time. Usually when that happens, I stop looking at the watch and focus on pushing/maintaining the pace and rhythm. I also think about the progression runs I've done and how that felt.... having to push the body, when it's tired. You'll be fine! Look forward to seeing you soon in Birmingham! :) Camille