I have written a few times after marathons, mostly disappointing ones. Those blogs came easier to me than this one. I don’t know why that is but it seems more natural for me to write about disappointment in running than success. Maybe that’s a product of getting more practice at disappointment, thus more thoughts and words on the subject. Maybe it’s that I have always been a competitor (from a very young age) where losing brought on more feelings of anger, rage, etc, than winning brought feelings of joy, elation, etc. Maybe it’s because I’m an overly competitive arse-hole who yells “Ball don’t lie!” at my brother’s girlfriend after I accuse her of scratching one stroke only for her to actually scratch the next during a meaningless game of cut-throat billiards (this is my public apology Julie, I’m sorry). Maybe I need to talk to someone about all that, but for now that’s my self-psycho-analysis on why it was difficult for me to finally write about a successful outing at the marathon.
I crossed the line, checked my watch, and by my unofficial time, had just pr’d by a lot. Over two minutes a lot. I turned to see my teammate Scott Fauble finishing just strides back in what would tie Meb for the 12th fastest American debut of all time. Shortly after our teammate Matt Llano finished. Matt was understandably disappointed, but I know for sure Scott and I wouldn’t have ran what we did without him. And I can say with even more confidence that I wouldn’t be running anymore had I gone through the amount of injury, surgery, and rehab he has. I am a pretty big believer in making a firm delineation between consolation and excuse. Consolation can be derived from reasons as to why a particular result was less than desirable, while excuse allows you to take false comfort in an unknown result. “If these things didn’t happen, that would have happened,” is an excuse. “These things did happen so this happened,” is a reason. The distinction can be confusing and nuanced, but important. Excuse makers rarely create results, and result makers rarely create excuses. I may have just inadvertently created or plagiarized the back of a high school cross-country shirt. I think there is great consolation to be found in Matt’s race and he is definitely not an excuse maker. There I go ranting about disappointment again.
On paper I had just pr’d by two minutes and nineteen seconds. In my head I always operated as if I had run faster than 2:14:40. So the time didn’t really surprise me but it certainly was nice to finally have that validation of a time closer to the runner I knew I was. This was actually the worst training segment I’ve had for a marathon, yet my most successful race, a strange but promising paradox. People would ask how training was going and outside of immediate family and girlfriend, I attempted to feign confidence that it was going well. If I could convince others, maybe I could convince myself. That being said I definitely unloaded a few ranting and frustrated texts onto Nicole questioning the celestial running beings why they were cursing me with day after day of feeling terrible. You see, I always thought I was better than I was on paper, but in the world of running the number on paper is a fair and just reminder of how good everyone else perceives you to be. We were also making a big deal on the team-side of things about this fall and the marathon. I was a 2:14 guy getting to do things 2:14 guys just don’t get to do. We were going to run an international marathon, go to Switzerland to train for the final lead up to the race, and there would be a documentary and a book being made about it all. I began to feel like a bit of an imposter. Doubt that I actually wasn’t better than my time on paper crept in with the subtleness of a drunken high school elephant trying to sneak back into its parent’s house after curfew. This doubt took me to a dark mental place somewhere in the middle of the build up, a dark enough place that started having me question if even starting this race was fair, to not only myself but my team, coach and sponsor. But Ben began to adjust some of my workouts, and I began to have a more positive mental outlook on just accepting who I was on whatever particular day. Translation: I don’t have much control on how I will physically feel today, but I have complete control over how I mentally respond to that. This isn’t revolutionary stuff, folks, but in the moment can be tough to execute. This race would determine a lot about what my future or lack of future in running would look like and instead of letting that put undue pressure on me, I became at peace with my running career thus far. And probably most importantly the people around me continued to exhibit unwavering support in my ability – ability more in line with the runner I was in my head than the one I was on paper. I caught some decent workouts the last few weeks of the build up and felt great on our last couple easy workouts. Maybe the elephant was sobering up.
The day before the race was actually pretty fun. People ask a lot about the 24 hours before a marathon, or days leading up and everyone has a different outlandish anecdote about their buddy eating 27 bananas and PR’ing, or getting loaded on beer and sushi two nights before. So here’s maybe my only piece of advice: do whatever eases your mind and relaxes your body. We woke up and went for a run as a team, joined by my girlfriend Nicole, Scott’s girlfriend Hayley, as well as our coach Ben, while Matt’s parents met to walk while we ran. It was a very easy 3 miles with little chatter about the upcoming 26.2 miles. Also, here’s a small disclaimer to this advice: if you’re a person that is relaxed by intensity, stay the course there. Scott and I decided to get haircuts. We had watched a series of Brad Pitt movies in Switzerland and in an attempt to overcome the language barrier, we showed pictures of Lieutenant Aldo Raine as an example of what we wanted to look like. The language barrier may have been a crack in the ground compared to the wall our barber would have to surmount to make us resemble Brad Pitt. It would be as if I took my Kia Soul to a car wash and pointed at a picture of a Ferrari. Or maybe like a restored rugged old land cruiser or something. We can discuss what kind of car Brad Pitt would be at another time, but for now it’s safe to say it’s DEFINITELY not a Kia Soul. We ate dinner as a team at the pre-race dinner and then Nicole and I watched some Arrested Development before falling asleep.
Race day we woke up to windy and wet conditions, but for a guy who had run a string of warm ones these conditions were more than welcoming. I don’t remember a whole lot of specific detail from the race, probably from waiting too long to write this. What I do remember is getting to 20 miles and telling myself (censored for the younger readers, for the older readers insert the “f word” every third or fourth word): “This is as good of a shot as you’ve ever had, don’t blow it.” For whatever reason my body felt great, maybe it was apologizing for so many days of feeling awful in the buildup. It was the first marathon I felt like I was actually capable of attacking the final miles, and I pressed my body for every second. Every time I pushed my body responded, so I would push again, and again. Until I ended up in the “festhalle”, one of the most extravagant finishes in running. There is literally a red carpet. It would have been nice to savor it a little more because the finish was incredibly cool, but running faster is cooler. After embracing with Matt and Scott for a little while, I think the next person we saw was Ben, who in a fervor of self-referential excitement proclaimed, “That’s a boom!” I then found Nicole who claims I started crying while we were hugging. I disagree. I admittedly got a bit emotional having just gone through a marathon and had begun to process what had just transpired out on the course, but also over my career that got me to this point. I am not much of a crier (not out of any sort of machismo deal, crying can be very manly) but in Nicole’s defense I may have cried had I not been so dehydrated, but I will maintain that no tears came out. No tears, no cry. All in all it was a great day. I hope I did a decent enough job writing what it felt like to be successful for once, and I intend to get more practice at it. Now it’s time to become mentally better than a 2:12 guy.