In 14 races, I ran my worst marathon this past week. It was wicked hard, but it was also an amazing learning experience. They say you can’t enjoy the good runs unless you know what it is like to have a bad run. Well, now I can appreciate the good runs more.
In this race, I learned what I like and don’t like in a race. I learned how to push myself way beyond my comfort zone. I learned to rely on my training. If I had not been adequately trained and prepared for the challenges I faced, then the outcome would have been a lot worse that what occurred.
As far as the race itself, this is what it taught me: I do not like small races. With only 3,000 runners, this was my smallest marathon ever. I usually do the large city races with 30,000-40,000 runners. In such a small race as the one I just did, there is not a lot of crowd support, and medical care is so stretched out that it’s scary. I am used to the big cities where thousands of people line the streets screaming each and every mile unless I’m running on a bridge. I am used to having a medical professional within eyesight for the entire 26.2 miles. The positives in running a small race and learning this, is that I was able to prove to myself that I can make it without those amenities. I was able to push through and finish the race without an iPod, without cheering crowds lining the streets, and without the constant presence of medical support. I can run a marathon without those amenities. Do I want to run a marathon without those amenities? No, I don’t.
I sustained an injury to the TFL (tensor fasciae latae) muscle in my hip somewhere between miles 18-22. If I had been on a course in a much larger city, medical professionals would have noticed the injury sooner and pulled me off the course. I would have been a DNF (did not finish). Instead, I pushed on to make the finish line. First, I did not understand exactly what was wrong or was happening, and second, I am one of those stubborn runners who push on just to get the medal.
I am fortunate in that I was adequately trained to be able to handle this injury in such a way that it will eventually heal and I am expected to make a full recovery. However, sustaining the injury has led me to a second reason why this was my worst race ever.
The course description was not accurate. Most course descriptions are not accurate. I have run marathons described as flat that were in fact gently rolling hills. I have run marathons described as gently rolling hills that were in fact downhill. While most race descriptions are not entirely accurate, they are usually pretty close to truth. This particular course was described as downhill, so I trained for a downhill race. What it was, in fact, was a hilly race. They were not gently rolling hills. They were not rolling hills. These were hills. There was a huge discrepancy in the description and elevation maps compared to reality. Sure, there were many course changes prior to the event, that required re-certification and new measurement, but there was a gross discrepancy in what was described and how I spent 5 months training.
After my injury, the medical personnel confirmed that the injury would have been much worse if I did not have the muscle tone that I have. I trained for a downhill course, and that was what I was prepared to run. A course that was extremely hilly put more pressure on my body that it could handle; I was not prepared for hills. HILLS. They were not rolling, nor were they gentle. I have run hill races before. I have done fine on hills courses, when that is what I have trained to run.
This race also taught me that the 2015 training season was my best training season ever. I was very well prepared to run a marathon. At my 18 mile split, prior to injury, I was on track to set a PR and within minutes of a potential BQ. At the end, it all fell apart due to injury and ended up being my slowest marathon time by over an hour. The important part was that I was able to finish and was not a DNF.
I have learned to do better research when looking into races to run. I usually try to choose established races so that kinks like this have already been worked out. This marathon was the 20th anniversary – I figure 5+ years to be my barometer for “established.” However, due to the drastic course changes that occurred in the weeks right before the race, the course I experienced was way different than the one for which I trained.
I will definitely be making changes and improvements to my training for 2016 to be able to strengthen the muscle currently injured. Right now, I am thankful that the surrounding muscles are strong enough to be able to support the one that literally took one for the team.
I am so thankful for every single day that I get to run. I can’t wait to heal and to come off the injury list to be able to run again. This race and this injury have taught me that I am so blessed to have been able to participate in 14 races so far. While I am looking forward to many more, I need to be able to continue to run smart.
I can’t believe that it took me 14 races to learn that I do not like small town venues. You grow through pain. You also learn so much about yourself once you go beyond your comfort zone. While this was my most challenging race in 14, I feel like I have learned so much about myself that is only going to improve my race decisions, training, and preparation for the future.
There is beauty in the breakdown. Without this experience, I would not have learned what I was capable of doing, or how adequate my training is, or what I don’t like. Sometimes knowing what you don’t like in life is as valuable as knowing what you do like.
I have been very fortunate in my running career thus far in that my good runs and races have way outnumbered my bad runs and races. This is pretty much only the second time in 14 races that I am saying, “I will never run that one again.” For the record, the other race I have said that about is due to logistics of the host city surrounding the race, not the course or race itself. This is the first time in which I loved the host city, but loathe the race.
I have learned so much through this negative experience than I have through my positive ones. The beauty in the breakdown is being able to take this knowledge to ensure that my race schedule for 2016 is amazing.
I’ll be on the injury list for the rest of the 2015 season, but I’m looking forward to the 2016 running season as being stronger, faster, and better. That’s the beauty of the breakdown.