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I am now officially tapering.
My last long run before the marathon (not counting the 13-miler I have this weekend) was yesterday. My partner came all 20 miles with me, thank goodness. We ran at an 8:49 pace, which is really not bad considering training should be done at a one-minute per mile slower speed than race pace (although the likelihood of me keeping a 7:49 pace for 16.2 miles is low) Still, it is nice to know I should at least come within striking distance of my goal even if I do not meet it.
This experience has been an interesting one to say the least. After almost a decade of calling myself a runner, it has been humbling to learn so much about the sport. I have learned that even though I can run a 5k at a 7:35 pace, it is much harder to keep that pace over 20 miles. I have learned that even the most disciplined, camel-like of runners needs to have more than 32 ounces of water when running 16 miles in 95 degrees. I have learned about lactic thresholds and glycogen depletion, goal setting and pace. I have learned that it is entirely possible that I will run this thing in 3:42, missing my goal by only two minutes.
This is anybody's race.
In short, it has been a humbling experience. I am proud of the way I have rebounded from my earlier missteps for my 14 and 16-miler (10-minute miles in the hot sun). But I am also unsure about what race day will hold. And that, my friends, is what is currently bothering me the most.
If I do not meet my goal, it will not be because I can't, but because of any number of variables that are out of my control. A very sunny, hot day might mean I run a 4:30. Rain could do the same thing. If I do not sleep well the week before the marathon or I do not hydrate fully, I could miss my goal. There are so many factors keeping me up at night.
Here I am, three weeks from the starting line and I am scared, possibly more scared than I have ever been before and not really sure why. After all, nothing real is riding on this; no one will die if I do not meet my goal.
It is not about anyone but me. I am scared of letting myself down.
So, I am taking the advice of a running pal and setting three goals:
Goal A: If all conditions are perfect—a slightly overcast 60 degree fall day, I will shoot to run the marathon at goal pace—8:23 per mile for a finishing time of 3:40.
Goal B: If conditions are a little shaky, I will run what I know I can do—an 8:50 pace. That will put me into the finish at about 3:52.
Goal C: If I am really feeling off and weak and not sure I can make it, then running a sub-4 marathon is the goal. That means keeping about a 9-minute pace.
I am scared I will let myself down, but I am proud of myself for coming this far. I have done this almost entirely on my own. Still, I do have some others to thank. They include:
1.) Julia: my running partner and friend with whom I ran both my 18-miler and my 20-miler and countless smaller runs in between. She has become my touchstone.
2.) Rachel Toor: Her book “Personal Record: A Love Affair with Running” has been inspirational for me.
3.) My cousin: Lots of good advice and encouragement from this seasoned veteran of many marathons.
4.) Tom: My muscular therapist who has miraculously massaged away areas of tension and pain, helping me recover quickly from some injuries and also keeping me more or less healthy. In addition, as a strong runner himself, he was able to provide countless tips and ideas to improve my training and keep me positive.
5.) Emilie: my friend who registered for this marathon herself after only starting to run a year ago. Her determination reminded me that I need to step up my own. Perhaps I had become complacent by running only in my comfort zone.
1.) My iPod: this little gadget has pulled me through quite a lot of painful runs and inspired me when I had nothing left.
2.) My Lululemon Tata Tamer II bra: Keeping the girls in check, this bra has been a lifesaver.
3.) My Garmin: this training watch has been nothing short of a miracle; helping me keep pace and track my mileage to an almost anal degree (I will have a training program comparison post sometime in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.)
4.) My fuel belt: I had never run with a fuel belt before, but for longer runs, this was probably the most important item I carried. Two Gus, 32 oz. of drink (one Gatorade and three water). This became my best friend. Quickly.
5.) Shoes: my Asics GT-2140. Stability shoes at their best. I went through three pairs on this program and still feel strong.
I have also tried some new and improved running gear, started running in skirts (more on this in a later post) and explored energy gels, snacking on the run and different ways of hydrating. I know more about my body today than I did four months ago and I am not sure that I will ever view running in quite the same way.
In the beginning, I thought I wanted this because I wanted to have a hard body and bragging rights (“I ran a sub-4 hour marathon”—it just sounds cool, no?).
My body has changed, to be sure. I weigh exactly what I weighed when I got pregnant with my daughter and things are higher and tighter than they have been in years. But I have learned that my desire to meet this goal is about so much more.
Wanting a good body does not wake you up at 5 a.m. on a summer Sunday so you can nurse your baby before heading out on a 20-miler. A good body does not make you keep pounding when all you want to do is stop. If you want a good body, get some personal training and a good diet plan because the desire for a good body won’t get you past mile 10.
There is something else driving me entirely. It hit me at about mile 15 yesterday morning as I was talking to my friend. When I run, I feel alive. Even the pain reminds me that I am a fighter, that I don’t quit, that I am strongest when I am pushing myself, even when I don’t want to. I want bragging rights, sure. But there is no one I want to impress more than myself. This is about proving to myself that I can set goals and meet them myself.
I am just a few miles from the finish, feeling more confident (albeit terrified) than I have in weeks, ready to face whatever those 26.2 miles want to throw my way.
Bring it on.
Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.