The Finish Line

9.29.09: Hamstrings of steel and a stomach of nerves


With less than a week to go before my body needs to run, I think it is safe to say my nerves have already heard the starting gun.
Yesterday we happened to be up in Maine, so after my last “longish” run, we trekked with the kids over to the marathon route to check it out.
I am not sure I am happy with the results.
I mapped the course in my head, found the landmarks that will mean something to me—the blue house that marks the “we really are almost there” point and the ocean view that I am going to try to focus on enjoying during the last long, flat mile or so. But it was also somewhat daunting to see the place where I will either be elated—or disappointed—in just a few short days.
Even more, the course itself is not exactly what I’d hoped. Certain races are renowned for their great many Boston Qualifiers, but this is not one of them. Let’s just say there were hills. A lot of them. And they were not all at the beginning. There was one hill in particular that seemed to spring up around mile 14 where I know I will be hurting anyway.
I calmed myself by reminding myself that hills have always been my strength. My power is in my legs--and my hamstrings in particular—and hills are where I have always been able to pass some of my best competitors. But those victories were at 5ks and 10ks, not during 26.2 milers. And although I have trained extensively on hills even steeper than the ones I will be facing, I also know they have been my nemesis in my longer runs.
“Walk the hills,” one sub-3 hour marathoner has told me. I may indeed walk some part of this marathon since all the best runners I know suggest it. But I can’t walk every hill, so there will be some inevitable strength zapping.
I drove the course to calm myself, but I fear it might have upped the ante.
As if my knowledge of the course were not enough, there is also another factor that cannot be planned that has my palms sweating: the weather. As of last Friday, the 10-day forecast called for sun and 60 degrees. But today? Sunday looks like rain. Lots of it.
I was lucky in my training (or so I thought) that only one run was in the rain (this past Sunday’s 8-miler), but that also means I am not trained for running 26.2 in the rain. And if I do, what happens to my Iphone? What about my Ipod? Or my running watch? Will I have to abandon them? If I do, how will I keep track of what I need to run (8:33 pace for the first half, 8:13 for the second)?
And then there are the countless other factors that make my heart pound: how will I find my husband (who plans to run the last 3 miles with me)? How will I find my children at the finish line? What kind of race strategy should I employ to best meet my goal? I am so on the cusp between qualifying and not that any little misstep could throw off the balance. As I head into Sunday’s race, I know it could go either way.
The few things I am sure of reassure me, though. They include:
  • This is my first marathon.
  • I am well trained.
  • I have put up some great times in my training runs, shaved a full 37 seconds off my personal record (PR) time in a 5k (from a 22:59 to a 22:22) and proven to myself that being a mother and being more fit than 98 percent of the population are not mutually exclusive.
  • I feel good.
These facts calm me and help me feel good, but none of it means I will cross the finish line in the time I want.
I have been humbled, awed and schooled by this training program. I have asked the impossible of my body and taken hours upon hours away from my children and even still, I may not be where I want to be in the end.
But I will finish. I will run the 26.2 and probably do it under four hours. And if it is not 3:40, then there are always other marathons. Oh yes, I said it.
Amidst all my struggles and pain and pitfalls over the past four months, I have become a marathoner. If I qualify, then it is on to Boston in 2010. If I don’t, then it will probably be either Baystate next fall (a flat marathon considered the best Boston Qualifier in the country) or something in the spring.
I have an upcoming half marathon on Nov. 15 and my plan is to keep myself in marathon shape all winter long, as in weekdays full of speed training and weekends full of long runs.
When I told my husband of my plan, he looked at me, despondent. “At some point, I would like my wife back,” he said. I know what he means. But I can’t help what this training program has done to me. It has changed me in some fundamental way and helped me transition from a recreational, semi-fast 5k type of runner into someone who could routinely run 20-milers.
That is not going to change anytime soon.
Whatever happens on Sunday, I will be marathoner one way or another. And no matter how many of these I eventually run, this one will always be my first.
Rain, shine, qualifying time or not, I am almost at the starting line. It’s 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.