I ran my first marathon to give me something to do. I needed something in my life that I could control, and running gave me that. The idea of running for 26.2 miles seemed a bit crazy, but by slowly building my miles each week, I was able to achieve my goal. Crossing the finish line was a major accomplishment. Who cares if I had run slower than Oprah…
Actually, I did care. I signed up for my second marathon, nearly three years later, with a goal beyond “just finishing.” I had a time goal. I wanted to break 4 hours. So I trained more. I ran longer and faster. I took out the walk breaks and put in some tempo runs. Confident that I would be able to maintain the required 9:00 pace, I headed to Portland. I toed the line with a cocky swagger. Look out Oprah, here I come.
The race started pretty much as expected. I went out too fast, but reigned myself in. I settled in just behind the 3:45 pace group. I figured if I kept them in sight, I’d be just fine. At the first aid station, I tried the energy gel supplied by the race, and found it didn’t set well with my stomach. No worries, I thought, I’ll just drink the sports drink instead of water, and I’ll be fine. I practically had 4 hours in the bag.
Anyone that has run Portland knows that the real halfway point is the St. John’s Bridge. Coming between mile 17 and 18, it marks not only the highest point, but is also where you head back towards the finish line in downtown. If you can make it across the bridge, then it is all downhill from there, both figuratively and literally. That’s where I started to fall apart.
I lost sight of the 3:45 pace group. They went across the bridge without me. As I wound through the neighborhoods on Portland’s east bluff, I glanced behind me and saw a horrible sight. The 4:00 pace group was gaining on me. I started feeling weak, but told myself to keep pushing the pace. If I could just stay ahead of the pace group, I’d be fine.
They caught me around mile 22. The psychological impact was devastating. I gave it my all to just hang on, but the fuel tank was empty. I watched my goal pass me by and was crushed. The next few miles were awful. Completely drained, I somehow managed to combine walking with a slow shuffle as I crept toward the finish.
My family was near the finish line to cheer me on. I barely acknowledged them. In fact my wife didn’t even recognize me at first. Their support was just enough to keep me going, but there was nothing that could increase my pace. Like a zombie I lumbered onward.
Approaching the finish line, I was vaguely aware of the numbers on the giant clock. “Clock….Time…Wasn’t there something important about that?” my dazed mind wondered? My goal! Instantly my eyes focused on the clock. The time read 4 hours and 1 minute. I missed my goal by 1 agonizing minute!
In the days and weeks that passed, I tried to console myself. Completing a marathon itself is an amazing accomplishment. I would of finished faster if I hadn’t started so fast. I could of made it if I had brought my own gels. I had even beat Oprah. But I knew the truth. Only one thing was going to satisfy me. I was going to have to run another marathon.