Yesterday at 7am, I froze my tush for a little over 3 hours running the California International Marathon in Sacramento. It’s one of the fastest marathons in the nation, and is known for churning out a fair share of Olympic Trial qualifiers. I had my heart set on a 2:55:00, which would have shed a whopping 4 minutes off my PR of 2:59. But alas, my heart was broken. Note: heart was broken, but spirit was not.
It was just so darn cold!!! The temperatures hovered in the 20’s that morning, and I was so grateful that we raided a Goodwill the night before to buy extra clothes to toss. It was spine-tinglingly awesome. I was wearing a little boy’s black puffer jacket, my dad’s extra pair of sweatpants, a scarf, and gloves, all on top of my usual dri-fit tee/black shorts/pink compression socks combo. I was shivering at the sight of so many people already peeling away their layers and bouncing around in shorts. What a waste of energy, I thought.
A bit of confusion with the bag check trucks, Charles drops his banana peel (someone is gonna slip, Charles!!!!!) and next thing you know, Charles and I were at the starting line. The sweatpants and scarf were flung off. We were ready to go.
I don’t know why I’m going so fast, but everything feels good and right, and I can’t stop, won’t stop. I’m cranking out 6:30’s per mile. Where did that come from?! Deep down, I’m overly confident and anxious to PR. I reason to myself, this is a downhill course. If I could sub-3 in the rolling San Francisco hills, I can sub 2:55 by cruising downhill.
The puffer jacket gets shed by mile 3. That was longer than expected. I ran 3 miles in a huge snowjacket! I’m following a good pack now. The boys look strong and effortless. It makes me feel light on my feet. So light that I pass them as I run tangent point to point.
Then I don’t know where or how it started, but I was slowing down to a 6:40 pace. Alright, that’s not too bad. That’s where I should be anyway for a 2:55. Then 6:40 creeps up to 6:50. I’m not too happy about that, so I start to negotiate. As long I can keep it sub-7, everything’s going to be okay.
Except it’s not. 7:00 quickly turns to 7:10, then 7:15 and 7:20, and everyone is passing me. I’m a very proud person, so I do not like this one bit! My heart gets crushed a little more each time someone passes me, as I cannot will my body to move any faster. My right arm is frozen. I keep shaking it out to get the blood moving and bring feeling back to it, but it’s futile. That’s weird; my left arm is fine.
I’m starting to negotiate with myself even more.
“What can I do to simply finish?”
“How can I warm up?”
“No matter how slowly you go, just keep moving!”
It was a really tough race, but I’m proud to say that I did finish sprinting through the finish line. 26.2 miles is a quite a distance, and many completely opposite thoughts can swim around your head. Pride and mental pats on the back quickly dissolve into doubt and self-destructive negativity. A marathon is a beast you must tame with patience, perseverance and perhaps most importantly, positivity.
Here are 9 lessons I learned from the CIM:
1. You will have good races and you will have bad races. I have been completely spoiled by the good fortune of PR’ing in every single race in the past 3 years. I have trained myself to not only match my previous performance, but to beat it. I’ve even been upset because I didn’t PR by as much as I had hoped. Yesterday, I had a bad race, and although I wish never to have another one, I hope I can have the strength to accept it and the wisdom to learn from it.
2. Start out slowly. This is the oldest trick in the book, the one piece of advice everyone gives about every marathon, and something I used to pride myself on. I’m usually a very conservative runner and prefer to start off slowly, and then catch up to others, one by one. The past few races though, I’ve started chasing ‘em down from the start. Time to recalibrate. After all, even if you start slowly for the first 5 miles, you have 21 more to speed it up. If you start out too fast, it’ll be very hard to keep it up and cling on for dear life.
3. You don’t have to refuel every chance you get. Now, this was really strange for me. MY coworker told me before my very first half marathon to drink from every aid station, even at mile 2. I’m grown accustomed to taking at least a sip from every water station and slurping down Gu after every hour. But at yesterday’s race, I felt that I really didn’t need it. Not sure if because of the cold temperatures, I just wasn’t sweating enough, and therefore not getting dehydrated OR if I was running so slowly, I wasn’t losing as much water/nutrients. I think it was the temperature though. Dang, it was really harsh out there.
4. Be prepared with the right gear. Although we went to Goodwill for extra apparel the night before, which helped tremendously, I wasn’t prepared enough. I didn’t have running gloves (my fingers were numb and purple, even under my knit gloves), and I didn’t have arm warmers. It was weird though: my legs were slightly cold but otherwise fine in my shorts, but my right arm was frozen underneath my long sleeve. I’ll still have to play around with extra layers to know what my body responds to the best and what it needs. I also have never run in such low temperatures, so I didn’t know what I would need, and what I would be overheating in.
5. The race isn’t over till it’s over. Although I gave up on running a PR about halfway through, I resolved to finish the race. I was hurting, I was cold, I needed to use the port-o-potty, but I chugged onward. And I ended up with a decent time. 3:05:19. Then I wonder if only I had run just 30 seconds faster for each of the last 10 miles. That is not too much to ask for when you’re doing 8 min miles! (Or maybe I am just delusional and should check my Garmin for my actual pace.) Anyway, 26.2 miles is a LONG TIME, and the race doesn’t end until you cross the finish line. You owe it to yourself to sprint through the finish and to not give up. You never know how much closer you can get to your goal if you push just a little bit harder.
6. Words of motivation help others, and yourself. After I gave up hope on achieving a PR and just hoped to finish, I used my energy to motivate others along the way.
“Don’t walk!!!! You’re almost there! Come along. We’re all in this together.”
One lady even complimented me and told me how great of a motivator I was. Aww shucks.
Truth is, the words of encouragement that you give unto others, sneakily work on yourself. It just has that effect on your own actions.
7. In times of need, a port-o-potty can provide shelter. I needed to use the bathroom badly. I held it for 6+ miles, but then I thought, What the heck. If I’m going to finish this race one way or another, I may as well finish comfortably. I crept into the port-o-potty and felt instant relief from the cold. Are you forealz?! I’m hiding in the port-o-potty for comfort and shelter. Never thought I’d see the day…
8. Supporters are essential. I cheered when I saw some spectators waving a Chinese flag, and they cheered back. I smiled at people on the sidelines, laughed at cheeky signs. Non-runners may not know this, but having people cheering you on, giving you a jolt of energy is much needed. Luckily, my family usually comes to support me with encouraging posters, and it means everything to me.
9. There will be other races. I am already eyeing CIM 2014 as a way to redeem myself. The mistakes I made this year will ensure that I don’t make them again next. Bring it on, CIM! I’ll be chasing that 2:55 (or faster!) next year!