I was at the 18-mile marker when the 3:44 pace group finally caught up to me. I knew they were coming, I expected to see them soon, but I still wasn’t ready for the feeling that hit me when they finally arrived. I watched, angrily, discouraged and in pain as the 3:44 sign started to appear smaller and smaller, gaining distance away from me with each passing step.
I looked down at my GPS watch and tired legs and tried to get them to go back to the 8:30 pace they had been running at so easily before. I told myself that if I could just muster the strength to stay with the 3:44 group I would finish with a shiny, new six-minute personal record. Here we go, legs, c’mon!
I can, I can, I can, I can, I can… I can’t.
Eventually, that glorious “3:44” sign became a blip on my radar, and then almost as abruptly as it appeared, it was gone from sight.
Even Eminem’s “Till I Collapse” blaring in my headphones couldn’t save me now.
I’m a numbers person, so it didn’t take long to calculate: I’m losing around a minute per mile, I have about six miles left … shit. With this pace, I’m going to finish either right at or right after my personal record. And, no, I’m not going to beat it today. I’m not going to PR today.
Honestly, I was upset.
I didn’t train as well as I had the year before. But I also knew that I had come a long way – I know that I’m faster and I’m a better runner this year – I deserve this, right?! I’m just asking for a 3:40-something. That’s all. I want that “4”, and I don’t know why I want it so badly, but I do.
I tried again to get my legs to move faster and I was hit with the realization that I was absolutely killing myself to gain a mere ten seconds per mile. After another moment of quick mental math, I knew my best move was to pull back, sustain what I could and finish the race.
The question then became: how do you keep going (and run six more miles, as fast as your body can handle) when you know you lost the PR?
Answer: You just do.
I have always told myself I would never be the type of person to be disappointed by a race time. But as I hugged Kristen, my boyfriend, mom and dad at the finish line and as friends and family flooded my phone with congratulations, I noticed myself replying in defeat.
“Well, I really tried for the PR but I didn’t get it … but thank you, it was a great day.”
“Maybe if I stuck to a tighter training regimen this summer, I wouldn’t have fallen apart in the last few miles.”
“I really should have done more speed training, but I just had a busy summer.”
And you know what? I did have a busy summer. I had a summer bustling with travel, new friends and new babies to welcome to my amazing family; a summer filled with things in my life that I wouldn’t dare trade a PR for even if I had the option.
I came within a MINUTE of my PR. In fact, 40 seconds of my PR. Somehow over 26.2 miles, I managed to finish within a minute of the best time I’ve ever run. I’m proud of my current personal record, and it’s silly to be anything less than proud of myself now.
Perhaps this is just an awkward letter to myself that I posted on the internet to say, “Cheer up! You’re awesome!” but I hope there are plenty of other people out there that need to hear the same message.
And here’s another thing that they don’t tell you when you miss your PR: you still work for it. It’s just as much of a mental battle – if not more of one.
There’s something to be said about the courage it takes to keep going when you know you aren’t going to hit a certain number. It’s all too easy to throw in the towel. It’s easy to let it go completely. It’s easy to walk (and it feels so, so good to walk). But, I’d argue that it’s even more brave and amazing when you don’t – when you find some kind of strength to tell yourself that you need to keep going, forget about the numbers, and finish this thing for you. I learned a lot about myself over 26.2 miles (I always do) but this time, the lessons were particularly packed in during those last six miles.
I might not beat my best every time, but I won’t give in to giving up.
On Sunday, I ran a marathon – my fourth marathon. And guess what? I didn’t get that PR. But I did have a great race and it was a beautiful day. I got to cross the finish line hand-in-hand with one of my favorite people as she got her PR (fate couldn’t have timed it any better). I’m happy, sore and proud.
Thank you to all of my friends and family who continue to support me. I am learning to accept your congratulations without any “buts” or disappointment. I’m still learning to be grateful and thankful for this body I have and all that it can do.
Here’s to running a marathon, and chasing after the dream another day.