A few weekends ago, I ran the Huntsville Utah Marathon. Strangely, the more races I run, they seem to be getting harder. It’s not the distance, per se, but rather the self-imposed stress a marathon brings.
Don’t get me wrong, marathons are REALLY hard. They are both physically and mentally exhausting.
During my first marathon (St. George 2004), I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the distance, so it was excruciating both mentally and physically. I played a lot of mental games, and eventually hobbled across the finish line with my patient new husband.
My time was respectable, but nothing to brag about. But for that first race, I didn’t care about my time. My goal was to finish, and I DID IT!! I was so happy about my accomplishment, but swore I’d never run another.
Several years later, I took back what I said, and signed up for my second marathon.
I trained way better than I had for my first, and for the first time in my running career, I started wondering if I could possibly be a fast marathoner.
Fast means different things to different people, but I’d heard of seemingly normal people qualifying for the Boston Marathon. That was fast in my mind. So I told the universe that I wanted to qualify for Boston. I’m still amazed that I qualified in that race. I was an hour faster than my first marathon. I crossed the finish line with literally 5 seconds to spare for a BQ. Unfortunately that year, your time had to be 1:13 faster than your qualifying standard. So with a 3:39:55, I didn’t make the cut for the 3:40 standard for my age group.
That race ruined me forever. I just had to get into the Boston marathon. So a few years and babies later, my quest for Boston continued. They tightened the standards, so you had to be a full 5 minutes faster than before to qualify. I had to get under a 3:35.
So I ran a few more marathons, and finally got another BQ in Nashville in 2014. My time was 3:34:45. Once again, I didn’t have enough of a cushion. So I kept trying. Until I finally turned the glorious age of 35 where I would be in the next age bracket, giving myself back those 5 minutes. I ran the Huntsville, AL marathon in 3:36. Finally enough of a cushion that I not only qualified, but I was accepted into the 2016 Boston Marathon.
The Boston Marathon was incredible. I met other BQ squeakers. These were my people…those of us who don’t make it to Boston easily–we eek our way in.
After Boston, I wasn’t sure what my running goal was anymore. I’d finally accomplished my dream of running Boston. But a year later, I signed up for another marathon. It was the hottest race day in Nashville history. I’d trained well, but knew in those conditions, a BQ for a squeaker like me was near impossible. I was right.
Fast-forward a few months, and my brother-in-law told us about the fastest race in Utah. Huntsville. Heck, they even offer a BQ guarantee. If you’ve come within 10 minutes of qualifying for Boston in the past two years and don’t qualify at their race, you get your money back. Unless you’ve already run Boston, that is. So I signed up. How could I not qualify again?
Now I can’t say my training for this race was anywhere near where it had been previously. But once you’ve started trying to qualify for Boston, the quest never ends. It becomes the standard by which you judge every race.
My race in Huntsville, UT started out okay. I was freezing, but flying on the downhill course.
Halfway through the race, I was pacing for a 3:30 finish. “It’s in the bag,” I thought. But somewhere around mile 22, I fell apart. When my husband started running with me ½ mile before the finish, I cried. At that point, I really didn’t know if I could make it to the end. But he gave me the little boost I needed, and I finished strong.
Maybe it was the high altitude. Maybe the freezing temps at the start. Perhaps the In-N-Out burger and fries I ate the night before. Or the month-long vacation in July. Maybe the fact that my husband sprained his ankle two weeks before the race and could no longer run with me like we’d planned. Or losing my brother-in-law at the start (who wanted me to pace him to a 3:30 finish…pshhh). Maybe the sick kids and traveling husband during marathon week. Or the closed course which allowed for ZERO spectators.
Whatever it was, this race was so hard that I cried uncontrollably when it was finally over, and the volunteers steered me to the medical tent before I finally assured them I was really ok.
I crossed the finish line in 3:48. Some runners would give anything to finish with this time. And during my first race, I would have been thrilled too! But at mile 22, the 3:40 pacer passed me, and there was literally nothing I could do to keep up. My dreams of another BQ were dashed.
Will I run another marathon? My husband says I can’t stop at 9. And I’d be lying if I said I could run a race “just for fun” again. If I tell you I don’t have a time goal, I promise I’m lying. Since my second marathon 7 years ago, I’ve always had a (sometimes secret) goal of a BQ.
I didn’t get one this time. But I had a moment early on during the race where I was filled with so much gratitude for the chance to run. I really am so grateful. And bad runs make me even more grateful for the good ones.
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