I usually write a Night Before the Race post, because I think the two days leading up to the race are really important to performance and you don’t get the full picture of the race without them. This time, though, I kind of covered everything leading up to the race in my weekend recap… but left you hanging with what happened in the race. Well, that’s a bit of a story!
On Saturday night, Adam and I went to bed at the party-hardy time of 7pm (whatever, we spent the day at a beer festival)… but then woke up at 10pm and basically never were able to go back to sleep. So um… all-nighter the night before the race? Obviously that’s a good idea. Other things that are delightful to do the night before the race: skip dinner, and subsist solely on the pretzel-and-gummy-lifesaver necklace you made for the beer fest. And then get sick in the middle of the night so that even that pretzel necklace isn’t in your stomach to provide fuel. Man, I prepare for marathons well!
When I got up at 5am to head to the start, though, I didn’t feel too terrible. (Or at least not as terrible as you would think from all that drinking and no real food.) I was frustrated that there was no bathroom action happening, because I didn’t want to have to stop on the course, and I debated back and forth whether to eat something on the way to the start or just skip breakfast entirely. However, when I saw that the pre-race instructions on where to hang out beforehand said that the race organization would provide “coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and breakfast breads” I decided I’d rather wait for that than have a power bar!
The drive to the start took us wayyyyy out of Phoenix basically to where the highway ended, and then we had to pull out a map to make sure we were going the right way. However, it was actually pretty simple to find – just one left turn from there and Adam and I found ourselves at the elementary school where buses were waiting to shuttle us to the start. I headed for those, while Adam went to get Starbucks and then go for a run of his own before coming out on the course to cheer. Hooray for having such an amazing supporter!
One schoolbus was pulling away just as I was arriving, so I found myself the first (and only) person on the next bus aside from the bus driver. However, it soon started filling up, and I found that I was in a surprisingly chatty mood and wanting to talk to everyone. Specifically, I wanted to know: have you done this course before? What is it like? Clearly I was not very well-researched beforehand! However, the road we were on to get to the race start was incredibly bumpy, and it was really hard to hear anyone who wasn’t right next to me… so I was mostly just quiet and staring into the darkness ahead, trying to get some sense of where we were going.
Finally, our bus pulled into a big clearing where I could see tons of fires and lots of runners sitting around them on yoga mats. Our bus did a big turnaround in a second clearing, and then let us off before heading back for more runners. Before claiming a mat for myself (at this point, they were literally one mat per person – cool!), I headed over to the food table and discovered that “breakfast breads” meant “eight kinds of cookies.” Not what I pictured, but I’ll take it! I ended up having a few cinnamon twist cookies that were really tasty, but decided against having coffee/hot cocoa… just water for now. And with that, I went to settle in and make friends!
This was one of the coolest starts I’ve ever seen. While ordinarily I hate when you have to get there early and sit around (I’d rather show up five minutes before the start and just hop into the crowds in the corrals), the setup at Lost Dutchman was pretty outstanding. There were the aforementioned firepits, and then tons of cushioned mats around for people to sit on. There were tons of portapotties (though they were kind of dark since it was pitch black when we arrived – I had to bring my phone in to see!), tons of food/drinks, and just a general awesome feeling in the air as everyone got to know each other.
Lost Dutchman is known as a really beautiful, remote race, and it’s also pretty small – so I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me just how many Marathon Maniacs and 50 Staters there were in attendance. It seemed like almost everyone I talked to was making a run at the 50 states, and a lot seemed very surprised that I had already finished. But I assured them that I was not trying to do all the states a second time – I just want to have fun and do whatever marathons sound cool without needing to have a goal attached to it! While lately I feel like I’ve been a little bit antisocial at races, this time I was feeling pretty chatty and definitely in the mood to make some friends. I was really excited to meet another blogger and 50 stater, Dan, who wrote an awesome recap of his killer race here. 1st place in his age group – congratulations, Dan!
When it came time to head over to the road to line up for the start, I honestly didn’t want to go. I was having so much fun chatting… and now I had to go run a marathon? Blech. But I was able to make friends there, too, which was nice. One thing that I thought was really funny about the start corrals was that there was tons of space between the 6:00/mile and 8:00/mile signs, but then a smaller space than that between the 8:00/mile and 10:00/mile signs. I mean, I know that both are technically two minutes apart… but there are generally a lot more runners in the 8:00-10:00/mile range for a marathon than much faster! So even though I was planning on running 9:30-10:30/mile, I found myself up pretty close to the 8:00/mile sign… though everyone around me assured me that they were also going to run at about my pace.
We headed out down the road, and I quickly realized it was the same road that we had come into the start area on from the elementary school. However, since I hadn’t been able to see in the darkness on the way in, it was all new to me… and it was gorgeous scenery. I kept clicking away with my camera as I ran, not stopping but hoping that at least some of them would come out nice and not blurry. Well, I got lucky – check out this pic at mile 2!
The first few miles were all on a dirt road, with a lot of little ups and downs but no actual hills. I felt surprisingly fantastic, and every time my Garmin ticked off another mile, I was really pleasantly surprised to see how fast it was. There were a few that were sub-8, but for the most part I was running about an 8:10-8:30 pace. That was way faster than the 10:30 pace that I was expecting! As with the Melbourne Marathon two weeks ago, I think I need to get used to the fact that now that I live in Colorado, I’m going to be able to run much faster paces when I run at sea level. SWEET!
After about five miles, the road started to go really downhill – and I soon found it changing from dirt to pavement. We were back at the elementary school where we had boarded the buses that morning! There was an aid station here at mile 6, and that was when I really noticed just how fast my time was. I knew that this energy might not last, but I started to wonder if I might be able to PR in the half marathon?? All I had to do was hang on for 7 more miles, and at my current pace I would crush my current PR of 1:51… or was it 1:52? Although I was tired and not much feeling like running, I thought that would be a good goal for the day.
My phone finally came back into range for service, so I uploaded a few Instagram pics (so beautiful!) and also checked my texts to see that Adam was waiting for me just after mile 7. Yay! I could see him jumping up and down with excitement long before I could actually see his features to know it was him, and I was really excited. I slowed to a walk for the water stop, taking advantage of the opportunity to also eat a gel, and he told me, “you are running fast!” “I know,” I replied before I took off, “and I think I might go for a half marathon PR.” As I started running again, I yelled back over my shoulder, “Can you look up what my PR is?” Hooray for blogging pages that list just that, and fellow bloggers who know right where to look!
However, I knew that the next few miles were going to be much tougher than before – I had heard from people at the start that there was a pretty good hill at mile 9 and that it lasted all the way through mile 11. Worse still, I had heard that from mile 7 on it was a deceptive uphill: it was only a tiny bit of a grade, but because the road looked flat, it was demoralizing to slow down a little bit and not know quite why. That was definitely the case, and to make matters worse, after a quick 1/4 mile jaunt through a neighborhood, we turned to run on the shoulder of a main road that had a pretty strong headwind as well. Cue the slowdown!
The uphill was so subtle at this point, so I was mostly doing fine. Plus, I was really excited by how fast I was going – I was still clicking off 8:30 miles, and I was doing all kinds of calculations in my head to figure out how much I could slow down and still PR. When I got to mile 9, though, and the actual hills started, it got rough. I was now slowing down a ton, and I could see the PR slipping away from me. Maybe I had gotten my hopes up too soon that I could PR.
We were going through a neighborhood full of million dollar homes, which were beautiful, but it was nothing like the beauty in the first 7 miles of the course. Meanwhile, I knew that ahead of me lay the most brutal hills yet – plus, while it was cloudy now, the sun was supposed to come out and really beat down on us. (Temps were in the low 70s, which was hotter than what I had run in Florida, though slightly less humid.) I was really exhausted, and all I wanted to do was go eat some delicious brunch and then take a long, long nap.
So I made a bargain with myself. I told myself that if I could just keep it together for these next four miles, I could get a half marathon PR – which would be a pretty damn awesome accomplishment for the day. And then, if I was still feeling like I didn’t want to run, I could stop right there and not finish the full marathon. I’ve only DNFed one race before, and it was under very different circumstances, but I also knew that running was not what I wanted to be doing at the moment – and why should I keep running if I just plain didn’t want to? PR, here I come!
Unfortunately, the hills did not agree with my logic, and they conspired to get longer and steeper and make me want to cry with the effort of it all. My pace kept getting slower and slower, and I started to doubt whether I was going to make it. Where I had once had a pretty big buffer and thought I would finish sub-1:50, I now was wondering whether I’d break the 1:51:30 PR that Adam had texted me I currently held. It was going to be really close.
And then, at mile 11.5, I hit a hill that just broke me. It was steep, and I was tired, and I slowed to a walk, cursing at myself for being so weak. I only had one mile to go! I tried to channel other times when I’ve pushed through a tough pace (e.g., Tread Fitness or Barry’s Bootcamp classes), and remind myself that 1.5 miles was so short and would be over before I knew it. I promised myself that I would start running again once I hit the cone up ahead, just about at the tangent of the hill where it started to flatten out.
And I did start running just a few steps after that… and I saw the runners who had passed lazy walking me on the way up the hill, and they weren’t that far ahead. Buoyed by the glorious downhill, I picked it up into a fast sprint, passing those runners once more – and of course, causing them to think I was an idiot for going so fast when we were less than halfway into the race. (The half marathoners did not start with us but had their own course, so everybody out here was a full marathoner.) One of them concealed his derision though by remarking, “wow, way to crush it on that downhill!” Um, yeah… but you crushed me on the actual difficult part 😉
My sprint had regained me some time, though, and now I started to wonder if I might break my PR. I wouldn’t be breaking it by a few minutes or anything big, but I might beat it by a few seconds. It was honestly going to come down to how well I had run the tangents of the course, and whether the half marathon timing mats were at 13.1 on my Garmin or 13.2. (And, not to put the blame on anyone but myself, whether I could stay strong for this final mile.)
I tried to keep it at a solid run, but when I hit the water station at mile 12, I had to walk. Not because I was desperate for water (especially with only a mile until the half marathon mark), but because that sprint had given me a massive stitch on my side. I tend to keep a fairly normal, happy expression on my face while I’m running, but here I was nearly doubled over in pain, causing many of the elderly volunteers to look concerned and ask if I was okay and wanted to sit down. No, I did not want to sit down – I wanted to keep running and I wanted to stop walking! I haven’t had a stitch from running in years, and I tried to breathe deeply and stretch to help it go away.
Finally, it did, but not until I had lost a good 30-45 seconds walking instead of running. Okay, Laura, suck it up – less than a mile to go and I could maybe PR by just a few seconds if I really pushed it into high gear. But that high gear would have needed to be a sub-8 minute mile, and I was struggling just to maintain an 8:30 pace. With the sounds of One Republic in my ears, providing the best pump-me-up beat possible, I kept that pace but crossed the half marathon chip mats just a few seconds too late – at 1:52:00. I had missed the PR by 31 seconds 🙁
I slowed to a walk, dialed Adam’s number, and contemplated my next move. I had told myself that if I PRed, I could stop running… but I hadn’t PRed. Did it really matter? I wasn’t miserable, but I didn’t want to be running right then. I wanted to stop and do all the post-race stuff (brunch, nap, etc), even though I hadn’t finished the race. When I reached Adam on the phone, I told him my dilemma, and let him know that I was pretty sure I was going to quit once I reached him (around mile 14.5). He asked if I wanted to be talked out of that, and I said no, I just wasn’t sure what I wanted, but that I’d run the next mile and think about it.
That mile went by pretty quickly, though my mind was racing throughout. There were only 11 miles left in the race, and I could take them as slow as I wanted. I was now running at a 9:30 pace and it felt sooooo slow and comfortable… if I stuck with that, I could even finish in a time I’d be pretty happy with! I felt a lot better once I had fully recovered from the stitch in my side and from my last-ditch effort to try to PR, and I ended up coming into the next aid station (where Adam was waiting) all smiles.
Adam jumped in to run with me… slash walk, because that was what I started doing as soon as I reached him. He was incredibly supportive of whatever decision I wanted to make, but I told him that I had made up my mind and I was going to drop out. However, I wanted him to validate that decision. Was it a terrible one? Was I going to regret this later? I wasn’t hurt, the weather was fine (okay, warm, but not terrible), the course wasn’t miserable, and I knew that I could finish if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to. And I decided that I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. I have already run plenty of marathons, and I got kind of burned out in the process… so if I didn’t want to be doing this right then, there was no reason to keep going just to say that I did it.
Since Sunday, I’ve thought back on this decision a bunch of times – was it the right one? Should I have toughed it out and just finished? There were definitely a few moments where I felt bad that I hadn’t just gone for it (e.g., when I was getting dressed for brunch and realized I wouldn’t get to wear a medal… yes, I am dumb and materialistic and kind of a showoff). But in the long run, I don’t need another medal. Most of my medals are in a huge tangle in several shoeboxes, so shoving another one in there wasn’t going to bring me any happiness. The rest of the course was supposed to be fine, but not all that scenic, so I also didn’t really care that much about getting to see it. Getting to spend an extra two hours with one of my best friends, though, would be an awesome memory that I’d have for a long time – and when I thought about it in those terms, it was absolutely the right decision to be a quitter.
And you know what? I think in the long run, even beyond the happiness of getting to spend more time with Adam, I’m happy that I didn’t force myself to do something that I didn’t want to do. I’ve tried doing that with marathons before (ahem, finishing the fifty states so fast), and it ended up making me so sick of marathons that I took four months off from running them after I broke the record. I’ve since been hot and cold with running – I’ll go for a run or do a race and think “oh my gosh, I have missed this so much!”, but then I’ll do another and just want to quit entirely. There is too much other stuff I love in life, and I don’t want to commit to just running or running marathons. I’m really thrilled that I dropped out of this marathon completely on my own terms, and that my attitude is still “I can’t wait to try again soon.” Quitting is sometimes just the right thing to do.
So does this mean that I quit because I’m currently sick of marathons? Nope, just the opposite – I quit so that I wouldn’t get sick of marathons and can continue to do the fun ones. I just scheduled a last minute business trip to Atlanta in a few weeks, and I think I am going to stick around an extra day to run the Montgomery Marathon there. I think that finishing the Lost Dutchman Marathon when I didn’t want to do so might have made me resent running. Instead, I got back to Adam’s and was eager to go on the computer and figure out what race I could do instead – and I’m really excited about my upcoming trip.
In fact, I’m really excited about my running in general. Both Lost Dutchman and Melbourne have made me realize the incredible advantage I have living at altitude (and not traveling for work right now!), and I am amazed that I came 30 seconds away from PRing at Lost Dutchman. Instead of looking at that as a failure, I look at it as a sign of what’s possible. You can’t second guess your race, but let’s be honest, not getting any sleep, not eating any dinner, and spending the entire day before the race on your feet drinking beer is not exactly the ticket to success 😉 Perhaps if I do things right (and if the stars align), I can really crush my half marathon PR at some point in the near future. Or maybe this is the year that I tackle my marathon PR? Gotta dream big!So – hooray for my did not finish. I think it says a lot about how great my life is lately that I don’t even care what people might think, whereas in the past, I would have lamented my decision for weeks. I made the right call for me at that time, and I’m proud I had the guts to do what I wanted instead of what I felt would be the “right” thing to do.