Race day conditions were perfect. It was 45 degrees at the start with hardly any wind. While waiting in the start corral I was brimming with excitement and eager to start the race. The gun went off and we were showered with a massive spray of white confetti.
I had a huge smile on my face for the first mile. I was thrilled that the moment I spent so much time preparing for had finally arrived. The crowds were unreal. At least 4 people deep from start to finish. And not only had I never seen this many people lined on the course, they were going nuts! The enthusiasm they showed filled me with energy.
I was completely relaxed and comfortable through the first 10 miles. I was moving along at a 7:00-7:05 pace and felt amazing! I was sticking to the plan almost to the second. My energy level was high and I was certain that I'd finish strong and achieve my goal. At this point in the race I thought to myself, "after all the years of frustration and disappointment, you're finally going to do it!"
At Mile 11 I saw my friend and host, Nao, who was there to cheer for me. I threw up a fist and cheered right back at him. I was pumped!!
I hit the half in 1:32:35, right on pace. I was exactly where I wanted to be and feeling great. But by mile 14 some fatigue started to set in, and at mile 15 I started to fade a bit. I still kept an even pace from miles 15-18, but I had to work much harder for it.
By mile 18 I knew that I was in trouble. I slowed down to a 7:30-7:40 pace and thought maybe I could hang on and still finish under 3:10. I thought about all the people back home cheering for me and about how desperately I wanted to go to Boston. But the mental encouragement could only get me so far, eventually my failing body took over.
By mile 20 I was running on fumes. I was still trying to salvage the race and make the most of it, but by mile 21 I crashed. My body completely shut down. I had no energy left and could do nothing but walk. I was shocked and devastated. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I tried to run, even at a snail's pace, but after a few seconds of running, my body said "NO!" and forced me to walk again.
I must have looked horrifying because every few minutes a medic tried to pull me off the course. But I refused to go with them. I insisted on moving forward. I was dizzy, light headed, exhausted, and close to losing consciousness. A sane person would have stepped off the course and called it a day.
I trudged along with whatever I could muster (and it wasn't much). I shuffled and stumbled my way forward. Cramping in my legs caused my muscles to lock up in searing pain, and nausea made my stomach wretch. After an hour and a half of pure misery, I finally crossed the finish line in a time of 3:46. Suffering like that for so long was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life.
It was difficult knowing how many people were watching me and pulling for me. I'm so grateful for the support, yet I can't help but feel like I've let people down. I'm also bothered by the mentality of "you're nothing more than your race time." I can't help but feel like I am somehow held in a lower esteem because of this failure. But ultimately I hope I'm judged for who I am as a person and not my finish times.
Along those lines, it's important that I stay focused on maintaining internal motivations for running. The support of the running community is an amazing thing. But it can also lead to running for reasons that are superficial in nature. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that I should be running for myself, not for the approval or validation of others.
While I am heartbroken by the result of last week's race, this sport would not be as meaningful without the failures and challenges it presents us. I've experienced many more setbacks than victories in running. I've been crushed and devastated over and over. Yet the thought of walking away has never crossed my mind. To borrow a quote from Kara Goucher, "Nothing in my life has ever broken my heart the way running has. And yet I cannot breathe without it."
Special recognition needs to go out to Perry and Nao. Perry has been a supportive training partner since I joined the Whippets, and it has been so much fun sharing this adventure with him. He has faced setbacks of his own in striving for this goal, and I'm very proud of him for achieving it. Nao has absolutely blown me away with his generosity and hospitality. He took us into his home in Tokyo, and was an invaluable tour guide. He translated for us, helped us order the most delicious food, and gave us an insider's look at his spectacular city. Our trip was enhanced immeasurably because of him.
I did not allow the disappointing race to impact my enjoyment of this trip. Exploring Japan has been an amazing vacation and tremendous adventure. This was truly the journey of a lifetime. Moving forward, I will go back to the drawing board to come up with a plan. I'll need some time to recover both physically and emotionally, but it won't be long before I'm on the road to Boston again.