Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Race Report: Charlottesville Marathon: Part 2

This is Part 2 of my Charlottesville Marathon Race Report. To catch up with Part 1, click here.

At mile 19.5, we met back up with the half marathoners and passed their finish. I so wished I could stop there. But it was back out to the lonely streets.

Mile 20, alone.
52 seconds behind Orange Shirt.
At this point, I was simultaneously losing hope and trying to talk myself back into it. One part of me was trying to think positive things, but the other part wasn’t believing any of it. I tried to channel Dathan Ritzenhein, who ran the Olympic Trials in January, got dropped from the lead pack, but didn’t give up. He knew anything can happen in the final miles of a marathon, and that someone might come back to him. Someone did, and he closed the gap to come within 8 seconds of third place. (Yes, despite his valiant effort and determination, he still lost.  That part didn’t matter to me, I was focusing on the not giving up. On the idea that anything can happen.) Maybe she would start coming back. As my training book says, the last 10k of a marathon are the miles that poorly prepared marathoners fear and that well-prepared marathoners relish. I was well prepared. It was my time to relish. My dad encouraged me, saying that the last miles were all mine. And here they were, I couldn’t give up. Anything can happen in the final miles. At mile 20, I was only a minute off my 2:52 time goal, maybe I would get it after all. Would I be happy with a PR and not a win? No, I knew I wouldn’t. But my God, I just wanted this to end.

The problem was she was not coming back to me. When we had a long stretch of road I could see her, the Orange Shirt, the motorcade. It was so far ahead, and it wasn’t getting closer. I knew miles 22-24 were flat through woods along a river, before the dreaded mile 24 hill. I couldn’t wait to the get to the river and be rid of the ups and downs for a bit. Along the river I tried to be positive. I was doing ok, considering. If she started faltering, I could overtake her. I felt like I was picking up my pace on the flats, but when I looked at my watch I saw I wasn’t. I couldn’t see her anymore, with the twists and turns through the woods. Now I just wanted the woods to end. Get to The Hill and get this the hell over with. If I could survive The Hill, maybe I could pick it up in the last two miles.

Finally, I emerged from the river and the woods. And. There. Was. The. Hill. It was enormous and she was WAY up it already. But when I spotted her, her arm swing was off. I focused a little more. She was walking! As soon as I realized it, she began running again. But her weakness had been seen. The glimmer of hope grew in my mind. I couldn’t let someone who walked beat me. My sister and fiancée were halfway up The Hill, and they ran down to tell me that she had walked, that she had told one of the guys she was with that her stomach hurt, that I could take it in these last few miles. “The faster you run, the faster you’re done,” said my sister. Okay, this is it, I thought. Once I get to the top of The Hill I give it everything I’ve got.

Except I couldn’t. I tried to run faster and it didn’t seem possible. What seemed flat yesterday on the scope out mission was not flat. I tried to think that every hill was hurting her more than me. I prayed she would walk again. Give me more hope. She didn’t.  I wondered if I would run out of space.

I knew I had to be at 2:44 at mile 25 to be on pace for my 2:52. Before the 25th mile marker, I looked at my watch. It said 2:45. And I hadn’t seen the marker yet. And then it hit me, I might not win or PR. Everything I worked for was quickly fading away. I couldn’t let that happen. I HAD to win. The fire grew inside me. I started reciting Eminem.

I had scoped out the finish carefully. I knew after the 25th marker it was a bunch of quick turns through residential streets. Run a block, sharp left turn, one more block, sharp right. There was slight downhill along a curve and then the finish was close. You still couldn’t see it, but you had to know it was there. That was the time to sprint. I had it all envisioned in my mind. I had to do it.

The final turn.
We turned through the residential streets and she still seemed far ahead but slowly, with each turn, block by block, she was getting closer.  I don’t know how, but it was happening. As we made it to the downhill curve, with about a quarter or a half mile to go, I was catching her, pulling alongside, and then blowing by. Everything in me hurt. I was literally telling my muscles to go, urging them with “c’mon, c’mon” muttered under my breath. I would have screamed it louder if I had the energy. As we rounded the curve, the motorcade was now leading me, I could hear them talking about how I came back. My sister and fiancée were there to see it, screaming their hearts out. My sister was yelling “Sprint, sprint!” and I was so scared Orange Shirt was on my tail I dug even deeper and kept willing myself to go faster. It was more pain than I’ve ever felt during a race. I kept yelling “c’mon” to myself. My Dad was standing at the final turn screaming wildly. I was winning. But I hadn’t won yet. It was still up a slope and through a shoot that would not end. I was running scared out of my mind that she would catch me and I would realize my worst fear of being outkicked. But there it FINALLY was. The finish. And I had done the outkicking.

There was no tape to break (I have always wanted to break the tape, but it will have to be a dream for another day) but when I finished I threw my arms up in triumph. I was so glad to be done. So glad the agony was over. The mental anguish of thinking I might not win, I might not PR, was over. I had done both. (I wouldn’t know until later, but my official time was 2:53:10, a PR by over 2 minutes. Eleven seconds off the 2:52 I had hoped for, but at this point it didn’t matter.) I had set a goal a long time ago of winning a marathon someday, and I had done it.
Heading for the finish, and the win.
Sometimes after a race I wonder if I could have gone faster. At Chicago last fall I held back for the first 20 miles for fear of the weather and memories of the previous year’s disappointment. I ran a smart race and was rewarded with a new PR, but when it was all done I wondered if I could have given more. At the end of Charlottesville, I knew I had no more to give. I left everything out there. It was the toughest race I have ever run. The physical pain of a hilly 26.2 miles compounded by the mental anguish of losing until the last possible second was harder than any other race. It turned out to be exactly the best scenario, what I had hoped for: to be behind, but still in contention, and to kick past to win. But knowing now how hard that was and how much it #@*%! hurt, I’ll be more careful what I wish for. I’ve heard it said that “No one really wins a marathon. You just survive it better.” I understand that completely now.

Afterwards, my family and I went out to eat. The waitress saw my finisher’s medal and wondered if I had run. I said I had, and then, as if on cue, she asked what every nonrunner asks someone who just ran a race: “Did you win?” she questioned, half laughing.

“Yea. Actually, I did.”

Dream big,


  1. I loved reading your blog! You are an inspiration! I ran the marathon too and cheered everytime I saw you and Orange Shirt run by. ;) I was wearing a shirt "our doubts are traitors" and that was my mantra up that mile 24 hill when I wondered if I would finally qualify for Boston (I did!). Thanks for sharing your race report!

    1. That's awesome! Thanks for your cheers, they were incredibly helpful :) Also, congrats on Boston!! What a tough course to BQ on.

  2. Great blog. You are an inspiration. Loved your ending with the waitress.

  3. How did you feel physically the following day after the race? It would be interesting to read about your thoughts on post-race recovery.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your blog. My husband and I know your mother and father through the UUCSJS and we're glad they told us about it. We admire them and all their tireless efforts to make the world a better place. How proud they must be to have a daughter like you. Congratulations on a spectacular run!

  5. Great story and great effort! Very inspiring!