On Sunday, the streets of Eugene close down for my favorite race of the year. Although the Eugene marathon is a relatively new race, they have learned quickly and put on a world class event. This year was no exception as we were further blessed by the most beautiful spring conditions that could be imagined. With temperatures in the 60′s, no wind, and plenty of sun -the setting was perfect for a great race.
For several years I have been training with the goal of qualifying for the Boston marathon. This was the goal that I took into this race. I needed to put up a 3:15 to do it. While I have been chasing this 7:25 average for some time, this year is the first realistic chance that I have had to accomplish it. The closest that I have come previously was a 3:39 at the Portland marathon some years ago.
Now to say that I have been chasing this goal might be a little misleading. I set a lot of goals. I am a goal oriented athlete that sets goals for every stage of my training. This one has been a bit of a white whale for me though. Its not a benchmark or something I would like to accomplish if its not too much trouble. This goal is tattooed across my heart, even though my focus has shifted priorities to the triathlon, I will dammed if I let this one get past me.
So with that 3:15 in my sights, I shuffled through the typical pre race anxieties and madness as I set off to pull out the perfect race on a perfect day. From the start the race went smoothly as I settled into a smooth 7:23 pace. I found a great companion a few miles into the run and the two of us chatted away the miles. We took time to thank all of the uniformed officers and volunteers that we passed along the way. The half marathon mark came and went. And by the time we reached the dreaded 18 mile mark, we were both still feeling great cruising along at the same 7:23 average. With over a minute in the bank at this point, I was feeling very optimistic about my chances of finally putting up that 3:15. Then with the 20 mile marker in sight I felt a sudden spasm in my left inner calf muscle.
Trying to calm my urge to panic, I slowed off of my pace a bit to allow for the muscle to recover. A hundred yards later it happened again, but this time the muscle stayed cramped up. Come on! Come on! I started to shout at my leg, begging for the tightness to subside for just 6 more miles. I slowed down further as my average pace for the race clicked from 7:23 down to 7:24. I breathed deeply as I tried to calm myself down. I still had time in the bank, this slowdown wasn’t going to kill me. I could still do this. I approached the water station past mile 20 and seeing that I was struggling, the volunteers started cheering me along. You got this! Keep it up! My leg again cramped violently along with my hamstring, I had to throw my arms out for balance to keep from toppling over. I could see the faces of the volunteers cringe in pain with me as they could see the wheels coming off the bus.
I fought my urges to stop and walk as my pace slowed further, with my leg slipping in and out of cramps, I watched my average pace drop to 7:25, 7:26, 7:27. Every time I tried to speed back up, my muscles would lock up. I kept pushing on through the unbelievable pain. Once my average pace slipped to 7:30, I knew that my dreams of hitting the 3:15 were done for the day. My heart began to sink in my chest as I tried to fight off my tears of disappointment. I had worked so hard for this, and wanted it so bad. Although I was feeling the sting of defeat, I kept pushing on. When I made it to mile 24, I was passed by the 3:20 pace group. And while I was disappointed to watch another benchmark slip past me, I suddenly took encouragement by the fact that with a 3:20 in sight, I was still putting up one hell of a race.
For the next two miles I hobbled through the burn of my cramping leg as I pushed myself towards the finish. Once I hit mile 26 my leg was almost completely cramped up, but fueled by the cheering crowd I began swinging my bad leg like a prosthetic limb. Even if i had to drag my body on my hands and knees, I was determined to cross that finish line. My pain must have been evident as I could see my struggle mirrored in the faces of the spectators I passed towards the end. As I rounded Hayward field I threw my arms up in triumphant victory to the delight of the thousands watching. When I crossed the finish to a new best time of 3:23, a 16 minute personal best, my tears of disappointment were replaced by tears of joy.
I had missed my goal of 3:15. That still burns a little. But in the pursuit of that goal, I pushed myself mentally and physically further than I ever have. The way I see it, If you are reaching every goal that you set for yourself, then you probably aren’t reaching high enough. I gave that race every bit I had to give, and I am left with an utmost respect for those individuals that have managed to qualify for the Boston marathon. With a bit more preparation, and maybe a little luck, I hope to be one of them next year.