The Woodlands Marathon and my 25.4 Mile Misadventure: Reflections on the Run #8

The morning of the race I felt primed and ready to go. It was surprisingly cool (mid-50s) for March in Texas. My training and taper had all gone well. I had fought through some nagging injuries during the training cycle, but was feeling about 90% of peak physical fitness – good enough to give it a shot.

Qualifying and running the Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of sport for many amateur distance runners. I have wanted to run Boston since shortly after my first marathon in 2007. At one time I had made it my goal to qualify for Boston by the time I turned 30. Well, three kids and way too many beers later, that never happened.

While I have been an on again/off again runner for at least a decade now, it wasn’t until 2014 that I really began to train seriously and see marked improvement. I went from a casual 2-3 days a week jogger to tackling a disciplined training schedule, running 6 days a week.

A large part of this desire to run is because it is one of the pillars of my recovery. Another part is because it is simply something I enjoy: being outside, breathing deeply, feeling my body move quickly through time and space. It makes me feel alive.

I ran two marathons in 2015. In both of them I cramped in the later miles of the race and fell short of my time goals. 2015 was particularly painful, because the rest of my running buddies went on to run a fantastic race and all qualify for Boston 2017 (which will be run here in just a few weeks – April 17th – Patriots’ Day in Boston) .

In December of 2016 I ran the San Antonio Rock n Roll Marathon, and hit a new low with my first DNF (did not finish). But I regrouped and set my sights on The Woodlands Marathon.

A lot of things have to come together for a good marathon. Good weather, dialed-in nutrition, hard training, a smart race strategy, and much more. Saturday, March 4th was supposed to be my day. Early on race morning I had the chance to talk to one of the elite athletes over a cup of coffee at the hotel. This conversation gave me confidence, and I was feeling good about the race.

I executed a perfect race strategy. I ran conservatively in the early miles, and employed every trick in the book. My mile splits were all within a few seconds of one another (7:03-7:07 pace per/mile). My running buddy, Hunter Shelby, drove all the way over from San Antonio to pace me out the last 6.2 miles of the race – where I had historically struggled the most. I kept telling myself, “Just make it to mile 20, just another Saturday long run, and then Hunter will be there to carry you the rest of the way.”

And sure enough, there on a long stretch I spotted him. With his help I tapped into reserves I didn’t know I had. It was like an out of body experience, where the mental will to keep running was harder than the actual physical effort of holding race pace. My body was moving, but I was racing with pure willpower.

When I crossed the finish line I raised my arms in triumphant exhaustion. As soon as I stopped running, barely having crossed the timing mat, my legs began to wobble and I nearly blacked out. Two race volunteers led me to a chair and got me some Gatorade. My face was tingling, and when I took a sip I yacked water and GU gel. But then I felt much better!

I spent most of that day thinking I had crushed my goal. But there was a reason I was 5 minutes faster than I had planned. The course was .8 miles short. The lead vehicle had missed a turn in the first mile of the race, leading the runners off course.

.8 miles. Had I kept running, I am sure that I still would have run my Boston qualifying time. In fact, there is a formula for when such minor course errors are detected. An extrapolated/adjusted time takes the runner’s average pace for the known distance, and adds that to the missed distance. My time would still have been 3 minutes under the qualifying standard for my age group.

It took several days, and slow communication, but The Woodlands Marathon finally contacted us to let us know that the BAA (Boston Athletic Association – who organizes the Boston Marathon) would not accept the adjusted times. The Houston Chronicle even quoted me in their article on the mishap.

I don’t fault Boston for this. They have their criteria, and this is sport. The Boston Marathon is not the kind of race where everyone gets a trophy for participation. You have to earn your place in this historic race.

The truth is, I only ran 25.4 miles. The race began, then ended. But it was not 26.2 miles.

To say that I was not devastated would be a lie. My heart has sunk every time I’ve thought about it. It was like finally achieving a hard fought prize, only to have it snatched away and smashed. Every sore step in the days following the race were made more sore by this mess up.

I cannot change the mistake that was made. There’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

But what I have determined is that I’m not finished. I have another .8 miles to run. I just have to run another 25.4 to get there.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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