Last night, I left my office at 4 and drove to Morgantown, West Virginia, to lecture at the West Virginia University School of Nursing today. It was a very nice lecture with great questions and afterwards I had a quick lunch with the former Dean of the school who asked me how the idea of the writing to work out my stresses came to me. Other than I have always written and it has helped me to work out my stresses over time, I didn’t know what to answer. I suppose the 26 essays for a 26 mile race could be called cute or clever (the latter being her word for it) but I can’t imagine that I am the only one who has taken to writing a lot in some format. All my format does it provide some coherence and gives me a sense of when I will reach my goal.
As the days go on we get more news. The surviving brother accused of the bombing sent a text of “LOL” to his friend when his friend texted the accused that he looked like the suspect in the picture. Apparently the young man had even bragged about knowing how to build a bomb. And his friends tried to help to protect him. All of this leads me to believe even more that the young man who my friends and I just thought was acting like a real jerk on April 15 at about 3 in the afternoon at the government center stop on the green line of the T may truly have been the surviving accused. How many people out there would joke about such a thing?
But setting that aside, a drive from Baltimore to Morgantown is characterized by one very important feature. There are lots of hills. Now, the hills between Baltimore and Morgantown are bigger when you get closer to Morgantown. And if we were to think about them as hills on a race we could think of them as rolling hills rather than the mostly downhill first half of Boston and the four distinct uphills of the second half.
Combine the analytic nature of what the investigators are finding about the continuing flow of evidence in Boston with the thinking about hills, and what do I get to write about today? An analysis of my race. How the hills affected me? And how the hills brought on the unexpected. How hills have repeatedly brought on the unexpected for me. Yet how similar my last three races have been. While this theme is only weakly linked to the negative events of the day that I am trying to toss aside like petals plucked from a flower, even simple reflection on the positive aspect of running the race itself will help me to take one step closer to putting the negatives behind me as well.
With that in mind, let’s look at what I ran—based on my Garmin watch. One note before I start—the Gamrin tells me I ran 26.4 miles. Perhaps I added a bit by running from side to side to get water at the different water stops. I won’t ponder this too much because if my average pace was correct and I had just run 26.2, I would have qualified for Boston again next year. Not that I have any thought of doing it again next year, it would simply have been nice to know that if I wanted to I could.
Setting that aside and focusing on how long it took me to get from the start to the finish regardless of how many miles I ran to get there it is interesting to note that my last three marathon finish times were all within 91 seconds of each other. I ran 3:15:45 at the NCR Trail Marathon in 2011. I ran a 3:14:25 at the Lower Potomac River Marathon in 2012. And I ran a 3:15:56 at the Boston Marathon in 2013. And that Boston run was with a lot more base but only 4 weeks that I ran between 40 and 50 miles and just 2 weeks when I ran more than 50 miles since the first of the year. That was all I could manage and the runs were high quality, which was the focus on the training. I can’t say how I would have done if I had run more miles. And it doesn’t matter as I didn’t. The training is done. The race is done. I ran exactly what I trained to run.
I can also look at splits and compare them. The NCR trail marathon began just a bit faster than the Boston Marathon. But I was able to run the NCR trail marathon much more consistently hanging around 7:20 until the last six miles. And even the last six miles were held under 8 until the last 2 when we had to run uphill. Of the three races to compare, the NCR Trail marathon actually had the slowest time at 20 miles, but I hung in well until the very end.
Lower Potomac also started a bit faster than Boston. In fact, the time remained faster until the conclusion of mile 16. I’d say I overdid it at mile 16 in Boston as I ran a 7:02. But I don’t think it was really all that bad as I continued to run and even pulled a 7:10 at mile 22 in Boston (fastest mile 22 by far) but then closed with three miles at 8+. What helped in contrast at Lower Potomac was the flatness at the end.
My body knew how to handle the mostly flat NCR Trail marathon but didn’t know what to do with that final uphill. My body made the most of the flat ending of Lower Potomac to open the door to Boston in the first place. In Boston, my body didn’t know what to make of the first 13 miles downhill and just had nothing left to give to try to pull those last three miles back down. Through mile 20 was my fastest ever. So I was doing something right in terms of the slower start and then picking up just as I had discussed with my main running mentor. What was most interesting was that in the mile that included Heartbreak Hill I still ran an 8:04 and managed to run a very respectable mile after that. It was simply that I reached a point at which I really couldn’t get going “fast” again. I realize that I know many individuals who would be hard pressed to run one 8:11 mile—let alone close out a marathon with that being the slowest mile. But it was not fast for me.
If I had it to do over again—I don’t know that I would have done anything differently—except to find a way to dig a little deeper at the conclusion. And if I ever do get a chance to do it again, the whole goal will be to reach the last five miles and put myself back up against the test. Looking at the last three marathons the path to 20 and what I ran at 20 was highly variable. The paths through the last 10K were also highly variable with one slowing down but not too much—one being somewhat slow and then really slow—and one being a mix of up and down in the last six.
Just as I didn’t know what the hills would bring that day—either while I ran them or in the aftermath—and I did not know what the hills would bring today—other than a great opportunity to present my word—I look ahead to new challenges. Understanding them somewhat in advance. Being on the lookout for completely unanticipated events along the way. Making the most of every opportunity and every challenge that presents itself. And praying to God and for St. Sebastian’s intercession that the dreams and opportunities that motivate the journeys through the challenges will not ever be swept away from me like they were for so many on April 15.