New Orleans Marathon. February 28, 2016. My chance to try and podium in a major event. No pressure, right? Just go down there, have fun, and run (and to quote my aunt, “save the Hurricanes until after”)! In the weeks/days leading up to the race, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I was going to run 7 minute miles for 26.2 miles. How is that possible? Sure, I’ve done it a bunch of times before, but to do it again? That’s crazy talk. I looked at my training logs to remind myself of the work I did, I examined my beat up feet and worn down shoes. I thought of the miles in Brooklyn, Princeton, Philadelphia, Miami, and Grand Cayman (wow, not bad for a training cycle). I recalled my favorite memories during past races – seeing my family at the finish line in Long Island, all those (10!) times I made the right on Hereford then left on Boylston in Boston, the final left turn in Prospect Park at mile 26 of the Brooklyn Marathon, and running on an air strip during mile 48 of the Nashville 50 mile Ultramarathon. But nothing helped, I just couldn’t get rid of the anxiety and self-doubt. I was hoping that when the gun went off, my head and body would sort themselves out and muscle memory would take over…
While looking around in Corral 1, I noticed the half dozen or so female elite runners, doing all sorts of jumpy warm-up exercise thingies, in their crisp singlets advertising their sponsors. And then there was me. No pre-race routine (unless you count repeating, “oh shit” over and over again), no fancy sponsors, just my favorite (stinky) sparkly soul headband, probably-time-to-be-replaced orange CPTC New Balance singlet, and a few Honey Stingers gels stuffed into the waistband of my shorts (little did I know, I would not be needing those today). The gun fired, and off we went, some much faster than others, but all of us doing our best to avoid the potholes and vie for shade as we paraded down St. Charles. The craziness settled after about a half hour when we reached that point in the race – usually around mile 4 of a full marathon – where the initial euphoria wears off, and everyone realizes exactly what they’ve gotten themselves into and suddenly everything is very quiet. I heard Sam’s unmistakable footfall behind me (he was running the half, and on his way to a near PR), and tried to quiet the nay-saying voices in my head by convincing myself that it was just a training run. We were on the Westside highway, running into that ever-present headwind, nailing another 6 x 2 mile workout. Alas, I could trick myself for only so long. By the time we got to mile 7, I realized I was working way too hard to keep up a 7:05 pace.
Something was wrong. Enter: panic mode, quickly followed by: stifled-cry-while-trying-not-to-choke mode. I signaled for Sam to pull up next to me so I could tell him things were not going well. He replied with some words of encouragement, clearly not getting what I was telling him. I tried sending him a message via ESP (and a few of my best dirty looks) to let him know, “DUDE. WE HAVE A NO BUENO SITUATION HERE.” No such luck. I resorted to actual speaking and told him I was thinking of calling it a day at 13.1. That got his attention. He stayed next to me, and did his best to keep me going, but I just wasn’t having it. At mile 12.5 the half marathoners turned off for the finish line and let me tell you, I have never been so jealous of half marathoners in my life. Normally, I love it when they split off and we have the course all to ourselves. Not today. I almost went with them – and could have collected a finisher’s medal and avoided the dreaded “DNF” (Did Not Finish) – but waited until the very last cone dividing our paths before following my fellow full marathoners, determined to try again. I desperately wanted to get my shit together.
It was my final attempt trying to save what was turning out to be a disastrous race. Between miles 12.5 and 15, I could see that I was the 12th female and just a few minutes behind the lead woman, and – in what can only be described as a cruel joke from the marathon gods – my pace slowed from 7:05 to 7:15 to 7:20, and eventually, 8:00. I got passed by two women. I wished them well as I peeled off the course just beyond a medical tent. I saw Sam and started to sob uncontrollably. I was done. My marathon ended at 15.33 miles. I had just DNFed my first race. A medic came running over, asking if I was sick. In between tears and wiping gobs of snot off my face, I answered, “no.” He asked if I was hurt. Again, “no.” He wanted to get me a wheelchair. He wanted to call over another medic. Dude, seriously, I am not hurt. The poor guy looked so confused, if this girl wasn’t sick or injured, why did she just drop out of the race? “I just don’t have it today,” I said. Thankfully, Sam waved him off. And before doing anything else, I took off my number. I wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible, I was embarrassed by my yellow marathon bib.
In the hours (ok, fine, days) that followed, I was so sad. So disappointed. All those hours training in the cold, on vacation, early in the morning, late at night, and for what? So I could run 60% of a marathon? Much like you do after a relationship ends, I asked myself, what happened? Were there any signs? Could I have seen this coming? I guess the short answer is “probably” and the long answer is a conversation to be had after a glass or two of wine (preferably with a box of tissues handy). I tried not to focus on the race and spent the next three days in Lafayette, Louisiana where I nursed my bruised ego in the form of boudin, po’boys, and bread pudding.
I took a few days off from running, and then – thanks to some advice from my coach – got back outside. We agreed that the best way to get rid of the demons of the New Orleans Marathon was to run: I’m signed up to run a half marathon this weekend. If all goes well, I’ll have a finisher’s medal and hopefully a little bit of that self-confidence I keep hearing about. If not, well, at least I’ll get a free bagel.