It has now been two weeks since I had the great opportunity to participate in the 2016 Rock'n'Roll Savannah Marathon. I can say with 100% confidence that this was one of the hardest challenges I have ever faced both mentally and physically.
To be honest and blunt, I did not reach my goal. I actually fell quite far from it - around 42 minutes and 50 seconds from it. Over the past few days I have been reflecting on the actions and events with this marathon.
What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? How did this happen?
In my reflection I have come across two parts. The first being the lessons learned - key points I'd like to share so maybe next time, for you or for me, the same mistakes are not made. The second is my accomplishments - parts of the race, training, and life lessons that I'm proud of. During the latter half of the race and following it all I could think about was how I had failed and how I did not come close to my goal. In the days following though, and with some reflection, I realized I did not only fail - so many aspects of the race and the weekend were a success that it would be foolish of me to ignore them.
It's all mental
Well, maybe not all mental, but running is definitely not just a physical journey. You can't just train your body and expect the brain to go along with it. In my marathon, I hit the wall - that place where I thought I couldn't go any farther - and I hit it fairly early. Miles 18-20 were 100% a mental battle. I first hit it at mile 17. I thought I just needed to eat and I'd be good to go. So I stopped, walked a bit, then picked back up. But then at mile 20, it hit me again. From there on out, my positive mental game was being challenged constantly. "I can't keep doing this anymore, there's no way." "Why am I even here, I shouldn't even be here." "This is what you get for not training much this last week, karma." "There goes another person running by you." "You have so far to go, might as well walk now." When you start preparing for your marathon, keep your mental game in mind. Find your groove, find your support system, find your friends to help you along the path because at some point, in the training or in the race, you will need that energy boost to power you through to the finish line.
26.2 miles is far
This sounds crazy - I know, but perspective helped and also did not help me. The night before, I remember being out to dinner with my girlfriend talking about the race and as we were talking we got on the topic of it I was worried about the distance. Note - I had done a 20 mile run during my training about 4 weeks ago. Here's what I said: "I ran 20 miles before. I only have to run 6 more after that, I'm not worried." Mathematically, that is correct. Physically, a 10k is still a 10k. But the overall game is nowhere near "just a 10k." A 10k first thing in the morning is way, way different than a 10k 20 miles in. Let's put it in a different perspective. My goal was 4 hours to complete a marathon. It took us less time to drive from Atlanta to Savannah than it did for me to fully complete a marathon. I underestimated 26.2 miles and overestimated my abilities - 26.2 miles is still 26.2 miles.
Don't get cocky
I'm now known as one of the runners in my family. I told people before the marathon I was going to run the marathon, and they thought of me as a runner. Some thought I was fast. Some thought I was crazy. And all of it got to me. Training for a marathon put me in a strange place of whether or not I identify as a runner. Yes, I went running fairly often, I even went on some group runs at the local Big Peach Running Company. But even from going to those runs, I was aware that people have been doing this for longer, knew each other, and I was just stopping by for a second. Also talking with my friends who run way, way, way faster than I do, they can bust out 5 miles in sub 7:30 no problem. But then when I told them, "I can't go out tonight, I've got a long run tomorrow" and then subsequently would share that I had to run 18 or 20 miles, they would act like I'm crazy. In the end, I kind of liked being a bit crazy - but a marathon is a big deal and should be treated as one. A marathon can be accomplished and is accomplished by many people each year, but if you let that all get to you and get to your head, it will not end well.
Think about race day health 2 weeks early
The Monday before the race I woke up feeling meh. By 10AM I had a cold and by 12:00 I was driving home from work. Yes, no joke, I was sick from Monday to Thursday the week before my first marathon. On Wednesday and Thursday, I started questioning if I should just do the half marathon instead. This led to other subconscious side effects like not being as confident in myself and in my body (see below). If I had gone into race day 100% healthy (and had been healthy all week), maybe a bit over confident but nonetheless knowledgeable of what my body could and could not do, it may have been a different outcome. The key part is that you can't start thinking about race day health the night before, it's a couple week process. Plan ahead and plan well.
Find your food
I should've planned my food intake better during training and during the race. I relied solely on what was handed out on the race course...and I quickly became sick of them. Orange and lemon flavors didn't make my stomach hurt, but I wasn't necessarily enjoying them. In the weeks of training, I should have worked more on fueling and hydration. I had gels to practice with, yes, but not the typical ones. During training, it took me stopping for 10-15 minutes at a water fountain to drown the taste down my throat. However during the race, I wasn't going to stop for 10-15 minutes at a water station to eat my gel so why did I practice with that? Gels cost a dollar or two, buy a bunch of them and test out what you like. Don't rely on what is free, experiment beforehand and find out what works for you.
Find the right race
A little bit inline with the last one - the half marathon and marathon series presented by Rock'n'Roll is pretty fun. This was my first full marathon, but the half marathons were always fun and I've thoroughly enjoyed them (Denver & DC), so I figured the full would be inline with the halves. However, one flaw for the marathoners is the number of people that sign up for the half versus the full. When mile 11.5 came around and the course was the split between the half and the full, I was feeling great. The first 11.5 miles were fun, and I had hopes of hitting my goal. We were running through historic, downtown Savannah, there were fans everywhere, people cheering, funny signs, and many more people around you to bounce energy off of. I ran a solid 9:30ish pace for 11.5 miles, not too shabby. But after that 11.5 mile split, it was demoralizing. Look at the picture below - that was how it looked right after the split. No shade, not fans, just a slow trudge on a highway in a line with other runners. Brutal. The course was out and back, so not many fans made it out that far and it was just physically and mentally disheartening. I understand, more people paying for the half means that there needs to be enjoyment and fun there, but that second half, man oh man, it was tough.
Find the right race for you - when I race I thrive off of other people and the experience, you may not, but whatever the case is, find the right one for you.
Be confident in your body
Trust. Running a marathon takes trust in yourself and in your body. At the time of the race I had surface level confidence but I did not have trust deep down. I was sick the week before. I didn't stay by the training plan 100% (maybe 80-85%). My longest run was 20 miles once. I didn't prevent chaffing beforehand. I was unsure about too many factors that led me to mistrust my abilities and my body. Looking more at my training calendar below (the orange ones are races), I now see there are many aspects that I could of done better with.
Once my mental game wavered, I did not have the psychological strength and physical trust to keep up with my previous pace.
I didn't give up
Partly because the only way back to the finish line was to either walk/run or sit at the medical tent and find someone to give you a lift - but the only way you'd ever find me catching a ride back is if I physically can't move anymore because of a rolled ankle or something wrong with my legs. I harped on the mental challenge that I faced, but I am proud of the remaining hope my brain and my body gave me. Run half a mile, walk a little. Run a quarter of a mile, walk a little. That's about as much as I could muster at the end. As much as it sucked seeing people pass (especially two pace groups), I'm proud of my physical and mental capacity to not give in.
The first half was a blast
Running through historic downtown Savannah was a dream. The streets, the houses, the fans, the other runners, the mood, the history - all of it came together to create a great experience and a great run. It was beautiful.
I ran into old friends
Seeing people you know at at race always brings your mood up. Running into my old roommate who I didn't know ran or was going to be there was probably one of the best ways to start the race. He was doing the half marathon and was one of the most motivated and motivating people that morning. He was shooting for a goal and has plans to go even further next year - inspiration for the morning. Here's to running Nashville in April, Jack!
I did not let the race define the weekend
Savannah is beautiful. It has great food, a great atmosphere, great beer, great wine, great views - so many positive aspects to it. My girlfriend and I were there for the weekend - the whole weekend. From the race expo to dinner out, we were able to explore and experience as much of Savannah as we could. Sure, I had a runner's wobble for a bit of it after the race, but so did a bunch of people. Don't let results dictate the day or the weekend.
I challenged myself
If my first marathon turned out to be a breeze and I hit my expectations or exceeded them, I don't know how I would feel. I would definitely be proud and happy with it, but I would also know that I didn't set my goals high enough. A good challenge, and a good life lesson moment can be more impactful than breezing through. I did not fully accomplish my goal, and felt like I failed a little bit in my marathon, but I know now that it was the right challenge and obstacle for me.
I ran a marathon
Yes, I walked some, but I did put one foot in front of another for 26.2 miles and by golly I'm proud of that. Even though it didn't go how I dreamed or expected, I can cross that off my list and hang the medal on my wall. In the photos below, you can see that I'm walking (excuse the watermark (also note these photos are not mine but provided by marathonfoto)), but I am proud of finishing
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. - Samuel Beckett