I started training for my fourth marathon this morning. I usually don’t write about my marathons until they’re over. Partly, this is because as much as I love running and training for races, I know that it’s not very interesting to anyone who isn’t me or isn’t also training for a marathon.
But the bigger reason that I’m reluctant to talk about them publicly is fear. Specifically, fear of failure. My goal for marathon 4 is an audacious one. I like to think that I don’t care what people think, but I’m human. I care. Sometimes more than others. I don’t want to look stupid by putting my big, scary goal out into the world and failing to achieve it.
But I’m trying to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable; I’m trying to take risks. I’m trying to put my money where my mouth is and talk about hard things like fear and failure. Here it is: I’ve been flirting with the idea of a fourth marathon since the beginning of 2017. 2016 started out with such promise: I had a great training cycle to prepare for marathon 3, Los Angeles. Despite my preparation, that race didn’t go so well. I had a great day at the 2016 Bridge Run in April, but sometime in June, my shin splints came back, and the second half of the year was marked by disruption and injury. I ended up scrapping several races as a result, including what I had hoped would be my fourth marathon, CIM. Those last few months, the races I didn’t run combined with the disaster that was Los Angeles somehow wormed their way inside my head when I wasn’t looking and worked themselves into a kind of psychic Boogeyman who fed on doubt and fear and imposter syndrome and insecurity.
It’s time to show him the door. It’s past time.
2017 has been a good year for running so far. I’ve hit new personal bests in both the half-marathon (first in Phoenix and again in Columbia) and the 10K (at the Bridge Run). I’m not injured, and my running is feeling pretty good these days (or as good as is possible in the South Carolina summer!).
So after a lot of back and forth, I finally registered for the Richmond Marathon. I am gunning for another personal best. In theory, this shouldn’t be hard. My current marathon best is from 2014. It was my first marathon, and it was on a notoriously difficult course. The second try in Paris was less than a year after my stress fracture, so it’s a minor miracle that I finished at all, let alone with a respectable time. Marathon 3 was going to be my redemption, the one where I finally earned my BQ* and proved to everyone what I was truly capable of. Or at least that was the secret narrative I had constructed for myself ahead of time. And it was a failure. A big one. Not only did I miss my Boston time by a half-hour, but I also ran slower than I had off the broken foot. It was devastating.
I have learned from all of these experiences. Mostly, I have learned that the marathon doesn’t care about redemption or narratives of any kind. I’ve learned that the only person I need to prove anything to is me, and I do that every time I lace up, not only on race day. I’ve learned that the marathon gives us 26 miles to make mistakes, but it also gives us 26 miles of opportunity and twenty-six miles to just run and not worry about whatever else is happening in the world around us on both the macro- and the micro-levels.
I’m going to Richmond in November. I have twenty weeks that started today to get myself ready. When I get there, I’m going to run my best, whatever that means on that day. I hope that it means I can nail my goal time. If it doesn’t, I hope it’s still good enough to qualify for Boston in 2019. If it’s not, I hope to finish smiling with my Oiselle Volée friends and teammates. If I can do that, there is no such thing as failure. One of the reasons I chose Richmond is because a big group of some of my favorite running friends will be there running or cheering (or both!). Even if my race is a disaster, and I want to be clear that I do not expect that it will be, but even if the worst happens, I will be with friends who understand the Run Love, both its peaks and its valleys. So whatever happens, even if I fail to reach my A and B goals, even if I fail at C, it will be a good weekend with good friends.
I’m already on my way.
*BQ, also known as Boston Qualifying time, is runner slang for the finishing time that a runner must achieve in order to register for the Boston Marathon, which is the oldest and one of the most famous marathons in the world. It is the only one which requires participants to qualify by time (runners can avoid the qualification requirement if they agree to run for one of the race’s charity partners; this option requires the runner to raise a certain amount of money for the charity in exchange for the race spot). But here’s the hitch: achieving the BQ time isn’t a guarantee of being able to run the marathon. If the number of BQ runners is greater than the field size for qualified athletes, then those who are the fastest among the pool of applicants in their age and gender group will be accepted. Last year, runners hd to be 2 minutes and 9 seconds faster than the published BQ time. In 2016, it was 2:28.