Marathon Monday has come and gone and 48 hours later, I am already yearning for more. If you had told me even as recently as a few years ago that I would enjoy running – let alone running marathons – I would have laughed in your face. But it’s not even running the races in which I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned a lot about myself during all of the training. All of the many times where I either decided to run or not to run and the good times and the bad times and the ways that I reacted throughout all of it. It all informed me about something.
The marathon journey for me has been a long and winding road. I ran my first half-marathon a few years ago in New York City. My goal was to finish and my stretch goal was to be under 2 hours. I ran it in 1’39”, surprising myself and far surpassing my expectations. Two months later, I ran another one, this time a few minutes slower. I cried in disappointment.
As far as marathons go, I was registered to run the NYC Marathon last year. Serendipitously, in the lead-up to that, I got an opportunity to fundraise for The Boston Police Foundation for The Boston Marathon, which was a month prior to NYC. I decided to do that since I was already training, figuring I could kill two birds with one stone.
I wrote about that experience extensively, and even though I finished (which unlocked a new milestone for me), I was pretty disappointed because I got rhabdomyolysis in Mile 11. This slowed me down considerably and whether or not I am being hard on myself, I did not feel as good about the achievement as I wanted to. Because of the rhabdomyolysis, I had to defer my NYC Marathon entry for 2021 to 2022, and I instead set my sights on the 2022 Boston Marathon in April.
Given what I learned about my first marathon experience, I doubled down in my efforts for the 2022 marathon. First and foremost, I hired a running coach. The coach put me on a 3.5 month training plan while helping me with my mobility and my form. Second, I adhered very strictly to this plan and trained much harder for this race than I had the last time around. Whereas in the first go-round I would occasionally make excuses for myself, I made none this time. Even when on vacation with my fiancée, I made sure to do my long runs, even if they ate up valuable hours of vacation time. Additionally, I incorporated fuel (food and drink) into my training runs, and regular massage therapy. It might sound crazy, but I would go without water for many of my long runs previously, and the lack of hydration was a contributing factor to the rhabdomyolysis. With all of the changes in my training and diet, I felt very good about how things would go this time around.
Indeed, it was showing in my results. Two weeks prior to the race, I set a personal record for myself in a half-marathon with a split time of 7’26”, besting my time a few years ago by a few minutes. For many of my long runs, I was consistently running this type of pace, sometimes even faster paces in the low 7’s. My recoveries were better, and I could consistently run day-to-day without being too sore or tired, and I was in noticeably less duress on the days following my longer training runs.
I had three goals for myself leading up to the marathon: a baseline goal, a standard goal, and a stretch goal. My baseline goal was just to run the race on my own terms. Last time around, the injury I sustained in Mile 11 did not allow me to really “run my race.” I spent 15 miles dragging myself to the finish line. And while I think I proved I am a tough cookie by doing that, you want to enjoy yourself as much as you can, and so that is something I wanted for myself.
My standard goal was to run in under four hours. This is a big milestone you hear people talking about in the world of running, whether or not you can break four hours. Based on the way I was pacing in training, this felt like it was easily achievable for me.
My stretch goal – which, let’s face it, for me is my real goal – was to be under 3’30”. This would require an 8’ pace per mile. Given that my splits were notably faster than that in training, I figured I could extrapolate to 8’ pacing over the course of a longer run.
A little under a week to go before the race, after I had done all of my long runs and was beginning my tapering in my training, I started to feel sick. At first, I was not very alarmed, because I feel run down from time to time, especially if I did not get a lot of sleep the night before. However, in this case, I started to feel progressively worse and worse. I tested myself for COVID multiple times and tested negative. Finally, by the end of the week, I tested positive for COVID-19.
At that point, with mere days to go before the race, I felt like the wind had been sucked out of me. I had spent countless hours training and preparing myself for a race that – even if I was able to run – I would be severely compromised. Even if I somehow miraculously fully recovered before race day, the days leading up to the race would be spent fighting off a virus and putting my body in the worst possible shape to run a full marathon. And to make matters worse, the way I felt, there was no way I would be better by race day. At one point, I could hardly speak because my throat was so sore from all of the coughing.
In terms of running the race, the decision truly came down to the wire. Based on when my symptoms presented themselves, I was not deemed contagious by race day and could run provided that I had my n95 mask on when in close quarters with others. But the issue was around whether or not I would be in a position to give it a try. By Monday, I felt well enough that I wanted to at least give it a shot.
The whole experience was very different and a little weird. I had been in isolation leading up to this point, so there was no one really to embrace me or wish me luck in person. Last time, I fundraised with someone and we went to the start line together. This time, I was all alone, fairly nervous that things might fall apart for me or god forbid that I might have a medical issue trying to run the race. It is a weird feeling being all alone with those feelings.
Eventually, we got to the start line, and I tried to let it all float away. I did a good job in the beginning of not making the same mistake I had made the last time around, which is going too fast in the first seven miles of the race. I felt fairly nauseous from the moment the race began but my lung capacity was unaffected. However, my body was very tired, and things started to “slow down” for me much sooner than they usually do. Normally, I can get up to 15 or 16 miles before my body starts to really push back and things start to feel heavy. This time around, I would say I made it about 8 or 9 miles before I had that sensation. That being said, I learned from my past mistakes and did a much better job about taking in carbs, electrolytes, and water much more frequently, and this helped to re-energize me in moments of need.
Along the route, I had plenty of support from my fiancée at Miles 8 and the finish line, my cousin’s wife and his kids at Mile 13, a friend at Mile 14, my parents at Mile 18, and a surprise friend at Mile 22. Of course, everyone along the route is cheering for you the entire way, and this really lifted my spirits. There were several moments where I thought to myself that I might have to throw in the towel and that it was not worth the squeeze. But thinking about all the people who supported me along the way was a constant reminder to never quit.
I will talk about one such moment towards the end of the race when things were getting really dire. At this point, I knew that my goal of 3’30” was out the window. I had now set my sights on at least accomplishing my goal of being sub-4. My high school wrestling coach and advisor, Steve Ward, recently passed away and I shared some anecdotes about what he meant to me. It turned out that he was an avid marathoner and had run his fastest race in under 3 hours. As I was in those last few miles, I distinctly remember telling myself, “Mr. Ward would have already finished the race by now. You have to at least finish.” And I could kind of imagine him saying haphazardly to me, “You know, you already ran 22 miles, you might as well just do the other 4.” That got me to the finish line.
When I made the right turn onto Hereford and the left turn on Boylston Street, I started to get emotional, and when I finally crossed the finish line, I cried. I had accomplished my main goals of running this race on my own terms and getting to under 4, and I had battled through some adverse circumstances to get there. I was proud of myself and very grateful for the outpouring of support from so many friends and family that has continued until this very moment.
Even though I have tried to be less hard on myself, as time has passed, I have found myself still wishing I had accomplished what I really set out to accomplish that day, which is the sub 3’30” time. Regardless of the circumstances, I know I am capable of doing it and I want to do it. So while I have gotten better about learning to appreciate what is inside my locus of control and not fretting about things outside of my control, I still have the itch. I’m not beating myself up about it, I’m just not satisfied yet.
So with that, I have resolved that I will probably run the NYC Marathon this fall. The only reason I would not is because my honeymoon is a month beforehand – but I think I still intend to do it, and probably Boston again next year. There really is just no way to explain the sensation of running that race. I used to make fun of the people who enjoy running (and I have been making fun of people who are still wearing their medals around Boston two days later, because come on, you have to move on eventually), but now I kind of get it.
If you are reading this and you supported me in some way with a donation, a cheerful message, or in some other way, let me emphasize again how grateful I am. There are so many of you that it is hard to give everyone the specific attention I would like to give, but it means so much to have people who push you to realize things about yourself that you would never find otherwise. From the bottom of my heart: thank you. But we are not done yet.
Nice job, Jeff!