“The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.”– Juma Ikangaa
Wise words. Juma is a marathon runner from Tanzania known mostly for winning the 1989 New York City Marathon in a course-record time of 02:08:01. He, also, went on to compete in the Boston Marathon several times, finishing twice in second place. I think this man knows what he is talking about.
Looking back upon my own goals and how I went about accomplishing them, speaks volumes, as well.
For the Pittsburgh Marathon 2014, I ultimately just wanted to finish the race. By “finish”, I mean with no walk breaks and a respectable course time of under 4:30:00. (What can I say? I am very competitive with myself.)
Pittsburgh is not an “easy” course and is known for its hills, especially in the back half. This was my first full marathon and I had no idea what it was like to run more than 13.1 miles. I took this endeavor very seriously. I trained faithfully, 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day. I ran, I lifted weights, I stretched and did yoga. I counted calories, fat, vital nutrients, and glasses of water. I steered clear of alcohol, eating out, and parties that might tempt me to indulge. I struggled with nutrition and hydration while performing long training runs and experienced stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. This was my biggest road block in training. I would hit my “wall” around 18 miles because I had nothing left to draw energy from. However, by race day, I nailed it. There was ONE flavor of GU that sat well with me and the trick to drinking water was to force small, frequent sips, rather than wait till I desperately needed to rehydrate. So, on race day, when mile 18 came along, I breezed right through it. Things got tough in mile 23 and 24 and, by mile 25, my mental game (or lack thereof) fell. I took my first walking step across that 25th Mile mark. I stopped and took a picture of it. At that moment, every muscle in my feet, legs, butt, and even my back seized up and began to spasm and cramp up painfully. It took me well over 20 minutes to cover the final 1.20 miles. I somehow managed a painfully stiff running stride by the 26th mile mark and the final .20 is all a blur. (The pictures are not pretty, either!) I completed the marathon with a course time of 04:37:36…and my personal failure at Mile 25 has haunted me ever since. (Without it, my time would have been around 4:27:00.) The picture of Mile 25 has been the screensaver on my phone ever since and will remain there until I return to the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 7, 2017 and “MAKE MILE 25 MY B*TCH”!
Fast forward to the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in 2015. My goal for this race was to break the 2-hour mark. I turned my training over to a friend for coaching. He is a local elite runner with a reputation for speed and a long recorded history of race times to back it up. I, however, was easily distracted during this time with personal/family issues and the long awaited adoption and introduction of our greyhound, Runner, into our life and home. My will to prepare was compromised many times over and called out frequently by my Coach with the simple message to “GO RUN!”.
On race day, it was, literally, my will to win that showed up and, thankfully for me, it was a will of pure steel! I struggled to hold back the pace in the first 3 miles, surging and dodging the shoulder to shoulder wall of runners, but by the 6th mile I was feeling the lead in my legs. In mile 9, I almost lost sight of my Coach who was running this race alongside me. At mile 10, I grabbed onto his arm and begged for him to let me “draft” on him awhile. Mile 11 and 12 were pure agony and humiliation as I struggled to keep up and I lost control of my bladder – something that has never happened to me before or since. By the 13th mile, he started yelling that I was “making this REAL INTERESTING” and that I had just 40 seconds to close the gap in that final 1/10 of a mile or my goal was lost. I was running on fumes. I could hardly see a thing. My vision was blurry and sounds were echoing profoundly as my ears were ringing and I struggled to breathe. I surged ahead with every bit of guts I had left in me. We crossed the line and I heard him screaming. My legs would not hold me up any longer and everything went black. I am not sure how much time passed while I was in medical but, when I was finally able to stand up and walk without holding onto something to keep from falling off the face of the earth, I exited the medical tent to find my Coach waiting for me with the news. We had succeeded. Our time? 01:59:56! This was such a relief…but in all honesty, I deserved the pain of that race. Goals must be taken seriously. Success in running is always earned, never given. This race taught me the hard way to respect the training, honor the commitment, and to cherish the results. It does make me wonder, however, how much better could I have performed with a stronger, more consistent commitment to my training?
By the end of 2015, Joe and I had become such good friends and he took a great deal of interest in my goal to complete the J.C. Stone 50K Ultramarathon. He took over my training, sending me workouts weekly; adjusted according to my work schedule, progress, and physical well being. The goal for this race had absolutely nothing to do with speed at the time. The goal here was to simply conquer the distance, not race the clock. This alleviated a lot of pressure and stress from my mind.
On March 19, 2016, Joe and I set out on the course together with him pulling me back and reigning in my pace multiple times in the first 10 miles. By the 15-20 mile mark we had found our groove and were conversing easily about life experiences, lessons learned, running, and future goals. By miles 22-26 it was time for Joe to break out his iron will. He considers walking in endurance racing a “disease” and told me not to succumb to “the disease”, as I argued that the people ahead of us that had stopped to walk were simply “recharging their batteries”. I know better though. Joe is right. At that point in an endurance run, the perceived “need” to walk really is a “disease of the mind”. It is a mental weakness, a crutch. If you are fit enough to run 31.1 miles and you are not ill or injured, there is absolutely no NEED to walk at any point. Somewhere in the next few miles, our conversation turned to family and he gracefully switched his role in my life from “running friend/acquaintance” to a friend closer than family, now calling me his “daughter”. Shortly after this though, things got really tough. “I’m not about to let you feel sorry for yourself right now.”, he said to me as tears streamed down my face in the 29th mile. I told him I just needed a moment and so we ran in silence up “victory hill”, as he calls it. (On the previous 5 loops when we ran that hill I repeatedly said: “Have I told you lately how much I HATE THIS HILL?!”) Around mile 30, he said “Would you look at that…victory is upon us!” and pointed my attention to our left as we crested the hill and began the final downhill mile toward the finish line. The view from the top was beautiful; looking down across the lake at the boathouse. I struggled more in that final mile than I had the entire race but with “TheRocketMan” by my side, I pushed through. When we started the race, we were informed that the course time limit was 8 hours but that it is not strictly enforced. I had told Joe that, while my ultimate goal was really just to finish, I really wanted to finish in under 6 hours. I would have loved to have come close to 5:30:00, but with the lack of speed training and a recent onset of acute tendinitis in my left ankle, I knew that was not possible. So as we ran the homestretch, toward the completion of our 31.1 mile running adventure together, we held hands and lifted our arms, “soaring” across the finish line with a time of 5:53:33. We had succeeded! It was the most beautifully painful and glorious moment of my running life, thus far. I say “thus far” because we have now (officially) set our sights on “BOSTON”.
I have found a lifelong friend, mentor, coach, and family member in Joe and he now sees my dreams as if they are his own. He believes in me and seems intent upon making certain that I succeed…so much that he is willing to run with me until I do, and then run alongside me, start to finish, in Boston, as well.
This brings me to look closer at myself; where I am now, in regards to where I need to and hope to be a year from now.
How am I going to get there?
Running double digit long distances in the 9:50-10:00/mile range to running a marathon in the 8:00-8:12/mile range is an enormous amount of progression. Which brings me to question if I can even do this… and this is the exact reason as to why I have to try. Nothing is impossible. Everything that I have accomplished in running has proven that to me. I refuse to believe that this can not be done. Truth be told, I might fall short multiple times, but I will certainly never get there if I never even try. So this week has been spent in browsing and brainstorming training plans and discussing our strategy and race choices with Joe. After taking multiple training plans and integrating them into one, I have finally produced a day by day log of what I need to do and when. Every workout is laid out in a handwritten planner/book for me, everyday, for the next 12 months. It will be difficult, I realize this, but it will be worth it a year from now when I am standing at that start line, next to Joe, and honestly feel like I belong there, attempting to earn my right to run Boston.
So here goes everything. “Train hard, race easy” is our plan. With a lot of time spent running miles, pouring sweat, and summoning up nerves of STEEL, I hope to one day “soar” across that finish line with all the heart I have left in me and all the strength I have left in my legs and hear Joe say: “DID YOU SEE THE CLOCK?! WE ARE GOING TO BOSTON!”.