Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of my running (much of it walking) of the 2013 ING Miami Marathon. I had chosen this race because it was billed online as one of the best winter marathons (Disney was on the list too), and I had grown up in the Miami area as a kid. I was determined to break four hours after coming up short in the October 2012 Columbus Marathon by 99 seconds.
But my training didn't go well. I had difficulty speeding up in cold weather for those tempo runs. I had constant calf cramping issues. A bunch of shoes I had didn't work well. And I had difficulty getting in some quality runs during a 10-day trip to Hong Kong.
At the 6 a.m. start on that Sunday morning, I struggled to keep up with the 4-hour pacer on the MacArthur Causeway to Miami Beach. (My Nike Plus GPS said we were going faster than 9-minutes-a-mile, maybe 8:50. I think she went out too fast). By the first water stop after three miles I had lost her. Reluctant to give up my goal, I stubbornly tried to keep up a 9:09 per mile pace. Going north on Ocean Drive, my GPS said I was ahead of pace and I had some hope that the pacer had just gone out too fast. But that quickly changed. But the high humidity and 70 to 75-degree heat that I was not used to took its toll by Miles 8 to 10 as we returned to Miami from Miami Beach on the Venetian Causeway.
By then I had dramatically slowed my pace. I made a potty stop just past the Mile 11 marker, the only bathroom stop I've ever made in a race. After a 9:37 Mile 13, I started feeling intense razor-like pain in my feet -- after passing the halfway point in downtown Miami. I had chosen the previous day to run in my older worn shoes because they felt more comfortable than the new ones in which I had had calf cramping as recently as the Saturday morning. Horrible mistake!
After the Mile 14 marker, due to the pain I had to slow to a walk. Pace team after pace team passed me. I would try to jog, only to be greeted with another horrible bout of pain. A teenager repeatedly tried to encourage me to keep running. I felt like a dismal failure. It got hotter.
At some point, I just gave up on taking energy gels. I stopped to tie my shoes, and contemplated not finishing the race. A high school friend sent me a message saying that she was waiting for me at the finish line. I felt like an idiot for talking a race volunteer at the expo into reluctantly moving me to the sub-four hour corral. But three hours into the race, the notion of me ever breaking four hours seemed impossible. Boston was no where near the radar screen.
Somewhere after the Mile 17 marker in Coconut Grove, I was able to adjust my gait to minimize the foot pain and was able to lightly start running again at a sub-11 minute pace. I had accelerated to 10 minutes a mile pace on reaching the Rickenbacker Causeway after the Mile 22 marker. But a horrible stomach cramp forced me to slow down again. The last mile on Brickell Avenue was excruciating due to the hilliness of the roads (the course is not as totally flat as advertised). But I rounded the corner toward Bayfront Park and dashed in for a 4:44:21 finish, 43 minutes slower than my then-PR. (My first half split was 2:04:30 and my second half was 2:39:51)
Since that humiliating day where I learned again the perils of going out too fast, I have switched to the Hanson Marathon Method and done more speed workouts, ran a 3:42:27 in the Cleveland in May, despite a mini-bonk at Mile 18, and a 3:19:25 at the Chicago Marathon in October and did the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World earlier this month while posting a decent 3:22:11 for the Disney Marathon. Everyone's marathon career is going to have days like the ones I had a year ago. Victories are built on a base of humility gleaned from failure.