So this is what it's like, I thought, as I gazed over the Poudre River, swept through a rock tunnel and flew down the canyon, all without the pain I was so worried about these last two weeks.
Oh, sure, it was cold, but even that was pretty awesome, as you could gaze down a long line of runners and see everyone's breath, which is way cooler than it sounds. The sun was peeking through, but it hadn't shown itself yet, splashing a few orange rays on the rocks behind me. I had metal in my ears, pushing me to go harder, friendly competitors by my side, a river to my left, an awesome sunrise, perfect cold weather with no wind and a body that was asking for more.
It was like this for a long time. Far too long, in fact, because when things are going this well, this long, it seems like there's always hell to pay later. It's like going on a huge hot streak in poker. You go through it with mixed emotions because you know eventually variance will take its taste, usually in the form of brutal one-outers for monster pots. I ripped off a 1:52 half marathon. I realize that's not going to qualify me for the Olympics, but this was my first marathon, and that's an 8:37 pace, and not only that, it felt like I could keep that up the entire race.
Alas, because around mile 18, my legs started to feel heavy. Only they weren't heavy. They hurt. Only I thought that was fine because, shit, we'd just ran downhill for 18 miles, and I'd ran it fast. I was well on my way to 3:45. And one of my friends met me to run with me for a couple miles just a mile and a half later, and I said to her that my legs were starting to hurt a bit.
And then I cramped up.
Now there are cramps, and there are cramps. I had experienced cramps like these maybe a couple times in my life. My right leg seized up, and it felt like my hamstring had turned into one of those Alien babies and was trying to burst out of my skin. When I stretched it out, my calf did the same thing. When I tried to stretch both, my quad bunched up.
This was not what we call a "win-win."
It was like this for the next seven miles.
Well, I was still able to run, but I'd run for a bit and then seize up again. I did what I could. Those same friendly competitors saw my agony and offered up bananas and pretzels. Folks, a marathon is war out there, and it warmed my heart to see so much generosity when it could mean their race only a couple miles later. I downed Gatorade. I ate sodium gels. Nothing worked.
I've had bad races - every runner has - when you feel as if you just want to walk. You're tired and down and sick. I didn't feel that way at all. I wanted to run hard. But it was impossible. I simply couldn't. I felt like a sports car with a good engine and a couple bad tires. I even had to stop twice to stretch out my calves close to the finish line. And I pulled in at 4:17, frustrated, happy, proud and pissed all at the same time.
Marathons are unpredictable. I trained well. I felt good. Yet my wheels gave out on me. I wonder if I didn't drink enough even when I thought I was. Or whether the downhill did me in (that's certainly possible, as we didn't run that far downhill during my training runs). I doubt running slower would have made much of a difference.
Here I am, barely able to move, and knowing I should feel proud. I ran a marathon. I suppose I will feel proud soon. But something nags at me knowing I could have done better.
And that is what will motivate me next year.