After having such a miserable experience at the Rock 'N Roll Arizona marathon, I kept saying to others and myself that I learned nothing. Usually a bad experience can be chalked up to "a learning experience" but I didn't think that was the case with this one. I didn't do anything wrong. I hydrated properly and took in plenty of electrolytes. I tapered properly and I set a goal for myself that was a bit of a stretch, although not unrealistic based on my training. If I had it to do over again, I probably would have gone out slower. But I had no idea the heat would affect me so much so it's not like I made a bad decision.
As the days went by I started to think more about it. And I thought to myself that at least now I could sympathize with people who had bad marathons. People who hit a wall or bonked. Not because they didn't train properly, but because of the weather or cramping or stomach problems, or whatever. I had had really awful half marathons, but never a bad marathon until just now.
The more marathons you run, the more likely you are to have bad ones. This is because there is an element of luck involved and there are things that the runner cannot control. When I first started running marathons, my first six were each PRs. And then my 7th was a "fun run" which I still finished faster than anticipated. It just seemed natural that the more of them you did, and the more you trained, the better and better the marathons would get. This is probably true if you look at marathons over several years, but for any one individual race, it's not necessarily true. And maybe the "good ones" that you get are much better than the "good ones" that you had when you first started doing it. But the more you put yourself out there, the more chance you have of things NOT coming together on race day.
I've been really depressed for the last week. Not about the marathon in particular, just in general. I think the marathon is definitely playing a role, though. I was talking to my friend Christopher about the topic of investment vs. payoff. I've never made such a huge investment in terms of time and energy to have it not payoff at all. Not even with a PR. That's why I wanted to run the next marathon just four weeks later. So that I could still make use of that huge investment. So I could get some form of return on it, in the shape of a PR, no matter how small.
But ultimately, it's not the smartest way to go about getting a PR. With marathons, you can't just say "that was awful, let me have a do-over tomorrow". It takes time to recover from the marathon, and by the time you do, you are not at the same fitness level you were at on race day. So it takes more time to build up again. And if you want to improve your fitness level, even more time to go beyond where you had been. I experienced a bit of this when I got sick and had to bail out of the Hartford marathon. I couldn't just jump back into training after having been really sick for four weeks.
I've never been so frustrated with marathoning and training in my whole running career. But that's how it is, and I need to accept this reality if I want to keep at it, and I do. Most people who have run 8 marathons can probably cite at least one "bad" race where they were really well prepared but things blew up. Where they had trained hard for months and months, and it just ended in a bad experience for them. I'm not any more "cursed" than the next runner.
Part of my love of running comes from the fact that if I work hard, I see gains. I love being able to accomplish things all on my own and have an objective measure of my improvement. I like to achieve my goals, and I like to be in control of achieving them. Maybe this is really an opportunity to grow not in terms of my "fitness level" but in terms of learning how to better tolerate not being in control. In the years before I started racing, I was anorexic. It was my way of maintaining control over my life by closely monitoring every calorie I consumed. And I recovered when I discovered how wonderful running was. But in a sense, it was a replacement for that feeling of control and structure that I had while I was anorexic.
I've always known about the lack of control that comes with race day weather and other factors. But I guess the real lesson for me here is that I am not exempt from bad marathons because I train well-- and I need to value my investment in training just as much with or without the PR to show for it. There are some people who get outstanding marathon times and don't train properly. There is a lot of grey area here. And even though running is very numbers-based, there are so many factors that contribute that cannot be quantified or represented in a spreadsheet.
Christopher said he didn't think I would PR at Last Chance for Boston in two weeks. Simply because it was too soon to be recovered and ready to perform at my peak level. And another friend of mine, Steve, cautioned me that I could end up with an injury, and then really be in a worse place than I am now. I clung to that race, even paid the $75 registration fee, because I needed some hope that my investment wasn't completely a waste. But on the other hand, I don't want to do something stupid that could worsen my situation, just because I was stubborn. Additionally, my right hip is still achey from the marathon, and I haven't been able to run quickly since the marathon because of it. Just really slow short runs. So, I'll need to think about it more. If I can't run at least 10 miles today, then I don't see how a marathon PR is possible in two weeks.
I'll keep you posted.