The Ocala Marathon

Cold, Rainy, and Hilly

Last Sunday I ran in the Ocala Marathon. I was originally going to do the Key Biscayne marathon, but that was cancelled for one reason or another. So now the City of Miami still doesn't have a marathon. That's kind of a shame, considering the number of runners that live in or near Miami, and the absolutely beautiful scenery the course could take, but some people think it's more important to let the traffic flow then to run an athletic event. What do I know about urban planning? If it was up to me I'd force people to sell their cars and bike to work every day, but I'm ranting again. Sorry. I do that sometimes.

Anyway, I really wanted to get in a winter or spring marathon, so I signed up for the Ocala race. The web site said that the course had rolling hills. I was kind of leery of that. Rolling hills? Yuck. But since I'm such a tough triathlete, I figured a few hills wouldn't hurt me. How bad could they be?

Have I told you that I'm a total idiot?

Running a marathon is a serious athletic endeavor that requires proper training and the right mental attitude. A little luck doesn't hurt, either. But sometimes the best laid plans may not come to fruition.

My goal was to break three hours without hurting myself. Ocala was going to be marathon number four, and while that's not a bunch of marathons, it meant that I had a good idea of what to expect. My PR was 3:09.12 at Jacksonville, and I put in two solid long runs as well as 12 weeks of running specific training. I am strong! I am quick! I am invincible! Hills cannot hurt me!

I am an idiot!

OK, so maybe it wasn't that bad. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit. I did read Jeff's articles on marathon training, and I was shooting for a realistic goal. I really do run a lot. No, really. I do.

But sometimes the universe is not in complete alignment. Maybe Ursa Major was having a fistfight with Ursa Minor. Maybe Sirius was barking. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Anyway, I woke up around 4:15, made some coffee, gathered my stuff, and opened my door. That's when I saw it. Fog. Drizzle. Rain. Cold. Nasty. Yuck.

Sometimes we need to value the small successes. I actually got into my car and drove to the race site. That was success number one. Then I got my race packet. That was success number two. Then I walked to the starting line. Success number three.

That's when the fun began. It was already drizzling. The temperature was right about 50 degrees F. Being the tough triathlete that I am, I didn't wear tights. Oops. Made a mistake - note to self: Always bring all your gear. Some people deal well with the cold, but my legs tend to tighten up in cold weather.

So the race starts. And we start running. And I'm doing good. I hit the first mile at 6:42, right where I want to be. I'm feeling fine. Not breathing hard, just cruising. I get into a conversation with another runner, and we pass the miles. But then I feel it. 4 miles into the race, and my quads are tightening up. 4 miles! That's not a good sign. And there are hills. And it's still raining. Ack! Not good, not good! Ack!

After 8 miles I realized that last Sunday was not going to be my day. The runner I'd been chatting with slowly ran away, and my pace gradually fell off. Then the pain began. If you've run a marathon, you know what I'm talking about. It's that incredible muscle ache in the quads and calves. If you're in good shape this shouldn't hit you until around mile 18. That's what they call the wall. If you make it over the wall you got it made.

Well, last Sunday I hit the wall at mile 13. That's when the doubt started. That's when the little voice in the back of my head started talking about quitting. Just drop out. What's the point? Why are you doing this to yourself? It's cold. It's wet. What's the point? Dang, my legs hurt. Ow. Ow. Ow.

There's a point in a marathon where you can either keep going or call it a day. Once you start walking, you're done. Because the legs are already wrecked. If you're day is going well, this shouldn't happen until around 18 - 20 miles or so. And then you just grind your teeth and crank out 6 more miles.

Well, Sunday I had to grind my teeth for 13 miles. It wasn't easy. It wasn't fun. Most of the time I have fun doing races. Not on Sunday. My legs really, really hurt. It was miserable. I very seriously contemplated dropping out. Just stop at mile 20 and get a ride back to the finish line. Go home and take a bath. Forget about this stupid race.

But that's not the kind of attitude that wins races. And like I've told you before, I do like to win.

So I managed to hold my pace together and shuffle through to the finish. I even got a second wind of sorts at mile 20. I think my legs reached their maximum pain level and started to go numb from pain overload. At least I know what that feels like! That's good, right? That makes me a better athlete, right? Not some sick masochist? Right?

Come on, say it with me - Pain is temporary, and pride is forever. I would have felt like a wimp if I quit. And who never quits? You know who.

So I toughed it out. I ran through the finish chute and earned my finisher's medal. I didn't do great, but I didn't do terribly, either. I ran a tough marathon on a tough day, and I felt bad, and I finished it.

And what's the moral of this little story, you ask? Well, the moral is that sometimes you've got to step back and redefine your measure of success. It's all well and good to be tough on yourself, because when push comes to shove, you are the one who pushes yourself beyond your current limits. That's how you set PRs. That's how you get in shape for your first triathlon, or your first marathon. That's how you start your own business. You push yourself to a new height. You do it. No one else will.

But then there are the off days. I had an off day in Ocala. But even an off day can be a good day. You just need to change your perspective.

What can I say that was good about this marathon? Well, I ran my second fastest marathon time. That's good. The course was very tough. That makes my performance even better. I felt like crud. That's another feather in my cap. I didn't feel terrible this week. That means I'm in very good shape. Gee, all of a sudden, this horrible race doesn't seem so horrible anymore. All of a sudden, this race actually seems like it may have been a success.

It just depends on how you look at it.

So the next time you have a bad day, or a bad workout, or a bad race, do yourself a favor. Take a step back and look at what you learned from your experience. Find something positive to take with you. Because life is not always going to go the way you want it to go. There will be potholes ready to take out your wheels. There will be cramps to hobble you on the road. There will be waves that knock you back to shore.

Will you whimper on the beach or will you try again?