Then, I called my Coach to break the news. Both of us didn't see this coming. The training was spot on and it's not like this was my first time out. I mean, I HAD done a marathon before...three of them! And, I'm a group fitness instructor/personal trainer and have been for well over a decade.
I have muscles.
I have endurance.
I'm fit, dammit!
To Coach's credit, he was very encouraging and helped me sort through what had happened out there. He didn't shower me with pity, but he didn't call me a worthless and weak maggot either. After I told him the whole story I asked, "do I just take the rest of the year off to recover and regroup or should I get back on the horse?" Without missing a beat, Coach replied, "get back on the horse. Absolutely."
You see, because I didn't actually FINISH the marathon, I could conceivably jump into another marathon 4-6 weeks out from the one I had attempted to complete. Hartford would just be considered a hard 18 miler. Little did I know that I made the best possible choice by dropping out when I did. Here I thought I was an out of shape failure (okay, well, maybe I still thought that, but only a little). Turns out I was bordering on genius (slightly exaggerating here, but you get the point).
The only question remained: which one? Lots of people had already pre-registered for their fall marathons, myself included. And, many of the races were filled to capacity. There was the Baystate Marathon in Lowell, MA, but that was only 8 days out from Hartford. Then, there was the Manchester City Marathon in Manchester, NH, but that had more hills than we had prepared for. What to do???
We decided on the Philadelphia Marathon on November 22nd. It gave me almost six weeks to sort of recover, build up and then taper again. Also, as luck would have it, I was ALREADY flying into Philadelphia for the Thanksgiving holiday to see family in New Jersey (Philly is only an hour from where my cousin lives). Changing my flight was a breeze and cost me nothing. Plus, I had free lodging. This was getting better by the second. Thankfully, I was able to get a number and officially registered. I felt somewhat redeemed and, hopeful, even. I was going to get another shot at this.
So, back into marathon mode I went. I still entertained the notion of running a BQ (Boston Qualifying) time at Philly. Hey, why not?? I mean, I certainly couldn't do any worse than Hartford, could I?
About 7-10 days out from Philadelphia, the official word came down: Registration for the 2010 Boston Marathon is closed. The race is sold out. I almost couldn't believe it. I mean, technically, I could qualify for Boston at Philly and it would be good in 2011, but I mean, come on!!! Really? REALLY???? Usually, people can still get slots for Boston by December! This was...unprecedented! And rather annoying.
After hearing the news, I thought about my strategy for the marathon. At this point, I figured I had nothing to lose. I wasn't going to get into Boston next spring anyway. I was already registered for Philadelphia. It was a chance for me to run a new course and enjoy an extended vacation with my family. And, I needed to do this. I had to come out of this whole process with a medal. I wanted to salvage my season. Now, the primary goal was no longer to "qualify for Boston". Now, the goal was to FINISH, preferably in a respectable amount of time. I owed myself that much.
I suppose now is a good time to mention that I was darkening my physical therapist's doorstep at least twice a week to work on some major knots in my right hamstring and calf, which was causing my patella to slide all over the place. Just thought I would add to the intrigue. :-)
I flew out early on Saturday morning, November 21. My cousin, Scott, was there to greet me at the airport. We retrieved my baggage and off to the expo we went. In record time, I went in, got my race bag, timing chip, bib #, and got out. We did a little sightseeing around the Reading Terminal Market, which was kind of neat. Then, homeward to Jersey.
Scott's sister, Laurie, had already offered to drive me into Philly for the start of the race. She figured it'd be a nice little adventure for us and something new for her. She could walk around and scope out the sights while I was running. You've got to love someone who offers to get up at 4 a.m. on a Sunday for you. She's a great cousin...and a great lady.
We woke up early the next day and headed into the city. We had a few parking areas to choose from so we programmed one of the addresses into the GPS and hoped for the best. As you can imagine, we saw plenty of runners in the vicinity, so it wasn't too hard to find where we were going. But boy, was it cold! The marathon was a 7 a.m. start and we were there by 5:30ish or so. My cousin was walking around with a blanket around her, shivering. I kept joking around, calling her Grandma. Thankfully, she has a good sense of humor.
We found our way to the start and, of course, the port-a-potties: a marathon runner's best friend. After standing in line for what seemed like 2 days, I said my goodbyes to my dear cousin and attempted to find my corral, which was designated by color. I wasn't sure where mine was exactly, but, hey, it's a chip timed race. All I gotta do is line up with people wearing numbers. How hard can that be??
I waded my way through the crowd and found a spot to stand in. As I'm waiting for the gun, a young lady turns around, looks at me, and says, "wow, you look like a REAL runner!". I chuckled, patted her on the back and replied, "it's the sleeves." Hey, if I wasn't going to set the world on fire that day, at least I LOOKED the part.
Finally the race got underway. I ran. And I ran. And I RAN! I decided to wear my iPod for some tunes, but I also made a conscious effort to power it on and off so I could take in my surroundings. I tend to get major tunnel vision when I run. I just zone in on the area directly in front of me and I miss everything else. However, this time was going to be different. This one was for giggles. I was going to savor it. I was going to take it all in.
We ran through some downtown areas in the beginning, but also enjoyed some pretty scenery. We even ran by the Philadelphia Zoo! How cool is that???
Things began to thin out a bit, once the half-marathoners broke off towards the finish line while we continued towards mile 14. Believe me, the prospect of running only 13.1 was tempting, but I was definitely on marathon pace. Nah, I was doing this.
Just go with the flow, Cyndi.
Go downstream and put one foot in front of the other.
Relax and let the race come to you.
So, I did.
I continued to turn the music on and off for variety. I looked around to take in my surroundings. I made a concerted effort to give fellow runners words of encouragement and the occasional "pat on the back". The miles continued to pass and I kept on moving.
Somewhere around mile 19, people were handing out beer. Yuengling, to be exact. Notice I said "mile 19". 7.2 miles short of the finish line. No way, Jose. Au Contraire, Mon Frere. I'm having all I can do to keep the gu down. Now you want me to drink some beer too??? I'll pass.
Towards the end, I ran out of water. At the time, I ran with a fuel belt, thinking it would allow me to avoid the crowded water stops. But, 32 ounces of water isn't enough for this chick. At least not for 3-4 hours of running.
I ran, I stopped, I drank, I ran again. Just keep moving, Cyndi. Just keep moving.
I found a nice guy to run with for a while. I figured I would try to stay with him as long as I could. It was a nice boost, especially during the last 10K of the race. Towards the end, we got separated, but it gave me the "oomph" I needed to keep going.
Finally, the finish line was in sight. I gave it everything I had and crossed the line. Now, I was done. Now, I could rest. Not only could I rest, but I could celebrate.
I ran an official time of 3:47:46. I took almost 5 minutes off of my previous best time.
Now, remember, I needed a 3:45 or better to qualify for Boston. But, nothing and no one could take this victory away from me. This was redemption. Marathon #4. Like Hartford 6 weeks before, I was relieved it was over. But, I was happier than I had been in a long time.
You might think that this is the end of the story.
It's not. :-)
We're only in November! It's June, for heaven's sake. Once again, to be continued...