On Foiled Redemption and Moving Forward

Yep, that nearly three-month radio silence was in fact intentional. After the New York City Marathon, I had grand plans to loaf around for a bit (er, I mean, recover) before getting back to regular running for a decent effort at the Houston Half Marathon. In recent years I’ve learned not to chase after aggressive goals at this race when it’s positioned so soon after a fall marathon. I always make a week out of this trip, so I’ve continued to register for the half simply as something to do during my time in Houston before cheering on my sister in the second half of the full.

When NYCM didn’t exactly go according to plan, I toyed with the idea of upgrading to the full at Houston. It  it was over two months away, and it wouldn’t be your standard random, potentially meaningless redemption race: it was in my hometown, I’d be running through neighborhoods I’d grown up in, there would be crowd support, and there would be family and friends on the sidelines. All just like New York.

The deadline to upgrade was pretty generous, so I decide to attempt training and wait until the last minute to switch races to be sure I felt ready. I had low expectations, since most of my pre-NYCM long runs were pretty lackluster, yet I surprised myself this winter. I was running better—much better—than I had been while I trained for New York. I finally felt like I could be my best running self again, that is, my running self before I got injured during Chicago Marathon training way back in 2012. With several solid runs and zero injuries, I felt confident that Houston could be where I’d check off that elusive sub-4 so long as I raced smart and weather conditions were manageable.

Pre-race photo op at the Houston Children's Museum.
Ready for take two: pre-race photo op at the Houston Children’s Museum.

Race day arrived, and I had a solid pace plan in mind: 2M x 9:30, 8M x 9:15, 10M x 8:50, 10K x 9:00 or faster. But by mile 3 the sun was out in full force, and I was already drenched in sweat and covered in salt (despite taking great care to up my salt and electrolyte intake all week long). Not a good start. Yet I managed to stick to my plan to a tee until we hit double-digit miles and my splits started to creep back into 9:30s and higher. I could tell the unusually warm weather (the real feel was already in the 70s by the middle of the race—not quite the twenties, teens, and single digits I’d prepared in back in New York) was going to force me to adjust my expectations, and I quickly made my decision to drop out when I reached my dad at mile 13.5.

Lack of sunlight + watch monitoring + what looks like a skip-run leads me to believe this was at the race start when 9:30 felt stupid easy because it was still supposed to at that point.
Lack of sunlight + watch monitoring + what looks like a skip-run leads me to believe this was at miles 1-2, when 9:30 pace felt stupid easy because it was still supposed to at that point.

More than one person has sympathetically said the decision must have been tough to make, but the reality is that it was actually extremely easy. I don’t run marathons for bragging rights. Being able to say I’ve run x number of marathons means nothing to me; quality matters more than quantity. Plain and simple, if conditions out of my control were going to prevent me from achieving a goal I believed I was prepared for, putting my body through the wear and tear and subsequent recovery from a marathon just to say I finished another one was not going to be worth it to me. I don’t care if that makes me sound like a quitter. I was much more content to cut the loss and call the 13.5 miles at a 9:29 average pace a respectable long run effort for March’s New York City Half Marathon. Not to mention that I had way more fun with my dad at mile 26, cheering on all the runners by the names on their bibs, than I probably would have had on my own out there. My choice was further reaffirmed as we screamed encouragement at runners shuffling their way toward a slow-for-them 3-hour finish. My only regret? Not making the game-time decision before the gun went off and actually racing to mile 13.5 like it was a half instead of reining in the pace for a full I wouldn’t finish. I just might go with this strategy if I ever attempt to train for this race in a Northeast winter again…

Post-race with our #1 fan. He and his sign made it to three different course spots that day!

Sure, I’m disappointed that I won’t get to cash in on some solid marathon training, and sure, I could do something about that by finding a local marathon, but I really have no interest in running some race I’ve never heard of and have no emotional attachment to. Like I’ve said before, the marathon is not my favorite distance to race, and I didn’t become a runner to ultimately become a marathoner. On the other hand, the NYC Half is a great race I’ve enjoyed in the past, and I’m excited to refocus on it. One of my pre-Houston long runs was 13.1 miles in 1:58. I don’t think I’ve ever run that distance in training in under 2 hours, so this makes me optimistic about getting close to my PR on March 16. Bonus: Emilia will be back in New York to run it as well!

When I took a hiatus from marathoning through 2011 and most of 2012, I got to be in the best running shape of my life and PR-ing in everything from the 5K to the half marathon, including taking 25 minutes off the latter, was seemingly effortless. With continued hard work and no future marathons on the horizon anytime soon, I’m hoping 2014 will bring some similar results.

That marathon PR will happen when the time is right.
That marathon PR will happen when the time is right.

I’ll try not to disappear again in the meantime.

5 thoughts on “On Foiled Redemption and Moving Forward

    1. Thanks! I had my sights on a third running at Chicago, but their new registration process might have thrown a wrench in that plan. I could use my spot in NYCM, but my heart’s not in running it again just yet (I really want to cheer instead!). I need to find another fall full that I can get excited about!

  1. I commend you on your smart decision making. The weather was so warm to me, and I’ve been training in similar temps (though cooler the last month or so). The sun was killing me, I just died. I hope you plan to come down again next year, since I hope to run again next year. ;)

    1. I think after 3 years in a row, Houston Marathon weekend has become a Benton family tradition! So it’s pretty much just the distance to race that is TBD. :) Hope to be able to cheer you on again next year! And you know, maybe we could meet IRL too. ;)

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