The Upside of a Disappointing Finish: Chicago, IL

I ran the Chicago Marathon on Sunday. The first 16 miles were absolutely incredible. Everything was clicking, it felt easy, I was present in the moment. When I felt my thoughts drifting ahead to the finish, imagining what it was going to feel like when I reached my goal of breaking 4 hours, I caught myself. I brought it back to the moment, one footstrike at a time. In fact, I was in such an awesome zone, that I hardly even remember miles 6 through 14! I remember passing the half way mark and thinking, “Already half way done?? No way!” I was doing this!

And then the rumbling started. At first, it was a little nag, gently nudging my belly, looking for a little attention. I took inventory, acknowledged the nausea I felt and checked to be sure I was on schedule with my fueling. It will pass. Focus on your breathing. But it didn’t pass. Instead, the gentle nag turned into severe cramping that required all my attention, all my concentration and by mile 16, I knew this adversity was not going to pass without some major decisions and adjustments. I hoped that stopping once would bring the relief that I needed to feel better and keep going. Unfortunately, that did not happen. My legs felt great, but my stomach absolutely betrayed me. It got worse with each mile, ultimately derailing me from my race goal and plunging my running confidence straight into the gutter.

I could spend the rest of this post detailing the mile-by-mile physical and mental breakdown that took place. (In fact, I already wrote that blog!) Looking back, I can’t really see anything I could have done differently to prevent the tummy trouble. Instead, I’d like to tell you what I learned about myself during this race and how I am going to do my best to keep moving forward.

I learned that no matter how much I try, I still care too much about what other people think. There’s a great vulnerability I feel when I verbalize what I aspire to achieve. Saying it aloud, sharing it with others, and actively pursuing it creates a level of expectation that I now realize is difficult for me to manage mentally. I know I did all the work necessary to put myself in position to reach my goal. I have never been fitter, stronger, or healthier!

Logically, I understand that finishing safely is a huge accomplishment and that there are many other runners who would love to have finished their race in 4:30. On the other hand, there many runners who consider 3:55 to be really slow! We can get so wrapped up in the result that we lose perspective of why we do this in the first place. In the immediate aftermath of my race, I felt like I failed. I felt embarrassed, disappointed, foolish even. But why? Are any of your lives changed because I didn’t make my goal?? HA! I think not. Will women stop coming to my running group because I ran 30 minutes slower than my goal? I hope not! Will my family love me any less because I did not break 4 hours? Definitely not! So why do I feel this way?

I learned that I feel this way because my “people pleasing” quality extends far beyond the marathon. I realize that it reaches into my professional and personal lives as well. Comparing myself to other teachers, other mothers, other runners, or other women only leads me to feel inadequate in my own life. When did I start running their race and not my own?? The whole premise of my blog is to document my journey of living presently. And frankly, in this experience, I did not do a great job at that. So today, I refuse to entertain that dialogue in my head any longer.

I learned what it feels like to run in “The Zone”. Remember that first 16 miles I mentioned earlier? They were just what I imagined them to be. It’s hard to articulate into words that feeling of equilibrium I felt while running. When I felt my mind drifting to what I might feel like at the finish, I was able to bring it back to focus. I am proud of that, even if it didn’t get me all the way to the finish line.

I learned that I love marathon training. I enjoy the journey to the starting line of a marathon. The nature of running a marathon is all about the journey, navigating the adversity as it presents itself. Placing all my self-worth on race day results is a slippery slope that I have not yet figured out how to manage.

I learned that at the end of the day, I love sharing the experience of running with others. With 1000 meters left in the marathon yesterday, the woman next to me fell down, succumbing to cramping and dehydration. We were so close to the finish and I wanted my own misery to be over with so badly. But then I looked back and realized that none of that mattered. I wanted to help her, just like I want to help anyone else in need. I turned around and jogged back to her. Another woman and I helped this stranger to her feet. She was not in good shape and could not find her balance. I realized that she didn’t speak English. She tried to get her legs moving but she was too wobbly to run. I looked into her eyes and said, “We finish safely. Together.” She put her arm around me and we started walking carefully to toward the finish. At that point, I realized I didn’t care what my finishing time was. I cared more about helping that other runner than I did about any finishing time.

I learned that running truly continues to be a metaphor for my life. I will continue to learn from each race, each experience, each mistake, each victory. After all, moving forward is really the only option. And as my friend, Brenda, reminded me on our way home today, I would not change a single thing about this trip for those 30 wishful minutes. Each memory is too priceless for that.