Race Recap: 2016 Harrisburg Marathon
They say it takes a village.
I’m not sure if “they” were referring to a marathon, but in this case, it took a village to get me to the finish line of the Harrisburg Marathon Sunday.
I’ve often talked about how much I love the local running community, and Sunday just made my heart grow even bigger, even though I had a rough race.
When I arrived at the starting line Sunday, I was already in a bad place mentally. I tried a new-to-me training plan, the Hanson’s Marathon Method (which I will share my thoughts on in an upcoming post), and I think I was ultimately extremely burned out.
Instead of being excited and nervous, I was filled with dread. I had no desire to run a marathon, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I told myself it was just nerves and to fake a positive attitude. At 7:55, I stripped down to my singlet and started near the 3:25 pace group. I was gunning for a PR (sub-3:26:40), and I had put a lot of time and effort into my training.
I kept the pace for the first few miles, but I still couldn’t shake my bad mood.
It was a beautiful, cool fall morning, and there were lots of people I knew cheering, running and volunteering, but it didn’t help. I started playing mental games pretty early on. At mile 4, I thought, “just get to mile 5.” This is a game I usually play after 20 miles, not 4. I was still smiling and waving at people I knew, but I was gritting my teeth. Around the ninth mile, I started to entertain the idea of dropping out. I was still on pace, but I just didn’t want to be running. I wish I could explain it better, but my head was in a very bad place.
I hit mile 10 – still on pace – and soon saw Tim and my friend Amanda, who were cheering together. I just shook my head and gave a thumbs down. Around mile 12, I thought I would make it to the half and then drop out. I just didn’t want to run anymore. I was so mentally defeated. Around this point, my friend Gary was running the opposite way, looking for people he knew on the course. I yelled hello to him, and he asked me if I wanted company. I told him yes, but that I was in a very, very bad place mentally and was most likely going to drop.
He suggested I slow down and take a walk break. I think I growled at him in response.
He kept running with me and talking, and I just grunted in return. Right before the halfway point, I stopped to a walk. “I can’t do this. I am dropping.” I started crying pretty hard. I was so disappointed, so upset, and felt like I was letting everyone, especially myself, down. I was physically fine, my mental state was just terrible. I called Tim sobbing and told him to come pick me up. At this point, my friend Katy, who had run the first leg of the relay, saw Gary and I walking, and she jogged across the street. She asked what was wrong and I told her, and she and Gary encouraged me to run a little, walk a little until Tim got there.
They distracted me enough that we ran an entire mile without me noticing (as my poor husband drove around looking for me), and we then dropped Katy off at the relay exchange. Gary and I soldiered on, and I still wasn’t convinced I was going to finish, as there were 12 miles to go. At this point, we saw Amanda, and I started crying again, and she jumped in and ran/walked with us, and gave me a really good pep talk about getting out of my head and running MY race.
That was when I knew I was going to finish.
Gary and I spent the next eight miles doing a run/walk. Physically, I was still mostly fine, my hamstrings were tight, and my hips were achy, but my head was just so dark. I must have said “I can’t believe this is happening,” a hundred times. Gary entertained me the whole time, telling stories, encouraging me to run when our walk breaks had gone on too long, and asking me to tell him about my dog (my favorite topic). He told me he could hang with me until mile 22, so I texted Tim and told him he was on deck to run me in at that point.
We hit the JCC, and I said goodbye to Gary, and Tim and I began the journey down Front Street. We were walking a lot. I had long stopped caring. However, before we hit mile 23, I realized we could spend the next hour walking, or we could run it in and come in under 4 hours. Once a new goal was set, my mental state started to brighten. We only walked once in the last 3+ miles, up the hill near the Walnut Street Bridge, which we had agreed upon previously. We were easily running low-8 minute miles. It was all in my head.
We hit mile 26, and Tim told me the finish line was mine, and he peeled off. I crossed in 3:55:09, a far cry from what I had hoped and trained for.
On one hand, I am filled with disappointment and frustration. On the other hand, I honestly cannot believe I crossed that finish line. I have never hit rock bottom like this, not even in Boston 2014.
I am eternally grateful to Gary, Katy, Amanda, Tim and all the people who cheered for me and yelled encouraging things at me for being there for me at my worst. There is NO way I would have finished without them. And, ultimately, any day you can run (or run/walk/cry) 26.2 miles is a good day, even if it’s not on the terms you anticipated or wanted.