Well, I didn’t see any of that coming.
Or maybe I should have taken the standstill traffic we got stuck in on our drive out to Indianapolis as a sign of what was coming. In addition to construction and a minor accident on I-70 westbound, we got stuck in the traffic on I-465. Stepdad Bill told us I-70 going into downtown Indianapolis was shut down for construction, so we followed I-465 around. A quick detour took us past my alma mater and we made it to our hotel in one piece, got checked in and got our stuff dropped off in our room.
My mom came out with me, as has been our tradition every time I’ve raced in Indy. Unfortunately, the week leading up to our trip, Mom developed either a cold, laryngitis or an upper respiratory infection. Energy-wise she said she felt great, but her voice was shot.
To her credit, Mom is a trooper. We were still able to enjoy ourselves at the expo and then that night in our room. Meanwhile, I was looking forward to race day. In the previous years since raced Indy – 2017, 2018 and 2019 – I’ve always managed to beat the time I ran in the Columbus Marathon the month prior. I had confidence I could carry the emotional and mental fortitude from Columbus into Indy and beat the 5:40 time I did last month.
I was wrong. Way, way, horribly wrong.
The first big area I misjudged was my own preparedness. Remember how I said I could usually run Indy after Columbus with no problem in years past and PR? Those were also years where I was training hard – running several 20 mile training runs before the actual marathons and staying consistent with speed work. My training was pretty much non-existent in 2020, and then this past year wasn’t much better since I was battling unemployment, depression and my relationship breaking down. Marathon training took a backseat to dealing with those main stressors, and then starting a new job in August.
The longest run I did was in late September, the 18-miler. My planned 20-miler never happened, since I got hit with a bout of nausea and lightheadedness that stuck with me for a while. Cross-training was just okay, and my diet was – and admittedly still is – pretty atrocious.
To put it simply – my training going into this sucked and did me no favors. I could make it work for Columbus, but a second race three weeks afterwards? That was far too ambitious and I’m paying for it.
The second thing was the course in Indy. Keep in mind this is my fourth time running the full marathon, and the course has never changed. However, I do not remember the roads having that many deep cracks and potholes, or the city having that many hills. I’ve run on rough surfaces before and at this point have learned to expect it. But I …. was not at all expecting what I ran on.
I was able to make it Mile 10 before the impact of rough pavement and hills got to me, and at the halfway point between Miles 14 and 15, my calves started to flare up. Sometimes I get sharp pains in my calves that force me to stop and walk or stop entirely, and those kicked in on the back half of the course.
I did my damnedest, but running on those streets and the hills completely killed me at Mile 19. I wound up walking most of final 10k, and at Mile 20 I texted Mom that I felt so defeated and demoralized.
This was my tenth full marathon. My first milestone on my way to 50 fulls by the time I’m 50. This was going to be my Big Frickin’ Deal race. And yet I was getting passed by the 5-hour pacers, then the 5:15 pacers, and the 5:30 pacers. It took everything in me not to cry when the couple with the 5:45 sign breezed past me.
I finished the race in 5:55:24, which is my slowest time yet. I know I should be happy enough to have completed a marathon and proud regardless, but honestly, I can’t shake the feeling I let myself down. I knew what I needed to do to secure a victory. I didn’t do it because the rest of my life got in the way. It may not be an excuse, but it does feel like it.
And yet in spite of the lingering disappointment, I don’t regret running Indy. In fact, I’m glad I did it and kept my promise to myself to finish the race come hell or high water. I’m glad ten marathons are done and the lessons that came with them were learned.
The Indy Monumental Marathon taught me three major things. First, it forced me to appreciate all the races I’ve done that went well. Nobody is guaranteed a good time all the time and sometimes, shit just happens. So never take great times for granted.
The second big lesson was that I definitely need to plan better if I’m serious about smashing my running goals in the future. I’m not really sure how much explanation this one requires, but I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me for my next training cycle this upcoming winter.
And the third major lesson: people who run marathons are indeed crazy, but the root of that craziness really is a love for the distance. For the suffering and the rising from the ashes of exhaustion, emotional defeat and some unsavory muscle cramps. I can tell you why I started running in the first place and what motivated me to sign up for that very first marathon in 2017. But what’s kept me going and what carried me through this year’s Indy? The only answer I can come up with is simply loving the sport and that high that comes after more than five hours of pain and stress.
Marathon #10 humbled me. It reminded me that racing is very hard. And it reinforced that ultimately, completing a marathon is always worth it.
So Indy – I don’t know what next year holds. You weren’t the milestone I imagined, but a milestone you were. I’m going to choose to reflect on you with gratitude and resolve to come back stronger, faster and badder. During and immediately after the race I felt like you broke me, but now I realize you were refining me in the fire for that “next time.” And when that time comes, I know I’m going to be ready for it.
I hope you all have a great week ahead. Thank you for staying with me on my self-inflicted journey to pride and maybe madness.
Yours in reading and running,