Running is a much a mental sport as it is a physical one, just as it is a team sport rather than just an individual one. My experiences while training for the Wineglass Marathon, and race day itself, were reminders of this.
I always credit my success with distance running to the fact that I crave and enjoy time alone. I was quickly reminded though that there is a big difference in the time spent running 8 miles versus 16 miles. This year I battled new emotions, mostly loneliness. The bulk of my runs were alone. While friends were typically out on the trail at the same time and great support, there was more than one occasion where I finished and returned to an empty parking lot. I had a near panic attack once fearing that if something happened to me, no one would realize it.
I began to no longer care. I was determined to get my long runs in since I knew there was no way I could go into a marathon without them, but the rest of my training suffered.
I kept reminding myself that I was going to be alone on race day, so why did it matter that I was alone for these long training runs? Why was I craving company? In the weeks leading up to race day, I did two 20 milers. The first felt like a disaster, in large part to the 100% humidity and 98 degree heat index. The second was a huge confidence boost three weeks before race day. While the weather was significantly better, I also had Megan’s company for about 6.5 of it.
Race day came. I wasn’t nervous, although I didn’t sleep that well the night before either. I was determined moreso than anything else. I had a fabulous first half to the race. Then, for reasons I still don’t truly understand, mentally everything fell apart. The precipitous to this was wind and cold. At mile 15 I picked up a sweatshirt someone had discarded on the side of the course. I took this on and off for the rest of the race, and finished with it tied around my waist.
While the water stops had wonderful volunteers, the rest of the course had no spectators, despite running through several neighborhoods. After awhile, I didn’t see any other racers either. I was cold, miserable, and completely alone. I considered walking up to a medical station and pulling myself from the course more than once. Despite the fact that I no longer cared about the race, I was too stubborn to truly quit. Stubborness can be a runner’s best and worst quality.
As I came into the finish, there was hardly anyone left and a good chunk of the finish line area was cleaned up. Lauren, my partner in crime for race weekend, greeted me with a huge hug. I sobbed. I sobbed the next day while telling my mom about the race. Whenever I’d think back to the race or answer “how was it?”, I fought back tears. Despite finishing 26.2 miles, no matter how ugly it was, I couldn’t savor the accomplishment. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I gave up on myself.
So, what now? I’m taking a much needed break. I haven’t run since race day, October 5th. The only other times I’ve had this long a break were due to injury.
I’m not giving up on running, but am taking a step back. Right now my first race next year may not be until the Frederick ½ in May. This will allow me to ease back into a routine and take the winter off from long distance training. I’ve spent pretty much every winter since 2008/2009 training for a March half marathon. Hopefully taking some time to focus on me rather than running will give me a new prospective.