Monday, April 20, 2009

Elephant in the room (or, trying to ignore my Boston aspirations until now)

Me at the finish at Toronto Scotiabank last year, my failed BQ attempt.

Today, my thoughts are with friends and fellow runners who are in Boston running the grand old daddy of marathons. I can't lie that I wish to go there one day. In fact, there's a good reason why I didn't write much about my failed BQ attempt last fall -- it hurt too much to think about it. Maybe it's about time I confront that.

The first time I thought seriously that I could somehow make it to Boston came even before I ran marathons. I got back into running in 2004 and started serious road racing in 2005: That year, I fell in love with the sport and by that fall, I'd done my first two half marathon with a 1:35 and 1:34. Here's a thing about that time -- until I had raced 13.1 miles, I never really thought I could do well at long distance running. But I saw that if you doubled a 1:35 half and added 10-15 minutes, I was within striking distance of a BQ.

That 3:10:59 has been that holy grail for me, and as I ran my first two marathons in 2006 and 2007, my sights were set on 3:20, a time I thought would be a building block toward my ultimate goal.

Last spring, almost a year ago, I made my breakthrough, running the Flying Pig Marathon in a sub 3:20. I felt fantastic and strong and even with all the hills of Kentucky and Cincinnati, I powered through the last miles. That, and faster 5K times told me I could perhaps start thinking of making my BQ attempt.

I took a break after my spring marathon but made a commitment to ramp up the training and mileage and I set a hometown marathon -- Toronto's waterfront -- as my venue to make the attempt. In the four months, I have never put so much into a single effort. My mileage was just way more than I was used to: 6 days a week of running, 14 milers on a weekday, 20+ milers, countless track and tempo work. And I was true to the program with no exceptions.

I will not deny that I was in the best shape of my life. Could I have done more? Undoubtedly yes, but time is a massive commodity I have in short supply.

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is a bittersweet experience. I was hitting all my splits, it was clockwork. But when I hit the 37K mark, with only three miles to go, calf cramps and subsequent walk breaks took an entire summer's training away from me. I wasn't able to make it to my next goal of 3:15 which would have BQed me for 2010.

Funny, walking home from the race, I tried to come to grips with a wide range of emotions, but I can only describe myself feeling resigned. What an odd feeling. I knew that there was so much not in my control that day, like the heat or a lack of the promised 3:10 pacer. I knew I had run a strong strong race on a warm day, and I had learned so much by running alone about what I could do. I knew I also had to learn more about dealing with the pain associated with running a marathon.

I don't think the summer of training was a waste. There are definate gains I made during those 18 weeks that I bring to myself today -- some sort of reslieance and the ability to run through exhaustion.

So I'm in the taper for my sixth marathon, and last night, I watched a video on Runner's World shot at the Charles River. The reporter was asking runners who were running Boston about getting the BQ. One thing resonated with me. It wasn't the advice to pick the right training program, or doing speedwork three times a week. It was this: You have to keep on trying.

Mississauga Marathon is on my comeback route. I'll run it once again humbled by the distance, I'll aim to run it wisely, with a strong pace and improve upon hydration and fuelling. I'll take a few easy weeks after that, but by June, I'm going to build up the mileage. I've rested and thought through the mistakes all fall and winter, and even just started running again for the love of it, and I've come to grips that BQ is not the sum of my running. It's a milestone, but not getting it won't make me any less of a runner. I've run too many miles in the past five years to make one race one that defines me.

That said, my next birthday in August just bought me another five minutes. So might as well keep on trying.


Mel-2nd Chances said...

great post and reflection. I admire what Boston means to you, and countless other runners; I will never qualify, I'm not built for speed, but I'm ok with it... But you're so right that Boston doesn't define you as a runner. I have no doubt that you will get there, and the extra 5 minutes is bonus!

Arcane said...

Hey Kenny you'll get there next year. It's been long hard battle but it'll be worth it in the end. Enjoy the taper.

Marlene said...

Great post. After my experience at the race on Monday, I KNOW I want to go for it one day. It would be a long road for me and might not be something I can achieve even in the next decade, but it's in my sights and I like what you said - just keep on trying.

I'm also sending your post to my hubby to read because he has a goal of qualifying next year (has yet to run a marathon).

You'll get there one day.

yumke said...

Thanks for your comments... I'm looking forward to the challenge. Nice to have goals, I've learned by now, to have on the horizon...