I just came back from running the Chicago Marathon, one of the 6 World Marathon Majors. I know you want to read about the race itself but you have to wait until my next post for that. I first need to write about my race.
Last week before I traveled to Chicago, I picked up “How Bad Do You Want It?” by Matt Fitzgerald. The book is about mastering your mental game in order to reach your fullest potential. In the first chapter of the book, Matt wrote about Sammy Wanjiru, a Kenyan marathoner who won the 2009 Chicago Marathon. Sammy returned the following year to defend his title. He admitted at the press conference the day before the race he was only 75% prepared. 2010 had been a difficult year for him. Sammy had suffered injuries to his knee and his back, and contracted a stomach virus that interrupted his Chicago training. On race day, Sammy was up against tough competition on a warm day. He went out too fast. The last three miles were a battle of wills between Sammy and his rival who was in the lead. When everyone else had written Sammy off, he dug down deep to keep going. Sammy came from behind to beat his rival by 19 seconds and win the race. Where logic might have said Sammy would be lucky to finish the race, he instead proved how bad he wanted to win it.
It was kismet that I happened to start reading the book a few days before I headed to Chicago. This was the very question I had been asking myself as I trained. It ended up being the question I asked myself repeatedly as I ran it.
My journey to the start line was bumpy to say the least. I originally was scheduled to run the 2016 Chicago Marathon. I broke my big toe in July 2016 and was unable to train in time for the race. I deferred my entry to this year. While I struggled to recover from my broken toe, I developed ankle issues that required physical therapy and help from a rehabilitation fitness trainer. In April I ran the Boston Marathon but didn’t quite feel 100% yet.
After Boston, I turned my focus to Chicago. My training was going well until mid July when I experienced flashing lights in my peripheral vision. A visit to the ophthalmologist revealed I had detached vitreous. I was instructed not to run until the flashing lights stopped. If I ignored my doctor’s instruction and ran, I risked developing a torn or detached retina, even possibly loss of eyesight in my eye. I refused to let this latest challenge derail my goal of running in Chicago. I knew how badly I wanted to finish that race. For three weeks I found ways to maintain my cardio condition without running and jostling my head. I rode a stationary bike. I did water running. I worked extra hard on strength training in my Pilates classes. I bounced back quickly when I resumed running.
In early September I ran the Kauai Half Marathon. It was the longest distance I had run since my last half marathon in July. I felt like I was back on track. Life, however, had other plans. A week after I returned from Hawaii and the day after my 16-mile training run, I developed a cough that quickly deteriorated into bronchitis. I was exhausted from coughing all night. My allergies kicked in and exacerbated my condition. I was unable to run for over a week. When I finally resumed training again, I found breathing was more difficult and I was running much slower. The marathon was only two weeks away and my longest run had been 16 miles. For some runners that might have been enough to pass on the race. But I am not most runners. I was determined to run in Chicago. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I was willing to endure whatever I encountered in order to finish.
On race day I felt good. I followed my coach’s advice and kept telling myself I was strong and I was prepared. I didn’t allow my mind to be clouded by negative thoughts. As I stood in my corral, I was confident, not nervous. I chatted with the runners around me, reassuring first time marathoners who were questioning their own preparations for the race. Finally our corral headed to the start line and my race began.
Although the course was crowded, I was running well until mile 6 when I started to feel a twinge in my ankle, the one that had bothered me during my Boston Marathon training. I knew I had to keep the pain in check or it would only worsen. I remembered the marathon monk and how he meditates while he walks. By focusing on his breathing, the rhythm of his walk, his mantra, or just emptiness, the monk is able to ignore his physical pain and quiet his mind. I decide to follow the marathon monk’s strategy. I visualized my ankle muscles relaxing. In a short while, I no longer felt the pain.
The Chicago course was full of bends and turns. I was advised by my coach to run the tangents, in other words, run the straightest line possible. Around Mile 10.5 I began maneuvering myself in preparation for the next turn. I looked over my shoulder to ensure I was not cutting off another runner. In doing so, I took my eyes off the direction I was headed. I tripped over something in the road and fell. Two male runners behind me quickly scooped me up and put me back on my feet. My fall happened very quickly, which was probably a good thing. I didn’t have time to try to catch myself or I might have broken my wrist or arm. I had skinned my knees but otherwise I was fine.
After cleaning off my scrapes with a Wet One, I started running again. My knee was throbbing from the pain and I could see it was starting to get swollen. But I only had one thing in mind – finishing the race. I kept asking myself “How bad do you want it?” Did I want it enough to ignore my scrapes and knee pain to keep going? I thought again about the marathon monk. He endures pain and exhaustion in his quest. I thought about Sammy in 2010. I would not let my mind keep me from my goal. I pushed myself and finished faster than I had planned, given the warm temperatures and my interrupted training. I wanted it bad enough and I proved it.
I wasn’t the only one in Chicago on Sunday who proved how bad they wanted it. Jordan Halsay, a young American marathoner, was running only her second marathon. She finished 3rd in her first marathon, the Boston Marathon in April. In Chicago, her coach had cautioned her about running too fast in the first half or she would not have enough energy for the second half of the race. As Jordan ran, she realized she had a decision to make. She could hang back with the pack and run for a personal record (PR) or she could stick with the leaders and compete for a podium finish. She decided to compete. We saw how badly she wanted it. Jordan finished third in her second marathon appearance, knocking two minutes off her previous PR and putting her in second place on the all-time list of American marathon performances. Yes, Jordan wanted it.
In his book “The Last Lecture” Dr. Randy Pausch talked about challenges – the brick walls that he ran into that prevented him from achieving his dreams. He pointed out the walls were not there to keep him from achieving his goals but to show how badly he wanted to achieve them. Because as Dr. Pausch pointed out, the walls are there to stop people who don’t want it badly enough. They will quit trying. I had encountered my own walls while going for my 5th World Marathon Major finish – injuries, illness, the heat on race day, and even a fall in the middle of the race. Ultimately, I proved how badly I wanted to finish. I am now just one race away from achieving my dream of completing all 6 World Marathon Majors. No matter what – I won’t quit.