Tuesday, June 4

Quest to Boston Part IV: We did it!

I've made a lot of trade-off's the past two years.  I've traded beer for water, dessert for kale and partying for sleep.  Relaxing bubble baths?  Yea right.  Try an ice bath after a grueling run.  Stretch out on the couch after work?  Negative. More like foam-rolling my IT bands instead.  Pool-side?  More like lake-side (of the White Rock variety).  I've also done a ton of analyzing.  "How will this workout contribute to my fitness?  How's my heart rate?  How's my pace, cadence, power, form?  How's my recovery time?  Will this food promote recovery or inflammation?  Should I get a massage today or tomorrow?"  The list goes on and on.  Some of this was a function of a lifestyle shift, but a lot of it was trying to cash-in on an ambitious goal.

This past Saturday I received the pay-out for all trade-off's I had made, and it came in the form of crossing a finish line of a 26.2 mile race in 3hrs, 3min and 37sec --- good enough to qualify me for the prestigious Boston Marathon.  My goodness... we did it!

I'm writing this post shortly after the race in an attempt to capture my mood and what's top of mind, so pardon the rambling.  And as cliché as it sounds, it truly is hard to find the right words to describe my feelings.  I'm elated, grateful, surprised, giddy and proud.  I'm also mentally and physically fatigued.  But even that is trumped ten times over by the happiness I'm experiencing from finally hitting my target.  It's magnified further since I can share this story with loved ones.  It's incredible.  It's truly incredible.

Although I must humbly admit one feeling certainly seems to stick out among the others: relief.  You see, for the past two years Boston has entered my mind virtually every day.  Literally, every single day, whether via workouts, eating habits, conversations or just daily thoughts.  And as my family and close friends can attest, marathoning has occupied a substantial share of my life.  To see and feel the pay-out has been quite the story.

My journey to qualify for Boston really isn't a story about overcoming any devastating setbacks or conquering any tremendous obstacles.  Sure, there were some bumps along the road to qualifying, but for the most part this is simply a story about persistence paying off.  It's a story of busting ass, being patient and letting consistency over time run its course.  It was fun, hard, sometimes painful and even emotionally taxing.  But I wouldn't change a single thing about it.

Saturday's race in Newport, Oregon was my fourth official attempt at qualifying.  (I've written about my previous experiences here.)  My coach Mike had suggested a few races to choose from, but Newport was selected for its timing, cool weather, and flat/fast course.  In hindsight, two other features of the race played a critical role in it being a good choice.  

The first was the course's beauty.  The marathon's website and Google Earth pictures don't do it justice.  The course went along a bay off the coast of Newport, throughout a forest that was beyond gorgeous.  It was an out-and-back; on one side you had water that looked like glass, surrounded by rolling mountains.  On the other side was a lush forest full of pine.  I felt like I was running for a Nike commercial.  It's amazing the positive impact the physical surroundings have on performance.  

The other feature of the race that helped was the size and scope of the event itself.  There were about 750 runners who did this race (compared to 38,000 in Chicago), and it didn't have the bells and whistles of other marathons I've done.  The expo was tiny, there was no 'runner tracking', timing corrals or pace groups.  The overall vibe was much more laid back which I believe reduced a ton of anxiety.

I was fortunate enough to have my parents there, and Jessie's dad also made the trip out since she ran the marathon as well.  Not sure I would have qualified had it not been for the on-site support team.

Training for this race was a beat-down.  Bumps and bruises like runner’s knee, slipped ribs, a cold, medication issues and a chopped-off tip of my thumb undoubtedly impacted my mental capacity to stay disciplined and push through hard workouts.  I also started a new job at Southwest that demanded much more of my energy cycles.  Needless to say my “willpower muscle” was tested throughout the build-up to Newport.

A week out from the race the negative thoughts began creeping into my head: “Have you done enough work?  Are you sure you’re ready?  Is the endurance up?  How about the speed?  Will the knee hold up?  What’s the weather forecast in Newport?  Will your nutrition cause problems again?”  These thoughts came and went throughout the week – the more distracted by life I was, the less I worried.

With some good counsel, I decided to drop all thoughts on the past and the future, which was much easier said than done.  Forget Chicago and Dallas.  Stop harping on the training.  Who cares about the wind potential on race-day.  Focus on the now.  Stay present.  Stay in the moment.  This tactic worked.  The anxiety lessened and the stress virtually evaporated – hell, I almost ordered a beer the night before the race!

It wasn't until I was in bed about 7 hours from my alarm going off that the doubts re-appeared.  I once again began questioning my readiness.  There was no way I was going to fall asleep or let those thoughts carry forward to race day.  So I rolled over, flipped the light on, and grabbed a book I've been reading.  I flipped to a page where I had highlighted a passage and read it out loud:

"Self-control is one of mankind's most fabulous upgrades, but it's not our only distinction.  We also possess self-awareness: the ability to realize what we are doing as we do it, and understand why we are doing it.  Without self-awareness, the self-control system would be useless.  You need to recognize when you're making a choice that requires willpower; otherwise, the brain always defaults to what is easiest."

For many reasons, these words extinguished any doubt I had in my mind about qualifying the next day.  Reading those words put me in control.  I switched the light off, rolled back over and slept like a baby until the alarm went off.

50 degrees, no wind and overcast on race morning.  Perfect.  The cow-bell (no starter gun at this race) rang and we took off.  I had set my Garmin watch to auto-lap every 1/2 mile.  Pretty simple formula here: each time the auto-lap alert goes off, make sure it says 3:30 +/- a couple of seconds.  7:00/mile pace qualifies you for Boston.  Easy enough.

Through mile 20 I was on point with my pacing, right at a 7:00/mile.  Mile 21 I saw my parents and gave them a thumbs up (sound familiar?).  At that point my legs were getting tired, but there wasn't any pain like I had felt in previous marathons.  I actually had the thought that if I could sustain my same pace and energy level for the next 5K, I may even be able to burn my reserves and let it rip at the end, maybe even post a sub-3hr marathon.

What a dumb thought that was.  A mere 1.5 miles later and it felt like someone took a sledge hammer to both my legs.  A feeling I know all too well.  "Oh no," I thought, "...not again."  I gritted my teeth and kept my legs moving forward.  The auto-lap alerts kept going off, but my pace was slowing: 3:33, 3:40, 3:37.  This is familiar territory for me, and my parents as well.  They've seen it at Chicago twice and to a lesser extent back in December at Dallas.  Knowing I was most vulnerable here, my parents would drive up ahead a ways, stop, and wait for me to pass.  I saw them again around mile 23.5, which would be the last time I'd see them before the finish.

Just after crossing the mile marker at 24, I gave myself permission to walk.  The pain was excruciating.  I grabbed my quads, walked for about 10 seconds until my prefrontal cortex kicked in.  My willpower muscle I had read about the night prior.  "What are you doing?" I thought.  "You're doing exactly what you said you wouldn't do.  You are in control here, Brian.  You own your decisions.  Don't let your mind let you default to what is easier.  You've worked so hard.  You're so close.  Go! Now!"

So I went.  I made a choice.  I kept my legs moving forward and I pushed through.  And before I knew it I crossed the 25th mile marker and had about 10min before the Boston cut-off.  Some quick-math in my head and I knew I had it.  I smiled, tears began to well up and the pain temporarily lifted.  I came down a hill with a few hundred meters to go, saw my mom and lip-mouthed "We did it."  I crossed the finish line at 3:03:37, just under the 3:04:59 cut-off.

It had been over two years worth of trade-off's and work that lead up to that moment.  For more than two years Jessie had to deal with a large amount of Friday nights staying in.  My Mom, Dad and Kylie had to tolerate my moodiness.  My coach had to curb (and re-curb, and re-curb) my anxiety and doubt.  My friends had to hear me say 'no' to many social outings.  And it's to all of them and more that I owe this to.  I'm so blessed to have such an incredible support group and network of people who care about me.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

We did it!

Just after the finish with my Mom.

Jess and me post-race.
The two who got me through the last 4 miles.

2 comments :

  1. MOST THINGS IN LIFE REALLY ONLY TAKE TWO THINGS:
    1. HARD WORK
    2. SUPPORT

    YOU DID AND HAD BOTH!

    GREAT JOB BRIAN.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I literally cried reading this!! So exciting for you both!

    Can't wait to read more of your alls blog, the name is very fitting :)

    ReplyDelete

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