Sometimes, when things go differently than planned, the results are better. How so you ask?
Last October 2021, I signed up for three marathons in three states in three days. This was not so unusual as I have done multi-day marathons before. I signed up so long ago because prices for events go up the closer to the event you get. The event itself was this past weekend. I have been anticipating the event for months. In the meantime, I have gone in a 50k race and dealt with a sore hip (from work), which restricted my training. But going into the weekend, I felt completely good in my hips and legs.
Day 1 marathon was in Miami, Oklahoma. I drove down the night before and stayed in a hotel. The race took place at a park near the Neosho River. To complete a marathon, we had to do 14 laps of the course. I started off running because I felt rested and good. It was not a hot day, but very humid. I was doing well for about 9 miles. Then I realized that if I was going to do three marathons in three days, I needed to slow down and put in walk breaks. I did put in the walk breaks. At which point I began to get bored and wonder why I was doing boring laps in a park. I got up to around 16 miles and realized that I was thinking of cheating in order to get done quicker. I realized that I cared nothing about notching my belt with another marathon. Then I thought, “Don’t cheat. If you’re not in this game then just quit.” After 9 laps/17+ miles, I realized that I didn’t want to do any more laps. So I went to the timing table and told them I was quitting. They gave me a half marathon medal without blinking an eye. It turns out that the half marathon medal was the same as the full marathon medal. So I got the bling and went home. I was quite happy to begin my 3 hour drive 2 hours sooner than planned.
Day 2 race was in St Joseph Missouri, a short drive from my home. I woke up before the 4:30 am alarm and enthusiastically got out of bed. I was prepared to run a half marathon as fast as I could. No plan to try a full marathon suffer-fest. Just run the half and enjoy yourself. It was turning out that I much more enjoy a fast half marathon more than a slow full marathon, at least when the course is 14-16 laps of boredom.
Day 3 race was in Hiawatha Kansas, a short drive from my home. I woke up at 3am, a full hour before the alarm, and couldn’t go back to sleep. I checked the weather because thunderstorms were predicted. Depending on how bad they were, I knew I wouldn’t go to the race. There were storms but they didn’t look that bad. I would have to run in the rain, however. I was interested in getting my body to the race start and not in laying in bed. I knew I wasn’t going back to sleep regardless. So I made a bargain with myself. I said, “Get in the car and go to the race. If it is miserable, then just run a 5k, get your medal and go home.” That is, just get going and see what happens. I did it! I made it to the race and began running. I felt tired from the previous 2 days of racing, but not injured. It was raining so I wore a jacket. All the other racers were out there in jackets and ponchos, toughing it out. And there I was too, getting the miles done. But my brain wanted to cheat and go home. I was conscious of my brain trying to talk me out of what I was doing. If the rain had been worse, maybe I would have obeyed. But the rain wasn’t that bad and it did let up after I had run 10 miles and only had 3 to go. I finished! I didn’t cheat! I’m incredibly proud of myself.
What is all this about cheating you ask? Well, these races are very low-key. The timing is pretty loose. They have a start time. You tell the timer when you are done. Each lap you pick a rubberband off a table to keep track of how many laps you have run. Nothing stops you from picking up two rubber bands. Heck, you don’t even have to show the timer how many rubber bands you have when you say you are done. So really, it is up to the person to be honest with themselves. Some part of my brain strongly wants to cheat, but I never do. I think I endure my cheater brain every marathon I try to run. My brain is much more peaceful when a racecourse is a loop where you can’t cheat in order to get to the finish line.
What was the most memorable part of the 3 days? All 3 days there was a woman on the course who had both legs in full-length braces and used crutches. She was out there doing miles. I didn’t talk to her, but I watched. Why was she wearing braces and how strongly motivated she must be to get out there and do miles? Interesting. Here I am completely healthy and thinking about cheating, and I’m sharing the course with someone in leg braces. After I finished my race on day 3, the woman happened to be in the finish area, getting ready to start another lap. She asked me if I was done and was I coming to day 4 (it was an 8-day series but I signed up for 3 days). I said I wasn’t coming to day 4. She asked if she could take my picture. It turns out she wanted a selfie with me. I moved into position behind her shoulder. I could see myself in her camera. I look like a little kid in my ball cap, happy. She must have been watching me run miles while she was hobbling along. She wanted a picture with me. How special. I keep thinking about how I felt in that moment. It gives me goosebumps to think of it but I can’t explain why.
You would not believe how happy I was with myself about the results of this weekend: 3 races done at pretty good speed and no cheating. No laying in bed when I could have gone to a race. No useless suffering just to notch my belt. So this is what life can be about: how you feel about what you are doing, not what you seem to be doing.