In February 2019, I made a decision: NO 2019 MARATHONS. I made this decision while I was training for a March 2019 marathon. I scrapped that plan once I realized I was experiencing overtraining syndrome and my body was telling me that enough was enough.

I had been in physical therapy since March 2018 and I was showing little improvement. I had completed 6 marathons between October 2016 and October 2018. I knew that my body was screaming for a break so I gave in and JUST STOPPED.

I had a couple pacing commitments between April and June but I knew that I would do very little racing this year. I told myself to run whenever I wanted to and rest when I needed it. The thought of a fall marathon still loomed in the back of my mind but I had to force myself not to give it much thought or make it a priority. Instead, I would focus more on physical therapy and spending more time with my daughter. Luckily, the extra rest and lack of running paid off and I was discharged from PT in May.

However, as the summer loomed on, I got the marathon itch. By August, it was all I could think about. I looked over the mileage I had completed the past several months and noticed that it was equivalent to the amount of miles I usually completed during a marathon training cycle. Was I actually in shape to run a marathon before the end of 2019?

Instead of making a commitment to a fall marathon, I decided to experiment with a couple long runs to see how I fared. A 16, 18, and 20 mile run all went very well and I was clearly in marathon shape. But I was still hesitant. The thought of re-injuring myself hovered over my head. When you’ve been in PT for 15 months, the last thing you want is to go back. But the thought of running another marathon was strong and I was slowly being pulled in that direction.

I decided I would run the Grand Rapids Marathon. It would be my 8th marathon and my 3rd time running this race. I wanted to see what I could do for someone who hadn’t followed a marathon training plan or tapered. I made the stupid mistake of setting a time goal on myself.

I say stupid because even though my time goal was realistic I knew that it would be devastating to me if I didn’t accomplish it. I’ve run enough marathons to know that you don’t set just one goal for yourself. You aim for several so that if things don’t go as planned, you have at least one thing that did go right.

My goals seemed relatively simple: earn a 2021 Boston Qualifying (BQ) time. Run 4 warm up miles with the 3:43:00 pace team. Slowly chase down the 3:29:00 pace team. Drink a cup of water at every single aid station. Eat every 30 minutes. If I felt any twinge of pain from a past injury, I would stop. I told myself multiple times that re-inuring myself was not going to be worth it and if I had to walk, so be it.

I followed my plan to a T. Unfortunately, my Garmin was malfunctioning and I sure how long I had been running and the 90% humidity hit me at mile 22 and I had to slow down. But I wasn’t in any pain, so I carried on.

As I approached the finish line, I noticed that both of my physical therapists were working the medical tent. I crossed the timing mat and they both asked me, “are you pain free?!” I was! It was such a good feeling to tell these 2 people that I ran a marathon in zero pain! I felt like I had executed my marathon plan very well and was pleased with what I had accomplished for someone who hadn’t actually trained or tapered for a marathon.

At this time, I was still unclear what my final finish time was but I still felt confident that I had earned my 5th BQ. I went to gear check and grabbed my phone to check my final finish time. My heart plummeted. I didn’t BQ. I had missed the mark by 42 seconds. I started sobbing. I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. All of a sudden, none of that positive stuff mattered anymore. Instead, my life started to revolve around one stupid, arbitrary number. My brain was filled with should haves: I should have drunken more water. I should have timed my fuel differently. I should have tapered. I should have gotten more sleep. The tears kept coming. As soon as I reached my car, I couldn’t control my snotty, heaving sobs. I felt like such a failure. And I felt stupid for making such a rash decision to run this marathon in the first place.

However, within 24 hours I started to see the silver linings and the accomplishments of completing my 8th marathon. The biggest one being that I ran PAIN FREE and INJURY FREE! I was also pleased that my fueling and hydration plan was almost spot on. Yes, I needed a little bit more fluids towards the end of the race, but it still worked pretty well for me. My pacing plan was pretty effective, too. Sticking with a warm up pace for 4 miles really helped me relax and set the tone for the rest of the race.

The marathon can break your heart. It puts you in a vulnerable position where you feel like you can accomplish anything but also crumble your world. You move on. You get over it. Because every single time you run one, no matter the outcome, you always end up stronger. And you always come back to prove it. I still have the goal to earn a 2021 BQ. And I know that I will get it. Because now I have seen what my body can do when it doesn’t train for a marathon and how much improvement there is when it does. Watch out 2020! I’m coming for you!