2000 Tucson Marathon Report
Runner's World Pace Team at Tucson Marathon
pace clinic, with "The Penguin" at far right.
They say that every marathon is different, that you learn something
from each one. I know I've heard mySELF say that anyway, but
I'm not sure I fully embraced it, even after 17 marathons. Maybe
it just hadn't sunk in totally because, just as the effort is different
from one marathon to
another, so are the lessons. Sometimes it's only a mini-lesson
that you gain...and you chalk it up as valuable training information,
while in others it's a giant insight that may shape other parts
of your life or your psyche profoundly.
I think my lesson at Tucson was closer to the latter, except it
was a warning kind of insight rather than one of the explosive,
expansive ones that lights up your life and leaves you high for
For starters, Sunday was the first time I've DNF'd a race--ANY
race of ANY distance--since I began running. I have to admit I've
been pretty proud of that record. At Disney in January '99, I tried
to stop (also at mile 18) but couldn't find transportation to the
finish so I walked the last 8 miles. Weeks later when I finally
was diagnosed with the thyroid problem that caused me to blow up
in that race, there was a little part of me that was secretly pleased
I'd managed to gut it out to the finish anyway.
At the start of the Tucson Marathon, John and I both thought we
could do it. Despite having run the Florence half marathon the weekend
before and the Athens marathon four weeks before. Despite two roundtrip
international flights in five weeks. Despite returning to the States
on Tuesday and coming down with monster colds on the flight. Despite
the difference in altitude in Tucson. What were we thinking??
I'm not sure, except that we didn't want to back out on the Runner’s
World pace team.
So we arrived in Tucson Friday, ordered room service, and went
to sleep. We did the Runner's World pace team clinics on Saturday,
ate, and went to sleep. (I slept more Saturday night than I normally
do during the TWO nights before a marathon, even though we had to
get up at 3:30am to get to the start!)
The weather was perfect and we felt good at the start of the race,
at least good compared to earlier in the week. The gradual
inclines during the first 3 miles seemed gentle to me, then the
downhill to the finish started. At about mile 7-8 I remember
thinking that this was great, this would be the perfect course to
come back to for a qualifying attempt. At the halfway
point we were a minute and a half ahead of where we needed to be
to bring the 5 hour pace group in on target. The 15 people with
us were running steady.
Then our wheels started coming off. At 15 we had lost our
little lead, by 17 John was cramping up because his heart rate had
been way high the whole race, and I was hacking and having trouble
breathing. I realized it would take a supreme effort to finish.
It was clear that the rest of the group was doing fine, but we weren't...we
would hold them back.
John said he didn't know what to do. I heard myself say "we
should walk off the course." Did I say that? Me?? I was surprised
at the firmness of my words. Of course I didn't want to DNF.
But I thought of what the price would be in recovery and lost training
time if we gutted it out for 8 more miles. When we saw the injured
Tucson runner who had been driving up and down the course encouraging
other runners, it seemed like an omen. We walked off the course
and into his car.
It wasn't a happy moment. I was more than disappointed.
I knew John was too, he'd trained really well for this. We both
knew that it was the wisest decision, that it wasn't our day, that
there was a long list of compelling reasons to stop when we did.
It was simple. Yeah. Those decisions and the lessons learned are
NEVER simple. They may be profound, but they are never simple.
So, what was the big lesson...the insight...for me?? It was
a while coming. Even though I knew we did the smart thing, it wasn't
what I WANTED to do.
We talk a lot about the power of running to transform our lives.
More often than not, that seems to be about how running changes
one's sense of self-esteem. For me the transformation that came
from running was the realization that I COULD persevere at something,
that I WAS disciplined. All those years of feeling inadequate because
I didn't or wasn't or didn't think I could or would ended with the
completion of a year of marathon training.
What I learned from Tucson is that that transformation has a flip
side. I realize now that I've had a lot tied up in completing
races and sticking with schedules. That covers the gamut--from "gutting
it out" (the worst spin on it) in tough situations/races, to
staying with a structured running program, to doing what I say I'll do even if turns out not to be
a great idea.
I learned that I've got to 'unlearn' some of what running has taught
me, or at least I need to learn to apply it differently. The
discipline and perseverance that come with running and training
are splendid life-altering traits. But it's pretty easy to
get into a discipline rut that leads to mindless choices which ignore
the condition of your body and what you’re capable of at a
particular point in time. To stay healthy and whole, we must run
intelligently, not mindlessly and not merely in an effort to obliterate
Unlearning the learned. I guess that's what running has always
been about for me, why it's been such a transforming thing in my
life. You learn one thing, move on to a brand new place emotionally
and physically, only to discover that there are miles and miles
more learning and changing around the next curve in the road.