Lights flood the start area, but all around is mysterious darkness.
The gun goes off and we head off toward the rising sun. I am completely fixated on my calves...how are they feeling...what's going on down there...and I'm taking it very very easy. This course is a net downhill, but the fact is that it is not an easy course. There's lots of uphill and rolling sections. Each mile ticks by. So far so good. I feel good. Really good, but I don't trust it - not in the least.
As we turn onto the highway, around mile 14, heading for Tucson the headwind picks up, blowing the mile marker signs down. It's not terrible, but it's there. I'm praying that it won't pick up. And the miles continue to pass...and I still feel really good. By mile 20, having felt no weirdness in my calves, I decide to push it. For the next 6 miles I feel stronger than I've ever felt at the end of a marathon. I've cut my pace by about a minute a mile and feel stronger with each passing mile.
And as I make the final turn towards the finish line I push with all I have, and cross in 3:48:16. I'm happy because this went so much better than I anticipated...and yet there is this little voice in my head..."My god! You have so much left!! Ugggg!!!"
And how many times do we hold back in life, afraid about what could happen? How many times do we play it safe and then wonder what if...
Now, don't get me wrong here. I am very happy with this race. But, here's what I realized: I've mentioned before that I've been in search of that race that feels easy - where everything falls into place and you just do what you can do, what you know to do. I felt this running the Colorado Marathon in 2011 - and I've longed, thirsted, for it ever since. And here it was...and I am left feel that...well...I could have done better! Talk about nothing making you happy!!! I just set a master's PR, got another BQ, and all I can think is that I could have done better.
So, what did I learn?
First, don't ignore things the week before a marathon. Of course there's the usual tapper madness and aches and pains that come with tapering, but cramps are different. I should have been paying better attention and taken better care of myself.
Second, don't awfullize about things you can't control. Easier said than done, but at least I now have the experience of having something completely new happening the day before a marathon and it still turned out alright. If that happens again perhaps I won't be such wreck. Or maybe I will...
Third, and most importantly, I learned that I'm not really after that easy race, I'm after that hard effort that succeeds beyond my wildest dreams. I want to feel good at the end of a marathon, but not good in the sense of having anything left to give. That's a difficult thing to put your finger on, but that's what I want.
Will I even know when/if it happens? I don't know. I guess that's why I keep doing this stuff...