On Sunday November 3rd, I was one of 53,000+ people to finish the 26.2 mile journey from Staten Island to Central Park. It was the best day. It was also the worst day. They say the person who starts the marathon isn’t the same person who finishes, and I wholeheartedly believe that. So now, after more than a week has gone by since I crossed that iconic finish line, here’s what I’m taking away from the 2019 NYC Marathon.
Marathons are hard.
“Duh” should be the first thing that came to your mind here, but hear me out. I have a confession. I got a little arrogant. I’ve run a lot of half marathons (30 and counting…) but this was only my third marathon. The half marathon made me cocky. I can bust out 13.1 miles at a drop of a hat, assuming I’m not trying to run down a PR. My “A” goal for this year’s marathon was to run a pace that doesn’t feel like a huge effort on 99% of days, including running a half marathon. As much as I took this training seriously, I’ll admit I didn’t respect the marathon distance and how difficult it is even if you’re running at what feels like a snail’s pace.
A marathon isn’t just two half marathons. It literally just is, but it’s a lot more strenuous than that. It’s a huge jump. It feels like five half marathons, and unlike 13.1, there’s only so much you can do to predict how your body is going to handle running that far.
So first things first, I learned to remember that the marathon distance is a beast in and of itself. It’s hard. Really hard. I’m sorry I didn’t give you the respect you deserve, 26.2. I won’t make that mistake again.
You are what you do on your worst day.
Success is easy when everything goes well. It’s not a huge effort to be nice to someone when you’re in a good mood, you’ve slept well, and life is generally going your way. It’s pretty seamless to accomplish what you want to when all things fall into place.
But what do you do when that’s not the case? When the chips or down, the going gets tough, or whatever other cliche you want to use – what do you do? I feel like this is a question that only gets answer when you’re in the moment. You can guess, but you never really know.
You don’t know how you’re going to react to your body suddenly rebelling against you on the downhill of the Queensboro Bridge when you’re 10 miles from the finish line. It’s hard to predict how you’ll respond when that pain gets worse, and your “A” goal goes out the window.
Spoiler: all of that happened. I didn’t run the same race in the last 10 miles as I did in the first 16. The first 16 was a party. The last 10 was me fighting back tears and gritting my teeth and refusing to walk because even though I wasn’t hitting the time I wanted, I could still run my best marathon time as long as I put one foot in front of the other.
So I did. I could have walked it in and still crossed the finish line. Don’t get me wrong – that would have still been an accomplishment! That’s especially true given the fact that I was in a LOT of pain. But I didn’t. I ran. Slowly. The slowest I’ve run in years. I ran until I crossed that finish line 16 minutes faster than I ever have before.
Now I know what happens when I’m not at my best. I didn’t hit the goal I wanted, but I am so proud to confirm that I am a person who doesn’t give up or let myself phone it in. I’m proud that I’m a person that readjusts goals when necessary and lets that be okay. I love that I am a person who can cry in front of thousands of people when she enters Central Park because that was the moment I knew I could do this. I’m also pretty happy that I am a person who can also pull it together in order to actually finish the race.
You can be proud of yourself and mad at yourself at the same time.
So remember how I said I was proud? I hope so, because it was like a second ago. I’m also mad. I had my sub 4 hour goal even after I was in a ton of pain. I had it until mile 22. Even looking back, I knew I couldn’t have done better than I did that day. But that doesn’t mean I’m not mad about it.
I’ve watched a lot of seasons of sports in which my teams don’t with the championship. Whenever they lose, I always say that I’d rather them lose a playoff series 4-0 than 4-3. I’d rather them lose a game 7-0 than 2-1. It somehow feels easier for me to accept defeat if it doesn’t feel like there was a chance. I think if I had lost my time goal earlier, I’d be less upset about it. It was SO close. I know I have it in me. I just need everything to come together.
I’m running the 2020 NYC Marathon. That was decided a while ago, and even the super painful day I just had doesn’t change that. So I know there’s next year. I know I can do it. I already have a plan of what I can do in the next year to get stronger. But next year is far away, and I could have done it this year. It just didn’t work out. I’m proud of myself for what I did instead, but man, it still sucks.
Failing makes you better.
Here’s the thing about failure. It gives you a little bit of a kick in the ass. Remember when I said I already have a plan to get better? That’s because I didn’t get where I wanted to be this year. If I did, I probably would have kept everything the same. I wouldn’t have felt a push to grow.
There were two big race goals I had for 2019 that I didn’t achieve. I wanted to run a sub 1:45 half marathon and a sub 4 marathon. I came close to the first one (SECONDS away. Talk about mad.) and pretty close to the second – but I’m not there. Sure, I’m disappointed. But I also now want them more.
I have way more of a drive for next year’s version of those races than I did this year because I failed. I set some big goals, and they didn’t work out on the first try. Most things in life don’t. That doesn’t mean you don’t try again, and that’s something I’ve had to remind myself is okay.
I’ll be trying again – and I’ll be trying better. Thanks, failure.
NYC Marathon, thanks as always for an amazing day and for making me a better person each time we meet. Same time next year. I’ll be ready.
Rachel is a licensed therapist and co-founder of Viva Wellness. She gets most of her inspiration for the blog while on the run, and if you ever need to find her, she’s probably in Central Park. If she’s not running, you’ll find her planning the next time she’s going to eat, exploring all things wellness in NYC, or raising her stress level by watching her sports teams.