That quote resonates stronger with me than any other quote I have read with regards to running, cycling, and triathlon. I have not written a blog entry in 6 months because every time I try to think about what has happened in that time frame, since the week of Kona, I cry. And Kona in and of itself I cannot speak of because then I feel as though my heart is bleeding out (and ironically, the song “Bleeding Out” just came on as I wrote that, cue Imagine Dragons). But this brings us back to the race, the all consuming race. When I race, there is nothing but the race. There are no people breaking my heart, there are no problems waiting for me at home, I am no longer a scientist, and the demons that prevent me from sleeping fade to the background.
In the era of social media, I have become acutely aware that not everyone who competes in endurance sports feels this way. And I openly admit that I cannot relate to those people. If you carry a cell phone with you to take pictures during a race, if you put effort into your appearance going into a race aside from simply slipping on a race kit, or if you can race weekend after weekend because you do not race at a level that mandates recovery that cannot be accomplished with ice baths, massages, and compression socks, you likely do not view life as the metaphor for the race. When I race I become the best version of myself, the most fierce, focused, strong, strategic version of me that I can possibly be. I embrace racing because of this; quite simply, racing is my passion.
And so this brings us to the Disney World Marathon and all the things I did “wrong” going into this race. I am going to use “quotes” here because, as with any race, I will not toe the starting line if I do not think I can put in the best effort that I possibly can given the circumstances. The circumstances in this case were a bit problematic. After 3 full Ironmans and 2 free marathons, a mini off season for recovery was clutch post-Kona, which left all of 8-9 weeks for a marathon build. When this build started, I had dreams of a potential PR on a course that I love (more on this later). This dream sort of went out the window during a 1-2 week period that I spent throwing up on the side of every road that I ran between Medford and Tewksbury. I finally called a spade a spade after a 2 hour run where I became so sick that I found myself at urgent care getting an injection in my behind. In case anyone is curious, wearing camo sweatpants and a skull sweatshirt while this is happening does not make you feel any tougher or less vulnerable. I just shook my head at myself and this memory. A definite low point in marathon training.
With only 6 weeks remaining to build to a full marathon, a stupid short amount of time for almost any race, particularly a marathon, the main goal went from a PR to keeping my time under 3 hours. Not surprisingly, I managed to severely injure my hamstring-butt region, and I then proceeded to ignore this up to race day. Injuries are part of the game, shit happens. I could have bagged the race, but with my personal and professional lives also coming off the rails, this never occurred to me or my coach.
My longest training run for the Disney World marathon was 15 miles, and I toed the starting line with pain already shooting down the back of my leg. But these are the defining moments when you can either fall apart or say fuck it and just get the job done. Clearly, given my mentality on racing, I opted for the latter. “Fuck it” is in fact the Jennie and Becky motto. The gun went off, the pain was there, I acknowledged the pain, I embraced the pain, and then I adjusted my typical racing strategy of being a front runner to trying to find people to pace off of. I cannot go back in time and regret this decision, even though I have since had brief moments of wondering “what if”, this is the nature of racing. I was in 4th ish position for the first 5 miles, and then I swapped places with the girl behind me and I stuck to her like glue for the next 8 miles. I could have taken a turn at the front, but, again, I did not have an ideal build for this and I was injured, no regrets.
At mile 13, the girl I had been running with accelerated slightly, and I opted not to go with her for fear that I would damage the hamstring to the point where I would have to back off. From that point on, I just tried to hang on. I hopped behind guys to recover when I could, and I just tried to stay in my zone. Having established my race strategy, a brief discussion of the course is warranted. Disney World is amazing. I realize there are haters out there. Go ahead and hate haters, Disney is literally designed to be the happiest place on earth. And during this race, you are given the opportunity to tour all of the Disney parks. The elite runners start at 5:30 am, and the Magic Kingdom in the dark, with the lights of main street and the rides lit up, the entire place is magical. There is no better word for Disney in the dark: magic. And the finishing miles take you on a path through the Wide World of Sports, MGM studios, and finally a finish at Epcot Center where you are greeted by Donald Duck. I love Donald Duck :).
On this particular day, the head winds were stupid, the entire day. I spoke with the other lead runners after the race, and across the board everyone had a slow day by 5-15 minutes. The temps were chilly for Florida, and my hands were numb, but the wind was the real problem. Wind is the great equalizer. I think I may have had an easier time when I ran the hills of the Gettysburg Marathon than I did with the wind of Disney. The last 10K I was completely alone, and at that point I felt like I was in an all out fist fight with the wind. Despite all of this, I crossed the line in 2:59ish, accomplishing my adjusted goal of sub 3. The kicker is that I missed the podium by 30 seconds, to the girl who I let go at mile 13. I still do not regret this decision, but had I known she was that close and that I was bridging the gap between us over that last 10K, I am fairly confident I could have caught her. But again, who knows, such is racing. She had the stronger race strategy and was likely better prepared than this girl who was just hanging on and hoping for the best by the end. But I think of this finish and I still smile. Because no matter what happened or how this played out, I know I put down the best effort I could; and, for those 3 hours, I was just so happy to be me regardless of the things that went wrong. Life is the metaphor for the race.
I cannot end this race report here. Disney in and of itself may be magical, but even more magical were my parents who appeared at the race. My family is complicated, this is not the norm. But after the race, my father told me that he needed to tell me something. I paused at this because the Baders are not well known for meaningful conversations. Apparently during the race my name was mentioned by the announcers several times since I was on the leaderboard. My parents were so taken back and proud of this that the thing my dad needed to tell me was that he just realized that I was a legit badass athlete. 🙂 That is awesome, and I so loved hearing that from him.
The best part of the Disney marathon…I was showered and fed by 11 am…plenty of time left for fun. 🙂 The parents and I headed back to MGM studios, and I quite honestly think this may have been the most fun we have had together as a family since I was a small child. Again, if you do not love Disney, you are missing the point of the happiest place on earth, try harder. Indiana Jones stunt show, Tower of Terror, Star Wars Ride, these all suddenly seemed like critical things to do while in Florida; and across the board, all of these shows/rides were awesome. Sadly, when a 5 year old child passed me in line because I could not seem to make my legs move forward any longer, we had to call the day over. At this moment, I admit that I was a tiny bit jealous of the people who do not view life as a metaphor for the race, because those people were walking around without trouble, proudly wearing their finisher medals. But then I thought of how proud my parents were of me for throwing down and how proud I was of myself for getting my sub 3 despite everything, and this tiny bit of jealousy passed.
I have been in physical therapy ever since the race, and my strained hamstring trouble combined with sciatica continues to be problematic. But this weekend I race again. And despite my concerns about injury and alligators, I admit that I am in fact simultaneously excited. Because 3 days from now I get to do the thing that I love the most…race.