Sunday, December 29, 2013

Finding my new normal

Loved my time in the
Arizona "Hi!" desert
Three weeks have passed since I ran the Tucson Marathon. Not one blessed with a sharp memory, the details of the race are fading quickly, but I'll do my best to tell some version of the tale. Because although it was my sixteenth marathon, and you have probably read dozens of race recaps (hundreds, maybe, depending upon your interest in running), the mystery of the marathon experience never fades for me.

Strictly speaking, I was properly trained, having put in the miles to be able to complete the distance. But I was not well-trained, having really struggled especially in the final few weeks of training. As I wrote on Thanksgiving Day, I made a conscious decision to give up on the frustration and to instead be grateful for what it was my body was willing to give me. A friend wrote a nice message on my Facebook page the day I left town, wishing me "smiles every mile," and my new goal was established: to run comfortably and feel well enough crack a smile at least once per mile.

Tucson was a novel marathoning experience for me, in that the point-to-point course is run primarily along a small desert highway that is not accessible to spectators. As we examined the course map the night before, I realized that I was going to be on my own out there for hours, until I reached the first place that my husband could meet me on the course, around mile 19. (Don't misunderstand: there are aid stations, relay exchanges, and some local spectators all along the way. It's a really nicely organized course, and there's nothing desolate about it! But if you need big crowds to keep your energy up during a marathon, Tucson is not the race for you.)

We were bussed out to the start, a remote point halfway up Mt. Lemmon, at nearly 5,000 feet of elevation. Tucson was experiencing unusually cold weather, and we had 33 degrees and light rain when the gun went off at 7:00 am. The rain stopped within the first few minutes, but it remained good and cold all morning. I brought a toss-away old scarf that I didn't ditch until about mile 15, and it was still in the low-50s by the time I finished.

I'd pledged not to concern myself with pace, and my watch helped keep me accountable by inexplicably crashing somewhere around Mile 3. I ran the rest of the way with no knowledge of my pace, running only by feel. My splits indicate that I kept an almost exactly even pace throughout the race, and most remarkably of all, I ran the entire race in a state of ease, never breaking down from pain or fatigue. My husband caught me at three points along the course, and noted that he'd never seen me look so comfortable. I'm now convinced that the body knows better than any chart or piece of technology where the lactate threshold really lies.

I finished in 4:19 which is, notably, the exact same finish time from my last marathon in June, but with none of the pain or exhaustion. (Okay, with some of the exhaustion.) It's a long way from the pace I want to be running (and a long way from my PR), but it's a happy new normal and I'm glad to be there for now.

My awesome friends met me at the finish with a cold can of a good local beer. I always crave beer, and while some races have it at the finish, it's rarely anything good. Now it may have been the marathon that I'd just run, but I'm pretty sure that what you see me drinking there was actually the best single beer that has ever been brewed.

This race provided me with everything I love about running. I love the solitude of a long run, and had many quiet miles wherein in order to make my "smile every mile" goal I had to think funny thoughts to myself, because there were no crowds smiling or waving at us. The course is nice and hilly - mostly downhill - with a net elevation drop of about 2,000 feet. I love desert landscape, and enjoyed the ever-present views of the mountains and saguaro cactus. And more than anything else, this race reminded me of why I not only love running marathons, but why I love running. In its pure and natural state, running feels good. It doesn't hurt. It isn't struggle. If you pay attention, you can actually feel your body taking in the fresh air and making use of the oxygen. You can enjoy the intricate mechanics of all of those muscles and joints working together to keep you moving forward. It's nothing short of a miracle, and I'm forever grateful for the opportunity to enjoy it.

Tucson Marathon (December 8, 2013)
Finish time: 4:19:34


  1. Sometimes the best races are the ones that you go into it with no real goals and are just trying to enjoy it. Sounds like you had a great race.

    1. You said it! I've never set "joy" as a race goal before, but I will definitely do it again in the future.

  2. Congratulations for finishing such a beautiful race pain and stress free :)

    1. Thank you! At long last, 26.2 miles that felt how I always knew they could feel.