3 Lessons From a Marathon Implosion

by Jessica Bashaw

One month ago, I ran my 18th marathon.  It wasn’t my slowest (that was my first in 2007), and I didn’t hit the dreaded wall (that was in 2010).  And yet, this was the worst marathon of my life.  It felt terrible.  I ended up finishing, but I was over 10 minutes slower than my goal time.

I didn’t dwell on my performance.  In fact, my daughter and I were playing in the hotel swimming pool within 30 minutes of me crossing the finish line.  However, dwelling is not the same as reflection, and since that race I have had the opportunity to reflect on my experience.

Lesson 1: Have a plan, and know when to let it go

As with every marathon, I went into this race with a plan.  My plan was challenged when a weather delay meant we were starting an hour later than originally scheduled.  This meant warmer, more humid conditions, as well as having eaten breakfast over four hours before the start.  My intent was to take it easy in the first half, so I did.  I went through the half at exactly the time my coach and I had discussed, and now it was time to start picking up the pace.  That was when I knew that my legs were not cooperating, and that this was going to be a long day.  I passed my family at mile 15, and my husband could tell from the look I gave him that things weren’t going well.  For the next three miles, all I could think about was stepping off the course.  That was when I knew I had to let go of the race plan, and focus on today’s race.

Lesson 2: External motivation is OK

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am internally motivated.  However, on May 26, my motivation to finish the race was almost completely external.  Despite all the times I have sworn off marathons around mile 22 of a race, I have never stepped off a course and not finished a race.  By mile 18, I had slowed down so much and was simply not having fun.  I kept thinking about getting to the finish area by some means other than running across the finish line, and explaining to my daughter that I didn’t have a medal for her to wear.  Had I been injured, this wouldn’t have been such a concern.  But, I wasn’t injured, running was just really hard.  Mile by mile, I let my daughter pull me toward the finish.  As upset as I was by my race, I would have been even more upset with myself if I hadn’t finished.

Jess 2nd at Helderberg Half Marathon

Lesson 3: Everything is relative

After the race, whenever people asked about how it went, I shared the rough experience, but I was conscious not to share my time.  I did not want to sound like I was complaining about my time (which was not a bad time in the grand scheme of my marathon career).  One of my favorite things about the sport of running is that everyone can reach their goals on a given day (unless your goal is to win, I guess).  This makes the running community such a supportive group.  This week, I was reminded of the relativity of it all when I received an age group prize in the mail.  Third in my age group on a day that felt like everything fell apart was a good reminder that sometimes a shift in perspective is needed.  Now, this doesn’t change my disappointment and frustration with this race, and all the time I put into my training.  But, a shift in perspective has reminded me that this was just one bad day.  It happens.

These lessons haven’t been a life-changing epiphany.  I don’t know why that day was so rough, and I won’t ever know for sure.  But, I do know that whether or not I ran the race I wanted to it did not change the awesome weekend I had with my family.  Next up is Chicago.  I hope that I got my race implosion out of my system, and that I’m able to reach my goal in October.  But, no matter the outcome, I know I will have a great trip.

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