by Becca Ades
I’ve had the same marathon goal since I was 16 years old watching the local Burlington City Marathon. Sub 3:00. It was the ultimate distance AND time. What could be better? It was goal so lofty that I didn’t attempt it for the next 16 years.
Not until I qualified for the NYC Marathon with the Staten Island half (with 8 seconds to spare baby!). It was time to get serious. And serious I got. I ran the NYC half and spent the better part of last spring trying to chase down a 1:25 Brooklyn (I’d been around the block enough to know the race predictor for a sub 3:00). That was not to be. 12 hours before the starting gun, I was diagnosed with a femoral neck stress fracture. The remedy: no exercise for 6-8 weeks. My heart sank.
I was able to start running again in early August. I was under strict orders not to go below 8-minute miles, and I could only increase my mileage by 10% a week. Things were all dandy and fine until I got my Pfitzinger book and realized that HOLY F***! I was already into week 12 and only up to 24 miles. I had to make a choice: I could follow doctor’s orders and maybe run a marathon for fun OR I COULD GO MARATHON OR BUST. The choice was quite simple. My mileage doubled in the next week.
The more I trained, the more magic I realized I would need for race day. Every week I improved, but I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Marathon pace felt hard, workouts felt hard, every running task I completed felt harder than it should. It wasn’t until a few weeks before the marathon, that I began to feel like myself again. I ran Matt Schenker’s crazy workout (the one with 800s at 5k pace sandwiched by 15 minute tempos at half pace), and I hit it out of the ballpark. Maybe I could actually do it? The 3:00 marathon was in reach for someone as crazy as me.
Race day came. I had the ten-ten-ten plan from Jose. The gun went off, and I executed. The first ten miles I cranked out 6:50-something after 6:50-something mile. I felt great! The magic fairy dust had arrived after all! I was really going to do this! And then around mile 11, a familiar feeling came—one I knew from the half. The pain in your hamstrings that tells you, I got you for another two miles.
I pulled it together for Bedford Avenue. It was the most beautiful mile I had even run. I passed Broadway and heard Linda. I passed South 2nd and saw Ciaran, Blake, and my college roomie, who had driven down from Montreal. The road was littered with friends! I smiled as I passed North 10th and saw mile 12. Jose saw me and announced my arrival on the megaphone. I felt like a superstar. I grabbed water from Shawn, and it was the best cup of water of the marathon! I crossed the half at 1:30:59.
People told me about a wall at mile 22 or 23. Some people mentioned it at mile 18. NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT THE WALL AT MILE 16. Queensboro was a lonely, lonely place. I took my only three walking steps on that Great Gatsby bridge. And then, from behind me, I heard someone say, “Hey, you’re Lacey’s friend.” And because even in the depths of my own self-pity, I knew better than to be caught walking, I started jogging (note: jogging, NOT running). “You got this,” she said.
Little did she know how little I had this distance. The pity fest came back stronger than before. I’m not a marathon runner I told myself. The furthest I go is the half. I thought about how it was bullshit that there was no way to drop out of the race on the Queensboro except for jumping. For the majority of First Avenue, I was angry at how many people were there. Somebody cheered “run, NBR,” to which I belligerently replied, “I AM RUNNING.”
I did some math in my head. I had done the half in 1:30, which meant I had 2:00 to do my second half in and still get under 3:30. I decided I could reasonably accomplish this by running seven minutes and walking three. I’m not sure how I arrived at this conclusion, but it gave me great, great comfort.
This took up the rest of First Av, and I made it to Willis Av Bridge. Some dude said, “How you feeling, North Brooklyn?” and I replied, “I feel great!” because I had promised myself I would say this no matter what. “I haven’t been able to feel my legs for the last three miles,” said the dude. We ran in silence for the next 50 feet.
A single lady greeted us halfway up the bridge, “Welcome to the Boogie-Down Bronx!” she said sweetly. I heard reggaeton on the other side. People were handing out orange slices. I looked down at my watch (I had considered throwing out my watch in a fit of anger earlier but had decided it would be an empty, expensive gesture), and I saw a 7 as the first number. Maybe this race is not lost. I smiled for the first time since Queens. It felt like hope.
I had a cheer squad before the bridge back to Manhattan, and I picked up the pace because…they didn’t have to know I was having a shit race, right? I passed the bridge and was about to slow back down, when I saw Polly, John, and Co. FUUUCK, I have to be a show-off again. “Go, Becca!!!” And then a magical thing finally did happen: the wall of doom cracked: I could run again.
The last 6 miles felt like I’d been reborn. I had a full-blown second chance. I knew I wasn’t going to get my goal. I didn’t have that miracle to fall back on. But I could cheesily give it the best I had. At mile 23 I looked down at my watch. It said 2:54:00. That meant if I ran 3 ten-minute miles, I could finish in 3:24. It gave me a reason to pick it up. I remembered the fifth avenue mile hill wasn’t that bad during the blue-line run, and I told myself that as I ran up it. Night Owl’s worse. F***ing positive thinking was my only super power. Once I hit the park it’s all down hill! Then it’s just 4 laps of the track! I cried when I saw mile 25.
Central Park South blew my mind. I could see the finish. There were no tricks left! I looked down at my watch. I was in the 3-teens. This was much, MUCH better than expected. I sprinted from Columbus Circle and collapsed at the finish line.
My finishing time was 3:16:50.
I hadn’t hit my goal, but I ran the race the only way I knew how. The only way I was ever going to run a marathon. Chasing the sub 3.
And who knows, I may even try it again sometime.