Seventeen Seconds - Part Two

Check out part one before reading part two
Seventeen seconds. I'd missed my goal by a mere seventeen seconds.  All that work, the training, for naught. I wanted to collapse to the ground in tears, but the medical personal mistook the disappointment for difficulty breathing and whisked me into the tent. A good thing - I didn't realize how cold it really was - and how little I was wearing. Shivers quickly overtook me, both from the cold and emotional distress. I'd failed. I'd come so close, but I'd failed. Where could I have found those seventeen seconds? It was too early to analyze the race - and I would never really figure out where I lost the time. Maybe the final hill at mile 23. Maybe all the sharp twists and turns between 19 and 23. Who knows - I didn't even want to think about it at that point. It was a long and quiet drive back to Colorado Springs. My legs hurt like I'd never imagined after a marathon. Everything ached and getting into and out of the car was a struggle. 

But at the same time - hope. I wasn't supposed to be that close to the qualifying mark that soon. I was really planning on a 2008 attempt. Not 2004. I was no longer a wannabe joke who hadn't even broken 3:00. I was a legitimate trials hopeful. And with just 17 seconds to drop, there was a chance I could do it before the window closed in March of 2004. It was only September. I had plenty of time to recover properly and then ramp up the training again. I was able to leverage my new status to get entry, status and accommodation for the Austin Marathon. It was one of the last chances for a lot of women seeking that elusive 2:48:00 qualifying time. 

My training for Top of Utah had gone well. I'd averaged between 70 - 95 miles for most of June, July and August with long runs of 22-24 miles. Double days and long, hard workouts. Maybe all I needed was a little more - a little more mileage, a little more speed. I still took one day off a week from running, but the mileage quickly added up, with 17 miles in one day split between two workouts , followed by 10 miles the next day and so on. But while the miles were good and I was hitting the workouts solidly at my goal pace, I wasn't feeling as fresh as I did in July and August. One marathon long run in the beginning of November quickly deteriorated into a stroll through Maryland, adding to the sense of discouragement. A second marathon as a long run at the end of November, the day after a hard workout, came easy, with a nice fast time and renewed my confidence. I was going to do it. I would drop those last 17 seconds and line up in Forest Park, St Louis for the Olympic Marathon Trials. I kept focused on the positive - seeing only the numbers I wanted to for all of December and January as I reached higher and pushed further. Four weeks in a row of touching 100 miles, with an "easy" week of just 80 miles. Looking back at my training logs, I can see it coming. Then, all I saw was the goal - so close yet so far. Everything else, all the other signs - the fatigue, the little aches and pains, the lack of motivation. I ignored it all. I'd never been injured before. It wouldn't happen to me.

When the Austin Marathon finally rolled around, I was ready to be done. I just didn't know it yet - my body had had enough. I pushed it to the edge and kept pushing. Even the taper wasn't enough to pull me out of the depths I dug while training. On a cold day for Austin, after nearly missing the start to the race because of hectic traffic and poorly timed buses, I lined up with the other women seeking that last moment of brilliance. All I wanted was to recreate the magic of September 20th, but find those 17 seconds I'd worked so hard for. The first few miles were crowded and I couldn't get into a smooth rhythm. I was clicking along right at 6:20s, but nothing felt easy. I was already tight and tired. Then the road finally opened up and I was able to run. It was too late. Only ten miles in and I was struggling to hold 6:24 - the minimum I could run and still qualify. I came through the half marathon at 1:23:55 and knew then it was over. I've had good negative split races, but this was not to be. But instead of accepting the inevitable, I kept pushing. I didn't want to give up the dream that easily and feel like a failure. If I was going to fail, it would be epic this time - going down in flames. And it was spectacular. By mile 18, both hamstrings had tightened to the point where I was hardly running. At mile 22, where we paralleled the Colorado River, I could see the finish line on the other side. How easy would it have been to just step off, walk to the hotel and call it a day? At mile 24, I saw not only the 3:00 mark come and go, but the 3:10 mark as well. Hordes of people were passing me as I hobbled along. There were plenty of celebrations at the finish line by other runners as they qualified for Boston. I just wanted to home. I couldn't run, could hardly walk. I'd buried myself with over-training and hadn't even had the chance.

The 2004 trials came and went. I focused on my other goal. The fifty states - instead of running one or two marathons super fast each year, I started running more races. I explored. I had fun. I saw parts of the country I wouldn't have otherwise. Between the end of March and the beginning of May, I ran four more marathons - all of them faster then at Austin. I was regaining my love of running and starting to want to train again. And with the desire to train came the desire to run fast again. A 2:58 marathon at the end of the year on a shredded ankle tendon gave me even more hope. The window for 2008 would open soon and I wanted to be ready. I hadn't given up yet - the time might have dropped to a 2:47 marathon, but I was still willing to try again. Ankle surgery to fix the tendon in my ankle meant a forced down time - which I took as a much needed complete recovery block. I also started looking at other things, allowing my focus to be distracted by sparkling new events and challenges. 

And that's where I'll pick up later! What changes did those missing seventeen seconds end up bringing to my life?

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