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Marathon Mind Games


It was so demoralizing. I wish I didn’t see that “-5” pop up on my Garmin just a mere 2 miles into my marathon. I knew I should have turned those notifications OFF! My heart rate was at 184 bpm which isn’t necessarily scary considering I was running below a 9:00 minute per mile pace (over a few hills). When I saw this notification, I thought, “Oh no, NOT TODAY! Couldn’t this happen ANY OTHER DAY?!” From that point on, it was a mind game. I mean how was I going to get that crappy performance indicator out of my head when I knew this course was going to be really tough as the temperature would soon climb into the 80’s with full sun? I tried hard to “just run” and focus on the task at hand. One step at a time. All 55,000 of them. As I reached mile 3 and realized this course would backtrack over these same streets to reach the finish line later on that day, I knew it was going to be a tough day. The hills at the beginning and end of the course would be brutal at the END OF A MARATHON. All I could do at that point was to move forward. There was no turning back. This for sure was going to be a challenge and I had to decide how bad I wanted to check this state off my list! I endured the hills one by one and kept thinking about any downhill at the start of the race will be an uphill at the end of a marathon. I was quite aware of what would be waiting for me 4 hours later. I knew this wasn’t going to be my day going into it. I don’t run well in the heat. Sure, if it’s a 5K or shorter race, I can still turn on the jets and go. But in a marathon, the heat and sun just beats you up and depletes your body of every ounce of energy. I was really looking forward to seeing Pat at mile 6, 10 and 20 along the way. That’s the only thing that kept me going. I figured he would be videoing some of these segments and I wanted to let him know how it was going. When I got to mile 6, I wasn’t feeling bad but I told him about the -5 performance indicator and how I was intentionally trying to dial it down so my heart rate wouldn’t be so high. I turned around at mile 6.5 or so and saw him again shortly thereafter. I kept plugging away step by step and disappointingly noticed that there were no clouds in the sky and soon the sun would further rise and blanket me with unnecessary warmth. I saw him at mile 10 and noted that I believe I already had a blister on my foot. Great! He jogged with me for about a quarter mile but then off I went. My mile 10 split was about 1:33 which isn’t bad but not my usual 1:21-25. The heat of the day felt more intense as I reached the half marathon mark. I paused around mile 14.5 to stretch my hamstrings. A nice guy from California asked me if I was OK. We proceeded to chat for about 2 miles, which usually I don’t do but I thought it was a good distraction from the heat and intensity of the run. At one point, we had a pleasant but warm tail wind, but that soon turned into a headwind after the turnaround point. At mile 16, I was quite aware that my pace was slowing and although I didn’t want it to, it just was. So I had to deal with it. That’s pretty much how the rest of the race went. I climbed a hill shortly before mile 20 and I felt an intense pain in my toenail. I was sure the toenail was lifting up off the nailbed at that very moment. I have never felt that kind of pain before. LOL! I proceeded to swear and then when I saw Pat at mile 20, I told him all about it. He was documenting our conversation via video which I feel is a nice capture of these arduous moments. I was so pissed at the state of Nebraska. Last year, I came out to run the Heartland Marathon that was essentially cancelled mid-race due to a bad rainstorm and subsequent flooding and now here I was dealing with the complete opposite weather. It was incredibly trying and I was feeling pretty depleted and exhausted. When I saw him, I just was ready to cry for a multitude of reasons: the pain and agony of running a marathon in the summer heat, the fact that I got jipped a year ago and now I was back to capture this state on my 50 state marathon journey no matter what and most importantly, that he was there to support me and encourage me at these moments when you don’t have much left in the tank. I knew it was another 6.5 miles until the finish line and it was going to be challenging, no doubt. It was only going to get hotter and I was only going to get more tired with every painful step. I tried to drink more figuring if I hydrated better, I would feel better. That worked to a degree as the ache in my hamstrings subsided temporarily. I simply had to get through this race. Quitting was NOT an option and I had to persevere. After all of my marathon experiences, I have to say this was one of my toughest races. I can honestly say that I did not enjoy it much. That’s a first for me. I just didn’t feel good for the entire second half and it took everything I had to finish it. I was thinking about how slow I was running and that amount of time on my feet was not good, but the problem was that my legs could not turn over faster. I could not put my mind over matter anymore and pretend that the ‘agony’ wasn’t there. I was trying to analyze during the race why I felt so terrible. (Good time for it, I know!) But it was also an attempt to distract myself and hopefully maintain a clear memory of this agony is due to X preparation (or lack thereof). I basically have boiled it down to: lack of sufficient long runs and less than ideal hydration for the summer conditions. I thought I hydrated sufficiently but looking back, I did not. I proceeded to “get through” the rest of the race and the last 2 miles, as expected, were brutal. It was approaching noon time with full sun and 80 degrees and yet the hills were still on tap. I could see the runners ahead of me climbing them as if we were hiking the switchbacks in the Grand Canyon. I kept thinking, “I want to be up there right now! But I am only going to get there if I keep moving my feet, one step at a time.” When I finally saw Pat in the high school parking lot, he and a few other locals were cheering me on. (He proceeded to make friends with them in the hours he was waiting for me.) I took the left and that damn finish line was only 150 yards ahead. I crossed the finish line and immediately said, “That was brutal.” We took a quick selfie and walked towards the car. I checked the weather app. It was 82 degrees, 24mph winds and it was about 12:15pm. I was so glad this race was over. Now to go to the hotel, peel these clothes off of me, take a shower and drive to the airport. Although that all sounded painful, it was not equally painful. We were out of the hotel within a half hour and on our way to the Omaha airport. Nebraska….CHECK! Now I never have to go back to Nebraska again to run a marathon. A half marathon maybe. Stay tuned!

1 Comment

Cindy McLaughlin
Cindy McLaughlin
Mar 03, 2021

I never want to forget this race because it motivates me to train harder.

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