After finding a groove in training again and building back some confidence, I felt I was ready to race a marathon. My options were very limited so I opted for a semi-local half marathon and a trail 50k the week after. Four days before the half, the race cancelled. A few days later, the 50k cancelled. My goal was going to be the Houston marathon in January but that cancelled. Then it was Rock ‘N’ Roll Arizona Marathon, the Rock ‘N’ Roll San Antonio Marathon, and the Tuscon Marathon. One after the other, cancelled cancelled cancelled. I desperately searched the Running in the USA website for marathons still happening. Mississippi or Louisiana? Do I risk registering and losing the money? Refund policies seemed reasonable, but Mississippi turned out to be cheaper altogether so I went for it. But this was it, this was the last one I was going to register for amidst covid. If it cancelled, I was just going to have to keep training and wait like any reasonable person would.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon looked flat and fast at sea-level. The only concern I had was the humidity, but I was too excited to race to let that deter me from going for a new PR. I felt fit, training had been going really well, I was healthy in mind, body, and spirit. I made it a quick trip and flew in Saturday afternoon to race Sunday morning and fly back. No snags with getting there and getting to the expo before it closed to get my bib.
Race morning I was antsy. Between the last two nights I had slept an intermittent total of about six hours, but I didn’t care. I was ready to get it done and go home. The bus ride was about 40 minutes to the start line. Once dropped off, I had plenty of time to poop and get my warm up in.
Instead of a mass start, we were to line up three at a time, every 5 seconds (it actually went really smoothly). Looking at past results, this race was typically pretty small and not that competitive. With covid, I figured there would be more runners like me, desperate to find a real race. I was in row four, so just twenty-ish seconds behind gun time.
I settled pretty quickly into what felt like the right effort. I wasn’t going to look at my watch until about the halfway point and then see where I was at. The first five miles seemed to go by really slowly. I thought that was odd because usually the first half seems to go by quickly for me. Mile 7…mile 8…hm. I felt my body fatigue way too early. I was passing and getting passed, and a few times I was able to run along with a small group, but I wanted to find my own grind. This wasn’t about racing for the podium, this was about getting a personal best on a USATF-certified course.
At mile 13, I finally looked at my split and saw 7:08. Oh…that’s why the miles were going by so slowly. Perhaps the humidity really was having that big of an effect (it was 90%). I gave myself a few miles to think and process. I was running a live race. I was looking at the ocean. I was happy to be there. Even if I didn’t get my goal time, I still had the desire to finish. I was having a bummer race, but that desire is what I had been looking for, what I had lost. After realizing I had it, the sun came out and it got kinda hot. I knew it was probably only seventy degrees, but with the humidity that high and me having been training in the twenties it felt hot. I continued to slow and started getting some unilateral muscle cramps. I told myself at mile 18 I could stop and walk to work anything out.
I walked for almost half a mile and during that time a guy passed me and encouraged me to keep going. I smiled and assured him I’d be fine. Shortly after I started running again I saw him walking ahead. “Come on!” I told him has I passed. He picked up the pace and we ran together a minute before he left me behind again. A few minutes later, I saw him up ahead walking again. “What gives?!” I smiled and started passing him again. As soon as I saw his face I stopped. He was deep into the pain cave. At that point I realized it didn’t matter if my time would be 3:05 or 3:35, so I decided to make sure he finished. I told him to come along and we started jogging together. His goal was under three hours, and his PR was 3:11. I had a quick flashback to when I struggled to qualify for Boston and a wave of empathy came over me. “Maybe I can still PR,” he said. “Do you think I can?” “Yes, if we get going, now let’s go!” He kept saying his legs hurt so bad and I kept trying to distract him. I was not doing a very good job and finally I asked, “Do they though? Do they really?? It’s all in your head. Come on let’s go.” He stopped to walk again, and said he needed an aid station. There was one pretty close so I ran ahead, grabbed a cup of water and powerade and ran back to him. “You’re making me run farther than I have to!” I laughed. The fluid helped him get going again, but we stopped to walk several more times. He kept saying he felt bad over and over again because he felt like he was ruining my race. I assured him he wasn’t, but it didn’t register. I started to wonder if he was losing his mind. “Man, convincing you to run is harder than finishing this thing,” I said. “We just have a measly 5k left. You’re gonna make me miss my check out time.” Back to running. He told me he felt cold and asked if that was okay. “Uh…yeah you’re fine,” I lied. I tried to get him to focus on moving forward.
With two miles left, he started walking again and I decided to be upfront with him. “Alright, we need to keep moving or you’re not going to finish. You got this. We are almost there.” There was a slight incline towards the end and I tried to tell him it would make his legs feel better after running so long on the flat. And then, we got a little downhill into the finish. Much to my dismay, we started walking one last time before heading downhill. The finish line was so close, and I saw his energy lift up. I smiled. “You’re going to make it!”
We crossed the finish line and he promptly got off his feet. I left him outside the medical tent and informed the staff he may need help. I said goodbye and headed back to the hotel. I felt bummed and also hopeful. It wasn’t the race I wanted, but maybe it was the race I needed. After checking out, I tried to look up his name in the results by finish time. My watch said we finished at 3:29 something, but I couldn’t find myself in the results. Apparently by bib chip was damaged from the start, and it never registered at any timing mat. I had to laugh. I guess it really was the race I needed.