After qualifying for the elite Boston Marathon this past march, I set my sights higher for the elite New York City Marathon. There is much buzz surrounding Boston and the difficulty to qualify for it. It's something less than 10% of marathoners accomplish, but New York's qualifying standards are even more challenging. For myself, my time requirement for Boston was 03:05:00. For New York, my time requirement would be cut down by 12 minutes, requiring a time of 02:53:00.
I was told I was crazy to attempt qualifying for Boston and New York in the same year. What made it more crazy was that I had less than 9 months to get 12 minutes faster. I was told, "you're not super human. You're mortal. You need to be realistic. How can you expect to cut your time by 12 minutes in such a short amount of time?!!!" Yes, I am crazy. I wouldn't have it any other way. Dreams are meant to be big, big enough that they are beyond your rationale. They start a fire inside of you, bringing you to a higher sense of life. They require you to believe in yourself, with all your heart, not your head. They are hard, and the hard is what makes them great because if they were easy, everyone would do it.
Just two weeks after completing and placing 3rd overall in the Morgan Hill Marathon, I lined up at the starting line for the Revel City Canyon Marathon in Azusa, CA. Amid the nerves and adrenaline was a peace that surpassed understanding. I knew this race would push me to my limits, and then I would have to push further beyond them to succeed.
The gun went off and I took off with a small group of runners. We could hear the stampede of the pack behind us faintly, until at mile 3 when they disappeared, and it was only the few of us pushing a pace that was fast and furious. Three runners decided to up the ante even more after mile 5. I responded and ran with them for a few miles, but made a judgment call and dialed my pace down. I didn't want to be overzealous and ruin my chances by biting off more than I could chew. While the podium was very tempting, my focus was on qualifying for New York. A few runners would pass me, some I would catch, some I wouldn't, nonetheless I stayed to my goal. I was running my race, not theirs.
The downhill sections of the race were steep and grueling. Yes they were fast, but they also put great a amount of wear and tear on my legs. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Downhills give you speed, but they cost you a lot of your legs. I managed a good pace and was ahead of my time requirement for New York. But at mile 15, fatigue and pain sank their teeth in deep. I knew it was going to be one of those races that would take every ounce of strength and energy from me to conquer.
Then came a section of rolling hills that brought on further "ouch!" to my taxed legs. At mile 18 I did a systems check. I was near my limit. I wouldn't be able to hold my current pace but there wasn't any need to fear. I could do this. I could still qualify for New York. So long as I faded subtly I would succeed. I dug deep for motivation, for inspiration, for strength. I welcomed the pain as a close friend. The stronger it became, so did I.
At mile 23 I began running through the remains of half marathoners. One full marathoner passed me at mile 24. I gave chase but they were too fast for me. Moments later another full marathoner passed me. I hesitated at first, but then a voice inside said, "you can do it. You can take this one." I mustered up the remaining energy left and gave chase. At first it seemed to make no difference, but then gradually, I saw myself getting closer and closer. At mile 25 the runner grabbed a drink from the aid station. As he tossed his cup to the side he caught me in his peripheral. He gave a surprised look and I returned with a stone cold expression. I surged ahead, not even thinking about looking back. I just set my sights ahead and ran as hard as I could. I crossed the finish ahead of that runner, taking 9th place overall, with a time of 02:49:15.
I picked up post race nutrition and sat down under the shade of a nearby tree. Exhaustion settled over me in a blissful manner. The battle was over. I had won. I had achieved what I was said to be out of my reach. I finished up my post race meal and hopped in my car. I had a long drive back up to San Francisco, giving me plenty of time to let the reality sink in.
Find your limits, then exceed them.
Be well and run on!