“Where did your speed go?” I asked my legs as yet again they seemed to ignore my request for more during the final miles of the Potomac River Run.
It’s a weird question to ask when you primarily run distances races, but the thought was rattling around my brain for the last 6 miles of my fourth full marathon this past Sunday.
It may have been my fourth marathon, but on many levels it bore no resemblance to the previous three. It wasn’t the “big event” of the weekend, I hadn’t trained for it for months (at least not consistently), I didn’t know anybody else running it, it wasn’t in the Fall, nobody from my family was coming to watch, it wasn’t through a city, there were less than 500 people running, I could pick my start time and I wore a tangerine-colored tank top (clearly the most important difference.)
Oh – and I almost forgot – it had absolutely NO hills.
Before agreeing to sign up for a race my mom always asks me “does it have hills?” In her opinion, the flatter the better. And I used to agree.
Hills can be brutal.
In the Rock n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon I ran this past March things were going well (like faster than usual) until at mile 6 or 7 I found myself winding around and around climbing what felt like a Mountain lined with screaming, flag-holding girl scouts (not my favorite race moment.) After nearly every race I’ve run (starting with my cross country meets in high school and the infamous Oakland hill) I blamed a decline in speed, a minute or more added to my time and the always terrible race photos on the hills.
“If it weren’t for the hill I would have broken my personal record.”
“If it weren’t for the hill I would have been able to smile for the photo.”
“If it weren’t for the hill…” the list of complaints I’ve made goes on and on.
But on Sunday that excuse was out.
The course was completely flat, the biggest incline on the C&O canal towpath are the bridges up and over the locks. In other words, there aren’t any.
So a flat course, perfect weather, a motivational psyche box from my parents…what could stop me from a P.R.? (This is where I ask you to reference paragraph 3.)
Or…I could just be honest and say once I turned around at mile 13.1 to repeat the entire course again I had two choices. One, dig deep, really push it and maybe break that frustrating 4 hour barrier and two, settle in to a slower pace, steady but not fast, and try to just be thankful that my legs and lungs and eyes and arms and every part of my body were still working.
As I crossed the finish line several minutes after the four hour mark, I wasn’t explaining away the minutes with hills, instead, my first thought was “next time I’m picking a hillier course.”