Three years ago this month, I sat at my law school graduation with one thought running through my head: I should have done more.
I had spent the previous two years simultaneously working toward a JD and a PhD in history, and my schedule was just too full to do either program justice. I had done fine, but nothing exceptional. And I was disappointed in myself.
I’ve experienced a similar sensation recently in the realm of racing.
Take the past eight weeks for example: I’ve completed an ultra, three adventure races, and a marathon. Some of them were great, some were fine, and one was terrible – but they all required more targeted attention than I was able to give them, because I was trying to do too many things at once.
All of this came into focus for me today.
Several weeks ago, I decided to sign up for the Bob Potts Marathon, a small (very small) race that takes you along a flat gravel rail trail in York, Pennsylvania. I had a few different reasons for signing up for this race, but come on, let’s be honest – when it comes down to it, I registered to give myself the chance to qualify for Boston. I’ve been eyeing Boston for a year now, and before today had completed three marathons in pursuit. For the first one (Jersey, 2009), I had a near-perfect training cycle, and by all accounts should have qualified. But in the end, it wasn’t my day.
I ran two others last year, neither of which I’d actually trained for. I was training for other things – adventure races and distance orienteering events – so I had a mileage base, but little road running, less speed work, and inconsistent sustained long runs.
None of those marathons was particularly fun, because even as I was trying hard not to think about the BQ, it was really all I was thinking about.
I know it’s not something to take lightly, and perhaps I was cavalier in thinking that I could attempt it without the proper training. But the thing is – I knew I could get there. It wasn’t a matter of ‘if;’ it was ‘when,’ and ‘how.’
And so it was that I signed up for Bob Potts – once again, not particularly well trained for a marathon, at the end of a hard two months of racing. I had no real interest in running another marathon – I found myself sort of bored in the last couple I’d done – but I couldn’t get the monkey that Boston had become off my back. And I wanted to give it another shot.
The race began at 6:30 this morning – perfect for a mid-May race. Beforehand, I got to chat with Lauren of RunningLaur
and Erika of MCM Mama
(great to meet both of them!). As the pre-race remarks began, I inched up toward the front (it was a gun-timed event – no chips). And when the starter pistol sounded, I took off. I maintained a fast, steady pace over the first eight miles, banking about 4 minutes toward that elusive BQ. But each mile was a mental battle. Once again, I found myself struggling to maintain interest.
And then, somewhere between mile 8 and 9, I began to question myself. “What are you doing?” I thought. “You’re supposed to compete in an 18-hour adventure race in less than a week, and a 24-hour race two weeks later. A BQ may be a possibility today. But a BQ will hurt. A lot. And who knows whether you’ll be able to recover in time?”
I decided to take the conservative route. I pulled back significantly, and maintained an easy pace for the next 17 miles. I was able to settle into a rhythm and enjoy myself, particularly miles 12-16, the only time on the out-and-back course that I was really surrounded by other runners. Aside from a few minutes spent in a port-a-potty around mile 20, I ran steadily the rest of the way. I sprinted into the finish – half a lap around the York College Track – and when I crossed the line around 3:57, I thought to myself, “that was a smart decision, Abby. Good job.”
That thought lasted for about 2 minutes. And then I realized – I was hurting. I hurt like I had just run 26.2 miles. Nothing extraordinary, no injuries to be concerned about. But I was sore. Running a marathon will leave you sore, regardless of how fast or slow you take it. Shocking revelation, I know.
Would I have been more sore if I had continued to go after that BQ? Maybe. Would I have been able to sustain the pace I was holding for the first 8 miles? Perhaps not.
But as I walked off the track, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed back to my car for the 2-hour drive back to Philly, I was plagued by that same thought I had at my law school graduation. I should have done more.
Last week, I attended another graduation. And when I walked across the stage as Dr. Abigail Perkiss, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had spent the past three years really focused, working diligently on a single project – what would become a 297-page manuscript – and when I defended, I had a final product that I felt proud of.
I loved every minute of the Ultra that I did in March – I can’t wait for the next one. And over the past couple years, I’ve begun to fall head over heels for adventure racing. I want to commit to it, and focus on it, to push myself and train hard and gain a sense of comfort and confidence. I don’t have any strong desire to keep running marathons at this point. But I want that BQ. And I’m pretty damn stubborn, when it comes down to it.
In theory, these things aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m sure another person could excel at all three simultaneously – and have a blast, to boot. But I know myself, and I know that it hasn’t felt satisfying to negotiate it all over the past couple years.
I’m more than ready to really focus. I want that feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that I experienced last week at the graduation.
But the question remains – do I continue to try to get this monkey off my back, or do I just let it fade away for now?