Just before the 19th mile I quit. I pressed the stop button on my GPS watch and turned off of the marathon course onto a street that I knew was a shortcut to the finish area. I unhooked one of the safety pins holding my race number bib onto my shirt and started walking.
It was around mile 16 that I started contemplating dropping out of the Richmond Marathon. I was running across Lee Bridge at my target pace of 6:50 minutes per mile. This crossing of the James River is known for a slight uphill that can have punishing winds. But today's runners were lucky as the moderate wind was actually blowing from behind, providing a tail wind.
I had been doing well up to that point, eating my energy gels as planned, drinking a little at each water station and even trying to enjoy the course scenery. However, my quadriceps were hurting and the pace became more and more difficult. I continued in hopes that the next turn would put me on less of an incline and the pace would become easier.
It didn't. The wind was now slightly head on and the road was still a gentle uphill. Just after mile marker 17, I slowed down, but kept running. I was wrestling with the idea of dropping out. "There is no reason to continue on and suffer like this. It will only get worse," I told myself.
At the next water station I walked for a bit. I looked behind me to see if I could see Tim, my running partner. We had started together, but I had pulled away from him around mile 11. I saw him coming and continued to walk until he caught up. He asked if I was hurting too and tried to encourage me saying we could still get a good time. I told him I was considering dropping out and just didn't care anymore. I couldn't keep up with his pace and let him go.
I decided to drop out and walk to the finish. And I was not going to be disappointed or beat myself up about it. I would get my phone and email the people that I knew were following my progress so they would not worry about me. Not long after is when I saw the cross street that I knew was about 2 miles from the finish. I was ready to stop and walk.
I pulled out the top right safety pin first. Perhaps it was because I didn't want to disappoint my family and running friends who were following my progress. Perhaps it was because the street I turned on is named Grace. I did not have a life changing epiphany or remember some wise words of wisdom. But before I went to remove the second safety pin, something caused the "I'm not a quitter" switch to turn on. I dug deep for the motivation and came up with this: "Dammit, I want to wear the shirt and get that medal."
I put the safety pin back through my shirt and bib, turned around to get back on the course, restarted my GPS and began running. I knew the next 7 miles would be difficult and painful. I convinced myself that 7 miles is not so long and I could push through. My pace continued to slow and I employed a run/walk strategy of running between water stations and walking while I drank. Gentle inclines felt like tough hills and gentle breezes felt like punishing winds.
I finished with mixed emotions. I had set a new personal record by about three and a half minutes. I had come in under my Boston qualification requirement. But I had quit. Sure, my quitting had only lasted about 30 seconds and nobody else even knew about it. My family and friends are all congratulating me and everyone is impressed with my finishing time of 3:11:45. That is all great to hear. I guess because I had trained for a finish time of 3 hours and because I had actually walked off the course I am somewhat disappointed.
It is hard to say why I couldn't keep up the pace. I don't think the course or the winds are to blame. I know I was plenty full of carbohydrates and never felt like I hit the wall. I think I can only blame my training. Although I had met all the targets of the speed workouts, I think maybe my long runs were too slow and I did not build up the endurance to maintain that pace for 26.2 miles.
What now? I think postponing that thought process is the only thing that makes sense right now.