Do I have grit?

That was the question I was left with after the Chicago Marathon. When I looked back on the race and remembered how I fell apart in the last several miles, I couldn’t help but question my willpower and inner strength.

I didn’t push through the pain. When my body told me to stop, I listened. I had spent 18 weeks training my body and preparing it to cover 26.2 miles in less than 4 hours, and all I could feel was disappointment — a pain that endured much longer than the aches I experienced on the streets of downtown Chicago.

I was desperate to get past it. And while Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter may have said that you can’t think about your next race until you’ve forgotten the last one, I felt the only way for me to get over Chicago was to channel my frustration into a new race. So I chose the Flying Pig.

My hometown marathon, I thought the Pig would be the perfect race for my revenge. It’s a hilly course held the first Sunday in May, which can mean warm temperatures in Cincinnati. Training for it in Wisconsin in the winter would be a challenge. This gave me an easy excuse to dismiss having any goal time and to keep my focus on having a good race. A good race to me meant two things: 1) not hit “the wall,” and 2) finish the race knowing I gave it my all.

But right before the race, I wasn’t sure I could achieve either of those goals. My training hadn’t gone perfectly. I skipped one long run and cut another short. Recurring knee and butt pain kept me constantly questioning whether to keep training or back off. And just two weeks prior to race day, after I completed my 20-mile long run — which did not go well — I was a whiny, irritable person for several days, wishing I had never signed up for the race in the first place.

Needless to say, my mentality crossing the starting line was a little less “lets do this!” and a little more “let’s get this over with.”

Still, I wanted to do well. Even though my motivation took a major hit, the last thing I wanted was a repeat of Chicago.

So I went in with a plan. To avoid the wall, I would take the first 20 miles really easy. Since I wasn’t worried about time I decided I’d leave my watch at home and focus on how my body was feeling instead of letting a pace dictate how fast or slow I should be going. Once I made it to mile 20, I could run the last six as fast as I wanted.

I also decided I was going to avoid listening to any music most of the race. I knew if I listened to music from the start it would be easy for me to go out too fast in the beginning and make it harder for me to focus on my breath. Plus, I figured saving it for the last several miles would give me an extra boost when I’d likely need it the most.

Race morning came and I got lucky — temperatures were in the low 40s and were predicted to climb just into the 50s by the afternoon. Perfect conditions for a marathon.

I stuck to my plan. No watch and no music for the first 18 miles. I started off ridiculously easy — a 10:05 pace for the first 7 miles, according to my chip time. The first half flew by, and focusing on the hills in the start of the second half kept me from thinking too much about how many miles I had to go.

Mile 18 came and I finally pulled out my iPod. Coldplay’s Paradise started playing and I felt goosebumps rise all over my body. With my music carrying me forward mile 19 passed. Then mile 20. And 21.

And then it came — the fatigue. My legs were already sore but now my body started to feel heavy. Although it wasn’t hot I could feel the sun taking it out me. I started looking for the mile 22 banner. After some time I realized I must’ve passed it and started looking for mile 23. Enough time had passed where I hadn’t seen that banner either and I finally started questioning just how much farther I had to go. Immediately my mind responded with “Why does it matter? You’re not at the finish line yet.”

It was right. It didn’t matter whether I still had 5 miles or 2. I was not going to allow my legs to stop moving until I crossed that finish line. And so I kept pushing. Taking it one step after another, after another, after another. 

And then I saw it. The mile 25 banner. I was in disbelief. “Does that say — mile 25?” I thought.
“Mile 25?! I only have one mile to go?!?!”

Realizing just how close I was to the finish I let my body go, and automatically it picked up the pace. My timing chip clocked my last mile at 8:38 — my fastest mile of the race.

As I crossed the finish line and a nice volunteer handed me my medal, I realized I had just run my best marathon to date. I didn’t hit the wall. When those last, toughest miles came, I didn’t quit. I didn’t stop. I didn’t give up. And while it wasn’t my intention, I even shaved 50 seconds off my PR.

I had redeemed myself from Chicago. But most importantly, I had an answer to my question.

Yes, I have grit.

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