Berlin 2018: The Dementor Race

I’ve been thinking all week long about how I was going to write this blog post. I’ve spent the past week going through some variations of the 5 stages of grief (mostly anger, sadness, depression, and acceptance).

Berlin was my “A” race this year. All efforts geared toward this moment. My training was  flawless and I thrived during this cycle. My easy PB time at the Lille Half Marathon injected confidence. That sub 4 time was mine!

Berlin is now my Dementor Race. If you’re not familiar with the Harry Potter reference, Dementors drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you by Dementors. My mind was a Dementor during the race.

Image result for dementor

The morning of the race, things were on track. I’m getting so much better about my nutrition to fuel my long runs, so had my hearty breakfast, did some yoga with Willy, and had the minimum 5 loo breaks before heading out the door.

After entering the race area, Willy and Jerome headed off for their bag drop area. We said our well wishes and farewells, and I was on my own. Luckily, I almost immediately ran into my friends: Sona, Becca, Ben, Clem, Paul, and Laura. Seeing them just made everything better. Bag was dropped off, then Ben, Sona and I went to our start area for another loo break and to get ready for the start.

It was a sunny day, but not too hot and no humidity. We started in pen G, so had about 35/40 minutes of waiting, and then we were off.  Sona, Ben and I managed about 5 minutes of running together and then we naturally broke up through the crowd and onto our own races.

Coach and I had discussed my strategy: don’t go out too fast (my nemesis), stay away from the crowd of the 4:00 pace group (too busy/crowded) and get through your first half in 1:58/1:59.

I spent the first half trying to stay ahead of the 4:00 pacers and stick close to my pace, and I was really pleased to see that I was hitting a steady goal pace. Normally my pace is all over the place, but my first 13 miles were hit between 8:50 and 9:10, and I came into the half marathon mark at 1:59:41 – just a few second off where I should be, but easy to make up.

At mile 14 the 4:00 pacers came whizzing by. Enter the first Dementor.

“WT actual F are they doing going past me? How is that possible? Chase them Michele. No, take it easy, you’re running your race. Just keep them in your sight and you can get sub 4. You’ve got so long to go and things are already starting to hurt, so don’t push yet.”

At mile 16, Dementor 2 started. “My adductors are really tight. Not just a niggle, REALLY tight.  I don’t see the 4:00 pacers anymore. Man, I just need to stop for a second and stretch. Everything hurts.”

At 30km: FULL ON DEMENTOR assault.  “That 4:00 is totally gone. You are so shit at this; how could you even think you’d get sub 4? Your day is done. You’d be better to drop out. Coach is going to be so disappointed. Everyone will be disappointed. You were so vocal about your goal. At this point, you won’t even get a PB, so why even try.”

At 36km: Charlie and Xandria spotted me, and I stopped to hug them, tell them everything hurt and I was dying, and Charlie told me that I was looking great, to keep going, DON’T GIVE UP, only 6km to go.

I cried just after leaving Charlie and Xan, but I knew Becca was coming up at 37km and I was desperate to see her. I NEEDED to see her. I knew that she’d be the one to make things better and give me just the talking to that I needed to break my funk and finish strong, whatever that looked like. Unfortunately I completely missed her (I have NO IDEA how, she was dressed like a perfect summer day!)

Not seeing Becca broke me. It was exactly what I didn’t need at that moment.

Hanging on by a thread and counting down the kms

The only positive I had in those last 6 kms was counting down each km until there was just 1km left. I knew that meant the Brandenburger Tor was just a turn away and that I was going to finish this race.

Berlin 2018 Finisher
The relief on my face is clear. I’m done. 

I finished Berlin 2018 in 4:13:33. My second fastest time from my worst marathon performance ever. I received so many messages of well done and I really appreciate those kind words. I know the time is great and what many people would love to achieve, but, for me, this race was a complete disappointment.

I spent so much time physically training for this race but never really mentally prepared myself. I know that sub 4 is in me. The training SHOWS it’s there, but on Sunday, my brain got the better of me. Marathons are mostly mental. Yes, you put in the training to ensure you’re physically able to go 26.2 miles, but it’s the brain that determines how you perform. You need to strengthen that muscle just as much as all the others in preparation for the race, and I didn’t do that very well. I expected an easy 26.2 (relatively speaking) and when that didn’t happen, I let the negative talk and self doubt get the better of me.

All this said, I can’t say that Berlin was a failure. Yes, it was really disappointing. Yes, I stumbled, fell down, and cried a bit, but  I continued to fight until I got across the finish line. It wasn’t pretty, and I sure as hell wasn’t proud of myself when it was over, but reflecting this past week, there are positives to take away from the day:

  • Kipchoge set a WR! 2:01:39!!!!
  • Solid pacing for first half – a first for me!
  • Fueling went well – I didn’t hit the wall or suffer dehydration on the course
  • 4:13:33 –  a solid time given the last 10 miles
  • I didn’t walk off the course and continued to push until I crossed the finish line

I can hold my head high on the last point. It would have been easy in the moment to say “eff it” and walk away, but I had some semblance of ego left and couldn’t allow that for myself. There is comfort in that.

There is also solace in knowing where I went wrong and where I need to get stronger. Truthfully, there’s a fire lit in my belly. I needed this let down to remind myself that I really care about this goal; that it’s important to me, and that it’s going to require me to actually work really freaking hard to achieve it. It’s also taught me that I need to believe in myself. It’s not enough that my stats from training show me I can do it; I need to BELIEVE I can do. It’s a work in progress, and there have been a number of conversations this week between Coach and me, and with Willy that I needed to have hard truths I needed to hear.

Berlin… until next time.

Berlin 2018 Finish Line
Smiling through the disappointment

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