I left my soul on Russell.
It crumbled, slipped through my fingers, and fell to the asphalt.
I was halfway up the hill at mile twenty-three and too tired to retrieve it. And so I left it there to fend for itself while I lurched my way up a street that trashed my legs and scarred my thirty-first year of existence on this earth.
From what I understand, there was quite a pile of souls on Russell by the end of the day.
They say what goes up must come down, and it’s true. Unless what goes up is Russell. In that case, what goes up keeps going up, until your extracurricular vocabulary is exhausted and you start inventing new words to mumble as you foam at the mouth and, in general, resent the fact that you’re still alive.
Yes, I left a lot of things on the course on Sunday, my soul being one of the more significant losses. That is, next to my favorite Brooks hat, which I lost at mile twenty-five. And I use the term “lost” loosely here. It was more like a “conscious uncoupling.” You know, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin.
At any rate, I consciously uncoupled from my favorite Brooks FLEET FEET hat in a rather dramatic disposal, ripping it off my head and overhand throwing it to the curb at mile twenty-five.
Earlier in the race, at mile sixteen, I had done the same with what was supposed to be my third GU, after an unsuccessful attempt to consume its contents. The GU was going to hit the pavement whether it detoured to my stomach first or not; I figured I'd take preemptive measures and overhand throw it to the curb.
And at mile twenty-four, I consciously uncoupled from my brand new black SPIbelt—the bearer of my final packet of GU—which I unbuckled from my waist and (again) overhand threw to the curb.
Now that I think about it, my conscious uncoupling cost me $46.50.
$46.50 and my soul.
In recap, I was on pace through twenty-two, but the hill at twenty-three (a.k.a. Russell) did me in. The wagon wheels, which had rattled expectedly with the hilly course, wobbled violently, jerked, locked, wobbled some more, and then exploded across the prairie with spectacular disregard. I never recovered. The microscopic time cushion I had stitched for myself over the previous two dozen miles were consumed in one fell swoop. My PR came and went and disappeared from sight.
I guess you could say my PR consciously uncoupled from me.
Guys, the last three miles hurt. I shuffled-staggered-ran in desperate forward motion. My stomach threatened revolt. My two GUs didn’t cut it, and I felt my lack of fuel severely. My blood sugar dropped. My quads started giving out.
A ray of light came at mile twenty-four, when I was surprised by Tom, who met me on his bike (with a three-pound bag of gummy bears, no less). Twice I sobbed-gasped, “I can’t do it.” Twice he responded, “Yes, you can.” I crossed the finish line. I didn’t PR.
It was the best race I had ever run.
As I collapsed on the sidewalk along Tucker (I used the bag of gummy bears as a pillow), by no means the only horizontal runner in the midst of the post-race celebration, I briefly cried the exhausted, confusing tears that come only after a marathon. Part happy, part sad, part relieved, and wholly tired.
It always takes me a while to process my marathons and sift through my post-race emotions, especially if the race didn’t go as planned. So often I equate my performance with a time on a clock. I shouldn’t.
I wasn’t able to put into words how I felt about the race until an email from Coach Cary arrived in my inbox on Monday morning. He had seen me at Lafayette Park, after mile twenty-four, after the wheels had come off. My eyes burned with tears as I read his email.
He told me he was proud of me. That I hadn’t faltered. That even though I didn’t hit the time I was shooting for, I had chased it all the way to the finish line. That I was always striving to be better. That I am and can be more than I know.
I believe it was your best race ever…
It is a fascinating thing to try, to fall short, and to try again. Yet, it is what runners do every day. When you give your best, you make yourself vulnerable. Your strengths and your weaknesses are equally on display for all to see. You may succeed. You may not. But either way, it’s personal. Either way, you have to be strong. Either way, you have to be brave.
On Sunday, I ran the best race of my life. I tackled a tough course. I ran smarter than I've ever run. I ran harder than I've ever run (without giving up). I ran with friends and strangers alike, all of whom quickly became family, our bonds forged by pace and effort and over twenty miles of shared company. I was encouraged by loved ones--like Tom, who showed up on his bike, and my sister Alicia, who ran the half marathon only to double-back and cheer me on in the last miles of my race.
"You look great! You look great!" she yelled at me as I passed her at mile twenty-six. (I later found out that after complimenting my form, she promptly turned to the guy next to her and said, "Wow. She looks terrible." He agreed.)
No, I didn’t PR, but it was the best race I had ever run. And, really, what more could I ask for?
Running is personal because running requires our very best. We will try and we will fail and we will try again. We’re good at it. It’s what we do. We just need to remember that our fastest races and our best races aren’t necessarily the same thing. And when we run our best races, we need to celebrate them accordingly.
Because if we just ran the best race we've ever run, really, what more could we ask for?
Amy L. Marxkors finished 4th in the 2014 rungevity Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Marathon. She is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.