Bill Rodgers, former American record holder in the marathon, as well as four-time Boston and three-time New City Marathon winner, once said, "The marathon can humble you."
If you've ever run a marathon, you know that truer running words were never spoken.
This past weekend, two good friends of mine had turned in some awesome winter training in preparation for marathons on both coasts.
Out in Los Angeles, record heat baked the field of over 26,000 runners. Many runners suffered heat exhaustion, and 30 need to be hospitalized. My friend, who had hoped to break the 3:30 barrier, adjusted his goal to the high 3:30s. As he cruised along, ingesting as much water as he could, he suffered severe leg cramps at mile 22, dropping him to a 3:45 finish time.
Indeed, I felt his pain.
At the 2012 Boston Marathon, after a winter of intense training, I winced as, throughout the week prior to the race, forecasted temperatures kept rising. On race day, temperatures topped out in the high 80s, and there was absolutely no shade. I adjusted my sub-7:00 per mile pace to a 7:30. By the time I reached mile 18, my paced had been reduced to over 8:00 a mile, and I had no stamina remaining for the Newton Hills. I stepped off the course, and took a ride from Boston College to the finish line.
At the Newport News Marathon on Sunday, Wayne Parfitt, who has run marathons in the 2:30s, was prepared as he awaited the start. He had logged many hard winter miles.
He went out aggressively, and as his race progressed, he was cruising to a sub-2:45 effort. At 21 miles, his legs began to falter, and with the finish line in sight, at a mere .1 mile remaining, the legs failed, he collapsed to the ground, and struggled to finish in 3:00:30.
The absolute worst enemy of a marathon runner is the heat. We can't control it, and we can't just throw away the many months of training. Unless one is a finely tuned, elite runner, your marathon time will always suffer if it's hot.
There is a fine tightrope we walk when we run a marathon. You push hard to achieve your personal best, but sometimes you fall off the tightrope, as your legs simply refuse to respond to your body's plea to go another couple of miles.
Even a blister can dash the hopes for marathon success.
Enter each marathon with realistic expectations, and also with a Plan B. After my failure at the 2012 Boston Marathon, I regrouped, counted it as an 18-mile training run, then successfully ran the Pocono Run for the Red Marathon a month later.
When all the ingredients are mixed together properly, the marathon, a potentially humbling experience, can be the most gratifying and satisfying achievement of your running life.