I started running in 2013 with one specific goal: train for a year and then run the Chevron Houston Marathon. Because of that, I now see the third Sunday in January as my own personal New Year’s Eve – the end of the season, the culmination of twelve months of preparation, a goal unto itself. I have run Chevron twice more since then (and one other marathon), but this year it will not be – I dropped down to the Aramco Half Marathon for 2017 just a few weeks ago, and I’d like to talk about why.
Through spring and summer I run alone, generally; most of my time goes to serving others, and running is essentially my only private space to think (or not think, as the case may be); but once fall approaches I join up with Houston’s Runners High Club for their 18 week marathon training program. They have a fantastic group of volunteer coaches, pace-specific groups, the works. For last year’s marathon I trained with the 4:15 group, and qualified for “A” corral. My coach and I ran together, and for 17 miles we were step for step, perfectly on pace – and then my wheels fell off, and I barely beat the 6-hour cutoff, collapsing into someone’s arms as I fell over the finish line. It was the worst race I ever completed, eclipsed only by a catastrophic DNF due to GI issues at my first and only attempt at a 50 mile ultra. In the wake of such a disappointment, I resolved to train smarter, get stronger, and redeem myself this year – and then life started happening.
I took about a month off after the marathon to heal up the damage I had done by refusing to drop, and slowly began rebuilding my base as spring came along. However I was still adjusting to being self-employed, with erratic hours, lots of travel, and less money than I had been accustomed to having. Running took a back seat to other things, and I found myself falling further and further away. Then, in June I re-aggravated an old back injury, and running went completely out the window for 6 weeks – heck, I could barely breathe some days. Just when it seemed I could rejoin the club and get back on track, my dad’s health turned for the worse, and he passed away at the end of July. The next month was a blur, and before I knew it, September had arrived, and I felt I was quickly running out of time to prepare; my best year of training had yielded such awful results, so I had huge reservations about the prospect this time around.
I ran a few shorter races through the fall, including a pair of half’s, with respectable (if not PR-worthy) outcomes, but nothing that made me believe I could face the full this year. I dithered with it for a time, but eventually it came down to three options:
- Don’t run at all, and let the time and money already spent go for naught.
- Go ahead and attempt it, knowing it would end in a miserable death march, IF I made it to the finish.
- Drop down to the half, which I was certain I could complete without crippling myself, and enjoy the experience instead of suffering through it.
When you lay it out like that, the correct choice becomes obvious, and that’s what I decided. I’m still not in prime form, but I know I can run at least 2:30 next week, maybe even a bit faster if the cards fall right. What happens after that remains to be seen. I’ll be moving away from Houston and everything I know. I may or may not come back next year to run Chevron again; there are some very well-run events in the Rio Grande Valley that occur around the same time; I believe the McAllen Marathon is held on the same day.
Whatever the future brings, I know that I will meet it by running towards it, not away from it, and for now, that is enough.