It was a perfectly cool October day for a run. I was on Mile 10 of the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) and feeling great. I passed my fiance (now wife) and my roommate cheering me on by the Lincoln Memorial and things were going smoothly. As I continued past them and towards Hains Point, I began to think that I might have an okay marathon after all. My training had not been where I would have liked it, but in general, I was in better running shape than I had been in previous years.
Hains Point is the tip of a little peninsula that sticks out at the bottom of Southwest DC. Runners and Cyclists frequent it because it is a great place to do a three mile run or ride loop without worrying about cars. Other runners avoid it like the plague because it seems like there is always a headwind, no matter which direction you are running. I belong in the second group of runners. During the MCM, Hains Point is also known for low crowd support in an otherwise well-supported race. To help with that, I like to believe the MCM organizers did something smart by putting the halfway point of the race at the farthest part of Hains Point. This gives people a mental victory in the middle of the race’s lowest point. Unfortunately, for me, that was my last victory, as the wheels quickly went flat and came off.
I began to have my legs seize up on me. I was getting passed by individuals that I had passed an hour before. Around Mile 14, I began to switch off walking and running, and by the time I got back to my fiance waiting at Mile 16. I was in serious pain. I’ve felt this kind of pain in previous marathons, but those marathons were at Mile 23 or 24. This one, I still had another 10-miler to go. I was also only a mile from my apartment. So, I did what any reasonable runner in agony and not thinking clearly would do, I walked off the course, and received my very first and only Did Not Finish (DNF).
As soon as I got home, and the pain had subsided, I very quickly began to wallow in self-pity. Instead of an overwhelming sense of achievement I had been hoping for, I now felt doubt about my own abilities to run and to finish things. While I knew exactly how much worse it would have gotten for the next ten miles, it could not stop from thinking that I had made the wrong decision. My fiance came by and brought me a stuffed monkey to cheer me up. We named him Marty, short for Marathon, that’s him in the picture above.
It took me a couple of hours to decide that I had come to a decision point in my marathon training, and my life as a runner. How was I going to let this impact me? I decided that if I was going to commit to something, I had to make sure I allowed myself the time to do so and I had to set myself up for success. I started seeing a trainer and running much more regularly. I did not loaf on my long runs and made sure to make the time for them on the weekends. Not surprising that six months later with actual commitment, I was able to knock 18 minutes minutes off my personal best in the marathon.
While I to do this day hate that I dropped out of that marathon, I realize that in doing so, I was able to set a low point that I never ever want to approach again. That gut wrenching feeling of failure comes up every single time I don’t want to climb the next hill, or go the next mile. It is a sick disgusting taste that I never want to go through again.
While counter-intuitive, by dropping out of the marathon, I made myself a better runner. Since then, I have lowered my personal best in the marathon another 56 minutes to 3:46, and completed a half-marathon in 1:41. With each improvement in the marathon I’ve made over the past few years, I got a feel for exactly how committed I needed to be in order to overcome the next time hurdle in my running. Knowing what I know, I’m not certain if I would actually want to finish that marathon. I’ve learned so much from it. Marty’s medal there with is from the 2012 MCM that I finished in 4:24 a mere month after finishing the Berlin Marathon in 3:53. Both would have been personal bests when I dropped out in 2009. Through failure, I found success.
What have you learned from your failures? Please comment below.