After hating the last three marathons I've run, I decided that this was going to be a decisive race for me: I was either going to love it or I was going to quit running marathons. I did everything right-- I trained hard, I tapered, I got plenty of sleep and drank all my water the days before the race. I also decided to run with a pace group and have fun and not kill myself in an effort for a PR at this race (I've tried hard for a PR at the last three races and failed each time).
The day could not have been more perfect. It wasn't too cold up at the race start, and the sun showed herself for the first time in a week just before the race gun went off. I was also surrounded by great friends from my running group, which made the hour waiting up in a muddy field pass much faster.
Traci and I started with the 3:30 pace group. We kept them in our sights for the first 10 miles, not too worried if we were slightly ahead or slightly behind. I don't think I even registered a mile marker until we'd gone a dozen miles. We just chatted and enjoyed the scenery and breathed deeply and didn't run too fast. There were a bunch of little hills between 7-11 and we trudged up them without any difficulty (I guess the Hill Run Mondays paid off). We passed lots of people on the one "big" hill on 14 (which wasn't even very big). Traci dropped back a little around 17, and I picked up the pace once I hit the canyon at 18. I turned on my tunes around mile 20, and still felt great when I hit the park around mile 22. Shortly after I entered the park a guy came up behind me and challenged me to keep up with him, which I did for a few miles, but eventually he had more energy than I did. I was feeling great until the last mile when I turned onto the streets of Ogden. Then I had no gas left. I'd run a block and walk through the intersection, but I still managed to finish ahead of the pacer (he was on my heels) and with a time of 3:28.
It wasn't my fastest marathon-- in fact, it was the fifth fastest of the nine I've run, but I felt great at the end. I was happy-- and I loved racing again. I know I have the endurance to finish a marathon. I know that 3:30 is a fast marathon for most people. I know that I could probably run faster. But it felt great to finish and feel satisfied and be happy with a 3:28 rather than finishing in 3:18 and feeling miserable, or running too fast early and completely self-destructing and finishing slower. I can be fast, but I'm not sure I can be that fast for that long. Running a little slower and finishing happy makes me feel like I could run ultras, or even run more than a few marathons a year without completely dreading the experience.