The Hard Things.

I’ve run 9 marathons. Not a single one has gone according to plan.

I’m currently reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Horowitz is kinda a big deal in my world (the tech startup world that is) as he’s built some pretty incredible companies.

The book starts with Horowitz’s story of his early involvement in Netscape (#throwback), his subsequent startup (Loudcloud) – which became the fastest growing company ever – and its quick fall towards near-bankruptcy. While no where near as extreme, Horowitz’s frank discussion on the highs and lows of his career definitely struck a chord with my running ‘career’.

Training for a marathon is a huge undertaking. All of that effort builds up to a lot of expectation. And I’ve had those expectations come crashing down.

During my 5th marathon I was crushing it. There is even a picture of me pointing at my friend who was watching and telling him to “get his phone ready!” so I could register for the Boston Marathon right after I finished the race. I was 37km in to the race, on pace to come in well under my qualifying time of 3:05:00, and feeling unstoppable. Then my hamstrings cramped and I stopped nearly dead in my tracks. I fought as hard as I could to keep going; grinding out the last horrible 5k while watching Boston slip away. I finished the race in 3:07 something. I was totally devastated that I wouldn’t be running Boston next year (never mind that I still managed to run a personal best).

Fast forward to my most recent marathon – Chicago in October 2014. I had one of my best training season ever, running strong all year with no real injuries of note. I was hitting paces in my training runs that I’d never before been able to hit. I PB’d twice already on the half marathons I’d run. Needless to say, I was on a huge mental high going into the race and I had a big goal (for me anyways) of running a sub 3:00 marathon. The race started off a bit rocky. Within the first kilometer you run through a tunnel and my GPS lost it’s signal. I struggled to find my pace and was getting frustrated with my inability to settle into a ‘comfortable’ run. Around kilometer 3 I gave myself a little pep talk, pulled my big boy shorts up, and reset my watch to match the race’s mile marker. Ok, I was back in it. The next 20k went very well, until my nose starting bleeding. Who the cuss gets a nosebleed mid-marathon?!?! Luckily some random spectator had a box of kleenex so I ran over, grabbed a couple, thanked her (manners matter), and shoved them up my nose. Thankfully, the bleeding stopped in few minutes -crisis averted. This race was turning out to be more even eventful than I wanted. I checked my pace and was still on on track for 2:58 – perfect. I dug in and kept knocking out steady kilometers. With 2k to go I was so close and then it happened. I pooped myself. jkjk. I didn’t poop myself; rather my hamstrings cramped on me again. I could almost smell the finish but instead of running I was off to the side trying to stretch my way through the cramps with a first-aider asking if I needed to drop out. No fucking way. I slowly started running again knowing that I could slow down quite a bit and still sneak in under 3 hours. As I turned the final corner and headed the last 200 meters to the finish I watched the clock quickly tick away those precious seconds. 3:00:30. Never have I been so elated and so devastated at the same time. I just ran a 3 hour marathon but missed my big goal but a lousy 30 seconds.

I wouldn’t have said it at the time but I’m glad I went through those hard things. They’ve taught me that nothing in life comes without work, that nothing is ever ‘in the bag’, and that hamstring cramps suck.

So here I go again training for another marathon. Stronger, and hopefully smarter, from the hard things I’ve gone through.

Originally posted over at Blitz Conditioning