Down to the Last Four Miles
When I hit the 22-mile marker, I knew what I had to do to qualify. Two 7:15 miles and two 7:30’s would do it.
Problem was, I was sure I didn’t have it in me. Having barely been able to manage 7:30’s for miles 21 and 22, and fading fast, I knew was just a matter of time until the complete breakdown happened and my legs turned to lead.
Why was I slowing down like this? I had eaten almost 200 calories an hour, gotten Gatorade at each water stop, and paced myself well. The stiff wind in our faces almost the entire time didn’t do much to help though. Maybe I just wasn’t in shape to qualify for Boston yet.
The first half of the race had gone just as planned. I had avoided getting too excited and running too fast, forcing myself instead to slow down and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of upstate New York in the fall whenever I felt myself speeding up. I ran the first half just a bit faster than the 7:17 pace I had planned on, banking about a minute and crossing the 13.1 line in 1:34:30. At one point I felt like I wanted to throw up, probably because I wasn’t used to eating so much. But that urge passed quickly, and though the headwind had caused me to work quite a bit harder than I had hoped, I felt I had put myself in good position to repeat it in the second half of the race.
I kept up the pace through mile 18. And then it all started to go. 7:15 became 7:20, which became 7:33. My legs felt crampy, my stride was forced, and it was all I could do to run 7:30’s for miles 21 and 22.
At this point, I felt everything slipping away. All the work that had gone into this, down the drain. Not that it really would have been wasted, but of course you don’t think of that when you’re 20 miles into a marathon and facing the realization that you’re not going to do the sole thing you’ve worked for six months (and in some sense, seven years) to do. I envisioned a sad ride home and a miserable few weeks as I figured out what to do next. I even thought about what I would tell you, the readers of my blog. So many of you have told me that you knew I could do it, and having to tell you and my friends that I had failed seemed like the worst thing in the world. The idea of just abandoning the blog, never posting about the race or ever again, even flashed through my mind. (I would never do this, but like I said, you just don’t think straight under these conditions.)
Such was my state of mind when I finished the 22nd mile. I’ve been there before in other marathons, realizing that the pace I need to run the last few miles in to hit my goal is just not going to happen. And just waiting for the meltdown.
The meltdown, though, held off. And then an idea hit me.
If somehow, just somehow, I could do two more 7:30’s, that would leave me with 2.2 miles to go, needing a 7:15 pace for that remaining distance to sneak in under 3:10:59 and qualify. It would have been impossible for me to run a 7:15 right then and there. Why I had any faith that I could actually speed up during the last two miles of a marathon is beyond me; the final miles have always been the slowest in my previous races. But if I knew that I only had two miles left, that all the pain I’d gone through would be worth it if I could just leave it all on the course and really suffer for just 15 minutes before collapsing in the grass, then maybe I could make it happen.
Surprisingly to me, the first part of my plan worked. Talking to myself, grimacing in pain, and doing what probably looked more like shuffling than running, I hung onto that 7:30 pace for miles 23 and 24. At this point I was eschewing water stops altogether, not even looking up at the volunteers’ faces to say “Thank you for helping.” I was really, really hurting and about as focused as I’ve ever been.
When I started mile 25, I said (out loud) to myself, “There’s got to be more.” I never talk to myself, and when I see it people do it in movies I gag and think that nobody really does that. But I did. I didn’t mean “I know there’s more; let’s see it.” Rather, I meant “If you’re going to do this, then you have got to give more than you realize you have available to give.”
I started speeding up, feeling sort of liberated in the realization that if this pace were too fast and I crashed during the last mile, then it wouldn’t matter because I wouldn’t have qualified anyway if I didn’t go fast.
In other words, I had nothing to lose.
The 25th mile turned directly into the wind for a few hundred yards. Then just when I thought I had survived and the course turned away from the wind, I found myself looking straight up a hill. But I didn’t care about any of this. I just kept running hard, feeling almost reckless, and when I got to the mile marker, I looked at my watch and was overjoyed to see that it read 7:10.
Finally, the 26th mile. This was it. If I could do what I had just done, one more time, then the BQ would be mine. Feeling this good caused me to speed up even more. I remember almost nothing of the last mile, except that I kept looking at my watch and being surprised that time was passing so quickly. A good thing, because I knew I was running fast enough. When I saw the 26-mile marker and glanced at my watch, I knew I was home.
I sprinted the last 385 yards to the finish across a bridge, lined on one side with people. Among the chorus of voices, I heard someone yelling “Run fast!” and I later found out it was Erin. I know I had the most pained look on my face, but inside I could not have been happier.
I raced the clock to cross the line in under 3:10:00 (remember, a 3:10:59 would have done it). I thought I lost that battle because my watch said 3:10:04 when I finished, but I later found out that my chip time, the official one, was 3:09:59. I stumbled through the finish corral in a daze while someone put a medal on me and gave me a Mylar blanket. The first person I saw was Erin, and she came and hugged me, screaming “You did it Matt, you qualified for Boston!”
All I could say back was “I did it.” And as I said it, my eyes welled up, just as they had the dozens, maybe hundreds, of times I had envisioned this moment over the past three or so years.
The reason I finished with “so much” time to spare, by the way, was that a) I made up about 25 seconds during the final 1.2 miles, and b) when I was calculating in my head during the second half, I was using 7:15 as the baseline rather than the true 7:17 that is Boston qualifying pace. But I’m happy about the mistake, since really pushing it allowed me to break 3:10:00.
I owe a gigantic thank you to Erin, Margaret, and my dad, who drove the motorhome all over and around the course to cheer me on and make sure I had whatever food I needed. Everytime I saw you guys, even when I was really dying, it gave me a huge boost and lots of warm fuzzies.
And thank you to every single reader, family member, and friend who wished me luck, gave me advice, or reassured me that I could do it. Not wanting to let you down was such a motivating force during miles 20-24 when it was feeling impossible.
I had to rush this post to get it up in a timely fashion, so I’ll have many more pictures, videos, and details of my trip and the race to post in the next few days.
Until then, I’ll be resting these sore legs and feeling elated about having succeeded in the hardest thing I’ve ever done, not just in the years of training but in the heat of the moment as well.
And of course, thinking about what’s next.
This post is part of 10-part series on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Check out the rest!
YIPPPPPEEEEE YOU DID IT! I teared up too!
This post was just too awesome and amazing to read! You did it! YOU DID IT! 😀
You and your family all look so happy in the pictures, and you (obvs) rock, so go rest because you deserve it Mr. Matt!
Way to go. I’m jealous but happy for you.
Hey I just got the No Meat t-shirt (thanks for the speedy delivery) and will wear it Sunday at Steamtown. Look out carnivores!
larry (from Pittsburgh)
Congratulations!!! I’m so excited for you – what a thrilling accomplishment!
Wow! Congratulations!!!!!!!!! What an inspiring accomplishment! And I’d be lying if I said my eyes didn’t tear up a bit reading your post!!!! CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!
.-= Tracey @ TropicalHappiness´s last blog ..5k5k5k5k5k =-.
Wooohooo!! I have been eagerly awaiting your report and I am so excited for you! You are the picture of determination and perseverance!
i cried reading this post!!! i am so excited for you and gave you a shout out on the blog last night when i saw your tweet.
you amaze me!!!!!!!!!!!!!
.-= caitlin´s last blog ..The Operation Beautiful Contest — You Could Be in the Book and Win Amazing Swag! =-.
Matt, oh my gosh congratulations! You are an amazing writer and this recap of your race was beautiful. This might sound completely over the top but I actually welled up while reading it! Congratulations for reaching your goal and reaching deep to do it. You are a real running inspiration.
okay, so i am not a crier at all but my eyes were welling up in tears reading this post (esp. the part about erin and you realizing she was the one that yelled, “run fast!”) – CONGRATULATIONS! i am so happy and proud of you – that is absolutely amazing, and yes, YOU DID IT! rest up, relax and enjoy your triumph 🙂
.-= Holly´s last blog ..26.2 miles? check. =-.
Congratulations!!!! You are a rock star!!
I am sending this post to my husband, he is a long distance runner and I think he would really enjoy reading it.
Yay for you! I have been following your blog and was waiting for your report. Saw on Caitlin’s blog that you qualified! Congrats!!!
This post made me tear up! I am so freakin’ happy for you Matt!!
YOU’RE A RUNNER!!
.-= Mel @ She Runs Brooklyn´s last blog ..Fall Heats the Streets of Brooklyn =-.
Congratulations!! I know how hard (both mentally and physically) those last few miles are. You have to dig deeper than you think is possible and you scrape the absolute bottom of the tank. It’s SO easy to give up at that point, but you pushed on. SO proud of you 🙂 I was thinking about your race all day yesterday. Boston here you come!!!
.-= Megan (The Runner’s Kitchen)´s last blog ..All Warmed Up =-.
I’ve never commented before, but I knew I had to once I read this post!!!
Congratulations… what an amazing accomplishment. Definitely an inspiration for me when I run my first marathon in Philly in November 🙂
All the best,
Congratulations!!!! That is amazing, and what a great race story to capture on here 🙂 I’m SO excited for you!!!
.-= brandi´s last blog ..Harley and Me =-.
Congratulations! Good job 🙂
.-= Diana´s last blog ..National Holiday =-.
I am sitting in my office, trying not to cry like a baby after reading your post! I am so proud of you…really…you’ve worked so hard and remind all of us that we can achieve our goals, no matter how great or small they may feel.
I’ve been following your blog for a couple of months now, so I had you on my mind all weekend. I jumped up and down in excitement when I saw your tweet this morning, I’m so excited for you! Great job!
YES I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU!!! Wow.
P.S. Get reservations for a hotel room in Boston NOW! I am also running Boston (and may or may not die of excitement if I run into you) and found it really challenging to find an open hotel room when I booked one a few weeks ago.
This was quite possibly the best race report I’ve ever read – beautifully written, I love that we’ve been with you on your journey these last 6 months. Congrats again! I hope Erin’s not due in the middle of April next year! 😉
.-= Alison´s last blog ..Feeling ReFRESHed =-.
Great story, Matt. Wow.
Crazy, man, how similar our races were!
*Your first half was in 1:34:30; mine was 1:34:24.
*Your second half was 1:35:29, mine was … 1:35:29.
*I began to fade between 30k and 40K, just when you began to as well.
*And then we both had strong finishes. You wrote that you realized you had “nothing to lose.” As I posted the other day (in my much-delayed race report), I realized I had “nothing to lose.”
Let me know when you plan to do another marathon. I’ll schedule one for a few weeks later, let you go first, then I’ll know exactly what’s going to happen in mine!
.-= Pete´s last blog ..A Veggie BQ =-.
Congrats!!!! Great re-cap! You are a true inspiration! 😀
.-= A´s last blog ..HAPPY NEW YEAR! =-.
Congrats!!! Great job. All the hard work paid off!
Well done! I just started following your blog, and I am so happy for you. 🙂
congrats!! what a great story. i loved that you gave yourself a pep talk. seemed to work well. 🙂
.-= reluctant veggie´s last blog ..I Did It! =-.
AMAZING!!! You are completely amazing and I’m sad I can’t think of words that can describe how utterly cool and inspiring this is.
.-= Runeatrepeat´s last blog ..The Notebook =-.
You are UNREAL!!! I knew you’d do it!!!!
.-= Allie Katie´s last blog ..Sorry it took so long–but GREAT NEWS!! =-.
Congratulations!!!!! I found this blog through The Healthy Tipping Point blog.
It is amazing what the human body is capable of enduring! I look forward to reading more of your blog! 🙂
.-= Pam´s last blog ..Hello, Seattle! =-.
This is amazing – you are SO inspiring!!
.-= Lindsey @ Sound Eats´s last blog ..Airborne =-.
Congrats Matt! So happy for you!! Best of luck in Boston 🙂
Congrats to you! That’s awesome.
i loved this recap!! such a beautiful report of those not-so-pretty miles 🙂 awesome, awesome job matt!!
for the record, even if you had missed out on a bq – you still ran a strong race and finished a marathon, and we would not scorn you!
absolutely AWESOME post! 🙂 I definitely started getting choked up at the end!
I am so happy for you for reaching your personal goals (and having such an amazing support system!) CONGRATS! 🙂
.-= allijag´s last blog ..Try to make me go to rehab… =-.
Congratulations! I’ve been reading but not commenting for awhile and have been waiting for your post since Caitlin announced that you qualified.
I’ll look for you in Boston! (I’ll be spectating- my husband is running)
.-= kristen´s last blog ..will run for fun! =-.
Congrats! Welcome to Boston 🙂 I can’t help much on the marathon running but I can definitely tell where all the good eats are around here haha
Wow! That was truly inspiring! You did such an awesome job…I am really amazed at all that hard work and training. It must feel absolutely awesome to finish such a difficult task and know that you worked so hard to get to that finish line. Congratulations for qualifying! Now rest up and eat a big ol plate of pasta!
Oh my, so amazing to read your story of meeting and even exceeding your goals, of believing in yourself and your hard work! I cried when I read this…it is reminding me to stop doubting myself and think “I have nothing to lose”
Thanks for sharing!
Adventures in Tri-ing
.-= Courtney´s last blog ..Breakfast, lunch, SWINE FLU! (please comment!!!) =-.
I heard about your achievement at “Healthy Tipping Point” and just wanted to say that…….I can’t believe how far you have come since the Disney marathon, that is am amazing!
You are an inspiration for us Future Marathon runners.
.-= Laur[email protected]´s last blog ..Wonderful Weekend Wrap-Up! =-.
Now that is an inspiring story if I’ve ever read one. Congratulations on a job well done. You SO deserve this.
You had me scared during the first half of your post… but you did it!!
Thanks for all the awesomeness and inspiration that you put into this blog, I really enjoy reading it.
and CONGRATULATIONS on your run to success!!!
I watched the clock ticking the seconds away as I looked anxiously for Matt to appear at the foot of the bridge near the finish line. When his dad yelled, “I see Matt” I glanced over at the clock and like Erin started screaming and cheering. When I saw him cross the finish line and knew he had qualified it was indeed an emotional and incredibly exciting moment! I have to admit, I welled up too!
HEY! I saw this van multiple times and that Sign NMA Rules multiple times, they were cheering me on too! Finished just ahead of you at a 3:08.47.. Great job buddy! Vegetarian/Vegan dieting and a hell of a lot of hard work are what made me PR by 18 minutes, in my 3rd marathon in 1 year to qualify! Awesome!
CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!! thank you so much for sharing your experience. i am in training right now and really needed to read this 🙂 YOU ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’m sitting in a Panera reading this and hoping no one is watching me sniff away the tears. YEA MATT! I run Chicago next week and you can believe I will be thinking of this post at mile 22, when I feel myself fading and face those same emotions. I will remember how you pulled it out and did it and hope I can do the same. Thank you for being such an inspiration. And… WHOO-HOO!!!!!!
Recently found your blog and have been checking in to see if you’d posted. So excited for you! Congratulations!!
Congratulations!! I’m so happy for you!! I’ll be cheering you on this spring-sportin’ my tee!!!
Great job!! Congratulations!
.-= Allyson´s last blog ..Before and After: The Dress God Gave Me =-.
I read Caitlin say you qualified and clicked over- read your marathon tips and such, subscribed, then signed up for my first race!
You’re SO inspiring!
I’ve been reading your blog for awhile but have never commented. I’ve got to say this is one of my favorite post-race blog posts ever. You are so inspiring!! Congrats!!
I’ve been following your training and never commented, but I saw your tweet yesterday and couldn’t have been happier for you! Congratulations and God bless you. Such a hard-earned honor!
.-= Candy´s last blog ..My Furnace Filter =-.
Matt!!!! Congratulations!!! What an amazing day! Like other’s have said this post brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing your race day adventures! While, I won’t be BQ’ing this fall, I still hope to in the future. Thank you for your inspiration and giving it your all!
Congratulations! I love knowing that hard work pays off, and your story proves it. I can’t wait to read about your training for Boston, and your adventures with Heartbreak Hill!
.-= Morgan´s last blog ..Feeling Disconnected =-.
Congratulations . . . you could make a believer out of any meat eater out there!
Matt CONGRATS! 🙂 seriously you are major awesome and i’ve never been more proud! it has to feel good to have accomplished something so amazing! 🙂 You are such an inspiration to me!
.-= Lizzy´s last blog ..diamonds =-.
CONGRATS!!!!! what an amazing race for you, so happy 🙂 i’ll see you in boston 😉
.-= Shannon´s last blog ..Nature’s Pride =-.
Congratulations Matt!! I’m really looking forward to reading about your training for Boston 🙂
You are the freaking man Matt. HUGE congrats buddy.
so amazing, congratulations!!!! All your hard work has paid off, what a great feeling 🙂
.-= EatingRD´s last blog ..lackadaisical weekend =-.
Congrats congrats congrats!! Way to push through those final miles and reach your goal. I’ll be seeing you in Boston. 🙂
.-= Susan´s last blog ..Marching band nerds…I mean awesomeness =-.
Congrats on such a huge accomplishment. You are an inspiration. Just wondering what the purpose of the Mylar blanket is? Congrats again, can’t wait to read more about your training for Boston!
.-= Dana (www.eatsleepgetfit.com)´s last blog ..Blue Water Ramble Recap – REAL version! =-.
Well done! I am so pleased for you! That is just awesome!
Congratulations. I can’t even imagine how elated you must feel. And you deserve it! 🙂
.-= maria´s last blog ..Cheer me up Tuesday! =-.
Way to go, Matt!!! Found your blog through Run World Wide on Twitter. I remember seeing you at the start and at 13.1 and crossing the bridge! Fantastic!!! Hope you enjoy Boston!!!!!
.-= Nicki´s last blog ..Anticipation – NANOWRIMO =-.
So awesome, Matt. I said it before and I’ll say it again: You are a real inspiration! I’m so happy that you’ve accomplished this goal and I can’t wait to see what’s next for you!!
AMAZING!!! I AM SO HAPPY YOU DID IT! GREAT MINDSET!
Incredible job pulling through those last miles! (great race report too)
.-= Jesse N.´s last blog ..Double Up =-.
Great job! I have to agree with the commenters and say that you are really an inspiration.
.-= Charm City Kim´s last blog ..I Am Too Old… =-.
.-= Michelle´s last blog ..OMG! I got IN! =-.
CONGRATULATIONS! Though I can’t say I’m not jealous! 😉
I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for this post–I’m so happy for you! (I knew you’d do it :-P)
Best of luck in Boston!!!
.-= Emily´s last blog ..Happy World Vegetarian Day! =-.
Absolutely amazing! A million Congrats!
.-= Angie´s last blog ..Lazy Days =-.
Great race recap and GREAT RACE! Congratulations on your BQ!!!
.-= That Pink Girl´s last blog ..8 Mile =-.
Ahhh Amazing recap!! Congrats! A million congrats 😀
.-= Tay´s last blog ..Hidding Meanings =-.
Matt, congratulations!!! I just read this post and am crying in my office, I’m so happy for you!!! Looking forward to reading about your Boston training!!
hey Matt, I’m a first time poster. CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT!!!! Your post brought tears to my eyes! haha. Your recap of the race is wonderful! Will you be running Boston 2010?
.-= Mary´s last blog ..Nothing better than Pizza & Gelato. =-.
That’s spectacular. As Keith Kelley said, “You always have something in the tank. If you were all out then you wouldn’t still be running.”
This race was just proof that Keith knew what he was talking about. Nice work!
.-= Blaine Moore´s last blog ..Portland’s 2nd Annual Reiche International 5K is on October 18th =-.
you are amazing…. HUGE congrats to you!! i had my 3rd BQ attempt this last weekend and missed it again, but i am still trying. i love this report and LOVE these last 4 miles and how much courage and strength you showed pushing through those HARD parts of a marathon. i definitely will be keeping it in my mind at my next race. i hope you are recovering well and soaking up all the glory!!!
.-= aron´s last blog ..next! =-.
Thank you everyone! I’m totally floored by all your comments; they have been so wonderful to read. Thanks so much for the encouragement and the congratulations!
Congrats!!! I’m a bit late reading your post, but awesome job.
Actually I just kinda teared up as it brought me back to the day I first qualified for Boston… you poor guys have it so much harder!!! I just remember the moment I realized it was really going to happen, I got choked up and had to yell at myself to keep running…. I wasn’t done yet!
Wait till you do Boston and cross the finish line….. its another AMAZING moment!!!!!
Congratulations Matt! You have a great skill for story telling I felt super excited reading this and I am so happy for you!!
I know this is an old post, but I am still catching up on alot of them. I just got teary-eyed reading this. haha! Theres nothing greater than reaching a truly personal goal-and what a great example you will be for your baby!
Way to go! Late to the party, but I can definitely relate. Took me years as well to BQ and finally did it in May 09. Excited to run Boston in April and my goal is 3:10 🙂
Reading about your last 3-4 miles is inspiring. Again, awesome awesome job from someone who knows the pain and disappointment that USUALLY goes with those last miles.
.-= Allen G.´s last blog ..2/3 Done – February totals =-.
Awesome story! I was looking for reviews on the course when I came across your blog. I read how your last few miles went and was hoping I’d hear the last few were these beautiful downhill runs….but you mentioned more finishing running up a hill?
In general would you call the course flat and slightly downhill?
Wow, amazing, what a feeling! This post is like 3 years later or so, but here are my congratulations 🙂
Wow!!! What an amazing journey!! I had tears in my eyes while reading this post! You are an inspiration. I know it was a few years ago but you still deserve a huge congratulations!!!!
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