London 2016: The Road Grows Longer

I couldn't stop twitching when I got on the plane. My jaw clenched and unclenched as I rocked back and forth in my seat, seeking a comfortable position that I would never find. My fingers tapped. They tapped on the armrest, on the side of the seat, on each other as I tapped each finger against my thumb in turn. I wanted action. I wanted to train and work. I wanted to do anything I could to keep myself from thinking too much about my most recent race.

The "fasten seatbelt" sign was lit, its taunting glow a stark reminder that I wouldn't be moving anytime soon, the only solace to be found was the in-flight entertainment.

It's hard to sit still the day after a race like that. With the frustration still fresh and coursing through my veins all I wanted to do was run away to the most remote corner of the planet, with nothing but my racing chair, and train until I could no longer feel my arms and coherent thought was impossible due to exhaustion. Instead, I was a conspicuous participant in yesterday's London marathon, faking smiles as I navigated through crowds of people in hotels and airports. Each mention of the race igniting a new battle to keep my thoughts from spiraling into the bottomless pit of questions surrounding my performance.

I finished 17th in the 2016 London Marathon one year after being crowned champion.  There was little suspense in my race. I knew I was in for a long day before the race started. My body was still in recovery mode. I probably should not have toed the start line, but I'm far too stubborn and competitive to giveup, even when I should, even when a rational person would not even categorize it as giving up.

I realized the mistake I had made immediately.  At the sound of the starters horn Kurt (Australia), Marcel (Switzerland), and hometown favorite Dave (UK), jumped out fast. I was about ten meters off the back, between them and the rest of the field, when I realized my arms weren't working.

I mean, they were working. Technically.  Any casual observer would have seen my arms pumping up and down, hands thumping through the handrim, racing chair moving forwards. They would have thought everything was working just fine.

To the not so casual observer looking out of MY eye holes, I would have appeared to be a sloth with massive lactic acid buildup attempting to chase a gazelle. Twenty meters behind the three off the front, I would typically ask my arms to output a bit more power, spike my speed up, maybe higher than I wanted to, but easily something I could recover from, and catchup to the pack. Instead, I asked my arms to output a bit more power and before I could even get the thought completed my arms told me to go to hell. Nope. Not happening today.

That's when Ernst (South Africa) barreled by me to join my runaway competitors.

I tried asking my arms again for a little something extra, this time starting my request with "pretty please," but got the same response. That was when the rest of the field passed me, hot on the heels of the leaders.

By the time the race settled down at mile four, just after the one big downhill of the race, I had determined that my race was going to be more of a training session than a race. I picked a pace--the fastest I thought my arms could take me without falling off before the finish line--and I settled in.

At least I had company. For the next couple of miles I gathered a crowd of about nine racers, and off we went. I was no longer interested in racing, so I never responded to the ebb and flow of the pack I was in. They would occassionally surge ahead, and sometimes fall off behind, but I kept a steady pace. I spent most of the race in the front, breaking the wind, with a nine man tail trailing behind me. The Tower Bridge came and went. The streets grew rough and windy, then smoothed out as we came back to the river. Big Ben rose ahead of us, as the pack, sensing the end was near, surged ahead of me.

I remained steady, pushing just off the back of the pack for a while, before tucking into the back just before we turned in front of Buckingham Palace for the most picturesque finish of any race on the planet. My arms picked up a touch, increasing my pace to hold with the pack, but my brain was not in race mode and was completely uninterested in a sprint finish to decide the order of 11th-19th.

The post-race chatter with the other athletes was physically painful. I didn't want to talk, or listen, or think. In the grand scheme of this year, the London Marathon will appear as a hiccup. Nothing more than a race I did during a recovery phase. But in the moment it was painful. Bad races hurt, no matter your reasons, or excuses. All you want to do is find a way to makeup for the performance you just suffered through.

It makes it hard to sit still on a plane. It makes it hard to have the discipline to continue letting your body heal and mend without pushing it to work too much, too fast. It makes it hard to keep out thoughts beginning with "could have," or "would have," or "should have."

The only thing you can do is accept that you have hard work ahead of you, know that you have the ability to do that work, and trust that the outcome is going to be worth it. Then put on your headphones and watch "Creed" as you fly back home.