Some time passed and while the sting of regret lessened, it never went away. I had shoulder surgery a couple of weeks after the race and with my arm in a sling, this meant no running for me. To say I embraced this rest fully is putting it mildly. I ate and drank and drank and ate. Trevor and I went to Ireland for Christmas and by that time some of my shirts barely fit me (well, they didn’t fit, but I was still wearing them).
Around this time, I thought, ok, let’s get back into this. I got back on the road for a few tentative 8/10kms. The morning we left for Ireland Larry came over and we ran 11.2km at 5:13/km and I wanted to die. I felt every ounce of those extra few lbs and my chest was heaving. I was determined to run while back in Ireland and to start building up some fitness. Against the odds I got seven runs in over the two weeks when we were home and by the end, I was almost enjoying it.
Tuesday January 16 – day 1 of Adaptive – take 2 – and Scotia was still very much on my mind. Larry, Stan and I had spent some time talking it over and by the end, we all seemed to agree, I had been over-trained. Ok, we figured it out, right? Now, what to do with this information. My cross training, which is a big part of my life, took on a much bigger role. This meant I cut my running days down to five and ran an average of 85km each week. I was feeling good. The Chilly half came and while I was in good shape, I wasn’t quite back. I had been traveling a lot in the weeks leading up to the race and the night before got stuck in the Philadelphia airport. I headed into Chilly on four hours sleep and ran a respectable, but disappointing, 1:30.
Shortly after Chilly, something changed. I came back with a bang. Everything fell into place and by the time Around The Bay rolled around there was no stopping me. I ran the race of my life at ATB with a 2:10 finish. I sprinted the last 3.5km leaving dozens in my wake. I had never ever run so well and wouldn’t have been happier if I had won the bloody thing (see ATB race report for more).
About a week and half after ATB Stan asked how I was feeling. I was tired and my legs were feeling heavy that day, but I was ok. We talked about the previous season and when the wheels had started to come off. That had happened about six weeks before race day – I had passed that mark and was still feeling good. I was on my way….right?
The following run, my legs still felt heavy and I thought, its ok, you have been working so hard of late, this is fine. Then it happened on the next run and the next and the next. I was still working and still hitting my paces but I just wasn’t feeling it. Just a week before at clinic one night Larry had said, you should be miserable right now, hating running and I thought, nope, not a bother on me. What had changed?
The next four weeks can be summed up in one word – panicked. I pulled right back at the gym thinking surely this would give me the break I needed to push through. I tried taking rest days. I tried speed work with Stan to get my legs going. Nothing seemed to work. A few days before the race Stan asked how I was feeling and I told him. He gave it to me honestly, telling me I was spiraling and it was in my head. Yeah – I did not like hearing this. Spiraling – yeah I was – but how could my brain have tricked me for four, almost five weeks, into thinking my legs were done? It wasn’t possible.
Three days out and carb loading began. I know some people love this. I am not one of those people. I feel like a duck or a goose being fattened up before being turned into foie gras. I dug in and I ate and ate and ate. I have never been good at taking gels during the race so I knew (after hearing it from both Jane and Stan) that I needed to take in as many calories as possible pre-race. Then just like that, it was Sunday May 6, race day, again.
The day started at 4:45am. I looked at my phone and there was a text from Larry (in Pittsburgh) that read “Run with reckless abandon.” It really made me smile. I took a quick shower and forced back two slices of banana bread (thank you Trevor) a coffee and a water. We picked up Dave Emilio at 6:00am and were on our way.
Anyone who has ever been around me before a race knows I am a fucking nightmare to be around. The nerves……the doubt ….its crippling. I chatted with the Excelerate crew for a bit before running into Team Adaptive by the bag check. We chatted, took a couple of pictures and wished each other well. I headed off to do a quick warm up. Jane had done a bang up tape job on my achilles, but I didn’t want to go into the race cold. I ran a pathetic 1.2km and with a twinge in my hip and thought, ok, that is going to have to do. I threw back a gel (# one), gave Trevor one last hug, pee’d once more (this was likely # five – I have a nervous bladder) then headed to the start line.
I looked around and everyone around me looked so excited. People were cheering and getting psyched up. I put my head in my hands and tried not to cry. I honestly had no idea what was about to happen. Was I going to run my pace or was I going to drop out after 5km? I looked to my left and four people away stood Miguel. I reached over – we shook hands – gave each other a knowing look and we were off.
In typical Paul fashion, I headed out way way too fast. I ran my first km at 4:10, then my second at 4:20. The pace I needed was 4:23. Experience has taught me that I do best when I hold back and keep a little in the tank. I spent the next 18km trying and willing myself to stay at 4:23. The day was a little hotter than I had hoped for, but there was a slight breeze and all in all, it was pretty good. I had gone out and bought a sweat band the day before which was helping to hold my ear buds in place and my originally named “Marathon 2018” playlist kept my company as I ran. Five km in and I was feeling ok and I thought, shit, maybe I’m in with a shot today.
I had Larry’s race strategy burned into my mind (this had been invaluable for ATB). I finished the first of four sections at 14.5 as we turned onto Indian Road. I still felt ok. I tried to stay out of my head as the ghost of Scotia threatened to derail me. 18km still going…..21.1 km….right on pace. 22 km…..Nir comes along beside me on his bike and takes a selfie while I am running. I point at a spectator wearing a Boston jacket and I tell him that I am getting myself one of those. I feel fucking fantastic – I am going to win this God damn thing. Trevor throws me a gel from the side lines and although I really don’t want to, I throw it back (# two) at 24 km thinking Stan and Jane will fucking kill me if I don’t. At this point, I am euphoric. I start to think about everyone rooting for me, willing me to succeed and I let it all in – it carries me.
All around me people are fading. I pass walkers who are done and I plead with them to keep going. I hit 41km and I can see the hill that leads to the finish…..why is it so far away? 41.7km I see Andrew and Edyta who cheer and scream my name and I roar “come on” as I sprint up the hill thinking I am about 300m closer to the finish line then I am…..200m to go I might throw up and Remy is jumping up and down on the side lines and then suddenly….before I can think…..its over….I had done it….
I crossed the line at 3:04:35 and burst into tears. I was so just full of emotion and all I could do was let it out – the pain, the regret of Scotia, the disbelief that I had actually done it – it didn’t feel real. I was overcome. A volunteer took my arm and asked if I was ok. I managed a smile through the tears and told him that these were happy tears. I limped past the food and water and back to Remy where I really let it all out. You’ve seen ugly crying before, right? Minutes later, Trevor was with us. It was over.
I have woken up this morning and I still can’t quite believe it happened. I am looking at the Boston qualifier shirt (originally Geoff Hotrum’s) passed on to me by Katherine Kneller and it makes it real. I have already signed up for Dublin (October 2018) and after that will be Boston 2019, but before that, I think will rest now.