The most challenging scenario to be in during a race? When you are close the finish with a decision to make: hold your pace and finish in a respectable time OR put the hammer down and hit a stretch goal.
That's where I found myself in mile 24 of the Oklahoma City marathon. Ironically, it was the exact position I have been in the month prior at All American. There would be no shame in finishing somewhere around 3:42. However, for women my age 3:40 or below is a Boston qualifying time.
Anyone who has run 26.2 miles can agree that when you are 2 miles from the end, you just want to finish. Digging deep for that extra gear is the more challenging choice- it's painful, both mentally and physically.
...still, that's what I did.
This had been a great race for me, despite mother natures best attempt at creating additional challenges. We had 3 quick rain showers (just enough to make me grateful for a hat so it didn't get in my eyes) and powerful wind from miles 16- 19 along the lake portion of the course. I may or may not have drafted the 3:45 pace group. There are advantages to being 5'3.
The course took us through downtown, past the state capital, into the historic area (should life ever take me to Oklahoma, I mentally moved myself to Edgemere Park during the race), and up "Gorilla Hill".
Appropriately named, this is arguably the race's most challenging hill. You quickly forget that though, because residents and spectators are out in full force dress as gorillas, handing out bananas, and banging on their chests. It was a blast!
At mile 11, we ran into Nichols Hills where banners displayed the names of the 168 victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. I was a freshman in high school when this happened, but remember it vaguely. Speaking with locals in Oklahoma City is a lot like asking someone where they were on September 11- they are memories are vivid, fresh, and often personal. This race does a beautiful job of honoring the 168 – this stretch of the course was just one example.
Since both a half and full option was available, the second half was more sparse by comparison, but never felt lonely. Residents and spectators were out in full force, especially in Mesta Park and Heritage Hills.
Back to mile 24. Here's the conversation I had with myself:
(looks down at watch)
"If I hold it here, I'll get a respectable time and earn my sub 4. It would be a great day"
"Yeah, but if you pick it up you can Boston Qualify"
"What do I care? The time wouldn't get me in"
"So, you're okay with ending your spring race season on missing BQ by a minute or two? Wouldn't it be sweet to go out on a high note? Don't you have more in the tank?"
"Nobody will ever know if I just hold this pace and call it a day"
"You're better than that"
...and I was. I earned a Boston qualifying time in 3:38:01 and 8th in my age group, 202 overall (top 10% of entire field). I'm most proud of the last 2 miles and winning the battle with myself. Taking the harder road feels good.