A day later and I have to acknowledge that the second thoughts about the finish will linger a lot longer the the lactic acid that left its searing grin in my muscles. In my mind, a replay about climbing the last hill in the 26th mile and grappling with a moment's reluctance as I waited for the race marshalls to stop traffic and wave me ahead or ultimately into the final right turn for the downhill dash to the finish. I had somewhere around 500 or 600 meters left, and I will now and then ponder the possibility that I could have run it a little harder than I did. As I closed in on the finish, there was the realization that came with seeing the clock at the finish line and my 49 year old eyes seeing two consecutive threes instead of the three-two-something I hoped for. My watched had stopped when I covered the calculated 42.2 kilometres and for a moment I was without that guidance and thought I had enough time to finish in 3:29:59 or faster - the time required to qualify for the Boston Marathon. (Over the course of the race, the passes and the unfamiliarity with the shortest line added a few hundred metres onto what one runs.)
It was a brilliant race. I felt strong throughout. There was one hill around the 22K mark where I breathed hard and gave myself a furrowed brow at what lay ahead but got back in gear as I reached the bottom and turned south toward a wooded path way that was away from the cars and was a comforting reminder of the path I take for my Sunday long runs. Out there, I found reassurance in finishing my first 24K in just under two hours and keeping the pace under 5 minutes a kilometre or 8 minutes a mile. The only moment of dealing with the wall was around 36-37K and it was the most fleeting moment of weariness of mind, passing after a matter of seconds. From there on it was the challenge in running near solitude for the next 4.5K with only slower runners who were still working through the first half of their races to motivate me into a chase pace. On the last hill, I passed two more runners and came to that turn and last stretch.
Running a 3:30:09 marathon should not be a regret. Not when it is 8 minutes faster than my previous personal best. Not when it is 28 minutes than the first marathon I had this year when I salvaged my sense of failure by asking my preschool son if he was proud of me. He was and I assured him I would be proud of him should he ever feel he failed at something he tried hard at.
Even the briefest regret about those nine seconds is a perverse luxury. After two and a half years of marathoning and some wonderful travels for the races I've done, Boston remains a Maxwell Smart "missed by that much" away, but that math and question are of little significance when compared with other goals, dreams and needs that people are a greater or merely unknown distance from attaining. I am, more than anything else, grateful for the opportunities I have had in my life to pursue this. I have had damn good health and more importantly so have those around me. I have had the time in my days and weeks to put the time into this. I have had the incalculable good fortune of living in a time of ease when I have had the energy to squeeze training into my week in my runs to and from work and the predawn long runs that mark my Sunday mornings. Blessings upon more blessings.
All of that makes me that more conscious of those people who want something so much more than that particular number or those specific nine seconds. I have had the opportunity to pursue goal that is within my control. The variables between me and those last nine seconds are almost entirely mine to assert my effort and will upon. I cannot help but acknowledge people in situations where what they want, dream of or need is beyond their command and all they are able to do be patient until fate offers them what they dream of. It is that undaunted patience that I will be inspired by the next time and when I decide how to proceed with my running and other goals. It is a remarkable blessing to have the means, the energy and the time to pursue running to the extent I have. Throughout my last few races, I have had the opportunity to settle into step with someone for a few K and talk about the race and our lives and just encourage each other along as we mark time and determine what we are able to on this given day. The support among runners as we give advice and encouragement or just take our mind off the race are abundant. Today though my consciousness takes me beyond those runners I race with or greet on my long runs to people I can't bond with over fuelling, intervals, or my beloved shoes to those who have goals far more substantial than my pursuit of those last 9 seconds.