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  • Writer's pictureJessica Jones

The 2020 World Marathon Challenge.... Part 1

As with all races, I went into the start of the World Marathon Challenge with tiered goals. Treating it like any other event helped me mentally prepare. Even though this was clearly not your regular race. 7 marathons. 7 continents. 7 days. My A goal was to finish in under 24h cumulative time, my B goal to win and/or break the record. If I accomplished any of those things, I’d be super happy! Ecstatic, even. I didn’t really have a C goal. Finish. Best effort? That changed over the course of the event, but I’m getting ahead of myself. While I’m getting ahead… Spoiler alert: I did not win. I did not break the existing record time. I did finish second female. And, second overall!

We left sweet home Alabama January 31st around noon and arrived in Cape Town, South Africa around 11pm February 1st. That’s right, over a solid day of travel! We got there early so I’d have time to rest and get comfortable before the whole thing got kicked off. I keep saying “we”, so I should probably explain… my husband, Ron, was along for the ride. All of it. All around the world!! So, we enjoyed Cape Town for a few days. As an aside, it is a beautiful area. The people are wonderful. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend visiting!

While we were enjoying the area, my mind was racing. Nervous. I've been nervous for weeks. I've trained so hard and want this so bad. The record. The win. I was starting to freak a little. Maybe a lot. Self doubt. Am I strong enough, mentally, physically to win? To break the record? To push through the pain? I spent more time than I care to admit rolling this around in my head. Working in self doubt. I've never really raced a marathon. Even the last two wins. I’ve pushed, but I've not had to push to the edge. Or past it. I've read so much about how the human mind can push us past our physical limits. How bad do you want it? (Matt Fitzgerald) Endure. (Alex Hutchinson) But, the mind can also be a roadblock. And, I haven't tested mine in a really tough, really competitive, situation. At least not for a couple of decades. Which story will I have? Another spoiler alert here… turns out I was (am) amazingly fit, but my mental game needs some work. Jumping even further ahead, I’m making plans to challenge myself in new ways. Ways that will force improvement in my mental game. After this experience, I am reinvigorated to up the mind game. It was my weakness. What I have planed (you will have to read all the posts about the WMC to get to those details 😉) will definitely put me in a place to improve that.

Back to the WMC… February 4th was the race briefing. I was super excited on the walk over. I had virtually met a few ladies in the previous few weeks, so in addition to the nervous energy of the event getting kicked off, I was looking forward to meeting them in person. And it was so great!! Like old friends… or, school girls. Sitting through the race briefing made it so much more real. I am doing this. In the slide presentation, there was a picture of folks running in Antarctica, one of the ladies leaned over to me and said “that will be us”. Absolutely! It will be!! I, oddly, got calmer as the briefing went. More confident. I feel that I was more prepared than most. I have Ron with me. I am ready. Even if we do start earlier than originally planned. Now is probably a good time to point out that possibly the most relevant thing the race director (RD) said during the briefing was (paraphrasing here) to be flexible and let him take care of all the details. That started that evening. Original plan was to leave February 5th (next day) at 10pm to head to Antarctica for race #1. Now, we were hearing it was more likely to be 6pm. The RD said to check our email at 1pm and he’d confirm the schedule.

Went back to the hotel and got a good night’s sleep (in a bed, which was about to become a huge luxury!). Up the next morning and just tried to kill time until the email from the RD arrived. Finally, I got the email!! The flight to Antarctica was scheduled for 10:30pm. Meet at 8:30 to head to the airport!!!!!! Surge of nervous energy. The thought that I'd be on Antarctica in less than 24h was surreal. This is a good time for my first shout out to everyone who supported me. The support on social media, texts, etc. started as soon as it was posted that we were scheduled to head to Antarctica! So much amazing support!!! I can’t thank everyone enough!

Spent the afternoon checking and double-checking the bags for Antarctica. Do I have everything? What if it’s colder than expected? What if it’s warmer? I went ahead and organized for the re-packing when we got back from the frozen continent. Finally, it was time to head to the meeting point and load the bus!! The energy of everyone was so incredible! 30+ people excited, nervous, anxious, scared, and thrilled. A whole roller coaster of emotions for a whole bus load of people. Got to the airport and unloaded. Stood in line to get tickets. Turns out that even when you’re on a charter flight, you still have to go through the check-in process. Who knew? Then we waited. And waited. The nervous anticipation building. And then waited some more. Okay, we waited for maybe an hour. But it felt like forever! The RD finally called the group together. The pilot did not feel the conditions were safe, based on the most recent weather report. So, the only place we were headed that night was back to the hotel. Many folks were upset. Frustrated. I was okay, which kind of surprised me. Totally felt good just rolling with it. At least it was another night in the comfort of a hotel!

The morning of February 6th, I woke up, had breakfast, and waited on an email update. Mid-morning, the email came. No early afternoon flight. Most likely late evening. An approximate 24h delay for the entire event. So, I decided to go for a short shakeout run. Needed to get some energy out and felt like it was a smart thing to get moving before heading to another plane and cold. Legs felt perfect. It was warm but windy, so not hot. Loved it. Saw a few other WMCers out doing the same thing. Got back to the hotel and changed. Waited for the next email to confirm our schedule.

RD email said we were set to fly to Antarctica tomorrow morning at 10am. Meet at 7am. Sweet. Delay, but time to get the mind right. Kept on reading. The RD decided to start the event tonight here in CPT!!! What?!? I had a good moment of panic. I just ran. I only have 7h. Maybe I've already had too much liquid and will have to stop to pee. When do I eat? How much? OMG!!!! I I decide with 6h to race, time to eat. We find a place for pasta. I sat there the entire meal nervously numb. Could barely eat, yet knew I needed to. A feeling unlike any I've had before. As we walked back to the hotel, the dumbfounded-ness finally started to wear off. You know how to prep for a race. Just do this. Unpacked gear. Made Gatorade bottle for the race. Decided I needed to try for a nap. Woke up after about an hour feeling more like myself. Now I'm ready to race.

I texted with my coach (Mike Wardian). He said no whammies, no bad juju. I'm not sure I entirely succeeded in that... But we’ll get to that. We were asked to be at the start area a half hour before the planned start. Of course, everyone was there early!! We were all ready to get this party started! Absolutely the best pre-race atmosphere ever!! I had fun, soaked in the atmosphere and enjoyed the people. The course was a six-lap loop along the waterfront promenade. Weather was nice, upper 60s, but low humidity. A strong wind off the water of 10-12, with gust up to 25 mph. Sun was just about to set as we started. Such a beautiful course!

When we lined up, it was go time. Mike and I had figured that Kristina (Madsen of Denmark) would take it out hard. We were right and I went with her. Hard. She dropped back a bit after the first mile or so. I kept a steady hard pace. In my mind, I thought, push through 5K, then get realistic about the pace. Came through 5k at 21:20! Crazy fast for me. Backed off a bit, but not much. Started to ease into the pace I wanted. Then, Kristina came alongside me around mile 6 and we raced. Crazy hard. Stayed at a sub-7 min pace. I was thinking, hey, we’re on a sub 3 (hour marathon) pace. Around mile 8-9, I laughed out loud. I told her that “We both know this is crazy, right?”. She looked at me and said “It's perfect”. (Side note: I later found out that she thought I was playing mind games with her because she thought I said “I love this pace”). I had no desire to PR the first of 7 races. I needed to save my legs. Retrospectively, this was the first show of my less-than-superb mental toughness. Maybe I could have run a PR and still run a solid next six races. After all, the first three races had more rest and recovery time between them than most of the others, so hard out early may not have been a bad strategy. But, I digress...

Once I decided to not race her, I tried to settle in to a 7:30 pace (my goal of 3:20s is 7:38 average). But, it kept slipping. Slower and slower. My mind game slipped too. How much do I really care? What is a win really worth? I’d already set a B goal of breaking the record, regardless. What if I held back a bit and ended up the second fastest in the world? That thought stuck with me for a long time. I also kept thinking of Pre. “The best pace is suicide pace. And today is a good day to die.” (Although, apparently, there’s some question as to whether he actually ever said that). That's certainly how I started this race – suicide pace. And, in the words of Desi, “I died, but I also didn't literally die”. This mind game played round and round in my head for the better part of miles 10-20, making them just short of miserable. The brutal wind didn’t help. Every time I tried to rally to under 8 min pace, I couldn't seem to get a response. My legs were on fire. By mile 20, my sole focus was to keep this race under 3:20. At least that would keep me on track for my overall goal time. I struggled to hold it together, but I did it. 3:19:00 at the line. Not the easiest, or prettiest, sub 3:20, but it was done. I ran harder than I wanted for that time. But, I enjoyed the finish celebration. Race #1 of the World Marathon Challenge was done!!

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