When I signed up for the Tallinn Marathon last spring, I promised myself I would run it just for fun. I wouldn’t worry about my time; I would just enjoy the scenery and the experience of running my first international marathon.
Nonetheless, I trained hard over the summer – at a faster pace than in the past and, for the first time, with no injury issues. But then I approached marathon day much more casually than I have approached past marathons. My three week taper was more of a four week taper and I only ran a handful of times after leaving Chicago. Two weeks into my big trip, it was almost an afterthought.
But of course, the morning of the race, my competitive nature kicked in.
Despite my promise to not care about my time in Tallinn, I couldn’t help but wear my Garmin watch for the race. I told myself it was so I could track my time and prevent myself from going out too fast, which I have a tendency to do. Allegedly for the same reason, I also followed along with a pace group when I saw they were available. While running with the 5 hour group would have been the conservative-I’m-running-this-just-for-fun-thing to do, I ran instead with the 4:45 group – which would beat my personal best by nearly 2 minutes .
I made a few observations over the next four hours:
- Almost everyone seemed to run with a pace group.
- Most people ran au naturel, i.e. without an iPod or other MP3 player. A lot of people also seemed to chat with each other as they ran, even with apparent strangers.
- Running along the waterfront may be scenic but it is also smelly. I mean, really smelly to the point I had to cover my nose as I ran.
- They gave away Snickers!! Yes, that’s right, first marathon I have ever run in which they gave away full-size Snickers bars not once, not twice, but at three points during the race!
But I digress.
As I ran with the 4:45 pace group, I felt quite comfortable. By mile 8 or so, I decided to try to break ahead of the group (that competitive nature thing!) and encountered the other American woman in the race. A petite woman in her 60s, she wore a cotton t-shirt which read “Proud to be an American” across the back. I get trying to be patriotic, especially when running a marathon on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, but who runs a marathon in a cotton t-shirt??
The woman ran in a very labored manner, leaning awkwardly to one side and breathing loudly and heavily and I couldn’t help but think there was no way she could keep going at her current pace. I ran next to her for the next few miles, continuously trying to pull ahead but she just wouldn’t let me (the path was fairly narrow as we ran along the waterfront). She was starting to annoy me and I became determined to beat her.
Nope, I’m not competitive at all.
The route was a double loop out and back, so running into the Old Town area of Tallinn around miles 12 and 13 gave a taste of what the finish would be like. It also gave us a chance to be lapped by the pros as they passed us running to the finish line, something you don’t normally get to experience.
As we headed out of Old Town past the halfway point, we were joined by half-marathoners just starting their race. This provided a nice boost of energy that helped me gradually pull ahead of the 4:45 group again, together with a short blond girl (who reminded me of my friend Teri at home) and a pack of 4 guys. I liked the pace they were running and followed them for several miles until I eventually passed them as well. I was feeling very good and I started getting visions of breaking 4:40 in my head.
Oh, and I was still set on beating the annoying American woman, who I lost when I took a pit stop, but I was pretty sure she fell behind me.
Around mile 18, the short blond girl caught up with me again and this time started chatting me up. Her name was Sanna-Mari and she was from northern Finland, running her first marathon. Her brother and father ran one the previous week and finished in 4:42 so she hoped to match their time. We ran together the rest of the way, talking occasionally, but really just silently pushing the other to keep up the pace.
As we entered the Old Town for a second time, I did some quick math while looking at my Garmin (I know, I know, wasn’t going do that) and figured I had a shot at 4:38 or 4:39. So I picked things up as much as I could – something that was not easy to do on cobblestone!
Alas, I miscalculated and ended up crossing the finish line at 4:41:49.
That was four minutes behind the annoying American woman I was determined to beat, but good enough to place me within the top three Americans overall.* And of course, a new personal best and a race in which I was smiling throughout felt pretty good too.
*Of course, only three Americans finished the race, but still…it sounds impressive, right?