Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Finally I Emptied the Tank

In almost every race I run or row, my goal is to Empty The Tank. I tell myself that as I’m waiting on the start line, and I often repeat it mantra-like during the race. Even my husband, Jack, who has only seen me run one race, knows to yell it out to me from the riverbank as my crew rows past him or to say it to me as I head off to a running race.

To me, there’s always been something mythical about the idea of leaving everything out of the race course. Of crossing the line in an utterly depleted state. It has been my goal for as long as I can remember, even in collegiate rowing races.

Yet until the Eugene Marathon, my needle never touched “E.” It had gotten close, running on fumes, as it were. But as hard as I tried to push myself to the brink, I’d inevitably pulled back, always crossing the line with more in me. Sometimes just a few drops, but something left just the same. I always had to admit to myself that I could have put the accelerator down harder than I had. But not at Eugene. Nope, not at Eugene.

After starting out at a smart, ease-into-it-yet-still-speedy pace for the first three or so miles, I had my foot on the gas the entire marathon. The going got tough at about mile 24.5 or 25, but I had more in me to give. Then, steps before the 26-mile marker, my tank hit empty. I felt such a dramatic shift in my energy level and my posture, I swear I heard an audible “click.” Ironically enough, it was almost exactly when my friend Ellison, nicknamed “E,” had run past me, and then turned back to urge me to keep up with her. I had the will and the drive, but no fuel.

Later, as we started our drive back to Portland, LJ and I talked about those final 365+ yards of the race, as I continued to jog/shuffle toward the finish line, feeling the back half of my body crumple toward the ground like a folded paper accordion. She bolstered me, saying it takes a talented athlete to parcel out her energy so perfectly to have nothing left at the end. She asked me how I was able to do it this time, knowing I had always wanted to do Empty The Tank.

A fresh torrent of tears, a mixture of happy and proud ones, poured forth and my voice cracked as I choked out a reply. I told LJ that instead of retreating from the pain, I had continued moving toward it.

In the days since my marathon, the thought I keep coming back to is how amazing it felt to finally Empty The Tank—and how proud I am of myself for doing it.



Anonymous said...

Talented athlete - you are indeed. I know it's cliche, but you're inspiration for me on Sunday!

Anonymous said...

Wow, you are an inspiration. I will think of you and hope that I too can empty the tank!

silly aunt sarah said...

what a great story! i struggle with the tanks being empty, how brave of you to actually do it! the look on Phoebe's face is priceless, she is one proud daughter!!

Tall Girl Running said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Sarah.

I have to admit, the "Empty the Tank" strategy is one I've had a hard time making my own. I think it's because it involves the real risk of total failure, which is something that scares the hell out of me.

I've struggled through marathons and finished races feeling utterly spent but have always looked back and analyzed how I could have run it better but DIDN'T for whatever reason. Perhaps I'm too hard on myself, but I just can't give myself full credit when I know in my heart I could have done so much better.

There's a T.S. Eliot quote that haunts me a little: "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."

Someday I hope to have the courage to empty the tank. Thanks for the great example!

Carolina John said...

that's cool, sarah. I always try to leave it all out on the course. we always try our best, but to leave everything out there is something special.

marybob143@aol.com said...

I love it! I haven't done it personally in either of the marathons I did, but it looms out there - that unexplored territory you so beautifully describe in your blog...I so agree with your trainer - trying to parcel out that kind of energy over those miles - that's skill & talent, woman!

Leah said...

I have yet to do it myself; it scares me! But one day I hope to adopt it as a race policy. :) Congrats to you!

Alli said...

I'm going to try to "empty the tank" from now on! I have a hard time pacing myself and am always afraid of running out before it's time but I really like your philosophy! Great job!!