Sunday, December 5, 2010
I just completed my first marathon 2 weeks ago and am just coming off the high it gave me. While I cannot say that it was fun, it was honestly a life changing experience. It is wonderful to see that there is something I can still do, after having 4 children, that is only for me. For now, running this and searching for the next marathon have become both my obsession and therapy.
I signed up for the California International Marathon after completing the Nike 1/2 marathon in San Francisco. We hadn't had a lot of notice for the Nike as my friend and I got sponsor bibs 2 weeks before the race. I completed it and had such a great experience, that my girlfriend suggested CIM. Yes, I was crazy to contemplate it with 6 weeks training. But I was in great shape from cross training, weight training and small runs pushing a jogger. 13.1 was no problem. And I had a good outlook. If ever I was going to go for it, I might as well now.
Showing up for race day was a battle in and of itself. The CIM is known for it's flat, fast course. Two people I knew were trying to BQ. The forecast was for rain the entire week before. I trudged down to the Nike store and bought a light weight jacket. I had gotten fitted for new shoes 4 weeks before and I had figured out what I was going to race in, down to my socks. I had also figured out what I was going to eat along the way and when and how much I needed to drink. What I was lacking in mileage, I was going to make up in common sense and taking the advice of others.
Race day. Holy crap. What was I thinking? I was scared to death. 6 weeks. Longest run 18 miles. Next longest 15. My husband dropped me off at the bus to take me up the hill. I was freaked out, but luckily found a wonderful woman to talk to and pass the hour to the start. I had been running and training at 8.30 minute miles, so I figured if I could hang out with the 4 hour pace group, I'd be in good shape for at least 1/2 the race. This race is organized. There were multiple stations set up prior to the start for whatever you might have forgotten. Lots of water, sports drink, gu, COFFEE!!! and porta potties. There was music and a wonderful air of hopefullness and excitement.
The gun went off and I was on my way. There were rolling hills in those first miles that were a breeze. I didn't even notice them and really enjoyed the barrage of clothing being tossed aside by runners. We were in the country and people were already in their lawn chairs, supporting us at 7am. I had a garmin and a Nike Ipod with foot sensor. Both were working perfectly, though I didn't even look at either until around mile 10. There were a lot of people around me at this point. I didn't feel crowded, however, and appreciated the company. I felt like we all had a common goal, running with our 4 hour pacers. There were more hills, which I had anticipated after studying the maps, the San Juan Hills. After running the Nike in SF and doing some hills near my house, these were also manageable. As I passed through the 1/2 mile arch, I felt really good.
Wow, I remember thinking. This is ok. I just ran the fastest 1/2 I have ever run. I did know, however, that my lack of training would catch up with me. I didn't know when or in what form, so I continued to run conservatively.
Mile 15 for me signaled the beginning of trouble. For the first time, I walked through a water stop. I wasn't particularly tired, but began to realize I was going to be slowing down. I needed to start walking through all the water stops. I spent the next 1/4 mile trying to catch the pacers. At mile 16, I realized I would not be able to keep up with them with my continued need to walk through the stops. The course wasn't difficult topographically. But this is where my full blown freakout occurred. This was the wall for me, but it seemed so early! There were people along the course cheering, but I felt really alone.
I cannot underscore how wonderful a pacing group is. It takes the worry of trying to manage your own pace completely out of the equation. To say that my newfound situation was not ideal is an understatement. And I still had 10 miles to go. I began to set short term goals. Look to the next flag, marking the next mile. They were tall and beautiful flags, let me tell you.
I would allow myself to walk at every one of them and 1/2 way in between. I would only look to the next flag, because if I looked farther along, I would panic at the thought of what I had left. I did this little game for 3 more miles. I also realized that my husband, who would be waiting at the end with our 1 year old daughter could never be on the sides in the middle of the course. I think I would have run over to him and started wailing. I don't want to run anymore. I am so tired, there isn't a word to describe it.
Then another amazing thing happened. The people around me also started looking tired. Really tired. Perhaps it wasn't just me with my naive outlook and lack of training? Someone pulled up to me and threw up. At the next tent, there were people under mylar blankets looking and feeling way worse than me. It wasn't that I felt good at seeing this. It was just kind of reassuring that I wasn't alone. I began to get myself together. As we approaced mile 20, several good things happened. I had never run 20 miles before, so this was a dramatic milestone in and of itself. I wasn't nearly as tired as I though I'd be. CertainIy, I was no worse off than at mile 16 when trouble started. I might not have reached my goal of 4 hours, but I realized I was going to finish. I almost started bawling.
I was going to finish a MARATHON! The people really came out for the last 6 miles of the course. I began to enjoy myself again. I high-fived at least 100 people on the sides. I discovered that I will run only races with good crowd support, because for me, it mattered. A LOT. I saw the 4:10 pace run by and tagged along. I felt part of a group again. Not so alone. People were falling apart all around me. I still followed my rule of walking at the .5 and mile markers if I felt like it. I offered my jelly beans to some poor girl who was just sobbing. She gratefully accepted. I gave encouragement to my fellow sufferers, some limping, some bent over barfing.
Others with the same look I had - sheer exhaustion. Mine was just better hidden. I can honestly say that those last 4 miles or so were easier than 16-20. I hit no additional wall, a fact for which I will be forever grateful. Walking at this point hurt just as much as running, so I ran. I drank plenty and ate along the course and got no cramping or dehydration. So I did some things right atleast. No small victory.
The end of this course is wonderful because you cannot see the finish line until the last 100 yards or so. So once you turned that last corner, the finish is right there. I crossed the timing mat and found that I had a huge smile on my face. It no longer mattered that I didin't finish at 4 hours. I had met several of my goals, just not that one. I saw my husband to the left, crossed the line with a smile and tears in my eyes. They put that medal around my neck and I felt a gigantic sense of accompllshment. Not only at running the marathon, which is a feat. But for what I personally was able to work out on those tough miles within myself. The day of the race, I was sore. But I was back at the gym on Tuesday on the bike. It took 3 days for me to start researching what I will do next- Eugene May 1, 2011.
This time, I am going to train and we'll see what can happen. I am just so thrilled to learn that at age 41, I can still surprise and inspire myself. I encourage anyone who is contemplating this, or any additional marathon to go for it. Do your homework and figure out what you need to finish. And then do your very best to GET IT DONE!
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