Sunday, June 15, 2007
I have been running since 1992. I love running. You could say it's my passion. There are few things that get me as excited and motivated as the thought of a good, long run. Now I'm not talking about those "Ultra-Ultra-Marathons" "Run-all-day-and-all-night, keep-running-till-you-puke-and-then-keep-going-till-you're-a-bag-of-hallucinating-slobbering-loosely-mashed-meat-in-running-shorts -and-then-keep-going-some-more" kind of long runs. Good for Dean Karnazes and Pam Reed and Scott Jurek and all those other "beyond hardy" folks, but that's not what appeals to me, at all. I'm guessing that the enjoyment probably fades somewhere past the 30 or 40 or 50 mile mark or so, and then at that point, one is just doing it because their brain cells have relented, no longer trying to convince them to stop, and are leaving it up to the rest of the body to do or die...I don't really know where that stems from. Good for them, and I respect their dedication, but not really my bag of chips.
So when I say "long run", let me define it for you. The furthest I had run, before I started contemplating the marathon in 2007, was 16 miles. I did this on a whim, one summer day back in 1998. I had it in my head that if I could run 16 miles, I could certainly run 26.
Mind you, when I did those 16 miles, it took me 4 hours. That's not moving too fast. The first 3 were up a very steep road in a beautiful canyon. The next 5 or so were downhill on a gravel road. After that it was along an overgrown trail for a few miles to a nice path that had once been an old railroad route. Then the 3 miles home which was on top of a very long steep hill. Well you probably get the picture. It was beautiful, definitely one of the benefits of living in Montana. But obviously, the up and down like a yo-yo thing, really not the most well-thought out plan, or the ideal route to run that many miles for the first time when my average long run was normally about 5 miles.
Oh, did I forget to mention that it was also very hot that day? It was, and it certainly was a challenge to bring enough water. I wore a CamelBak Hydration Pack . Once that was empty, I had to drink from a creek and small waterfall along the route. I ate a very chewy protein bar to supplement on the run. Again, not the best choice for sustenance on the trail, but I survived. Not the end of the world.
Obviously I had no idea what I was doing, and I laugh now at my lack of preparation and knowledge. Spontaneity, pure determination, and the love of running propelled me to do it in the first place. When I had finished that run though, I felt that if I wanted to, I could do a marathon.
At the time, though, I didn't want to do a marathon. It really didn't appeal to me. Probably I discounted the thought because my hometown did not offer a marathon, and I didn't want to have to travel to run in one. The logistics of it were intimidating. That, coupled with the fact that at the time, I did not have a good support team. It wasn't so much the running of it that was in question. I could still see well enough to run it. It was the thought of going by myself that was unmanageable, as, due to my gradual vision loss, I was at the point where I had stopped driving.
It wasn't until years later that I even considered running a marathon again. I had a good support team now, family and friends that were totally supportive of my endeavors, but the thought of running in a city I was not familiar with seemed too daunting a task: my eyesight had deteriorated even further, and running in a town that I didn't know well didn't seem practical.
As it happened, one day in December of 2006, T was reading the paper, and mentioned that our town was going to have their first marathon. Well I was excited and animated over this bit of news. She was surprised, as I had never, in the 2 ½ years I'd known her, mentioned my desire to run a marathon. But she quickly got on board, and supported my decision.
Looking back, I'd say my desire to run a marathon was based on 3 things: the mystique of it, the challenge, and the ensuing sense of accomplishment.
The mystique of a marathon is very alluring. It is, indeed, a very select few who will run a marathon in their lifetime. Another runner once told me that he only ran half marathons, because when you tell the average person that you ran a half marathon, they only hear the word "marathon" anyway. They never hear "half", and are consequently duly impressed with the accomplishment. But I knew this would never suffice for me, because I would know, and it was me I was running for, for my own enjoyment, not to impress any one else. So my big goal was the actual 26.2 mile marathon.
Throughout my running career, I have continually been challenging myself to run further. Not necessarily faster, but certainly further. Obviously, for a person with vision issues, faster is not always better. But endurance, stamina, and longer distances, those are challenges I can work with without endangering life, limb and miscellaneous pedestrians and puppies.
And that brings me to my last reason for wanting to run a marathon: a sense of accomplishment. To me, nothing else compared to a marathon. It was the ultimate goal to strive for, and achieve in my running career. I really only needed to do it once, to be able to know that I had done it - but if I enjoyed it, not just the race itself, but the entire process, there's no telling where it could take me.
What's involved in getting ready to run 26.2 miles?
Well I guess for me, being blind, there were two primary things: commitment and a support team.
Once I decided that I was going to run a full marathon , I had to make an absolutely unwavering commitment that I was going to do what it took to train properly for it. I knew that this meant that from January till July I was going to be running, and running a lot. My daily schedule would revolve around my job and training . Other things would have to fit in or be left out. I had to be confident that I was up for that. No matter what, once I found my training program, I would have to stick with it rain or shine, regardless of whether I was tired or just lethargic and didn't feel like running. This was a marathon after all, and not for wimps.
I was older and maybe a bit wiser from earlier days, when I just ran, on a whim and completely unprepared, 16 miles one day just to see if I could do it. That was 10 years before, and age had been on my side then. I was in my 40's now, after all, and not seeing as well either. My eye disease had progressed to the point that I wouldn't be able to do my longer training runs by myself. The short ones around town would be fine, because I had familiar trails, controlled paths that I didn't have to worry too much about navigation or traffic. But for anything over 12 miles, I would need to figure out a safe route and probably have to have someone with
I made sure this experience would be as well thought out and well executed as possible because I really wanted this to be an enjoyable journey. I understood that the process was just as critical as the final result, especially since I knew going in that this may be the only time I want to or am able to run a marathon . After serious consideration, I decided that I was willing to make the commitment to the intensive running schedule.
But I also had to be committed to the other sacrifices it would involve, beyond just running a lot of miles every week. It meant getting up at the first hint of dawn in the summer to get my runs in before the heat of the day, and it meant crawling out of a soft, warm, cozy bed in the dead of winter to go for a run bundled up in my less fashionable winter gear , and running during transitional seasons when I couldn't be exactly sure what the weather was going to do, or how to dress for it.
It also meant sacrifice at the table: ordering grilled chicken instead of the Bar-B-Q ribs. Paying closer attention to what might upset my digestive system, as I didn't want to have to postpone or miss a run cause my stomach was unhappy or I wasn't feeling well. It was a sacrifice, but it also felt good that I was on a
mission, striving towards a goal.
This commitment thing so far involved sacrificing my sleep schedule, my eating routines, my fashion coordination, and...Oh yeah, my social life. Once I really got into some serious miles, I knew it would take time away from my family and friends, and things that they might be doing that I might not get to do because it conflicted with my training schedule.
But that is where a good support team comes into play. As I mentioned previously, one of the reasons I never considered running a marathon before was I did not have a support team. For me, that was truly the most vital and important key to train for and run a marathon . I could run all the miles I wanted to, but I knew without the support of my family, I would not be successful in my attempt to run a full marathon . Fortunately I did have the full support of my partner, family, and friends, so it became a goal that I could focus on achieving without having to contend with doubt as to my ability to attain it. Obviously I had some logistical obstacles to contend with due to my vision issues, but my commitment was strong and my support team was in place. I didn't know exactly what the journey would
entail, but I was ready to get started .
Now we're getting into the fun part of my marathon training adventure! As much as I love running clothes, and the sweet tasting goo, the reason I get to love them is because of the running.
In 2007, when I decided to train to run a full marathon, I was fortunate to have fairly decent weather to start out my mileage build-up. I started on Jan. 1st , and I was able to do all my training runs outside. I had joined a gym thinking I would have to take advantage of their treadmills if the weather turned ugly, but to my delight, I didn't have to use the treadmill even once. On the down side though, I never made it into the gym to do strength training either.
I did my early runs on a path not far from where I live. This afforded me easy access to run the necessary miles I needed to get me on track. There were a few times where the trail was too icy in parts, so I would turn around and run the same dry stretch of trail again. Kind of hard for me to do, as I am like a horse; that is, once I'm turned around heading for the barn...err I mean home, I want to keep going that way. But I knew I had to get the miles in, and I'd rather do it outside up and back the same trail several times than run on the treadmill anyway.
Come April I needed to find other safe running routes, as I was moving into my higher mileage marathon training program. This would require longer runs of anywhere from 12 to 23 miles at a time. I could do a 12 mile route I used to run along the river and an old railroad track that has been converted to a nice running/bike path. But what to do about my longer runs?
I could run on a running/bike path that went for about 15 miles. The problem though, was that it was 8 miles out of town outside of Lolo. I thought I could get dropped off and I could call to be picked up when I was getting close to being finished. Yeah, that could work. But my other problem was stashing water and power drinks along the trail. I wasn't worried about someone taking them, but with my vision issues, I knew that I wouldn't be able to find the spot where I had left them! So I had to burn up some brain cells trying to figure out what I could do.
I know that the Universe is on my side, and I totally believe that once you make the commitment to do something, the "How" of it will figure itself out. Cause the next inspired thought I had was of my friend Vickie.
I knew that even though there was a gulf of several years between now and the last time I had seen her, we always had a close bond. So I didn't hesitate to call her. I told her how I was training for the Missoula Marathon in July, and I asked her if she would be interested in helping me with my training. She was thrilled!
In fact, she told me the timing couldn't have been more perfect, as she wanted to do something to get back in shape. I suggested that she could ride her bike alongside me during my long runs, hauling my water and power drinks, along with any extra gear I might need. That would leave me free to just run! She immediately agreed ad was totally on-board!
So every Tuesday, except on rest weeks, Vickie would pick me up fairly early in her truck, bicycle loaded in back, and we would drive the 8 miles to the trail in Lolo for my longer marathon training runs.
I have to admit those were some of the best runs of my running career. Vickie and I soon got into a comfortable rhythm. She was very attentive to my sight issue, making sure I knew when there was a turn in the path or that other bikers or runners were approaching. For the most part, the trail was free from cross traffic, especially as we got further away from town. Having Vickie on her bike was also beneficial in that it gave me a visual anchor. That made it so much easier for me to navigate.
Both of us would start out with several layers of clothing, and I was the first to start shedding my layers, as Vickie on the bike was going at a much slower pace, and she could not stay as warm as I was running.
Since we hadn't seen each other in quite some time, we had a blast catching up. Vickie had moved to New Mexico for a few years and had just moved back to Montana. She had once lived down in the area where we were running, so she had lots of stories to tell about living off the land and building a cabin.
One morning after a big wind storm the night before, we were starting a long run of 16 miles. As I was running along the path, Vickie stopped me. On the trail a few yards ahead were huge sheets of metal roofing! I know if I had been running this trail alone, I would have been disoriented, and could have easily run into it or fallen on it or something.
Most of our long runs took us through Florence about 11 miles from our starting point. In Florence we would pass a little café, and Vickie would say, "We need to come back here and get a piece of that home-made pie." Hey, I'm still waiting for my pie, Vickie!
On one of our runs, I think it was a 20-miler, the head wind coming back was so strong, I thought the run would never end. It was hard to breathe, and I had to shout to be heard, not easy when I was struggling for every breath! It was very trying, and to be sure one of the toughest runs I have ever done.
Now, here in Montana we are blessed with very low humidity. In fact, sometimes in the summer we have lower humidity than the deserts of Arizona! But that was not the case this one particularly humid morning. During that 21-mile run, my liquid intake was nearly double, and I was way more exhausted at the turn-around point. Sweat was pouring off me, and I wasn't sure I could finish. But I kept plugging along knowing it was good for me to experience these different conditions, since I had no idea what kind of weather to expect for the marathon in July. Little did I know it was going to be one of the worst heat waves western Montana has had in 100 years!
We discussed having her ride along side me during the actual marathon itself, and we got permission from the race organizers to do so. She would have been happy to do it, but it happened that the marathon was the same weekend that Vickie had made plans to be out of town on vacation. As it turned out, I didn't need any assistance during the marathon, as the route was very well marked and volunteers were everywhere!
I am so grateful to Vickie for helping me achieve my goal of running a marathon. We used to joke that these runs would be a good way for people to unburden their worries and concerns. I could start charging people to be their running therapist: Just run or bicycle along beside me, and tell me what's going on with you. I must admit there is something to it. As we did those long runs, it was great to see how much better Vickie felt about herself and her life in general. There's something exhilarating about being in the fresh air, just existing and being one with my body that makes me appreciate all the wonderful blessings in my life and gives me confidence knowing that even more and better things are coming!
There's no need to be afraid of the long runs. They will prove not only to be the most valuable and enjoyable part of your marathon training, but undoubtedly the most memorable as well.
Remember, training for a marathon is about the journey ... and the running
As the marathon day drew near, I was well into my marathon training program, and as long as I stayed healthy, there was no question - I was going to run this marathon!
So before the cut-off date when the price to register went up, I registered for the marathon. Now I was committed - no backing out - not that I would have, I was excited, and the excitement just kept building as I started planning what to wear for the big race.
Of course this monumental event called for a new outfit. I knew I wanted to wear red for sure as I like red, plus there's the psychological edge it gives to wear a fast color. But I was having trouble finding just the right pair of red shorts. It was hot, Hot, HOT in Montana that summer, and I wanted a stratus-cut for lots of ventilation.
I looked online, but was disappointed with the choices, so one afternoon I walked down to the Runner's Edge, our local running store, and found just what I had been so desperately searching for: a pair of red Hind stratus-cut shorts. Albeit in men's, but that didn't matter, as they had a size small.
So now that I had the running shorts, I needed the right running shirt to go with it. I found a nice blue one and I was set. I had my WrightSocks ready, and a new outfit in hand: I was stoked.
I didn't wear my new clothes ahead of the race day, except for a short trial run. Some runners run their long marathon training runs in the clothes they will run in on race day, so there will be no surprises as to how the garments will feel and perform - to ensure there are no unexpected seams rubbing the wrong way, etc. But me, I bathe in the rush of new running clothes, so just a short, quick test-drive of my new race day running outfit was fine. Oh and I also got a new running hat...red, from the Runner's Edge, too. Now I was set.
The forecast was calling for more hot weather and it ended up being one of our hottest summers on record. I thought we could find some cool neck wraps. These things are great. We had used them the summer before, and so I knew that by soaking them in water and then putting them in the refrigerator, they get nice and cool and the refreshing coolness lasts quite a while.
So off we went in search of neck wraps. We found some at Wal-Mart, but when we soaked them in water they turned slimy! Yuck! I couldn't wear that! So we returned those. We eventually found some at a sports warehouse that didn't turn slimy. I wanted about three so that T could meet me on the road and change them out for me during the race.
My other quandary was finding a running pocket. I had stuff I wanted to take with me on the long run, but the little pocket in my shorts would not be big enough to hold my mints, ChapStick, energy beans, and extra battery if I decided to take my MP3 player.
I didn't want a fanny pack as I didn't want to deal with the bouncing of a fanny pack on my waist for 26.2 miles. So I looked in all the stores, but all I could find were cell phone cases. I bought several of them hoping I would find the right fit, but none were what I was looking for. I even looked online, but no luck. So I settled for a carrier a little bit larger then a cell phone case. It was a bit bulky, but it held all the stuff I wanted to take, so it would have to do.
A year later I found the perfect running pocket by Amphipod. It was in Illinois while visiting family - right there in a local running store! I can't seem to find it available anymore, so I'm a little afraid that they may have stopped making them.
Another last-minute buy was a pair of wrist sweat bands. Knowing race day was going to be extremely hot, having the wrist bands would be vital to keeping sweat out of my eyes. And I was right; my hat could not keep all the sweat from running down my face as it ended up being over 90 degrees F that day! So I got wristbands in both light blue and red, not sure which would coordinate better with my running outfit.
Okay now you might be thinking that I was spending way too much time on what I was going to wear, more then any sane person would. But if you've been following my blog, RunnerInsight.com you know how much I love running clothing. And for me, it's all a part of the excitement and for sure, choosing the best running outfit is a huge motivation factor, as well.
The Inaugural Missoula Marathon race course had been confirmed to start in Frenchtown, a small town about 12 miles northwest of Missoula. Once the course got into Missoula, they were not quite sure what route the marathon course would take. This being the inaugural Missoula Marathon (2007), there were some logistical issues to be resolved.
My big question though, was would there be enough volunteers at each of the turns through town? I had been in previous races where I was assured that there would be someone at turns to direct me since I couldn't see the signs, but there were quite a few times that I got off the course because the turns were not manned by volunteers the way they promised.
So we talked to Anders from The Runner's Edge, a local running store. He was on the board for the marathon. He was quite confident there would be no problem with the course having enough volunteers. But he said he would get it cleared if I wanted to have a bike rider along with me. That made me feel better. My friend Vickie, who had ridden her bike alongside me on all my long marathon training runs, was going to be out of town the weekend of the marathon, but I did have another friend who volunteered to ride her bike with me.
I was feeling pretty good about the run into town; that would be the majority of the miles. But it was all the turns through town that the course would take that I was concerned about. That's where I could get lost.
A few days before the race, the course map was printed, so we drove the whole course, from start to finish. I was feeling pretty good about it, as part of the course was on the running path I used all the time. So I ended up deciding that a bike rider would not be necessary, since the half marathon runners would be merging with the marathon runners as we got into town. Even if there were not enough volunteers at the turns, I was confident there would be enough runners to follow, as the total number of racers was well over 1,000.
I considered trying to find a running group or a partner to run with, but at this late date, I simply decided to play it by ear at the race and see what developed. There would be pace runners, so if nothing else, I could fall into a group there.
Things were taking shape, and my excitement was building...one of the biggest challenges of my life was just around the corner - how would I fare? Ultimately, whether the results were good, bad or indifferent - the game was on and I was anxious to get started.
So my marathon day 2007 was drawing near. I had put in all the hard work and dedication required in my six to seven month long marathon training program in preparation for my first marathon. I was very excited and a bit nervous about the big day the next day.
One thing I had been looking forward to was attending the Marathon Expo. It really turned out to be a great experience. Not only was it fun, but it helped me to put all of my marathon training program into perspective: I was part of something far bigger than just myself. For the most part, I had been training alone. It didn't really feel like I was a part of something so massive until I went to the Expo. Seeing all the people at the Marathon Expo really got me hyped up...I was one of them too, I was...a marathoner! This Expo was for me! Kind of a cool and eye-opening revelation for me.
There were all sorts of vendor booths set up at Caras Park, a beautiful park right downtown by the river. And let me tell you, it was hot out! We had been having record- breaking heat for the past few weeks, and the forecast for race day was for more of the same. But the Expo was set up under the bridge, so we were mostly in the shade.
I stood in line to get my race packet where I would find all sorts of goodies, including my race number. Race packets are great. I love to see what little treats are in them. There was a pair of running socks from the Runner's Edge, our local running store that I love to pieces! (Hi!) There were a handful of nutritional snacks and a blister kit, along with coupons for some free stuff from different merchants around town.
Once I had my race number, I was free to wander around the Expo. As you might imagine, I was drawn to the running clothing and I found a nice RED sleeveless Hind running shirt. I also bought a Missoula Marathon tank top. Then I hit pay dirt! A Missoula Marathon running hat!! This was great. It did however leave me in a quandary about my running outfit. The Missoula Marathon hat was grey. I had planned on wearing my red Runner's Edge hat. So of course, that evening I had to try on my race day outfit and the two different hats. In the end I decided to go with the red hat as planned.
After wandering around the Expo, the last stop we made before heading out was to buy some cool, delicious Flathead cherries. They are the best! Big dark red jewels of pure delight! They hit the spot. A refreshing treat on a very hot 90 degree day!
The Expo served to fuel my excitement and calm my nerves...I realized that I really wasn't alone in this 6 month long trek ending with the final 26.2 mile portion of my journey.
And the next day it would all come together...or not.
P.S. The night before the race I was both excited and nervous. I don't know why I get so nervous before a race, because I go in with no expectations of winning...so why the nerves?
I guess it's probably more accurately described as nervous energy. And I'm glad I can still get that way before a race. The raw energy of the other runners, the loud music vibrating and thumping at the starting area, the anticipation, and the cheers of the crowds as the cannon goes off gets my blood pumping. All these things piled together at 6 in the morning would make anyone excited and nervous!
So the night before my full marathon I tried on my race day outfit: I was trying to decide which hat to wear. Should I wear the red "Runner's Edge" one, or the gray Missoula Marathon running hat I just bought that day? When in doubt, I ask T. She is always a good sport, and I trust her fashion sense...and besides that, she has her eyesight. I live my life with the philosophy that it's always good to have at least one person around who can actually see.
She said the red one looked better. Then I had to decide which wrist sweat bands should I wear? I had gotten both light blue and red. We decided the red was better, as the light blue wasn't the right color of blue to coordinate with my running top. We pinned my race number on my shirt: there, I was now set with my clothes.
Now I had to get ready all the stuff I was going to take with me. I got out the clip-on pocket I was going to use. It wasn't the most ideal thing, as it was not really designed for running. Since this was my first long race, I wanted to bring everything I thought I might need with me.
Looking back at it, it wasn't really necessary, but life's all about learning...so I learned. But this was my first marathon, and I wanted the security of having all my stuff with me. So I packed the pocket. I had my Lifesavers, Chap Stick, extra batteries for my MP3 player, tissue, two Power Bar gels, and looped through the side: an extra pair of sunglasses. The sunglasses were different shades which help me with different lighting conditions.
When I picked up my fully packed pocket, I was a bit concerned with how much it weighed, but since I wasn't ready to leave any of it, for now it would have to do.
I was still undecided about taking my MP3 player with me, so I laid it out as well. I also had my flasher and cell phone. Hmmmm, I was going to be really loaded down - maybe I was a bit out of control! Oh well...
With a 6:30 a.m. start I wanted to be up by 4:30 as we had to drive about 20 miles to the start of the race, and after six or seven months of training for this thing, I wanted to be sure I was fully prepared and didn't forget anything. I did manage to go to bed early, but with the heat, sleep was hard to come by. I did manage to get some sleep, but it was a fitful night.
Wow! The day was finally here! All my training and hard work were about to be put to the test. I was feeling pretty good about the training that I had put in and felt that I could go the distance: the whole 26.2 miles in my very first marathon!
Rubbing the sleepy bugs out of my eyes, I made my way to the kitchen for my pre-race meal. I stuck with what I knew would settle well with me. So after a banana and yogurt, I got dressed.
T was ready to go with the camera and water. We made our way out to Frenchtown to the start of the race. I could tell it was going to be a warm start to the race, as it was already in the low 60's. That concerned me a little, as I had done all my training runs in relatively cool weather, but obviously there was nothing I could do about it at this point. The night before, we had soaked the neck wraps in cold water and put them in the refrigerator. I had about four of them so I could change them out during the race.
As we got closer to the race site, we noticed several folks running about a mile from the starting line. I got a little panicked, thinking that maybe I had the start time wrong. But, no. I guess they were just warming up before the start of the race.
Then we had to find the real start area...they had just moved it that morning! But not to worry, Frenchtown is a small town, and we had no problem finding the starting line; it was just a few blocks from where they had originally planned.
After some back and forth debate with myself, I decided not to take my mp3 player, so I unpacked the extra batteries out of my clip-on running pocket. It didn't really lighten my pocket much, but I knew as I ate my LifeSavers and power gel it would get lighter. And once I was running and in a rhythm, the pocket wouldn't bother me too much.
Of course I needed to use the restroom before I started, so we found the porta-johns, but I was amazed at the lines! This was the first year of the marathon, and they obviously hadn't known how many porta-potties was the right number to have at the race start, as they grossly underestimated the need.
T checked her watch, and there was no way I was going to be able to use the porta-potty. Sure enough, Anders the owner of our local running store "The Runners Edge" came down yelling "5 minutes to the start!" He said that they couldn't delay the start, so just find a bush and go! No one cares!
I was ready to drop my shorts right then and there, but T being more modest and able to see, grabbed me and found a bush I could use for a little bit of privacy. But Anders was right, nobody cared...everyone was busy worrying about their own needs right before the cannon sounded. The question of hydration and survival of a 26 mile race in record-breaking heat was everyone's primary concern that morning, not who was behind which bush to pee. Runners definitely get more than a little self-involved immediately before a big race like this one.
So, relieved of the bladder weight, we jogged over to the start area, and I positioned myself just behind the four hour pace runners. Looking back at it now, that was quite a lofty goal for me, and I should have been more realistic and got behind the 4 ½ hour pace runners. Even in cooler weather I hadn't ever run a four hour pace on any of my marathon training runs, so thinking that I could do it in record high temperatures was really pie in the sky thinking on my part. But I was a newbie when it came to marathon running. Lesson learned: big time.
Before I knew it the cannon boomed, signifying the start of the race. . .
The cannon was loud and made its point: I was off and running along with about 500 other marathoners. It was exciting to be running in the Inaugural Missoula Marathon. I was a part of history.
The sun was barely up, and it was so quiet except for the sound of many, many feet hitting the pavement. I felt good and the pace was fast, but not uncomfortable. In retrospect, I see it was adrenaline and the reality of being in my first marathon that kept my pace fast for the first 8 miles.
As the runners started to thin out a bit, I fell into a really good zone. I was feeling strong and was inhaling the sights and sounds of the early morning start. We were running alongside open fields, and the sound of the large irrigation sprinklers tick, tick, ticking away was as simplistic and serene as the joy I felt from hearing them. As I ran, I could hear a lone meadowlark singing its song to cheer me along.
The 8 mile mark was just ahead, and I could hear the music from several boom boxes pumping out the tunes loud and strong to keep us marathon runners energized and motivated. Then I heard my name being called out. I looked up and it was T. She told me my time, right on track for a 4:30 finish. It was such a great surprise to see her at this point in the race, as I wasn't expecting to see her until the 16 mile mark. So with a fresh, cool neck wrap and a hug for luck, she shooed me off to continue on my quest.
My right hip was beginning to hurt a little; this was a pain I hadn't had before. I was kind of worried, as I still had a long ways to go. I kept running and soon I made the turn that would lead me through one of the most beautiful valleys in Western Montana. The Big Flat valley is known for its picturesque horse ranches and the winding Clark Fork River with dramatic drop offs.
As I was running along, I encountered my first mishap at mile marker number 9...
I had made the turn that would take me through the Big Flat valley. I was running along, feeling good as I had just seen T and I had a fresh boost of energy, hydrating and unaware of the "Leg Mile Marker" No. 9 coming up. Let me explain.
Each mile along the route was marked not only by a big number painted on the road indicating the mileage, but Missoula artists had painted really amazing, very unique mile marker sculptures in the shape of a runner's lower leg. The leg mile markers were life-size and had balloons attached to them.
Well I, of course being legally blind, did not see the marker, so naturally, I plowed right into it, getting the balloons wrapped up in my legs. It took some maneuvering, but I was able to extract myself from them within a few seconds, fortunately with no damage to the mile marker or myself. Of course my up close and personal encounter with the balloons was witnessed by my fellow runners.
Still shaking my head and laughing to myself, I continued on my way; the Big Flat Valley was so peaceful and scenic. Soon I began a gradual climb, the only hill on the 26.2 mile course, and really not too bad of a incline, except that it was really starting to heat up, and it was only 8:30 a.m. The shade of the canyon was very refreshing and welcome.
About half way up the hill, I saw that quite a few of the other marathon runners were walking, and the urge to join them was too much for me to resist, so I walked for a while too. The walk did me good, and soon I was back running again. I hit the half way mark and my time was 2:16. I was excited to be right on track for a 4:30 finish.
My dreams of a 4 hour marathon were long gone! As I started the descent down out of the canyon, the 4:30 pace group passed me. I started to run with them, but found their pace was too fast for me, and I fell behind.
Coming out of the shade of the canyon, the heat hit me full force, like a blast furnace with its doors wide open! At least I was now running in familiar territory; I had done a lot of my training runs here. I got an energy drink at the aid station at mile 15 and had a power gel. It was hot; did I mention that it was hot?
I was really looking forward to seeing T at mile 16! My hip was now hurting more, and all I could think about was getting to mile 16. When I got to where I thought T would be, I didn't see or hear her, and the fatigue and pain was making me feel a bit desperate and anxious. I kept running and looking, when I heard T shouting to keep coming, just a little bit farther. I made it to where she was. I kept saying, "Where were you?" She told me she had to park a little ways down the road, as there were too many cars right at the turn. In reality, she was not even 100 yards down the road from where I expected to see her, but in my bonked out mind it seemed miles! LOL
So I got some cold water and a fresh, cool neck wrap and we poured water on my neck and wrists and I splashed it on my face and arms. The heat was intense and the next 10 miles came with no shade at all! So with another hug for luck I was on my way a bit more composed...But not for long...
Well, as you'll recall, I had just had a pit stop, where T poured cold water on my neck and changed out my neck wrap for a fresh cold one.
It was hot - 90 plus degrees out - a record breaking summer for western Montana! The sun was intense, and there was no shade to be found.
I was running along, nearing the 20 mile mark, when I noticed my right foot was feeling numb. I stopped to examine it and as I felt my ankle to see if it felt swollen, I flexed my toes on my right foot...Whoa!!! Big mistake! My whole leg started to cramp up. I never get cramps, so when this one started, I panicked a bit. I pushed my toes back down and furiously rubbed my right leg, and luckily, with that immediate and intense attention, I was able to avoid a full blown cramp. But of course, this whole situation had me worried - a lot. Would I be able to finish the race? If I ran on my numb foot, I could injure it even worse and not even realize it. Would it hurt to walk on it? Could I keep myself safe and healthy, or was it too late?
Obviously I couldn't run on a numb foot...that was just too dumb, so I started walking because I didn't want to risk twisting my ankle and being unable to finish the race. With my ever-present cell phone, I called T. I think she was surprised to be hearing from me. I said I didn't know if I could go on. We had a bad connection, so when she said, "What? I didn't hear you...," right then and there I decided not to repeat my negative thoughts, and instead I told her I was going to have to walk some of the last 6 miles due to my numb foot and leg cramps.
So we pushed back the next meeting time, and I told her I would call again when I was getting closer. I was more than a little bummed by my set-back, but at the same time, I was glad that I was able to walk, and even run some when the numbness subsided, and I felt my foot was okay.
All along the way, volunteers were there to hand out water, power aid and gels, and the crowds were so supportive.
At one point, a volunteer on a bike came up to me and asked how I was doing. I told her I was walking due to some cramping in my right leg. She gave me about 6 Pringles potato chips for the sodium and, can you believe this: her own personal water bottle!? How amazingly generous and compassionate! She told me I could leave her water bottle at the next aid station, and she would get it there. I was so grateful for her care and attention.
By now, I knew it was true what I had heard about the marathon: that it was really two races: the first twenty miles, then the last six. Because my last 6 miles were hell. It seemed like it was taking forever.
My next pit stop was near the mall with about 3.2 miles to go on the bike path that I was very familiar with. There again I met T, and this time our good friend Marty was there too. They got me a fresh cool neck wrap and water. T walked with me for awhile, but I really wanted her to be at the finish line, so I said I would be fine and started to run for a bit, and she peeled off to head towards the finish line downtown.
The enthusiastic crowds at the mall gave me a much needed boost of energy, and I ran for quite some time before I had to walk again.
I was very aware of my time: that it was going to be well over 5 hours before I would cross the finish line. Of course my objective had now changed, and I was only concerned with finishing, and doing it in under the 6 hours required to be an official finisher.
So with my run-a-little/walk-some-more strategy, I plugged along on the path that had no shade at all. The sun was beating down on me, and I knew it had to be getting close to 100 degrees!
As I was approaching the turn that would take me over the Orange Street Bridge, I could hear the music playing and the crowd cheering, and in my brain I did an imaginary back flip with excitement: I knew I was just about there!
As I got to the bridge where the finish line was, I was looking around. I could see balloons tied to the side of the bridge, but I was expecting so much more. According to what the website had said, there was supposed to be a huge balloon arch. Oh well...I was just excited to be on the bridge. I gave it my all, running as fast as I could, high-fiving the onlookers as they stretched their hands out and shouted words of encouragement.
I finished strong, running at a sprint towards the finish line. I was never so happy to be done with a race in all my life.
I was a marathoner! Albeit a bit of a dazed marathoner, but an undisputed one, nonetheless. My finish time was: 5:28:00.
T came to the finish line and escorted me to get my finishers medal in the shape of a star, and then on to the food: to the re-fueling station to replenish my glycogen stores! I was wobbly and very tired, and with the temperature hitting the mid 90's, of course I was overheated. I sat in a folding chair under a tent, and chowed down on watermelon and bagels. The pasta and salty nut mix were just what I needed.
After I regained some of my strength, I turned to T and said with absolute conviction, "I'm never doing that again!"
"I was hoping you would say that," she replied. She knew how hard this whole marathon training process for the past six months had been on my body.
Then it was time to head for home. But there was one small problem with that plan: I could not get out of the chair. My legs had stiffened up. But T managed to pull me up to a standing position. I didn't want to hang around as it was hot, did I mention it was hot? And I needed my Starbucks fix!
So we stopped at my favorite coffee hangout, and I showed off my medal to anyone who would look! At one point I asked T to tell me what it said on my star-shaped medal.
She looked at it and then said with a straight face, "My Little Sheriff."
Of course it didn't really say that, but I have to admit the shape of the star medal did look like one of those kids play tin sheriff badges. To this day, we still laugh about that.
Once we were home, I had a soothing bath and tried to take a nap, but my legs were too sore and every time I moved they hurt. So it was not very restful. I got up, and within a few hours my legs felt better. It wasn't until I tried to climb the stairs that I realized just how sore they really were. And don't even get me started about going to the bathroom!
That evening, T and Marty took me out to our favorite steak house for my celebratory dinner. Yes, I wore my medal, and if it was socially acceptable I would have worn it as a badge of accomplishment everywhere I went for a week or two! But I was content to wear it to dinner, where I did talk to several other marathoners and half marathoners who had run in the race, and we all agreed it was way too hot! DUH! I don't know if anyone running a marathon could really stay hydrated in that heat.
Oh yeah, that balloon arch that was supposed to be at the finish line? It was there, big as life. I didn't see it when I ran under it, so imagine my surprise when I saw it in the photo. What's that all about? You'd think I was blind or something...
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