Monthly Archives: May 2014

My First Marathon: A Long Post that Contains Bad Words and Unflattering Pictures of Me

 

“She’s going the distance

She’s going for speed.

She’s all alone in her time of need….”   -Cake “The Distance”

At mile 23 the dude from Cake blasted through my earbuds, telling me to keep going. Mentally and physically exhausted, I was in desperate need of this stupid race to be done. As I attempted to summon the will power to make it the last few miles, a stabbing pain sliced through my right knee.  Having never had knee issues in my entire life, I was flabbergasted. My thoughts quickly turned from confused to horrified, as the pain intensified to the point I could no longer run and just barely walk.

“Not now. Not so close to the end.” I thought. “Lord please let me finish my first marathon.” I prayed over and over. The tears of pain and frustration poured down my cheek as I hobbled along.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning….

The Expo

Ever since that debacle that was the Hot Chocolate Expo, I have been anxiously awaiting the marathon expo. I pictured spending the morning with my friends slowly perusing the various vendors, stocking up on GU and buying the perfect 26.2 t-shirt. Things didn’t go quite as planned. I did get to meet my buds for lunch, so I went solo to the expo.

Running for St. Jude in honor of my cousin Brittany who beat childhood cancer

Running for St. Jude in honor of my cousin Brittany who beat childhood cancer

Even pressed for time there was ONE priority: The VIP Potty Pass. Last year when I ran the Music City Half, despite being over an hour early to the race, the porta potty lines where too long for my excellently hydrated self to get bladder relief before the race. This year I was determined to start more comfortably.  If you buy $150 of Brooks merchandise at the Expo you get the VIP Potty Pass which guarantees no lines and a REAL toilet and sink. I bought an extra pair of shoes (that I will use eventually) and a souvenir hat and I was good to go. Literally.

Race day-eve

Shannon, Andrea, Deanna, Abby and Me

Shannon, Andrea, Deanna, Abby and Me

The night before the race we carb loaded at Abby’s house with pasta and sweet potatoes. It was the perfect evening to sit on the deck with our friends and husbands, nervously discussing the next morning. Abby likened the excitement and butterflies to getting ready for the prom. The six of us had spent the last 4 months logging mile after mile together, now the big day was nearly here.

Actually Nancy, no it wasn't.

Actually Nancy, no it wasn’t.

The big worry was Christina. Struggling with a stomach bug, she hadn’t been able to eat all week. She promised that she was taking fluids, but she hadn’t been able to carb load and she missed the night before party so she could rest. We fretted that she wouldn’t make the race or worse, that she would stubbornly push herself too far and get injured.

Our next fear was the heat. The forecast was projecting temps in the 70’s. We hadn’t run in any weather hotter than 40, with most of our runs in the teens. We were used to frozen bums not heat stroke.

Porta Potty Drama

Christina rallied in the morning and decided to attempt the race. She promised not to push herself, but we were still worried. We arrived downtown an hour early, getting dropped off on the far end of Broadway turned out to be perfect. The was no traffic and no line at the porta potties near corral 30.

Ready to Run!

Ready to Run!

But did I use the empty porta potty? No. I pridefully went in search of my “fancy” porta potty. Once I got to the starting line, I discovered where the other 30,000 people were hanging out. I began desperately searching through the crowds for the VIP bathrooms and couldn’t find them anywhere.  As my bladder approached its capacity, my panic escalated. All the bathroom lines near the start were at least 50 people long. After being sent on 3 wild goose chases, I finally discovered the VIP bathrooms had been moved to the convention center. I barely had time to meet up with Shannon and get back to my corral.

The Race: 26.2 Damn Miles

The wait in the corral felt like an eternity. With 30,000 people running it took 20 minutes for me to cross the starting line. Shannon was running the half and she paced with me the first 11 miles. I was a nervous mess. I couldn’t believe the big day was really here.

Minutes before I crossed the start, I got a well meaning text from husband wishing me luck and telling me not to worry that the weather would be a “perfect 75 degrees” at the end of the race. I got a sinking sensation in my stomach. 50 degrees is perfect race weather, 75 is borderline dangerous. I made up my mind to drink at every water stop and stay on pace.

Hal (Higdon- the author of the Marathon Book I read, who I like refer to in first person as if he’s my BFF) told me not to set a time goal for my first marathon other than to finish. My last half was a PR of 1:47. I felt strong and well prepared, so I proudly thought that I could manage a sub 4 hour marathon. In hindsight I wish I could go back to that starting line and slap some sense into my silly overconfident self. But alas, I set out with a goal pace of 9:20 min/miles stubbornly ignoring Hal’s advice.

We crossed the starting line at 7:20 am. The crowd of runners was thick. The first several miles were spent jockeying for position and laughing at all the spectators signs. The excitement was tangible. I tried to pick a comfortable pace but every time I checked my Garmin it was off due to the buildings. Even though I felt comfortable I started too fast with several mile splits under 9 min/miles.

My sister Amber cheered me on from OK by posting hilarious running signs to my facebook.

My sister Amber cheered me on from OK by posting hilarious running signs to my facebook.

Running through the tunnel under the Music City Center was awesome. I felt like a kid waiting in line for an indoor roller coaster with the echoing footsteps and flashing lights. We ran though the familiar landscape of music row and Belmont, on an adrenaline high. Shannon and I were having a blast. At mile 7, I saw some friends who were cheered me on and gave me a good luck hug.

Mile 7

Mile 7

A hug from Donna makes everything better

A hug from Donna makes everything better

The crowds were still thick at mile 11 when the half runners turned to ease on home and the full marathoners kept on trekking. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to Shannon as she hugged me goodbye and promised to see me at the end. (Shannon learned she was pregnant half way through our training so she dropped down to the half.)

Then with a lump in my throat, for the first time in my life, I went straight at Bicentennial Park instead of veering right. The crowd of runners thinned significantly. This was definitely the road less traveled.

Soon after the split, the heat began to get to me. Having not run any of my training runs in weather over 40 degrees, the sun felt oppressive. One extremely smart thing I did along the way was stop at the medical tent and get sunscreen, otherwise my pasty self would have been a lobster for the entire week.

Once I was on my own I pulled my ipod out of my belt. I don’t usually listen to music while I run, but I figured I could use all the help I could get at this point.  As we headed out Rosa Parks Blvd, it got desolate: no fans, no bands, merely heat and buildings. It was a nice long down hill slope. About half way down the slope it dawned on me that this was an out and back, meaning I would have to run back up this hill. Crap. I had hit my half way split at 2:04 so I was already realizing that I wouldn’t get a sub-4 and began to get down over that.

I made it back up the the Rosa Parks hill and ran briefly back through downtown. We ran beside the half runners again, those lucky devils were almost done. I hated them all. At this point I noticed a lot of my fellow marathoners starting to walk up the hills. I have always “attacked the hills”. My new mental strategy at this point was to start counting “hill kills” (the number of people I passed going up the hills). I stopped worrying about my time, my new focus was finishing.

Mile 18 is when the migrating pains started. A different part of my body would hurt for about a quarter of a mile. My pace dropped of to 10:15 and I began to fantasize about walking.  My hill kills were over a hundred at this point and it seemed too hard to keep counting. As we ran up the hill into East Nashville I was gleeful to see a water stop half way up the hill (I let myself walk through the water stops to make sure I drank enough). I begin to have moments of panic. I had not expected to feel this tired so early. I began to worry about Christina, hoping she was OK.

My Dad, Step mom and oldest son greeted me around the next turn. The water and encouragement they gave me helped me through the next few miles.

They found me again at mile 22 and 24, cheering me on to the finish.

The last hour was torture. The heat was sweltering, my legs were shot and I just needed it to be over. I realized I had made the obvious rookie mistake of starting out too fast. As we entered the uneven terrain of Shelby Bottoms, it took every bit of will power I had to keep moving. I keep thinking of the kids at St. Jude, particularly my cousin Brittany who was treated for leukemia there. She was my inspiration that last hour.

Then Cake came on my ipod:

“She’s going the distance

She’s going for speed.

She’s alone. She’s alone in her time of need….”   

 

At mile 23 the dude from Cake blasted through my earbuds, telling me to keep going. Mentally and physically exhausted, I was in desperate need of this stupid race to be done. As I attempted to summon the will power to make it the last few miles, a stabbing pain sliced through my right knee.  Having never had knee issues in my entire life, I was flabbergasted. My thoughts quickly turned from confused to horrified, as the pain intensified to the point I could no longer run and just barely walk.

“Not now. Not so close to the end.” I thought. “Lord please let me finish” I prayed over and over. The tears of pain and frustration poured down my cheek as I hobbled along. I was prepared for muscles cramps, “the wall” and even pooping my pants. I was not prepared for injury.

As I limped along, each foot strike sent horrific pain through my knee, my mind began to spiral out of control in my pain-exhaustion delirium. My thoughts quickly raced:

What if I don’t finish? What if they have to call the ambulance? What would that cost? Will I meet my deductible? What if I need knee surgery? Crap, that means I’ll miss work. Everyone will be really mad at me. My husband will never let me do this again.

Just as my thoughts were going to full blow crazy town, a fellow runner a came by and said, “Keep going. Just limp, walk, run.”

That simple advice pulled me back to reality and I kept going. After about half a mile the pain magically went away and I was able to run again. I was going slow, but I knew I would finish.

By mile 25, I had nothing left. I was physically and mentally depleted. Then an angel appeared in the form of my friend Shannon.  She popped out of the crowd and ran the last mile with me. As we rounded the last half mile, an unexpected cheering section of friends from the neighborhood made me cry tears of thanks. Equally thankful that they braved traffic to encourage us and that this stupid ass race was almost done. (Liz, Amber and Michelle: you girls are awesome!)

The last miserable mile

The last miserable mile

Then it was over. We crossed the finish line at 4:24. I had pictured my self feeling euphoric in this moment, but instead I merely felt relief that it was done.

I was a marathoner.

26.2 miles

26.2 miles

I laid in the shade and drank water until my parents found me to take me home.

As we pulled into the neighborhood, this sign made me misty eyed.

As we pulled into the neighborhood, this sign made me misty eyed.

Christina and the rest of the gang all finished. We all fought our individual demons and conquered the beast, finishing with no major injuries or incidents. (My knee has never hurt again.)

Running a marathon was the single hardest physical thing I have ever done. Perhaps picking a hilly course on a hot day is not the ideal first race, but nevertheless I ran 26.2 damn miles. Actually my Garmin read 26.7, but who’s counting.

Abby in her last mile

Abby in her last mile

Christina's husband ran the  last mile with her

Christina’s husband ran the last mile with her

 

“So how was your race?” My staff asked me as I walked into the office on Monday morning.

As I opened my mouth to answer, time seemed to pause as a multitude of adjectives leap into mind: exhilarating, beautiful, humbling, empowering, excruciating, wonderful…

Instead, I merely smiled and said, “Good. My race was Good. I finished”

 

 

 

 

 

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