When it was all said and done I sat in the car to post my facebook update with Brian driving and mom and the girls in the backseat ringing pink cowbells.
“Five hours and fourteen minutes! Elated and filthy! xoxoxxxx,” I wrote”
I was delirious and in pain, but mostly overwhelmed by what I’d managed to do. I recognized the same out of body happiness that I felt the moment my kids were born and the days following; an adrenaline rush to the brain energizing a tired body that had done its work.
It was as if I’d given birth again, this time to 26.2.
Marathons start early, long before the sun has time to rise in the sky. There’s something amazing about showing up in the dark to a couple thousand people wearing running clothes. Like any good party, there are always the wild ones who show up in kilts and tutus and viking hats. One marathoner who passed me at mile ten was wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja costume, mask and all.
When Brian dropped me off, I surveyed the scene and located an empty table near the Pizza truck where I could get situated. I made sure that I had enough Gu and stuffed it into my FuelBelt. I then took two and a half packages of Shot Bloks and zipped them into my right jacket pocket. There were still forty-five minutes until the start, so I figured it was a good time to nibble on my bagel.
After waiting and chatting with a few other singleton runners, it was time to find the bag check before hitting the porta potties.
As usually happens as a race nears, the lines become so long that it’s a wonder any of those people ever get to go and still make the start. Many runners (including myself) take to the woods; it’s a little secret that really isn’t so.
The woods behind the potties were dotted with lunatic runners (mostly boys) relieving themselves out in the open.
Standing in line and looking back over at my shoulder I turned to the girl in front of me, motioned toward the trees and said, “Come on, it’ll be an adventure!”
It was still dark, but she understood and we hurried to find a spot that was covered enough to crouch down and go. It was prickly and I was seriously hoping not to get a tick.
I guarded my new friend, she guarded me, and we even added another girl to the group; all of us standing guard for each other. As we pulled up our pants I told them I needed a picture for the blog. They were good sports and we posed. I thanked them and even though the picture is too dark to see anything, it’s one of my favorites.
The next step was to figure out where I should place myself at the start. I found the pace runner with the five-hour sign, but decided to move up to the 4:45 guy. In retrospect, this was probably not the smartest move.
When the race began I hit my Garmin and we were off. I felt strong, but I knew I was going out too fast.
Oh no, I thought. Too fast. Too fast. But I feel good. I feel great!
The internal conversation kept up for a good nine miles until I decided I had to stop and assess a pain in my right shoe.
The Tobacco Trail is beautiful, lined with trees and streams and old barns and history; built where trains used to run their loads. It’s flat, because the trains didn’t do well on hills and like any good trail is covered in finely packed dirt and tiny rocks. Part of the path was paved, but more often than not the tiny rocks from the unpaved areas found their way into my shoes. I was concerned about each one and would wiggle my feet around to try to move the most irritating stones out of the way. Some would settle in places that I could manage, but my right toe seemed to have a good sized boulder pressed against it and I knew I needed to stop, so as not to cause more damage.
When I pulled back from the pace group I leaned against a tree and tried not to put my sock down on the damp and dirty ground. I let the pebble drop out of my shoe, but realized that my sock was the actual source of the pain. I readjusted the toe area so that the seam wasn’t falling right where a blister was surely forming and looked up to see my pace group running in the distance.
I stuck my toes back into my shoe, laced it up and set off again.
Despite the annoyance of having to stop every now and again to remove the rocks, I felt good about my pace and confident that I’d be able to finish around the five-hour mark.
I slowed a little at twelve and thirteen, and at eighteen when I kicked a root and lost my footing, decided I needed to stop and stretch. I walked toward the pole of an upcoming bridge overpass and lunged forward to stretch out my hamstrings. I shook out my shoes and bent into a deep forward fold.
It felt so wonderful when I stood up again that I crossed my fingers behind me, pulled them back and leaned over for a deeper stretch. I was momentarily shocked by the sound from inside my body. My spine crackled in succession from the base upward as it sets itself right. I hung there for a while, mostly because I felt a little dizzy, but also because the relief was so great. I hadn’t realized how out of alignment I had become and when I finally stood I was able to take a deep and cleansing breath.
Yoga. Always there when I need it.
I kept on.
Nineteen was strong.
Twenty was slow.
Twenty one was strong.
Twenty two was slow.
And then I watched as the five-hour pacer passed me by. My eyes were fixated on his red compression knee socks as his red balloons on a stick flew by. I felt a pang of disappointment, since I wouldn’t be finishing when I’d hoped. The odds weren’t good that I’d be able to catch him. I wanted to call out, “Come back! Don’t leave me!” But I was tired and not insane enough to actually do it. And anyway, I knew what his answer would be.
I settled into a run walk pattern, which is what felt right and seemed to be the method being used by the other runners around me.
The other runners:
There was the girl with the patterned shorts and the right shoulder tattoo, which I never could discern. The man in a burgundy shirt, shuffling and drenched in sweat, whose face was hard and visibly determined. An older woman in her sixties wearing a yellow tank was breathless and walking when she held up her thumbs at mile twenty-two and said, “The fun doesn’t even start until twenty!”
These strangers and I continuously passed each other like a dance. I felt proud of them, while at the same time wanted to make sure I came in ahead. It was still a race after all.
I knew the last six point two would be hard.
When people asked me how I felt that morning I repeated my misgivings about the final stretch. I knew I’d be fine with nineteen or twenty, but having never completed anything farther was frightening.
I didn’t realize how far down I’d have to reach to find the motivation to pick up my feet and run after walking for a bit. But my stubbornness made its appearance right when I needed it and became the force that lifted my legs to run when I really could have crawled. There was pain radiating throughout my body, but it was nothing I couldn’t manage by listening and forging forward. Walk. Run. Walk. Run.
Instead of feeling defeated, I looked at this last difficult part of the race as the impetus for the next one. Maybe going out too fast at the beginning caused my pace to be what it was now? Maybe next time I’ll move back at the starting line to be with the slower pace group? Maybe my second marathon will be even better than this one, since I now have a list of errors that could be remedied in training.
At mile twenty-five with the light at the end of the tunnel, I made the decision to mostly walk in an effort to finish strong.
My legs were like those tree trunks I’d leaned against, my feet were swollen and blistered, my skin was covered in sweat, but there was no choice.
My turnover picked up, I switched off my music and relied on my determination.
People starting clapping and yelling that I was almost there.
My Garmin hit twenty-six point two, but the finish line was not in sight. I kept on, while yelling out, “Where is it? Where is it?”
Just when I thought I’d never spot the end, I looked left and saw my mom with my girls. They were sitting on a bench and I screamed out, “Mom!” She didn’t hear me so I kept yelling. After their long wait to see me, I had appeared and a new surge of energy pushed me onward. Strangely, the pain subsided and I felt exuberant excitement. Happiness. Joy. Fun.
I didn’t see Brian until he yelled my name over my shoulder. He’d been running behind me for at least a half of a mile, catching the entire ending on Flip video.
I wanted to kill him and kiss him at the same time.
I had done what I’d set out to do and within a few minutes I’d crossed the finish line.
I walked for a while until my family came running. In that instant I felt so proud for what I had been able to do. There were no doubts or insecurities, just bliss and relief that what I had set out to accomplish had happened. The high from the endorphins was like a jolt to my brain as my body began to accept it could rest.
The day after the race was when the reality of what I’d completed hit me hard. My quadricepts were screaming, my head was fighting an ache, and my appetite was voracious. Brian took the girls to school and as much as I wanted to write, I needed a day to process the experience. I lay in my bed and watched Shameless on the DVR, pinned on Pinterest, surfed, shopped, and soaked in Epsom salt. I did a little laundry and tidied up the mess that is my house’s familiar state.
It was also the day after when I realized that I never cried at the end.
I remembered when the girls were born. I didn’t cry then either.
It wasn’t until two weeks later when it was time to take them home that I sat in the hospital waiting room and sobbed. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it, uncertain if I could do a good job. My body had done its work and kept them safe for thirty-two weeks; the last ten on bed rest. My brain had trouble absorbing the realities of what I’d done by bringing my sweet girls into the world.
In a way it feels similar now that the race is over. There’s a job to be done and new goals have been set. I have higher aspirations and know that some of my patterns that led to my problems on the trail were partly to blame for not meeting all of my expectations (Oreos ring a bell?). My next marathon is important, not so much because I need to say I “ran two,” but because the changes I make to my life during training are the ones that will make my entire life more meaningful.
I’m on a life quest for good health and happiness.
I’m just going to have to run until I get there.