26.2 – I’m All the Way Crazy
“I can’t believe I’m about to run a marathon. I am so grateful I am here today. I am so blessed to be able to RUN.”
And off we went. Not fast, because there’s a huge crowd at the starting line of most races, but the energy in the air tingled and buzzed with excitement, as if we were all flying. I was SO COLD, except for my hands, which were toasty warm thanks to a pair of hand warmers tucked into my $1 pink gloves. I nervously chatted away, certainly annoying the runners around us. I overheard one person say to their buddy “I’m not talking now; gotta conserve my energy!”
Ha ha. That wasn’t directed at me, I’m sure.
People lined the streets, brandishing homemade posters and cowbells. The guy with a whiteboard who’d written “Athletic Supporter” gave me a chuckle every time I saw him. There were boisterous cheers, kids jumping up and down, babies bundled under blankets, and I noticed that everyone spectating was wearing hats, gloves, winter coats, etc. Here I was in my Teeny Tiny Short Shorts and t-shirt. Yeah! Cold. I finally started to warm up around mile 3 and tossed away my arm sleeves shortly thereafter; I ditched the gloves and hand warmers at mile 4. That was a bit premature, as I would soon discover.
Despite the frigid air, I felt great. It was clear and sunny and there were patches of thick fog filling the valley where we ran. I drank some lemon-lime sports drink/water mixture from my hydration vest, ate a packet of Annie’s fruit snacks (VEGAN!), and tried not to think about how many miles were ahead of me. It was just another long run, no big deal.
Except on most of my long training runs, there were breaks. We would often stop to pick up additional runners or say goodbye to runners or pose for a group photo. I’d run into Gold’s Gym to pee or trot over to my car and drop off a headlamp. Paces on those runs were anywhere between 9:15 – 10:30/mile. Today, I was aiming for a consistent 9:30/mile pace and wasn’t planning to stop unless there was an emergency. Other than fatigue and acute starvation, I had felt fine after all of my training runs so I was pretty confident that today would be no different.
Around mile 7 or 8, I decided that even though the last thing on my mind was food (highly unlike me), it was time for more fuel, but I couldn’t get my fingers to wrap around the second packet of fruit snacks. Too cold. Raynaud’s syndrome makes my hands and feet extremely susceptible to cold temperatures. With all of the blood pumping furiously to my large muscles, there was nothing circulating through my fingertips. Remember how I threw away my gloves? Yeah, bad idea. A kind gentleman assisted me, we passed through a water stop where I drank some full-strength Gatorade, and continued on. Mile 10.
The course is beautiful. You follow along a good stretch of I-390, so there is a bit of traffic noise, but there’s also the Cohocton River, rolling hills, pastures filled with cattle and horses, and a couple of quaint little towns tucked along the way. There were several moments where I took in my surroundings and was overcome with the emotion of simply being THERE, running a marathon, running. Gratitude for every run is something you begin to feel and understand after an injury prevents you from running for weeks, and I was not taking this day for granted.
At exactly 13.1 miles, a guy I’d been chatting with about music said “See ya! I’m done! Have a great run!” and peeled away from the group. How strange it seemed to me – signing up to run a marathon with no actual training, and quitting long before the finish line, before any actual fatigue settled in, because he was just there to enjoy a run! I still felt mostly good; my stomach was not particularly happy, which was unusual since I rarely suffered from digestive issues on training runs, but you don’t run a marathon and expect it to be feel great, right? I could handle discomfort! Hell, this strong body had given birth to four healthy, good-sized babies without drugs…what couldn’t I tackle?
Around mile 18 I started feeling tired. Heavy legs. Angie and I had been talking almost nonstop this entire time and now we were running out of things to say…or rather, I was running out of things to say since I tend to talk and talk and talk and talk. I slurped at a “TriBerry” flavored GU, not a “food” (I use that term loosely) my body was accustomed to consuming, but I needed the energy. More Gatorade. It didn’t help. I was able to keep up the pace a little longer, but by mile 20 I was struggling.
Angie: “Do you want me to push you, or…”
Me: “GO. Run your race. I’ll be fine.” I meant it.
I had mentally prepared for this moment, knowing that Angie had trained with the Hanson Marathon method and was most certainly better equipped to withstand the rigors of the end of the race. To avoid aggravating my IT injury, I had stuck with a more conservative 4-day-a-week training plan, and now I feared it was showing. My pace went from a fairly consistent 9:30 to 10:00…to 10:15. I put in earbuds, loaded up @runningacrossohio’s interview on the “Freedom to Run” podcast, and hunkered down for the final 6.2 miles.
All I wanted to do was quit. I wanted to walk. I wanted to curl up on the side of the road and close my eyes and let the breeze travel over my head, dry off my sweat-soaked clothes. My legs had gone from feeling strong to weighing one hundred pounds each. It was hot. (A bank thermometer read 60 degrees at the end of the race.) I was thirsty but nauseated, afraid to drink too much and have everything come back up. I ate my fourth packet of fruit snacks and swore I would never eat them ever again as they lodged firmly in my throat for the remainder of the race. At that point I was running through a park, and there were onlookers enjoying a cool, beautiful Sunday. Not me. I wasn’t enjoying anything. We were now on city streets, running through Corning. I could see the iconic Little Joe Tower not too far in the distance, and the streets were lined with more and more people. I turned a corner, feeling like I was barely moving, and suddenly there was the finish line! It was SO. FAR. AWAY and I had no more gas in the tank to push myself faster, as much as I longed to truly race to the finish. Nope. The body would not obey the mind, would not listen to the will of my spirit, no matter how hard I wished for my muscles to move.
I saw my friends Amber and Jordynn on the sidelines, who had finished running the half marathon hours before. A high-five from Amber put a smile on my face and I managed to cross that finish line without stumbling, slowed my legs to a halt, and picked up the glass medal I had most definitely earned over the past several months.
I limped to a portapotty. I drank a can of Coke in the space of about two minutes. I needed to eat but the thought of food was so unappealing. Someone handed me a Mylar blanket. I wrapped that piece of crinkly plastic around me like a superhero cape and gingerly sat down with a bagel in one hand and my medal in the other.
I absorbed the feeling of not moving.
I RAN A MARATHON.
I FINISHED A FREAKIN’ MARATHON.
At that moment I needed someone to travel back in time to 1990, when I was in middle school and Mr. Enders told our gym class that anybody could run. He demonstrated the slowest, most pathetic looking walk-jog for us, and I tried to “run” like he did, but my body rebelled even doing that. I couldn’t breathe normally for years because of untreated asthma, and as a result I was terribly out of shape. I also hated any activity that required me to wear shorts because my legs were covered with eczema and I didn’t want anyone to see it.
At that moment I needed someone to tell thirteen-year-old Beth that someday she would run a marathon.
Or tell a broken, self-loathing, emotionally battered adult Beth that someday she would heal her body, her mind, and her spirit, and train to run a marathon.
I’ve heard people say that a marathon is a quest covering hundreds of miles, with a final test of 26.2 miles. To say that I was happy with my finishing time is an understatement. I had three goals for finishing:
- run a 9:30 pace, finish in 4:09
- run a 9:45 pace, finish in 4:15
- run a 10:00 pace, finish in 4:22
Of course one is supposed to simply finish their first marathon and not worry about time, but that’s not really how I roll, so the fact that I solidly achieved my B goal left me feeling pretty darn good.
Angie had finished strong, with a few sub-9:00 miles thrown in at the end (rock star!), and we slowly made our way to the YMCA to change out of our gross running clothes. The ride home through the Finger Lakes region was beautiful and we talked about future running plans, the trials and tribulations of raising four children and encouraging them to run. We both noted that neither one of us was saying “I’ll never run a marathon again.”
Recovery was faster than I thought it would be – I struggled walking down the stairs for a couple of days, but I was back to swimming on Tuesday and running on Wednesday and it felt surprisingly good. Plans are in the making for another marathon in the future, as I consider what worked (cross training!) and what didn’t (RACE NUTRITION! Uninterrupted long training runs!) for this race.