[Quick sidenote about my ridiculous memory issues: before writing this post, I wanted to download my blogging software onto my new computer. I’ve used this software (Windows LiveWriter) since this blog was born, and yet it took me 20 minutes of Google searching to remember what it was called. Talk about a time drain. It’s all good now.]
So where did we leave off in part one? Ah yes, I had just reached the halfway point of the marathon. Everything was going just fine. Not exactly easy, off course, but I was relaxed and ready to plough on.
One thing I experienced a lot during this race was an ongoing wave of “I’m doing amazing! This is awesome!” immediately followed by, “Okay, this is getting hard, and it’s only going to get worse.” Then I’d get through the wall of negativity and everything would just be neutral for a while before reaching a high again. It’s like runner’s bipolar disorder.
If you look at the map above, the red part is where the marathoner’s were on our own. The big long straightaway (miles 13-16) wasn’t so bad. I remember smiling a lot and my mood was good. Somewhere during that bit there was a man with a microphone shouting out encouragement. I turned my music down (I only had one earphone in the whole time) and heard him announce that author and runner Amy Marxkors was there on the sidelines. Marxkors wrote a really good running book called the Lola Papers, and I’ve got a signed copy of it at home. Seeing her there with a big grin – in real life, outside of my imagination – was such a big boost, and it kept my mind off the increasing pain for a while.
Speaking of the pain, I really started feeling it during mile 18. At that point, the course had turned into a winding, hilly, gravely mess in Forest Park. Spectators began to dwindle, and some of the people around me were really starting to struggle. One of my biggest problems (and there were about a dozen) was really bad pain in the backs of my knees. I’ve had a little trouble with it before, but nothing like this. My right knee kept experiencing shock-like zings followed by a tendency to give out, and although I could deal with the pain, I was really worried it would just give up and stop supporting me. On top of that, the old left Achilles was was giving me the usual trouble, and the outside of my right foot was also doing something weird.
Things were starting to get difficult.
Amidst all this, I was still having fun. Although the spectator crowds weren’t as big now, they had so much heart. I thoroughly believe in thanking as many of them as possible as I run by. Whether you chalk it up to superstition or just kindness, it really helps my running. So I gritted my teeth and focused on the positivity from them. I also picked a girl just ahead of me to pace myself. “As long as I can still see her,” I thought, “I’m okay.”
Another way I kept myself strong during the race was to think about fueling. I took a gel with water or Gatorade every 5 miles starting at mile 7. Rather than thinking about how much farther I had to run, I thought about how much farther I needed to go until my next GU. I also kept my two favorite flavors (chocolate espresso and double extreme espresso) in my Spi-belt just to make it a little better.
The real race begins at mile 20
It’s so true. Although I wouldn’t say the “race” begins; rather it’s the struggle that begins. It’s like running headlong into a wall of concrete. There’s a physical, mental, and emotional melding of sudden despair, where you don’t seem to be going anywhere, the pain worsens with each step, and there’s nothing you can do to make it better but keep running.
Most of the people around me resorted to a walk/run method, and I’ll be the first to admit that I did some walking, too. I never let myself walk for more than a minute at a time – just enough to master the pain. Energy-wise, I was more than fine. I am so proud of my stamina and endurance during the race. The problem was the blazing tendonitis and knee issues. I started kicking myself for not sticking to physical therapy. I could hear in my head every time I’ve been told, “Wow, you’re so flexible…but you’re going to have a lot of problems if you don’t work on stability.” I really believe that I could have finished much faster without those chronic problems.
And so my pace dropped during the last 6 miles. I forced myself not to cry – because, really, what good would that do? – and trudged on as I watched more and more runners succumb to the aid tents or pull out of the race entirely. Spectators were few and far between and there were no more high fives or whoops of excitement.
The bright point of the last few miles were actually all of the uphill climbs. I think I now have a slight aversion to sharp down hills; they hurt so much more! Every time we went down, my feet fell harder to the ground and my legs just seemed to cry out beneath me. Uphill? Fine with me. I don’t know why, but I liked them. After one particularly big hill, I met up with a fellow first-timer, and she and I ran together for a few miles. Having her there to talk to helped me so much! It was the first time I had genuinely smiled in an hour.
What did not make me smile was one of the medic girls at mile 21. She was shouting out, “I’ve got Tylenol, Vaseline, ice…does any one need anything?” I looked at her and said, “How about the finish line?” and she said, “You’re almost there! It’s just around the corner!”
I’ve never heard a bigger lie. There were still 5 miles to go, thankyouverymuch.
26.2? How about 26.75?
I don’t know if the course was off or I just zig-zagged too much, but I reached 26.2 before the finish line was even in sight. By this point, I was just ready for this thing to be over. I had cut out walking periods at mile 25 and I couldn’t wait to sit down. Slightly angered by the distance shown on my GPS, I looked at the guy next to me and asked him was his GPS said. His showed that we had surpassed 26.2 as well, and he said he had been ready to finish at mile 12. Poor guy.
Anyway, I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw the finish line. Finishing a marathon is intense in every way possible. Yes, it hurts, but it is such an incredible feeling when you realize you are almost there – that you’re about to complete something you’ve been working towards and imagining for months. To actually call myself a marathoner is astounding. And it was about to happen. And what could make it better than to see both Sean’s standing on the sidelines, shouting my name, and a race official giving me a high five just before crossing over?
I am a marathoner. It was the hardest thing I’ve every done, and I’ll be doing more and more. I’ll get faster, stronger, more experienced. This is only the beginning.