To be honest, I wasn't sure this would ever happen.
On Sunday I became a marathoner. What. Did. I. Just. Say? Wow.
For those that don't know, I've DNS the Chicago Marathon TWICE. I also DNS countless 5k's and one half marathon. I also had one DNF of a half marathon a few weeks ago after dropping out at a medical tent at the half way point. All due to injuries.
I really had given up on trying to start another marathon. My body just isn't built for it. But, then, my hometown announced it would have it's inaugural Marathon this November. How could I not do this? How could I not try?
I was hoping the fact that the race date was one month later than Chicago I would avoid some nasty hot long summer runs. I did a pretty good job of juggling my training and getting those runs in on cooler days. The first third of training went along well. I got in my runs. I felt pretty good. However, as I got to the midway point of training, per usual, my body started to break down. Soreness turned to pains. Just before my half marathon I started to suffer from Plantar Fasciitis. Oh my, is that a painful injury. Horrible to try to run on. I did not run at all for almost two weeks. Then DNF that half and was off the foot for almost a week. Ran a 12 the next weekend. In pain. But, kept doing the exercises and wearing a special sock at night which all quickly made it better.
However, I had lost a lot of my training. I had to build back up again. While still suffering from a little pain. What I struggled with more, though, was my mental state. I was in a pretty bad running funk. I was feeling defeated. Once again. I was overwhelmed with the mountain of miles ahead of me. I was overwhelmed with my work schedule and my inability to get in runs because I was just too tired. I was..... stuck. In all senses.
So, I cut out runs. I had already cut out one run per week late in the summer because my schedule made it too hard. I also worried about overtraining for my dumb body. So, now I cut another run per week. Nuts, I know. But, mentally and physically I just could not do it. I made sure I got all my long runs in. Then one mid. If I was lucky I did one short. IF.
I got through my 20 miler. Only because I met up with a training group who gave me the motivation to get out of bed that morning. Also, because a woman I did not know, Maryann, ran with me start to finish.
Next thing you know I'm at the expo. I went to the expo three different times. Once to walk around by myself. Another time to meet a friend and pick up my packet. Then back again to meet another friend who decided at the last minute to run her half even though she wasn't trained.
When I saw my bib with my name on it it really sunk in. The next day I would finally be at the start line for a marathon.
Needless to say I couldn't sleep that night. I woke up at 4:30, fifteen minutes before my alarm was to go off. I gathered up my race gear, got dressed, texted some friends about our meetup and off to the race I went. I met up with my good friend Tom outside the port a potties, of course. We went inside the stadium to keep warm as we waited for the start time. Warm and cozy in there with all the runners. Also, real bathrooms. With no line. They were right about this being a "boutique race". ;) We huddled in there as other friends came in one by one.
My childhood friend, swimming teammate, and fellow swim coach, Carrie met me there. I have not seen her in, maybe 15 years? It was fun to see her again and catch up a bit. Other running friends, Janel, Melissa and Jim came in too. Then my running angel, Michelle joined us. She was not running today. But, would be taking my place as a cheerleader. She gave me some encouraging words. Then, she handed back the band I gave her before her last marathon:
Race start was nearing so we all headed outside to drop our stuff at gear check and head toward the start. Somewhere in that process I lost everyone but Tom. We headed over to the start line and stopped short to wait for my friend (and Esprit de She triathlon teammate) Lisa who was texting me that she was on her way. It got a bit close to race start, so Tom wished me well and went up to his pace time start. I was just about to walk into the mass of runners when Lisa came up. I'm so glad we found each other. We have signed up for lots of the same races without ever having seen each other race day. So, this was a first. Lisa had signed up for the half but decided not to do it. She had some life crap going on recently and hadn't been running. However, I kind of bugged her the day before to just go out and have fun. With her husband's encouraging, she was a last minute yes to run.
I was glad she was there with me because she kept my mind of being COMPLETELY freaked out. Lis was only in short sleeves and shorts, and freezing. So when I wasn't hugging her to keep her warm she was silently begging people to shed their throwaways. As soon as clothes started dropping, Lisa started rummaging. Oh my, we were laughing so hard at her. Everyone else is shedding clothes and Lisa is picking them UP. Then our conversation moved to the woman in front of us and her incredibly long false eyelashes. We couldn't get over them. And, why someone would wear such things for a race. Again, it kept me from freaking out.
Next thing you know we are in the next wave. And, we're off! We take a few running steps.... and my fuel belt breaks and falls to the ground. Bottles everywhere. Runners jumping over them. And, me. Yikes. Thankfully, before I could freak out, Lisa calmly gathered everything together for me, gently told me, "you are alright, you are alright" and we were on our way again. Exhale. We ran up the first hill together, at which point I told the faster Lisa to have a great race. Off she went.
The weather was perfect for the race. It was low 30's to start, mid to upper 40's to end. Clear blue and sunny skies. It. Was. Beautiful. Loved it. The sea of runners in their colorful gear running down long stretches of road, snaking through the winding trails of the prairie path as the sun rose.... stunning. Having a woman on a majestic horse ride alongside the trails as she cheered on everyone running by.... amazing.
I felt ok starting out. I never really feel good. So, I kept it slow and let people pass me as they may. Around mile 3 I saw Michelle and her sister Bobbi cheering. So fun to see their smiling faces! Around this time I also started to loosen up and noticed my pace dropping quite a bit. I worried about going too fast. My goal was to just finish. Under 6 hours was the goal. Slow and steady. But, I also wanted this to be over. Ha. So, I started to go with the pace I was feeling. For a bit. Until I really started to worry I would crash. I constantly was looking at my watch and slowing myself down. But, I still felt like I was moving. I came up on the 2:30 half pace group and ran behind them for a bit. But, I felt too slow, so eventually passed them. I could see the next pace group up ahead and was gaining on them. But, then we hit the trails of Springbrook. I knew we would have Stripper Hill (what Lisa and I call it when we run there). I hate that hill. I wasn't in shape to run that hill. So, I walked it. I lost some time here.
I kept a consistent pace going throughout these trails. I know this area backwards and forwards. So, I knew where the hills were. Where the turns were. It was so comfortable. I knew there was a slight uphill in the middle followed by a nice downhill. I couldn't wait. I coasted down the hill and was ready to make the next turn when I saw someone in the crowd holding a sign. With my name on it. And, another sign, with DO EPIC SHIT on it. It was my friend Greg. I ran over to him and gave him a huge hug, thanked him, and told him I loved him. He gave me some encouraging words and I was on my way.
Out from the trails at about mile 8 we headed through a neighborhood. Again, I saw Michelle and Bobbi. Yeah! Shortly after mile 9 I saw my family. My niece, Jess, came running out to me and then they took me in like an Indy car at a pit stop. Jess, taking off my shoe to massage my cramping toes, my nephew feeding me a banana, my sister refilling my bottles. My family made a great race crew. Well done family!
Immediately after this, we hit the river path. Half marathoners headed left and back to the finish. Full marathoners headed right.... for another 17 miles. I have to admit, that turn was tough to take. Knowing they only had 4 miles left..... and I DIDN'T kind of broke my spirit a bit. But, I had chalked up some motivation on the path for my friends at that point.... and I included one for me. So, as I ran over it, I stepped hard on it. And, ran on.
I was getting really tired. My legs were already feeling it. I was now heading into a part of the race I did not know . Neighborhoods I did not know. I didn't like not knowing where I was running. I struggled to keep going. I started to take small walk breaks. But, I kept moving. It's at this time David passed me. Talk about inspiration.
Shortly after mile 13 we hit a very long slow gradual uphill road. It felt like it went forever. I had no intention of running it. I walked briskly. Behind a bearded guy in a kilt. He was my carrot. The hill never ended. Thankfully, at the top I saw my family again. They had just gotten there and were running out of the car. Jess asked what I needed. I said I was fine and just ran past them. It was good to see them. But, I needed to keep going.
More twists and turns through a neighborhood. Then onto Green Valley. Into the woods. Onto the path. Kind of in the middle of nowhere. And, hills. Lots and lots hills around every corner. It. Was. Awful. Shortly after 14 we briefly exited the trails onto a road. To a beautiful long downhill. It was wonderful. I may or may not have raised my hands and yelled "wheeeeee!!!!" as I ran all the way down. Ahhhh. But, short lived. Back to the hills. Another very long stretch slowly uphill on a road. It was pretty lonely out there. No spectators. Runners spread out. I got passed by Santa Clause. Talk about spirit killing. Sigh. Having to chase down Santa, well, sucked.
Then, mile 17, back onto the trails. Thankfully, as we entered was an aid station staffed by a local boys high school cross country team. They had all the energy and then some. They were high fiving me. Force feeding me oranges. Just generally making me giggle. I needed that. Thank you boys. Back on the trail I met Rob. A man older than me on his 5th marathon. We talked briefly. Then passed each other over and over again the next few miles.
Mile 18.5 I came around the corner of feeling very alone on the trail to see a decent size group of spectators ahead. As I got a little closer, I saw my family. *Insert smile here*
I waved and they gave me a huge cheer as Jess ran over to me to give me another one of her much needed hugs and "You are doing great. We are so proud of you".
At this point my lower back was really hurting me. The pain was going down into my left hamstring. It was really preventing me from doing a steady run for long periods of time. So, I asked for ibuprofen. Then I started to take off. But, as I did so, all the other friends and families who were silent as I talked to my family loudly started cheering for me. It was awesome.
I finally made it mile 20. I knew the second I walked past this marker it would be the furthest I had ever run. I got a bit emotional here.
Shortly thereafter, I exited Greene Valley trails. Oh my was I happy to be out of there. As I stepped on the road to run there was a small group standing there. As I quickly ran by them I said, "Well, THAT sucked". To which they all laughed. As I took off I realized that one of these people was my friend, Derick on his bike. He had mentioned to me he would be at mile 20. But, I figured there was no way he would be there when I ran by. I was surprised and thrilled to see him there. He rode alongside me and chatted with me a bit as I tried to get some kind of steady pace. He had run 21 miles of the race already pacing on a first time marathoner friend to her first finish (3:13. whoa). Yet, he was back here at 20. Riding with me. He is an uber sick fast runner. I am completely the opposite of him when it comes to running. Yet, here he was supporting me. Amazing. He kept me company. Talked to me when I felt like it. Kept quiet when I didn't. Slowed down when I walked. Just what I needed.
At mile 21.5 I saw Greg and Michelle together cheering. I gave them both huge hugs. Michelle dropped her sign and started running with me. I told her I was ok. She insisted. So, now I had Derick on one side, Michelle on the other. She and her bubbly chat kept encouraging me on. At around 22.5 Tom showed up. He had run his half. THEN run back through the race to find me. How awesome is that? VERY. So, NOW I had Derick, Michelle, AND Tom on my running posse. I felt like an elite runner being pace to a marathon win. Ok, well, maybe not a win. But, ya know.
At mile 23 Derick took off. He was not permitted on the path with his bike. He had already got in trouble for that earlier. So, I gave him a hug and thanked him and off Michelle, Tom and I went. When we turned onto the path I felt a change. A change of purpose. Get. Me. To. The. Finish. Not only were we only 3.2 miles away. We were now on the path I run every day. I know this path. This is my path. This is my home. Literally. I didn't have to think about how we were 3.2 miles away. I KNEW we were 3.2 miles away. I knew how to get there.
At mile 24 my friend Julie T was standing at a corner waiting for me. She yelled my name. I was surprised to see her. She ran up to me and gave me a hug. She was crying. Oh, shit, don't get me started Julie. Not yet. I got 2 miles to go! It was wonderful to see her.
Tom and Michelle kept me giggling and moving forward. I'm not sure what we even talked about but I know a few times I had to stop because I was laughing so hard. It sure helped keep
my mind off my pain. Oh, I had to stop a few times for that too. Whatever. My walking became much faster. So fast, that when I stopped my running to walk, Tom and Michelle could not keep up with me. Well, let's state for the record that Michelle has an achilles injury and should NOT have been running. And, Tom, well, he was into his 18th mile of the day. So much for not running the full, Tom. ;)
One mile to go and the two of them were on me like white on rice. Every time I stopped to walk they yelled at me (filled with love) to run. Sometimes I listened. Sometimes I didn't. I kept looking at my hand. They both told me to stop looking at my watch. I tried. But, I looked again. Tom gave me "a look". I told him I wasn't looking at my watch. I was looking at my hand. Jay is a mutual running friend of Tom and mine. He recently was involved in a freak accident that left him paralyzed. I wrote his name on my hand as a reminder when it got tough out there, when I needed to push it when I didn't think I could, that I would think of Jay. Be inspired by him. Run.
So, I ran. And, I passed Santa here. Hey, I PASSED SANTA!!!!
Final turn into the stadium area. I was close. I was oh, so close. Ah, but, I knew what was ahead. One final hill. A short, but steep and nasty hill. I used to swim here as a kid. I remember riding up and down this hill. I surely knew it wouldn't be fun to walk/run up it. But, with Tom and Michelle by my side. I got up it. Swearing all the way I believe. At the top Tom ordered me to run the rest. I needed a big inhale and a moment to do so.
Then I ran. With everything I had left, I ran. With all the injuries. All the pain. All the funks. Everything that had held me back. I ran.
I hit the corner for the finish chute to find my childhood friend Julie F, who ran the half, waiting for me. I was running as fast as I could. I could not believe I was running into the finish line of a marathon. Just like my first half marathon in 2008, I started to get emotional. I started to hyperventilate. Julie was talking to me, but I have no idea what she was saying. All I was focusing on was that finish line. And breathing. She ran along side me as I ran to the finish, leaving me just before to run it in strong alone.
I crossed the finish line. Got a huge hug from Julie. Then I just stood there. In amazement. I couldn't believe it. I really couldn't believe it. One of the race directors, Bob, was there and came over and gave me a hug. I had done some of the summer training runs where he was at, in addition to another marathon training group runs where I saw him. It was very cool to get a hug from him. He congratulated me. I believe I immediately said, "Greene Valley sucked". He laughed and said, 'yeah, I've heard that a bit today".
Julie and I went into the food tent. Grabbed some water, oranges, whatever I could. Oh, hey, Italian beef sandwiches? Come on..... gotta love a race with Italian beef! When I exited the tent there stood my family, Greg, Julie, Tom & Michelle. Jess ran up to me and gave me the hugest hug and told me she was proud of me. We all stood around for a bit talking about my race. It was wonderful to have all these people here at the end for me. Another race director, Pat, saw me and congratulated me. I also ran with her on a training run this summer. She had heard about all my struggles with running a marathon. So, she gave a quick shout out to whomever was standing around that I finally did it. Awww, thanks, Pat. She also had seen my cartwheels I did post training runs. So, I decided to do one. Needless to say, on wobbly legs it was not my best. But, I did it. Fitting, I think.
|Michelle & Tom. My epic running posse.|
Gradually everyone went home. Greg stayed with me while I got a free massage. Then we met our friend Jennie for lunch at the pub across the street. We sat and drank beers and caught up. Laughed way, way, way too hard. It was wonderful. At one point they both went to the bathroom. Leaving me alone at the table. I sat there reflecting on the day. How amazing it all was. How amazing my family and friends were.
As I told someone today, the two times I have felt the most loved in my life were at my dad's funeral, when my friends jumped on planes and stood by my side and hugged me and fed me beers afterwards (Ironically enough, it was in the same pub and table where I now sat) - and, then, my marathon day.
I cannot even begin to express the extent of my gratitude to everyone who was there for me on this day. Every single person made this happen for me. I may have taken every one of those steps. But, I did not take them alone. From those physically there with me on race day to all my virtual friends who sent all those texts and messages to me pre-race, during the race, and post race.
Today as I type this I received yet another message. From an old high school friend whom I rarely interact with, but who followed my posts on facebook:
"You inspire me. I write a journal entry from time to time. Here's mine for today:
Lots of marathons going on. I've been supportive from afar. After all, the only time I run is if I'm being chased. Conquering a marathon is like conquering life's challenges with a cheering section. Bliss. I drove past the marathon runners today. Complete strangers were encouraging each other to succeed. Imagine if that was commonplace in life. Oh, the possibilities."
I replied, "Oh, Kris, it is possible. This I know for sure. I saw it. I felt it. It happened to me. It happens to me. Just start running. You will see. I promise"
I could go on and on an on about this day and the people that made it happen for me. I cannot stop thanking them enough. It was a hard road here. More than a few bumps in the road. But, I had angels in my outfield. All along the way. Different ones at different times. But, all on my team. Some always sitting next to me on the bench. Always making sure I got back at the plate. Finally, I batted. Sure, it wasn't a home run. But, I made it back to home plate nonetheless. And, really, isn't that all that matters?
You only get to run your first marathon once. It surely will be something I will never, ever, forget.
|It wouldn't be right if I didn't end the day like this.|