Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Marathon Day: An End and a Beginning...

Once upon a time in a land far far away.....

That's how I often view the world. I realized this about myself while chatting with my friend. It has stayed with me since.

I've lived in a world of fairy tales since I was a little girl. I think my love of writing is part of this. Writing the images in my head is something that makes 6 hours seem like one to me. I love it. It is my favorite thing to do next to reading.

I think in hindsight I expected this marathon to be a magical fairy tale experience in which I crossed the finish line an entirely different person. But I realized early on in the race that the person that crossed the finish line was exactly the same person that was at the start line. The marathon itself really was a victory lap of sorts, to quote a very wise person I know. The magic happened long before when I started running 3 years ago.

So details :)

Friday I woke up and was shocked to read the obituary of a friend on social media. I hadn't talked to him in quite a long time. He had helped us move 3 years ago. The last time I saw him was on St Patrick's Day when a group of us got together to go out and celebrate. He was always so much fun. He was the kind of fun that at the end of the night, you might find yourself at a fancy restaurant donning a shamrock tattoo on your cheek with a group of people in green t-shirts and leprechaun hats :)

It's hard when someone dies. It's even harder when they are the same age as you are. And it's harder yet when you find out about it all when you need to run the longest run of your life in like 36 hours.

Later in the day on Friday I drove to get my race bib to lift my spirits & try to get in a good place. The thumping of the music at the Expo did the trick. I left with a smile on my face.

On Saturday I received a message that my little running buddy in, I Run for Michael had been hospitalized. I was really sad reading this but eventually felt even more determined to cross the finish line for both of us.

Saturday night when I finally got to bed, I became convinced I was cursed. Around 10:30, my daughter started feeling sick. By midnight she was done throwing up.

Nothing was going according to my plan.

I think I got about 5 hours of sleep before my alarm went off, at 5 am. After reading an inspiring message that totally steadied me, I dried my eyes and hit the shower feeling determined to stay focused and positive.

I gave a woman I know a ride. She is 69 years old and she did the half marathon! I am lucky to know such amazing people.

I felt great at the start. I got a little teary lining up but I was super focused and ready to go.

I positioned myself behind the 4:30 Pacer dude. He seemed nice. The first mile I got to see a very special person with her big sign!!! It made me very happy.

So happy that I lost my Pacer dude :(

That scared me at first but I quickly recovered and told myself that I was perfectly capable of pacing myself. When I found my heart pounding in my chest and my body moving far too fast, the wind on my face served as a gentle reminder to slow it down. Those oddly familiar moments repeatedly steadied me throughout the entire race, drawing me in to the present moment while simultaneously carrying both my body and my heart and my mind miles away to another place.

It was fun seeing all the spectators lining the streets. 
I passed 2 more friends out on the corner around mile 5. I loved that they made the special effort to make a sign and come cheer me on!

By mile 6ish I reallyyyyy had to pee!! I was pretty much dying at that point. I asked a police officer where the next porta-potty was as I ran by him. He smiled and replied, Oh hun, the next bush?


I was on East Avenue in the middle of the city. Lots of people know who I am because of the nature of my job. 


I said, as I eventually found myself crouched down. Behind a tree. In a bush :(

Never say never....

Suffice it to say I felt much better after making nice with nature! And I even got some applause as I made my way out of the bush and back in with the rest of the runners :)

One big mistake I quickly realized early on was that I underestimated the hills. I have run steeper ones but not this season on such a long run. I slowed my pace considerably to try to compensate.

I got on the canal path around mile 10. The canal path had been my biggest worry. I trained exclusively on roads. And by the time I saw the path a week before, I didn't have enough time to do anything about it. So I decided that I would make the decision to like it. I got on and told myself I liked it. I told myself it was like a cushion for my body.

It was at that point my lost Pacer dude pulled up alongside me. I must have gotten ahead of him somehow! He was happily running along the path with a group of mostly guys. I found myself suddenly surrounded in this glob of sweaty men as it started raining! We were shoulder to shoulder and I felt really boxed in. I started feeling like I was running his race, not mine. So I slowed my pace and let them go. 

I became keenly aware at that point that this was my race and no one else's.

4 or 5 miles in on the canal, I started to get a pain in my right ankle. It seemed to be right on the ankle bone. It was tender to touch. Slowly as I continued on, the pain grew in intensity and moved up the back of my leg getting progressively worse mile after mile. I had to stop and stretch a ton. I tried rubbing it. I started taking regular walking breaks at that point.

Ironically the rain turned to a down pour with strong winds right when a Gun -n- Roses song, November Rain, came on. It made me smile in spite of the weather because I had a quick flashback to my wild and crazy teen years. I remembered my first and only rebel boyfriend :) He was a collegiate tennis player and he looked just like Andre Agassi! He once convinced me to go to a Guns -n- Roses concert with him and his roommate. 

PS Yes, I looked as awkward & as much like a fish out of water as you are imagining, dressed in my college hoodie and rolled up jeans :) The memory made me smile. 

Boy have I come a long way.

At one point the wind was so strong that I felt like I was barely moving. I passed a guy further down that was throwing up so I stopped to ask him if he was ok. Dumb question, right? He motioned that he'd be ok so I kept going.

I started to walk more and more as the pain in my leg grew progressively worse. I ended up breaking my rule of not looking at my cell phone until after I finished. I had told myself pre-race that I would not stop to look at my phone. But as I was on a walk break I looked and I was so happy I did. I had a text from my friend that she and her family were waiting for me at mile 22. I was at mile 18ish at that point. It became a new mini goal. 

4 more miles and you get to see your friends....

I had other texts pushing me on too. One, in particular from a very old friend. We had not talked in 2 years over something stupid. Our friend's death had brought us back together the day before. We had both started running together three years ago. I can't help but wonder if our friend that died might have had something to do with that...

Another friend had also sent an encouraging and inspiring text after finishing a marathon on the other side of the world! I was so happy to read that and it was a huge motivation to keep going!

At mile 22 I picked up some grapes from my friend and her family and I unloaded some stuff I didn't need. It was so awesome to see her. I also said my first and only negative thought at that point. They said I was doing great and I replied that I wasn't. They simply said, YES YOU ARE. JUST FOCUS ON FINISHING. And that's exactly what I did.

I started really struggling again with my injury around Mile 23ish. I was walking and suddenly this guy ran up along side me and started walking with me. It was the guy throwing up earlier! He thanked me for looking out for him a few miles back. We walked together a bit and talked until I felt stronger and then I started running again. He and I continually passed each other in our walk/run to the end, encouraging each other the rest of the way. I was really grateful for him.

At mile 25ish, we found ourselves running together again. I asked him if he thought we would make it in under 5 hours. He looked at his watch and said I think we will! We had 16 minutes.

I wished him well and broke away. I knew I was getting close to the finish and I looked at my hand. That morning, I had purposely put on my mom's ring. I thought of my mom for a quick moment. I silently told her I loved her and that she would always be with me but that I needed to do this on my own. And then I took the ring off and safely put it in my pouch.

I was so distracted at that moment and surprised at what I had done that I almost went the wrong way! Two police officers had to direct me to quick turn left! And just when I turned and looked up after putting the ring away, there on the corner was my mentor all by herself, waving and cheering for me.

I immediately thought to myself, I'm going to be ok. 

It turned out to be the perfect place to have a special moment because when I turned the corner I was faced with a really big hill! Slow and steady I made it to the top.

Later in mile 25ish, I ran into another friend. It was unexpected and awesome! I probably would have walked again if I hadn't run into her. We ran the end together. She is a veteran marathoner and running with her really kept me going. I still remember her saying, I'm not going to lie. We will turn this corner and the last .2 will feel like forever.

As soon as we turned the corner and the finish line was in full view she said, Let's go!

I still don't know where my spark came from. I found this speed and strength I didn't even know was there. My only focus was the finish line. I could hear the crowd, I even heard my name, but I saw nothing but the finish line.

Official gun time for my first marathon 4:55:42.

As I walked off solo for a minute with my medal around my neck, all I could think of was an image from the Wizard of Oz. when the good witch Glinda tells Dorothy... 

You don't need to be helped any longer.
You've always had the power.
You just needed to learn it for yourself.

What's next? More running of course :) But it also turns out that by fulfilling my marathon dream, I uncovered another. I'm going to write my own fairy tale. I'm going to write a book. Writing has been a long time passion and dream of mine. And one thing I have learned during this marathon journey is that dreams are simply plans in packaging:) Stay tuned 

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