So I’m finally sitting down to write a RR about my marathon experience this last Sunday. Actually, more accurately, I’m already sitting, flying somewhere over the middle of the country headed west, and am now not wasting my time sleeping or perusing the Skymall catalog. (Although I’ll have to write another blog bringing you the highlights of the offerings therein)
I would say the weekend began Friday night, when DW and I met up with RunDanRun for the expo! I planned to meet Dan first and surprise Laura, and was jogging to our meetup place when I hear a door open and a voice shout “Nice form!” It was Dan! It’s not entirely uncommon for me to get awkward, random come-on lines from dudes in certain parts of downtown, so I was glad to see that this was someone I knew!
We grabbed some coffee and Dan and I instantly fell into the conversational rhythm of old friends. We talked about nerves, training, screaming infants, and just generally chatted away. We met DW at her office and she joined the ball of prerace excitement. As we walked over to the expo I couldn’t get over the feeling of amazement that this didn’t feel like a meetup at all. In many ways it felt more natural than hanging out with some of my friends of many years. Dan was an old buddy without the old!
We got our race loot, got suckered into buying some stuff (ok, just DW and I. Dude, totally nice overlapping split shorts 2 for $30!), and parted ways with the plan to drive the course the next day. As we got home I began to feel the nerves. I’m always super chill right up to the start of trail races, but for some reason road races have a way of riling up my nervous energy.
Saturday we swung through downtown, letting Dan run out into traffic and leap onto the roof as we sped past (that’s my story) and headed out to the starting area. We warned Dan that although the course is touted as net downhill, many people ignore the “net” part and are surprised on race day. The course actually is long, sweeping rolling hills for the first half of the race. The perception of them gets lost in the adrenaline of early miles, and they can sneak up on you later like a 400lb weighlifter with a hammer to your legs! (My awful race last year)
Driving really helped me remember and Dan to plan his attack on this sneaky course. I was at once excited to run and find out what the ol’ gams could do and sad that DW would not be running beside me. This was only the second race I’d ever done alone, and I was preparing myself for the mental struggle late in the race, fortifying my stubbornness to withstand the self-doubt and urge to quit which pain brings in spades in later miles.
Dinner was just great. We went to a little local place which serves outstanding Italian food in a nice, polished, relaxed atmosphere. The three of us gabbed all through the meal, the conversation flowing like an easy stream, each word washing away another ounce of apprehension and anticipation of the following day, of the guts, pain, and possible self-satisfying glory to be earned. By the end of the meal we were all a lot less nervous. It’s amazing what good company can do!
3:30 came really early. I’d gotten about 4 hrs of restless sleep and hoped that it was enough fuel to feed the furnace in the coming hours. I got dressed, lubed up (not dir-tay), and ate what I could. I’m not a morning eater so it wasn’t much. DW, an angel, got up to drive me to our running club’s bus at 4:30!
It was quite a ride up to the start! The club calls it a “party bus”, but I didn’t expect the scene I found inside. 25 excited runners, neon lights, chrome accents, booming speakers, and at one point a disco ball! All we needed was a fog machine! Er, wait, nevermind…
It was great to be able to stay in the bus ‘til the start to stay warm, it was around 36*, and I’m no Dave. Like a chinchilla, I like a nice 20 degree window, from 40 to 60. (Seriously, look up chinchillas. They can only live from like 75*-85*. Adorable, ridiculous animal)
Honestly, I had no solid goals for this race. It had taken waaaay longer than I expected to fully recover from our 50M in Oct, and I had been really flaky about running the previous three weeks. Every forced long run had ended in head-drooping misery, and I really didn’t know what to expect from my rested, untrained legs. I hoped that I still had enough base from ultra training to carry me through, and if I broke 4hrs I’d be ecstatic, although I only needed a 4:34 to PR. I felt like I was setting off on the Oregon Trail with an untested wagon that “theoretically should” get me there.
The race began and I settled into a nice rhythm, a little ahead of the 4hr pace group. They started a bit slow and I noticed that a mob of people were following behind. I figured I’d rather run ahead a bit so if things got really bad, I could fall back and latch onto the group as a hail mary plan.
Miles 1-6 went past in a blur of crowd weaving and form obsession. I was starting to loosen up, but knew it would take a while. I didn’t expect to warm up until 15 or so. My hammy knotted up a bit at 8, but not bad enough to disrupt my form. I hit 8.5 and saw the gang! Mom, Dad, MIL, and DW!!! I heard DW’s shout well before I saw them, and literally jumped into the air flailing when I approached them. I must’ve looked ridiculous judging by the crowd’s laughs and cheers. I was feeling good and seeing them really put a pep in mah step! I got a good luck kiss from DW and kept the motor running, not wanting to lose mental momentum.
By 15 the hammy had worked out and I was warmed up. All systems check: Status good! Cruising along, it became apparent how used to trails I’ve become, as the pavement began to hurt my tender pansy-feet. I also felt it in my knees, but had learned to have faith in my legs through endless miles of ultra training. If something’s bad enough that I should stop, it will stop me. I won’t have a choice. If I’m running, I’m ok. It’s too easy to let your head decide when your legs have had enough, and it can’t be trusted. There are too many “self-preservation instincts” and “stress avoidance mechanisms” at work up there. Those are for suckers. We’re marathoners. We run through the pain and prove that the head is wrong, feeding it a heaping pile of crow in the form of a finish line.
This faith is what I survived on the last 6 miles. The air thickened, the road hardened, the pain insisted on my recognition of it, and a choice presented itself. I think it’s a choice everyone faces at some point in a marathon.
“Where do I set my threshold?”
At this point I flipped a switch. I suddenly found myself in the state I’ve employed in the later miles of ultras. Pure objective, detached, logical assessment of my status.
Muscles torn? No.
Tendons/ligaments inflamed? A little, not inhibiting movement.
Legs tired? Yes, but not cramping.
Breathing ok? Lungs burn, but not gasping. No biggie.
Heartrate high? Kind of, not dangerously so.
Then what’s the pain? What is making me want to stop so badly?
It’s my head. It’s not my body. I feel like everything hurts, but I can’t pinpoint it.
My body can do this.
I can run.
I can run!
I WILL RUN!!!
I walked three times in those last 6 miles, for 30 seconds each. I kept a decent pace and when the 4hr pace group caught up, I ran away from them like I stole somethin’. I saw DW again at 21, and her presence gave me a shot of energy I can’t explain, like she stirred up my soul and it hardened into an uncompromising determination to remain strong to the end.
25 came and things were getting a little hazy. I was walking the tightrope, balancing effort and awareness, and just holding on for a little longer. In my head I chanted “Just keep running, just keep running, just keep running…”
I saw our sport massage wizard, and she shouted, “You look good! Shorten your stride!” Like a robot I obeyed, calling my attention back to maintaining form, maintaining effort, and nothing else.
When I turned the corner and saw the finish arch, I gave it all I had left to give. I pushed my legs as hard as they would go, then harder. I glanced at my Garmin and was shocked by the 6:50 pace staring back!
Crossing that line felt like diving into a pool of relief and joy. I knew that I’d broken 4hrs, but the real prize was the struggle that had led there. It had forced me to prove that I wanted it, that I refused to relent, that I was willing to deny weakness to attain uncompromising determination. Official time – 3:59:10.
I met DW first, and she simply said, “I’m proud of you.” Heart flutter.
I then met Dan and found out that he’d run an amazing race with heart but fell slightly short of his goal.
The parents came up and hugs abounded. More pride in the form of incredulous smiles and arm punches (Dad). All the nerves, joy, and pain of the last four hours culminated in a rush of contentment at that moment. It was a feeling like no other.
DW had brought Blue Moons for “recovery and rehydration” so Dan and I sat on the lawn of the State’s capitol, resting our aching legs and taking in the best beer I’ve ever tasted. It had been a hard race for both of us and DW’s proud smiling face held all the comfort I felt I’d ever need.
This was why I run.
Run happy and healthy, friends.