I didn’t think I’d ever run a marathon again after Lakefront 2009 and 2010. Mostly because the training is outrageously hard and takes up most of your life during the fact, and also because the time period directly following marathons doesn’t treat me well. In 2009 I collapsed in a cramping heap in the middle of the Lake Drive and the ambulance had to come. I was wailing in pain, delirious. And in order to stave off the same thing in 2010 I needed to walk it off for 45 minutes afterward. I avoided crowds and friends at the finish because I just needed space. Then there was the trail marathon in 2011 that caused a knee injury…and the 2011 LFM that I signed up for but didn’t train, and DNS’d. So as you can see my track record isn’t so great with 26.2 and I had settled on being a half marathoner.
But something was different this year. In February I signed up to do Lakefront again. I missed being on that course. I had cheered every year that I wasn’t out there, and I wanted to be out there. But even though I wanted it, but I still wasn't sure I could do it. (I didn’t want another 2011 incident where I said I was going to and then didn’t!)
So I kept it a great big SECRET. I told a few key people: Tom, of course, because he’s my biggest cheerleader, and also I needed him to promise early on that like previous years, he would be there to take care of me if I was a wreck at the finish. I told my sisters, I told my close circle and especially my training partner, Rochelle.
During training, as the mileage got bigger and bigger, I tried to hide the fact that I was building up to 26.2 even as I was getting into the 18 milers. Eventually people caught on because duh. By the time I was up to 20, I let the cat out of the bag since I was pretty sure, if I can do 18 and 20 and another 20 without issue, well I think I might just start the darn marathon on October 5th!
And I did. :)
Tom drove me to the start line at early-oclock, which wasn’t actually any earlier than the two of us normally get up. I hadn’t been too nervous until that morning, before that I had thought of it as just another long run. It’s just like 5 hours of running, and some pain mixed in. But now I was nervous that I had forgotten something. It turns out all I forgot were my sunglasses, which I decided I was ok without.
At the start when it was time to line up, something came over me and like a small child I nestled into the crook of Tom’s jacket and cried and could not go. I held on for a really long time. Leaving him and walking over to the corral would make it all really real. He held me, then kissed me for luck, and I went. I soaked up the national anthem, I looked around. I felt the collective nerves, hopes, prayers, energy of the crowd around me. To me, the start line is more emotional than the finish. Anything can still happen when you’re there, and it’s up to you to believe it long enough to get there. Anyway, sniffle… the gun went off!
The blur of the first few miles was mostly focusing on “when can I throw away this dingy old sweatshirt from the Dollar Store?” and seeing how long I could last without music. Sweatshirt lasted for 2 miles. The silence made it 3. Eventually somewhere I launched my gloves and bandana too. Everything started to feel like extra weight. I was heavy and stiff and that feeling really didn’t dissipate like it sometimes does. It wouldn't be a great day. You just know.
But the bright spot in this whole thing was the spectators. My friends, who popped up in random places. Rochelle, Alicia, Tony, and Marty at Concordia when I was still feeling good. Ro offered me sunglasses which I turned down but how sweet! After that boost my smile didn’t fade for a mile! Tom popped up randomly in someone’s driveway after that! He told me I was right on pace, and that helped me feel pretty good about things. Perfect thing to say. Then at an aid station at mile 9, as I was gleefully shouting “AMERICA!” at all the red white and blue volunteers, my sister Kim popped up on the other side with a sign! And I gave her jumpy hugs and blew kisses as I ran off because omg her energy. Love. Then a stretch of no one for a bit. I chugged on.
But by mile 10 I felt like I had hit the wall already, everything hurt, going forward felt impossible, and I was walking and leaning on mailboxes to stretch my quads. These were precious whole minutes ticking away that I could likely not get back. I had a ‘sort of a goal I guess’ that I wanted to finish under 4:45. I had a pace plan too, but I was 15 seconds per mile ahead of the pace plan in the early miles because I was trying not to lose the 4:40 group. Stick to your plan guys! Let me repeat that, stick to the plan! At some point I passed a guy with a whiteboard who changed the current projected finish time to 4:55. Holy crap I lost a lot of time. As long as I was still in front of the 5 hour group though. I refuse to finish after 5.
More walking, more stretching. I couldn’t believe how hard it was. I mean, this was a really bad idea. I knew it was going to hurt but the WHOLE time? The finish felt really far away, like whole cities away. Mile 15. In envisioning the race, I imagined the pain might start at this point, but I had already been agony for 5 miles. I wondered if I could do 11 more miles. At one point I was walking, and a guy passed me and the back of his shirt said “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Whoa. I started running again. I can do this.
I thought I might see some people at Klode Park around mile 19.5 so I took a little walk break before it so I could run when I saw them. During this walk break the 5 hour group passed me. Cue slow-mo “Nooooo!”. I fucking hustled to get in front of them! I would NOT have my spectators miss me because I was lost in that 5 hour group (or God forbid, behind it).
No one at the park….oof. I turned the corner after the aid station and then I heard my name. In the distance a whole huge group was rallying for me! As I ran past all of them and got every high five I could, I tried to look at each face. The signs! The friends! Family! Smiles! Kids! It was Kim, my brother Wade and sister in law and niece and nephew, and Nicole and Sue, and Steena and Mr. Steena! And I fell in love with mile 20. I saw Erica , Chris, and Renee at 21 and more energy! And then Becky!
My smile would not fade now. Something changed. Yes it was hard, and it hurt, but it actually couldn’t get any worse. And I had been taking all my salt tabs and Shot Bloks and drinking on schedule, and I would finish this thing. Less than 10k left to go. So I just kept running, except when I had to massage out a wicked cramp that was starting. But I ran and ran.
More spectators popped up and I passed people and I kept moving when other people were walking. Kim and John and Rochelle and Tony and Marty made another sneak appearance in those late miles and I could barely smile for them but I telepathically thanked them. After the mile 25 sign I just grinned like crazy, this would get done. I did it. I wanted this, and I went and got it, and it would be mine if I could just run for like 12 more minutes.
And I turned into Veterans Park and I could hear the finish cheers and see the funnel, and Kim was actually literally running alongside me now and I asked her for a powerup so I could “sprint” into the finish, and she tagged me with all her energy and I used it and pushed it and WOOHOO I finished!!
Official time was 4:56:52. An 11:20 pace. I find that respectable, and I gained a few minutes in front of that 5 hour group in the last 10k, which was amazing. AND! I didn’t collapse and cramp up at the finish! I felt good! I hung around and was able to thank my spectators for being there and get hugs and congrats!
I also haven’t gotten that sense of happy-tears giddy euphoria. I think in its place is a sense of calm respect. Don’t doubt the distance. The marathon will eat you alive, kids. But you can do it.