“The miracle isn’t that [we] finished. The miracle is that [we] had the courage to start.”
--My take on a quote from John “the Penguin” Bingham
I ran my first marathon on Sunday. And it was...awesome! So much fun! I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn't think running a marathon is a completely insane pursuit. And I know you're out there: dad, Gretchen, anyone else?
The actual running of the marathon took place on Sunday, but of course it started long before then.
I guess I first got the idea this summer after my husband and I did our second relay this summer. (Talk about a completely insane pursuit. For those of you who have never done one, it's basically 24 hours in a van with five other sweaty people running approximately 200 miles - 10 to 18 miles each - with very little sleep. And it's a ton of fun. )
I thought to myself, okay, I did that again, what's next? I had already run a couple of half marathons (one brutal and one easy) and I'm not much of a biker, which rules out a triathlon (although now...) so....the marathon.
I have always been better at distance than speed so this made a lot more sense than trying to run a five minute mile (in addition to having the added advantage of being POSSIBLE), plus all the books, running mags, and websites these days were saying that anyone could run a marathon so, why not?
Starting out, I didn't tell anyone, not even my husband, what I was thinking about. I just set about training for a half marathon in September that a couple of members of our relay team were running. I ran that race in 2 hours and 17 minutes, my personal record for the half marathon (remember what I said about running fast?).
So after that I really felt like: what's next?
The only answer I could come up with was the full marathon. So, I started to train, but I still didn't tell anyone what I was planning (except for my husband) in case it all went belly up.
I got up to 15 miles pretty easily, but going from 15 to 18 was torture and I almost didn't. But then I did, and I was so glad. I felt exhilarated and accomplished. And I started telling people.
It didn't make any sense the order in which I told people. I didn't tell my closest friends and family first, I told relative strangers, people at the running store, a mom at my kids' school I hardly ever see. Then, slowly, word started to get out and people were asking me about it. It made me kind of uncomfortable at first, but I just thought: I'll do it and it will all be okay.
We lined up around 8:00AM. I had run into a dad from my kids' school in the waiting area and saw him again at the start so I started the race with him even though I knew that put me in a group much faster than I would be running. We stretched and chatted for a few minutes (this was his first marathon also, he was running it on his 35th birthday, he also had a cold) then, finally....we were off.
My strategy was to start slow and stay slow so I jogged across the start line barely breathing, watching the faster runners stream past me in all manner of running gear. I saw at least two people I had read about in Runner's World magazine: the barefoot runner guy and the guy in the pink tutu, lots of people I thought I knew but didn't, men and women, old and young, fitter than me and less fit than me (one thing I have learned from all this running is that you just cannot tell how fast a person runs by what they look like, men younger and fitter than me run slower and women older and heavier run faster).
Once everyone had passed me and I had settled into my "race pace" (around 13 minute miles I'm guessing) I started to worry that I was going to be the very past person in the race. I tried to embrace this, to tell myself that it would be a privilege to come in last, but I couldn't quite come to terms with this and I had to look back. There were runners behind me for miles. I took comfort in this and plodded on.
I had gone about a mile or so at this point and came to the first porta potty. I already had to go, but didn't want to stop so I ran - uncomfortably - past it and immediately regretted it. My second miles was spent looking for the next chance to pee, which fortunately came at mile marker #2 and the first water stop.
The previous night I had decided, due to a last minute cold that came on Thanksgiving Day and some last minute reading in, "Marathon, You Can Do It!" by John Galloway, to experiment with the "Gallowalk" (walk one minute for every mile you run) on race day. When someone had previously mentioned it to me (including the fact that most people who use this technique actually finish faster than those who run the whole thing) I had dismissed it as, "cheating." But, when it came down to not doing the race at all or doing it with a bit of walking, I chose the latter.
On race day our friend Tom, who was doing the half with my husband, said he had started a few years back walking through the water stops so he could actually drink the water. This made a lot of sense to me so I decided to adopt the "Tomowalk" for my marathon, which meant I would be walking approximately 16 minutes of the race (one minute at each water stop).
So, mile 2. The first water stop. First things first, I used the porta potty, then grabbed a cup of water and a cup of Gatorade. Three sips of Gatorade were enough so I dumped it, then pulled out my very squished pb and j and took a couple of bites. Finished the water and took off running.
Just after mile 2 the course went up a freeway exit ramp and onto the I90 express lanes toward the I90 floating bridge. This was a nice bit of the run with a view of Seattle not many people get outside of a car. Plus, it's almost completely flat once you get on the bridge. I ran steadily for awhile, listening to conversations: the men making jokes or comparing training regimens, the women complaining about husbands and boyfriends. I saw the dad I had started with coming back across the bridge and we exchanged words of encouragement.
At the second water stop (mile 4) I stuck to my routine and walked one minute, took three sips of Gatorade, a few bites of sandwich and a whole cup of water then took off running again.
Around mile 5 I decided it was time for some music.
I pulled out my iPod shuffle (thanks Cindy!) and put on some tunes. I ran to the music for the next 18 miles.
From the floating bridge the course went down another off ramp and into the arboretum along Lake WA Blvd a very winding road along Lake Washington. This was a long stretch of the course and would have been very boring were it not for the music, the scenery and the people watching.
It was around this point that I started texting. Yes, texting during a marathon!
My husband had asked me to text him during the race so he knew where I was at and he and the kids could come and cheer me on. At first I thought this was an insane request and I told him I didn't think I was going to be able to do that. He said, at least let me know when you are halfway so I said I would try.
Mile 9 is right about in the middle of the long stretch down to Seward Park so I pulled out my cell phone and whipped off a quick "9" while running.
Immediately I got back a "Go girl!" and I was hooked. I started texting at every water stop. At first just to my husband, but then I went crazy. I texted my running partner who wasn't able to run with me because she was about to have a baby. I texted my sister and my mom and dad, all of whom were coming out to see me run. I texted a couple of friends who had sent me "good luck" emails the night before. And all of their texts helped keep me going through that long, flat stretch of road, "I'm so proud," "Sending lots of energy and love," "Love you," "Woo Hoo!"
At this point I had fallen into a group of runners towards first third of the back of the pack which included a guy running in combat boots and camouflage with what looked like a hundred pound pack on his back. Talk about feeling inadequate. I could almost see the thought bubble over his head, "I'm running this slow because I have a hundred pounds on my back, what's YOUR excuse?" Despite the silent taunting of his backpack, I kept going.
Finally we got to the Seward Park lap right around the 11 mile mark. A lot of runners seemed to hit their wall around this point because going around the path it felt like I was nearly alone. A couple of times I looked around just to make sure I was still on the right track. There were numbered bibs ahead of me and behind me. All was well.
Water and a short walk again at mile 14 and then back on the LONG stretch of road along the lake - even longer this time because we would take this road all the way up to our next turn just after mile 20.
I don't remember a lot about this part of the race. I was listening to music and texting, feeling pretty good over all and just kind of zoning out in that way you do on a long run.
There was a water stop just after mile 19 which kind of screwed me up. The water stops had been every two miles almost exactly, but this one was just a bit further than a mile past the previous one. I remember thinking mile 20 had come up pretty quickly, but I didn't question it and even sent a "Mile 20. Still running," text to one of my friends.
Then I actually came to mile 20. And I hit the wall hard. I had to take my ear buds out because the effort of listening to the music was just too much.
Luckily, my family was waiting for me just over the hill around mile 21 and it was great to see their happy, smiling faces and to hear their cheers. It gave me the boost I needed for the next couple of miles.
At mile 23 something shifted and I got into a zone I hadn't been in before or since. It must be some kind of an "almost there" zone because I was just happy. I knew I was going to make it and I didn't feel that bad and I just felt happy.
I ran by two women, one younger and obviously running her first marathon and struggling, on the verge of tears, not sure she could do it. The other woman was older and wiser, obviously a marathon veteran, and she was encouraging the younger woman, giving her pointers and tips on how to finish, how to make it to the end, and what was coming up.
As I listened to her describe the upcoming terrain I realized that it meant nothing to me. At this point, there were no hills, there was no flat, there was only running.
At the finish my family was waiting for me again and I got big hugs from my kids and my parents, my husband and my sister. Then there was food and water and goo and the space blanket and it all went by in a blur. I couldn't stop walking, I just wanted to walk up and down the field in the stadium to keep loose.
Finally we went home and I took a bath and then a long, long nap.
Now that it's over and people are asking me how it went my standard answer is, "It was so much fun!"
I think many people think I am crazy - or worse - bragging, but what they don't realize is that discipline (the stuff of which the marathon is primarily made and run) is no big whoop for me.
I've got discipline in spades. It's in my veins. Born of and raised by the children of Iowa farmers, whose families lived through the Great Depression and whose very lives and livelihoods depended on a bushel of discipline, being disciplined isn't really much of a stretch for me. I am grateful for it and it has served me well in my life so far, but what I need now to grow as a person is something else.
I need experiences that open me up, that push my boundaries and make me uncomfortable. I need to run TOO fast, talk TOO loud, express TOO much. I need wildness and craziness and wild abandon.
So what's next for me? I don't know. But whatever it is I hope it has me hanging on by my fingernails, crossing my toes, eyes wide open, jumping off a cliff (metaphorically speaking) screaming, "F**K Yeah!" at the top of my lungs.