Last weekend, I did it! As I shared in my blog in May, I have carried the disappointment of a marathon attempted and failed more than a decade ago around with me. Sunday, October 6th, over the course of 26.2 miles, I shed that burden and left it to be swept away like so many crushed water cups. I was free. It was wonderful.
Let’s back up and talk a bit about how I got to race day. I would give myself about a “6” for training effort- I faithfully did my long runs, and at first was extremely good about my shorter interval and tempo runs (totaling 3 runs a week). With five or six weeks to go before the race, I began to struggle to get my shorter runs in- until in the last few weeks before the race, I completed just two runs in the last two weeks. You might say that I really aggressively tapered or that life gets busy (especially with that new job!), but I know I could have come into the race better prepared, even though I had a solid foundation for the distance.
Despite the somewhat haphazard end to my training plan, I felt pretty confident going into race day. Primarily because I felt determined that they would need to scrape me off the road before I would leave the course with even one meter of the race not covered.
Race day smiled on all of us in Portland- a cool, crisp morning and shining, robin’s egg blue skies. At 5:30am I got up, wandered down to the hotel bar for some watery but still serviceable oatmeal and coffee. Then up to my room to gear up and head for my starting corral. I broke a common rule and changed up my gear for the day- but I’ll break the suspense and tell you it worked out fine. At the Race Expo on Saturday, I spotted this nifty little item called the Roo Sport Pocket– it’s essentially a little pouch that you can tuck inside your waistband and it has a little flap with a magnet to secure it in place. I decided I’d try it instead of the bulky and more traditional belted fanny pack. It held my iPhone, ID, and a small bag of trail mix that would be my fuel during the race. Add to that my Garmin and a water bottle and I was ready to hit the road.
Down in the corral, I waited surprisingly calmly for the start. Normally, I am a bundle of nerves, even before a 5k fun run, but today I felt excited but also filled with deep purpose. Before the race began, everyone sang the national anthem together, which was when I learned that I have forgotten some of the words, so had to sort of “hmmm, dah blah, murmur, murmur” through it. Then, final mad dash to a porta-potty, count-down and we’re off!
We can now fast forward through the next 18.5 miles, because they would be boring to you. Readers, especially non-runners, really only want to hear about how awful running is, so they can continue to hate it. Don’t worry- I’ll get there. Those first 18.5 miles were easy and fun, there was music, and beautiful scenery, chatty runners, and real-time tweets from yours truly! No slowing me down!
Shortly after passing over the St. John’s bridge (which was magnificent), I sprung a leak. Fortunately, it wasn’t THAT kind of leak, which can be common on long runs- rather, it was as if all that sunny, bouncy, lovely energy that had just carried me bouyantly along for 3+ hours, was seeping out of me as swiftly as air from a badly punctured tire. By the time I hit mile 20, I had hit the proverbial “wall,” though it felt more like I was being invisibly and repeatedly run over by a steamroller. One additional “fun” surprise, was that my toes hurt terribly. I guess after that long, my shoes that normally are oh-so-comfy, are actually just a bit too small, so my toes were in agony with every step, especially with even the slightest downhill slope- which if you know the Portland course, is pretty much the last six miles. Sad face.
From miles 20 through 23, I stopped at every water station, greedily drinking several cups of water. I made the mistake of refilling my water bottle (after exhausting the Nuun I had started the race with) with the energy drink on the course instead of plain water. I developed a pretty bad stomach ache after trying the unfamiliar drink and that misjudgment stayed with me all the way to the finish.
Mile 22 was probably the low point and I could no longer muster the energy to tweet, if I had, it would have been only to tweet the word #despair repeatedly. Staying on my feet and moving forward was taking all the focus I had.
Luckily, after mile 23, you realize that you could army crawl to the finish if you needed to and a sense of practicality kicks in. I thought to myself, you might as well change gears from “stagger” to “shuffle” since shuffle is mildly faster and will get you out of this hellish race sooner.
Also, a note to spectators- I love the funny, creative signs and they are a great distraction on the course. Except for the sign that says, “This seemed like a good idea 4 months ago!”- There are several people lucky they are not picking cardboard out of their teeth today, because at the end, if I could have shoved that mother-plucking sign down their throat, I would have. Stick to “You think you’re tired, I’ve been holding this sign the whole time.” A laugh riot, really.
Coming into the home stretch, I had fortified my resolve by reminding myself that the course Tour Guide the previous day had said that our final music would be the rousing “Ride of the Valkyries” by Wagner. I kept saying to myself, just think of the music! Finally, the climactic moment came and I went shuffling at break-neck speed (imagine me as a zombie from the Walking Dead and you’ve got exactly the right idea) past the speakers, only to discover that my 10 seconds would be the boring part of the movement. Thanks Wagner- you are OFF the Christmas list!
In all seriousness, I was pretty overcome with emotion in the last few hundred yards and
it was only made more special and meaningful to spot Tony and my daughters cheering me on! I was in a lot of pain and running on pure determination at that point and I felt so proud to run by them. Hell, it chokes me up recalling it now.
Crossing the finish line, I stopped, gratefully received my finisher medal (FTW!!!) and was embraced by the plasticy warmth of a shiny thermal blanket. After a minute or two, I happily discovered I wasn’t going to expire on the spot and proceeded to get a chocolate milk, a cookie, and even managed a smile for a young volunteer desperately trying to shove a wilted rose in my hand.
The rest of the day was great- a shower at the hotel, a late lunch at The Kennedy School, and the drive back to Seattle that included a nap for everyone but Tony. The next day, I had very few lasting effects- I was a little stiff, but nothing serious and even wore heels to work!
It was by far the most difficult physical test I have ever challenged myself with, but now that I have done it- I’m eager to do it again. As I stated in my first blog about the marathon- I didn’t just want to finish the race, I wanted to make my enemy, my friend. I succeeded on both fronts and couldn’t be happier with the result. Sure, I could have had a faster time (4:45), but that’s what the future is for! Now, I think about staying in shape long enough to run in a marathon with my daughters. They will be a hell of a lot faster than me by the time they are old enough for the physical challenge of a race, but think of the pictures! Mother/Daughter race finishers!
Two final things. There is a school of thought that says you are more likely to complete a goal if you keep it to yourself and that may be true for some, but it’s not true for me. If it hadn’t been for my public commitment to the goal and the incredible support I received from family and friends along the way, I KNOW I never would have accomplished my goal. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
And lastly, the Impostor Syndrome is a phenomenon that often effects women who are unable to internalize accomplishments despite evidence to the contrary. Guess I am a card-carrying member because just a couple days ago, I was talking to my brother about the race and he said, “You must be in awesome shape.” I replied, “No, not really. I have been much faster and lighter in the past.” Then I got off the phone and wanted to beat my head into something hard… did I REALLY just downplay the fact that I had run a marathon less than a week ago?! Geezus, when was I going to be able to just embrace it and full-on say, “Boo-yah, I did it!!!” So here it is:
Boo-yah! I did it! I rocked that marathon out!
Years ago, I made an enemy. I was beaten by a foe that got the best of me in the worst possible way- by preying on my ego. It’s been 15 years and it STILL bothers me. Which is why I am finally calling for a rematch. This October. Portland. 9am. Yes, you guessed it- my nemesis is 26.2 miles long and goes by the name Marathon.
In conversation with someone, I will often say that I have run precisely one marathon, just the one. About 90% of the time, I’ll follow that declaration by admitting that I did not complete that race, but stopped at mile 21- not because I was injured or hit by a bus or something sufficiently noble or tragic. No, it was because I realized I was not on track to complete the race in my goal time. I completed 80% of the race with a sub 2-hour split and then after realizing that I was slowing down dramatically and would not finish the race in my (entirely arbitrary) goal of four hours, I just quit.
I hopped in the waiting car that Tony (still just a boyfriend, it was that long ago) had been faithfully driving around cheering me on in, and moaned about being so tired, and hurting, and blah, blah, blah. Basically just some whiny bullshit and I knew within minutes that I had completely copped out, but there was no turning back. I suddenly knew I was a coward. The marathon had won or more correctly, it was an impervious stone wall that I had smashed all my effort and training against because I didn’t want to be a “slow” runner. I had gotten the notion in my head that it was better to not finish than have a time of more than four hours. What the hell was I thinking?!
All the while, my dear friend and training partner, Lisa, finished the race (far more slowly than I would have- even at my reduced pace) in agony and with her husband helping her across the finish line. But you know what matters? SHE. FINISHED. She has never had to choke out the words that she has “run” but not “completed” a marathon. That painful and humiliating disappointment has been mine to carry and revisit over and over again. But, 23 year olds are entitled, if not required, to make mistakes based on ego and pride, right? Someday, if we are sitting around a campfire, I’ll trot out a treasure trove of gaudy mistakes I made in my early twenties- but for today, I will stick to this malevolent gem.
Many readers may think, what’s the big deal- 21 miles is awesome! What a lot of wasted energy spent of regret, which is undoubtedly true. But I think some “get it” and know that moving past it isn’t the right thing (not to mention- it’s not working!). I have to go back to it. I have to face this long-ago defeat, the fear of a second failure, and finally shed the disappointment I feel.
That time has come. I have chosen the Portland Marathon in October for a rematch, and because I have grown a little wiser in the intervening years, I am not going to approach the race or the training as a battle of wills or an opponent to be bested, but rather as a muse to learn from. The next four months will be spent on a pilgrimage, a journey towards a long yearned for goal. I am going in humble, hopeful, and with a steady mien.
I have been kicking the idea around seriously for the last month (not working gives you more time for introspection and shit), and had been surreptitiously investigating training plans and methods, dropping the idea in conversations, and contemplating it as I logged miles on recently re-strengthened legs. I have decided to use the FIRST (aka Run Less, Run Faster) method and will be adhering closely to prescribed regimen. Training “officially” starts this Sunday with my first key long run.
Life is nothing if not a journey and we must keep striding and striving or risk being run over by regret. I’ll keep you posted on my progress and hope you’ll wish me strong legs and a courageous heart.
If you like this post, please comment or share! I love the encouragement and appreciate your support.