This is how it all started on Dec. 4, 2011.
Well, that’s how marathon morning started. But more on that in a bit.
The actual weekend started with an incredibly delish surprise. You see, I turned 40 on Dec 3, and i was flying up to Sacramento with my hunkofburninlove to get this celebration started.
My hubba-licious didn’t board the plane with me and requested that I save an entire row once I plopped my barely awake bones in a seat. (It was 6:30 am)
Next thing I know, I see my dear friend Marison B walking down the aisle behind him. SURPRISE!!! Marison was coming to join me and my family for my birthday weekend and first 26.2.
The only thing i can be upset with her about is that nobody should look this good when they’ve been up since 4:30 am.
“The really happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery when on a detour”
i was eerily happy going into the marathon. on a relaxed trail run with Marison 6 months earlier, I’d said I was thinking about doing 26.2. My heart and mind felt like i was ready. before I could finish waxing on about my philosophy about my readiness, Marison was like a fully engaged faucet; spurting out marathon after marathon that I could sign up for in the fall or winter. So, any ‘homework’ i was going to have to do to procrastinate was effectively negated by my marathon-savvy friend. My excuses for bowing out were essentially become null and void.
Come December, my enthusiasm for doing the marathon was only tempered by my unlucky streak of serious injuury on my journey to the starting line. I had set a rather audacious (and hairy) goal in August — I was going to turn 40 Dec 3, and then qualify for the Boston Marathon the next day, in my first 26.2 competition. So there. But in the 10 weeks before race day, I endured a bad case of plantar fascitis that left me with gaping holes in my training schedule; then a surgery on my chest for basal cell carcinoma, that had complications; and finally, a busted set of ribs that prevented me from running at all 5 weeks before my race.
In the advertisement of my goal, i learned what an incredible group of people I’ve come to be surrounded by. Not a one of them smirked, joked, questioned, or otherwise ridiculed my insane goal. it was just the opposite. I found tremendous support, “Hoorahs!”, “You WILL do it!”, and more from each person who heard of my goal.
Lesson #1: Even when you think your goals are nuts and ‘impossible’, if you are surrounded by those who believe IN YOU, they will believe in your goals too. Happily & with equal enthusiasm [and, perhaps, distorted realities.] Those are good things.
The day before the race was spent enjoying time with family and celebrating my 40th. As with all such activities, food is always a centerpiece, and we scarfed some serious grub soon after picking up my race packet.
Breakfast with friends and family, Dec. 3.
Marathon morning was a chazilly one – 32 degrees. I was stoked, and my fear of “not being ready” had faded a few days earlier (likely into a fog of anti-inflammatory drug-induced bliss). My plan was set: Run the first 1/2 at a slow, painfully easy pace and then pick it up so that the last 10K was my fastest split. I had trained for negative splitting, but that was in my long runs — over 4 weeks ago now. And my longest run had been 19 miles. Still – i was blissfully ignorant of what lay ahead. So I had delicious butterflies in my stomach and goosebumps the size of Texas on my legs, as I stood with the thousands race morning.
I ran separate from a pace group, but did have a friend of my cousin’s running the race, so we started together. unfortunately, he had done this race in 3:31 recently, so I knew I was going to have to stick to my game plan and let him go.
first mile: 8:57 (Game plan: 9:30)
second mile: 8:56 (Game plan: 9:30)
third mile: 8:37 (Game plan: well, you get the idea)
the rumors around this race were that it was a “flat, fast course”. rumors are usually spread by people who have not actually done the races they are speaking about. the California Int’l Marathon – where i found myself toe-ing the line on Dec 4- is one case in point. It may be a net 200 foot loss in incline, but that doesn’t mean it’s flat. In fact, I learned just how un-flat this course was. And, days later, I’m still feeling the effects of an up and D-O-W-N, up and D-O-W-N, long distance race course.
I had two things to focus on: Pacing and Nutrition. I had already failed miserably in my first line of focus. I vowed to practice this in future training – with faster runners. (oh and add more hill running/leg strength training in the gym)
My average paced slowed to 9:00 min/miles through 13 miles and at mile 11 i had my first sign of trouble. my left quad, at the knee, started to seize and tighten. i knew what was coming. i just didn’t know how quick it was going to happen.
by mile 16, i had already seen two signs with marriage proposals. what is it about these endurance events that bring out the Romeo in guys? (before the end, i would pass 4 more signs with pleas of marriage)
by mile 15, my left quad had completely cramped and the IT band and hip flexor were like inflexible rubber bands. My right quad had joined its counterpart in a move of solidarity, and i was now firmly planted in the Cave of Pain with no semblance of light for another 11.2 miles.
My splits were now hovering in the 11:00-12:00 min range and I became more focused on managing my rib pain. Making a stop at a med station at mile 16, I asked for 3 salt tablets and some Tylenol. the med staff kindly inquired what i needed the tylenol for, and then, after hearing my reply, asked me why i would run this marathon (notice the use of “this”) with not-yet-healed ribs. my focus quickly shifted from “get meds” to “how long have i been at this aid station already?!”
By mile 19, I was forcing my mind to disassociate from the pain. I thought of all the women who i’ve been lucky to meet, learn from and watch as i grew GOTRIbal. I drew strength from thinking of my sister, and her incredibly positive mental attitude – one that has helped her outlast cancer’s grip and one that has helped in her continuous recovery from traumatic brain injury. she had just re-learned to run again the week before my race. it had been six years since the accident that left her with severe brain injury, and one year since we did the swim of a women’s sprint tri together.
I drew on her strength to get me to mile 20, then mile 21. She would be at the finish, and I was going to run there if it killed me.
Mile 25: I’m taking a 30 second walk break. One I’d regret as soon as i started to run again. And then, I looked up and saw Marison screaming on the sidewalk at me. She came out, and ran with me for awhile and I groaned and grunted as I took each step. Talking was out of the question, and she knew it. But we didn’t need to. It meant the world to me to get 2 or 3 minutes of shoog along the journey.
Mile 26: The wheels on this ride have been off for 2 10K’s so far, and I’m taking on this last 385 yards as if it’s my last ever. Once across the line, I see my cousins, my hubba-licious, Marison, and my parents. And then started my wobbly existence — one I am still experiencing two days later.
Lesson #3: Elliptical training is great aerobic training while you’re injured. But a marathon isn’t just about being aerobically fit, and the pounding pavement that rose and fell beneath my feet deserved more respect than I had granted it.
At the finish line and later, my family made sure I was completely cared for, and I soaked up their support and shoog. I fell into it and thought repeatedly about the beauty of the moment.
Yes, I was disappointed with my finish. Even with an adjustment in my goals and expectations for the race, I struggled to let go of my frustration in my performance. How I viewed myself as athlete was in serious upheaval. My ego and pride were (are) black and blue and needed a load of ice for bad bruising. But I’m on the mend, and this experience will serve the same purpose as the first sprint triathlon I did 10 years ago. In 2001, I rode my husband’s mountain bike (ouch!) and ran / walked the 5K, swearing the whole time I’d never run farther than 3.1 miles after it was over.
When I finished i couldn’t wait to try another one.
Lesson #4 and 5: [Relearned] Proper and consistent training makes a difference. Staying uninjured is key.
It’s amazing how much our egos are wrapped up in our finish times/places. In the end, most of us aren’t pros, so continuous improvement and happiness with a full-effort should be things worth our pride and celebration.
Seeing my family and Marison along the route and at the finish was the most important and soulful part of my journey. Without them, this path as an endurance athlete wouldn’t be possible.
Post race blues never hit. I had heard about them, but I wasn’t experiencing them. Still not. What did surprise me was the weird bouts with nausesa and dizziness. All in all, the 26.2 distance felt harder to me than any 70.3 I’ve raced. And with a few days buffer from the final finish, I am already quietly considering my next one. [not before spending quality weeks on healing my foot and ribs!]
Lesson #6: There is more residual ‘after-effects’ to running a marathon than I expected. Even my hottest, hardest half iron distance tri didn’t leave me feeling nauseous or as wobbly days after the race. More homework on training and post-race recovery is required.
The CIM is both a beautiful and well-organized, well-supported race. The day, although not in control of the race organizers, was a perfect day for a run. Gorgeous, sunny, and crisp. A perfect day to be outside with 10,000 other people who love living the endurance sports lifestyle.
The volunteers at every turn were so friendly, so supportive. Even the shuttle bus driver embodied a healthy mix of empathetic supporter, comedian, and supporter. A nice combo when, at 5:50 am, you’re only concern is getting to the start line on time.
In the end, I had an experience I will not soon forget. Even if my mind were to try, my legs won’t let me. Getting up off the toilet is a regular reminder of my birthday weekend accomplishment.