Friday, November 16, 2012

Richmond Marathon Recap

Before I begin the story of my first marathon (spoiler alert, I may have given away the ending with the above picture, either that or I stole someone else's medal in a fit of hysteria, you'll just have to keep reading to find out), I must back up a little, to exactly one week before my first marathon. On Saturday morning I woke up bright and early (bright and early=the theme of my Saturday mornings since August), and headed out for an eight to ten mile taper run. The fact that an eight to ten mile run is now a "shortish" run is just mind boggling and makes me wonder if unbeknownst to myself I've been involved in some sort of Freaky Friday body swap. I honestly don't know how this happened. But it did. And so I set off for that taper run with every intention of finishing it. I hadn't not finished a marathon training run. Even on my 20 miler, which kicked my butt and soul and mind to within an inch of their lives, I finished.

However, about a mile into my last long run, my calf sent a very different message. I felt it twinge at the end of my 20 miler, and it had been sore the next time I ran, a 7 miler. After that run it was sore when i walked for the next couple of days. But I figured I could run through it. I honestly don't know what it's like to run a long run without some kind of pain. Our bodies aren't just dumb pack animals. They won't put up with abuse silently and plod along. However I know my body well enough from running to know that there are different kinds of pain, the achy joints kind of pain that you can run through, and then the other kind, the sharp, sudden, yikes kind.

It was that other kind of pain that showed up on the Saturday before the marathon. It showed up with a vengeance. By mile 2, I had to stop. Not only was the pain sharp and constant, but the muscle stiffened up so completely (at the time I thought it was the tendon), that I couldn't get the range of motion needed for a running stride. Like I said before, I've never not finished a training run. I've never stopped. I've always pushed through it. I couldn't push through this. I turned around two and a half miles in, and limped the rest of the way home with tears in my eyes.

This sounds dramatic, and it is. But you have to understand that I thought this was it. I thought I had lost my marathon, my great white whale, this goliath beast that had loomed in my life for months, this thing I had sacrificed for and trained for and given myself up to so completely. I thought it was gone. How could I run 26.2 miles if I couldn't even run two?

When I got home, I wallowed in self pity for a few minutes. And then I called Physical Therapy Solutions. They had helped me through a hip strain when I was training for my first 10k (oh how innocent the days), and I trusted them completely. At this point I mostly just wanted someone to tell me either a) I could absolutely not run the marathon or b) I could run it and not cripple myself. Since I thought it was a tendon issue I was seriously worried about what "running through it" could mean for my body and my ability to run at all after the race. I was scared and needed reassurance first more than treatment.

To make a long story really short, Physical Therapy Solutions squeezed me in last minute on Monday. After an exam it was determined it was a lower calf strain, not a tendon issue (I almost hugged my PT when he told me this), and with intensive treatment over the next few days, I could get to a state where running 26.2 miles was feasible. So for the next few days I got to experience a taste of what professional athletes experience, daily treatments and care for my calf from experienced professionals. They threw the proverbial sink at me. Ultrasound, deep tissue massage (not as nice as it sounds when you're massaging an inflamed and angry calf muscle), TENS (basically electrodes that give your muscle tiny little shocks), and of course since it's physical therapy, clamshells for butt strengthening (I think no matter what issue you go to PT with they will make you do those godforsaken clamshells). I was not at all surprised to find that the same body mechanics behind my calf strain were identical to the body mechanics behind my hip strain (ultra tight calves and hamstrings, weak glutes that make my stride weird and put tension on muscles that can't handle that tension, too much hip rotation, ankle joints that pull off the incredible feat of being both inflexible and double jointed, etc and etc). My body is a circus freak. I should go to physical therapy every day just to exist.

I can't emphasize enough how much these sessions helped me, not just physically but mentally. I was surrounded by runners for one thing, people who had run marathons before and who could offer advice, people who understood unequivocally why I needed to run this race, why I wouldn't throw in the towel unless I literally lost my feet and/or legs, and maybe not even then. My PT recommended two things that may have changed my running forever, compression tights and a massage stick roller thing that is better than the foam roller at getting to calf issues. My calves are just bizarre. I have really big calf muscles, but what they promise in strength is kind of negated by how tight and inflexible they are. I hope that compression tights and my massage stick might help fix some of these issues. I went for a test run on Wednesday (three easy miles) and crossed my fingers the whole time but didn't feel any pain. By Friday I felt calm and ready. I had done everything I could.

Other than the minor injury, my preparation the week before was as good as can be. I was super busy with school (naturally) and maybe didn't get enough rest/sleep as I could have, but other than that I was on point. I started cutting out high fiber foods on Thursday. I started adding carb filled snacks in between meals. I bought liter bottles of water and drank them like it was my job. I also drank sports drinks Thursday and Friday. I got everything ready in advance, my playlist, my gels, my outfit, my plan to get to the start line, my plan to meet up with people after. And I kept myself from ever completely flipping out. I was nervous, but I think being so busy with school helped keep my mind from ever over analyzing the insane thing I was about to do.

I woke up at 5 on Saturday morning. I never would have guessed that waking up at 5 or 6am on a Saturday morning would be something I would voluntarily do, not once, not twice, but over and over again over a period of months. Same for going to bed at 9pm on a Friday night without a glass of wine (okay other than the wine part, I secretly loved having an excuse to crawl into bed that early and not feel like an old lady). When I look back on my marathon training, I'm almost more proud of those sacrifices than I am of the distances. Running a marathon isn't free. You can't continue your normal life without any changes to do it. It takes legitimate sacrifice. I like that. I like that you can't cheat it (okay fine some people do but they're stinkers and don't count). But for most people, you have to put in that effort and time. And I'm proud of myself for that, for getting up when it's still dark on a weekend, not because I have to, not because I'll get in trouble if I don't, but because I know that every early morning is getting me a little closer to 26.2 miles.

But back to the marathon day. I woke up at 5am and did what I had done for my 16, 18, and 20 milers. I ate a plain bagel from Ellwood Thompson and drank a coconut water. I had everything together so after dressing and foam rolling, I headed over to my parent's house to get a ride to the start line. My mom drove me as close as she could get to the start at Broad St. near City Hall. I made my way the next few blocks to the start area, which was absolutely packed. The half-marathoners were just leaving and the marathoners were arriving. The hard-core marathoners were jogging around to warm up. The slightly less hard core were doing intense stretching. The slightly less of the slightly less hard core (I put myself in this category) were taking in everything with big eyes and waiting in line to pee. The line was long and so while waiting I struck up a conversation with a woman I will refer to as the first of many crazies I met that day. She was from New Jersey, a teacher, and part of a running group that has run marathons in every state once, and is on their second go round. She had run a marathon almost every weekend this fall, and was, wait for it, running not only the Richmond marathon this weekend, but the Outer Banks marathon THE NEXT DAY. I told her how incredible she was and how in awe I was, but mostly I was thinking, you need to be committed to some kind of facility. I mean seriously? Two marathons in one weekend is just nut balls insane. There is no rationalization for that kind of activity. I am going to propose it is added to the list of mental illness diagnoses. But it calmed me down, because what's running one marathon in a weekend when this wackadoodle is running two?

After peeing I quickly stripped off the old sweatshirt I wore. Here was the first surprise of the day. By 7:45 it was still chilly, but it was warming up, FAST. The sun was out and the temperature was rising much, much quicker than I anticipated. I found my place in the corral (at the back by the 5:00 pace group), and while I chewed on an energy gel with caffeine (my coffee substitute when I have to run), a girl with a beautiful voice sang the national anthem. Here's the first time I got a little choked up on marathon day. Every runner there stopped their frantic pre-race activity to listen. And I realized this was the first time in my life I've listened to the national anthem at a sporting event in which I was participating. I wasn't a spectator. I spent way too much of my life being a spectator only. It felt really freaking good to not be a spectator this morning, to know that national anthem was for me (okay, not me personally, I'm not a narcissist, but you get what I'm saying).

And then we were off. The marathon is different in that there are no waves. The front of the pack shoots off and everyone behind them ambles along slowly until they cross the official start. I'm going to break the rest of the race down into fifths, because that's how I broke it down in my head and how I planned out my Gu intake.

Miles 1-6 (aka The Miles of Innocence and Wonder)

I know everyone says this, but these miles were really good. I quickly fell into a good pace near the 5:00 pacer (he had a two color wig on and a foam finger so that helped me not lose him). The crowd was pretty thick but after the first mile or so I didn't feel too cramped. The hardest part was not running faster. I felt so great and the morning was still cool, and also I have this innate tendency when I'm running in a pack to try to pass everyone (maybe all those years playing Mario Kart?). In a marathon you cannot pass everyone or you will be running 5 minute miles (and in my case quickly dying), so you have to be comfortable having people in front of you. I did my best to keep a slow pace, and looking at my first 6 miles I did this. I was running almost exactly an 11 minute mile, only slightly faster than my goal (and yes, I know that's slow, all of you 3 hour marathon runners are probably like, 11 minute mile, were you even moving forward?, but while I am capable of running faster than that, I am not capable of sustaining speed for long periods of time without vomiting/falling over by mile 20, that is actually one of my goals for the future, but for this race, I was content to be a slow turtle and pace myself). We ran down Broad Street and over to Monument, and there were never too long of stretches without spectators. These were also the miles of sarcasm, because everyone at this point has the energy to be sarcastic. There were a good number of smart ass signs that said things like "You're Almost There!" or "It's all Downhill from Here." At mile 3 I had a nice chuckle over these signs. If I had seen them at mile  17 I might have punched my fist through them. There was also a lot of inter-runner chuckles. Many people would shout out things like "Only 24 miles to go!" when we passed the Mile 2 sign. Jovial times ensued. Again, these were the halcyon days. The route was beautiful. We ran past my apartment on Monument, down to Westmoreland and over to Grove. I love this route and I run it again and again, and I felt a certain amount of pride to share my city and my roads with all these thousands of people, especially the out-of towners. Every tree popped with autumn leaves, bright golds and reds in every direction. My calf was doing fine, thanks all of that treatment and my super, awesome, bright pink tie die compression tights (the only ones left at Road Runner that weren't like poop brown or orange).

There were only two worrying things about this stretch of the race: 1) my knee started hurting at like mile 3. Oh my poor knee. The calf issue was new and flashy, but my knee had been a cranky old man since September. Every long run it would start to shake its fist at me half way in, and mutter mutinously for days after the run until I iced it and took Advil. I had kind of neglected my knee, and I think it knew it. It didn't like this calf issue stealing its thunder. And so it started to hurt when I had double digit miles left. But I knew this pain. This pain I understood. I could run through it. The only other slightly worrying thing was how warm it got. When I train I run on sidewalks. Sidewalks are shaded. The middle of the street usually is not. There was not a cloud in the sky this Saturday and the sun was out in full force within a half hour after the start. I quickly realized I didn't need my cold weather head band that had been so nice on my 18 and 20 mile runs in colder temperatures. What I needed on this beautiful, sunny day that was supposed to get to near 70 degrees was a hat. Alas, you can never plan perfectly. We made it to the Grove and Libbie party zone and then to the mile 6 marker a little ways away from that and I felt strong.

Miles 6-11 (aka the This Isn't So Bad stretch)

This was one of my favorite parts of the whole race. We got to run down River Road, over the Huguenot Bridge, down Cherokee, and finally along the river on Riverside Drive. I loved running here for the marathon, because as beautiful as these routes are I would never run them alone. The road is much too narrow, there isn't a shoulder, and there are too many twists and turns. I am a city girl and am used to the safety of sidewalks. But I loved that I got to run on these roads at least once, surrounded by a few thousand other runners. We passed several porta pottie stops with super long lines (and a lot of very impatient looking pee-ers/runners), and I was stoked that I didn't have to pee (although this was probably due to dehydration, more on that later). It was very cool to run over the new bridge and see the James stretching out in both directions. I heard lots of out of town comments that were very positive about the sights and it made my little Richmond heart swell with pride. I had my trusty ipod with me, and I had heard both opinions about listening to music during a marathon. I understood both sides. So as a compromise I alternated between turning the music off and listening to what was going on around me and turning it on for motivation in the longer, more boring stretches. When we got over the bridge I saw possibly my favorite poster of the marathon ("Paul Ryan already finished"). If you don't know what that refers to go google, "Paul Ryan marathon time." I'll wait here.

Okay, everyone back now? I was actually very surprised at the number of signs and posters all over the course, even in the stretches without a lot of spectators (like Riverside Drive). There were all the usual ones ("Worst Parade Ever", "Chuck Norris Never Ran a Marathon"), as well as some new ones ("Run Faster if You Peed A Little", "Run Like You Stole Something"). One person put up like 200 posters alone, because they were all the same style and handwriting. That's dedication.

In all the pictures of the Richmond Marathon they always show runners next to the river, and beauty wise, it really is the most amazing part of the race.

(Disclaimer: I did not take this picture, nor am I one of the runners.But I figure you can use your imagination)

 Bonus points for the fact that this stretch was one of the few consistently shaded areas. This was also the section of the course where I encountered Crazy of the Day #2. A man running with his 14 year old daughter was loudly talking to the woman next to him about how in his house, when his children turn 14 they run a marathon, "no whining allowed." This was the only part of the course where I truly considered a DNF, if only so I could run to the nearest phone and call Child Protective Services. Because if forcing your 14 year old child to run a marathon isn't child abuse, I don't know what is. I mean seriously. No, and no, and no. There's making your kids be active and then there's making your kids run a marathon. One is awesome. The other is sociopathic. Do not make your children run a marathon.

I sped up to get away from that particular wackadoo, but also the fresh air and river and shade just combined to make me want to run faster. That and the fact that during this stretch and for a while before, I was right behind a SPEED WALKER. I know they're fast. I know it's a sport in and of itself. But there is something demoralizing about running slower than the person in front of you who is walking. I mean this guy was trucking. But still. There was also a stretch earlier where I was behind an old man running in a style that can only be described as limp/galloping. I don't even know how to do it justice. Basically he was favoring one leg, but making it up for it by taking these big, horse like strides with the other. It looked painful. I ran faster than him just because it hurt to watch. And he was like 80. There is definitely no shortage of people watching during a marathon. I was near the same core group for most of the race, and there was a lady in a tutu, a man in shorts so short that there may have been a little bit of butt cleavage, and also a guy who took a call on his cell phone at like mile 9. So many weirdos run marathons. But I don't want to analyze it too much, because that probably means I'm a weirdo. Also I saw the official Brightroom photos of myself running, and sweet Jesus. There's an episode of New Girl where Nick asks why all women who run look like "old Russian ladies." I did not understand that line until I saw photos of myself running. It is not an attractive sport.

But other than the weirdos this stretch was good. We made it to mile 11, turned away from the river. I took my next Gu, and suddenly we were in the land of hills.

Miles 11-16 (aka the Land of Hills).

This stretch was pretty tough. I kept up a good pace, which actually I realized around mile 12 was a faster pace than I intended. I thought I was still near the 5:00 pacer guy with the wig, when suddenly a 4:45 pacer woman came up behind me. I did a double take and realize that for the last few miles I had been running under an 11 minute mile, which was great and felt really comfortable, but which was faster than I had trained during my distance runs (which is usually a no-no, and again I know that's not actually fast, all you fast marathon runners hush up). I was feeling good though so I only slowed down a little. And then I slowed down more once we started going up the first of what felt like hundreds of hills between Riverside Drive and Forest Hill. Oh the hills. It was at this point that I started to get really, really thirsty. There were water stops every other mile, but that wasn't cutting it. I would be absolutely parched by the time I got to the next stop, which is not great. It had heated up considerably and I was sweating a lot more than I anticipated. I finally realized that the water stations also had jugs of water so I started filing up my handheld water bottle, which helped a lot for hydrating between water stations. Even though this part was harder I still felt pretty good. I was drinking Powerade with every water station. I hadn't originally intended to do this, but with the heat it felt necessary because I was taking in so much more water (too much water and not enough sports drink over five hours of running=very, very bad). The Gus were staying down okay, although not nearly as well as in my training runs. Again I chalk it up to the heat. My mouth was so dry that they just felt so thick and sticky, and I didn't want to use all my water from my water bottle to wash them down and then be empty. It wasn't the tropics or anything, but it was in the high 50s, low 60s by this point, which when combined with running, very low humidity, and really bright sun, makes thing a lot harder. Especially when my last few long runs had been in weather a good 15 degrees colder. But I adapted. I focused a lot on hydration and things seemed to be okay.

We finally made it to Forest Hill and past mile 13.1. I was half way to a marathon. It still didn't feel close, but it felt closer. I could run another 13.1 miles. Most of Forest Hill is kind of a blur. It was a really, really long stretch, and any really, really long, interrupted stretch in a race kind of stinks. Because you want the turn to come so badly and it just refuses to come. There was another party zone which was fun, although at this point party zones were slightly less charming, if only because seeing people drinking and enjoying themselves is less endearing at mile 15 than at mile 6. At mile 15 a teensy, tiny bit of irrational resentment creeps in. But I kept it in check. I also politely turned down the sometimes weird food offerings. I think there was junk food at one point, but I don't get how anyone can eat anything solid during 26.2 miles. There were also doughnuts at one point. Again normally delicious. During a marathon, not so much. One nice thing I saw on this stretch was that CVS was giving away free bottles of water to runners. Thanks CVS!

Hands down the best part of this chunk, and one of the best parts of the entire race was on Semmes, close to mile 16 and the Lee Bridge, when we passed a Fire Station. There was a large group of firefighters standing outside, and they were all clapping. This was moment #2 when I got a little choked up during the race. It's a very emotional feeling to see firefighters clap for you. These are people I respect tremendously, who I admire, and it's hard to describe what it means to see them stand up and cheer for you, to know they admire what you're doing in that moment. It's a moment from the race that I know I will remember even when a lot of the other moments fade. It was very cool and such an energy booster to go into the next stretch.

Mile 16-21 (aka Ouch mixed with Yay!)

Mile 16 was right before the Lee Bridge. And I was kind of worried about the Lee Bridge, because I heard it was really windy, but the wind wasn't too bad. What was bad was the blaring sun, and the fact that my knees were hurting, I was tired, and I still had ten miles to go. I would say miles 16-18 were my  worst miles mentally. I wasn't at the wall stage. I didn't regret what I was doing. I knew I was going to finish. But it just felt a really, really long way away. I started to walk for stretches here, which was probably a mistake. But walking at this point felt like such a lovely idea. Even just for a little while. The problem was that from this point on my body understood that walking was an option, and it would demand it. However, I managed to pick up my pace again half way over the Lee Bridge.

We made it to Main St., and I got a new surge of energy, because I knew my parents would be at Lombardy and Main. Sure enough they were there, and I am so grateful they were. People told me before the race that it made such a big difference to have familiar faces along the course. And I cannot describe how much it does, especially towards the end. It gave me so much energy when I was near the bottom of my fuel tank. Mentally it cleared my head, reminded me what I was doing and why I was doing it. I waved goodbye to them with plans to meet a little ways on, when not more than a block away, I ran into another one of my persons. My sweet, pregnant cousin Lory (who had run two marathons (fast ones!) and knows the score) was there with a sign. This was a total surprise and such a wonderful one. I gave her a big hug and it felt so nice to share that moment with someone who knew exactly what I was going through. I ran on and lo and behold, a couple more blocks down Main Street I ran into two of my friends from school, Theresa and Jessie. At this point I just felt spoiled. Main Street will always be near and dear to me now because in the marathon it represented just this warm, lovely well of support. I ran toward Boulevard feeling renewed and lighter. My legs were gone at this point. They were in so much pain I didn't know where the pain ended and my legs began. I was still so freaking thirsty between every stop (and I didn't have to pee, even though I was taking in so much water and Powerade, definitely on the borderline of dehydration, luckily I stayed on the borderline). But seeing my people made every difference in the world.

There was another damn hill (at this point I started to take hills as personal affronts) up Boulevard but then a nice downhill after. I made a somewhat unfortunate but necessary bargain with my body around here at mile 20. I would walk through every water station (which were every mile after mile 20). My body took this deal but added a caveat, I would walk through every water station and then for a couple of minutes after until my brain and heart could win the argument with my muscles and bone to start moving again in a fashion resembling running. At mile 20 my time was 3:45. I was on pace for a sub five hour marathon, close to 4:50. I didn't hit a wall. The wheels didn't come off. But I had made that walk/run deal with my body. And my body wasn't going to let me off the hook. They always say it's better to run than walk when you're in pain and exhausted, because both are difficult at that point. My only regret is that I couldn't heed that advice. Honestly, I was just too tired. I was going to finish, but I didn't have the energy left in me for an all out push to the finish. And I'm okay with that. I could blame it on the sun or the heat or running a little too fast the first half, but I'm not going to. My body was awesome on marathon day. It did everything I asked of it. It did the impossible. And I can't blame it for slowing down towards the finish. I'm proud of it regardless. It gave me everything I could have had reason to ask of it.

But this was mile 20 so I had six to go. The walk/run strategy was okay other than the first 30 seconds of starting to run again. Every time I did that I had to brace myself and hold my breath for just excruciating pain as my running muscle started up. Both of my knees felt like they had shards of glass in them and the transition from walking to running made those shards of glass really, really pissed off. But I did it. I got to Laburnum and Hermitage and ran into my cousin, Lory again, with my other cousin Margaret and her two year old, (my second cousin once removed or something, I just call her my cousin) Evelyn. It was another huge energy boost seeing them. Margaret told me yesterday I looked so poised at that moment. Let's just say I did not feel that way. But nice to know my face is a good liar. Shortly after I made it to Laburnum and Brook, mile 22. 4.2 more to go.

Miles 22-26.2 (The End)

A lot of people have asked me if I hit "the wall." And honestly, the answer is no. I feel like it's one of those things you know immediately when it happens. And I think I experienced it to a lesser extent during my 20 mile run. I don't think the wall is just physical. I think it's a lot mental and emotional. And at the end of my 20 mile run, I was in tears. I was so exhausted and so mad at the exhaustion and the toll of what I was doing. I hated every second of the last two miles of that run. I wanted to lie down. I wanted it to stop. It was horrible.

I never felt that way during the marathon. Not even a little bit. Don't get me wrong. The last four miles I was exhausted in a way I've never been exhausted. I was in pain. I was ready for it to be over. I started to be slightly loopy in the sense that I was sure, positive, that roads were longer than they should have been. I have never been angrier in my life at a road than I was at Brook Road during the marathon. I took it personally that it would not reach Lombardy faster. Stupid road! Why are you torturing me?

So yeah there was that kind of thing. I was losing a little coordination. There were a couple of water stops where I drank the water out of the cup and passed right next to a trash can and missed. I mean I was inches from the trash can, standing over it, and I couldn't get a tiny cup into a very big opening.

But I never hated it. I never regretted it. I always was confident in what I was doing, in the choice I made. And you know what, never once, not a single time, did the phrase "Never Again" cross my brain. There was a lot of pain around me. Runners dropped like flies. So many people were on the side of the road, holding on to trees, desperately trying to stretch out cramps (I bet you that random warm weather did a lot of people in with dehydration related cramps). I saw one guy stop abruptly, squat down in the middle of the road, and get ready to hurl (luckily I didn't see that part). There was a lot of walking. There was a lot of pained, okay I'm going to start running again moments.

I will say the crowd helped here for sure. I loved having my name on my bib, because those last few miles I got a lot of "Go Liz's" and "You can do it Liz" and "You're almost there Liz." That's a lot better than "Hey you, you're doing good." Although every time I whipped my head around expecting someone I knew. But it didn't matter. It's amazing how much the support of strangers helps and lifts you. Although toward the end of the race there is a razor thin line between helpful, supportive cheers, and I'm going to find you after this race and club you with my finsher's medal cheers. In the supportive column I would say all of the comments I mentioned above. In the other category were things like "Don't stop now" when I was taking a walk break or "It's all downhill from here" when there were in fact more hills left. Runners need motivation. They don't need blatant lies or to be chastised for walking a little bit after 20 some miles. But mostly it was great. I saw my dad at Grace and Lombardy, and then it was less than two miles to go.

This part was kind of surreal. I was exhausted, but exhilarated by the fact that I was so flippin' close to finishing a marathon. I mostly wanted to walk, but I found a way to plead with my body for just a little bit more. We turned off Franklin and I could see Brown's Island. It was there, waiting, and I was going to finish. So the Richmond marathon ends famously downhill (a steep downhill). It's used as something of a selling point. And the spectators loved to tell us just how downhill it was.

But any runner I've talked to does not love this aspect of it. At the end of a marathon, your (or at least the average human's) joints, particularly the knees, are just toast. You have very little strength left in them and they hurt. Do you know what is one of the hardest things on knees? Downhill slopes. To run down a hill you have to be able to stabilize, and the knees do a lot of that work. When you're knees are tired that's really, freaking hard. I have to imagine that people have fallen down that hill. My only goal at this point was not to end the marathon by rolling down the final hill (although if that had happened, I bet I would be on the news!). But seriously they videotape the final stretch. That would not be great for my self esteem.

This was the part where I just ignored the pain. I didn't care. I saw that 26 mile sign (oh marathons, so vicious and cruel to make you go just that extra .2 miles more) and I felt a wave of endorphins and emotion and adrenaline (there may have been some shock in there as well, possibly a hallucination or two). I picked up my pace and felt like I was flying (in the video, I look like I'm taking the most mundane, leisurely stroll imaginable, I honestly looked bored). I heard the cheers, saw a blur of faces (my mom included, thanks mom!), but all I concentrated on was that finish line. I crossed it, and it was honestly one of the most incredible moments of my entire life. I didn't care that my time was 5:02 (although just to make it clear, almost a thousand people finished slower than me, so hey, it's not like I came in dead last). I didn't care that my legs were toast or that I had possibly just given my future self arthritis. I didn't care about any of it. They put that finisher's medal around my neck, and it was real. I finished a marathon. Me, the girl who didn't play sports in high school or college, who would only run away from danger or toward a really good sale up until three years ago, the girl who thought a 10k was impossibly far, who was so satisfied with just being average in so many ways for so long.

I'm not satisfied with that anymore. I know what it feels like to not be average. Running a marathon isn't average. It's exceptional. My immediate reaction to everything is to be self-deprecating and make fun of myself for my many dorky and physically inept qualities (there are many). But when I felt that medal around my neck, when I looked around and saw this group of marathon finishers who I am now apart of, I felt exceptional, in a way we rarely allow ourselves to feel. I found my mom, found my other people (thanks Chrissy, MK, Jess, and Summer) and plopped down in the grass, spent, exhausted and absolutely giddy.

I cannot emphasize how hard this whole process was, how much it took, mentally, physically, and emotionally. I've basically been in a semi state of physical exhaustion since late July. I've given up a lot. This wasn't easy. It was in fact that hardest thing I've ever done. It's not just the culmination of four months of training. It's the culmination of the three years since I became a runner, of the shorter races I've done to prepare for this point. It's a privilege, that I have been able to train for this, that physically I'm in a place where I can do this. I've been in the hospital enough for school to know that physical health is such a blessing and that it isn't forever for any of us.

I ran the marathon for a lot of reasons, for health, as a challenge, for the really shiny medal, for bragging rights (why else do you think you see all those 26.2 stickers). But when it came down to it, when it was just me out there, I ran for the same reason I use to guide so many of my choices. I don't want an ordinary life. I don't want to wait for life to happen to me. I want to make my life happen, in every crazy, previously impossible way. On Saturday this former non-athlete made 26.2 miles happen.

This past Saturday I ran a marathon. I get to keep that. That's with me forever.

(see what I mean? total, old Russian lady vibe going on here)

But to not end on a completely "me, me, me" note, I do owe a lot of people a great deal of thanks for supporting me through the training and race. In no particular order:

-My parents, for braving Richmond traffic on marathon day to get me close to the start, for cheering me on in three (!) different places on the route and at the finish.
-My cousins, Lory, Margaret, and Evelyn for cheering and giving me a huge energy boost
-Theresa and Jessie for cheering on Main Street
-My aunt Mimi and uncle Mike for cheering at the finish even though I was in too much of a blur to see them!
-Three of my best friends, Mary Catherine, Chrissy, and Jess for coming from out of town to Richmond  to be there at Brown's Island at the finish :)
-Everyone who came over Saturday night to eat pizza and lazily celebrate
-Rob for his texts and calls of support throughout the day 
-Physical Therapy Solutions for performing a last minute miracle on my poor calf
-Everyone who texted, posted, or called with support race weekend and all through the training process
-Dave, Darci, Lori and other experienced marathon runners for their welcome advice
-Ellwood Thompson for their bagels
-Compression tights (even hot pink, tie died ones)
-Grove Avenue Water Stop-I planned all my long runs to go past you because you always warm my heart.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Mimi said...

You are EXCEPTIONALLY wonderful! Yay, you!!

Kat said...

Oh my God.

Somewhere on Grace Street, in mile 24 or 25, I remember hearing someone near me say this to someone else near me: "Come on Liz, you're so close. You're so close!" and I didn't turn to look and see what was going on, but it sounded like words said to someone who really, really needs to hear them at that moment. Because I was too tired to even get a word out of my own mouth at that point, I mentally urged Liz on too: "You got this, girl. We're almost home!"

I've been randomly Googling race recaps of the Richmond marathon to read other people's experiences, and I happened upon this and nearly fell over when I realized that, in all likelihood given where I finished (5:02:38), you are in fact the Liz who was being told "You're so close". I can't believe I found your story, and I can't believe how totally awesome you are. This was my first marathon too, and I feel like your write-up of the race could have been mine, as well, only WAY better expressed. I know this makes me sound like a wackadoodle, but I want to reach out through the interwebs and hug you. You did such a great thing, and you have every right to be proud of it.

Keep on keepin' on, Liz!

Unknown said...

Thanks Mimi!

And Kat that's so crazy! I think I must have felt your mental urging :) I've been trying to read other runner's recaps as well, because it's so nice to share in everyone's stories. I really feel like all of us wackadoodles (myself including) are part of a big club, and I'll hug you right back through the interweb. You and every other runner who was out there Saturday (or any other marathon/half-marathon/10k/5k race day amaze me too :) Thanks for posting and hope to see you out racing/running again!

Neon Blonde Runner said...

OK you are so ridiculously sweet, thanks for mentioning my blog in your article! You are an incredibly talented writer (and marathoner of course now too :)!) I really appreciated the note in your article.

But most importantly, CONGRATS on your marathon! I am so impressed with you not hitting the wall and running a strong race after having such a bad strain scare so close to the race.

Hopefully we will see each other out running on the streets around Richmond w/btypes! If you want to train for a spring marathon with Brittany and I, we're doing the richmond road runner's club spring marathon training team, which is pretty awesome (and a lot lot smaller than sportsbackers during the summer.)

Unknown said...

Thanks Katherine! It's great to hear from fellow runners, and your blog has definitely been an inspiration. That's awesome you guys are training for a spring marathon. My body is a little beat up at the moment so I'm giving it some time before any serious training, but I'm possibly going to do a spring half marathon so I'll probably be out there bright and early some Saturday mornings. Good luck with your marathon training!

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