Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Marathon! aka Mission Accomplished

So: the big race. Eleven days ago, on 10/16. I've had some time to process everything, and my feelings are a jumble of extreme pride and a slowly kindling desire to do another to better my time, despite being unable to run without soreness just yet.

The night before I unsurprisingly had some trouble sleeping for long stretches of time. My alarm was set for 5:15, and after going to bed at 11:30, I'm sure I tossed and turned until well after midnight, and then woke up every 15 minutes starting around 3 just to check the time. Finally gave up at 5:10.

All ready to go at 5:30 am!

Got ready, grabbed all the stuff I'd prepared and pinned on my bib, woke up Austin, and then my friend Kelly arrived and we all drove up to the city in the dark. The walk from the cluster of cars to the starting line was surreal: so many people, all wearing running gear, looking wide awake just like me even though the sky only started to lighten just before the start.

Then came a wait in the packed starting "corrals." I realized someone was singing the National Anthem about halfway through since I was so far away, then we all counted down and waited another 15 minutes until we actually started moving. On a whim I spotted a small, wiry woman wearing a pacer jersey and carrying a 4:50 sign, and decided to follow her.

We started trotting as we passed the starting line, going at what felt like a very easy, conversational pace. It was extremely crowded, especially with everyone wearing the yellow half-marathon bibs. Our pacer kept weaving in and out of bodies, and we all tried to follow her, dodging swinging elbows and heels. I befriended some of the women in the group: Julie, a veteran marathoner with a son older than I am; Brandy, a 40-year-old mom of 3 (I thought she was 25!), who teaches autistic kids, had lost over a hundred pounds, and was running two more marathons after this one within a month (so basically, a superhero); Anna-Marie and Tanya, two girls who had graduated from Wellesley a while back and asked me about my MIT t-shirt; Jenna, who looked badass in her bandana and whipped out her camera at every opportunity. I stayed with all of them, walking only through water stations and up one very crowded hill, until I realized I really shouldn't at about mile 7.5, when I was distracted by the most delicious orange slices I've ever had. Still, the first 8 miles were breezy.

Then the adrenaline wore off and I realized how far I still had to go. After forcing down a gel, a flavor I had never had before and found nasty and swore off of immediately, I did feel a little better. But tiny little aches, like a twinge in my left foot, my abductor muscles on the right, and my shin splints I haven't felt in 5 years came and went. Not going to lie, I knew I would finish, but I was getting nervous about the miles to come.

The next few are a bit of a blur, though I remember stopping at the port-a-potty and also the blessed moment when the boisterous half-marathoners split off from us and the hardcore, serene, determined marathoners continued on, suddenly with extra space to breathe.

In the thick of the park there was a turnaround, so I could see all the faster people (including the pacing group that I abandoned!) coming by. To pump myself up a bit, I stayed close to the center and got a few high fives from the marathoners coming the other way. I also met this awesome woman, Breck, a trauma nurse from Indiana, who was running her second NWM. I stopped at a medical tent to get some painkillers for the tightness in my leg. Eventually it helped, because they finally kicked in or because of placebo effect or because the pain just went away by itself.

Shortly after that I caught Breck again, and we pretty much stuck together to the end, so we had a lot of time to chat and just encourage each other. I was really excited for mile 16, since I knew that's where Austin and Kelly would be! I scanned ever cluster of people looking for them, but they spotted me first and yelled, with cameras at the ready. I gave Kelly a high-five and kissed Austin, said, "10 more miles!" and kept going.
Austin spots me in the distance, with Breck (in pink).

After that was the Great Highway, which, while flat, was LONG. Two miles on a straightaway feels like a lot, especially when all you can see is runners far ahead of you. Breck and I took a lot of walk breaks, but it was good to have her to get me to start running again. I wasn't sure if walking or running made me more sore and tired at that point. We went all the way around Lake Merced. Around the back side was the chocolate mile, which I wasn't convinced I'd be excited about until it was there. Something about lovely people handing out free Ghirardelli chocolate squares at mile 22 just made me feel a bit better about things. I ate two while running and stuffed three more into my fuel belt for later.

Finally, we got all the way around Lake Merced and back to the Great Highway for the final two-and-a-half miles. Breck saw the finish line well before I did, since she's pretty tall, but it was tough to keep going for the long, straight final stretch. I saw some stragglers coming up on the other side, before the lake, and felt very glad that I had that part over with. My legs felt dead, but one last water station around mile 25 with some Gatorade (and of course the awesome high school kids cheering us on) put a little life back into me, and we started running for the last time: no more walking until the finish. Eye of the Tiger conveniently started playing on the last set of speakers we passed, which made me feel unspeakably epic. Every other minute I could feel myself getting emotional already, but used all the mental energy I had left to hold it together until the finish line.

Running on empty.
So close, so far.
Then, after what must have been the longest mile of my life, I spotted Austin and Kelly one more time, couldn't help but smile for their pictures again as I gave a sloppy high five, and continued on to the finishing chute. Breck, being amazing, spotted another woman walking and yelled, "come on, run with us!" Then we were crossing over the mats at the end, and I could finally let go. We hugged, and the woman Breck cheered on at the end came and hugged us too. At that point I was half-sobbing, half-grinning, and staggering as I went to claim my finisher's necklace. I had done it, and I was amazed.

CARBS. Oh, and the finisher's necklace from Tiffany's.
So, after the finish and the first outpouring of emotion, my exhaustion--from lack of sleep and from having run a freaking marathon--hit me like a train. Austin and Kelly found me trying to eat a bagel, and waited with me while I stretched right on the ground. I said, "Please tell me you're not parked far away," so they responded, "oh, it's only 5 blocks." Heh. Sounded pretty far away to me. Anyway, my dad called, and I told him about it, which distracted me a bit from the walk. After climbing a small hill I said I couldn't do any more, and jokingly asked for a piggy-back ride. My lovely boyfriend refused, but Kelly, my new favorite person in the world, told me to climb on. She gave me a ride all the rest of the way, a couple more blocks while I talked to my mom, claiming I was super-light (maybe I was a bit dehydrated?). Anyway, she is still my hero for doing that.

My best friend in the whole world, especially right now.
Along the way it was pretty cool to see the various people who came to cheer us on. I wore my MIT shirt and had my name across my chest on a piece of duct tape, and I'm glad I did that. A lot of people yelled, "MIT!" or "Yeah east coast!" or "Go MIT!" which always made me smile. There were a ton of Team in Training coaches and cheerleaders along the way, and for most of the race they only yelled encouragement at the purple-jersey-wearing TNT runners, which made me feel a bit left out. For the last few miles, though, they were cheering on everybody, and my personal favorite was the woman who yelled, "come on MIT, you've been through tougher than this!" I had to laugh. Pretty cool to have random strangers shout your name just when you need it too.

Finally, a few thoughts on my time. Initially, I kept trying to tell myself my goal was just to finish, which is a good goal for a first marathon with so many unknowns waiting for you. Then, for my last few long runs, it seemed like I could be on pace for five hours. My wild impulse to follow the 4:50 pacer was me thinking maybe it could be possible to be under that, since 5 sounded like a pretty slow pace to me. But after a while I realized how silly I was being and how far I still had. Then I figured maybe I could do it in 5:15. Then I gave that up and decided I would be thrilled to finish on this side of 5:30. I thought it would still be possible as I passed mile 25, but I was no longer capable of running a 10-minute mile for number 26. And the .2 after that. I ended up taking 5:36:52, and I realized how amazing it is that I finished. As one of the Spirit of the Marathon runners said, I feel like I now have an extra layer. I will always be a marathoner. And, within a couple days, before I was even walking normally again (mind you I also biked to and from campus like usual the next morning!), I started thinking about how I could totally do better on my next one. Now I just need to sign up!

Well, once these blisters heal.

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