Sunday 19 February 2012: Marathon
Finally, the backblip you've all been waiting for!
Today, I ran my second marathon ever. I've been training for 18 weeks. I finished up, but unfortunately it did not go as well as planned. I have lots of photos where I cheesed it up for the race photographers but in the end I chose this one coming into the finish line because it's more representative of how I felt and the day I had. In general, I enjoy racing a lot. I always have a good time and usually have a smile on my face. Today, for at least the last 6 or 7 miles, I know I had a concerned grimace on my face so this photo is the most accurate.
The day started fine, we got a good night's sleep and had no troubles waking up. I ate well and hydrated before the start. The start was as magical as I expected. We arrived in the desert in the dark before sunrise to hundreds of mini bonfires to light the area and warm the runners. We huddled close to them and snapped photos while eating bananas and watching the sun rise. We chit chatted with fellow runners. M was having a hard time with T not being here to see the race so I tried to cheer her up a bit.
The start was informal and fun. We walked to the start line and then the gun went off - very fast and exciting! M and I didn't plan to run together since she is faster, and she quickly left me a bit behind, though I kept her in my sights. Running down the dirt road was fun and scenic. I looked at the light starting to hit the cacti and the mountains. I heard coyotes! It was nearly everything I hoped it would be.
For whatever reason, I just didn't feel awesome today. I didn't feel like I had a lot of energy and zip. I felt bloated, slow, tired. I was trying to go fast but really just couldn't. There weren't any injuries nagging me or anything like that - it just wasn't my day. It was one of those days where running is a struggle and unfortunately, it was on race day instead.
By mile 8 or 9, the first time I got to see and get a cheer from Mr. Apple I was already becoming aware that the day wasn't going to be amazing. He asked how I was and I said "Ok." and "More cheering less photos!". The roads were very desolate and there were hardly any spectators. The aid stations were great but you pass through them in a few seconds and you're back to being alone. I really underestimated the help that spectators and crowds provide. This was difficult, especially in the later miles when I didn't see anyone for miles and miles.
At about 10-11 miles, I started to catch and pass M who had been in front of me. She is faster than me so I knew this wasn't a good sign for her. It was in a hilly section so I hoped that I was doing better just because hills are my strong point and that she would soon catch me back. But, I never saw her again until she was waiting for me at the finish line, having dropped out at mile 17. I climbed the big hill with ease and raced down it super fast and that was the best part of the race.
By 16-17 I didn't feel so good. My stomach was unhappy and my legs ached all over. I am used to my legs hurting during long training runs but this felt different. They just ached all as one solid block instead of a pain here, a pain there, a sharp stab in the knee, a charlie horse, etc. By mile 19, when I saw Mr. Apple again, I had tears in my eyes (a very rare occurrence for me). Once again he asked how I was doing and I said "Not good..." and then added "But I will be ok." so that he wouldn't worry. I wasn't worried about dropping out of the race, I've never quit a race, but I sadly knew at this point that all of my time goals for the day were unattainable and my other two "backup goals" (running the whole way without a walk break, and finishing with a smile on my face) were in jeopardy.
After mile 20, the day was very difficult. I didn't get to see Mr. Apple any more until the finish. I was alone most of the time. The roads were long stretches of completely empty desolate highway. I knew I wasn't going to make my goals but I just had to keep going and try not to stop. Finally, at mile 23 the pain in my legs became too much and I took a walk break. From that point on, I walked a bit and forced myself to run as long as I could. When I was running I was in the "cave of pain" and I had the grimace on my face, the furrowed brow...I didn't have the energy to lift my head to look at anyone at the aid stations or speak to them. I stared at the ground in front of me and just tried to run a few more steps. At time I tried to run from just one cone to the next, or from one yellow stripe on the road to the next.
Finally, I got close to the finish and after the last hill I mustered the ability to run the rest of the way - maybe .5 miles to the finish line. Coming into the shoot I heard them call my name and heard people cheering. I saw Mr. Apple and M taking my photo and clapping - I realized that M must have quit the race because she was in street clothes. I crossed the line in 5:10. I had really wanted a sub-five-hour marathon so I missed it by 11 minutes or so. I had held it together for so long but as soon as Mr. Apple gave me a hug I felt into his arms and just burst into tears. I was crying "That sucked sooooo bad!" into his shoulder and I think that summed up the day pretty well.
After it was all over, I scarfed some junk food and walked a mile or so to the car. I wasn't elated about my finish but I wasn't really too upset about it either since I knew I really had done everything I could do on that day. I know on another day, feeling like I had in training, I would have had a very different marathon - but that's one of the aspects of racing. You get one day and that's it. I have a nice medal to remember the day, and it was good experience. It's weird to have done something so huge and feel a bit ambivalent about it afterwards but that's life. I learned from it, I did it, and it's over.
The rest of the day I walked as much as possible because it's supposed to be good for recovery. I took a brutal ice bath in the tub at the hotel. I ate canned soup from the Walgreen's. Then we caught an evening flight to Albuquerque and my marathon experience came to a close.