The Journey of a Marathon
Here's what goes through the mind of a marathoner...
Hartford Marathon - October 14, 2017
As I headed towards the start line around 7:35 after a final pee break, I found the seeded start corrals. I thought I was in “Corral B” (which was for marathoners finishing in under 4 hours), but I was actually in Corral C and the guys were telling me to move up even further! I was psyched that I was so far ahead of everyone else because in San Francisco there were so many runners and it was hard to start out at my regular pace (usually in the 8 minute per mile pace, but I have known to start in the 7’s too). There were still plenty of people ahead of me but I would say the majority of the pack was behind me. I realized once I got in the corral, Pat had my water and I could no longer see him, so I guess I was going without it. LOL, I would be fine. I only wanted it to cool myself down – not necessarily to drink. I drank enough Powerade this week to be fully hydrated and maybe even float away! I stretched a bit more in the corrals and said to myself “OK this is it”. All the work has been done up to this point, it’s just you and the open road. My goal was to get a personal best (under 4:12 which I ran at Myrtle Beach on March 4th). I figured I had a good shot at it understanding this course and knowing that I had 7 more months of running & strength training behind me. It’s pretty cool being lined up for a marathon. Aside from the fact that you usually have to pee yet again, it’s a time of emotional reflection. I usually feel a little choked up at some point because I cherish this moment so much. I feel grateful that I have the ability to “go the distance” and I love putting my full heart and soul into the race. It is why I love it so much. I feel like who I am comes out during the race – my passion for marathon running and life. I love that I am with my own kind. Other marathoners understand me and we are all conquering the same course. It is such a fulfilling thing to do – which I know people who don’t run may not understand this, but that is why it is neat that people are so different too.
When the gun went off, we trotted towards the start line and I set my stopwatch. Here we go! Even though I was in a seeded start, there were still a lot of runners to maneuver around for the first 4 miles and then people started to spread out more. I never saw the first mile marker but I saw the second mile marker and my stopwatch said 16:10, so I know by then my average pace was 8:05 which is very good and decently fast. The first 6 miles of this course surprised me with some up and down hills as we ran around bridges and overpasses. The hills however did not impact me greatly in any way. At 3 miles, my stopwatch said 24:51 which was bit slower than Myrtle Beach (24:25) but I was doing great. I reached 4 miles in 33:21 and 5 miles in 42 minutes and change. I thought I was going to see my family around mile 5 so I kept looking for them. Once you get running a race, the twists and turns usually get confusing so you just follow the crowd and I lost my bearing about what street I was on. I didn’t care as I only needed to focus on plowing through this course. I kept seeing the giant Travelers building which I knew was across the street from the Marriott where we stayed so I was thinking that maybe Pat and the kids were nearby. I kept looking on both sides of the street so I wouldn’t miss them, but I knew I was soon reaching mile 6 and finally I saw them way over on the right. I didn’t go all the way over to high five them or hug them because I was totally in a groove and as any runner knows, if you are in a groove, you cannot mess with that. I waved and put my arms in the air so they knew I felt strong and I told them that the course “was hillier than I thought”. After I passed them, I climbed another hill that was an overpass and soon thereafter, I crossed the 10K mark at 52:27 which was my fastest 10K checkpoint in a marathon! I knew I was feeling good. I thought about having to pee and saw a port-o-potty but said forget it, you can’t flub up this run. Too bad bladder!! Then I climbed another hill and took a right. Keep freaking going baby. I felt good and then around mile 8, I started to feel like I had a blister on the ball of my left foot. I am thinking how could this happen when I lathered my feet up with Vaseline not too long ago. I thought I had put enough on, but now I was wishing I had more!!! At mile 10, there was Vaseline on the table but I couldn’t get over to grab it without stopping or breaking my stride. Again, any and every marathoner knows, don’t break your stride or you are TOAST! Your muscles will potentially cramp up and then it will suck and you may never get your groove back. So for the next few miles I kept thinking about this stupid blister and was telling myself to suck it up and embrace the pain because you still have almost 19 freaking miles to run!!! LOL. I reached the 10 mile mark on my stopwatch at 1:27:32 (fastest ever) and I was right on target with my Myrtle Beach race. I was thinking “Oh yeah, keep this blistering pace up and you will have a PR no problem!” At the half-marathon checkpoint, the clock read 1:56:47 which was 37 seconds slower than Myrtle Beach at this point but I was not worried. If anything after mile 12, I tried to speed up so I could get my half-marathon time to be better than MB, but that didn’t happen. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
At mile 13.5, there was Vaseline again on the table waiting for me to take it. I needed it desperately so this time I grabbed it and pulled over to put it on my left foot. I had to hold on to a trash can so I didn’t fall over (LOL) and sure enough my left calf muscle cramped up as soon as I picked up my leg. I got a little worried then but I know I was working hard and muscles do not like to come to an abrupt halt and then try to run ANOTHER 13 miles!!! I stuffed it in my sock as quickly as I could and took off again. I figure the pit stop was about 15 seconds, but enough to make me ease into starting to run again. I was worried about the muscle cramps and just wanted to make sure those were not going to come back. By looking at my stopwatch, I knew my pace was in the 9’s so I was happy with that. I probably got a little conservative in mile 14, but when I reached 15 miles at 2:15, I was doing the math in my head and saying “Holy cow, you wanted to reach mile 17.1 (checkpoint) at 2:45 but I think you are going to get there by 2:35 if you keep this pace up.” Sure enough, I crossed the 17.1 checkpoint at 2:35:17 and I was thoroughly amazed with this pace. At mile 17.1 too, it was the point where we turned around and headed back for the 9 mile trek into downtown Hartford. I was probably in mile 18 when I saw the 4:00 hour pacer on the other side of the road. I knew the 4 hour pacer was behind me but seeing that made me try to speed up because I was like I am NOT letting the 4 hour pacer pass me. It was about this time that I was doing the math (yet again) and saying, “OMG, you might be able to break 4 hours. It will be tight, but it could be possible if you feel strong the rest of the way.” I reached 20 miles at 3:03 and then I said to myself “OK, a 56 minute 10K and you have a sub-4 marathon.” Could I do that, that’s roughly a 9 minute mile which is certainly hard to do at the end of a marathon, but screw it, let’s try for it!! Even if I get a 4:04 or 4:05, it’s still a personal record, which I would be thrilled about. I wanted this race to be about not leaving anything “on the table”. Michelle and I talked on Wednesday about pushing it to a point you have never been and I wanted to experiment with this race. What the hell. I run so many marathons as it is, have fun with it. I never feel like I leave anything “in the tank” at the end of a race but let’s just run this race smooth and as quickly as possible. I really had this belief that all of this heavy strength training I did since August 6th was going to pay off. I lifted heavy weights 28 times for this marathon training cycle and I just believed in my heart and mind that THIS was going to pay off in greater muscle strength to power me through the marathon at a faster pace. It was in mile 20 though that 4 hour pacer passed me so I felt a little disappointed but I kept plowing ahead. I was just about to reach mile 21 when I felt my left hamstring cramp up and then I had to hop twice and felt my right calf cramp up too. I said “Oh NO!!” out loud. I was so worried that “Oh no, am I going to have to walk the rest of this race like other people!?!” “Hell no, I am so close to getting a personal best that I am NOT going to let that happen.” It’s mind over matter baby. So much went through my mind. Why were my muscles cramping up? It was this damn hamstring that always felt tight and weaker in the weight room but I felt good prior to the race and stretched well (focusing a lot on that left leg). I hydrated well prior to and during the race and did not skip any water stops. I have been religiously eating my GU every 3-4 miles. Then I remembered that Michelle gave me a vial of salt that I kept in my pocket. I hadn’t used it but since she is an IRONMAN (twice) and my idol, I was going to try this. Maybe my body somehow was sodium depleted and/or more fatigued because I was running faster than ever? That could be. I really didn’t know, so for the next few miles, I continued to drink, eat GU and have salt to get through the race. There were times in these next few miles, it would cramp up again and I never knew when it was going to happen, but I just wanted to get to the finish line, get my personal best and be strong. I would have freaking crawled across the finish line if I had to but I didn’t really want to. I pride myself on finishing strong but I was so afraid of the legs just cramping up again and you know when it happens, you feel like you are going to fall over. I got to the 25.1 checkpoint at 3:55:31 so I knew there was no way I was going to break 4 hours but I was thrilled that I was going to finish somewhere around 4:05-4:06. As I reached downtown Hartford, the spectators were out and they were cheering like crazy (for all of us runners they don’t know) and I remember being around mile 25.5 or so and I am thinking, I could literally walk the rest of this race and STILL get a personal best. In that moment, I was elated and feeling so happy about that. A personal best IN A MARATHON is not easy. You don’t run marathons every day and it’s a long freaking way to run and so much can go wrong to derail you, but then when you just crush a course, it is the most incredible feeling and effort. I was so excited and put my arms in the air and the firemen on the left side of the road were cheering for me. It was so nice! The last mile I was singing the songs I was listening to because I was beyond freaking happy. In spite of leg cramps, I was in control and I was living in this moment and I was cherishing this “glory mile”. I looked all around to find Pat and the kids again. I didn’t know what side they were on and it was hard to find them among the huge crowds. Eventually as I was coming down the chute towards the finish line, I saw them and I was just so thrilled and happy. I saw them, I saw the finish line and I had my personal best in the bag. OMG, what else can someone seriously ask for in life?!? It was such a rewarding and fulfilling moment. I loved it, I still love it. I love reliving it in my mind and now I can’t wait for the next race. I crossed the finish line and looked up to the sky to thank God for the ability to do this. As I walked after the finish line, the volunteers were so genuinely saying ‘Congratulations’ and one man (older than me) said “Nice finish”. I said thanks but thought to myself, “Nice finish? I ran that hard the whole race!” LOL. The real testament of strength (in my opinion) is how you run the 2nd half of the marathon. At 13.1 miles, the race begins. I ran my fastest 2nd half of marathon ever 2:09:14. (Providence was my previous best at 2:12:10.) I attribute this stronger run to the strength training. No doubt. It was so cool to push your body to points it has never gone before. I thoroughly amazed myself and I absolutely loved it. Right now today, my favorite race was Hartford. Next week, my favorite race will be “the next one”. I love all of these marathons. They are all so different and they mean so much to me for so many different reasons. It is incredible to be able to power your body to run 26.2 miles and to be able to have your feet traverse the streets of all these different cities and towns is an absolutely amazing experience and journey. I am so glad my life evolved this way and that I found this true passion. This is living my friends!!
POST RACE NOTES: It’s now Wednesday (4 days after the marathon) and I’m feeling much better. The layers of pain have been peeled back day by day and my toes are feeling better (even if they don’t look better). My left hamstring feels better now even compared to yesterday and yes, the chafing, got quite a few cuts from the sweating and rubbing of clothes. Where my arm band was hurts the most now. The rest of the cuts are just itchy. I have not signed up for Philadelphia Marathon yet…. I want to make sure I have no long term problems with this hamstring, so will give it more time but I WANT to sign up.