Today was a dream come true. It was a day when I stood next to greatness, humbled by the reigning gods and goddesses of marathon running. Having the chance to see in person the best this country has to offer to the world of Olympic running, the same people who are my running heroes and superstars, was a day I’ll never forget.
It’s hard not to gush when you’ve seen the best.
Here are a few preliminary photos I took of the runners at today’s Olympic Marathon Trials. A longer post, with more photos, will follow in the next few days.
Looking back on this past year of running, I realize it was a step back kind of year for me, sort of like how Stella lost her groove. While other people and blogs are celebrating running 1,000+ miles, I barely cracked 886. In retrospect, this was the year I ran less, got slower, had a few minor injuries, and overall didn’t enjoy running as much as before.
Kind of like not seeing the forest for the trees, I couldn’t see the joy because of the pain.
The year started with a marathon in Death Valley in February. Even though I was excited to be running in the desert, I barely slogged through the training. Mostly I remember my friend, Hari, dragging me on 9 mile tempo loops around the lake after work, cursing him under my breath for making me run faster than I wanted. The race in Death Valley was one of the highlights of the year, as tough as it was, and it made me realize how much more I enjoy running smaller races in scenic locations than huge marathons in big cities.
After Death Valley, however, I truly lost my running mojo. Without a new goal race in sight, with no training plan, I became untethered. I ran sporadically, making excuses for my lack of enthusiasm for all things running, and just kind of checked out for awhile. This coincided with the decision to quit teaching, and I’m sure a general lack of direction was the culprit. It was all mental, but the body didn’t have any trouble following the lead.
Then there was the summer. The summer of unrelenting heat. The summer that almost swallowed up the rest of the year. The summer that nearly killed all desire to ever run again.The hottest summer on record in Texas history.
I decided to run the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa and rounded up a few friends to go with me. We started training in June and trained right through the hottest temperatures any of us have ever run in. I avoid summer races like the plague, but a bunch of us let Steph talk us into running a 15K in July, the Too Hot to Hold. We knew it was crazy, but we ran it anyway, just for fun (and the hat and the tech shirt). We made friends with the heat for that one morning, and were surprised that it really wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. Little did we know how much worse it would get.
At first it was a game: let’s see how hot it gets before it kills us! Eventually it became nothing more than depressing. Day after day after record breaking day of temperatures too crazy high to run in, we kept on running anyway. There were days I simply couldn’t talk myself into running after dark when it was still in the 100’s, and I think I reached my temperature limit at 105 degrees. Speed work and hills were out of the question for me. It was hard enough just to raise my foot off the ground for an easy run. Long runs at 6am when the temperature was already in the 90’s made me want to cry. The summer became an ultramarathon of heat, and the finish line kept getting pushed farther and farther out of reach. There was never a break, month after month of heat, and no one complained louder than I did.
Letting the heat get to me led to wildly inconsistent training, which probably caused two minor injuries that plagued me until the end of the year: ankle tendonitis and piriformis syndrome. One week I would pull it together and run 35 miles, the next I could barely rouse myself to run 10. The ankle tendonitis is an old friend, greeting me whenever I ramp up the miles too fast, kind of like shin splints. The piriformis was a completely new ailment, and reminded me a lot of plantar fasciitis because of its tenacity in holding on.
In the end, I decided to run only the half in Tulsa, which was a good decision for me. The weather was cold, the race somewhat small, and I ran the entire 13 miles with Heather, and with Bill, Hari, and Liz always close by. Afterwards, I felt as if I had been kissed by the running prince, waking me up from a long slumber of running malaise. I don’t know if it was running in the cold, running only a half marathon, or running with my friends, but suddenly I looked forward to running again.
The piriformis pain was still an issue, though, and I decided to start doing yoga again to see if that helped. I had done yoga almost daily years ago before I started running, and it was my favorite part of the day. It was the same this time as well. I do yoga almost every morning now, and sometimes after a run. It’s made a huge difference in alleviating sore muscles, I don’t feel as stiff in the mornings, and I feel more relaxed–and stronger–in general. I also realized this week, for the first time in months, that I hadn’t thought about my piriformis once during or after my last 10 mile run, and that it no longer hurt.
Yesterday I ran the Bold in the Cold half marathon in Grapevine with around 13 of my running friends. Heather, Hari, and I had already decided that it would be a training run for us, so we kept it at training pace for most of the race. At mile 7, though, at the top of a hill, I suddenly felt great, and Hari and I stepped up the pace for a few miles. It was good to know I still had some speed in my legs, and I loved that feeling of flow that only comes when you run fast.
Next up: the Eugene Marathon at the end of April. It looks like there will be a Dallas invasion for the marathon, and I am so excited. For the first time in a very long time, I’m actually looking forward to training for and running another marathon. I’m determined not to let the heat get to me this spring.
Looking back, it wasn’t that bad of a year after all. There were challenges, but nothing I couldn’t handle. This summer may have turned me into a madwoman, but we all suffered through it together, and it made us that much tougher. I got to run a marathon in my favorite setting, the desert, and I rediscovered the benefits of yoga.
Even though it was a step back kind of year overall, it eventually led me to a renewed excitement about running and reminded me why I run in the first place: because I love it, and because it’s what I do. Nothing more, nothing less than that.
For the past two years I’ve spectated at our city’s largest race, the Dallas White Rock Marathon. As a marathoner myself, I love cheering on the runners and supporting them at mile 21, which coincides with a significant uphill climb from a long flat stretch around White Rock Lake. I get to see a lot of friends I’ve trained with through the years and help them out with words of encouragement, but most of the faces who run by are strangers who happen to share my love of running. Out of everyone I see on marathon day, the runners who touch my heart the most, and remind me what running is truly all about, are the ones at the very back of the pack. To me, they are the real heroes of the marathon.
I love watching the elites fly by. Their focused intensity and the beauty of their running form always leave me speechless. I know I will never run that fast, and will never know what it feels like to be the first person to break the tape at a race that large. I cheer for them, but they are so completely centered on their running they rarely look over. Seeing them glide by reminds me how beautiful the human body is performing at the apex of conditioning and training.
The faster runners who follow them are no less awe-inspiring. No matter how talented or lucky they are to be born with the right combination of muscles, strength, and mental focus to be as fast as they are, I also know they train a lot harder than I do. Most work full-time jobs, have families and responsibilities, and still manage to train seriously enough to win or place in their age groups.
The four hour pace group is always a great sight, mainly because so many of us want to be in that group, especially the last six miles of the marathon. It’s usually a large group, and a lot of the runners are starting to show the strain of keeping the pace for over twenty miles. For those who had aspirations of a 3:50 or faster finish, the dream is starting to fade, and they know they won’t be able to hold on much longer, especially on the long climb up from the lake. For others, who’ve trained on hills and know the course well, they’ve managed to dig deep enough to know how close they are to realizing their dream of a sub four hour marathon, and that nothing will stop them. I know that look in their eyes, and I cheer them on by yelling that they’re strong, and well-trained, and that they know what to do.
Gradually, there are a few runners who decide to walk up the hill, then more and more appear. These are the runners who’ve given everything they had, and they hit the wall hard. Some smile and shake their heads as they walk past, and I know they’ll probably find that last ounce of strength to get them across the finish line. Others avoid my eyes as they walk past and act as if my words of encouragement are not meant for them, and I know exactly how they feel. If you’ve ever run more than one marathon, chances are you’ve been there, too, beating yourself up and feeling like you’ve let yourself and everyone else down. A few people look me straight in the eye with so much disappointment on their faces, so defeated, all I can say to them is, “I know, I know . . .” and “you can do this.”
This year’s marathon had the worst conditions I can remember in a long time, with temperatures in the low 40’s, wind, and intermittent rain. After training through the hottest summer on record, the weather was the complete opposite of what most Texas runners had to contend with. The faster runners were better able to handle the conditions, mainly because their steady pace kept their body temperatures relatively stable. The less fast runners suffered a lot, but it was the walkers who took the full brunt of the freezing rain.
After the 4:30 pace group passes a lot of runners start to look just plain miserable. The cold rain is unrelenting, and four and a half hours is a long time to be wet and cold. One girl walks past crying and shivering, her pink gloved hands covering her mouth. Her eyes speak volumes. I tell her to just keep moving. Another woman stops and asks me something I can’t understand because her lips are frozen, and she hands me a GU packet with teeth marks, and I open it for her. A man runs past and hands me a soaking wet knit cap, telling me to wash it and take it home.
The runners start to become more appreciative of my cheering. I stand alone on the hill, sometimes sounding like a drill sergeant, telling the runners that they’re FIGHTERS or they wouldn’t be here today, that they trained through the hottest summer on record, when it was 105 degrees, day after day, mile after mile, and they’re STRONG enough to get up that hill. I yell and tell them how they’ve battled all day long through the cold rain, they battled through the summer of hell, and that after this day they’re going to know EXACTLY what they’re made of. I tell them it’s time to dig deep, time to turn off the brain and just keep going. (Yes, I really do say all that stuff. Other spectators walking by look at me like I’m nuts, smiling and wondering who the heck I am.)
The pace gets a little slower and I start to see more runners in Team in Training shirts. My chant of “You’re FIGHTERS or you wouldn’t be here today!” seems to really hit a nerve with certain groups of the less fast women. They raise their arms and cheer and take off up the hill, telling themselves, “Yeah, we’re FIGHTERS!” Some people come over to give me high fives, one man calls me Sunshine, another tells me he’ll never forget me. Some walkers actually start running when they hear me cheering, and I feel like a proud coach, goading everyone on to victory. I feel such a bond with these back of the pack runners, and I realize I may be getting more out of being here today than they are.
So many people thank me for being there, for coming out to support them, and I tell them I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for them. I think about yesterday, how Michael and I got up at 4am to drive to Houston for a touch rugby tournament and decided to drive back the same day just so we could help out at the marathon. I also think about how I almost stayed home, not wanting to brave the elements, but feeling guilty and knowing at the last minute that I needed to give back, to repay all those who’ve ever taken the time to cheer me on in a marathon. I can’t imagine missing any of this.
The spectators down on the corner have thinned out, the five hour group has passed, but people are still running. The mood has changed. There are still many runners who are struggling and look completely spent, but many are also upbeat and determined to finish. I have to convince a few of the walkers that it’s okay, all they have to do is just keep going, they’re doing great. It’s as if they need some confirmation that it’s okay not to reach your time goal, that it’s really all about crossing the finish line and not how fast you get there.
The five thirty group passes, and everyone is laughing and happy that someone is still on the course, cheering them on. I tell them how amazing they are, how they are such an inspiration to everyone out here today, and they thank me profusely. I love their spirit, how they seem to revel in the bad weather and the challenges they’ve overcome. I look around and see that I really am the only person still standing on the hill, and think what a shame it is that people don’t hang around for these last heroes of the marathon.
When I run a marathon I almost always want to run it faster than the one before. These people in the back are here to finish. For them, it’s all about the journey that got them there, and the experience of the race itself. They are proving something to themselves and their families. Even though most of them are walking, they are still marathoners, and I call them that as I cheer them on. With frozen fingers and toes, I finally walk down the hill to the mile 20.5 water stop where Michael is helping out to cheer on the very last marathoners. I run into my friend Serena, a triathlete running her first marathon, who is running with another friend, Stacy. They are cold and miserable, and need hugs, but they’re still smiling and determined to finish strong.
And still they come, stragglers in ones and twos, most walking, some shuffling along at a steady running pace. These are the people who bring tears to my eyes. Their resolve to finish is beyond inspiring–it’s life changing, even to those who are only watching. I remember reading a comment by Ryan Hall, that he couldn’t imagine being on his feet for four hours or longer in a marathoner. Being one of those persons myself, I think this is my equivalent, that I can’t imagine walking 26.2 miles, or running it in five and a half or six hours. I remember how sore I was the day I walked six miles down to the lake and back, and shake my head at the thought of walking in the freezing rain through an entire day’s marathon.
The water stop is slowly dismantled, but water and Gatorade are left out for those who need it. One of the walkers asks if he can have some of my orange juice (it’s actually a mimosa), and I wonder if I should tell him there’s something special in the drink. He says it will help him get up the hill, and I agree. A young guy runs up and yells, “I’m glad you guys didn’t forget about me!” smiling and laughing, and I could almost bet he’ll be back next year, with a huge PR.
Another man shuffles up just as Michael is lowering the Start sign. He looks up, confused, and asks me why it says Start. I tell him for most runners the last six miles are the hardest, and some say it’s where the marathon truly begins. I tell him he’s at mile 20.5 and he nods and slowly shuffles off. I’m not sure he really understood anything I was trying to tell him.
Finally, around 2:30pm, the last three marathoners come through, followed by two police cars. Two people walk ahead together, the other is an older woman. Her husband walks beside her in street clothes and a cowboy hat, larger than life and talking nonstop. He’s like General Patton gathering supplies, running over and asking if he can have some orange juice for his wife. I bring over the entire jug and he asks if I can walk with them. He has three cups of Gatorade in his hands, and drains them as we walk and talk. He tells me his wife is from Oklahoma, and this is her first marathon. He jumped out of his car when he saw her pass and decided to walk the last six miles or so with her. He takes a swig of the “orange juice” and asks why it tastes so much better than the Gatorade. I decide to come clean and tell him it’s actually spiked with something, and he turns to his wife to ask if that’s okay. He’s trying to give the other two marathoners some of the orange juice as I pull away with the empty jug. I kind of wish I could keep walking with them, all the way to the finish line. I try to imagine what it must feel like to know you are the very last person in a marathon. As I watch the woman from Oklahoma and her husband, I think it must be a pretty great feeling indeed.
I loved it when Lance Armstrong, after running his first marathon a few years ago, said that it was the hardest thing he’d ever done. I have to admit it’s somewhat satisfying when one of the world’s best athletes is humbled by your chosen sport. My friend Serena, who swore she would never do a marathon, said afterwards, “I would rather do a half Ironman, a 100K bike race, or a 100 mile bike ride any day. The marathon was twice as hard as any of these.” She’s a super athlete herself–and I doubt it will be her last marathon.
In the past, I’ve heard faster, more competitive runners say disparaging things about the walkers and slowest runners, saying they’re not “real” runners and only clog up the course, but to me they epitomize what the marathon truly stands for. If I keep running into very old age, I know that one day I will be one of those very back of the pack marathoners. I might even be the last one to cross the finish line. Until then, I’ll let the real heroes of the marathon forge the path, in their own way, at their own speed. I’d be honored to run, walk, or shuffle in their footsteps.
I seem to have a love/hate affair with marathons. I love most of the training, especially the long runs with my running group, but usually hate the actual race. I’ve only had one really good marathon where everything fell into place (weather, pace, health, BQ finish time), but I can’t really say that there’s ever been one single marathon I’ve ever truly enjoyed. I used to think this was some type of major character flaw in my running psyche. Now I know that it just means I don’t always love running marathons.
(I’m still holding out hope that this will one day change.)
Last Sunday I ran the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Since July I had trained for the full marathon, but nagging ankle tendonitis and piriformis syndrome made me decide a few weeks out to switch to the half marathon distance rather than cause a more serious injury. Making the decision to switch to a shorter distance caused a lot of anguish and made me feel like I was letting both myself and all the friends I trained with down. Also, training through the hottest summer on record in Texas was miserable, and the marathon was supposed to be the payoff for all those miles of torture.
Once the decision was made, however, everything in me relaxed. I was more than trained for a half, and my only goals were to run the 13.1 miles with my marathon friends, and to make it to the finish line uninjured. My unspoken, true goal, however, was to enjoy a race again, even if it wasn’t the marathon.
All goals were accomplished.
The Friday afternoon before the race, Michael and I loaded up the car with luggage, video camera equipment, ourselves, and the dogs. Yes, the dogs. We don’t travel lightly. The four and a half hour drive north was uneventful, and I even got to see a beautiful starry sky just outside of Tulsa. Our room at the Holiday Inn was surprisingly modern and comfy and, best of all, pet friendly. I could have done without the room being right next to the elevator, but we spent so little time in the room it was never a huge issue.
Our first morning there we reloaded up the car with all the camera equipment so we could film the marathon course, and Bill arrived just as we were leaving for the expo. The expo was tiny and we didn’t spend much time there, but Heather arrived just as we were leaving, so we waited around to see if she wanted to drive the course with us. Poor Heather was having a slew of bad luck getting to the start line. She had contracted strep throat the week before the race, and on the drive up to Tulsa her husband caught some type of stomach bug and, after having throwing up violently on the side of freeway, had to get a room in Norman because he was too sick to continue. At the expo, Heather’s bib couldn’t be located, so she had to be given a new bib and chip.
Bill decided he wanted to drive the course with us, but Heather wanted to see some family and get some rest. Armed with course map, GPS, video cameras, dogs, and Bill we set out to see exactly what the course was like. The official marathon description had said the course was “relatively flat,” but I’ve noticed almost all marathon course descriptions say something similar.
We knew there were going to be hills, but we had no idea there were going to be that many hills. Except for a six mile stretch along the river, the course is pretty much long, rolling hills–and they don’t let up, all the way to the finish line. We always try to incorporate hills into our long runs, and do a pretty intense hill repeat run called “Crazy 8’s,” but the Tulsa hills were long, nothing like what we have here in Dallas. Also, the sheer number of hills were unlike anything I had ever encountered in a race, which isn’t saying much since I’ve only run six marathons.
Bill wasn’t happy at the sight of all those hills, but kept a positive outlook nevertheless. I was secretly happy that I wouldn’t have to run all those hills the next day, but a part of me also felt disappointed that I wouldn’t be facing the challenge. Even though I complain about them, I generally like hilly courses. Mostly, though, I thought about Heather and how tough this course would be for her since she had been sick all week, and also knowing that we hadn’t really done enough hill work to do our best on this tough course. I also thought about Liz, who was attempting to finish her first marathon after being carried off the course halfway through three years ago in her first attempt, and coming back stronger than ever after surgery and a long recovery. This is not the course I would want to run on for my first full marathon. I also wondered if Don would be able to run the sub four hour marathon he felt was within reach.
At dinner that night, everyone wanted to know about the course, and they quickly caught on when I hesitated. Hari covered his ears and made it clear he didn’t want to know anything about the course. I told Heather and Liz to run the first half conservatively, because the second half had more hills than the first.
Of course we had all been checking the weather forecast obsessively the week before the race, and the forecast didn’t change all week. It called for a very warm, windy Saturday, with temps in the 70’s, with a cold front blowing in Saturday night and the winds diminishing before the race start, and temperatures in the mid 50’s. We were all keeping our fingers crossed that the winds would die down and the temperatures would drop before the race, because Saturday was incredibly windy and warm.
We all came back to the hotel and Michael set up the video equipment to interview everyone about tomorrow’s race. Everyone relaxed and stretched in the hallway as they waited, and then it was time for bed. (When we got home, and Michael tried to download the video, he discovered the memory card had somehow been corrupted. He’s working on saving the data. When he does, I’ll post the video. Fingers crossed.)
I went to bed that night not nervous, merely excited about running in the morning.
RACE DAY: Woke up to 47 degrees and a slight wind. Got dressed and met Hari, Bill, Heather, and Liz in the hotel hallway. Hari and Bill were almost identically dressed in matching WRRC sleeveless tanks and arm warmers. I was glad I had packed for all four seasons and remembered to bring gloves and a headband. Since the hotel was half a block from the start line, the hotel lobby was packed with runners cupping warm cups of coffee trying to escape the cold temperatures.
Going outside, it felt colder than 47, and the breeze was a little stiff as we made our way into corral B. Everyone was excited and ready to start, only we realized the start was actually only for corral A, and there was a five minute staggered start between corrals. With only 4500 runners, the staggered start seemed a little strange. Also, I heard some runners around me complaining about the fact that the 4:00 pace group was up in corral A, so if that was your goal and you were in corral B, and you wanted to run with that specific pace group, you were pretty much out of luck.
I’m usually very observant during marathons, but for some reason I don’t remember many details from this race. Maybe it was the course, maybe it was the cold, or maybe it was because I was much more relaxed than usual, but if I hadn’t driven the course twice the day before I wouldn’t be able to tell you very much about what it was like. Also, since I was going to stay with the marathoners and not push the pace, I had left my Garmin home. I must have missed the mile markers because I was never really sure of where we were on the course until we got down to the river, which meant closer to my finish line.
Hari, Bill, Heather, Liz, and I all started together and ran the first few miles as a unit. The start was nice, with confetti and loud music and the obligatory hyped up announcer, but the first hill appeared just after the first turn, and it was an almost mile long uphill. It looked imposing, but it was also early enough in the race to not really register in the brain. One of the first things I noticed as we ran the first few miles was how little crowd support there was. Undoubtedly the cold temperature had something to do with that, but even when we did encounter people there was very little clapping or yells of encouragement. Not once did I hear anyone yell out a runner’s name, which is very different from other marathons I’ve participated in.
Hari pulled away from our little group fairly early, as we knew he would, but we could usually see him just ahead of us. The first six miles took us through rolling hills of charming neighborhoods, a Catholic school with students stationed at six speed bumps with signs and warnings, and beautiful trees resplendent in fall colors of red, orange, and yellow. I told Heather to look at the trees, trying to counteract the tunnel vision we all seem to get when running long distances, and to keep us from grumbling about the hills.
We were all very quiet as we ran. I remember wondering about that, and looking back I think it was because of the hills. They weren’t terribly steep, and we were all trained enough to handle them, but there was always another one just around the next corner. The good thing for me was I knew that once we got down to the river after mile 6 it would be flat, and I reminded Heather of this as we got closer. Bill and Liz had fallen a little behind us, but we knew they were close by.
I asked Heather how she felt and she replied “terrible.” I knew she was just being grumpy. Once she asked why we were doing this, and I came up with some BS answer of “because we can, because we’re strong, because of the trees, because we’re alive . . .”
At mile 7 Heather commented on how she wished she were halfway done with her race, like me. I was surprised we were already at 7, but was also glad that the course was finally flat. We did get down to the river, but I had forgotten about the 1.5 mile detour off the river down a road that went past every fast food joint and pawn shop known to man. Every city has a road like that, and it felt like running down Garland Rd back home.
Finally we were back at the river, which in my mind meant I was close to the finish line. The faster runners passed us going the other direction on the other side of the road, and we saw Don blaze past us. He looked strong and determined to run his sub 4:00. At this point the miles seemed to stretch out like a rubber band, and it felt like we were never going to reach the turn around. My legs felt good, but I didn’t push the pace, remaining cognizant of the fact that Heather still had 13+ miles of hills ahead of her.
We saw Hari pass on the other side of the road, and finally came to the turn around. We saw Bill just behind us, and became concerned that Liz was a little farther behind. I had a feeling she was running her race plan and saving energy for the second half.
At this point, coming into the last 3.25 miles of the half, each mile felt like twice its normal length. It was flat along the river, and it was monotonous. The Arkansas River is not terribly scenic as it flows on the outskirts of Tulsa, and across the river there were a lot of plants and refineries. It was also cold, with a slight headwind, and I told Heather my legs were numb from the cold and I couldn’t feel them anymore. It felt much colder than it had at the start. Even with gloves, my fingers were freezing.
Step after step, we trudged on. The ankle tendonitis that had plagued me almost the entire training season was completely absent during the race, but the past few week’s struggle with piriformis soreness had made its appearance just after all the hills at mile 6. I felt it every single time I lifted my right leg, and there was nothing to keep me from thinking about it on this last flat stretch of the course.
I was glad for the water stop at mile 12, and suddenly Bill was right behind us, talking, and I was glad Heather would have someone else to run with when I split off. Before I knew it, it was time to cross over to the other side of the road and up the hill to the finish line. I felt so sad to leave Heather and Bill, but also glad to be finished. Just before the split, I called out to Bill and Heather to wish them luck, but they didn’t hear me, and I felt sad again. Even though I knew I had made the right decision to run “only” the half, it was still tough to see them continue on without me.
Suddenly, I heard my name called out from some spectators on the median and was surprised to see an old friend from Dallas. She was just as surprised to see me. Then I saw Michael and the dogs, which gave me an incredible burst of energy, and I gave it everything I had through the finish chute, passing everyone in my path–which felt awesomely badass!
After I grabbed a space blanket, my medal (which is the coolest medal in my collection), some Gatorade, and a bagel, with teeth chattering, I made the long walk back to Michael. IT WAS FREEZING! Thankfully I had loaded up Michael’s backpack with a bunch of throw away race clothes, including two items I couldn’t seem to get rid of: the world’s ugliest Turkey Trot t-shirt and a pair of pink Hello Kitty sweatpants I had bought in the children’s department at Target for $2.45 to wear before Boston. Despite how ridiculous the outfit looked, I couldn’t wait to put everything on and warm up. Even though I had packed for four seasons, I hadn’t brought enough for winter.
Our original plan was to wait at the finish line for the others to cross, but it was way too cold to stand around for two hours, especially when Michael had forgotten gloves and a cap.
We decided to walk to the car to warm up. As soon as we started the car we heard a radio announcer saying the temperature was 37 degrees, with a wind chill factor of 26, which meant the temperature had dropped ten degrees since the start. I’ve run in colder temps before, and was freezing at the finish, but it truly was almost perfect weather for a race.
We decided to drive over to mile 24 to cheer on the runners and possibly run someone in. Almost immediately we saw the husband of the old friend who had yelled out my name just before the finish line, and he was keeping pace with the 3:40 group. Not too far behind him, however, was Don, definitely on pace to run a sub 4:00. He looked strong and very focused, and surprised to see us. I hooted and hollered for all the runners, especially those who looked like they were struggling. I was amazed that some people could look so fresh and alert, and others looked like they would give anything to curl up in the grass. A few people looked at me like they wanted to kill me. I’ve definitely been there!
I was ecstatic to see the next runner from the group: Liz!!!!! She looked very tired, but I was impressed that she had passed Bill, Heather, and Hari to take the lead. I wondered how it had felt when she made it past mile 12, and if she shed any tears thinking of what happened three years ago. Seeing her so close to finishing her first marathon was incredibly inspiring.
A few minutes behind Liz was Hari. I’d recognize those compression socks and arm warmers anywhere! He was running with a small entourage of people I didn’t know, which made me laugh that Hari would make friends in the midst of all the agony. He looked great!
Finally, I could see Heather running towards me, and I teared up! I was so proud of her for making it through all those hills. She was as feisty as ever, telling me she was so over all the hills and hoping there weren’t any more (I couldn’t tell her there were indeed more ahead), and telling me how much she hated the course. I ran with her a little way down the hill and we talked about how anyone could train for so many hills. We hugged and said goodbye, and I knew the medal she was looking forward to would make her feel a lot better.
While we were running she told me Bill had dropped out of the race around mile 20, that he was having some IT band issues and couldn’t finish. I knew how devastated Bill must be feeling, and felt bad for him. I wished I had been there when he made that decision (though he says the curse words were flying at that point and that I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be there).
Everyone met up at the hotel afterwards, exhausted and happy to be done. I was tired, but felt nothing like I usually do after a marathon. In fact, I felt exhilarated. Running the half was fun, and I loved being able to run in a race with everyone I had trained with without dreading all the miles ahead of me and worrying constantly about my pace and hitting a PR. The only battle wound I had was a small blood blister on a random toe, which was also a huge change from the blisters and black toenails I’ve had after past marathons.
Running “only” the half was a blast. I really loved running that day, and it was exactly what I needed. I came home looking forward to running again, and started thinking about running more halfs and less full marathons. I got out my running books and started thinking about a training plan to bring my speed back up to par. I couldn’t wait for the muscle soreness to go away so I could run again.
Running a race just for fun, with my friends, was a good reminder to me that it isn’t always about the PR, or proving how tough we are, or testing our limits. Sometimes you can go out and just run–and that’s enough.
The organizers of the NYC Marathon have changed some of the guidelines for entry into the race. Most people get in by lottery, running for charity, or qualifying with an incredibly fast age-graded marathon or half marathon finish time (the times are significantly faster than those to qualify for the Boston Marathon). While it’s never been easy to get in through the lottery, now it will be even more difficult.
The biggest change is doing away with the “three strikes” entry plan–which means if you don’t get in after three tries, you’re guaranteed entry the following year. This is a change that will affect many runner’s dreams of running the largest marathon in the world. And with almost 45,000 finishers last year, it seems everyone wants to run NYC. With the new changes, it will be even harder to realize their dream.
But guess what? Since this year’s attempt was my second strike, I’m barely squeaking in. If I don’t get in by lottery next year, I’m guaranteed an entry for 2013. I feel very fortunate to know that I definitely have a spot waiting for me. New York, I won’t let you down!
Two years ago our running friend Danny ran the NYC Marathon and came back a changed man. He loved it so much, and talked about it so much, that everyone caught the bug and decided to sign up for the next year. Some were lucky enough to get in through the lottery (I didn’t) and the rest ran for charity (including Danny, again). I was already running Boston in April, and on a teacher’s salary couldn’t justify another expensive marathon. I was so jealous and sad to miss all the fun.
So I entered the lottery again this year and still didn’t get in–which I was actually glad about since I had just quit my job. My heart stopped, though, when I saw the announcement about the changes this morning, until I read that they’re phasing it in over the next two years, and I’ll be grandfathered in.
So why do I want to even run NYC? I hate crowds, I prefer smaller marathons in smaller cities, and NYC is expensive. Big crowds of people make me nervous, and after 9/11 I have this fear that terrorists will find a way to blow up a bridge during the race, or terrorist runners will strap bombs to themselves or something during the marathon.
Here’s why I really want to run the NYC Marathon: because it was my first recognition as a child that people can accomplish things that seem insurmountable. I remember watching scenes from the NYC marathon on the TV when I was a kid in the 70’s, and being amazed at the number of people crossing over a bridge. I couldn’t imagine doing something like that. I didn’t want to do something like that, and couldn’t understand why someone else would. But I still knew it was something big, something life-changing, and it intrigued me. It inspired me.
Now I’ll get the chance to run in the shadows of those first marathoners I watched on TV when I was just a kid. I feel so honored.
And, come on, it is New York. I mean, who wouldn’t want to run there?
The following is a guest post by the founder and leader of our running group, The White Rock Running Co-op, Chris Stratton:
Running in the Footsteps of Legends – by Chris Stratton
Eugene is the birthplace of Nike, the glory years of Steve Prefontaine, Alberto Salazar, Mary Decker Slaney, home of Hayward Field, NCAA Track and Field Championships, Olympic Trials, etc. If there is a city in America that has its roots and culture in running, Eugene is it. It’s why it is named Track Town USA. Eugene in May has reliably cool weathe,r and the race got excellent reviews even though this is only the fourth year of the marathon. This was the first year the race was actually going to finish on the track at Hayward field. Combine this with the fact that Eugene is a running mecca and you have all of the workings for a great race. Last year I decided I could keep making excuses as to why I am not running this race or go ahead and sack up and register. I took the plunge late last fall and registered. Somewhere along the way, Stephanie, Meredith, Kristi, Heather, Hari, Naga, Rich, and Mercedes decided to do this race as well so we had a nice little DRC group going up to represent in Eugene.
There were five of us who were traveling together (Kristi, Heather, Steph, and Mer) so we flew into Portland and rented a car. They gave us the ginormous secret service suburban. We put Heather in the far back, cranked up Steph’s marathon mix, and hit I5 south to Eugene. We had been checking the weather incessantly and everything was shaping up to be perfect weekend weather. It was a short and easy trip and we checked into our hotel and headed to the expo. Keep in mind, Eugene is a small town and this race is much smaller than OKC, White Rock, NYC, etc. There were roughly 2800 registered for the full and 4100 registered for the half. Steph and I were doing the full and Mer, Kristi and Heather were doing the half. The expo was pretty small but their finisher shirts were great. They had their cool logo on a grey tech shirt. Nike was born in Eugene so they do all of their race merch. They didn’t have a huge selection, but I got a nice pullover. We were in and out of the expo pretty quickly and headed over to dinner at the Eugene Brewing Company. After a few beers, a lot of food, and failed trivia we were all tired from traveling and called it a night.
On Saturday we had the whole day available so we made a trial walk over to the starting line at Hayward Field to see how long the walk would be. It was less than fifteen minutes and there was a huge national track meet going on. Seeing it in person made me appreciate Hayward Field on a new level. It was a gorgeous track and unusual to see a place that wasn’t shared between a football and soccer field as well. It was solely dedicated to track and field events.
We then walked over to Pre’s rock. Pre’s rock is a place up on the hill where he died in a car wreck. They made a small but nice memorial there, and people visit it and leave race bibs and medals. I suppose it’s a sacrifice to the track gods. It was a really scenic walk up there and neat to see it in person.
After a great lunch at Studio One cafe we headed over to the Saturday Market to peruse the goods. Eugene is one of the crunchiest cities in America and I think Kristi and Steph were not really feeling the hippie vibe. It was definitely hippie overload so we didn’t spend too much time there since they were nervous about the patchouli, dreadlocks, drum circles and public breast feeding. Heather and Mer were going to jump in the drum circle but we talked them out of it (kidding). We planned to meet Rich and Mercedes at an Italian restaurant for our pre-race last supper. I’m usually not a fan of the official race pasta dinner because you don’t get much selection and quantities can be limited. We decided on a restaurant and got there 20 minutes after they opened and the line was insane. Further, they had nobody inside controlling anything so the wait was hours long. This was unacceptable and we were getting cranky because Eugene just doesn’t have a lot of Italian options. We called around to another place and they didn’t have any pasta with red sauce. We walked over to a pub across the street with Rich and Mercedes and there was only one pasta option. We were picky and cranky about out pre-race meal, so we just decided to hightail it to the pasta dinner since that was open for another hour. That actually worked out well and was reasonably tast,y so we all departed there with happy bellies except for Steph, who has an eternally unhappy belly. We checked the weather another 48 times, made our last arrangements, and hit the sack. Race day was slated to be absolutely gorgeous weather, so we were nervously excited.
Ok, enough sideshow shenanigans…on to the running part! I had very simple goals in this race. First, I wanted to have fun. This race had so many cool things surrounding it and was set up to be a flat, fast course with excellent weather, so I absolutely couldn’t go home surly about my run. From a time standpoint, I really just wanted a PR (sub 3:30). In this case, that wasn’t something I was genuinely worried about since I didn’t train as well last fall and I finished that race with too much left in the tank. I had trained much better this spring and was feeling good. Anything sub 3:30 would have been great, but I felt I could do a 3:25. Perfect world scenario would have been a 3:20, but I just don’t like to go out beyond what I think I’m capable of. Most of my training and tempo work was based around running a 3:25. What I mostly wanted was to just run as hard as I could, have even mile splits, and an overall negative split by less than a minute. Whatever the resulting time would be fine, as long as I just went out and executed the race I wanted.
Beyond that, what I wanted more than anything was for everyone else to run well, specifically Steph and Heather. Mer and Kristi had been churning out one PR after another this past year, but Heather had been dealing with some injury setbacks and Steph just hadn’t gone out there and had a killer race. She was carrying around the 4:00 monkey on her back and really wanted a sub 4. Heather wanted a sub 1:50 for her half, but would have been happy with a PR under 1:54. I was really invested in their races because I know they would not have dealt well with not running a good race in these perfect conditions. I wouldn’t have, either. Kristi was shooting for a 1:40-1:42 and Mer just wanted to run well. She had been dealing with some injuries and had missed a lot of speedwork and tempo runs towards the end of the season. Every one of us had realistic and achievable goals, we just needed to go out there and execute.
Kristi and I decided we would pace together since her pace worked out to 7:45 per mile. That would put me on pace for a 3:23 marathon so I decided that would be just right. It hopefully wouldn’t be too aggressive, but would be fast enough to allow me to push for a 3:20 if I felt good. I liked pacing with Kristi because we had paced together several times before and this gave me a sense of obligation and would help me focus. Plus, she doesn’t talk too much or make any weird noises.
We all five got to the starting line and there was a nervous excitement. We didn’t say a whole lot. We had all done a lot of hard work over the last several months and seen all of our friends do well in Boston, OKC, and other races the last few weeks, and know that it’s time for us to go out there and take care of business. The weather was perfect, the course was mostly flat, and we were standing at the gates of Hayward Field with a giant picture of Prefontaine looking over us. The work and planning had been done and this was our victory lap (thanks, Sam!).
The gun went off and Kristi and I were side by side. This was a record field for them but was a perfect sized race for us. There wasn’t much weaving or congestion early on. We hit our first mile split run on pace for a 3:25 and 1:42:30 half. Although the weather was in the upper 40’s with no wind, I ditched my long sleeve and tried to settle in. The first 5 miles were flat and I was just trying to get into a rhythm. We nailed our splits and tangents, and by mile 5 we were on a 7:44 pace and hit our first incline. It was short and steep but we kept on cruising. By mile 6 I ditched my gloves, took my first GU, discarded my mini water bottle, and splashed the first cup of water on my head. I was finally awake and ready and starting to settle in.
Miles 6-8 we cruised along dead on pace. Crowd support was really great through this area and we prepared for the hill on mile 8. Eugene really is a flat race, but there are some hills for good measure. The one from 8-9 is the steepest. We used our arms well and finished off mile 9 still right on pace. I was feeling great except for my left foot. They used the flat long chip timers and I must have put it on too tight because I could feel it press into the top of my foot with every foot strike.
We were still 7:44 overall pace as we cruised back by Hayward Field. At this point the fastest half marathoners were entering the finish line. We hit mile 11 and this was the point where the half and full marathoners split. Kristi was running well and right on pace for a 1:42 half. I yelled at her to kick some ass and make us proud. I was a little sad to see her go since I was staring at a long incline ahead of me with not many people around, but was excited to know that she was going to finish with a good time since she was running so well with only a few miles left.
The next two or three miles were quiet except for running into a few guys from Austin who had run White Rock. We chatted a bit, and he was trying to pace his friend for a 3:30 BQ. His friend had apparently come up short a few times before and this was supposedly his last hurrah. I kept looking at my watch and thinking that although I am perfectly on my pace, they had banked a whole lot of time for a 3:30. Sir Chats-a-Lot was quite the talker, and I wanted to conserve and focus, so I mentioned two or three times that it seemed like they had plenty in the bank. Finally, they backed off and ran their pace and I forged ahead. I was feeling really good still knowing that once I got to the halfway point I had an easy 3 miles down to the river.
The half split mark was too earl,y so I knew that my official half split was going to be incorrect and too fast. I was hitting all of the mile markers perfectly with my watch, so I was able to figure out that I had run the first half in 1:41:25 and a 7:44 pace. I was on pace for a 3:22:50 finish. I had picked up exactly 10 seconds in my first half so I was quite pleased with my effort. I was feeling good and in total control.
The next several miles down to the lake were easy and I had to primarily focus on not using up too much energy and running too fast. I stayed relaxed, remembered to shake out my arms a lot, and just put it on autopilot. These miles were mostly a blur. The only things that crossed my mind were realizing that Kristi, Mer, and Heather should have all crossed the finish line by then, and I really hoped they had run well. I wondered how Mer’s legs felt. I wondered if Heather got the monkey off her back. I wondered how Steph was faring during the hardest parts of the course.
I hit the park and river by mile 16 or 17 and just kept the pace right on target. I was alternating through GU, water, and Gatorade at each water stop and splashing water on my head to try and stay as cold as possible. This was the first section of the race I really started to pass people who were starting to tire. I still felt good, and miles 19 and 20 were very much in control. The course from 16-25 was entirely along the river and just gorgeous.
I knew mile 21 was on the other side of the river, and once I got to that point I could pick it up a hair if I was feeling ok. However, by the time I hit mile 21 I had definitely started to fatigue. I was still holding my pace but I was starting to feel twinges in my hamstrings from mild muscle cramps. The bone near the pace tag on my foot was throbbing. I was having to bear down and focus to stay on pace. I started thinking about all of my DRC friends at home and knowing I needed to represent them well. I came too far to let them down. I started thinking about Heather M and Stacy M telling me to “PR that bitch”. I starting thinking about Angela running Boston and Genevieve getting her full PR. I thought about David Magnus and his run/walk full. Fortunately, I was passing more people, and each one helped me to realize I was still running strong even though I was running out of gas quickly. I worried about Steph and hoped she was feeling better than I was. I wondered how Hari, Naga, Rich, and Mercedes were doing since I never saw any of them.
Mile 23 came and I was dog tired. Somehow, I was still right on a 7:44 pace but I was truly fighting it at this point. Mentally, I reached for anything I could get. I thought about the fact that I was running the Eugene Marathon. I thought about Pre having guts, and that if I was going to get to the finish at this pace I was going to have to reach down for all of the guts that I had left. I knew I had a 5k left and just kept telling myself only 3 to go, only 2.8 to go, only 2.5 to go, etc. I took the last of my 6 GU’s at this point and was just trying to hold on. Barring severe cramps I knew I was going to finish and most likely PR, but I wanted to finish strong and hold my pace. That was the challenge.
By mile 25, I was spent. I started to feel a little lightheaded. Not dangerously so, but I just knew I was completely exhausted and had used up all of my fuel. However, I could hear in the distance the announcer at Hayward Field and knew I only had 8 minutes left. I looked at my watch and I was still on a 7:44 pace overall. I gave all I had left after seeing Agate Street and knowing I was almost in the final stretch.
The crowds had become bigger and louder as I saw the gates of Hayward Field in the distance and the 26 mile flag. I let loose everything I had. When I went through the gates and onto the track at Hayward Field, I knew I had done what I came to Eugene to do. I was ecstatic, humbled, and completely exhausted. I crossed the finish line at 3:22:31 and nearly collapsed. My legs were shot and the medics helped me into a wheelchair, but I knew I had run my butt off and ran my best race.
After a few minutes of resting I left the tent, got my medal, and met up with Kristi, Mer, and Heather. I wanted to know what each had done. Mer got another PR and a 1:43, Kristi smiled with a 1:40 PR, and Heather just glowed and told me she got a 1:49 PR. They all beamed. I hugged them all and was so happy for them and thrilled that I was done. It was a little emotional. I tried to get some clothes on since I was now shivering and had no energy. The girls helped me get recovery food and drink and I just tried to feel better. I was having a hard time feeling ok just from sheer exhaustion.
Soon after, we started wondering how Steph was doing. All eyes were on her since we knew she was carrying the biggest monkey of them all, especially since the our of us had our PR’s. Suddenly, I look up and see someone in pink shorts on the far side of the field entering the gates and moving very well. I look at my watch and ask the others, Is that really Steph? Is she already finishing!? Sure enough, it was! She came in smoking at a 3:51. Not only did she thrash her PR by 17 minutes, but she blew apart her 4 hour barrier by 9 minutes. Unbelievable! We were all so excited for her.
As she made her way into the finishers corral she just lost it. She moved from marathon smile to full blown marathon tears. It was emotional and she just had this huge relief that she accomplished her goal after training so hard and enduring so many frustrating attempts at not being able to break 4. I was just so proud of her and happy for her accomplishment. At this point we were all on cloud nine and just couldn’t believe everything that had happened. The marathon gods truly looked down upon us and gave us all a gift we won’t soon forget.
We looked around for Hari, Rich, Mercedes, and Naga, but I never saw any of them and we were starving. We made our way back to the hotel to try and get some food. On the way we stopped off to buy ourselves some gifts. Kristi bought chocolate milk. I bought $3 flip flops. Steph bought pickle mints. Now you know which one of us is not like the other. Someone came up with the idea to order some pizza from Track Town Pizza and that was the best idea I had ever heard of in my life. It tasted like a small slice of heaven.
Since it was Meredith’s birthday, the girls made her Happy Birthday shirts and got cupcakes delivered to the front desk. Hari came over to the hotel. Although he had a difficult time with severe cramps, he still ran a 4:29 and actually PR’d his half marathon time in the full! Quite strange. It was quite the celebration of PR’s and birthdays, and beer, cupcakes, and pizza was the reward. The rest of the story for the weekend consisted of more of the same: beer, cupcakes, food, chocolate, beer, chips, food, beer, Milanos, coffee, liquor, etc.
All in all, it was an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. I may never run faster than a 3:22 for the rest of my life but I can safely say that this race was completely worth it. I have no doubt that someday I will run the Eugene Marathon again, and anyone who loves the sport of running should do this race some day.
More than anything, I was thrilled with how I ran the race. To me, the perfect race is consistent splits with a negative half split and not leaving anything on the course. I can safely say I accomplished that and ran the best race I could have run. 23 of the 26 miles I ran were within 9 seconds of each other. My first half was a 1:41:25, my last half was a 1:41:06, and my last mile was the fastest of the day. The total was a 3:22 and 7:44 pace.
Mile 1 – 7:48
Mile 2 – 7:42
Mile 3 – 7:44
Mile 4 – 7:45
Mile 5 – 7:52
Mile 6 – 7:44
Mile 7 – 7:40
Mile 8 – 7:44
Mile 9 – 7:44
Mile 10 – 7:37
Mile 11 – 7:47
Mile 12 – 7:45
Mile 13 – 7:43
Mile 14 – 7:46
Mile 15 – 7:40
Mile 16 – 7:40
Mile 17 – 7:39
Mile 18 – 7:44
Mile 19 – 7:40
Mile 20 – 7:42
Mile 21 – 7:39
Mile 22 – 7:47
Mile 23 – 7:46
Mile 24 – 7:47
Mile 25 – 7:46
Mile 26 – 7:35
Mile 26.2 – 6:33
The following is a guest post by one of my running buddies in our running group, Lauren Cureton:
The Vancouver Marathon was my third marathon and quite possibly my favorite. I’m not sure if we could have asked for better weather or a more beautiful course. Add in a really fun vacation with my husband, good friends, our five year anniversary celebration, three marathon PR’s, Meredith’s birthday celebration, and tons of amazing food, and it was pretty much a perfect trip.
The night before all the girls got into town we decided to celebrate our anniversary a day early. We went for drinks at a bar/ restaurant called Lift, which is right on the water. We got to watch lots of rowers practicing under the setting sun. After that we made our way over to Rain City Grill where we had dinner reservations. Before dinner came, Nick pulled out a tiny black box and said he had a present for me. I was definitely caught off guard as we had said dinner and the vacation were going to be each other’s presents. Anyway, I opened the box and there was the prettiest, most perfect circle diamond necklace. I got him a card. Oops. But, no, seriously, it was so sweet of him and a memory of our five year anniversary that I will never forget.
Friday morning we met up with Kristi and Stephanie at Medina, a cute Belgian cafe. It was so good to see them as we had all been looking forward to this trip for quite a while. After lunch, we headed to the Expo to pick up our race packets and check out the gear. Sadly, there was not a lot of cool marathon stuff, which was slightly disappointing. They did have a Create Your own Button station which was a slight consolation. I racked my brain for something funny, but had nothing. Instead, I flipped back through a motivational email Chris had sent me and wrote, Believe. Push. Don’t Give Up … a helpful mantra for the race for sure.
Now it is Saturday morning, the day before the race. I’m starting to get a little nervous that it is actually almost here. Nick and I met up with the girls and headed to O’Douls for breakfast. We all ordered blueberry pancakes with two different bread basket appetizers. Carbs, carbs and more carbs. Yesss. We went for an early pasta dinner at Ciao Bella. After lots of pasta, lots of bread, and lots of red sauce we were officially on carb overload. Walked a bit after dinner and swung by the grocery store (which was playing Hockey … coolest grocery store ever?!) for some mini water bottles (they only had Evian, which was fine because that’s all I’ll carry during a race … I’m very fancy;)) and Canadian Twizzlers … a necessity for post race. We walked the girls back to their hotel and then parted ways.
Sunday morning was finally here and I couldn’t believe it. It’s so funny to me when you train, think, and anticipate something for so long and then that day finally comes. I slept okay and woke right up as soon as the alarm went off at 4:30am. The girls came over to our place around 5:30am and we ate our English muffins with PB and made sure we had everything ready to go for the race. Nick and Kristi headed out early as the half marathon strangely started earlier than the full. Steph, Mer and I left not so long after that and had a small hiccup with the transportation, but eventually got to the race start. We checked our bags and hit up the port-o-potties, which had extremely long lines. Start time was getting close and I was getting anxious. Then we had an incident with this incredibly rude girl who insisted we were in the wrong line. I kinda thought Meredith might punch her in the face. Fortunately, some nice people let us back in and all was fine. We rushed to the starting line with not much time left at all before the race began.
I was nervous. This had been a really fun, hard, interesting training season for me where, for the first time, I actually started to push myself … to see how fast I could go. I had a couple of great half marathons, finishing the Austin 3M Half and the Rock n Roll Half both in 1:43:14. I had definitely gotten faster, but didn’t know how that was going to translate in a marathon. Marathons are scary. A lot can happen over 26.2 miles. My first one, in Portland, I ran in 4:53. My second one, in New York, I ran in 4:12. This one I desperately wanted to run under 4 hours. I didn’t convey that to barely anyone, but I wanted it badly. Meredith and I had pretty much done every training run together this spring … over 500 miles … and our goal going into the race was to run consistent 9 minute miles and stay together as long as we could. We exchanged good lucks at the start line and took off.
As we eased into the run, miles 1 – 7 took us through downtown. They were pretty and uneventful. The weather was nice … maybe even a little warm at 43 degrees. We chatted and laughed quite a bit … mainly about Saved by the Bell and other early 90’s TV shows. We were checking our watches constantly to make sure we were on pace. At mile 7, we came across this really cool band with a DJ and a violin player. We contemplated stopping the race and just hanging out to listen to them–they were that good–but decided since we had put in over 4 months of training we should probably keep running. Around mile 9, one of my favorite memories of the race, a guy in the crowd points to us and yells, “Good pacing girls. Stick together.” I don’t know why, but this made me choke up a little bit. This guy must have been a runner and I felt like he knew what we were experiencing/ trying to do.
We ran through Chinatown, Rogers Arena, False Creek’s inner harbor, and eventually into Stanley Park. The sun was shining and we could look to our right and see mountains and water and look to our left and see huge trees and tons of flowers. Seriously, the scenery along the course was breathtaking. I tried to take it all in and keep reminding myself how lucky I was to be able do something like this.
We were in Stanley Park for a while and, unfortunately, they had run out of cups and GU’s since the half marathoners had run through earlier and must have taken them all. Luckily, we were prepared with our mini waters and GU’s. I have always had a hard time taking GU’s during races and was a little worried how this was all going to play out. In New York I only took two and ran out of steam around mile 16. This was my fear for today, so I was bound and determined to force those GU’s at miles 10, 14, 18 and 22. I even wrote it on my arm so I wouldn’t forget. When it came time to take them, we would take turns holding each other’s water so we could get the GU out and opened. This was incredibly helpful and I didn’t miss a GU. I have no doubt this helped me power through until the end.
After finally making it out of Stanley Park, we headed to the dreaded Burrard Bridge. Going up it at mile 17 wasn’t so bad, but I knew we would have to return over it up a steeper incline at mile 24, which I was not excited about. We were now in the Kitslano neighborhood. It was mile 18 and we were still together, side by side, and still peeling off 9 minute miles. I was still feeling strong and very happy we had made it this far together. I had crashed and burned by this point in NY, so to still be feeling good was quite a relief. This stretch was tough, though … lots of rolling hills and out and backs that made it challenging. We headed back for the return over the Burrard Bridge, which absolutely felt like it was never coming–so much so that the next day we were all convinced they had changed the route mid-race, even though we saw people crossing it on our way over.
Miles 20-23/24: Mer and I are still together. Talking had pretty much ceased and, at this point, we were just trying to make it to the end. I was trying to keep up, but was falling slightly behind. Crap. Keep moving, I tell myself, but it was getting hard. Really hard. I grabbed a cup of water and tried to force it down. Then, like a miracle, Nick appeared. He and Kristi were waiting for us around mile 24. I was totally not expecting him, but it was a much needed and pleasant surprise/ boost. I saw Kristi join in with Mer as we parted ways. Going into the race, I didn’t really know how long we’d be able to stay together, but getting to run 23/24 miles together was pretty freaking cool and it was very comforting to have her there next to me.
Alright, home stretch, up the Burrard Bridge. Kill me. I want so desperately to stop. Nick is running a few feet ahead of me, trying to pull me through. I know I’m close to 4 hours. All I can say to him is, “Help me. Help me.” He’s like, “I’m not sure what you want me to do.” I tell him I’m not sure either. I’m whiny and want to know if the finish line is ever coming. Nick assures me it’s right around the corner. He runs ahead through a tunnel of people and pumps his arms up, getting them to cheer for me. I want to laugh because this is funny, but I just keep moving my feet. He’s bound and determined to help get me in under 4. We turn the corner and I see the finish line. FINALLY. The clock still says 3 something. GOOOO! I’m trying. Nick wants to split off, but I won’t let him. He stays behind me until the end. Finally, I cross with an official time of 3:58:16 … a 14 minute PR. I collapse crying into Nick’s arms with such a mix of emotions of relief, exhaustion, and complete happiness/satisfaction. I did it … under 4 hours!
I looked over and saw Steph, who rushed over and gave me a big hug, and then saw Meredith sitting in a wheel chair. (Don’t worry, she was ok). I made my way over to her to exchange hugs and congratulations. I couldn’t stop smiling. We met up with Kristi and Nick, who both had great races in the half and try to collect ourselves. It truly was a beautiful course with near perfect weather and I just felt so lucky to be able to share this experience with my husband and great friends. Steph (3:50), Mer (3:56), and I were fortunate enough to all hit PR’s, which was cause for celebration.
Here are my splits: 9:09, 8:59, 8:57, 8:58, 9:02, 9:02, 9:02, 9:02, 9:00, 8:54, 7:48, 8:57, 9:02, 9:03, 9:15, 8:47, 8:58, 8:56, 8:51, 8:58, 9:05, 8:47, 8:46, 8:45, 9:19, 9:17, 8:50 (last .65)
I woke up the next day not feeling too terrible. A little sore, a little dehydrated, but not bad. It was rainy and cold again … seriously lucked out with the weather for race day. All in all this was a great trip and fantastic race with wonderful friends. I’m so happy I got to share it with you guys. Vancouver has now earned a special place in my heart.
Can’t wait for the next one 🙂
Wow. After training since July, the day had finally arrived. And what a day it was. The day before the marathon the temperature was in the low 60’s, and the day after the marathon the temperature never got above 31 degrees. Marathon day itself, however, was an entirely different story.
The morning of the 2008 White Rock Marathon began with strong southern winds gusting up to 30 mph and a temperature at the start of 64 degrees, with 80% humidity. Everyone dressed in shorts and tank tops, though I saw some crazy fools dressed in tights and long sleeve shirts! I decided to wear my new pink running skirt so my friends would be able to spot me as I ran past. It’s all about looking good (or so I thought before the race).
About 20 Dallas Running Club runners met at 6:30AM at the Mockingbird DART station. Even though I stopped drinking water at 6:00, and went to the bathroom before I left the house, I already had to go again by the time we took the escalator down to meet the train. When the train pulled up at 6:46, we were all dismayed to see that there were only two cars—and both were full. Some of us managed to cram on, but over half of the group didn’t make it on the train, including Novle, Sunil, Trey, and Hari, who had all planned on running with us. Two young women scooted over and made room for me to sit down, and told me about their first marathon last year. One of the women told me how she felt great at mile 13, but that it didn’t last long. I thought about that woman’s words later in the race.
Dominick, Greg, and I got off the train at the West End stop and decided to walk over to American Airlines Center rather than wait for a special train to take us there. By this time I really had to go to the bathroom. I considered running behind a dumpster or hiding in an alley, but knew there were plenty of port-a-potties at AA Center. When we arrived, there were TWO port-a-potties at the front and the line was loooooooong. There were two more closer to the front and the line was even looooooooooooonger. We went into the arena and it was so crowded you couldn’t even move around. Greg decided to go in search of something better and Dominick and I decided to stand in the long line outside. After bitterly commiserating about the situation with the runner in line ahead of us, we then heard there were lots more port-a-potties on the side and no one in line. Knowing this was too good to be true, we decided to take a chance. At this point I was seriously considering squatting down in the nearby monkey grass and to hell with it! We did find about 15 more port-a-potties, but the lines were too long, and I made a desperate decision to run over to the parking lot across the street. Dominick was a good sport and followed, and we “parked it” between two big, black SUV’s and did the deed. Heaven!
By this time it was less than 15 minutes before the start. We were desperate to find Novle and Trey and began our search at the start line, which basically meant standing up on the curb and looking out over a sea of white hats and white shirts. Miraculously, Trey walked right in front of us and told us to follow him, he knew exactly where Novle was. We never found him, but had a feeling we would see him somewhere on the course. I quickly tightened my shoes, took off my long sleeved Turkey Trot t-shirt, and discovered the pouch I wore on my forearm that held all my Gu’s was dripping sticky Gu all down my arm. Yuck. The Star Spangled Banner was sung, the F16’s flew over, and we were off!
The start was crowded but not dangerously so, and I had to laugh at the fast boys darting in and out of the slower runners. I wondered if they would be able to keep that pace all the way to the end. I heard someone say that Lucy was right behind me, and there she was, already cheering me on and telling me I was her hero. The first few miles seemed to melt away, and I was surprised that there seemed to be so few spectators at the start. Before I knew it, we were flying down the hill at Hall St and then heading up Armstrong into Highland Park. Several times one of us would realize we were going a little fast and needed to slow down, but it was hard to hold back. I felt strong and relaxed, and enjoyed the crowds, though I was amazed at how warm and humid it was. I saw Bob around mile 5 and it was a bittersweet feeling since we had wanted to run our first marathon together. Seeing him was my first “energy boost,” and I got to see him again when we crossed the Katy Trail and headed toward Greenville Ave. Dominick needed to make a stop at a port-a-potty and told us he would catch up with us. Trey and I knew if anyone could catch up with us, it was Dominick.
I still felt good as we ran up the Longview hill, and then I saw one of my best friends, Barbara, on the sidelines and yelled out her name. She went crazy when she saw me, and I started to realize how much it meant to me to have my friends cheering me on. Novle caught up with us just after the Half/Full split, all smiles and telling us he had never felt so good. He was going to try to keep his 8:44 pace as long as he could. Madeline surprised me just after Novle caught up with us and even managed to take a few pictures as we ran past (all of them of my backside—but the pink skirt looked good!). We also saw our fallen comrade, Pat, and her boot, and Aaron and his son (who I amazingly saw in three different places on the course). We also saw Cassie, who looked happy and energetic. It felt good to run downhill to the lake, and the miles were still passing by fairly easily.
At mile 10 I realized I was starting to feel a little tired, and I found myself thinking about how much further I still had to run. I remembered the woman from the train’s comments and realized I couldn’t say I felt “great,” and it wasn’t even the half marathon point yet. The feeling passed and I started looking for Carol and Lori at mile 12. I was also aware that the wind was at my back, and tried to enjoy the extra push it was giving us. I mentioned to Trey how I was already feeling a little tired, and he said he felt the same. Carol and Lori came and went, and I could tell they were having a good time. I hated not being able to stop and visit, and felt a little guilty that they came all the way over to the lake just to see me for a few seconds, but it was so good to see them there. As we rounded the corner along Northwest Hwy, and then back around to the east side of the lake, Trey told me he didn’t think he could keep up, and to go on without him. I told him he could do it, that we just needed to slow down a little, but eventually I looked around and he wasn’t there. Barbara made another appearance, this time with Karen, and they went crazy, yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs and running along beside me. It was great! I had tears in my eyes remembering running with Karen, my very first running partner from three years ago, and our first loop around the lake.
Right about this time I realized two things: one, I had reached the halfway mark, and two, the wind was worse than I ever could’ve imagined. I hate running into a strong headwind more than anything else, and I knew this stretch of the race was going to be a battle. By the time I reached the Bath House, at mile 15, I realized I could barely feel my legs. I knew right then that running a marathon was going to be much more difficult than I had expected, but I was determined to power through and not give up. There was a cool drumming group near the Bath House, and that helped a lot, too. I also became aware that my brain was feeling fuzzy, and that if someone asked me my name I probably wouldn’t be able to tell them. I felt foggy and unfocused, and knew my body and brain were on automatic pilot.
The stretch just after the Bath House was the windiest spot on the lake, and I felt like I was crawling, even though it’s slightly downhill. I remember enjoying the short break from the wind as we ran past the Stone Tables and Sunset Bay, but I don’t remember much else. I remember seeing Hari’s wife, Nirisha, at the DRC water stop, and hearing a great band there. In fact, all of the bands along the race course were fantastic, and they all took my mind off the ordeal just long enough to regroup.
As we neared Winfrey Point, the wind was unrelenting. It really, really beat me down. At mile 17 I started to think about seeing Michael at mile 19, and I thought I could hear music playing from the other side of the lake. I decided to walk through every single water stop from then on, and knew I was going to have to give up my dream of running a four hour marathon. I found myself thinking how easy it would be to drop out at mile 19 and hang out with Michael and everyone else, but I pushed that thought quickly away. I was not going to give up. At mile 18 we had to run through the grass past the Boy Scout water stop and on to Garland Rd. I started to get worried about the hills at mile 19, but the thought of seeing Michael kept me going.
It felt great to run downhill past the spillway, and before I knew it I could hear the loud music playing from the train trestle and some very friendly Hooters girls were offering me water (I had chastised Michael about the Hooters girls before the race). I had been worried I wouldn’t be able to see Michael, but there he was, waiting for me as if he were the only person on the street, and I felt like crying when I saw him. I could finally put into words how hard the race was and how I was struggling, and he was nothing but supportive and upbeat. He ran with me to the Dolly Parton’s (I barely noticed the guys dressed up on the side), and I had to walk up the hill. I had absolutely no energy left. I hated walking, but at this point my only objective was to finish the race, to hell with my time. I wanted to be strong in front of Michael, and keep running, but I was beaten down.
Michael stayed with me all the way through Lakewood, even though his knee had kept him from running for the past six weeks. Somewhere in Lakewood I realized Dominick was right in front of me, and I was so happy to see him, but sympathetic that he also seemed to be struggling. The time finally came for Michael to run back to mile 19 and I felt sad and alone when he left, even though Dominick was close by. I stopped in a port-a-potty around mile 21 and Dominick took off. His red shirt was always in sight until the last two miles. Occasionally I would get close and call out that I was right behind him, but I didn’t want to slow him down. Just knowing he was there, and that it was hard for him as well, and remembering all of our training runs together and what a strong runner he was, made it all much more bearable. He really kept me going in the end.
I knew Swiss Ave. was mostly downhill, and I tried to run the entire way. The crowds were great, though I was hardly aware of anyone. Sometimes I would hear someone yell out my name and some encouraging words, and it would bring me back from wherever my mind was, but I felt completely out of it. I was in pure survival mode, and my only objective was to get to the finish line. I started wondering why I was putting myself through all this pain, but I also felt a sense of pride because I knew I would finish, even if it killed me, and that most of the people cheering me on would never do what I was doing that day.
As I neared the Baylor Hospital area and the park with the Victorian houses, I realized I had a blister on my left big toe, and it felt like glass every time I stepped down. I’ve never had a blister from running, and worried how bad it would get. Eventually I didn’t even think about it anymore. At mile 23 the inside of my right thigh started cramping up and stopped me in my tracks. I was really worried that it was something serious, but it slowly felt better and I was able to run again. Sometime after that I heard the unmistakable British accent of Clive run past me, and he made a joke about my little running skirt flying up in the back and keeping them running just a little bit faster. I wished I could’ve finished with him, but knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up.
People, especially women, must’ve seen how much I was struggling because so many strangers were calling out my name, telling me how close I was to the finish, and how I needed to stay strong and not give up. They will never know how much that meant to me, and how I would not have been able to finish without their support. The last few miles are a blur. I remember turning a corner and running under Central Expwy into downtown and knowing the end was so close.
By this time I had long lost Dominick, but salvation was just ahead in the form of an incredible water stop around mile 25. I don’t know if I can even describe it. It was like running into a sea of arms, all of them holding out water and Gatorade, and all of them calling my name and encouraging me. They must’ve been angels. I was overcome with gratitude to feel such kindness coming from people who didn’t know me at all, but were willing to give up hours of their day to help us through this ordeal. I had tears in my eyes by the time I got to the end, and I know that I will never, ever forget that last water stop. It sounds hokey and silly, but I felt completely bathed in love for that brief moment in time.
I remembered this last stretch of the race from last year’s half marathon, and how incredulous I was when I heard the announcer yell out “Only one more mile!” Last year I couldn’t believe that it was so close; this year it still seemed like an eternity’s worth of running. I found myself walking in the last mile of the race, something I’ve never understood other people doing in races I’ve run, and hating myself for doing it now. There was a woman slightly older than myself running just behind me, and right at the moment I started walking I heard her say aloud to herself, “You can do this. You can finish.” I knew we would both be okay. Another angel appeared, Pat with her blue boot, cheering me on and telling me how great I was doing, and I knew I would make it.
Finally, I came to the very last turn before the straight-away to the finish line. Nikki was there, and I knew she knew how hard this was, and she was telling me “Only about four more minutes and you’re done.” I held onto those words all the way to the finish line, even though those were the longest four minutes of my life. It was the best thing anyone could’ve said to me at that point. I kept saying those words over and over in my head, and they kept me focused enough to keep running until I finally saw the 26 mile marker. Finally, I could see the balloons at the finish line, and I was running through the chute to the end and everyone was yelling and screaming for me. I didn’t sprint and I didn’t surge at the end, but I did remember to smile for the cameras.
I wanted to cry as they put the space blanket around me (even though it was way too warm for one), and put the medal around my neck, but I was too numb and tired. I thanked the woman who had spoken out loud and encouraged me that last mile, and there was Clive, hugging me and congratulating me and telling me not to worry that I didn’t make my time goal, that no one cared but me. I went and had a few sips of beer, tried to keep walking, talked to a few runners, smiled at everyone, then headed over to the food tent. I looked down at my left shoe and was confused because there was blood on the top above my big toe.
Afterwards, I sat on a curb and ate a banana and took my shoes off. I knew I would have a hard time getting back up, but I just wanted to get off my feet. My sock was bloody, and I was glad I didn’t know I had been bleeding during the run. Every single toenail was hurting, and I suspected I would lose quite a few of them. I saw Trey walk past the beer corral, but knew I would never be able to walk over to him fast enough. I finally got up and walked around a little more, then slowly made my way over to the West End train stop. I followed a family the entire way, and I doubt I would’ve made it on my own because I was so out of it.
On the train ride home, I cried a little. I thought about what I had just done and how much harder it had been than I’d expected. I thought about all the people who had cheered me on and helped me make it to the end, and the phrase “the kindness of strangers” came to life. I thought of all the friends who had taken time out from their day to stand on the side of the road waiting to see me run by, and I thought of all the hours and hours of training that had brought me to this point in time. I wondered how my other running friends had fared in the race, and I hoped the day had been kinder to them. I thought of that unrelenting wind, and how it never seemed to go away the entire second half of the race, no matter which I direction I ran. I remembered watching the New York City Marathon on TV when I was a kid, and being amazed that anyone could ever do something like that. I remembered standing at the finish line in Austin two years earlier watching the fastest runners come in, some of them collapsing and vomiting after crossing the finish line and wondering why anyone would want to put themselves through that. I remember thinking I would never be able to run a marathon.
The one word that comes to mind when I think about my first marathon is “humbling.” It was truly a humbling experience for me. Riding the train home, I knew I was a different person from the one who stood at the start line. I felt changed—humbled—by the marathon, and I’ll never be the same again. I felt humbled by the challenge of running—and satisfaction that I had been able to cross the finish line. More than anything, I felt humbled by the generosity of those who had helped me along the way.
As I stepped out of the train, I ran into Karen’s husband, Doug. He said the race had been tough on him, and it was a sentiment I heard repeated over and over from other experienced marathoners that evening at a party. All were sorry that I had had to run my first marathon in such conditions, and all made me feel proud that I had finished, regardless of how long it took me and of how much I had had to walk at the end.
After the race I drove over to mile 19 to see Michael and to talk about the race, then came home and showered and went to the party. I had a small bowl of chili with rice and beef, and talked to Karen and Barbara about the race. We got home around 6:30 and spent the rest of the night watching a movie on the couch. I was very sore, but too wired to sleep. It was uncomfortable to sleep, and the next day I was more sore than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Today I can barely sit down or stand up, and stairs are an ordeal. My shoulders and stomach muscles are sore, and I even discovered some chafing I hadn’t known about yesterday. I really don’t know why this was so difficult for me, I only know that it’s hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Will I run another marathon? Absolutely, if only to prove to myself that I can do better the next time. Hopefully, it will also be a little easier, and I’ll know what to expect. Most importantly, I hope to have a little more fun, especially in the second half of the race.
I feel such a kinship with the people I trained with for my first marathon, and I know we will always have an unbreakable bond. In retrospect, it really is more about the journey than the final destination. Even though I can barely stand up, and walking down stairs feels like sharp knives in my quads, I can hardly wait to strap on my running shoes and hit the road with all my friends once again!
A non-running friend at work today said, “I guess you’ll have to climb Mt. Everest next, right?” Hardly. I feel like I’ve already been there—and back!
Pure Awesomeness! New York 2010: A Marathon Like No Other – by Hari Garimella
Along with several of my friends in the Sixx AM group, I was fortunate to run the 2010 ING New York City Marathon on Sunday 11/07/2010. It will be an experience that I will cherish forever. This was my 8th Full marathon (my first was in Dec 2007). If you ever had to run one marathon in your entire life, I say —–bite the bullet, spend the money, do what it takes, and run New York!
The NYC marathon’s 45,000 runners start in Staten Island. There was a large contingent of international runners from Italy, France, Sweden, and Holland, in addition to other countries and the USA. There were also many famous people running NYC (Jared “Subway” Fogle, Al Roker, Bobby Flay, Ed Norton, etc). Truly a diverse cast! Runners cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn. The first 13 miles of the course are through Brooklyn, at which point you enter into Queens, and then cross the Queensboro bridge into Manhattan. After a few miles through Manhattan, you then enter the Bronx (which accounted for only 2 miles of the course) and enter into Harlem. After crossing through Harlem, you finally arrive at Central Park (finish line). This marathon is so full of energy and life, and there was not a moment I was bored (I was smiling all 26.2 miles).
My goals for this marathon were as follows:
1) I was going to have fun! What other way could one see all 5 boroughs of New York and run on the bridges of NY City?
2) I was not going to get the irritating and debilitating calf cramps in this marathon. I had them in all 7 previous marathons. Based on my training records, I decided to focus on a goal of finishing the marathon in 4 hours and 20 mins. I had attempted to finish my previous marathon in 4 hours in Eugene, Oregon, but had the dreaded cramping at mile 17. I was determined to not let this happen again.
3) I wanted my name to be in the NY Times the following morning. You had to get a time of 4 hrs and 30 mins or better to get your name printed.
To begin with, I had an awesome group of friends that I trained with in the Sixx AM group. Thank heaven for the Crazy 8’s hill workouts, ladders, tempo, and long runs on hilly roads. That laid the foundation for our race and helped me through the difficult portions on race day.
Friday afternoon, Nirisha and I arrived in NYC. After checking into our hotel, we headed to the Expo. NYC is truly an international marathon. We saw so many runners from Italy, France, and Sweden (the Swedish contingency had 70 rooms booked in our hotel). This was probably one of the best expos I have ever been to. We spent about 2 hours at the Expo and headed back to our room.
Saturday morning, Nirisha and I went to Central Park to take a look at the finish line of the course. Nirisha had reserved a seat in the finish line bleachers so that she could get to see the elite athletes (and later on me) finish. Saturday evening, we met Heather and Marc for dinner at Serafina’s (Italian restaurant close to Times Square) to carbo-load on pasta and pizza. We said goodnight and went back to the room to get some rest.
I laid out my running gear, which included my full length lime green CEP compression socks which I trained with prior to the marathon. I also decided that I was not going to carry any water bottles in this race. I also planned to only consume water and gel throughout the entire race. I had grown to detest Gatorade. As a new strategy, I also made the choice to drink water only when I was thirsty on the course (instead of pounding water like in my previous races). As I had mentioned before, I was targeting a 4:20 finish. All of these were my “tools” to avoid the dreaded calf cramping.
I woke up at 4AM on race morning and started getting ready. I did 20 mins of dynamic stretching and ate 6 mini-Fig Newtons for breakfast. I said goodbye to Nirisha and headed to the subway to catch a ride to the Staten Island Ferry. I arrived at the Ferry at 6:30AM and climbed aboard for the exciting ride to Staten Island. We passed by the Statue of Liberty and several other landmarks before arriving at Staten Island. At that point, we then boarded buses which took us 3 miles to the start line.
It was a very cold morning, and the wind was blowing quite a bit. I wished I had worn a pair of pants. I only had my shorts, CEP socks, full length technical shirt (with my name stitched on it, thanks to Nirisha), and a throwaway cotton shirt. A lot of people came prepared with sleeping bags, tents, jackets, and blankets. Luckily, the organizers of the marathon put up tents for runners to wait in. I immediately headed to one of these tents and patiently waited in there. I had two hours to wait since I was designated to start in the last wave at 10:40 (there was a 9:40, 10:10 and 10:40 wave starts).
I struck up a conversation with a lady from Costa Rica. I was fascinated to hear about how she trained for NYC (this was her first marathon). She mentioned how tough it was to train in Costa Rica, given that they do not have special areas designated for exercise. They would run very early in the morning. For her long run, she ran an 18 mile race (which was part of a 13.1/18/26.2 mile race in Costa Rica). She did not have any other opportunities to do any other long runs. It is at times like these I realize how fortunate we are in the US, with so much space to be able to run in. During the conversation, she also told me that she paid $400 for the entry fee for the NYC marathon (I was shocked, since I paid $185). The conversation helped speed up the waiting process. At 10:00AM, we said goodbye to each other and headed to the start line.
At this point, I really started getting excited that I was finally going to run the marathon and not think about the cold weather. We started to line up at the start line in front of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. To begin the opening ceremonies, someone from the New York Philharmonic sang a great rendition of “God Bless America.” This was followed by Frank Sinatra singing “New York New York.” What an amazing way to start the race! The race had begun!
We all started running on the one mile long Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Staten Island to Brooklyn. This is the only time people can run on the bridge. The bridge and huge vastness of the bay were a sight to behold. Also, this was one hilly bridge (I later found out that all the bridges were hilly on this course). Many runners were taking pictures as we ran across the bridge. I wished I had brought a camera with me. This was a slow first mile. I ran close to an 11 min pace for my first mile.
We then got into Brooklyn, and this is where the excitement started. I have never run in a marathon where there are miles and miles of spectators cheering the runners on either side of the road. This was just great. It was at this time that I was glad that Nirisha had stitched my name on my shirt. I lost count of how many high fives I got, and also how many people cheered me. I always used to think that New Yorkers were a surly bunch. Now I know that I was completely wrong. New Yorkers are the most amazing and welcoming people in this country! There were so many kids cheering. I even got a bunch of comments commending me (and also making fun of) on my lime green CEP compression socks (these were a godsend). I took everything in good spirits, smiled, and continued to run.
At around mile 3 we had the first water stop. Sticking with my pre-race strategy, I just sipped about two ounces of water (in prior marathons I would pound two full cups of Gatorade at each stop). I did this at each stop until mile 26. At around mile 5 I took my first sip of gel (EFS) and again sipped some water. Everything was going perfectly according to plan. I continued running and felt like the crowd was only cheering for me (I am sure other runners felt the same, too). Around mile 10 I took another sip of EFS gel.
With all this cheering the first 11 miles seemed effortless!! It was at this time that we entered into the township of Williamsburg, where the majority of the population were orthodox. There was a sudden silence (it felt more like I hit a brick wall) after all of the initial cheering in Brooklyn. I guess the people of Williamsburg were not too excited about us running through their neighborhood. The men were so silent. The women seemed to be looking at us with strange looks. I remember reading a previous blog by our buddy Danny where he mentioned that he was afraid to even spit in this neighborhood. I felt the same way. I think this was my fastest two miles. I had to get out fast and get some crowd support again. It was at this point that we entered into Queens, where the crowd support started again.
I continued to keep an even pace through Queens, with no aches or pains. I took the next sip of gel at 15 miles right before the Queensboro Bridge (entrance into Manhattan). It was at this time that the course was starting to get hilly. I felt strong and confident (partly due to running crazy 8s during training). I was also glad that I did not start out fast in the race, because I was starting to overtake a lot of people at this point. Many of the runners were walking on the Queensboro Bridge. It was a hilly bridge indeed. We then entered into the first phase of Manhattan (1st Ave).
This was such a morale booster. The crowds were going strong again. I felt so energetic, and again giving and getting high fives. I could have sworn that, at times, a group of at least 30 people cheered for me. I am sure every runner got the same great New York welcome from the crowd. This crowd simply knew how to make every runner feel special.
At mile 17, I did a pain threshold check (this was where I cramped at the Eugene, Oregon marathon). I was doing great and feeling great with no pain or discomfort. At mile 18, I had some more water and gel, and kept on running, overtaking all the runners who started out too fast.
At mile 19 I hit the next hilly bridge called the Wills Ave Bridge (okay, now I am starting to think every bridge in New York is hilly). I was still feeling strong. This was where the borough of Bronx began. The crowd support was okay here for the 2 miles that I was in the Bronx. Next I entered into Harlem.
I have never been to Harlem before, and I would have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The crowds here were enthusiastic and I felt rejuvenated. All of Harlem was cheering the runners. I knew that the finish line was now less than an hour away. I realized at this time that I had not looked at my Garmin during the first 21 miles of the race. I ran based on how comfortable I felt. I was still on track for a 4:20 finish. This was also my undoing, because now I started looking at my Garmin every two minutes until I finished the race. I was also beginning to feel tired at this point.
The 21st mile was over. Now came the “fun” part of the course (miles 22 through 24). According to the map, this was a hilly portion of the course. And my friends, yes, it was hilly. I took my last sip of gel and water, and struggled all the way up. The crowds continued to cheer the runners, and this got me through this part of the course. I was so thankful when I made it to the top, and we came around to the entrance of Central Park at mile 25. At this time I started feeling my quads and calves getting sore. I started praying that I wouldn’t start cramping, and was thankful for the little downhill that followed.
The downhill was followed by some uphills, at which point I started to silently curse. My quads and calves began to throb. I started to say a prayer begging the running gods to not let my cramps begin. Every time I have had my cramps, I have collapsed on the pavement screaming in pain. Thankfully, the muscles were just throbbing. The climax of the muscle throbbing peaked at 25.5 miles, at which point I chose to walk for 2 mins, so that I could allow for the muscle throbbing to subside. I checked my watch, and saw that I had 7 mins left to make it to the 4 hours and 30 min mark (to get my name printed in the New York Times). At this point I decided that I was going to run and push the pace, cramps or no cramps, and if I was going to collapse, I would do it at the finish line in style.
I entered into the final phase of the race in Central Park and saw a downhill (thank heavens) towards the Mile 26 marker. I was so happy, and then as I crossed the 26 mile mark, I saw that the last 0.2 miles was uphill. I was mad at this point, and my calf and quad muscles were starting to seize up. I did not stop. I kept going with determination to finish and finally crossed the finish line at 4 hours 27 mins and 34 secs. I was done!! And then, all of a sudden, my muscles stopped throbbing! My prayers must have been answered! I was so happy!
The first person I recognized at the finish line was the Costa Rican lady I talked to before the race at Staten Island. We were so happy and surprised to see each other and we hugged. I was so happy for her that she did fantastic on her first marathon. We said goodbye, and I proceeded to get (ahem…demand would be a better word) my finisher’s medal. All runners then received an apple (fruit, not the computer) and a goody bag with Gatorade. I also got a Mylar blanket (which I still have no idea what purpose it serves, other than being a cosmetic item that really does not warm you up).
I started to look for Nirisha at the finish line, but could not find her. We had decided earlier to meet outside Central Park at 77th and Columbus, since it was impossible to hook up at Central Park. There were so many people that it took 45 mins to get out of the park. It was starting to get cold when I got to the corner of 77th and Columbus. I waited another 45 mins for Nirisha to show up (luckily Mike hooked up with me while I was waiting, and I had company). Nirisha and I then went back to the hotel, freshened up, and met Heather and Marc for dinner. I later heard that everyone from the Sixx AM group did great in the marathon. I was happy to hear that. We had all trained very hard and it paid off!
Coming back to my goals for this marathon, and whether I achieved them:
1) I was going to have fun! What other way could one see all 5 boroughs of New York and run on the bridges on NY City? Yes, I had a lot of fun. In fact, this was the most fun marathon of all 8 that I have run.
2) I was not going to get the irritating and debilitating calf cramps in this marathon. I had them in all 7 previous marathons. I succeeded in keeping the cramps at bay for the entire marathon, except for a time period of 2 mins towards the end of the race. I credit it to proper training and running based on how well conditioned I was. I was 7 mins off my goal (4:27 vs 4:20), but no big deal.
3) I wanted my name to be in the NY Times the following morning. You had to get a time of 4hrs and 30mins or better to get your name printed. Yes, my name was in the NY Times. They actually printed the names of all the finishers up to 4 hrs, 45 mins.
I had a successful and happy time in New York. I was happy that my wife came with me and help me prepare for this exciting weekend. I was happy that our friend Heather got engaged to Marc on this weekend. I was also happy that all my friends did well in the NYC marathon! I hope you all will get to run it someday!
Three days after running the Boston Marathon last year I talked my good friend Hari into running the Borax Death Valley Marathon with me. I’ve never liked crowds, so silly me for running Boston, right? It’s no secret that I love the desert, and I guess I was looking for something completely different from my other marathon experiences, so I settled on Death Valley. Besides, how badass would it be to say I had run a marathon in Death Valley–and survived?
The three days before leaving for Death Valley were snow days, which is pretty much unheard of here in Dallas. We had to get up at 2am to catch a 6:30am flight to Las Vegas, and hit the road by 3am, which meant almost no sleep the night before. Hari drove down from Allen on icy roads to pick us up, but it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. Had a spat with Michael after he didn’t pack the night before (like I told him to) and then tried to cram all his stuff in my already full bag. He retaliated by not bringing the cameras, so it was a very quiet drive to the airport. Poor Hari. The icy roads outside were nothing compared to the chill inside the car. It was freezing cold in the airport terminal, too, so we were all glad when we were finally able to board the plane. The extremely empty flight left at 6:35am, and I enjoyed the great scenery from the window. Even though we were tired and grumpy, catching a 6:30am flight turned out to be a great idea. There was no wait whatsoever at baggage claim or picking up the rental car.
Leaving Vegas, we missed our exit because of construction and had to backtrack 20 miles to our turnoff. We decided to stop at Target for snacks for the trip. The temperature was very chilly, in the low 50’s, and despite this I decided I’m still not a Vegas fan. It all seems so fake and surreal and somehow sad. The scenery, however, driving to Death Valley was exactly what I love most: desolate, dry, stark, and dramatic.
When we arrived, we were surprised to find an unmanned park entrance—and a machine that took our $20 entrance fee. We passed Zabriskie Point and the sign for Badwater Basin, and I thought of both the film and the ultramarathon. Our rooms weren’t ready at Furnace Creek, so we went to the Forty-Niner Café and carbo-loaded (veggie wraps with Portobello mushrooms), then drove the marathon route. Hari and I quickly realized it was going to be a challenging course for us, with lots of rolling hills and an uphill climb most of the second half. At least the 13 mile turn-around was at the base of a huge hill that we wouldn’t have to run up. We were grateful for that. I told Hari we would have to run conservatively to save our energy.
We got our room keys, unpacked, and rested in our rooms, and I realized I forgot my magic Teva flip flops for after the race (I swear they cure plantars and all other foot ailments). I would really regret not having those flip flops after the race. Afterwards, we had dinner in the saloon (pizza) and wondered aloud where all the runners were. Except for a large table of California runners, there was no evidence of an impending race. Exhausted from the long day, I made fun of Hari’s “murse” (man purse) and he retaliated by telling me to always wear contacts and calling my glasses “lasers.” After receiving a text from a teacher friend that the next day was another snow day in Dallas, I finally fell asleep.
I slept great but woke up with a desert dry air induced headache. We met Hari for a huge carbo-loading breakfast of whole-grain blueberry pancakes and decided to spend the day doing some light sightseeing in the park. We drove over to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the western hemisphere, and walked out to the water basin. We all enjoyed looking up at the sign on the side of the mountain showing sea level: 282 ft above our heads. The weather could not have been better, with temperatures in the low 60’s and snow on the tops of the mountains above Badwater. Hari and I were awed by the fact that the Badwater Ultramarathon starts where we were standing. For those who don’t know, the Badwater Ultramarathon is a 135 mile race that starts at Badwater Basin (-282 ft.) and finishes on Mt. Whitney (8,300 ft). Oh, and it’s run in the middle of July. Race organizers consider it to be “the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet.” We resolved to come out and spectate one day (NOT RUN!).
We drove to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and hiked a part of Mosaic Canyon, where we were visited by two ravens. We also watched a coyote nonchalantly walk through the motel grounds at Stovepipe Wells, then had lunch in the saloon there (yummy fresh salads with avocado, corn, and black beans). I made everyone stop off for a short walk along Salt Creek on the way back to look for pupfish (found only in Death Valley–we saw exactly one), and noticed tape on the road marking the miles, the first evidence that our race would be taking place the next day. I started to feel very antsy and energetic.
We rested in our rooms until 5:30 (couldn’t sleep) and had dinner at the Forty-Niner again. I have to be bluntly honest and say that I had the absolute worst spaghetti I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. Hari had the special bowtie dish, which was better but swimming in oil. Except for our prerace dinner, everything else we had eaten in the park had been great.
Hari went back to his room and Michael and I took a short drive down the road to get away from the lights to look at the stars. I used the Google Sky app on my phone to locate the planets and constellations. The milky way shone bright overhead and we saw a few shooting stars. There is nothing I love more than stargazing and looking into the wonder and mystery of the universe. We went back to our room and I laid everything out for the race. I got another text from Dallas and was incredulous that they were having their fifth snow day in a row. I was asleep by 8:48pm, nervous but excited, and happy to have seen the desert stars.
I woke up at 5am, ate two small blueberry muffins, and drank way too much water before the start. I felt nervous and unsure about how warm to dress. Even though it was very chilly outside, I knew it wouldn’t last. I met Hari at 6:30 and we walked over to get our bibs at the saloon, and we were both very surprised that there were no timing chips. After sitting around in our cabin until 7:45, we finally walked over to hear the race announcements.
About 200 people lined up on Hwy 190 at the start line. The race director gave a nice shout out to those coming from other countries, including Texas, so we felt honored to be included. We sang America the Beautiful and the young American girl next to me said she didn’t know the words. There was definitely a different vibe at this race. People didn’t seem to be overly friendly and chatty like at most marathon starts. It’s not that they weren’t unfriendly, they were mostly just aloof. We realized that most of the Californians we had met on the trip seemed to be that way.
Since there was no chip timing and the marathoners would start first, Hari and I made sure we were fairly close to the front. We could both feel the downhill as we started and knew it would make the finish that much more grueling. No matter how many marathons I’ve run (this was number six) and lessons learned, I always start out too fast. Hari said we were “galloping,” but it was hard to run conservatively on a downhill start. There was one good, steep hill around mile 2, but the course settled into some long, slow, gradually rolling hills . I noticed a woman who looked my age just ahead of me, so I made it a point to pass her a few miles in. I realized there seemed to be many more men than women running this race. Later I found out there were 142 male and only 30 female marathoners.
Since this was an out and back course we had to run against traffic the first half, then on the same side as traffic the second half. This was probably smart, since there were times in the second half when I would have welcomed a car running me over from behind. The race director and park police kept driving past us with flashing lights, telling everyone to run on or close to the white line. No headphones were allowed.
My training for the race had been less than stellar, but my legs felt great the first half. We kept the pace around 9:05-9:07 and stopped for water every three miles. We also carried our own water packs because of the sparse water stops, and we saw many people running with camelbaks. Thankfully, the sky was hazy and the temperatures remained cool for the first half. We were still running in the desert, though, and I couldn’t believe how many people were running without hats or sunglasses.
At mile 6 we could see the huge hill at the halfway point, 7.1 miles away in the distance. Hari asked if we were going to have to run up that hill, and I assured him that was the halfway point. We were amazed we could see seven miles down the road, but that turned out to be a bad thing the second half of the race. The road felt nice and flat, with small rolling hills. We began to have delusional thoughts that the route might not be as bad as we had initially feared. At 6.5 miles the half marathoners turned around, and we thinned out. It is always a bittersweet moment in a marathon when the half marathoners split off, and you realize how much harder and longer your journey will be than theirs.
At mile 10 I felt good, and I was able to take in the beautiful scenery. I had been fascinated with Death Valley since I was a little girl, but could never talk anyone else into going with me. I couldn’t believe I was running a marathon there, entirely below sea level, and that there was snow on the mountains above me. Hari and I ran with a man from Wisconsin for awhile who left us at the water stop, and then we ran behind a young college sophomore girl who talked about her late night adventures the night before. When Hari complained about her bragging about her late night and being able to run faster than us, I reminded him that she was 20 years old.
Hari and I talked about running, literally, in the footsteps of Scott Jurek and Dean Karnazes on this stretch of the Badwater Ultramarathon route. It was really cool to know that we were running a small part of that extreme course. Right around that same time Hari tripped and almost fell, so I took it as a sign that it was time to stop putting ourselves in the same league as Jurek and Karnazes.
Michael passed us in the car around mile 10, and cheered us on. It was great to see a familiar face. At mile 11 we started to see the first fast marathoners double back and pass us. Hari and I made a point to tell the runners good job and way to go. We couldn’t believe that only about 20% of the people thanked us, or acknowledged our encouragement in any way. Most simply ignored us. This happened over and over, so we had another long discussion about how different this race was from others.
A runner passed us with a handheld radio playing music, and we thought he was pushing it on the “no headphones” rule. I rarely run with music, so running with my thoughts has never been problematic for me. Of course, my thoughts do drive me crazy those last six miles of a marathon, so maybe I should try it sometime.
There was a very nice downhill to the mile 12 water stop, then we saw Michael again just before the turn-around at mile 13.1. The turn-around was nothing more than tape on the road, and absolutely NO ONE was there to make sure that everyone ran to the official turn-around tape spot and didn’t cut corners, so to speak. We both wondered how this could possibly be a Boston qualifying race when there was no official race person standing at the turn-around.
I was starting to feel a little tired and the uphill seemed to start immediately. I stayed optimistic, put my head down, and trudged on. Hari and I both got serious at this point and didn’t say much to each other. A woman passed us from the opposite direction running in the middle of the road, and I was glad to note that she seemed my age and I was ahead of her. My competitive spirit was still strong at mile 13.7.
From a few conversations along the way it seemed that a majority of the runners in this race did a lot of trail running. I wished I lived in a place that had more trails to run on. We started passing a young man cheering us on who parked on the side of the road and played music with his car doors open. He was one of only five spectators the entire route.
I tried not to think about how many more miles there were to run, and wondered why marathons were so much harder than our long runs at home. I decided to run the rest of the race one mile at a time and not continually calculate how many miles left to the finish. I failed miserably, as always. Water stops every 3 miles was not working for me at all the second half. I kept calculating how much further to the next water stop, even though I had water in my fuel belt. Three mile water stops are simply too far apart the second half of a race, especially in Death @#*$% Valley.
We saw Michael again at miles 15, 17, and 20. At some point I started to feel some chafing on my inner thighs, and a blister somewhere, too. It was getting harder and harder to stay with Hari. He had been running like a well-oiled machine since last summer, and carried it forward into Death Valley. He finally pulled ahead around mile 19. He looked strong and just kept going, without looking back. I was happy for him and hoped he could keep the cramps away that plague him at every marathon, but I was also sad that I couldn’t keep up.
The hills became unrelenting. They weren’t big hills, but they were enough to make it challenging. It was mentally tough to see most of the race course along the edge of the hill. The long, gradual, uphill stretch was always visible just ahead for miles in the distance, and it was hard not to get discouraged. I decided to keep my head down and just follow the white line. This helped a lot.
At mile 21, I was bone tired of slogging uphill. Some of the hills were significant, and I noticed that every single runner in front of me, as far as I could see, was walking on the uphills and running the downhills. It was very hard to resist, and I started doing the same. I remembered my trail running friends telling me this is a common practice in ultras and trail runs, but probably like everyone else, I hate walking in a marathon. I resolved to get over it and just do what needed to be done.
I used the white road markers as my guides and kept telling myself, over and over, just run to the next mile marker. I saw Michael just before mile 23. I took that opportunity to stop and whine.
I ran most of the race behind a man in a Hammer Nutrition jersey, whom I started calling “Hammer” in my head. Just keep following Hammer. When he stopped and I passed him, I told him to keep running, that he had been pulling me along. We passed each other back and forth until the finish line. He said he was running Death Valley in preparation for a 50 mile race he was training for, and offered me $10 if we finished together. I passed a young man and exchanged encouragement. I saw him later that night in the restaurant and he told me it was his first marathon. Wow, Death Valley for your first marathon! How do you top that?
I could always see Hari far ahead in the distance–I mean, I could see his neon green compression socks. I also saw the moment he stopped running and I knew his arch nemesis, cramps, had paid a visit. Eventually I caught up to him and we proceeded together. We passed the road sign exit to Beatty, NV—30 miles—and joked that we should add on some extra miles for fun.
Even though I was exhausted, I was still enjoying myself. I wasn’t beating myself up over having to take walk breaks on some of the uphills, and finishing was never an issue. It was starting to get very warm, and the other racers became very encouraging. Twice we had to stop to help Hari stretch his calves.
Finally, blissfully, there was that fantastic hill around mile 2, only this time it was a steep downhill. It felt great to let it rip, and I felt like I was flying. It reminded me of the St. George Marathon and qualifying for Boston. It was the best feeling in the world.
It didn’t last long. At the bottom of the hill we started the long uphill to the finish. Hari was in a lot of pain and had to stop and stretch his calves less than half a mile from the finish. We were so close. I told him to keep moving, that we were almost done. All I wanted to do was finish the race and be done, and it was killing me to stop with the finish line in sight. Hari walked a little more and I took off, finishing less than two minutes ahead of him, and feeling guilty for not waiting on him.
I finished in 4:18:27. Not my best time, but not bad considering I had walked some–and it was Death Valley, after all, so I felt entitled to extra badass bonus points for the location. It felt incredible to be done. I got my medal and yelled encouragement to Hari as he crossed the finish line. We took pictures with Hammer, who had finished a few minutes earlier than me and got to keep his $10 bet, and picked up our t-shirts (well, Hari did, but I was told they had run out of all the small sizes–at yet another race!!!!!).
We hobbled to our cabin, sat in the rocking chairs outside, and drank a celebratory beer. My feet missed my magic Teva flip flops, and I realized that I had The Worst Chafing Ever. Ugh. I rested, but didn’t sleep, then we all headed over the saloon for the awards ceremony. I had won 2nd place in my age division! In a marathon!
We got dinner from the Forty-Niner and ate it in the saloon, and I had a nice conversation with a man from Utah while waiting for our food. He told me about the Top of Utah marathon, his favorite race (slightly downhill), and told me I would enjoy it. Earlier, I had overheard this same man tell the waitress that last night’s spaghetti was the best spaghetti he’d ever eaten, that it was hard to find good spaghetti, and since my spaghetti from the same restaurant had been so awful, I have to assume that spaghetti in Utah is like Mexican Food in Kansas.
Since I had forgotten my magic Teva flip flops I had to wear my boots to dinner, and because of the terrible chafing I had to wear a skirt. I looked kind of stylish, but only I knew the real reason why. (Full disclosure: I was in so much pain from the chafing that I bought some Desitin in the gift shop. I took a lot of ribbing from the guys, but it worked.)
I was asleep by 9:00pm.
Three months later, I have to say that the Death Valley Marathon was one of my favorites. I loved the small size, the desert setting, running in a national park, and the challenges of the course. It was tough at the time, but it was an awesome event. Running with a dear friend like Hari made it all the more memorable. Most of all, I will always cherish the little red ribbon I got in the mail for placing 2nd in my age group–a marathon feat that will surely never again occur in this lifetime!
Age Division: 2/5
High temp: 85
Low temp: 54
Wind: 17 kph
(All photos courtesy of Hari, Michael, and Hari’s camera)