Last Friday my running group had the opportunity to do a fun run with the Ultramarathon Man himself, Dean Karnazes, who was in town representing a sponsor for a local 5K race. I’m not a celebrity hound or star-struck kind of person, but it was such an honor meeting one of my first running heroes.
As I stated in my last post, Dean’s book Ultramarathon Man was one of the first running books I read when I began running six years ago. Dean is an undeniably talented runner, running distances I will never attempt. To meet him in person, and discover what a down-to-earth, genuinely nice guy he is, was a real treat.
My running group, the White Rock Running Co-op (WRRC) is a group of friends I’ve run with for the past five years. A core group of us met while training, pacing, and coaching with a local running group, and eventually branched off and created our own group. There’s no charge, no politics, no games–just a group of people who love to run. We run together each Wednesday evening and Saturday mornings (long runs), and we generally follow a marathon or half-marathon training plan.
This weekend about 30 of us are flying to Eugene, OR to run the marathon and half-marathon there.
The group met Dean at the American Airlines Center, home to the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars, on a cool, overcast morning. Some people managed to sneak away from work, others made a day of it.
After an introduction and a few photos, we ran the length of the Katy Trail, which is roughly seven miles total. The first half is gradually uphill, and I had a tough time keeping up with the group. After about two and a half miles, when I looked down at my Garmin and saw the pace was 8:05, I decided to walk until the group turned back around.
Having already done a race pace run on Wednesday night (which was nowhere close to an 8:05 pace!), and knowing I was doing a 12 miler the next day, it wasn’t a tough decision to make.
The group quickly came back down the trail and I jumped in behind everyone else. It started to rain lightly, and thankfully the back of the pack had slowed down to a more reasonable 8:45 pace.
As we made the turn back to the AAC, Dean graciously stood off to the the side in order to be the last one to finish. He said we could brag to everyone that we had run with Dean Karnazes and “beat” him.
Yeah, right, Dean.
A few observations about Dean:
- He has ZERO body fat. Zilch. His legs are incredible, with clearly defined quads and calves. Everyone was amazed at those legs. The men were envious and the women just wanted to touch them.
- Everyone was impressed at how nice he really is. He thanked us several times for coming out to run with him, and talked about his love of running. He was very down-to-earth and humble. He acknowledged how lucky he is that he gets to run for a living.
- He says he never sits down all day. He even has a special desk he uses at home that’s at waist height where he does all his writing. He says it’s one of the ways he stays in shape, and it helps train his body to stay on his feet for long periods of time. (I think it’s just natural for him.)
- He does a lot of cross training.
- He will run the Badwater Ultra again this summer. I asked how many pairs of shoes he usually goes through in Badwater, and he surprisingly said he hopes to use only one pair, which would be a full size larger than he usually wears. And he will run on the white line so the soles don’t melt.
- One of his favorite things to eat on his very long runs is a sandwich of bread, almond butter, banana slices, honey, and a packet of soy sauce drizzled on top of the bread. Genevieve made one the next day and said it was yummy!
Those of us who didn’t have to be back at work had lunch and post-run beers, and talked about running with Dean Karnazes. It was a good day of friendship, laughter, and doing what we love most: running.
Saturday we ran our first 20 mile long run in anticipation of the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa. It was warm and humid, and I was still ridiculously sore from a full day of gardening two days prior. I was sore in places not usually challenged by running, and I knew it would only get worse the farther I got into the run.
M woke up when I did at 4:30AM and commented on all the fire trucks and sirens he heard all night. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then remembered it was the Texas/OU game. I heard the low rumble of bass from a passing car outside our house and later noticed there was much more traffic as I drove to meet my friends.
Usually we have the streets of Dallas to ourselves on these early Saturday morning runs. And when you run 20 miles, you cover a lot of city streets.
It was warm and humid when we started at 5:30AM, 73 degrees and 76% humidity, but thankfully there was a brisk breeze to keep us cool. It was also overcast, which is always welcome on a Texas long run, regardless of the season.
There were six of us who started, and the usually quiet streets were already awake with Texas/OU fans. Some we could tell hadn’t made it to bed from last night’s downtown debauchery; others were either en route to the game itself or a bar where they could snag a seat to watch the game on HD.
We ran one of our favorite routes, which takes us downtown past the public library, city hall, the Old Red Courthouse, the JFK Memorial, and Dealey Plaza, which is the exact location where JFK was assassinated from the 6th floor of the School Book Depository. We stopped to look at the two X’s that are permanently marked on the road to show where he was killed, and to look at the window where Lee Harvey Oswald stood that day and changed history.
I’m always happy to hit the halfway point in a long run, but at 10 miles my legs already felt like they usually do at mile 24 of a marathon. They were really, really sore, almost to the point where I felt like I was limping. I probably won’t be able to walk tomorrow, I thought, and trudged on.
An on and on and on. Through downtown, over the trolley tracks and cobblestones of McKinney Ave, along Turtle Creek and the opulence of Highland Park, and up the Katy Trail. Keep moving.
I finally fell apart around mile 17. My legs cried uncle and I had to walk. Normally this would feel like a defeat so close to the finish, and I would come in with my head hanging low, but I knew better than to push it. 20 milers are notorious for causing injuries, and starting on sore muscles was only asking for trouble. Hari, who is not even training for a marathon, needed to back off as well, and we walked it in together. After more than 4 hours of running, my feet were aching.
No matter how much it hurt, though, I was loving it.
Two weeks ago I had a fantastic 18 mile long run. The weather was cool and I felt strong and smooth. On the drive home, I had the thought that I’ve had many times after a long run: I wish I had the energy to keep going. As in, keep running all day, for the rest of the day.
When I’m not training for a marathon, the thought of a 20 mile long run causes me to shudder in wonder and revulsion. I forget that it’s simply a matter of building up the mileage, week by week, run by run, until it’s not only possible, but attainable. I forget how much I enjoy it.
There’s something about the long run that keeps me coming back. Part of it is the challenge of pushing myself physically and mentally beyond my previous limits. Part of it is being outdoors when most of the city still sleeps, when the only thing that matters is making it to the next water stop. But mostly, it’s the fellowship of running mile after mile with a group of people I’ve grown to love, people who know exactly what I’m made of, who’ve seen me when even my worst was the best I could give.
It’s difficult to explain. Something happens when you’re having a good long run. Something clicks in your brain. Body and mind come together and everything flows.
No matter how tired you are, life funnels down to only one thought: keep moving. That’s all you have to do, keep moving. It’s stunningly beautiful in its simplicity. There’s nothing else that needs to be done, nothing that needs to be worried about, nothing other than this one thing that you love: RUNNING.
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!