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.
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!
It seems this is the year to have a great marathon. Last year was the opposite. At least that was the case for me and my friends. I ran my first marathon last December in Dallas. I trained for 23 weeks, even pacing a group with the local running club, and I was more than prepared to have a good race. Perhaps I was overconfident, but I was truly hoping to come in under four hours and qualify for Boston right off the bat. That, however, was not the case. All the hours of training meant nothing against the weather. On race morning, we got hit with a temperature of 64 degrees at the start, 80% humidity, and winds from the south at 30 mph. At the 13 mile mark, once you came around White Rock Lake, the wind hit you full force in the face and was unrelenting. At mile 19 I was toast—and that’s where the hills begin. It’s also where I began walking. Up to that point I had managed to keep an 8:45 pace, but I had nothing left at mile 19. I finished in 4:16, which is respectable for a first marathon, especially considering how much I walked the last 7 miles, but I knew I could’ve done better and was disappointed in myself.
My second marathon in April of this year was even worse. After my experience at White Rock, I had no real desire to run another marathon. I was committed, however, to pacing another group to get them ready for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. My heart was just not in it. Race day was even worse than White Rock, with a starting temperature of 72 degrees, humidity at 78%, and wind gusts up to 45 mph. We were all completely disheartened walking to the start line. I actually walked a little at mile 10, and considered calling Michael to come get me. When we got to the lake just after the halfway point, and turned south, the wind hit us full force, and it was like running in a wind tunnel. I decided at that point that this was a race to just finish, and nothing more. The last few miles were up a long, gradual incline, directly into those 45 mph winds, and up to 90% of the runners were walking. It was a horrible experience. I cried at mile 23, and I cried at the finish line.
I seriously considered never running another marathon. What was the point, I thought, if it’s not even fun? The mere mention of OKC still makes me shake my head. I knew there had to be a good marathon experience out there for me, so my friends and I entered the lottery for the St. George Marathon. At least if the weather was bad I would still get to run through my favorite part of the country. There is no place in America that I feel more at peace than in the desert. Also, I wasn’t so focused on my finishing time as I was on having an enjoyable marathon experience. I knew I needed to have fun in this marathon.
What a difference the weather can make. The temperature at the start was 39 degrees with no wind, and I finished in 3:56:39. I finally had my Boston qualifier. Other friends have done even better in their marathons. Number one reason why: the weather. You can train diligently and do everything right, but come race day you are at the mercy of the weather every time.
But was it really the weather that made all the difference, or was it my attitude? I’m not sure. I know that I run better in cold, wind-free temperatures, but I’m starting to think that maybe deciding to enjoy the marathon, regardless of my performance, was what really made the difference. Perhaps battling the elements only makes us stronger as runners, but at some point you have to be willing to let go of your dreams of the “perfect” marathon and accept things as they are.
As difficult as those last three miles in St. George were, I can honestly say that I enjoyed everything about that race. I cannot say the same about White Rock or OKC, and I think it’s mainly because of the mental states I brought to the races. I was equally well-trained for all three races, but making the mental decision to have fun and enjoy myself, while still staying focused on finishing strong, made all the difference.