If I have learned just one thing over the past two years here it is: the runner’s high does exist, and running is therefore as addictive as narcotic drugs. The only thing I remember vividly about my running up until the marathon is two years ago, sitting on my living room couch with roommates, talking about the distant possibility of running our first half marathon. I remember only cautiously saying I would try to train, try to keep up, but telling myself internally that 13.1 miles was much too far to even fathom and that the odds of finishing or really even making it to the starting line were not in my favor.
The 24 months of training runs, three half marathons, and one 10k that followed that moment now blur together in my mind.
Training four days a week for 18 straight weeks brought me to yet another starting line that I had never in my life thought that I would see (the schedule I used is on the post before this and I thought it was a flawless program). I didn’t have a goal time or pace in my head. Like all my runs before, I was not even wearing a watch to keep track. I knew that for me my body would be my pace-setter – telling me when I was going too fast or too slow. Really, I only had one goal in mind. All I wanted was to finish the marathon knowing that I had RUN the entire race with the exception of walking through aid stations to drink water.
We started in waves. So not only did I find myself in the surreal moment of being within seconds of the starting gun of my first marathon, but I was also in the front of the pack for my group. Any nervousness about the race itself was subdued by images running through my brain of the entire crowd trampling me to a pulp. The start gun was anti-climactic (though I found it endearing they gave each wave start a gun shot so all of us could feel like we were starting with the fast people). I was standing there fiddling with my Ipod trying to figure out what song to start to. I had barely settled on Rage Against the Machine’s “Know Your Enemy” when the gun went off. I worked hard the entire first mile to make sure I didn’t go too fast and exhaust myself from the get-go.
This mile is truly notable as the first and ONLY time during the race that I had to pee. Because, to be honest, EVERY training run 5 miles and over always results in me having to pee at least once (usually twice). Luckily, being in an actual race means that I can use a port-a-potty instead of leaning against a tree in the deep woods of Umstead State Park. However, having a port-a-potty also results in a line of race participants waiting to use it. I am always baffled during races by the fact that, when I need to use the bathroom, I end up waiting an obscene amount of time for the person in front of me to get out. Seriously? 1) We are IN A RACE. Hurry the hell up. 2) You are in a port-a-potty… there’s only so much you can do. Mile 6 of the marathon was no exception to this circumstance.
After a quasi scenic run around the Wright Brothers Memorial I got to run by my little cheering section just after the ninth mile. Jeremy, my dad, my mom, and my dog Juneau were all standing there telling me that I looked great and ready to hand me a banana to fuel up. I was beyond excited to see Juneau at this point. Her “welcome back Momma” doggy dance can make me smile no matter what. She went insane when she saw me and it made me feel like she was cheering for me too.
We spent a few miles running through Nags Head Woods. Every person I have spoken to who ran this course hated the Nags Head Woods section of the race with every fiber of their being. I, on the contrary, loved running through the woods. This section of the course was reminiscent of my training runs in Umstead and I was able to actually lose track of miles for some amount of time. It was a fortunate onset of the runner’s high. I don’t remember what I was thinking about, what I listened to, or what interesting things I saw among the other runners or the spectators. I just remember weaving with the turns of the trail and enjoying the shade of the tree cover. Coming out of the woods I couldn’t believe that we had hit mile 13. Half way there and feeling pretty good…
Again, my cheering section was waiting for me as the course came to a straight away alongside the main bypass stretching across the Outer Banks (I have no idea what I would have done without my cheerleaders, they were amazing). I actually had to come to a dead stand still because I was still wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and the temperature had jumped over the 60 degree mark. Lesson to myself and anyone who hasn’t run a race before: if you are wearing something that you are comfortable in when the race starts (temperature wise), you should actually wear less. Because unhooking 4 safety pins to strip down and move your race number to a different shirt is nothing less than a pain in the ass and a waste of time.
This is the point where I started to feel myself wearing down. Let the struggle commence. The course had just finished another long straight away on the bypass and entered a loop through a residential neighborhood. There was no shade and the sun was out in full force so I was getting pretty hot. More and more of the runners around me were starting to slow to a walk or look increasingly like death (I may have been one of the latter for all I know, I am only certain that I was somehow continuing to run). The field had spread out substantially by then and there weren’t many spectators on the side of the road meaning I had few people around to pump me up. I remember thinking how funny (except not even remotely funny at all) it would be if me and the few people in view ahead and behind me had somehow taken a wrong turn and weren’t on the course at all. I became aware of every step I took along the deteriorating pavement on the edge of the road, and conscious of my breath getting somewhat unveven. I was getting slightly irritable. I ran past an event photographer crouched on one knee off to the side of the road and, since there were no other runners close, was uncomfortably aware that he was taking pictures of me. I kind of wanted to snatch his camera and throw it in the bushes for no apparent reason. For the first time since the start I became overly aware of the music playing from my marathon playlist. “Dungeon Dragon” by Nikki Minaj was on full blast but not at all having its intended effect. Instead of pumping me up it was mostly just annoying me. I, unlike Nikki and Eminem, felt nothing like a “dungeon dragon”. More like a crippled baby harbor seal. I let the track play anyway because I had barely put enough songs on the playlist to make it long enough to play through the whole race without repeats. Another lesson learned the hard way: overload your marathon playlist.
I got prematurely elated at about mile 20. This was the last long straight away on the main bypass road and not too far in the distance I could see where the highway took an apparent right turn and went out of sight. I knew that after rounding the turn I would be in sight of the Washington-Baum bridge. I was almost certain that if I could make it over the bridge that the finish line was completely attainable. However, I had somehow managed to severely misjudge how far after the turn I would have to go before I reached the bridge. From the 20 mile marker I pushed another mile until following the slow right turn of the highway, and then ran yet another mile and a half before reaching the foot of the bridge. There were aid stations at almost every mile this far into the race. As I ran past the tents and throngs of people that surrounded them – all of them screaming “keep going, almost there” – I couldn’t help but feel like they were subtly mocking me. Almost there? Almost where? If you’re referring to the bridge I’m already annoyed that I’m not there right now. If you’re referring to the finish line then you are actually wrong. The finish line is like 6 miles away. I have come to despise the common cheer of “almost there” in any race oriented sport. Because, more often than not, it’s a complete lie.
The funny thing about bridges (yet again, not at all funny at the time) is how when you look at them from a distance they never seem all that steep so you assume that running up them will be reasonably simple. This is a sick, twisted illusion. When you are on the bridge you realize that it is, in fact, considerably steep and the longest most drawn out up hill you have ever endured. You make it to the top by telling yourself that you will have a nice, long downhill awaiting you in due time but then get disappointed when the downhill portion is about half the distance that you spent struggling to reach the peak. Running up the Washington-Baum bridge I felt like I was moving in slow motion. I was looking around halfway expecting to see walkers pass me even though I was maintaining a steady jogging pace. But the bridge wasn’t all bad. There was a snapshot-worthy view of the inlet and the strong breeze cooling the sweat on my face. It was one of those beautiful moments when my IPod magically read my mind and played the perfect song. “Follow” by Breaking Benjamin is essentially the same to me as taking an adrenaline shot straight to the chest and my trusty IPod shuffled to it just as I was struggling to reach the top.
The relief I felt on the downhill of Washington-Baum was short lived. I started to feel agonizing pain and stiffness in my hips that intensified every single time a foot struck the pavement. This was the only time in the race that I remember entertaining the idea of walking. As I passed another aid station I somehow managed to chug down my cup of water and just keep on running. I wish I could tell you that I was inspired to stay strong by some wise mantra from within. Really, I was just being stubborn.
I tend to go numb within a quarter mile of any finish line. No matter how sore I am or how weak I am breathing I stop feeling it when the end is in sight. I had taken the last sharp turn in the course and entered a straight away through downtown Manteo and saw the finish line not a tenth of a mile away from me when the numbness sank in. I am positive that a minute prior my entire body had been hurting but suddenly it didn’t anymore and I just started to sprint. I sprinted past the crowd, past a few other runners, and straight past the finish line. I don’t remember what song was playing, I don’t remember seeing anyone or anything in particular, and I didn’t even see the time on the race clock when I passed it. It was unimpaired tunnel vision.
Official chip time: 4:29
Place overall: 560 of 1215
Place among the ladies: 179 of 520
Place in age/gender group: 13 of 31
Somewhat corny life lesson learned: Your body is capable of doing things that your mind can’t even imagine are possible. You just have to dedicate all the time and effort necessary to train your body to get there.