I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.
Mike Fanelli, running club coach
Rest assured, queasy readers, that there will be no more bathroom discussions in my recap. The benevolent potty gods smiled upon me, and not once during my race did I have to step into a Port-a-Potty. What a relief!
On to the recap! I’m sorry it’s long, but I’m covering the whole race in this post, so I hope you’ll bear with me :-).
From the first second, I knew I would savor every moment of the race regardless of my leg. It was like everything was suddenly illuminated…a heightening of color, senses and awareness. I love the feel at the start of a race when the motion of the entire group starts shuffling forward in a wave and then passes the starting line. I rubbed the palm of my hand over my quad one last time just before hitting my music and the start button on my app.
How strange it was to begin slowly–so different from my half-marathon (HM) starts! I enjoyed watching the half-marathoners instantly start to cut and move, jockeying for position. Many HM runners are counting every second at the start of a race. I ignored the slight urge to start hauling ass, instead settling into a comfortable pace behind the pace group leader and waiting for twinges in my leg.
The first few minutes of a race can be great people-watching. Clothes, stride, attitude…every runner is different. The feel of the mass of runners flowing up the street is incredible. The energy that pours forth is contagious. I loved those first few minutes, and my leg seemed cooperative and content. I had instant hope!
Suddenly, everyone around me seemed to bing, and I realized that they must have all been wearing Garmins that were sounding the 1-mile point. My app hadn’t even announced my first half-mile. Cluster #1–I unstrapped it from my armband and detected the immediate problem…it hadn’t started when I pushed the button.
Great 😦 …one mile and almost 11 minutes not counted. Anal Angie hates not knowing exactly where she is, but it mattered so much less since it was a marathon. I got it started and told myself that that and the missing Yurbud would be my only problems…positive thinking would rule the day (hint: that would not continue to be the case!)
Those first few miles felt like a training victory lap. I thanked volunteers, high-fived kids and marveled at the spectator turnout. I don’t know if Boston brought out more people to our small race or if it was a typical number, but they were so energetic, and it reminded me that I owe it to the sport to go cheer on a few races when I can and to definitely volunteer in the future.
Mile 3.something: time for the marathon and HM to split off. Marathoners to the left, please…you’re going to swing out west to Colorado and north to Nebraska for a few hours! I looked with longing at the HMers heading right. That’s how I identify myself, and for a second it felt wrong to try to “hang” with the maniacs.
First aid station, btw? Gatorade in my face. Why I thought I could keep a slow jog going and sip from a cup is beyond me. Stupid is as stupid does.
Revelation at about Mile 4: I didn’t like running with the pace group. We were so bunched in! I felt like it forced me to compare myself to them, and I didn’t want that. Plus, someone would get slightly ahead, then cut over, forcing me to pull back. Or someone would be so close on my tail that I would speed up to make room. Or the leader would suddenly increase/decrease his pace, forcing the pack to do the same. One girl seemed determined that NO ONE would come between her and him, so she hung practically on his ass, and this for some reason bugged me, even though I understand why she was doing it. I found her annoying and didn’t want to be running behind or with her anymore. Even her ass and her stride annoyed me (weird feeling, huh? I know, it’s odd.)
I didn’t like trying to keep up in aid stations either. Some he jogged through, and some he stopped and walked through. When he walked, I would get there after he did and then be sipping my Gatorade while he took off, forcing me to sprint to catch up, which I didn’t think I should be doing. None of this was his fault–he was great, and many in the group seemed to be enjoying the “team” aspect of it. I just didn’t think it was for me, yet I wanted to keep that pace, especially since my app was inaccurate.
Around Mile 8-9, he stopped at an aid station, and I decided to run through it so I could keep a steadier pace. I figured he and the group would catch up in a few minutes and decided to enjoy the solitude until then.
I fell behind a woman who seemed to have a similar pace and a great style and had chosen to leave the group at the same time as I had. I told her that she was holding the pace, and she laughed. She was steady, strong on the hills and generally not annoying to me, for whatever reason. She had a friend who was weaker on the hills and would fall behind but then would make up ground and catch up to us on the flat stretches. The three of us continued like this for miles. At one point, I made room for the friend to get in front of me to get closer to her friend (the leader), and I told the leading runner that she had a great ass, and that I should know since I’d been following it for four miles! She was howling and slapping her butt in thanks.
The marathon is a charismatic event. It has everything. It has drama. It has competition. It has camaraderie. It has heroism. Every jogger can’t dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon.
Fred Lebow, New York City Marathon co-founder
I was running strong and finally at my own comfortable pace. I was killing it! My quad was loose and my energy was amazing. There were no twinges going into my knee. My app was giving me paces in the 9:18-9:30 range, and I felt limitless.
Even better, being out of the pack gave me greater awareness of my surroundings, including the spectators. Families had come out of their neighborhoods and set up shop with their kids for the morning, watching and cheering from lawn chairs, coolers stocked with food and drink and kids running along next to us and cheering with hands outstretched for high fives. Many stood with signs, and I heard so many cowbells! People were driving along next to us shaking cowbells out their windows. The peace and joy and pride, mixed with euphoria is something I wish everyone could experience, and I’ve never felt that mix of emotions on a half-marathon before.
I realized that the 4:20 group had never caught back up with me, but I could turn and see them behind me. I could hear them too…about every 5 minutes, the leader would yell at them, and they would all shout out whoops and hollers. I decided to see if I could just stay ahead of them COMFORTABLY without pushing myself beyond what I guessed was reasonable for that stage of the race. I tried to think of them as maniacs, zombies after the apocalypse trying to chase me down…competitors trying to steal my rightful place in line.
We approached Mile 15, zombies in the rearview mirror, and I took a moment to reflect on how easy and rewarding the first 15 Miles had been. I’d run beyond my tempered expectations thus far, and I was starting to see the first round of walkers. I was thankful that my body was cooperating.
I was about to enter the part of the race that had me terrified…an out-and-back stretch of nature trail, running from Mile 15-22.
I hate out-and-back stretches. I find them demoralizing, disconcerting, dumb–basically any negative word that starts with “D.” I could feel fear coming on, but I knew I was also scheduled to see TiffeeG for the first time at the entrance to the trail, and I also knew that I was running AMAZEBALLS. My hamstring was really starting to tighten up, though, and I could feel the strain reaching up into my glute.
And I saw her, before she saw me. The poster in this next pic is not the one she was holding up at the time…that one said Bounce That!!!!! But I couldn’t take a picture, so this shot will have to suffice, and it definitely captures the spirit of my beautiful sister. As I’m sure you can imagine, I was beyond emotional and inspired just at the sight of her. I tossed her my jacket and kept screaming, “I love you!” as I ran past. Seeing her meant the world to me.
It could not have gotten any better, other than the pain in my ass. And then of course it did. Camped out just up ahead in the trees were HH and our boys. I saw them starting to cheer and stand up, and all I can remember is slapping my hands to my cheeks. HH told me that a woman in front of me thought they were cheering for her (we runners were pretty spread out by that point) and started to thank them for encouraging her, then saw that they were really doing it for me and was embarrassed. Too funny! They continued to cheer her on too!
HH ran along beside me for a moment to see how I was doing. He said I was looking strong. I told him that my quad was okay but that my hamstring was going to be the issue.
Seriously, does it get any better than this? And I was cracking up at the sign that said, “You’re pretty!” So damn funny! Thanks, TiffeeG!
The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.
That stretch of nature trail was hellish, just as I’d anticipated. At first it was thrilling, because I got to see the faster runners flying back by. Their speed and determination was amazing…oh, the envy! One woman was streaking along while dressed as the Wicked Witch—blazing her path while carrying her witch’s hat. Geez!
The zombies were gaining on me, though, and I could feel my energy dipping. They came closer and closer, and I knew I would have to just try and fall back in as they approached. I reconciled myself to this fact and took my place in the (now much smaller) bunch.
I quickly became upset. The leader was running too fast for me at this point. They were running pretty fast, beyond what I wanted to give at that stretch of the race. My app was giving me great paces, still on target to be quite close to a 4:20, but they started to pull ahead, and it felt like a strain to keep up. My hamstring was hurting so bad, and it would not allow me to take long strides or make major pace changes. Plus, I knew my energy was flagging, and I was only at about Mile 19. I decided that he must be running closer to a 4:15, and I knew I shouldn’t overexert to keep up. There was still so much ahead!
It hurt like hell to let them go. Dismal. Depressing. Devastating. I told myself that I wasn’t racing the 4:20 group, I was racing myself and the distance. I needed to focus on my own race and my taut hamstring, not six people I’d never seen before and some arbitrary time on a stick.
So I slugged on, through the most solitary part of the course, by myself. Looking back, I’m glad for this stretch of the race, when I dug the deepest. Lofty goals were disappearing by the second, and everything was stripped down to the barest of motives. Finish. Keep moving, even if no one is watching and cheering. One foot in front of the other. Each step closer to the finish, regardless of how fast.
It gave me time to reflect on so many hours spent alone on the streets, to remember snot-crusted nostrils and saliva-soaked neck gators. I thought of rain and snow and stretching and icing, of meal planning and hydration and commitment. I thought of discipline, and of my family.
I thought of TiffeeG and pain for no good reason, suffering with no medal at the end, no applause and no spectators.
I don’t think I’d trade those minutes in the woods for anything–okay, maybe for a 4:15 finish or a cure for AS, but nothing else!
Finally, I spotted HH with the boys, TiffeeG and my friends Erin and Danielle behind him. The timing was perfect. HH ran beside me again and told me that I still had a great time. He later told me that he was all ready to fire some smartass comments, until he saw that I had fallen behind the pace group I’d been ahead of before and once he saw how godawful I looked. Smart man.
I was overwhelmed to think that they would all stand there and wait in the cold just to cheer me on and support me. I shouted I love you’s and thank you’s again as I passed, and I told my friend Erin, “If I EVER talk about doing this again, slap me, stop me, do whatever you have to do! NEVER again!!!!!”
I think she knew not to listen to me at that point!
Danielle had offered to run the last four miles with me. She fell into step beside me, but not before I totally got in some lady’s way. Sorry!
I told Danielle that my body was trying to barf. I almost felt vomit rising up in my stomach. I was gutting it out at this point, but looking back, the worst was behind me. I knew I was going to finish. My hamstring was in a really bad place, but I was close to my goal and knew that nothing would prevent me from crossing that line.
I could hardly talk, and I hope she understood, though we did talk briefly about drawing the obvious parallel to childbirth. It wasn’t cardiovascular, it was mental. I couldn’t devote any energy to listening or participating in conversation. I couldn’t focus on anything but the road and my steps. I tried to draw from her energy. I didn’t know it yet, but we were entering the most inspiring leg of the race.
My app told me that I was running at a 10:45 pace. Balls! I announced to Danielle that I couldn’t live with that and willed my legs to move faster. I know I looked like hell and felt even worse, but I did not work my ass off to finish with 10:45 miles! B to the S! Hell to the no!
The spirit of the runners in those last few miles will stay with me forever. Obviously, the elites and the sub-4:00 marathoners were finished or at least well past. This seemed to be the group of runners ranging from the 4:00 hopefuls with missed goals, all the way to the 4:30 hopefuls having the race of their dreams.
There was a lot of pain evident in that last stretch. So many people were walking or pulled over to the side working on leg cramps. I myself was running at one point while trying to massage my own ass. Hello, awkward! Many runners were barely shuffling along…yet when we passed them, they lifted their heads and said words of encouragement.
“You got this, runner!”
Was there anyplace I would have rather been? Of course not. I have never felt such spirit or sense of camaraderie in a half-marathon. I tried to imprint every moment of it into my brain–when I wasn’t cussing and asking where the next f$#*ing mile marker was.
One man in front of us literally fell over sideways at one point. Danielle rushed to help him while I trudged ahead trying to look over my shoulder. She caught back up and said that he claimed to be okay, but we alerted the volunteers at the next aid station.
Speaking of aid stations, I skipped the last two. If I had stopped, my muscles would have instantly locked up and prevented me from moving. Plus, the thought of Gatorade was so nasty at that point. I didn’t ever want to see Gatorade again in my lifetime.
We saw HH and the boys up ahead. HH told me how far I had to go and that TiffeeG and Erin were waiting at the finish line. Alex fell into step with me and Danielle, and we finished the last quarter-mile or so, just the three of us.
I heard the cheers of the crowd and heard the announcer call my name as I approached. I also could see TiffeeG and Erin. I started crying, but managed a little pageant wave.
I almost hate to include these pictures, because I look so awful, but I can’t not share…
I hope you enjoyed the race recap! Again, sorry if it was too lengthy. I am off to New Orleans tomorrow to spend the weekend with good friends (including a visit from HH!), so I will post again on Monday with the race aftermath…beginning with when I stopped running and every single muscle in my body clenched up :-)!
Thanks for reading!