Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Wow, where do I start? I had the most incredible weekend of my life. I took on this challenge with apprehension and without a full realization of exactly what I would be doing. But I could not be more pleased with the results.
We arrived at my aunt and uncle's in Arlington around noon on Friday. Throughout Fri and Sat I kept having phantom pains all over my body: particularly in the legs and feet. I told my aunt about it and she said "Oh yeah, me too. That's normal". Good deal. The night before the marathon I was strangely calm. It was as if the gravity of the situation was nowhere close to registering in my brain. I had no idea what I was in for. We got up Sunday morning around 6. I forced down some toast with peanut butter and about 1/2 a banana. We left the house around 6:40 or so to take the metro to the race. My aunt and uncle were running as well and Dave got up to come with us so that he could see us off. By the way, if you are running a race and will be relying in public transit, it's a good idea to already have your fare paid for; the lines to get the tickets for the metro were out of control!! I was so glad they had tickets for all of us. We took the metro to the race and found the Coast Guard tent to put our stuff down (my uncle is a Coastie), used the porta potties and were off to the start line. We'd lost some time along the way and ended up getting to the line a bit late. I had talked to some of the Clif Bar Pacers at the expo on Saturday and was stoked to join the 5:30 group. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to find them before the race; I was walking toward the back of the starting line b/c I knew I had no business being around 3:30 and 4 hour runners. Before I could get anywhere near where I should have been, everyone started inching forward. So I turned around and started walking with everyone else. I was nervous but figured I could catch up with them later. I reasoned they would be easy to find with the bright balloons attached to a stick raised high into the air. You know what they say about assuming...
I knew I had to run as slowly as possible for the first several miles, and that I should probably do some sort of interval, but that was difficult to gauge without a watch. I'd been debating whether or not to wear one and decided against it figuring I'd have no need for it, "Some else will be doing all that work for me. I'm just gonna run and then walk when I'm told". Oops. As I ran under the puffy bright red arches I got a little emotional. No tears but damn close. I was finally doing it! The first mile flew by. I couldn't believe it. The crowd support was intense. People were EVERYWHERE. There were tons of signs and cowbells and people were yelling and cheering. I saw a few signs for JEN and although they weren't technically for me, for the first time in my life I silently thanked my parents for my ubiquitous name. My aunt and I had both written our names on pieces of tape with black marker and put them on our chests. That might have been my smartest move all day (other than applying Body Glide). Nothing in the world boosts you more than random people yelling "Lookin' good Jen, keep it up!!".
Around mile two, I remember looking to the left side of the course and seeing a line of guys relieving themselves among the brush. Penis envy set in even though I didn't even have to pee yet. It was just the principal. Miles two and three flew by. My mind was uncharacteristically quiet. I was very relaxed and was focused on just having fun. I enjoyed taking in all the sights: the spectators, the signs, the runners, the buildings around us. Everything was so beautiful. I saw a sign that said "Pain is temporary. Pride is forever" and I decided to make that my second mantra for the race, after "Have fun". Mile four took us across a bridge and at one point I heard "JEN, JEN". I followed the voice and saw Dave waving at me from behind a row of spectators off to the right. I got pumped. I was so happy to see him. I waved and continued on my journey. The view straight ahead of us was incredible! The tip of a tall steeple peeked out of the fog just on the other side of the bridge. No description or picture could do justice, however, it was at that moment that I really wished I'd had a camera.
Miles six and seven went by painlessly. Mile eight, for whatever reason (and despite the small hill - "flat" course, my ass), was awesome. It must've been the crowd support. I was just pumped. I felt great! People would yell my name and I'd flash a smile, do a few double fist pumps and yell "thank you!" I was lovin' it!! I couldn't believe how great I felt. I saw a few more signs that cracked me up: "Run like you stole something" and "Where the HELL are the endorphins?!" I got a good chuckle from both. I should mention that During miles 3-8, I was trying to incorporate walking breaks but had no idea what I was doing. For a while the pack of runners was so thick that I didn't want to walk and risk someone literally running into me. When a group near me started to walk I did the same. I silently counted to 60 and then began to run again. Although I was attempting to walk with some sort of regularity, it was thrown out the window b/c it seemed like there were many times I was about to start walking and the crowd support was just outrageous and there was no way in hell I was walking while people were yelling and cheering for me and telling me how great I was doing. Nu-uh. I think I had my first PowerGel packet around mile 8...maybe it was before that. I can't remember. There were water and Power Ade stations about every 2 or 3 miles. While I planned on walking through most of those, my plans were usually foiled by a Marine who would say something like, "You're doing great Jen, keep it up!" I would smile, yell "Wooo!!!", thank them, and start running again, just like that. Every few miles there would either be a clock, or a Marine announcing the time. I'd try to quickly do the math to see if I was on track for my 5:30-ish finish. I figured I was pretty close.
Miles 9-11 went by relatively quickly. A dreadlocked man shouted "DO THE DAMN THANG" to us as we ran by. I smiled. Around this time, I started to get a bit emotional (again) as I thought about what I was doing. I was about to run 12.2 miles farther than I ever had in my life and was going to do something that a relatively small percentage of the population can claim they've done. I thought about how we're capable of doing so many incredible things but rarely push ourselves to experience or achieve beyond what we're comfortable doing. I was so proud of myself in that moment. The balls of my feet started to ache a bit during these miles but the pain wasn't too bad. I took some Motrin around mile 11. I stopped a few times to stretch my IT band as my hips were starting to feel argumentative when I'd begin to run again after my walking breaks.
I was worried about 12-14: Haines Point (sp?). At the expo the girl at the pacer booth mentioned that I'd want to be with a group at this point b/c it can be a bit desolate: it's a long loop that runs along the Potomac. There aren't as many runners and it helps quite a bit to have company. I told her I'd need as many distractions as possible. Fortunately, it ended up being fine. There were enough runners near me to keep me distracted and there was an entertaining group of people on a speed boat that rode alongside us and waved and yelled.
Mile 15 was tough. I somewhat expected everything to go downhill at this point, reasoning that I'd never run that far and surely, bad things were just around the corner...thankfully I was wrong. Miles 16 and 17 were superb. There were tons of spectators and I did a lot more smiling, high-fiving and fist pumping as people called my name. I really hoped that I didn't have Power Ade or gel stained teeth and then thought "Screw it. I'm running a damn marathon. I'm supposed to look at least a little bit funky." I was running strong and feeling great and hoped that somehow I could hang onto that feeling at least until I saw Dave and the family and mile 23. I guess I was a little too pumped because as one person called my name and told me how great I was doing I did my smile/fist pump combo and after I shouted "Wooo!!" he told me to calm down and save it. He said "that's what I'M here for. Save your energy". What a nerd. No way was I gonna stop my random mini celebrations when I was feeling so good.
Miles 18-20 were ok. I got some interesting grub from spectators. People were lined up on the sides of the street giving away full bottles of water, Power Bars,candy, pretzels, you name it. It was awesome. Mile 21 was across a long bridge that I swore would never freaking end. It was awful. I did a lot more walking at this point. Spectators were fewer and farther between but I tried to do as much running as I could. A few times, I was scared I wouldn't be able to start running again after I'd been walking. My hips were sore and my body was starting to register more signs of fatigue.
Miles 22-23 went through Crystal City, which is where my aunt and uncle live. During these miles I had a brownie, a mini snickers bar (the girl shouted, "It's carbs, it's carbs" - SOLD!), another gel and some water. The road was split between those of us starting the trek through Crystal City and those of us finishing. I looked longingly at the other side. I was feeling good though. Brightly colored flags flanked either side of the road and there were tons of people cheering, ringing cowbells and holding signs. Oh, and on mile 22, there was a guy sitting in the median on a bicycle and he had a boombox on the handlebars that was blaring M.C. Hammer's "Can't Touch This". I smiled, sang, and somehow resisted the urge to perform the "Hammer-crab dance" as I like to call it. I typically only pull this move out during wedding receptions and only when I'm brimming with "liquid confidence". I charged on. I saw Dave from the opposite side of the road and started flailing my arms and yelling. He saw me and snapped a pic. I hoped it wouldn't be too long before the course would wind back by to where I was on the same side of the street with him. A few minutes after the turn I was approaching him and my G-ma and my uncle and cousins, with my uncle holding the awesome sign Kim made for me (pictures forthcoming. The sign read something like: "Jen - you're the worst runner in the world. FALSE. You're awesome. I love you! Make 26.2 your &%$@#!" (it's loosely based on a Dwight line from The Office). I started cracking up and held my hand out to give Dave a high-five. Apparently the girl just to the left of him thought I was trying to give her a high-five and after I passed her she yelled "Oh I'm sorry. You wanted a high five..." so I turned around, slapped her hand with gusto, did something ridiculous like a backward leaning double fist pump that almost bordered on a pelvic thrust, yelled "Yeahhhh, wooooo" and then turned back to Dave. He snapped some pics and I was off again.
My plan was to run the entirety of the remaining 3.2 but I couldn't quite make it. I walked more than I would have liked. My energy was waning but I was excited that I was so close to the finish. My pace slowed to a crawl but I forced myself to keep moving. At mile 25 I saw a guy sitting on the side of the course receiving medical attention. It looked like he was getting in IV. Yikes. Spectators were a bit scant in these parts but assured us that we were "almost there". I decided that I had to run the last 1.2. No exceptions. It seemed like most of the people around me were walking but I had to run...or shuffle along because at that point that's all I could manage. Someone yelled, "mile 26 is at the bottom of that hill" and I smiled and followed my aunt's advice to just "take it all in" and think about what I was about to accomplish. The finish line is actually up a small hill. What a sick joke. I felt myself picking up speed as I approached the mile marker and continued up the hill. Spectators were crammed on the side of the course like sardines and they were all yelling and cheering for everyone. I began to grimace as my right knee felt like it was about to give out. I thought about what I was on the verge of accomplishing and felt my face tighten and tears welled at my eyes. I breathed heavily and propelled myself to the finish line. The clock read 5:41 (although apparently my actual time was 5:37:11). I slowed to a walk and tried to enjoy the "congratulations" and "great jobs". I grabbed a bottle of water, a space blanket thingy and got in line to receive my medal. As I looked up at the person in front of me I realized it was the pace leader for the 5:30 group that I never found. I couldn't believe it. How the heck had I not seen them?! I smiled and congratulated myself for pulling this thing off all by myself with the same result I would have had with a group. Somehow I think it worked out better that I forged this on my own. My only goal was to finish and if I'd been running with anyone else, chances are I would have been inundated with other expectations. I finished and more importantly I had FUN! It was such an incredible experience.
I want to recognize the 4 outstanding "performance enhancers" that helped me on my journey:
1. Body Glide. Without you I would be a huge chafed mess. I walked away with absolutely no chafing. I was amazed!
2. Packing tape and black sharpie. Like I said, wearing my name on my shirt was a brilliant move and reaped many rewards.
3. Trident peppermint gum. I chewed one piece of gum the entire 26.2 miles. I swear to God, that gum must've been magic and I genuinely attribute part of my success to it.
4. The Marines and spectators. The race was so well organized and the volunteers and supporters were beyond fantastic. I can't find the words to accurately describe how wonderful everything was. I wish I had the opportunity to thank the Marines not only for their help and support during the race but for what they do every single day. They (along with the other branches of the military) make sacrifices I would never dream of and I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.
I feel like I have so much more to say but am afraid this post has already gotten too long. Thanks to everyone that has followed my journey and encouraged me along the way. I thought about you all during the race and am so thankful that I had the crazy idea to start this blog. The result has been nothing short of amazing and has buoyed my spirit and confidence. I hope to meet many of you over the years. :)
I must get some breakfast. I will write again later today or tomorrow b/c I have other news as well...