When I last left you on my marathon journey (before I ruined the suspense and told you that I finished and approximately how well I did), I had just gotten home from the pasta dinner with a stomachache that I thought was nerves (note for women only: I discovered later that it was actually female troubles come early. Fantastic). I laid out all my gear as I had seen people do in Spirit of the Marathon, and tried to go to sleep, though by that I really meant I went on Google Reader and read/commented on all of your blogs for a little while. Seriously, you people are too interesting! Special shout outs went to Andrea N, who was doing her first half-marathon in Boston on Sunday, and Just1Marathon, who did her first full in Ottawa on Sunday. (And congrats to them both for rocking it out!)
I finally forced myself to go to sleep, and actually managed to fall asleep fairly easily, which surprised me, as I expected to lie awake nervous all night. I had set both my cell phone alarm and the hotel wake up service, and my mom had set her cell phone alarm and the regular alarm clock, while my friend Kristen had set her cell phone alarm. I think five alarm clocks is a pretty adequate number, but I used my Sarah Bernhardt-esque talent of waking up five minutes before the alarm(s) anyway (from her autobiography: “I have the precious gift of being able to sleep ten minutes, a quarter of an hour, or an hour, just as I like, and I then wake up quite peacefully without a shake at the time I choose to rouse up. Nothing does me so much good as this rest to body and mind, decided upon and regulated merely by my will”).
Mom hit the shower while I started getting ready sans shower. Is it gross that I don’t shower before races? I figure I’m going to be getting all sweaty and disgusting in an hour or so anyway, so there isn’t much point to showering until after. I do put makeup on though, for those awful candid race photos. So I got myself made up, BodyGlided, and dressed, then turned my attention to iTunes. Everyone was sending me songs right up until the very last minute, and I was trying my best to get them all on there! I ended up with four separate playlists: my favorite upbeat country for running (4 hours), my favorite upbeat pop for running (12 hours), all the music my friends/family/you had sent (3 hours), and 30 minutes of what I call my “power songs.” The way I explain my power songs is that if I were lying on the ground in a coma and I heard one of these songs, I would get up and run (yes, I know it’s a weird description, but it’s fairly accurate). Anyway, in case you were keeping track, that’s a grand total of about 19 hours of music. You know, just in case I decided to have a few bottles of wine and do this race at Bay to Breakers pace.
After checking and double checking myself and my stuff a zillion times, I headed out to await the shuttle bus to the start. I had specifically asked at the front desk the night before where the bus would be picking up, and they told me the conference center (at the other end of the hotel from the main lobby). The hotel elevator nearest our room was out of service, which made circuitous routes necessary, and as we left our room we saw two other people leaving theirs and heading the opposite direction. Knowing that anyone up and about at the host hotel at 6 AM on a Sunday morning could only be heading to the race, we told them about the conference center pickup location, and they returned the favor by showing us a shortcut to that side of the hotel. We chatted on the way there, and I discovered that they were 50 Staters as they told me about all the other marathons they’d done. Unfortunately, we got to the conference center to find… no one there! Knowing that wasn’t possible, we headed back over to the main lobby, where sure enough, we found everyone. I felt bad for leading them astray, but I swear the concierge told me that pickup was at the conference center, so I blame him. In any case, the shuttle bus was running really late, so we waited along with about a hundred other people. I was really glad there were so many of us, or I probably would have been nervous, but we still had an hour until the start.
While waiting, I started chatting with other people, and met these two great women from Chicago. They too were 50 Staters (I swear they’re everywhere!), and they guessed on the first try that I was a first timer. I had warmups on over my t-shirt, so they didn’t know from that… kind of embarrassing that my excitement/nerves made it easy to peg me as a marathon virgin :) In any case, the women (Jane and Cathy) were super nice and very encouraging. The big yellow school bus rumbled up a few minutes later with just enough room for most of the waiting runners, but no spectators this trip, so my mom and Kristen stayed back while I jumped up on with Jane and Cathy. The bus was packed – two or three to a seat, plus a bunch of people standing. I managed to snag the edge of a seat so I was fairly comfortable, and the ride was only 10 minutes so it wasn’t a big deal. I lost Jane and Cathy in the crush of people, but chatted with the people around me and also listened to the one peaceful/relaxing song I had left on my iPod when I wiped it out to fill it with 19 hours of energetic stuff.
When the bus dropped us off, we found ourselves at the bottom of a pretty steep hill. Someone said that this was the infamous “Assault on the Battery,” a 1/4 mile stretch of a hill with a 13% grade. As we walked up it to the start, it didn’t feel too steep, but I knew I had to save up energy for it because it came at mile 15 in the course. (We had been warned about this a zillion times). I decided that no matter how I did the rest of the race, I was going to run all the way up this hill without walking. It’s all about the little goals!
The start was at a big park overlooking Lake Champlain – pretty! I set about to find the baggage truck, and while it took me a bit of walking around, I did finally get there. The dry cleaners lost my gym bag last week, but I had been told that we’d be provided with a bag at the bag drop itself, so I was just carrying my extra clothes. Unfortunately, the bag turned out to be a plastic grocery bag. I was worried about it ripping, so I tried to double bag, but got yelled at by the attendant that they needed to have enough plastic bags for everyone. Oops! I used just the one bag and hoped for the best. It turned out fine, but in the future I’d definitely be sure to have my own bag, as this was a risky solution.
Having ditched my cell phone (and not being smart enough to look at the clock on my iPod), I didn’t know what time it was, but headed to the start nonetheless. While lining up between the 9 and 10 min mile signs, I saw familiar faces – Jane and Cathy were lined up right with me! It was nice to have people I knew to wait with, even though we mostly just kept our thoughts to ourselves and tried to prepare ourselves mentally for the 4.5 hour adventure. A guy on a loudspeaker kept making various, but we couldn’t really hear what they were because the reception was too fuzzy. But then… we were moving forward! We couldn’t tell if the race had started or if people were just squishing up to the start in preparation for the start, but when I found my feet going over the timing mats, I knew it had begun. While I wanted to run a lot of the miles “for my friends/family” (meaning with the songs they picked), I decided that the first three miles would be just for me. I flipped Carrie Underwood’s “Crazy Dreams” onto my iPod, and proceeded to get teary eyed as I slowly jogged the first few hundred yards and pondered the fact that my crazy dream of doing a marathon was, in fact, coming true.
When I say “slowly jogged,” I do mean slowly. If there was one piece of advice I had gotten over and over before the marathon, it was that you should go as slowly as possible in the first few miles, and then you were still probably going a little too fast. Unfortunately, I think I took that a little literally. I was wearing my Runner’s World Pace Band, set to give me a 4:15 finish. There were clocks every two miles, so when I got to mile 2 I dutifully checked the time against the numbers on my arm… and discovered that I was already 3 minutes behind. That’s right, I ran a 12:30 pace for each of my first two miles. Oops! I tried to pick it up just a hair, but still stay in that “not fast” zone. I definitely was running the slowest race of my life, but I consoled myself that it was also the longest race of my life, which was something. Miles 1-3 were a loop through some nice neighborhoods, and it was no time at all before we were back to the main streets of Burlington and back to the cheering crowds. I kept a careful eye out for my mom and Kristen, and spotted them just as I was passing them on my way out of town! Thank goodness for the neon pink and green signs they held. I gave them a quick wave, and hoped that the next time I came through I’d see them a bit sooner rather than once I was already past them.
These took us out of town on the Ethan Allen Highway. According to Duncan, “General Ethan Allen put his house out here a long time ago, and since then, everyone else has decided to stay the hell away from it.” That description pretty much summed it up – it was empty except for the crazed bongo players around mile 6, and some guy (not a runner) peeing at mile 5 (why on earth was he on this deserted highway peeing with no car in sight and not as part of the race?). I clapped for the Templar Elite Runners as they went by around mile 4.5, and realized they were almost exactly twice as fast as me. Crazy!
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst realization at this point in the course. The big problem was that the road was completely pitched to one side. Not cambered, where the road has a high (flat) point in the middle and two sloping sides, but pitched, where the entire thing was tilted to one side and there was no flat ground to be found. I’m not a very observant runner, so the fact that I could feel this slope means that it was pretty intense. I zigzagged back and forth for a bit, trying to find a more comfortable part of the road on which to run, but gave up when I realized it was all uneven. It felt a little uncomfortable, but I could deal with it. (That is, I could deal with it during the race… now, I’m in agony. Damn road!).
I tried to pick up the pace a little more on this section, and ended at mile 8 only 1.5 minutes behind in total. I felt great, and while the sun was coming out strong, it actually felt good, and I wasn’t hot at all. I was opting for a strategy of alternating water and Gatorade at each aid station (every mile), and it seemed to be working – I was neither dehydrated nor sloshing around. And no portapotties for me! I was surprised to see a few of the relay runners (there was a two person relay and a five person relay option) stopped at the portapotty around mile 5/mile 7. If you’re only running five miles, why do you need a bathroom break in the middle? Planning, people!
We made our way back to the city streets, and the official photographer got a quick picture at mile 8.
After we circled back through the city streets, we went down Main Street again. Tons of people were spotting my name on my shirt, and whole groups of spectators were yelling “Go Laura!”, which was awesome and kept putting a huge smile on my face. As I came around a corner, I was busy smiling my appreciation to one such group… when all of a sudden I saw the bright pink and green signs and heard a familiar-sounding “Go Laura!” – it was my mom and Kristen. My mom tried to get a picture of me but I came out as a blur… because I’m clearly just THAT fast! :) I kept running through the crowds with random people calling my name, and as I turned another corner, a runner just behind me sped up to tell me that her name was Laura too and to thank me for my shirt, because it allowed her to pretend the cheering was for her! :) Cute. There were a few others with signs, though most were just cheering, but my favorite sign read something like “You’re awesome, amazing, and fantastic!” That sign was good enough for me to use some energy to yell thank you to the woman holding it.
At this point in the race, I found myself running alongside two runners with NYRR shirts on, so I chatted with them for a bit about NYRR races, and then picked up the pace a bit while they slowed down. This enabled them to see the back of my shirt (“You’re getting beaten by a marathon virgin!”), and they actually got kind of offended! I was surprised – it was totally meant as a joke, and not to make other people feel bad. Reactions seemed to be about 75 happy/25 offended, with most people giving a chuckle, telling me “great shirt,” or even passing me and saying “not anymore!” However, there were several people who seemed pissed off, and to them I apologize.
We left the main streets of Burlington and headed out first through an area with a few random stores/community centers, but generally not much to see, and then into some neighborhoods. In one of the neighborhoods, a family had a HUGE sign (like, the size of two king sized mattresses) that said “Go Laura!” I took a cue from the woman who had approached me earlier, and yelled a big “thanks for the support!” while pointing at my shirt so they’d know what I meant. This area was pretty shady (as in, not-sunny; not as in sketchy) which was nice. Unfortunately, we hit one stretch where we saw runners coming up a hill toward us, and we knew that once we circled around we’d have to do the same thing. No fun! The hill was a little tricky, and it made me nervous about the big hill coming up at mile 15. If this one wasn’t even mentioned, what on earth would that be like?!
Here we headed through a park and along the lake. The path was narrow, but pleasant, and as we crossed the halfway point of the course, I thought to myself “Brooklyn down; just Providence to go.” That should have been a daunting thought, but it actually made me proud and excited and ready to face what was ahead. I saw the official photographer I had been warned about at this point, but unfortunately my eyes were closed; otherwise, it’s a nice shot.
As I neared mile 14, a song that Andrea N had recommended came on my iPod: “Home” by Chris Daughtry. The lyrics? “The miles are getting longer it seems / The closer I get to you… / I’m going home / to a place where I belong / where your love has always been enough for me.” It was perfect – uplifting, good beat, and reminded me that I was only a mile away from seeing my mom and Kristen again! Props to Andrea for that awesome song, because I was lucky enough to get it at just the right time to inspire me.
Supposedly the toughest mile on the course, this is the part that contains “The Assault on Battery.” As I mentioned earlier, Battery is the name of the street, and there is a big hill with a 13% grade for 1/4 mile. We had been warned over and over again to prepare for this, and I had done my best to save my energy. As I neared the bottom of the hill (I was tipped off by a spectator who advised us to “pump your arms! It will get you up!”), I switched to my Power Songs playlist. Right as I started heading up, I was hit with a blast of Britney Spears’ “Stronger.” Lyrics: “You might think that I can’t make it / But you’re wrong / Cause now I’m stronger than yesterday.” I thought of how two years ago I did my first 5K (and walked through a lot of it, even though it was pancake-flat), and how far I’ve come since then, and I decided “you know what? I’m going to power up this hill. This is going to be my proud moment in the race and no matter how I do in the remaining miles till the end, I can always say I sprinted up the Assault on Battery.” And sprint I did! I barely noticed the drummers at the bottom because I was so focused, but I think if there’s one moment from this marathon that will forever stick in my mind, it’s running up that hill. I remember blowing past a lot of people huffing and puffing, and gritting my teeth while managing to give a big smile to the crowds. So many people were cheering and screaming my name, but that didn’t keep me from seeing my mom and Kristen from far away, and blowing them huge kisses as I continued to sprint. When I was 3/4 of the way up, I just wanted to slow down, but as the song changed to Heather Small’s “Proud” (lyrics: “I step out of the ordinary / I can feel my soul ascending / I’m on my way / Can’t stop me now”), I pushed myself to the limit and reached the top and the 15 mile mark still sprinting! My eyes filled with tears as I eased up the pace and caught my breath on the flat surface. That was honestly one of the proudest moments of my life, and even looking back on it now brings a smile to my face and tears to my eyes.
For these miles, we headed out on a long straight road where we eventually turned off into some neighborhoods. These were kind of the boring miles of the course, but they were flat and not too difficult. The sun started really coming out, and while I didn’t get hot (I actually felt pretty cool – as gross as this is, I think it was the sweat evaporating off my skin, because I also noticed that I stayed pretty dry and not sweaty), I was getting pretty thirsty. Fortunately, the aid stations were plentiful, and when we went through the neighborhoods, a lot of people had water out. I was a little nervous about taking it, having heard that at the Boston Marathon some pranksters offer cups of vodka just to watch runners cough and splutter, and I had heard to expect some interesting surprises in this part of the race in Burlington, but I came across a little boy about 5 years old who offered me water, and I figured he wouldn’t be spiking it! I gave him a big thanks and high five as he handed it to me, and his face lit up, which was great.
A lot of families also had sprinklers set up in the road for runners to go through, but honestly, I found it a little annoying. I didn’t mind when it was set up on one side of the road, so you could choose whether or not to go through it, but a few families dragged them out into the middle so in order to avoid the sprinkler (a necessity for me with my iPod), I had to run way out of the way and almost onto people’s lawns. I know they were trying to be nice, but it would be nicer still to have a choice as to whether to get wet :)
This was where I started hurting. It was territory I had covered before – that is, in my longest training run I had done 22 miles, so I knew I was capable of it. But my muscles were starting to get tired, and my feet/ankles were getting sore from all the pounding. The course was really boring – we weren’t even going through any neighborhoods anymore – and all I wanted to do was reach the turnaround and start heading back on the bike path to the finish.
I had planned to do the whole race on Gatorade and water, but when we were offered 1/3 granola bars at mile 21, I took one and wolfed it down. I don’t think it made a difference in my energy level – it just made me thirsty until we got to the next water stop (1/2 mile further).
At this point I knew I wasn’t going to give up, and I still knew I could finish… but I was tired and it was hard for me not to walk. Right then, my friend Kelli’s playlist contribution kicked in: “If you’re going through hell / Keep on going / Don’t slow down / If you’re scared don’t show it.” Great lyrics that gave me some grit and determination, and I lapsed into my usual mantra of “walking is for quitters.” I know that walking is not quitting, but telling myself that it is helped me to keep pushing myself a little further.
These miles were supposed to be relaxing and peaceful; I found them anything but. They were on a bike path that was supposed to be right next to Lake Champlain, but the trees and houses blocked any views of the lake. Meanwhile, it was a narrow path with no spectators except at the water checkpoints. My feet were really hurting. Not hurting like anything was seriously wrong (I kept taking a quick assessment to be sure of that), but just like… well, just like I had been pounding the pavement for 22 miles. I also was feeling my hips tighten up, and knew that my stride was shorter than usual. It wasn’t quite the “survivor shuffle” that I’ve heard people talk about with the last few miles of a marathon, but it was pretty close. I kept wondering if I could power walk faster than I could run, but decided that I was too close to my goal of doing the whole thing without walking to give up now.
I tried lengthening my stride, which eased the tightness in my hips, but cost a lot more energy, and I didn’t have a lot left. I found myself grunting at the volunteers at the water stations, even as they cheered me on (“Laura, you can do it! You’re almost to the ice cream!”). I’m still not sure if I can classify this as The Wall, because the whole time I still knew I could make it, but it was definitely a rough patch. I think if I could do it again, I’d do 25 miles in training a few times, just to get used to the level of fatigue I felt at that point.
When I thought about this point in the marathon, I thought I’d be all set. I had trained to 22.4 miles, and I had 30 minutes of power songs that I thought would get me from 22.4 to 25.4. From there, I planned to be so hopped on adrenaline and excitement at being only a mile away that it would be easy. Wrong. Mile 25 was the hardest of the course – it just seemed to stretch on forever and there still weren’t enough spectators to really make an interesting crowd, but there were just enough telling us “you’re SO close!” that it was frustrating. Everyone around me seemed to have a lot more energy, and I tried to console myself that they were probably the relayers, but that only worked to a point. It was really disheartening to do a marathon with relayers doing the same course, because it was hard to tell them apart from us marathoners (ha – I love saying “us marathoners”), so I just felt like the slow/tired one that the spectators were laughing at and pitying.
Finally, finally, we came through a clearing and found crowds of people lined up behind those orange fence barrier things cheering for us. A lot yelled my name, but a lot also yelled “four forty two!,” which totally confused me. I didn’t know the exact time on the clock (was guessing around 4:20), but I knew it wasn’t going to take me 20 minutes to go the last little bit! It wasn’t until I had to search for my race photos by number that I realized they had been yelling my race number, 442. Clearly my mental state was a bit slow :)
I saw a group of people from the Albany Running Exchange, a club I had seen frequently last summer when I was running in Albany. I wanted to say something to let them know I was from Albany and hopefully get an extra cheer, but I needed to focus my energy on going forward. I started picking up the pace as soon as I hit the crowds, but was careful not to sprint too soon. I found myself passing a bunch of people around me, and when I passed the 26 mile sign, I picked it up even a little more. Thanks to some official race pictures taken at the 26 mile mark, I figured out that my little kick put me 40 seconds ahead of where I would have been if I had stayed at the same steady pace of those around me! Pretty awesome.
With about 1/10 of a mile to go, I saw my mom and Kristen cheering for me just a few feet away from the big Ben & Jerry’s truck. That combination of my three favorite things (family, friends, and ice cream) was just the inspiration I needed, and right after passing them, I glimpsed the finish line and kicked it up into a sprint. Well, not really a sprint… but the best sprint I could do having just run 26.2 miles. I passed another three people in that last bit, and as I crossed the finish line, I threw my arms over my head in victory and felt tears come to my eyes. Me, the one who couldn’t run the mile in gym class… the non-athletic one whose friends got her a “jock” t-shirt once as a gag gift… I had just run a marathon!!!
After crossing the line and finishing with pretty good runner’s posture, I collapsed into the half-dead walk I normally do right after I cross the line – but much more hunched and tired. After a few breaths, I I collected my medal and posed for a picture with the official finish line photographer (who MISSED the shot of me actually crossing the line! I was pissed).
I then wrapped myself up in a silver Zorro cape. I wasn’t cold, but I had been waiting so long to have the privilege of wearing the official outfit of a marathoner that I wanted to wear that cape like a royal robe, as a badge of honor. And from there, it was off to the ice cream to claim my true prize! :)
The line for food was long, and Ben & Jerry’s was right at the end of it. I cut in backwards a few times, since all I wanted was the ice cream and I didn’t want to wait in a long line just for the ice cream at the end, but they would only let me have one little container at a time. Frustrating! I was eating it faster than they could give it out, so once my mom and Kristen found me, we decided to head for Friendly’s instead, where we could have someone fully focused on serving me ice cream :) And serve me ice cream they did! I ate the most ridiculously unhealthy meal I’ve eaten in a very long time – chicken fingers, fried onion rings, and an ice cream sundae! It was absolutely amazing to eat like that, and it was then that I declared I wanted to do marathons as often as possible.
Which leads me to one of the biggest questions I’ve been getting since finishing: what next? Well, an hour after getting back to my hotel, I finally put myself into the lottery for the NYC Marathon in November. As great as my mom and Kristen were, I think it would be so amazing to do a race where tons of my friends and family could come and be all along the course to cheer me on. After that, I’m already signed up for Disney in January with Christine (where I plan to kick her butt). I’d also like to do the Akron Marathon in September and the Country Music Marathon next April, so that pretty much books me up with marathons for the next year, with the exception of between now and Akron. Unfortunately, it seems like there aren’t too many summer marathons (and I am NOT doing Running with the Devil, though I might consider the half). I’d love to do a triathlon, but I think it would have to be one close to home so I could get my bike there easily, and I’m also kind of concerned about training, because I can’t really keep my bike in Boston and I don’t think training on an indoor bike at the gym is really the same thing. So – I’m open to suggestions!
Quick note for anyone else who entered the NYC lottery… results are being announced today!!!
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 1481/2379
Age group place: 58/113
Other race reports:
Sassy Molassy at Just Call Me Sassy