I was born-and-raised in Cincinnati, but now I’m living on the other side of the country, in sunny San Diego, thousands of miles away from my family. Naturally, my mom and I are perpetually scrounging for excuses to travel across the country and be together. And so at Christmastime, when my mother offered to pay for my husband and I to fly out to Cincinnati to run the Flying Pig Marathon (which I’ve dreamt of doing “one day,” since I was a very un-athletic, but ever-ambitious little girl) and spend the weekend celebrating my 27th birthday, I said “We’re in!” faster than Meb Keflezighi’s fastest 1500 meters (which was in 3:42.29. It took a tiny bit of coaxing to get my hubby onboard, but my heart was clearly set on it and he’s notoriously and adorably, incapable of saying no when it’s something I really really want).
Between Christmas and “The Pig,” it’s important to note that Jared and I had A LOT on our plates. We ran the Carlsbad Marathon in January, got married, honeymooned in Maui, did a Mud Run and a half-marathon, brought home the bacon from our increasingly stressful and demanding jobs, and settled into “married life,” which I should note is not much different than our pre-married life, except for the fact that we both seem to enjoy sleeping in a lot more. Translation: our training plan went out the window. And so we stepped off the plane in Ohio with much less training under our belts than we had envisioned back in December, but regardless of this fact, we were brimming with excitement and confidence at the race expo on Friday, April 30th. Finally, I was going to run my hometown marathon with my newly committed running-partner-for-life (a.k.a. my husband of less than 3 months) and my running hero (a.k.a. my dad), who had inspired me to start running in the first place.
At Friday’s race expo, dad made the heartbreaking decision to downgrade to the half-marathon after weighing every last pro and con we could think of, because at the very top of that con list was debilitating calf pain. We got our race numbers, our timing chips, our technical tees, and more swag than we could carry (thankfully, we’d dragged my brother along to help with the burden). I opted to buy a visor just in case the weatherman’s prediction for rain on race day proved accurate. And we hauled ourselves out of there loaded down with loot. My excitement just barely outweighed my nerves at this point and I was grateful for that evening’s distraction of having both of our families together for dinner since my in-laws had just driven in from Chicago to join our cheering squad on Sunday.
By Saturday evening, every news station was forecasting rain for Sunday–and they weren’t using optimistic words like “partially cloudy” or “drizzling” or “sporadic showers.” We were warned of thunderstorms and flooding from 2am until noon with downpours predicted at 6am and 10am. We went to bed at 8pm preparing ourselves to run in the rain. I struggled to fall asleep (8pm Ohio-time is only 5pm in California) so when my alarm went off at 4am (1am California-time) I had one of those why-do-I-do-this-to-myself? crises. At 4am, the rain was pretty steady, but we threw on some caps and ponchos and headed downtown. We parked near the finish line, several blocks away from the start, so our feet were soaked by the time we got to the start. There was music blaring from speakers despite the rain and the pitch black sky. It was an unusual scene of runners crowding under trees and huddling under garbage bags and umbrellas. A sprinkling of men walked around shirtless and shivering, trying to look tough (I felt tough enough with my wet feet and enjoyed the warmth underneath my plastic Niagara Falls wrap). It started pouring as the announcer called for us to line up and we sardined ourselves just ahead of the 4:15 pace group. I finished the Carlsbad Marathon in 4:14:30 and had the nerve to nurture my extremely unlikely hopes that somehow, the hillier (and soggier) Pig would miraculously bring me to a new personal record. Dad said he’d start out with us and he’d “see how the leg does.” When the gun went off, the ponchos and plastic bags flew off and our mostly dry clothes were saturated with rain in time to cross the start line.
For the first mile, I felt like a kid again. Full of excitement: this is marathon #3! Drenched: slosh, slosh, slosh. And completely amused as I watched runners leap over and veer around puddles, as though there was any way we could avoid getting wet. I splashed through every puddle I could, laughing. I was surprised to see so many spectators braving the weather to root for their loved ones. I wanted to thank them all, shouting: “You’re as crazy as we are to be out in this!” At the first drink station, I grabbed a water cup, drank half and threw the rest on Jared, who looked stunned for a nanosecond before a giant grin stretched across his face. I was so happy and having so much fun, I felt like skipping. This did NOT feel like a marathon in any way, shape or form.
We ran across the Taylor-Southgate Bridge to Kentucky and back to Ohio over the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge. Passing over the mucky Ohio River was a definite highlight of the course as my spirits soared far above the depressing gray skies and steady spew of rain. But by mile 5, my hands were painfully pruney, the puddles were old news and we were starting up a steady 3-mile incline. By mile 7, dad had rocketed ahead of Jared and I and to my dismay, I noticed the 4:30 pacer passing me. I fixed my gaze on the top of the hill, vaguely aware that Jared was taking a walk break behind me. During training runs and previous races, it’s common for Jared to fly down the downhills, so I was certain he’d be back by my side after we crested the hill. The next several miles were an emotional nightmare for me because when I did turn around to look for Jared, he was nowhere in sight. I even backtracked a quarter-mile, looking for his bright turquoise shirt and white cap. At water stations, I told volunteers: “Look for the guy in turquoise–Jared–he’s my husband–we’re supposed to run together–tell him to keep running–I’ll keep taking walk breaks!”
I ran on, walking sporadically as I looked backward with a mix of hope, anger and mostly, worry. At mile 8, I saw our families. I spotted my mom and brother first and since I was still hoping that Jared would catch up to me, I ran over to give them soggy hugs and tell them the same message I’d given the volunteers: “Tell him to keep running!” I ran on, smiling and waving to my mother-in-law and Unkey on the other side of the road, who were cheering wholeheartedly. By mile 13, I was convinced something was wrong with Jared. My imagination ran wild as I pictured him injured on the side of the road, holding his knee and writhing in pain or even worse, ashen and unmoving on the wet cement, in cardiac arrest, as racers passed by paramedics performing CPR. I was miserable and hating myself for abandoning my hubby. I couldn’t have cared less about the race at that point. By mile 13, I was choking on sobs as I shuffled along and it was then that I decided that I just had to keep going. Still, I was miserable about not knowing how he was doing.
During mile 15 there was a turnaround and as I headed back westward, I spotted Jared running east, on the other side of the road. He smiled and held up his hands to spell out “I love you” in sign language. I smiled back and grabbed my heart with joy and relief. And onward I ran, peacefully aware that he was only a mile behind me.
By mile 18, I was suddenly and glaringly aware of the fact that I had completely forgotten about fueling myself with Gatorade and Gu. Normally, I would’ve taken two or three Gu shots by the 18th mile and yet here I was, so distracted by the atrocious weather and rollercoaster of emotions, that I’d barely remembered to slug back water at the interspersed stations. I tried to drink some Gatorade and was immediately sick. I spotted our families, plastered a smile across my face, waved weakly and tried to look brave, but I felt depleted, flattened, completely worn out. By mile 20, I was stalled in a porta-potty, uncertain about my ability to even finish the race. I was painfully aware of the fact that I had absolutely no fuel in my body and that I was running on fumes, but I pressed on. It rained harder and I got madder. My hands were so pruney they hurt and my feet sloshed in my shoes with each step. Rain poured off my visor like a waterfall. By mile 21, I grabbed a Gu packet from a volunteer, determined to get it down, but again, I was immediately sick. It was as though my body was rejecting my late-in-the-game effort to give it what it needed. It was saying: “Just give up,” but my heart wasn’t having any part of that.
I don’t remember many of the details about the last 10K because I had surrendered to misery. My mom says: “Pain is a part of life. Misery is an option.” At that point, I was in pain and I was letting myself be miserable about it. Waterlogged and hurting, I stopped trying to tap into any small slice of sunshiney optimism that I could muster and gave way to negative thinking. I dejectedly inched myself towards the last mile marker, promising myself that I’d never subject myself to this insanity ever again. An onlooker shouted: “I know it sucks, honey. Just keep going. Finish it!” I had to chuckle at how miserable I must’ve looked. And it occurred to me that this isn’t torture. I’m not suffering. I did sign up for this and I do believe it’s a privilege. By mile 25, I picked myself up by my bootstraps, so to speak and snapped myself into to thinking: “Only 1 mile to-go! I will run the whole mile. No stopping.”
I was overjoyed to spot my families on either side of the finish chute, maybe two-tenths of a mile from the finish line. They were all smiles as they cheered for me, snapping pictures and waving their arms in enthusiastic encouragement. I can’t say enough how essential it is to have people rooting for you in those instances. It literally propelled me forward. I grinned through the effort and pain, knowing I would finish and thinking of nothing but that blissful moment when I could stop running. I crossed the finish in 4:44:55–more than 30 minutes after my last marathon finish time. I snatched up my medal and immediately swung back around, parking myself as close to the finish line as possible while I eagerly searched the faces of the waterlogged, worn out finishers for Jared’s bright smile. And then, there he was, crossing over the timing strips with his hands raised up, making the “I love you” sign. I hobbled over and threw my arms around him as he held up three fingers, reminding me that we’d just completed our third marathon. And for a split second I let myself revel in the fact that we’ve run 26.2 miles three times in the past year. That thought sank in as I decided: “We are absolutely crazy. And I love it.”
We had scarcely limped our way out of the finisher’s area and I was already fantasizing about running The Pig next year, thinking: “You almost got me, Pig. Next year, you won’t stand a chance.”