On our drive home from Long Beach with our race shirts on, medals dangling around our necks, and an ice pack propped on my right knee, I found myself asking my husband: “Am I crazy? Is there something wrong with me? I just suffered and cried my way through the most painful 26.2 miles yet and I’m already anxious for more.” Jared just shakes his head, smiles and says, “Yes, you’re crazy… but in a good way.”
On Saturday, October 16th, Jared and I slept in. We packed, went to the grocery store, had lunch, then took off for Long Beach, which is roughly 100 miles north of San Diego. We arrived in Long Beach at 3:00pm, dumped our stuff in our room at the Westin, and walked the couple blocks to the race expo. I’m like a kid in a candy store when it comes to race expos. I want to take it all in, view every booth and every piece of gear, hoarding race advertisements and sampling every last (gluten-free) sample that’s offered. We picked up our race bibs and technical tees, then shuffled our way through the massive crowd of runners and their support crews. We bought a box of PureFit bars and picked up some pace bracelets at the Clif station. Jared’s goal was to break two hours in the half marathon and mine was to break four hours in the full, so our pace bracelets dictated what time we should arrive at each mile marker.
We broke free of the expo mob about an hour later and hauled our loot to Shoreline Village, where we wandered around taking pictures of the pier, the Ferris wheel and lighthouse before settling down for dinner at PF Chang’s. As we headed back to the hotel, Jared spotted a movie theater, bribed me with Peanut M&Ms and we settled into our third row theater seats (I forgot my glasses) to watch The Social Network. While my reviews of the movie are pretty neutral, I’ll admit it was the perfect distraction from my pre-race nerves. At our hotel, I lined up my race fuel and outfit, iPod, Garmin, and bib and went to bed, but it was a restless night for me.
On Sunday, October 17, my first of three alarms started going off at 5:30am and I dragged myself out of bed. We were scheduled to be in Wave 2, taking off at 7:05am just a couple blocks from our hotel, so we didn’t leave our hotel room until nearly 6:40am. When we arrived at the Starting Line, the crowds were so thick, we found ourselves completely surrounded by hundreds of runners, unable to snake our way any further than Wave 5. There were walls of rigid, anxiety-ridden runners every which way we turned and I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to run with the four-hour pace group, located in the Wave 2 corral. I tried to shake off my frustration, but we were stuck behind the 4:45 pace group and I was overwhelmingly annoyed. Waves 1 and 2 took off at 7:00 and 7:05am and we weaseled our way up to Wave 3, where we finally crossed the Starting Line at 7:11am. I punched the Start button on my Garmin, choked back tears and grinned like an idiot, thinking of a line from my favorite childhood movie, Home Alone: “This is it. Don’t get scared now.”
My Starting Line annoyance lingered as Jared and I dodged large groups of walkers who clearly shouldn’t have been in such an early Wave of runners, but I shook it off. Jared and I closed in on Mile 1, then picked it up a bit for Miles 2 and 3. Different from previous races and training runs, we were barely talking to each other and shortly after passing the marker for Mile 4, Jared said: “I need to back off.” Later, he apologized for “crapping out” on me, but the truth is, he got me going at the perfect pace and when we parted ways, all I could do was marvel at how lucky I am to have a husband who’s a runner and who gets it and who loves me even though I’m crazy (in a good way).
Mile 1: 9:36
Mile 2: 8:57
Mile 3: 8:54
Mile 4: 8:49
Mile 5: 8:38
Mile 6: 8:51
Mile 7: 8:46
The course wove through Shoreline Village, where Jared and I had wandered around the night before, continuing along the sandy beach boardwalk with a spectacular ocean breeze. I watched the crowd ahead of me: hundreds of runners bobbing and bouncing down the road and reveled in what a spectacular event this is and how grateful I was to be a part of something so alive, teeming with possibility, hope and ambition.
It was a blissfully cloudy, cool day and it started spitting rain as a sharp pain drilled through my right knee. “What the hell is that?” I worried, then immediately shifted my focus to the page of running quotes I’d collected and printed out a couple days prior:
“You don’t have to be fast. But you’d better be fearless.”
“ It doesn’t get easier, you just go faster.”
“If you will it, it is no dream.”
“Your mind begins to follow the images it holds.”
“Easy. Light. Smooth. Fast.”
“Instead of cringing from fatigue, embrace it. Refuse to let it go. Get to know it so well, you’re not afraid of it anymore. Love the beast.”
All of these distracted me briefly, but the truth is, I wasn’t fatigued, I was in pain in a way I’d never been before and ever-so-subtly, panic was starting to simmer within me.
Mile 8: 9:00
Mile 9: 9:06
Mile 10: 8:54
I knew the Half and Full Marathon runners were going to split off just prior to Mile 11 and as I approached the fork in the road, I started to consider veering left to finish with the Half Marathoners. I talked myself out of this, thinking:
“But you paid a higher registration fee to run the full!”
“You’re right on pace to finish the Full Marathon in four-hours. If you switch to the Half now, you won’t even break your Half Marathon record.”
And then I stumbled onto the deciding thought…
“You’re going to dinner at Maggiano’s later. You need to burn more calories than the Half Marathon to enjoy the feast you’re planning to have.”
No joke: Maggiano’s made me run the Full Marathon yesterday.
And so I veered right with the Full Marathoners, hoping my knee would forgive me… eventually… And feeling uneasy about the 15-plus miles that stretched out ahead of me.
Mile 11: 9:04
Mile 12: 9:05
Mile 13: 9:06
Mile 14: 9:09
Mile 15: 9:06
Mile 16: 9:09
Miles 11, 12 and 13 tiptoed by. I kept up the positive self-talk: “You’ve got this! You can do it!” During Miles 14, 15, and 16, I watched in sheer admiration as the elites and speediest runners zipped by, heading the opposite direction and already zooming to the finish. At the same time that I was overwhelmed with awe, I was also deeply envious. I was increasingly angry and worried about my knee. “Seriously, what is going on?” I wondered, as the stabbing pains grew more intense, radiating out to my hamstring and calf.
Mile 17: 9:21
Mile 18: 9:37
Mile 19: 9:19
Mile 17 was the first time I saw a split over my goal pace of 9:09/mile and I instantly knew I had to surrender my goal of a sub-4:00 finish time—at least for this marathon. Surrendering isn’t easy, though, and the pain was agonizing. I was heartbroken, overcome with emotion and had nine more miles to go. I walked through the next water station, crying in pain as I tried to start running again. This scenario repeated during Miles 18 and 19. It was more and more difficult for my mind to convince my body to keep running. “This is all wrong,” I thought, “one of my favorite running quotes says: ‘Your mind gives up long before your legs ever will.’ Well, whoever-said-that, my mind wants a sub-4:00 and my body’s fighting back! What the hell?!?!”
Mile 20: 10:30
When I hit Mile 20, I looked at my Garmin and decided to be proud that I stayed on pace for as long as I did. I thought: “This is it. This is the real fight. Finish it!” One of my favorite Dean Karnazes quotes says: “Run when you can. Walk when you have to. Crawl if you must. Just never give up.”
Mile 21: 10:28
Mile 22: 11:53
Mile 23: 12:33
Mile 24: 11:17
Mile 25: 11:35
When I hit Mile 25, I vowed to keep running, but my right hamstring seized up and I wobbled. I felt dizzy. My hands tingled. My knee was shrieking in such pain that I was hit by a wave of nausea. This was not the race I had visualized and I was devastated. I wanted to lie down on the pavement and wait for a medical cart to drive me to the finish. And then I thought of the Finish Line. And Jared. I thought of the IronMan quote that says: “You can quit and they don’t care, but you will always know.” I grabbed my hamstring, dug my fingers in and willed it to relax as I lurched forward, doing my best impression of jogging.
Mile 26: 11:51
As I hobbled past the marker for Mile 26, still gripping my hamstring, a spectator shouted: “You’re earning your Bad Ass Card, today! Do it! You’re there, girl, do it!”
Last 0.55 mile: 5:10 (9:33/mile)
I ran the last few tenths of a mile thinking only of Jared, Jared, Jared. It may be the cheesiest, corniest, sappiest thing in the world—well, we did get married on Valentine’s day, so I guess we’re just that couple, but I digress…—I knew if I could get to him, if we could find each other in the crowd of thousands, that everything would be okay.
I spotted him the second my foot crossed that Finish Line. He was wrapped in a Finisher’s cape, grinning from ear to ear. I ran straight to him, choking on sobs. He put a medal around my neck and pulled me in for the most memorable hug of my lifetime. He was literally holding me up as I continued to sob and tremble, whimpering: “We did it. I love you. I can’t believe I made it.”
There is nothing like that moment of complete and utter: “I did it.” And I guess that moment of glory is what keeps bringing me back.
No, I didn’t meet my time goal and I didn’t come close to breaking my marathon record, but that disappointment doesn’t come close to overshadowing the feelings of joy, pride and privilege. Wrapped up in that Finish Line hug, nothing mattered but the fact that we were there together, sharing that moment. Maybe I am crazy, but I call myself blessed to have been there, to have completed my fifth marathon, to have been a part of something so alive, to be reminded about what it is to be alive—pain and all.
Garmin Time: 26.55 miles, 4:17:59 (9:43/mile)
Chip Time: 26.2 miles, 4:17:56 (9:50/mile)
The aftermath… Jared helped me hobble to the medical tent, where I grabbed an ice pack and we found an open patch of grass to sprawl out. I gingerly peeled off my shoes and socks, discovering several gnarly blisters and very sensitive toenails (they’re still painted purple from the pedicure I got with my 16 year old niece, so I don’t know if they’re bruised). I iced my knee, ate an apple, wrapped up in my own Finisher’s cape and we very, very, very slowly made our way back to the Westin to shower, pack and head to Maggiano’s—we earned that feast, afterall.
I couldn’t stand to wear my flip-flops, much less my Asics, so we bought a pair of fuzzy blue sock-booties in the hotel gift shop, which I wore to the restaurant. And boy-oh-boy, did we feast! We joked about asking our server for pillows and blankets so we could nap in our booth before our long drive home. Once we were home, we barely left the couches in our living room, still wearing our race medals, of course.