Note to readers: This is probably the longest post I’ve ever written, but 26 miles is a LONG way to run and I just had too many memories to leave any of them out. If you want the reader's digest version, just read the bold print throughout.
So remember when I asked what happens if you don’t train hard enough for a marathon? If you have the time, read on. Let’s go for a little run.
Keep in mind that I’m not being a pessimist, just honest. I’m pretty in tune with my body and I know when I haven’t trained enough. So I already knew I was going to struggle. I think it’s actually easier to know in advance that it’s going to be a hard run. So I’ll hold nothing back here.
I woke up at 5:45am. For the first time ever, I didn’t prepare any of my stuff the night before the race. Didn’t put my race chip on my shoes. Didn’t put my bib number on my tank top. Didn’t fill my water bottles. But it didn’t faze me at all. So I moseyed around getting ready, woke up Christian, and off we went.
After a 15-minute drive, Christian dropped me off at the start line. I quickly met up with Julia and Maren in the (huge) porta potty line. Kaylynn, Ed, and Paul soon joined us, and we decided to ditch the porta potty. There would be plenty on the course.
Waiting for the start was a lot of fun. We chatted, we laughed, we held hands and pushed our way through the crown, we gagged at the smell of bad pre-race B.O. (Come on, people, wash your running clothes!), and we jumped up and down trying to ignore the fact that it was only 45 degrees out (10 degrees warmer than last year, though!).
And then it started. My first thoughts? “Wow. I’m about to run 26 miles. What was I thinking?” and “Yay! Time to run!” The first mile of Cal is great. Down hill is a great way to start a race. Makes you feel so strong! Not to mention we were cracking up at everything that came our of Paul and Ed’s mouths. So were the people around us, actually.
After a mile, I just let my body take over. It was nice. I didn’t push myself; I just let myself run a comfortable pace. I also knew that the second half of the race was going to be hell no matter what I did, so I just did what felt good.
The first 10 miles literally flew by. I didn’t even feel like I was running. Rolling hills, little neighborhoods, lots of runners. In fact, I realized after about 5 miles that I had been following the double yellow line in the middle of the road almost the whole time. When I realized how annoying the little reflector bumps were getting, I moved to the right side—where I found Christian every 5 miles. Nothing is better than seeing him on the side of the road. A big smile, a couple words of encouragement, sometimes a kiss, and then I’m alone again for another 5 miles.
I saw two people trip and fall within the first 5 miles. Definitely puts you on top of your game. Could you imagine hurting yourself 3 miles into a marathon after all that training? Sad!
Around mile 13 or 14 I lost the guy in the kilt, whom I had been following for the majority of the first half. At that moment I knew I was starting to slow down. No big deal. That’s how it happens every time. I was still able to pull off 10-minute miles through mile 15. But that’s when I started getting tired…
Kaylynn soon caught up to me and it made me really happy to see her doing so well. She was running like a rock star and I knew right then and there that she was going to finish strong. I love seeing my friends running fast and feeling good. (Just for the record, she DID finish like a rock star!) But as she and Lindsey disappeared in front of me, I sadly realized I was going to struggle for the rest of the race.
By mile 17 my body was starting to crash. The first thing that went through my mind was, “What? Mile 17? Come on! This isn’t supposed to happen until at least mile 20!” It was tough. Knowing that I was crashing and still had 9 miles to go was difficult. Running 9 miles is hard enough as it is. Imagine running 9 miles when you’re already exhausted. NOT my idea of a good time. It was impossible to convince myself that 9 miles was no big deal. It was a big deal.
I distracted myself a bit by eavesdropping on a nearby conversation. I actually slowed down a bit to join in the conversation and do a little research for a curriculum project in one of my graduate classes. Amazing. I actually did school work at mile 17 of a marathon. Who would have thought?
Not long after that, I saw a woman puking on the side of the road. I immediately thought, “Yeah, that’s why I don’t push myself,” and started feeling a little better about the fact that I had slowed down.
When I met up with Christian at mile 20, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to run anymore. I knew it was going to be hard. My back hurt, my hips hurt, and I still had 6 miles to go. He gave me a kiss, ran with me for a bit, told me I would do great, and said he’d see me at the finish. By that time, Julia, Maren, and Rebecca had met up with me (and Sarah soon joined). It was great to see them. We chatted for a bit while we ran. I was glad Maren was still feeling really good. It was her first marathon and she was AMAZING! It was also comforting to know that Julia had had a hard first half. I wan’t the only one struggling.
On the way to mile 21, Julia looked at me and said, “What do you say we push the pace from here on out and PR?” I actually just laughed at her and said, “I know my body. I slow down, not speed up.” But I tried anyway. We pushed a 10-minute pace that mile. My quads and calves were burning in a way they never had before. My legs felt like they were going to lock up any second.
We came around the corner and there was the bridge. A little sadness came over me. This had been my favorite part of the marathon the year before. At this point in the marathon last year, I felt strong--I felt like I could just keep going--I didn’t even notice that the bridge was a hill--I looked out at the water as I ran and enjoyed every second of it. But this year was a different story. I was exhausted. My body hurt. It felt like a hill. I tried to look out and enjoy the scenery, but all I could do was look at the pavement in front of me and see the distance between me and the other girls slowly increase. As we came over the top of the bridge, I bit the bullet and called ahead, “Julia—PR for me, ok? I have to slow down.” It was sad.
Just for the record, that’s why I run by myself sometimes. It’s hard mentally to know that you can’t keep up. We all have our slow days, but feeling like I’m trying to keep up with someone can make my run so much harder. I was sad to see them go, but I knew I couldn’t keep up for the last 4 miles.
4 miles. 4 miles. Just a quick out and back at Steven’s Creek, right? Yeah, that would have been nice. Miles 22-25 were hard. Hard hard hard. My back hurt, my legs hurt, and I honestly didn’t have that much desire to keep running. But I don’t run a marathon to stop at mile 23. Even if I have to walk some, I only stop at mile 26.2.
At mile 24, I saw a medical team lifting a girl onto a stretcher. Scary. Yet another reason why I don’t push myself too hard. I hope she’s ok.
Between miles 24 and 25, a man was standing up ahead handing out slices of oranges. I was about 20 feet away when he gave out his last one. He walked back to his car to slice more, and what did I do? I followed him. I wanted one so badly. That sliced orange looked WAY better than another shot of nasty gu. So I followed him. And I got the first slice of the next batch of oranges. Mmmmm! I devoured that thing as I started running again. I must have looked like I was starving as I ate that orange. Juice was running down my chin, and I didn’t even care. I think I spent the next half mile trying to get pieces of the orange out of my teeth. I guess it was a good distracter.
Somewhere along the way a guy walking the opposite direction was playing a recorder. I remembered him from the year before. Have you ever listened to a recorder? No matter what you play, it sounds like a lullaby. This guy was playing The Eye of the Tiger. I was tempted to yell, “Are you kidding me? You’re putting us all to sleep! Come on, man! You can’t do that this far into a marathon!” Next year I’m giving him a piece of my mind.
Just before mile 25, a girl on the side of the road was shouting out to the runners that we should cheer for the relay runners. Keep in mind that she was not cheering. She was telling us to cheer for the relay runners. It was like she was rallying for a good cause. Her tone of voice sounded like she was trying to make us feel guilty for not cheering for them. Excuse me? Am I not on mile 24 of a MARATHON?? The relay runners are doing awesome. Many of them have never run as far as they are running today. But what the heck, girl? That’s what you’re here for! Don’t tell me to cheer for anyone but myself two miles from the end of a marathon. I felt like punching her in the face. I was close enough, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough energy. So I just kept running.
Speaking of relay runners, I hear Liz was dancing and singing during her leg. That would have been some great entertainment!
Lindsey met up with me just before the 25-mile mark. I was so tired. It was nice to see her. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the best conversationalist. I wasn’t unhappy, though. I knew the race was going to be hard. So all I had to do was get through the last little bit. She kept saying, “You’re almost there!” and I kept thinking, “Damn straight I’m almost there!!” It was pretty funny.
But my favorite part of the entire race (followed closely by the amazing first half and the slice of orange at mile 24) was when I was coming around the corner and could see the finish line. No, no, no. It wasn’t because I could see the finish. I didn’t really care about that. I knew it was there. It was there last year, too. As I came around the corner, Kaylynn, Brook, and Liz (and I’m sure a bunch of other people, but they are the only ones I remember) were standing there cheering me on. Kaylynn looked at me and with big eyes pointed behind me and yelled, “Hurry!!” I knew immediately that she meant that the 5-hour pace team was behind me. Of course, I knew that my chip time was really 4:54, so it wouldn’t have mattered if they passed me. But I thought it was so funny that I laughed and kicked it up a notch, reaching the finish line well ahead of the pace team. Interesting that something so simple could make the last bit of my marathon so enjoyable.
Post Race: We had a lot of fun taking pictures, reminiscing about the funny parts of the race, and enjoying lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. On the way back to my brother’s house, I told Christian that I wouldn’t be running any more marathons for a while. If I don’t have time to properly train, it’s just not a good idea. By the time we got to my brother’s house my back didn’t hurt anymore and I actually felt great. The next day I was only as sore as if I had done a hard track workout. Two days later I was thinking about what my next race would be. Three days later my body felt perfectly normal. Very strange. What an amazing recovery!
I even realized that I only added on 10 minutes to last year’s time. And I added it on to the FIRST half of my marathon. Wait, what? I actually ran the second half one minute faster than last year. How exactly does that work? Running is a strange thing, my friends. A very strange thing.
So was the marathon worth it? Hard to say. The first half was amazing. The second half was a living hell. Hanging out with friends was a ton of fun. Running just to finish the race was not. Lessons learned? (1) I can run a marathon even without training hard enough, but I should probably train harder next time, (2) I still love running, (3) recorders should NOT be played during a marathon, and (4) don’t make a runner mad at mile 24—she just might punch you in the face.
1 week ago