At Long Last: The Marathon

>> Friday, December 18, 2009

It's been nearly a month since we laced up our running shoes and took our 26.2 journey through the city of brotherly love. I meant to post about the whole experience, but when my injury had me sidelined from running for almost three weeks, I wasn't really in the mood to think back to the glory days. By now you know we both survived. However, that isn't to say we made it through the experience unscathed.

The weather could not have been better for an early Sunday morning in late November. In fact, since we travelled South for the whole event, we enjoyed what -- at least to us -- felt like balmy temperatures. Started out in the low to mid-40s, no rain/sleet/snow, and ended up in the mid-50s. Glorious, really.

Stephen and I woke early -- at 4:30, to be exact (as pictured above) -- to eat peanut butter sandwiches, take showers (a pre-race ritual I must complete or I get all freaked out, don't ask me why), deal with other bodily issues, and do a bit of stretching. On our mile walk to the start line, we met this guy in his mid-40s from Texas who had run maybe 5 other marathons. He imparted his wisdom, told us to take our gels every hour or so, and warned that we shouldn't worry too much about time for our first race of this magnitude. Whatever, I thought. I'm going to make my sub-4 goal. No sweat.

WRONG. But we won't get into that yet.

I do this thing where I get in line for the porta-potty, use it, and get right back in line. I repeat this process until the race directors call us to the starting line. It's a method I've found to work quite well . . . and I'd rather be a complete dork than set out for a 4-hour race with a full bladder or worse. Anyway, Stephen joined me for a few of these bathroom trips -- and we both were pretty chilly at this point. I think at our next marathon, we'll make sure to bring garbage bags to wear (people do this, and it's a great idea -- keeps you warm, is extremely cheap, and you can throw it away before the start).

Then we were called to the start line. The race begins in stages depending on your predicted finish time, so this is where Stephen and I split up. As I made my way through the GREY crowd (those people hoping to finish between 3:30 and 4:00), I started to freak out about how tight my left shoe was tied. Call it OCD, but I seriously tied the damn thing like 10 times! And I suppose it was foreshadowing . . . something was up with that whole region of my body.

Eventually, my group started the race (I think about 10 to 15 minutes after the "start"). I became so overwhelmed by emotion as I plodded that mile back toward our hotel and continued down toward Old City, I cried a little. Yeah. I did -- all while rocking out to Against the Wind, which was my favorite training song.

My first mile was completed in 9:45 . . .

WHAT?!??!?!?!? That's super slow for me. I was trying to be conservative, trying to save energy for those mysterious 6 miles at the end of the race, but I guess I was a little TOO nice to myself. I spent the next four miles obsessed with keeping even 9:00 mile splits, listening to Lasso on repeat. But to no avail. Something was up and I was going along at about a 9:10 pace. But that was OK. I'd still be on target for a 4:00 finish. I let go of my ultimate goal, and forged on.

My memory of exactly everything that happened is a bit fuzzy. I remember taking my first gel around mile 4 amidst a block of beautiful row houses. I spilled water on myself. I remember running up Chestnut Street, passing the Olive Garden where we'd eaten our dinner the night before, reading a sign that said: "Faster, harder: THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!" and laughing out loud about said sign. Shortly after, we began a brief ascent (one of only a few) up a bridge leading to Drexel.

Eventually, we reached the halfway point. The half-marathoners continued onto the finish, and the marathoners started our voyage to Manayunk by way of Kelly Drive. I was still on target for my 4:00-ish hour finish, maybe 4:01 (I believe my 13.1 mile split was 2:00:44). And I was feeling pretty good. A little Journey-love marked the occasion, Don't Stop Believin'.

Then it happened. A light snap on the outside of my left foot as I made my way down a short hill to get onto Kelly drive. It wasn't too bad, though. Just a weird, nagging feeling. However, between 14 and 15 miles, this pain became very real. I stopped for a moment to stretch, but it didn't help. I was running a MARATHON, no, THE MARATHON, and I couldn't stop NOW! Any runners out there must know what I'm talking about. You dedicate days, months, years to training . . . and then you're finally at the event and something happens.

You start to have this awful, all-consuming debate in your mind. Do I stop and ward away potential catastrophe? Do I keep going? Finishing slow is better than not finishing at all? The mental and physical anguish was starting to show on my face -- a little girl called out to me: "You can do it, Ashley!" (our names were printed on our race numbers --I'm not THAT blog-famous yet).

I ripped my headphones out of my ears by mile 16. I had to focus on finishing. 10 miles to go. Everything I'd read about the race said that somehow knowing there are only 10 miles left -- an EASY 10, something I'd run many times before -- well, that would make the rest of the race psychologically easier. Maybe a little, psychologically. But my foot was screaming at me, and when I'd reached 18 miles, I took my first (albeit short) walk break. I went to stretch my legs on the side of the road and found that I couldn't lift them without using my arms! Woah.

That's right, people: I hit "the wall" at mile 18 -- about 3 to 4 miles early. The only way I can figure that happened is that when I was sick in early November, I missed a full week of training. A full week of even walking around at all. Right after my 20-miler. And I think I lost some of my fitness. Boy did I pay for it. (Defeat, pictured below . . . )

Mile 20 brought us through the cute Main Street area of Manayunk. Lots of fans and support. They handed out orange slices, water, gels, and beer (though, my stomach was queasy at this point from all my gel consumption). I just remember trying not to swear -- well, I definitely did, but under my breath -- because my foot was now in tears-in-my-eyes critical condition. The run-walk part of the race had begun . . . but I hadn't even planned on finishing this way.

I made myself run to mile 21. Then, I took a 30 second walk break and continued jogging at a slow pace. I think it was about a 9:30 minute mile. I don't really remember. I'd ripped off my pace band and waved goodbye to finishing before 4:05, much to my dismay. But I was running a flipping marathon. There will be others. I just wanted to get back, crawl into bed, and cry. Maybe eat something, too.

I continued this run-walk approach until mile 24.5 -- all the adrenaline somehow alleviated my foot pain, and I was able to run pretty normally. The rest of the race is truly a blur. I "sprinted" the last half mile simply because I wanted to be DONE. And done I was. In 4:10:40 (3906th out of 7494). Not exactly what I'd dreamt of, but I'd finished the marathon.

Stephen did, too. Much, much faster (3:04:00 -- 299th out of 7494) -- he even qualified for Boston. At his FIRST marathon. Wow.

I won't go into the agonizing hours afterward (for both of us -- we could HARDLY MOVE). The miles walked through the city on my bum foot the next day. The three weeks afterward when I couldn't walk from my car to my office without saying sh*t at least five times. It was all worth it. That's all I'll say.

And here are a few things I got to enjoy as a result.

Challah French Toast:

A (much-needed) pedicure:

The some cool race swag:

An accomplishment to share with my husband:

And a great Thanksgiving. I think you've all read about that, though. So, to end this post. We will run another marathon. We're doing two halfs this spring. Running is my favorite activity, even when it's only 0 degrees outside (I ran four miles this morning, and -- yes -- it was only 0). This was a marathon-length post, so get back to whatever else you were doing . . . and have a great weekend!

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