Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Big One

This is going to be long. You might actually feel like you’ve run a marathon by the time you finish reading.
I always swore I would never run a marathon. First of all, I really like my toenails. (spoiler alert: my toenails are all still intact.) Second of all, that is a really, really long time to run. I love half marathons because the training isn’t too intensive, but you still feel a sense of accomplishment. Except that my last half time was 2:06, which made me feel the push shoot for a sub-2. And THAT definitely seemed intensive.
Then my good friend Barb ran a marathon, and I absolutely loved watching her embrace the training. Shortly thereafter, Shane and I spent a whole day wine tasting, I broached the subject with him, then we got home and I registered for a marathon. It should probably be said that making decisions after a day of wine tasting is not highly recommended.
I also signed up for a training program through our local Fleet Feet. This made Shane feel better because I wouldn’t be running eleven billion miles on my own, and it made me feel better because I am sometimes REALLY bad at the mental part of running. If I’m out there alone and tired, I will walk and I will struggle to get started running again. I knew that a group would hopefully help with this.

As a side note before I actually start talking about race day, if you’re considering something like this and you have a training program or group near you, sign up! In many ways, this made all the difference for me. I learned a lot about running slow to build slow twitch muscles and how to run down hills and in talking to other people, I was able to figure out how to fuel. I was amazed at how the long runs were not the easiest thing I’d ever done, but they weren’t as hard as I thought and my body definitely didn’t feel as beat up as I thought. Plus, I trained in zero temperatures and once during a whiteout--both situations would fall under “misery loves company.” Was I tired about a month before the race? GOOD GOD, YES. My training plan was killing me, but I was doing it, and there’s definitely something to be said for the strength of the program and the plan.

So, my plan for race day was to run most--if not all--of the race with another girl in my group. We’d done all the training runs together and had the same goal pace of 11 mi/mi. The thought of having someone by my side through the race honestly made it much less stressful. So much less stressful that aside from the weather and my randomly sore muscles, I wasn’t really worried about much. My muscles were straightened out by race day, so my only fear was the weather. While the day promised to be sunny and perfect temps for running, it also showed winds of 15mph with gusts of 30mph. Ever since running a half with 50mph wind gusts and coming out of it with a horrible foot injury, I am not a fan of the wind--especially because I knew that this course, like that half course, would be wide open and mostly fields. Still, I told myself I would handle whatever came on race day.

It seemed like race day would never get here, then suddenly, here it was. I warmed up with my group, hugged my dad, then it was time to start. The beginning miles were pretty fun. I’m running a marathon! I have someone by my side! These rolling hills will not be fun on the return, but they’re so fun now! WHEEE. At about mile 4, I heard a loud spectator up ahead. With such a small course and field (only 62 people finished the full), spectators were few and far between and this one seemed extra enthusiastic. A few feet later, I realized I recognized the voice and saw Barb and her daughter. It was exciting to see the first of many familiar faces along the course, and this truly did help. Shortly after, my running coach and two of the mentors (both of whom had just run their marathons) drove past, honking the horn and cheering. I should mention that it was such a small course that spectators could drive on the course--and other random people. At one point, I was passed by a delivery truck, another time by a tractor.

At mile 6, we passed a whole bunch of cows standing in front of the fence spectating. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen--just standing there calmly watching the runners.

Shortly after this, the girl running with me admitted that her stomach hurt. I offered her a Hammer electrolyte pill that has ginger for anti-nausea, but she said that she didn’t feel like she could put anything in her body without losing it. At mile 8, she dry heaved once, shortly after we turned onto the gravel. At mile 10, she said she couldn’t do it because the pain in her stomach was so intense and she turned to head back to the last water stop.

I had to do some quick mental adjusting here. I’d planned on running the race with someone by my side, and now I was facing 16 miles alone. This definitely through me for a loop. I was also struggling with the wind, though I seemed to be mostly maintaining my pace. The gravel was not the easiest surface, especially with the wind. Still, I was feeling pretty good, especially because everyone kept assuring me that the wind would be at my back on the return trip. This was a huge help.

At the turn around point, I saw Barb, my family, and two of my coworkers. Again, this was such a huge mood booster, even though the thought of 13 more miles was starting to get daunting. I headed toward the river for the official turn around point and saw my running coach and mentors standing at the turn around point by my parents and Tommy. Tommy was shouting, MAMA, and my coach laughed and yelled, “Marathon mama!” I high fived everyone, turned around and thought, “Okay, this is the part where the wind will be at my back.” I had to run west for awhile, so I didn’t notice the wind. Then I turned north, still on gravel, and realized… the wind switched. THE WIND SWITCHED.

I walked for the first time because I needed to seriously regroup and consider that I was running into a gusting wind and on gravel and still had 11 miles left and could I do this? At the end of the gravel (mile 16), my cheering section was there, and I stopped to refill my water bottle.

I was miserable this point, but that’s my dad walking behind me. He walked out on the gravel road to meet me as I ran past and to offer encouragement.
Barb came over and told me I was doing good and looked so strong, and I don’t remember what I said, but it was probably a huge whine. I’d thought that asphalt would feel so much better after the gravel, but the gravel to asphalt adjustment was actually really tough. My gait changed, so my legs seized up around mile 18 and this was probably a huge low point. Shane was driving next to me, shouting encouragement and asking what I needed. I screamed at him that I needed him to leave me alone. Then he drove ahead, and I instantly regretted it and convinced myself he wouldn’t stop. I started walking angrily, so he stopped, then when I caught up with him, I used the stick to roll out my legs and took aspirin. The roller felt better, but then I turned into the wind, and it was seriously unrelenting. I also realized around this time that I didn’t remember taking any kind of gel or anything since mile 13, which was probably part of what was going on with me. The other part was most definitely mental. I was mad and sad and tired. I saw my pace slipping away, and I could not make myself push any harder than I already felt I was. Luke ran part of mile 19 with me, and this was such a huge help. We walked up a big hill, and he held my hand and said he was so proud of me and that no other mom in our neighborhood could do what I was doing.
Then we ran some more, until Tommy insisted on a turn. Although my parents and Shane and kids stuck near me at all times, never more than half a mile ahead, there were a lot of long, lonely miles in the middle of the race where I didn't see any runners in front of me or behind me and that definitely played with my head somewhat.

At mile 20, a shadow fell over my head and I looked up and saw a bald eagle. Except that bald eagles aren’t exactly all over the place in Indiana, so my next thought was, “Oh my God, I’m hallucinating and thinking that seagulls are bald eagles.” There was a woman and her son at the end of their driveway cheering, despite the fact that the runners in front of or behind me weren’t even visible. I thanked them profusely for still being out there, and the woman said, “Did you see the bald eagles?” Then I almost hugged her because I wasn’t hallucinating and turned to watch two bald eagles soar across the sky and dive over and over into a pond to catch fish. From mile 20, I felt a little better. My mom shouted that my pace and form looked better. Mainly, the aspirin kicked in, but also, I regained perspective. Mainly, that if I wasn’t out there running this race, I would miss things like the cows lined up at a fence or the bald eagles soaring like the wind was hardly even a thing.

The next few miles were on rolling hills and into the wind. I gave up running the hills, but I would start running as soon as I got to the top. There was a girl in black in front of me who just kept steadily making her way up the hills with her head down, and I wanted so badly to catch her, but I couldn’t. She was making me irrationally angry because she just kept running at this slow, steady pace, and I couldn’t. I passed one guy who looked like he was hurting and told him he was doing a good job. He breathed out, “This is really tough.” I know, dude. Then I saw Barb and Emily for the last time, gave out hugs and tried so hard to dig deep and find the will to finish. I was still walking hills, but running the rest and realizing that I would be mostly into the wind for the last two miles. Of course! I passed a guy doubled over, dry heaving and comforted myself by thinking that I was doing better than him. When I was almost to mile 24, I looked up and saw someone coming at me over a hill. I realized it was my running coach and shouted, “I was just thinking… what dumbass is running the course backward?!” He laughed, pointed at himself, and told me he was there to run me in. I am pretty sure I told him I couldn’t do it, and he told me I could. Then he pushed me to a 10:15 pace and I shouted at him, but I was running it. At mile 25, he told me there were even some people I could pick off ahead of me. I told him that simply wasn’t possible because I was too tired, and I may have asked him for a piggy-back ride. We passed two people, then he told me to look down because we were at mile 26. I can’t even tell you how difficult it was to conceptualize running .2, but he assured me that the finish line was just around the corner. Then he nodded his head at the girl in black, and we passed her. I was pretty proud of finally passing this poor girl who became my arch-nemesis starting at mile 22.

Tommy and my dad were standing just around the corner from the finish line, and I told Tommy to jump in and run with me. He took off sprinting, but then he fell back next to me, and the finish line was in it! The race director said, “Bib 501, you’re a marathoner!” and my family and friends were cheering, and it was all kind of a crazy blur because omg, I DID IT.

I don’t know those people, but they were clapping for me and it was very appreciated!
Then my coach asked if I’d be signing up for the fall program. Runners are crazy (but awesome). I hugged my friends and family, while my mom forced me into a jacket so I wouldn’t get cold. Because Tommy crossed the finish line with me, they very nicely gave him a medal, too, and an extra for Luke who ran the middle with me (I love small races). The boys were both so proud of their medals--Luke even wore his to school on Monday.

I realize this is so long, but I am pretty happy--and proud of myself. Four years ago yesterday, I started my journey with Couch to 5k. I remember thinking that I could never run for thirty minutes straight. And now? I ran a marathon. Sure, it took me five hours and parts of it were lonely and mind-breaking, but I did it. Four days later, I feel great. I was able to take the stairs at work on Tuesday and yesterday, I ran three miles. It is absolutely amazing and inspiring what your body can do. Above my own self-pride is how incredibly grateful I am to have the people who surround me. To Shane and Luke and Tommy supporting me through this whole training, my parents being there the whole race, Barb and Emily staying as long as they could to cheer me on, my coworkers Megan and Celeste for spending their whole Sunday cheering me on, my running group, Shelli being at the finish line and coming out to eat afterward, Keli taking a picture of her kids with a sign, Sarah texting her support to Barb to offer up along the way, all the supportive messages and texts received… it feels like running a marathon was more than just a marathon, but rather, a chance to find out how very loved and how very lucky I am. It might not have been the day I wanted, in terms of the weather and running alone, but it exceeded my expectations in ways I could never have dreamed.


jaime said...

Running a marathon is NO JOKE and you did it! You did great! Small races are tough in terms of support but it sounds like this one had their stuff together. I'm so happy for you!!

Now, are you signing up for a fall marathon?? :)

Barb Ruess said...

The marathon has so much more in store for you than you ever realize during the training and preparation. I said it many times that day and I'll say it again: you were so strong! You dug deep and shook off the mental anguish and you finished so well. YOU ARE A MARATHONER!! I was honored to be cheering for you.

(P.S. Around mile 20 of my marathon last fall, I saw chickens wandering along the road... in downtown Indy. Not as majestic as your bald eagles but I had the same thought: "Oh no, I must be in really bad shape - I'm hallucinating!" And then two other runners stopped to take a picture. Whew! I wasn't seeing things. So what's the symbolism with birds & marathons??)

Anonymous said...

OMG Erin, I am in tears reading this. Especially the parts with your sweet sons, but also when Shane wanted to help you and then you dismissed him but he was there for you anyway.
Oh, Luke. No other mom, indeed. You are amazing and I love that your son can see it *and tells you so*.
And HELL YEAH you got to beat the woman in black! LOL, what a victory.
But you DID IT! You finished! I am amazed by you! I remember you starting the C25K and thinking I could never do that at all, and you DID it and you inspired me! And now I've done a couple 5Ks, which I thought I could never do, and you've run a marathon, and I think I never can/will but... who knows?! Maybe I can, and I think this because YOU can and you did.
love you.

InTheFastLane said...

So so proud of you!!!! I don't think anyway, except maybe those teeny tiny mutant world record holders, feel good in the last 6 miles. You kept doing it. And you did. You are not just strong but mentally tough as well. And you are a marathoner!!!!!

Theresa Mahoney said...

You go girl! I am so happy for you! Honestly, I hate running. Hate it so much I can never wrap my head around why ya'll do it for fun lol. I'll do an hour on the treadmill and want to die, so your 5 hour marathon has me in awe!

I love that other folk you didn't even know were cheering for you. I remember you saying how much you appreciated that in one of your earlier races and now I make sure to cheer on every girl at my daughter's track meets, even if they aren't from our school. Girl power and encouragement and all that jazz ;)

Congrats again Erin!

Lyndsay W said...

I arranged for those spectator cows. You're welcome.

But seriously - yay!!!! Way to persevere and be a MARATHONER! So glad you had such great supports getting you through your race.


punkinmama said...

Didn't realize it was possible to tear up reading about running, but oh my! Girl, you are amazing! So happy you pushed through it all and did it! You are such an inspiration!

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