“You picked a hard one to start off with,” said the wife of one of my kids’ soccer coaches, who had run the Austin Marathon before.
The weather leading up to race day had been iffy, as weather was wont to be in central Texas, where temperatures can drop more than 20 degrees in the space of an hour. Race morning it was muggy and 60 degrees, at 4:00 AM. It was the warmest it had been in quite awhile – I’ve been training in 30-50 degrees with almost no humidity. It was a little too warm though, and I had to tamper my expectations for my performance.
I met up with my running group early enough to carpool to the race, and we hung around the venue for an hour or so waiting for things to get started. I was trying to de-flutter my butterflies. One guy in our group was running this marathon as his very first race. As in, ever. I think he might be crazy, but I guess in the end he did okay, so maybe he’s onto something, after all.
My group and I jostled around the starting corral, laughing and joking. There were four of us, including Mr. Never-Run-A-Race-Before. I was the only one who was doing the Distance Challenge (you can read my previous reports about the Distance Challenge races here, here and here). The races leading up to this one had me believing I could break 4:00, if I really tried. The weather had me wondering; and the fact that folks kept cautioning me to just finish since it was my first one. What they didn’t know what that, even though I hadn’t trained as much, often, or hard as most do in preparation for the Big Day, I had worn myself out. It was hard: training, racing, wife-ing, mothering, carreer-ing. So – this was going to be my only marathon. My deal with myself was that if I broke 4:00, and I probably would, that I wouldn’t have to train for or run another one.
The gun went off and the four of us started off nice and easy, talking and jogging, staying in our place in the pack. It’s not like me to stay in my place in the pack, I get a rush out of passing people throughout the race. But this was the Big Day, and I didn’t know what I was doing, and everything everyone had said to me cautioned against going out too fast, so I stayed with my group.
For a mile.
At the end of the first mile we were logging about a 10:02 pace. I couldn’t stay, just couldn’t do it. I scooted up, and I glanced back several times, trying to catch their eyes to let them know I’d see them later, that I was breaking away, that I didn’t just simply forget they existed. It didn’t work, and I felt a little guilty for darting off, but this was my race and I had to run it.
I tried to remember to eat one of my PowerBar chews every mile, for fear of the dreaded bonk. I logged the second mile at a 9:09 pace, and the third at 8:55 they were both net downhill. After that there was a 2.5 mile incline, and my pace dropped to match it. Those first miles though, were gravy. I fueled, I ran, I entertained myself by reading the signs.
Some of my favorite signs read:
Rule #1: Cardio
Quaking Quads (with the Qu’s in green boxes, like Breaking Bad)
Shut up, legs!
Smile if you’re not wearing underwear (this might be a topic for another post, but does anyone actually wear underwear with running shorts? I’m talking the ones with the liners, of course, but seriously…)
It’s okay to poop
May the course be with you (my favorite was the one with the guy [girl?] in a Yoda mask holding this sign)
Cocktails for quitters (these started appearing after about mile 15, and they really DID have cocktails)
Around mile 9 I heard a woman conversing with her friend, saying how marathons were addictive. I laughed inside, feeling like I had this special, secret knowledge, because I could rise above all these addicts. I could just run one. In fact, I could quit anytime I wanted to. At mile 12 I decided that, phone battery be damned, I needed some music. I slowed down while I fiddled with my phone and convinced Pandora that she wanted to help me, but ultimately it was the right decision.
Leading up to mile 13, there were several signs indicating the course split for the half marathon runners. I kept thinking of the significance of the decision I was making, to turn left instead of right. To knowingly take the more difficult course. To proclaim to the world — who really wasn’t listening, anyway, so to mostly to proclaim to myself — “I CAN DO THIS.”
I took the left split like it was preordained. And, like it was preordained, I started getting a blister at mile 14. I had trained in these shoes, logged long miles in these shoes, and I don’t know why I should get a blister. Maybe there was a fold in my sock, or a leaf in my shoe. The aid stations had been offering tongue depressors with Vaseline, and I had just assumed they were to prevent men’s nipples from bleeding (hey! I’m new at this, okay?). At mile 17 I grabbed a Vaseline smeared tongue depressor, plopped down on the grass, ripped off my shoe and sock, smeared my foot, re-dressed it, and took back off. I felt good.
And then things started to get really interesting. My pace had been hovering around the mid 9:00s by the time I reached mile 20. It was the farthest I’d ever gone at quite that clip. I realized that I couldn’t feel my legs. I could feel my feet, but the space between my hips and my ankles sort of just wasn’t there anymore. Whatever, I had a conversation with them and told them I wasn’t going to take any of their shit, and I actually punched my own quad at one point in my frustration with our conversation, and kept going.
Mile 21. I wanted to scream, “this is the farthest I’ve ever run in my whole entire life!” But I didn’t scream that, because I was feeling pretty lightheaded, and a little bit dizzy. I kept eating my chews, which I sort of hated by that point, and wondered if sugar overdose was a thing. I felt awful, and had a passing thought that I might actually embarrass myself by losing consciousness.
At mile 22 (?) a lady was handing out banana halves. I grabbed one like my life depended on it, thanked her (and actually told her, “you saved my life!”) and ate it greedily. I felt instantly better. Of course, I’m pretty convinced this was all mind over matter at this point, but I’m also pretty convinced that bananas are God’s gift to runners, so maybe it was a little of both. Either way, I felt pretty damned amazing for the rest of the race.
I think I grinned for the entire last three miles. I could do anything for three miles, and I was nearly done! I wasn’t passing people anymore, that had stopped around mile 18, but that was okay, because I felt strong, and triumphant, and I might actually break 4:00!
Okay, well, not to keep you in suspense any longer – I did not run my first marathon in less than four hours. I ran it in four hours, five minutes and forty-four seconds. Yep, damn close.
My husband was waiting for me at the finish line. It’s the first race he’s come to since 2011, and it’s the first one he’s ever watched me finish. He yelled my name when I was in the finisher’s chute, and I kept running. I wont say I turned on the speed, because I don’t think I had any left, but I kept running.
The cookies and beer that were waiting afterwards were so worth it. Even better was my husband, who hugged me sweaty and everything. I sobbed against him for just a moment, but walked under my own power and actually felt okay. He gave me a little box, that had a little silver pouch inside. Inside that was a necklace that let me know just how proud he was of me. His runner.
I can hardly wait to run my next one!