Thursday, February 23, 2006

Twenty-Six Point Two Miles

This was originally posted on October 15, 2005.

I did it! When I got to the finish line, my 6-year-old asked, "Mommy, did you WIN?" And I said, "Yes."

I had to explain it a little, the concept of finishing and winning, and how the "real" winner was going as fast as we drive in downtown traffic, except he did that for more than TWO HOURS, and without a car. I tried to explain how everybody else just tries to finish and still be standing upright. I don't know if she got it or not, but as far as I'm concerned I won.

Of the handful of things I forgot this weekend, the one I am the most upset about is my watch. I have trained with the same stopwatch for months, and use it quite a bit to assess my pace. I am trying not to think too hard about what my time might have been if I had been aware of my too-slow pace in the first four miles. Next time, I'll safety-pin it to my shirt before I leave Salem, I guess. As a result of not having it, I don't have the nice mile breakdowns I had hoped to have. I'll write as much as I can remember about the different miles, though, and NEXT year I'll bring my watch!

Pre-Race: I woke up at 5 a.m., and while I hadn't slept all that soundly, I was ready to get up because I was so excited about the day FINALLY being here. This was when I discovered that I had left my watch at home, and I was not a happy camper for a while, but there wasn't a single thing I could do about it. I got packed up and checked out, and headed out to find my coach (Troy) at the street corner where we'd agreed to meet. I had been a little worried about knowing exactly where to go, but as soon as I got a block or two down the street, it was pretty obvious -- just follow the other several hundred people with orange papers safety-pinned to their shirts. I found Troy without any trouble, and he was so completely pumped that it started rubbing off on me, which helped considerably with my nerves.

I got headed in the right direction, and then suddenly realized that it was also the right direction for thousands of other people. I found my area, for walkers who were planning a certain pace, and got chatting with several other women who were also doing their first marathons. We waited and waited, and then people started cheering and it was time to go!

Mile 1: There were a LOT of people! Got started slow because of the crowds, couldn't find my pace. Passed a drum corps that was clearly having quite a bit of fun.

Mile 2: Awesome surprise -- didn't realize at first that this loop would mean we could see the runners coming back, already on mile 5. I almost fell into a hole since I was watching them instead of where I was going. Managed to find a very focused-looking Troy as he passed, before doing myself any serious injury. I'm sure the people around me thought I was a little weird: "That's my coach! With the purple hair!"

Mile 3: Got chatting with a social studies teacher from L.A. on this mile. She was walking a bit faster than I had been, and the mile we walked together helped me find my stride. Nice little handbell choir during this mile -- I was surprised at the number of musical groups along the way.

Mile 4: Made the mistake of taking a bathroom break here. Long line, and I could have waited another mile -- didn't realize then how many opportunities there would be later. I'll know better next time! Passed a couple of nice jazz combos in this mile.

Mile 5: Got a few "you go girl" type looks when I politely but firmly informed another participant, "I will not be trained during the marathon" after he started criticizing my form. I figured, hey, if my coach is OK with it, I don't need input from the peanut gallery. I was a little startled on this mile to be walking over rocks and skirting puddles -- seemed a little odd, and one gal said, "THIS wasn't on the bus tour!"

Mile 6: Had definitely found a good pace and was feeling good. Managed not to slap the person who said "Only 20 more miles!" at the end of this mile.

Mile 7: This was another section where we went two miles out and back on the same street, and could see the faster participants coming back on the other side of the street as we went back. Surprisingly, it was encouraging instead of frustrating -- I had never expected to run this, and it was AWESOME to see people running who were clearly having a great time.

Mile 8: Got a little bored, started looking at bib numbers of the returning runners to see how many people might be in the race. They seemed to end in the high 8000's, and I heard later that it had been capped at 9,000. That's a lot of people!

Mile 9: Time to turn around! There was a high school cheerstaff at the turnaround point, and that was nice.

Mile 10: After the turnaround, I started counting the people on the other side of the street -- I was curious about how close to the end I was. There were about 450 behind me at this point. By the end of the race, I was finisher #6658 of 7398, so if you count the thousand or more who dropped out, I had passed a lot of people by the end.

Mile 11: There was a worship band at the end of this mile playing a song I knew well, and that gave me a nice boost.

Mile 12: This mile curved around a bit and went up and down more than the others had, so I had to get pretty focused for a while. I found that my training on hills in Salem made it so I was passing people a lot on hills. This was surprising, and very encouraging.

Mile 13: Trying not to think about it only being halfway!

Mile 14: Bathroom break -- faster this time. This section was boring -- industrial area, not much to see. The musicians weren't as good, either.

Mile 15: More boring walking. It was all flat, which was nice, and I got into a very good rhythm at this point. There was some Brazilian-flavored music blaring out of a speaker on this mile, and if I could have taken it with me, I think I'd have finished half an hour faster -- it really got the blood flowing!

Mile 16: Another bathroom break before THE HILL -- I think I drank a bit too much over the last couple of miles. It went fast, but I would later regret having needed three breaks, given how closely I missed being under seven hours.

Mile 17: THIS WAS IT. The hill up to the St. John's Bridge. I had driven up it to see how bad it really was, and while I didn't have nightmares about it, it haunted my thoughts during training. And you know what? It was a breeze. I had trained well, I was ready, and I passed quite a few people on it. I got to the top of that bridge, and I was walking on air. (Several hundred feet of it, if we're going to get literal.)

Mile 18: Oh -- we have to keep going, don't we. *sigh* Checked in with Michael to let him know how I was doing -- he and the kids were on the way up, and it was nice to hear from them!

Mile 19: Reached Troy on my cell phone to tell him I'd conquered the bridge. He was headed out to have a beer. Tried not to be very, very jealous.

Mile 20: Getting very tired. There were two women ahead of me with large bottoms in hot pink pants, and their walking form looked like they were just strolling through the mall window-shopping -- I half-expected them to be carrying sodas and giant pretzels. But those girls were FAST. It bugged me, and I got moving pretty quick trying to pass them, just so I wouldn't have to watch them.

Mile 21: This section was beautiful, since the road followed the edge of the bluffs by the river, but the sun came out and it was pretty warm. At this point I was still not entirely sure I was going to be able to finish.

Mile 22: Passed a kick-butt classic rock band that put some fire in my step again. Also had a strangely inspiring conversation with two other mommies -- I realized that I was on a pace to finish the race in less than half the time it had taken to deliver my son. (8 lbs., 13 oz., no pain medication. The marathon was way easier.)

Mile 23: This is where I realized that a sub-7:00 time was a possibility. I jogged down a hill partway through this mile, knowing I'd probably have sore hips later, but figured that if it knocked me under 7:00, it'd be worth it.

Mile 24: This is where I realized that I was going to finish it, and I wasn't going to be sitting on the roadside crying because I was too tired. (I had really been worried about this.) Passed a few people who were headed back to their cars wearing their Portland Marathon 2005 shirts and finisher medals -- very inspiring!

Mile 25: Still doing the math in my head as I went, trying to figure out if I could get in under 7:00 -- it all depended on how many minutes it had taken to cross the start line.

Mile 26: This one seemed to be about three miles long. I was so tired.

Mile 26:2: Michael met me right at the end of Mile 26 and paced me as best he could on the other side of the barrier. The end was in sight ... going to do it ... did it!

I crossed the finish line and got my medal -- woohoo! Michael brought the kids over to the barrier so I could see them, and that was also very nice. I was a little woozy, and had a cup of orange juice. I picked up my race shirt and got my picture taken, and then met my family at the end. My coach had seen enough sick athletes to realize that I wasn't doing too well, and he was right -- I came very close to passing out cold right there in the street. I got the help I needed and got back on my feet, and while every single muscle in my whole body hurt, I'd never felt better in my life.

Because they weren't posting times right then, I didn't find out my official finish time (7:02:16) until the next morning. That was a bit of a bummer, since a sub-7:00 time had been my personal goal that I hadn't told anybody about. It was very close, though, and it's a good goal to shoot for next year.

Yes, I did say "next year." And no, I'm not insane. I had to laugh at myself -- I had expected that I might maybe possibly want to walk next year's marathon. Maybe. After I had forgotten about this one. (You know, kind of like babies. Nobody wants to have another one until they've gotten sleep-deprived enough to forget the last labor.) But I was surprised to find myself sitting gingerly in my office chair the day after the marathon, trying not to breathe in the wrong direction and make random body parts hurt, and looking online to see if there was another marathon I could do this winter since next October was just too long to wait for the next one.

Crazy? You bet. Sometimes crazy is good. It goes really well with rock-headed stubborn, which is what got me through this in the first place.


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