On February 15, 2009, I completed my very first marathon in Austin, Texas. Although for the last 6 or 7 miles I figured I'd never want to put my body through that kind of agony again, it took only 5 minutes after I crossed the finish line for me to realize I would sign up for another one sooner rather than later. There really is something about the joy and triumph that you feel after completing that kind of journey. I truly think there's nothing quite as difficult to make your body do as a marathon (unless you're an Ironman....then you're a special kind of crazy).
I signed up for the Rock n' Roll San Antonio Marathon (November 15) not too long after this.
An overwhelming tragedy occurred during my training. My older sister, Trisha, passed away suddenly on August 5. My whole world was shattered. She was my best friend and I had just spent time with her two weeks earlier. After burying her in Seattle, I returned home and tried to resume my training. But my heart wasn't in it and I knew it would take awhile to heal. I decided to downgrade my registration for the marathon to the half marathon. I knew I could run that...I had just completed one in July and was still in pretty good shape.
Little did I know that grief would hit during mile 6 and that the weather would be anything but cooperative during that race. I frequently cried and walked to complete that half marathon and ended up posting my slowest time for that distance...I don't even think any of my training runs were ever that slow. 2:20....21 minutes slower than the previous year, which had been my personal best. I knew it was going to take some healing and praying to get my mind back on track for the Austin Marathon coming up in 3 months. I had my buddy Jeff there with me during part of that race and he ended up finishing right around the same time as me. What a joy to unexpectedly see him at the end. Waterworks unleashed yet again!
Six days later was our 20K (12.4 miles) run in our marathon training group. Jeff and I both wanted to use this to make up for our mediocre performance in San Antonio. We did great....1:58 and well under 10 minute pace. We were back in business. The rest of the training season was great for me. I felt strong, no injuries, and I was looking forward to trying to break 10 minute pace in the marathon, or at least taking a good shot at it.
My family was sick, one member after another, for the two weeks prior to the marathon. I was worried!! But I woke up marathon morning feeling pretty good. I had some nagging irritation in my throat and a little stuffiness the couple days before but figured it was allergies and ignored it. The race started off great....the weather was BEAUTIFUL! 40 degrees out, only expected to get into the upper 50s by Noon. Perfect weather ordered and delivered!
The start was slow....excruciatingly slow. My first 5K was only around 33 minutes....slow for me. But it was crowded and I think I made the mistake of starting off too far back and getting stuck behind slower runners. I picked it up for the next 9 miles or so and cut a lot of time off my overall pace. Was at about 10:10 overall pace when I hit the potty at mile 12. That slowed me down by about 10 seconds per mile overall...something I knew I could get back in the next few miles. UNTIL the throat and lung issues hit HARD at mile 14. I got the chills....my throat suddenly felt tight....and my lungs were having a few issues. It seemed my heart rate was getting up a little higher and for the first time for the entire race I felt like I needed to walk. Up until this point I really didn't have any desire to walk. I had briefly stopped to say hi to the family at mile 11 and to make my potty break but that was it. At about 15.5 miles I decided I was probably sick and walked for about a half mile. Once I got my breathing under control I got back to running, taking a walk break every 1.5-2 miles for the remainder of the race.
During these breaks I decided it was okay that I wasn't going to break my 10 minute pace. This race was for my sister. It didn't matter if the clock said 4:20 or 5:20. I was going to finish the race, earn my medal, and dedicate it to Trisha. I smiled, listened to my music, enjoyed myself while running, and chatted with folks while walking. My legs were strong...when I ran I was running well. There was no wall for me this year. There was no crying at mile 18 because of the pain. There was JOY that this was my second marathon, that my training had prepared me to complete 26.2 miles without injury, and that sometimes life throws you curveballs in the form of illness that you have no control over. You make the best of it.
At exactly 3 hours into the race my Garmin GPS watch shut off....so for the next 8+ miles I ran blind not knowing my pace or how much time had elapsed. I really had no clue how I was doing! The 4:45 pacers hadn't passed me yet so I did know that I had to be close to last year's time (4:40). I did my best but didn't overdo it. My final mile was difficult as I was definitely feeling the fatigue of the dreaded wall but I didn't let me get me too down. I made my final push around the Capitol and ran well for that last half mile.
When I saw the Mile 26 marker and all the fantastic spectators lining the Capitol grounds the tears finally came. I pumped my fist and enjoyed the last two minutes of my journey. When I finished I still had no idea how I had done but I did know that it had to have been close to last year's time. What a surprise to see when the results were posted that it was only 36 seconds slower. My final 10K was stronger, however, by several minutes, so I had improved in my eyes. I was more prepared, stronger, and happier. I felt so good when I was done....certainly not like I had just run a marathon!
So now marathon #2 is in the books. I raised $3200 for the Lupus Foundation in honor of my sister, far surpassing my goal. I wish I could call her and tell her all about it, but I know she was the one who was pushing me on during the race. She was on my shoulder, she was my strength, and she will continue to look over me from heaven as I continue my journey.
Next marathon? I'm taking a break from Austin next year and will be doing the Houston Marathon on January 30. I can't wait for my 4:20!!
I haven't gotten that 4:20...but I will. Of course I will.