WARNING: NOVEL AHEAD
I easily popped awake with my alarm(s) and started getting ready. When I peeked outside, I could see a few runners already headed to the start and it made me nervous, thinking I was “running behind” but really I am not the type of person that wants to be 2 hours early and I knew I had plenty of time.
I finished packing my gym bag for Matt to take to the finish line so I could shower at Autozone Park (site of the finish and what a nice post-race amenity!) and left him with instructions on how to get there and where to be so that we could see each other at mile 4. With seemingly nothing else to do at that point, I grabbed my gear and joined the crowds of people walking to the start (might have taken 10 minutes?). Right as I was leaving my aunt Paula called to wish me good luck and I ended up talking to her for 30 minutes. It was so nice to take my mind off of my emotions and to have her “there” with me.
At the start line, there were tons of portapotties and almost NO LINES (how nice!) and I jumped in line a just a few minutes before the gun went off.
I had talked to the 5:15 pacer at the expo and he told me that he would be running dead even 12 minute splits, so I positioned myself just a little in front of that group, still hoping that maybe I could pull off a 5 hour marathon at that point. Half marathoners and marathoners all started together (Half—green bibs, Full—blue bibs) and I noticed there were A LOT of green bibs around me. There were about 8,000 signed up for the half and 3,500 for the full so this was to be expected, but a little unnerving. I found myself looking for blue bibs during the race almost as a sanity-check, if that makes any sense? Anyway, made a little small talk with some women who were thinking about coming down to Birmingham for the Mercedes Half and then it was time to GO!
(I would like to break this into miles here, but some of the details are so blurry, so I will do the best I can) Also, surprisingly enough I haven’t even ONCE gone back and looked at the Garmin stats. (Still haven’t and I started writing this post DAYS ago) I kept it on current pace screen almost the entire time and ran very much by feel, only looking at pace a few times towards the beginning and checking total time after the halfway point. I also did NOT carry my camera; with a phone, iPod and handheld, I didn't want anything else to worry about. (Side note: I saw the course photogs and posed many times during the later miles, but none of these showed up on the ASI site. Haven't had time to peruse "lost and found" yet but now that the computer is back, hope to find time this weekend)
Mile 1-2: Feeling really great and setting into a mid- 11-something pace. Skipped the congested aid station at 1.5 and kept going. When we came down by the Mississippi River, the view was just awesome and peaceful. There were beautiful houses to our right and a fun cheering squad of people high on a hill blowing on vuvuzelas! Such a contrast in the environment but fun.
One REALLY nice thing about this race was the on-course support. There were clocks, water, powerade and portapotties at EVERY MILE. (Except for the 1st 2 b/c of runner feedback…they moved it to 1.5 and started every mile from 3-25) It provided a HUGE mental boost knowing that you would be seeing people and essentially having a cheering squad every.single.mile. And this is no out and back course (it’s a double loop but only a short stretch is the same on the 2nd loop), so these were unique aid stations and they were all extremely well staffed and stocked. (There were also 2 or 3 gu stations but since I don’t use gu, I didn’t commit this to memory. There might have also been oranges at one point after the split b/c I saw the evidence—peels—but the people/goods were not there when I got there!)
Mile 3: I saw the 5:15 guy come up beside me and based on what I had been running so far, and the fact that he started in the corral behind me, I thought it was weird that I was seeing him so soon. But, I decided to try and stay with him for as long as possible, so I tucked in just to his right and settled in. I checked my watch and saw that we were running 11:30s and got concerned but hung around.
Mile 4: Still right with the pacer and desperately searching for Matt around the area (and a little before). I never did see him. He later told me he saw the “5 minute guy” and the “5:15 guy” (ummm, that is hours…haha!) and that he stayed in that area for more than an hour. Explains the text I got about 90 minutes in asking where I was. The pacer was still running fast and even kept saying it out loud!! “We are running about 30-40 seconds fast” Ummm…OK…if you are saying this mile after mile after mile then MAYBE AS THE PACER YOU SHOULD MAKE AN ADJUSTMENT. He had a co-pacer with him that was hanging back SIGNIFICANTLY and I later asked him if he was running a 5:15 and he said yes and gave me a look that let me know that he knew the other guy was way off pace. *I don't mean to sound angry or bitter about this if I do; I ran my own race and had a great time. But if you're there to do a job and say you're going to employ a strategy then please do so*
Mile 5: Running through the St Jude campus was exhilarating…so many signs, people and energy. It was hard not to get caught up in it all but I tried to remain on an even keel b/c it was so early and I knew I would want that energy later.
Mile 6-7: I lost the original 5:15 guy somewhere in here. He was still running 11:30s and I knew that I could not hold this group for 26 miles, so I slowly let them go. The co-pacer had dropped WAY back at this point too and actually did not pass me again until mile 11, which made me feel better J The elite men passed by around mile 7-8 for us (22-23? For them) It was neat to see and cheer for them
Mile 8-10: I really enjoyed running in Overton park…the shaded paths were nice and relatively flat. Although coming up one hill there was a van of people blaring “YMCA” with dancers dressed up as the Village People and additional back up dancers/cheerleaders. Lots of fun J
Mile 11-13: I made my 1st phone call around the 11 mile mark and skipped the aid station. I had promised myself that I would be allowed one short (1-2min) phone call (on speaker phone while still running)every hour starting with the 2 hour mark for sanity since I was running alone and I knew that if anything, it was going to be tough to be “alone” for such a long time. I called Lauren and she got energized by hearing the crowd noise/bands, told me I sounded great and wished me luck. It really put an extra spring in my step and I WAS feeling great and I needed to channel that energy b/c I was surrounded by half marathoners who were currently hitting their own wall (and loudly complaining about it) and I could not allow myself to get sucked in to negative/exhausting energy.
I hope that doesn’t sound pompous or snide b/c I understand and remember feeling like I had hit a wall THE ENTIRE TIME I was running the Country Music Half but knowing I had such a long way to go, it was tough to listen to it. There was also a kid in a hot dog costume jumping into the crowd around this point who was OBNOXIOUS (where were his parents?) and blocking runners and saying “only 2 miles!” (I’m thinking, more like 15 and actually a marathoner somewhere around me yelled out “not for all of us!” haha!) My yoga instructor and her husband zoomed past me at mile marker 12 and I kept them in my sights for a LONG time but I never did catch up to them.
Mile 14-16: Also known as the point where I hit my wall. (And where the race course photog got a pic of me that makes me look like an oompa loompa--the only on course photo tagged to me) I was mentally prepared for the thinning of the crowd (both runners and spectators) and actually looking forward to getting to work. I got a buzz of energy as we split from the half and managed to fake a smile for the photog as I headed up Beale Street (again). However, by this point, the sun was out in full force and the course was kind of ugly and the rolling hills were beginning to take their toll. There was really no one running at my pace (no one passing me but it took me a while to catch up with people too) and the people I could see ahead of me were also beginning to struggle. Up until that point I had only been walking through the aid stations (if at all) but at this point I was struggling to make it from point to point and began bargaining with myself. I called Paula (quite possibly my biggest supporter) at mile 16 for a status update and let her know I was tired and looking forward to seeing mile 20. Somehow I knew that if I could get there I would be OK. I noticed I wasn’t sweating as much and started to feel a little nauseous and tried to take care of myself as best I could.
Mile 17-19: I was physically starting to feel better but starting to feel a little “delirious”. It was hard for me to do math at this point (paces, miles left, etc) and I found myself getting annoyed by the littlest (and not so littlest) things. Around 17 or so, I heard this “zooming” on the pavement behind me only to then nearly get decked by a skateboarder! Grrrrrrr ….I guess he figured that he was going to take advantage of the closed roads and skate the course which was SO WRONG. He was skating recklessly and at one point almost knocked down some runners ahead of me after he almost wiped out. He was on the course for at LEAST 2 miles and took fluid from one of the aid stations (where I passed him again)!! I was so angry and desperately wanted to find a course marshall to get him kicked off the course but I suspect he was at some point b/c I never saw him again. I reminded myself not to give him my precious energy but seeing him almost knock people down and not apologize really fired up my Italian temper! Around 18 I finally ditched the long sleeve tee that had been wrapped around my waist since mile 2.5. I thought it might make it home with me, but again, the littlest things were annoying me and I felt like I lost 10 pounds when I tossed it aside at the aid station. I started to notice that there were a lot of people laid out/stretching at aid stations. Not anyone getting medical help, thankfully, but people were hurting. Also around this stretch I encountered a woman who looked to be my mom’s age and a woman in a wheelchair who reminded me of my sweet grandmother…they were alone on a corner cheering for everyone and it brought tears to my eyes. They must have been cheering someone near me or behind me b/c I saw them 3 MORE times by the end. Brought so many emotions thinking about my grandmother and how proud of me she would be if she could see me. (Tearing up now…I miss her SO MUCH)
Mile 19-21: I actually started passing a lot of people during this stretch and caught up to a crowd, quite possibly because I was still running (shuffling?) for a good portion of each mile. The walking breaks were liberal, I’m not going to lie, but there was still some structure to what I was doing. I called Matt after the 20 mile mark and he said I sounded good (I was starting to feel human again) though he said…”only 10 miles left” and I was like “NO! Only 6.2” Definitely unnecessarily annoyed but I was starting to feel hungry and hot and the thought of 10 miles left was unreal! There was one girl this stretch who was running with her sister or friend and she was MUCH stronger than her counterpart. She kept trying to motivate the other girl (not effectively) who was REALLY struggling and the girl who was struggling kept trying to get the strong girl to go ahead. Strong would say “no, I’m not going to leave you” but would then “sprint” ahead and impatiently stop ahead and “stretch” or look back and yell “come on” and sigh. Strong girl was stressing ME out and I could only imagine how her friend felt. I leapfrogged with strong girl through mile 24 (never again saw her friend) and which point I passed her and didn’t see her again. If you are going to stick with someone then do so but don’t get several hundred yards ahead, stop and act impatient. I also saw a woman with a baby on board sign on her back around this time!!! WOW. She was with her (Ironman) husband and he was taking such great care of her. (We also leapfrogged for the next few miles) She didn’t have a visible bump and I wanted to ask her when she was due/acknowledge her strength but she and her husband seemed very focused on each other and I didn’t want to butt in on what felt like a very “private” time for them.
Mile 21-26.2: Around mile 21 is when I met up with Diana and Amy—my mental lifesavers! Some guy in green (half marathon) numbers came sprinting up a hill in the opposite direction asking if anyone wanted his extra gu just as I was passing Diana and Amy. They were floored by his energy and I pointed out his green numbers and we had a laugh. I struck up conversation with them and we found that we were employing pretty similar race strategies (They had just met and decided to run together at mile 20) and asked if I wanted to stick with them. Absolutely!! This is what I had been wanting for the past 10+ miles! (Side: It was Amy’s first marathon as well and Diana’s second) Neither of them had a Garmin so we agreed to walk the aid stations and run until my Garmin was at .75 of the mile, walk until the .0 and then run to the next aid station. (Sounds more complicated then it was. I was only .15 off from the mile markers which I am pretty proud of in terms of running the tangents. There were a LOT of turns on this course and .15 extra is almost NOTHING after 26.2 miles) We agreed to stick together and although at times, I think I could have done with less walking, the 5(?) minutes I might have saved doing my own thing was NOTHING compared to the mental support and positive energy these girls provided. They were such positive and like minded people (thanking volunteers and spectators, encouraging other runners) and they made the end enjoyable and fun. Approaching mile 25 Diana didn’t think she would be able to run anymore, but Amy and I encouraged her to do it and she did! I called Paula one last time at 25.5 and she cheered the 3 of us on. Amy called her parents from my phone as well, but unfortunately they didn’t answer. Amy and I almost started crying as we realized we were going to FINISH!! HUGE SMILES, a love-fest of thank yous and emotions and FINALLY the 26 mile marker on a downhill into the stadium! We hit the warning track and Diana and I found a sprint, I saw Matt—camera in hand, I turned around wanting Amy to finish by our side…she was giving everything she had and crossed a few seconds later. Sweaty hugs, tears…WE DID IT! I AM A MARATHONER!!!
Next up: The aftermath