It’s over. I finished. I’m a marathoner. =)
It really was quite a day. It took me forever to get to bed last night…I was icing my knees one last time, and with one small ice bottle and two knees, front and back, for 20 minutes each, that takes a long time. I laid out every single item I’d need, and MAN it looked like a lot of stuff!! Aside from underthings and shirt and pants, there was: my FuelBelt, the 4 bottles to fill, two tubes of ShotBloks to cut in half, 3 Gu packs, my St. Jude charm, the camera bag that was going to hold my phone, my big knee brace, my ITB strap, my visor, my iPod, my headphones (lost my Amphipod on some plane on the way here…the thing that holds my iPod…and this morning, one of the earbuds on my earphones decided to play hide-and-seek)…plus, I had to pack an extra set of clothes and all my extra Gatorade for Dad to heft around! Plus my camera, plus the cheer sticks, plus extra painkillers, plus…well, you get the idea.
And they say running is cheap…all you have to buy is a pair of shoes.
There were several other folks downstairs for the hotel breakfast in the pre-dawn hours…all looking rather keyed up and anxious about what to eat…I sure was…forced myself to eat plenty, but then immediately after, worried I’d get nervous and not be able to keep it down! (I did. Not get nervous. Kept it down.) And then, off we went.
Once we got downtown and parked, we started following the crowd. And found the crowd going every possible which way. Gradually, we found they were all heading to Beale. Stopped off at the Elvis statue on the way (for luck), saw the 5K start in the distance, and then reached the start road, with all its corrals. I knew my place would be WAAAAY in the back, so we headed that direction, down the line of what must’ve been 40 port-a-potties all in a row. Dad was wearing my brother’s blaze-orange UnderArmour hat…and MAN was he visible! And Mom was in pink. She wanted me to make sure to note that they were, in fact, QUITE easy to spot in the crowds. Each time I saw them, I spotted them before they spotted me. =)
So they left, and I headed to my corral to wait…and wait…and wait…I was in Corral 11 or so, the slowpokes who would take 5:00:00+ to finish. I looked around, and we didn’t LOOK slow!! Anyway. My shirt worked, and several people congratulated me on my first marathon and wished me luck by name. =) I chitchatted with a few others as we huddled together in the windy, chilly, overcast dawn. There was a sudden disturbance way at the front, and we knew the frontrunners must have started. Gradually, a few feet at a time, we were drawn up the “chute” as corral after corral was released into the course.
At long last, it was our turn. We crossed the blue-and-red timing mats, turned on our GPS watch timers, and began our first steps of 26.2 miles.
It was, just like everyone warned me, a challenge not to start out too fast. I had moved my big knee brace to my left knee, the one that wasn’t problematic till these past few days, and was depending upon a single tight strap on my right knee to keep everything together. They say never to add something new on race day…and I violated that rule. (First, I didn’t have my iPod carrier, so I had my dad’s black leather iPhone case clipped to my fuel belt…and it worked PERFECTLY.) I had never gotten a chance to run with that ITB strap…wasn’t sure I had placed it right…didn’t know if I might have been making things worse by interfering with a good operation of my knee…just tightened it up and crossed my fingers. I was anxious not to run too fast, and possibly use up my questionable knee ability, but at the same time, the more ground I could cover quickly early on, when everything felt fine, the more “insurance” I had for later on in the race when I might not be able to run. It was tough trying to run a marathon between the horns of that dilemma.
I didn’t walk till nearly 3 miles in (because everyone’s voices were booming in my head, “Walk before you have to!!”). I was feeling good, I was slapping hands as I passed people who called out my name, I was in downtown Memphis and it was just COOL…and I wanted to get through the first 4.5 miles and into the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital campus (in so doing, I missed my folks by moments at Mile 4…they saw me at Mile 2 and then hustled up to 4 to try to catch me, since I was doing a several-block detour and they had a straight shot from corner to corner…Mom says they saw me disappearing a block away when they arrived).
St. Jude’s was AWESOME…I didn’t see any little bald kids, but there were lots of families lining the road on either side of a grassy median, and as we passed signs like “Smile! Jake always did…” with pictures of sweet, smiling toddlers with no hair, the families – the MOMS – called out things to us like, “Thanks for running for our kids!” and…well, it’s choking me up just to type it. I was running behind T-shirts that said, “Cancer Sucks” and “Friends Don’t Let Friends Fight Cancer Alone.” It was soooooo powerful. Is it any wonder I was feeling like Wonder Woman at that point?
Out of the campus and into the long stretch to the 8-mile turn into Overton Park. We passed Rhodes College, a gorgeous college campus, and as we hit Mile 7, there was a sudden collective cry as people looked across the street, through the tree-lined median, to see four sleek, dark, lean elites following the “carrot” truck with the big timing clock, heading back the other direction…the front-runners were passing Mile 22 as we were passing SEVEN. “Kenyans,” I said to the runner next to me, shaking my head and grinning. “Gotta be.” I wasn’t surprised…but it’s just, well, amazing. Humbling. Incredible.
Overton Park was beautiful. It was also where my knee finally started to wake up and talk to me. I stopped on a log to switch the knee brace from my left to my right, and gave up on the strap. I tightened the brace down as much as I could, hoping the magic that had worked last Saturday on my 8-miler would work again. Nope. By the time I left the park at Mile 9, I was limping pretty bad when the pain came…and running as gingerly as I could when it went. And thus began the come-and-go, someone’s-stabbing-me-with-a-knife, agonizing knee pain.
In the park, there was a turn where 10 people in full-on Village People costumes (cop, cowboy, etc.) were lined up in two rows, blasting YMCA and doing THE WHOLE DANCE. Like, the entire routine. It cracked me UP.
Miles 10, 11, 12 were relatively uneventful. Near the end of Mile 12, though, the road split. The half-marathoners made the turn towards home…and the marathoners were sent on to the 13-mile mark. The crowd I’d been running in thinned – suddenly and thoroughly!! I was so, SO proud to be on the sparse side of the route, though. I’d run with some half-marathoners up to that point, and was very proud of their accomplishment…but MAN, it was sweet to feel the swell in my heart as I thought of how brave we all were to pass home and head back out to the outskirts of town for another 13.
I spotted my folks right before 13, and stopped briefly to tell them how I was feeling and to refill my Gatorade bottles. After they sent me on, I crossed the intersection right in front of us, and SMACK in the middle of it…my knee flared up in searing agony and I stumbled across the road and tried to keep running.
The second half took me right down Beale…maybe the crowds were more supportive far earlier in the morning (I got there around 2:45:00), but I was pretty disappointed at how sparse Beale was (it was sparse every time we’ve seen it – what the heck is that?? I thought it was a Mardi Gras kind of place, especially THIS weekend!) and how few people seemed to pay any attention to the weary runners in the blue bib numbers toiling past.
By the 14 mile mark, I was in big trouble. I could no longer run at all. I was walking as fast as I could (which was FAST, amazingly!), but my knee was giving me problems even at a walk. A guy came up from behind and told me, “CFM, First-Timer, CFM! Continuous Forward Movement! We’ll get there!” And then he was gone. A few other people passed me and offered encouragement and sympathy, but by Mile 15, I was convinced that my finishing hopes were in serious jeopardy and it was all I could do to try my hardest not to cry.
At Mile 16, I started to feel cheated. I was going to basically run a half-marathon, and be forced to WALK another. I thought there was no way I could feel like I deserved credit for a whole marathon if I’d had to walk the entire second half…that’s not “running” a marathon! The praying I’d been doing up to that point started to turn into bargaining. ‘Cause, you know, THAT ALWAYS works on God. ;) Around then, I remembered I’d stuck an 800 mg ibuprofen into my camera case for after the race (Mom had my other Tylenol capsules, but I’d forgotten to take them at 13, and I wouldn’t see them again till the finish). I took it and started praying harder.
At Mile 17, some folks had taken it upon themselves to set up their own unofficial water table. With beer and Smirnoff Ice. Yeah, I totally took a beer. =) It was only about two inches’ worth in the bottom of a cup, but it was GOOD. ‘Cause, you know, in case the praying and the drugs didn’t pan out…right?
As I approached Mile 18, I decided, SCREW THIS. I took a couple test steps at my usual run pace to test it out. No pain. Thrilled, I kept going. Got through another mile and a half in little bursts of running punctuated by short bouts of walking…just to try not to “use it up” and make it last longer. But that’s when everything turned…once I found myself able to run at 18, and my watch told me I was still turning miles at around 14:30 even when I was doing the peglegged-pirate gimp…well, that’s when I knew I’d finish. And at that point, it was all over but the cryin’.
19 and 20 were hell. We were only allotted one lane on a six-lane parkway with a median, and our lane was slanted down to the curb. NO level area. With my kind of knee injury, this is the worst thing you can be running on. And the highest part of the incline was the injured side. And it seemed to go on forEVER. There was a curb at the bottom of the slope, a really short one, and I finally maneuvered down there so I could kind of caper along with my left foot up on the curb and my right leg swinging straight-legged past it, resulting in very little knee pain.
Rounded the corner of Overton Park and headed for Mile 21…some 3 hours past when the Kenyans had done the same. It was 3.5 miles till we went back through the St. Jude campus, on a road that was relatively flat and pretty straight-as-an-arrow. Around now, CFM and I had leapfrogged each other a couple times and wound up in conversation. He told me he was having a “little foot problem and a little knee problem” too, but that he was concentrating on the knee that was working great. This was Ward, a deputy from Mississippi, and he was married to a HS English teacher. =) He was a force of positivity and fortitude, determined to finish and claim his first marathon medal, too. I liked him…decided to stick with him. At some point, I pulled ahead of him, but it was never long before he caught up to me again. Sometimes I was catching up to him. He was totally my race angel.
We made it up the Parkway and turned back into the St. Jude campus, mostly sparse and silent at this point except for a high school group (tons of HS groups, did I mention? Passing out water and cheering people on and sometimes even playing music…what a great community service activity!), and with only 2.5 miles to go, everything seemed to shift and we were just concentrating on making the mileage shrink. I hadn’t heard my beloved “Walking in Memphis” yet, and started digging through my playlist as Ward chatted on about how we were almost there and nothing could stop us now! When I finally found it, I put it on repeat and it carried me the rest of the way.
25 miles…several unexpected turns…a few scattered cheer groups in front of gas stations and at on-ramps…one gal with a marathoner’s bib and medal on shouted some encouragement to us from an overpass we passed under, and I hollered back, “I want one of those!” She pointed and said “Sure, go get you one, they’re handing ‘em out for free right over that way!” =)
Under an overpass. U-turn. Up an off-ramp. Folks hollering that the 26-mile marker was just at the top of the ramp. Fervent praying that God would grant me the ability to run that last 0.2, even though I’d had to walk the past 2 miles straight. Told Ward we were running the finish if it killed us…he agreed.
Entered the chute and started to run.
Came into the stadium onto a dirt track and spotted my folks in the stands right away (where they’d been since I was back at mile 21, FOREVER ago). Mom pointed and Dad beamed and they both raised cameras and I smiled as big as I could. Ward had said “Ladies first” at some point and kept just behind me. The giant FINISH line loomed ahead, and beyond it, people were holding medals.
I ran, all knee pain blessedly, blessedly gone for the moment…an answered prayer.
Crossed the mats…a woman in a camouflage uniform put the medal around my neck. Another swept a giant silver wind blanket around my shoulders. I hugged Ward and headed up to meet my folks. And I even made it under 6:00:00. (I won’t post my time yet ‘cause it’s not official yet and I don’t know it till I check for it!)
And that’s it. That’s how it happened.
I no longer, by the way, feel cheated out of my marathon. I did get to run plenty of the second half, though not nearly as much as I had wanted to. My knee dictated all but the first 8 miles. I never hit the wall, probably because I never had the chance to really push my muscles to that point…the stabbing pain in the side of my leg controlled me completely. There was just no way I could’ve run any more than I did…of that, I’m convinced.
We beelined straight for Hard Rock Café (again), and I wolfed down an order of Chicken, Mac & Cheese and talked to the gals at the table next to us, one of whom ran the whole thing in red and green striped pajamas. Then it was back to the car, and back to the hotel, and MAN I was moving slow.
When I made it back to my room, a phone call to my friend George resulted in an ice bath for me. Yeah. You run 26.2 miles and end up sitting in a bathtub full of icy water for 10 minutes. AAAUGH! But he said it cuts recovery time by more than half. Bring it.
And my knee is still screaming bloody murder at me. Enh. I don’t care anymore. The damn leg can FALL OFF now for all I care. I no longer have to stress over it. Nor do I have to stress any more about what I’m eating (I now have the ability to make better choices, but that’s not the same as stress). If I lose sleep, who cares? I can sleep in. Even if it’s Saturday. I NO LONGER HAVE TO GIVE UP MY SATURDAYS FOR LONG RUNS!! I have at least a week or more before I’ll feel obligated to head out for a run. And yes, I will.
George said something on the phone tonight that revealed to me the crux of why people run marathon after marathon. “You never get the perfect marathon,” he said. Like, my knee kept this from being a great marathon for me (it was great because I finished, but you know)…and because I’m convinced I could do better if I did it again, I’m likely to run another one. And it goes on forever like that.
Last spring, I was getting my butt kicked in Couch to 5K by my friend and coworker Carol. I got to the point, though, where I could run 30 minutes without walking. Then the Non Runner’s Marathon Trainer fell into my hands (because Abbey put it there). Then I went to Italy and then to Vienna and started to train. Along the way, I’ve given up hiking in the woods…now I can do that again. Trail runs. Vibram’s Five Finger shoes. Bike riding. I can do all that now, because I’m no longer trying to conserve energy or joint integrity for a race. Feels good.
So does being a marathoner. That feels pretty daggone good, too.
PS – my GPS watch says I actually did 26.51. =)