I am a marathoner—a sub-four marathoner.
I did not qualify, but I did run 3:48:53, which I am told is pretty incredible for a first time runner on a hilly course. Still, I do plan to qualify for my hometown 26.2-mile race next year—incidentally, know of any good, flat spring courses?
But before my second marathon, there was my first. So, here’s the recap in all its sweaty, bloody, teary glory along with the quick disclaimer that I sob every year at the Boston Marathon. The Drama! The Pain! The Feat of Human Endurance! Yes, marathons make me an emotional basket case.
Much excitement, nerves and a lot of tears. My last run before the big race was on Saturday, an easy two-miler in the pouring rain. I cry through the whole thing, both because I am scared and because I am so overwhelmed by the human feat (and I still am). What crazy person runs 26.2 miles? How can I possibly survive this? How do so many people do this every year? I need a drink at this point, but abstain.
I drop the kids off with my folks at their lake house (45 minutes from the start), cry a lot and make the journey through the night back to our hotel. “I feel nothing,” I tell my husband (who is not at all surprised by my melodrama). “I feel dead inside.”
Later at the hotel, I laugh with my friend who is also (insanely) running this 26.2 mile course and make my poor husband do mental math for hours so that I can write my splits (the time at which I hope to hit each mile marker) on my arm with a sharpie. The splits both terrify and amuse me, although I do briefly entertain the notion of winning the thing—hey, maybe if it is written on my arm, I will have to adhere, I think (again, we marathoners are insane).
I am waiting in line for the porta potties when the Star Spangled Banner starts playing. Briefly I am concerned that people will find me unpatriotic if I choose to pop a squat in the grass while Miss Maine sings her heart out. At the last minute I decide reabsorption is best and follow my friend into the crowd, hand on heart.
“Runners take your places,” someone says and then the loudest starting gun I have ever heard in my life is fired and Bruce Springsteen begins to wail “Born to Run.”
And indeed we are.
The tears are flowing.
The plan was to run 8:23 for the first two miles (my qualifying pace) and then kick into high gear at Mile 2 and start running 7:50’s through to Mile 20 where I would drop back to 9-minute miles.
At mile 2, I see my husband, throw a long-sleeved t-shirt, hat and IPod Nano armband at him and kick it into high gear (as foretold on my arm). At mile 2.5 I realize 7:50 is a hard pace and reconsider my strategy I wonder if I might die somewhere on the course and remember that I do not have so much as a driver’s license bearing my name in my possession.
At this point it is hard. I am still running 7:50s and do briefly consider dropping out at mile 6.2 when the half marathoners get to turn around and the few of us left limp on past them, miles in front of us and hours to go.
“Just keep swimming,” I tell myself because Dory says it to Nemo in my daughter’s favorite movie (Finding Nemo), but I remember I am running not swimming and I hate Dory.
Hills keep coming and I am alternating between walking them and attempting to run them. On the uphills I feel like this is madness and wonder how I ever considered qualifying and question whether I can even break five hours and then I hit a downhill and I am flying 7:20, thinking I might break 3:30.
It is around this time I briefly allow myself to think of my mother (for whom I am running mile 24 and who died when I was 16) and I almost choke. Memo to self: extreme emotion during marathoning, while understandable, is not advisable, lest your fellow marathoners suspect you are asthmatic (Which I briefly am).
For a brief moment I imagine I am, indeed dying and I can see my mom. Then I suck it all back, flip off a spectator who tells me I am doing a “great job” and enter Dante’s Inferno.
My feet feel like they are being rubbed vigorously over hot sandpaper. I have been told this is the marathoner’s nemesis, the point at which the finish is inevitable (i.e., you can’t drop out) but seems nowhere in sight. For me, this is the truth. Whatever miles 20-26.2 have in store, they can’t be worse than this.
I take my gu at Mile 15, walk through the water station, loathe all spectators clapping for me and blast the Drowning Pool. At this point the only thought propelling my feet forward is that I will soon see my husband who has reached almost deity proportions in my head.
At mile 20, he looms ahead complete with halo, Gatorade and banana. Suddenly I can run again.
Rob stuffs a banana in my face. I choke, gag, almost throw up and then rally. I rally strong. A friend who has run an impressive 28 marathons told me to designate my last miles to important people. I love this plan. And so, my miles have been designated as follows:
Mile 20-21: for Julia my running partner and fellow mom who is injured (but not so much that she could not run 7:30’s that same day.) I miss her. I run this mile in 8 minutes, which quickly exhausts my husband but he pushes on because he loves me plying me with swedish fish, more gu, bananas and a dose of sanity (which I need at this point as I am barely able to garble out that mile 21 is for Alan and he needs to “tell me how awesome I was in labor.”)
Mile 21-22: for Alan, my precious baby who is 14 months old and just learning to walk. I force Rob to tell me how amazing I was in labor. What wall? I ask myself as I fly though this mile, channeling Helen Reddy. “I can still qualify,” I yell to Rob as I leave him in the dust with an 8:23 pace.
Mile 22-23: for Sam, my precocious 2.5-year-old who I can’t believe is so smart and funny. She would be so proud if I qualify, I tell myself, checking my watch. I can still do it! There is still time!
Mile 23-24: for Rob, the best coach, running partner, best friend and husband in the world, I am thinking right when I hit a hill. And then another one. And then a third. I am at the point where I am cursing at the hills, the marathon organizers, G-d and any spectators who happen to be in my way. I hate everyone. I want to die. I flip off an 80-year-old man who passes me and scream at the cops that this course must have been “designed by a sadist.” I congratulate myself on retaining a vocabulary that includes the word sadist. I look at my watch and realize I am going to run a 3:43 if I keep at this pace.
Mile 24-25: was supposed to be for my mom who I miss and who I wish could have met her grandchildren. Instead it is for Not Dying. Yay for not dying, I say to myself again and again. Then I almost die. Then I don’t. And I congratulate myself again.
Mile 25-26.2: supposed to be for me. The girl who a decade ago would have said running is “for masochists” who now adores nothing more (well, almost nothing) who is now apparently so masochistic that she is shuffling her feet along an Oceanside road, praying for death and knowing she will finish anyway.
The finish line: I cross it (3:48:53) I am draped in a finishing medal and my foil wrap, but I do not see my parents who are supposed to be there with my babies. In my head the moment went like this: my parents are snapping photos, I am crying with delirium and overcome with emotion I scream “I did it,” while looking at a clock that reads: 3:39:59.
The reality went like this: I cross the finish line, barely able to walk, stumble around looking for my parents, start to cry, feel alone. Cry some more. Finally spot my husband (who I left behind at mile 24). He is crying and thinks I am crying because I did not qualify. Stumble into the massage tent. Finally spot the babies. Run out of the massage and Alan becomes apoplectic demanding to be nursed. I can barely stand or form a coherent sentence so nursing is out of the question. I reconsider having had children.
Later, I am delirious, barely able to process people speaking to me. I realize at some point during the race I probably peed my pants, but am too out of it to care much. My husband dumps me in an ice bath, which I tolerate for about 10 seconds, though it does perk me up. We drive to the lake house. I spend the rest of the evening curled on the couch, blanket on my legs eating copious amounts of food.
Life is good.
I feel incredible, albeit sore in places I did not even know I could be sore. Hello middle of my back: I barely knew ye. Sides of feet: do you even have a name?
I am elated, as high and empowered as I was in the days following my natural labors. Back then I said that the only physical feat I could accomplish more impressive than pushing my babies out naturally was a marathon. And now? Here I am almost 24 hours after crossing the finish line.
Look for posts in coming weeks about running in the rain (about which I had to learn fast, although the course was thankfully dry on race day) and lessons learned from this marathon, particularly as a mom who marathons.
For now, I am already looking into which Spring marathon I will run (with my running partner!) so that we can both toe the starting line in Boston 2011. In addition, I have learned that, while I missed qualifying for Boston in 2010, I DID qualify for the Comrades Ultra marathon (55 miles in South Africa).
ULTRA-marathoning mom? Just maybe.
Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.