Friday, March 09, 2012

I Ran How Far?

Us, Lance, and our GIANT MEDALS
26.2 miles.  TWENTY-SIX POINT TWO MILES.  The enormity of what I did, set out to do, accomplished still overwhelms me.  Even as I sit here, mostly recovered from my exhaustion and extreme pain, I still find it hard to believe that I ran TWENTY SIX* miles.

 I had emerged that morning from slumber before my alarm with the creeping anxiety that I had forgotten to set the alarm for the appropriate time, feeling the squeeze of nervous energy in my stomach.  I was in that period of wakefulness where you know you should get up and check the alarm (or get another blanket or pee or get a drink of water), yet just can't muster the ambition to get out of bed.

I finally sighed and stood up, realizing that it was just a few moments before my alarm, and that I had in fact set it properly, so I laid back down until it chimed.  I leapt up, grabbing my clothes and drinking water immediately--I knew I needed to hydrate my sleep thirsty body as quickly as I could.  I poked Lance, my driver and support crew, to wake him up to get ready.  My nerves calmed somewhat as I ate, packed up my gels, pinned on my racebib, and got into the car to head downtown to the Little Rock Rivermarket, where the race would begin.

It was a lovely March day, clear and chilly, a day where the sky is perfect cerulean without a cloud in sight.  I had on a long-sleeved shirt and L's brown fleece to warm my chilled body.  I searched for my friends that I had trained with all winter, finally abandoning L with his fleece to go find them.  I managed to fight through the crowd to stand next to them.  Suddenly, being beside the two women I had trained with, run the longest long runs, who had commiserated with me over injuries and weariness, I found myself calm and eager.  This was just like another training run, right?

Lance taking my photo while riding
We took off, and I felt good.  The plan was to hang back with the 4:10 pace group, then take off to hit the goal of 4 hours.  The runners were thick; weaving through the crowds was difficult for the first part.  We ran and chatted and looked out for L on his bike and other spectators that we knew.  My body grew warm as I ran, feeling strong and fast, and I ditched my long-sleeved shirt with a friend's family member.  As we continued for a few miles, I had to force myself to stay slow, but I finally couldn't take it anymore--as we neared the governor's mansion and waved hello to Governor Beebe, I took off, maintaining a good clip for the next twelve miles.

I felt amazing: the weather was beautiful, the spectators cheering me on and calling me out by name.  I had on fun socks (along with my fellow two runners), so I was recognizeable; one spectator saw me a second time and enthusiastically shouted out my name.  I soaked up the energy, the Gatorade, the energy gels, the slices of orange and chunks of banana, and I ran.

I ran.

And ran.

I ran beside an interesting woman named Kari from Tulsa who was running her fifth+ marathon for the joy of it--she had no goal in mind.  I had caught up with her after mile 15 when she snagged a beer from the Michelob guy.  We chatted for the next couple of miles, and she egged me on a bit, commenting about how well I was running for my very first.

L continued to catch up with me. I was cheerful and happy; I begged chapstick and sunscreen from him, and it was nice to break the monotony.  Honestly, though, I was so much in the zone that I barely registered the passing miles--it really wasn't until mile 20 that I started to feel the toll the mileage was taking on my body.  But even then, I ran strong, reducing my total average pace from 9:24 to 9:06 by that point.  Around mile 22, I spotted the ladies on the other side of the long out-and-back section, I screamed at them and they screamed at me, cheering me on, and I got an extra burst of energy.

When I hit mile 24, I was growing tired.  L was beside me for the most part, encouraging me.  I was tired and ready to be finished but still running strong.  Just before the finish, I had to tell him that I needed to be in my own head for the last quarter mile, but his presence was indispensable throughout the race.  He was sweet enough to be support crew to my two friends who were a bit behind me, biking back and forth to encourage them.

Finally, the finish line loomed.  I picked up my pace, finishing strong, punching my watch. It read 4:00--but was that my finishing time? I found myself suddenly unable to walk properly where I had just been running a moment before.  They handed me the massive finishers medal in all it's shiny, massive glory, but my mind was too fogged to fully appreciate it yet.

Shortly, however, it clicked.  I went and got my results--4:00:28! I had really hit my A goal! I could hardly believe it!  I found my friends and L and we relaxed, took photos, and drank chocolate milk and ate snacks and shared our experiences.  I was euphoric and eager to run another marathon.

I had heard that a marathon can be a life-changing experience, and for me, in that instant, it was.  I finished the project to completion.  I ran hard and fast and LOVED it.  I'm eager to run some shorter distances and not have to train so long and hard, but it was all worth it.  And now I can check that off the list.

But even today, I still find it a little surreal.  Did I really run that far?  And kick ass while doing it?  I certainly have the medal and sore muscles to prove it.

*All caps VERY necessary.