Sorry about the bad link in my first report. I didn't realize you would have to be a customer to read it. Here it is, reprinted. First published in the Ogden Standard-Examiner May 21, 2009, Sports Plus section.
At this point, I will crawl if I have to. And my seizing, balled fist of a hamstring is telling me that crawling might be the only option for reaching the 300 yards-away finish line of my first (and only I am vehemently vowing), marathon.
In December, I was mourning the fact that my mother’s gene gift of a superhuman metabolism no longer allowed me to consume six pumpkin chocolate chip cookies a day without feeling some of the effects. I was also looking at turning 30 in the coming year and “in between children.” It was the perfect time to do something crazy. My husband, Mike, suggested skydiving. I felt that was a bit too dangerous with two children to take care of. How about a marathon? That seemed sufficiently crazy and not as dangerous. I couldn’t convince Mike to do it too, but I ponied up the cash and tried to convince myself that I was a long distance runner.
My body did not convince too easily. It wasn’t that I had never ran before, I had. I just thought that three miles was long, and races should end in roughly five minutes or less or if absolutely necessary maybe a twenty-two minute 5K was okay. I had to trick myself into long runs by running far away from my house and having no way home but running. I bribed myself with promises of treats at the end of each run. (I heard that’s not counterproductive at all.) I also had to get a running partner (thanks Cristina!), or many of my running days would have been spent eating instead. I love eating.
As the marathon neared, I started trying to bargain with my body. “Okay body, if you just don’t blow an O-ring, and let me finish this run I will only eat good foods from now on. I will massage you. I will let you rest indefinitely. Just hang with me knees. Don’t let go hips. Hang on.”
I made it through my training program (three days of running, three of cross training) and the requisite aches and pains, but just barely. The week before the marathon my doctor told me that a pain in my foot was a stress response in the bone and that I had to stop if I felt pain.
I might have rolled my eyes at him. This was a marathon. I suspected that there might be some pain involved. “Limping,” he said. “You have to stop if you are limping. And no pain killers.” Fine. Fine.
I contemplated not running, but then I thought about all the time and money and effort I had sunk into this stupid marathon, as I began to refer to it. I was going to run.
On race day, I woke up at 3:15 a.m., ate some instant oatmeal and nervously dressed myself in my race clothes. Just because I changed my clothes three times and bit my nails nervously and woke up before I intended did not mean I was nervous.
My sister-in-law, Stacie, who was also running her first marathon, picked me up at 4:00 and confirmed my suspicion that we were crazy. We parked downtown and after meeting two more friends who were running, Leah and Annie, we boarded the buses for the start line.
We drove part of the course on the way up and I tried not to think about running that same distance. It took a long time to get to the starting line up by Red Rock Lodge above Pineview Dam. Leah and I chatted on the way up and decided to try and go out at 8:00-8:30 pace. I had three goals my super goal: 3:30, my goal: 3:45 and my ‘okay, I can still be happy’ goal: 4:00. 8:30 would put us at 3:42, just under my goal. I figured I would have to lay down a few eight minute miles just to guarantee that my slow finish miles would even out for a good final time.
Fifteen minutes before seven a.m. they told us the clothing bus was leaving. We stripped down to our shorts and shirts and lined up with the two thousand other runners. A muffled burst of sound, which was the starting gun, and we were off. Leah and I hit our first mile at 7:50, which was alright with me. I reminded myself of Seth Wold’s (last year’s winner), advice about being conservative the first miles in order to have some legs left for the last downhill eight miles of the canyon. We varied between 8:00 and 8:30 pace, slowing for aid stations for the first nine miles.
Suddenly there’s trouble in the land of my stomach. “Come on Immodium, work your magic,” I think. But it’s not working. I relay my need for a porta pot to Leah. At the next aid station the lines are too long, so I continue. “Gut it out” is taking on a new meaning. Finally at mile 11 I find a porta potty and bid farewell to Leah. She promises to jog slowly for a little to wait. But my visit to the throne takes about three minutes. Three minutes is enough to make it so I never see Leah again. The next two aid stations I pay more respects to my porta potty friends. Disgusted I throw the rest of my Shot Blocks into the porta potty.
At this point I think, “There is no shame in stopping at the half way point. I can always use my foot as an excuse. If I see Mike and the girls, I’m quitting. This is crap. I feel awful. Who’s dumb idea was this anyway?”
As I run through the halfway point I don’t see Mike. I guess I have to keep running. As I visit another porta potty I decide to implement the run/walk method. At this point, I have given up on time goals. If I finish, I will be happy. I notice a lot more runners slowing and stopping to stretch or walk a little. I try to convince myself that there is no shame in a walk/run method. I intended to do this all along, right? If I can just make it to the canyon, just around this super huge Pineview lake. When did it get so big? Marathon runners are crazy. Just make it across the dam.
Before I reach the dam, there’s a hill at mile 14. “Love the hill. Love the hill,“ a sign reads. At the top, the aid station workers are dressed in Hawaiian gear and one lady holds candy at a table that says, “Need a prayer? Stop here.” I need a prayer, but if I stop I might not start again. I’m almost to the downhill, almost to the canyon.
My legs start shimmying without my permission. I wonder if this looks funny from behind. I can’t see anyone else’s legs shimmying. I’m back to running without walking, mostly. I wondered why they had so many aid stations starting from about mile 14 to the end, and I told myself I would only stop every fourth mile, but I find myself praying for every aid station and wanting to shout, “I love you!” to every aid station worker.
Finally I cross the dam, everyone who even smiles at me or yells out encouragement deserves a hallowed place in heaven. As my legs try to adjust to the downhill, I find that I am not grateful for the downhill. In fact I am cursing it. The scenery is lovely. That is my only distraction as different muscles in my body slowly tighten and release. Just keep moving. Just keep moving. I am still keeping my mile splits. They are now about 10-11 minutes. Ummm, I might still be able to make it under four hours, if I develop wings and start to fly.
When I reach mile 17 at The Oaks, I stop to grab an orange and my feet cramp crazily. I try to move them, but they are imitating an angry fist. Running on angry fists has never worked out well for me. I kick my shoes off in pain. My “Oh!Oh!Oh!s” of pain attract a nice guy who gets me a chair. Eventually I limp over to the medical tent and a nice lady rubs my feet, feeds me bananas and aspirin and sends me on my way.
The canyon is beautiful and as I near the waterfall I’m starting to believe that maybe I can finish this. Perhaps the misery can end. I promise myself I will walk when I get to the bottom of the canyon and it flattens out. I am afraid if I walk now I will cramp and never be able to start again.
As I near my promised walking spot, I see Mike, my husband, with our two daughters. Oh great. I can’t walk now. I love seeing my four-year-old shake her jingle bells at me, and my two-year-old yells desperately, “Mommy!” I smile, pretending I am having a good time.
They follow along the course for awhile, and I keep running and smiling. I haven’t looked at the pictures yet, but I imagine the smile is a bit forced.
The parkway is cool and nice, and I try to tell myself that I only have a 5K to go. I can do it. I can do it. An aid station worker tells me that my legs are getting burned. I think my legs are getting a lot more than burned.
Finally I find Grant. I can see the finish line. I can see it. This is the part I’m supposed to be good at. I can sprint. I can finish. I have always been a finisher. I lengthen my stride, I speed up. My hamstring clenches. I will crawl if I have to. I am going to finish. I stop and grab my hamstring, emotionally talking to myself out loud, not looking crazy at all, “Come back hamstring. Come back. I need you. Come on. Come on.” Eventually it releases enough to allow me to shuffle in a pretend run to the finish line.
4:12 the clock reads and I want to cry. But I don’t. I finished. I finished. I finished. And now I get to eat a Creamy.