Disclaimer: When I started this post, I was going to try a short recap, keeping it brief, highlighting the high points and low points. I failed. It's long, it's wordy, and it was therapeutic. So read on if you have some time (or insomnia).
I was thinking about the post I wrote about pain during the marathon, and wondering whether I still believed what I had written. After a few days to reflect, I maintain the same outlook towards pain, but I have a newfound respect for discomfort.
Let me start from the beginning, and I'll try to be brief, always a difficult thing for me. The trip began with a fairly uneventful plane ride from Sanford to Wilmington, N.C., where I stayed with Christy for the night. She was not feeling well after catching a stomach bug from her son. The next morning, I ran just under 4 miles in Carolina Beach as the sun was beginning to rise. It was a cool, clear morning, and I ran an out-and-back route along the main drag next to the ocean. I caught a few glimpses of the water through the hotels and homes between the road and the beach, but I could hear the wonderful crashing sound of the surf from the road. Christy had told me previously, and I experienced that morning, that the drivers of Carolina Beach, even at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, have no respect whatsoever for runners and WILL NOT move any closer to that yellow line in the road in order to give a runner more room. I doubt any of them would have even flinched had I lunged from the shoulder onto the hood of their cars. But overall it was a lovely pre-marathon day run.
We headed over to Christy's friend Kristen's house around 8:45--she agreed to drive, and we anticipated a 5 - 5 1/2 hour trip to Virginia Beach. All I cared about was getting to the expo in enough time to calmly collect my bib number and goodies. A little browsing through the expo would be nice, too, although I told myself I didn't "need" anything, so no big deal if there wasn't time to shop. First roadblock of the day--20 minutes after we leave Kristen's she gets a call from her husband...he locked himself out of the house and needs her to let him in. Soooo...we drive back to her house, get him in to get his keys, and we're off for Take #2. After that things went well--a couple of pee breaks, lunch at Cracker Barrel, and we arrive at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Amazingly, the temperature had dropped 15 degrees between our stop at the Cracker Barrel and VA Beach! None of us were prepared for that. We made our way into the expo, picked up our goodies, and then we shopped. I'm very proud of the $2 running shirt I snagged--marked down because of a little hole in the front, which looked to be caused by a pin or something, no big deal--plus a free Geico t-shirt, $10 running shorts and a couple more of my infamous "bondi band" headbands (apparently I'm known as the headband girl). Then off to the hotel. I wasn't sure about this hotel--it was the only one I found close enough to walk to the start that was under $100 per night before taxes, and my impression of VA Beach from online reading was similar to Daytona Beach. But we were pleasantly surprised with the hotel. It was clean, was a small suite with a full-size refrigerator, stove, microwave, toaster, etc. Overlooking the beach. Just right. That night we went in search of a pasta dinner...along with 24,000 other runners! The first place we tried had a wait so long they said come back later! Second place had a 20 - 30 minute wait, so we stayed there, had a nice pasta dinner, then went back to the hotel to bed. Of course, before dinner, I had already gone through my pre-race OCD ritual of laying out my race clothes and supplies, my pre-race supplies, my post-race supplies, and anything else I could remotely need between 6:30 am and 2:00 pm Sunday.
The half-marathon, which Kristen was running, started at 7am, and the marathon didn't start until 8:30. It was so strange not having to get up a 4am (or earlier, like at Disney) to get ready for the race. I didn't get up until almost 6:30, and had plenty of time to get ready before leaving the hotel room at 7:40. The start was 10 blocks north of the hotel, but the finish, which was the same for the half marathon, was a little closer. It was a little bit chilly, and windy, so I had long sleeves and gloves on for the walk to the start. As I passed the finish I realized I might be able to see the half-marathon male winner--it was so exciting! Two men were sprinting for the line, and although I was a little too far away to see them cross, it was very exciting to see them pass just one step apart from each other.
After that I made my way to the baggage drop, where I took some final pre-race photos, did my final prep, and met a man who was running his 95th marathon that day! I did a short warm-up, just to get the legs moving. My ankle hurt a little bit on the way to the start, but other than that I felt okay. I wasn't sure how my body would respond once we started. Additionally, I had decided to start with the 3:35 pace group. My goal was 3:40 in order to qualify for Boston, so I decided to start fast and try to hang on and minimize the damage for as long as possible. As we lined up at the start, I wasn't as nervous as I normally am, because there was nothing to do at that point except run. And off we went. There were two men serving as the pace leaders for the 3:35 group, one holding a stick with the 3:35 sign on the end--he was very tall, so I decided to just stick by him as my focal point. As we started, I felt okay. People running around the pace group started to chat, and I was content to just listen to their stories and remain quiet. No need to waste any energy talking! One poor young woman was unfortunate enough to attract the attention of this older gentleman running with the group. She was a polite Southern Belle--he was also polite, but oh my, SO chatty. During the first 10 miles, he had gotten out of her where she lives, what she does for fun (running, triathlons, swimming), that she had a stress fracture in her back 2 years ago, at what point she was going to "gel" during this race, how she should hold the cup at the water stations to minimize spill, at what point he had "gelled" and whether she had done so, as well, where she worked...very entertaining. She was so polite, I never would have had her patience. In response to his water cup suggestion (which she undoubtedly already knew), she simply replied, "Oh, that's a good idea! I think I'll try that!" (Insert sweet southern accent.) [As an aside, since I knew her name and home city due to my eavesdropping, I looked up her finishing time and was pleased to see she had qualified for Boston.]
And now we come to the reason I wasn't with her at the finish--the wheels fell off at mile 12. At mile 2 I realized the pace was too fast, but told myself just to hang on. At mile 4 I realized that my quads were already starting to complain, but just hold on. At mile 6.5, I went to grab my nutrition from my pocket (stinger chews), and as I reached for a water cup through the water stop, my bag of chews hopped out of my pocket. Stupid me turned around, amidst a gaggle of runners, to see if I could find the bag. I did not find it, and had to pick up the pace more than my legs could handle in order to catch back up to the pace group. Stupid, stupid, stupid...although in retrospect, I don't think that really did me in. I had a honey stinger gel in my sports bra, so I got that down, was back with the group, and was hurting bad. Actually, "hurting" is the wrong word...I was so uncomfortable. Normally during a run, I will assess with extreme detail how my body is feeling, the slight twinges and pains that crop up, and determine whether those feelings are normal or something to pay attention to. Because I knew things were not going well during this run, I tried to ignore these things and just focus on continuing. Stay with the 3:35 pacer. Just hang on. Just keep the legs moving. Don't worry about the fatigue. Then the doubts started creeping in: There's no way I can keep this up. Why are my quads so fatigued? How long can I hang on? What do I do when I can't hang on anymore? Just keep moving. Fight.
It got really tough. At mile 8 or 9, I felt the fatigue in my quads start to take over. Just make it to mile 12. Christy will be there cheering you on. Then reassess. The course was really nice. It was a mix of the main drag through the touristy area, a large divided highway leading to suburban neighborhoods, only one "hill" in the form of a fairly steep bridge (well, two hills, we had to cross the same bridge twice--once on the way out at mile 4 and on the way back just before mile 10). We ran on the boardwalk for a little while. The ocean was beautiful to my right, but I barely noticed, so focused on maintaining pace with the group I was, I practically missed the beauty of it. As we came upon mile 12, I started to lose the group. I just could not make my legs go as fast as I wanted them to. I saw Christy up on the right, cheering me on. I thought I waved and smiled, but she later told me I didn't--apparently my brain did not send the signal strongly enough to my limbs and face. She saw that I was not doing well. At the halfway point, I was walking.
Between miles 12 and 13 I seriously considered dropping out of the race. I knew at that point I was not going to make my Boston qualifying time, and really that was all that mattered to me. Short-sighted, I know. But I had been so focused on this goal that running a PR (beating 3:49) or simply finishing meant nothing to me. And I knew that I could not hold even a little bit slower of a pace to make my 3:40 BQ time, I was totally spent. In addition, I felt the effects of dehydration. I am convinced this was caused by the steroids prescribed by my doctor to reduce the inflammation in my ankle. I knew I should not have taken them. He thought they would get me all jacked up and make me hyper--they did not. The only effect I felt was dehydration. All week I had to drink extra water, and it seemed like it was never enough. Halfway through the race I felt the chills of dehydration and I stopped sweating, never a good sign. I soon convinced myself that quitting was not an option, just finish. From that point on I had to stop and walk at every water stop, sometimes more frequently. Miles 16 - 19 were a long, slightly uphill drag through a wooded area. After that we turned through a wide open military base, then headed back the way we came through a main drag in a residential area. At mile 20 the 3:45 pace group passed me, and I could not even keep pace with them. At mile 23, there were still marathon walkers and walk/runners making their way out on the course--they were at mile 14-15. I thought about their perseverance in continuing on with their marathons, each struggling in their own way, the day only getting warmer. A quick note on the temperature--the air was cool, there was a breeze, but the sun was shining bright, causing me to dump water on my head at every water stop after mile 14.
Finally I got to mile 24, only 2.2 to go. I had 20 minutes to beat 4 hours, and for the first time since mile 2, I had a goal. I did not want to go over 4 hours. So I continued plodding along. I considered myself one of the walking wounded on this stretch. Many runners around me were clearly fighting as I was to hang on and finish. Others seemed to be having a good race, and although I was a little jealous of them, I also felt happy for them, hoping they were meeting their goals. Some women behind me were still chatting away at this point--how in the world they were able to hold a continuous conversation this far along in the race is beyond me, but they did.
In the last 1.2 miles, I was running close to a woman named Michelle. I know this because our names are printed on our bib numbers, and the spectators were encouraging all of us by name. I passed Michelle; she passed me back. We turned from the main drag towards the boardwalk, running through a throng of Livestrong volunteers, cheering enthusiastically. We reached the boardwalk, tailwind helping us along, and I could see the big King Neptune statue down the way, preceding the finish. Just keep moving. It's almost over. You will break 4 hours...
And I did. I finished, 3:58:08, and felt a little bit like crying. Such a huge disappointment to train and focus for so long on a goal that I missed. However, I still accomplished something. 4 hours is a very respectable marathon, I think. There will always be others. It was a superbly organized race, a great course that traversed many different types of areas, keeping it interesting (for those with enough energy to pay attention). The volunteers and overall support was just fantastic. And the SWAG and after party, so awesome! The finishing chute was long and well-stocked. First water, then the medal, then some snacks (banana, granola bar, cookie), all handed to you by volunteers. Then a hat, then a sweatshirt! Just awesome. Then I saw Christy, my faithful supporter (thank you SO much Christy, for being so supportive while battling your own frustration of not being able to run the race you trained so hard for).
My legs were shot at the end. The quad cramps never went away, and starting at about mile 18, my upper calves started yelling at me, as well. As I tried to take my shoes off and put on dry socks and shoes, they cramped up so bad I was stuck in a contorted downward facing dog position on the grass next to the board walk. All I could say was "ow, ow, ow, ow, ow." All Christy could say as she watched me struggle was,"I don't know what to do, how can I help you?" I finally was able to move my foot and release the cramp, but holy shit did that hurt!
The after party was great. They had an enormous tent set up on the beach, with a live band, free beer (4 per participant!), and Irish stew. I had the stew, tried the beer (no matter how much I try, I just don't like it--I got two little sips down and left the rest--tragic, I know). Finally, I was ready to get back to the hotel, shower and rest. And that's what I did.
In retrospect, I have no idea what really caused the bad race. I'm pretty sure the steroids caused the dehydration, and that I never should have taken them, swollen ankle or not. My ankle did not hurt AT ALL during the race (although it hurt two days after and is still clearly injured). I think my lack of speedwork in my training overall was a major culprit in my quad fatigue problem. But I also think it just wasn't a good day for me. In the week since, I've gone back and forth about whether to run another marathon in the next two months. The only flat course that's a Boston qualifier I can find is in Providence, and I don't think I want to spend the money on that. There's always next year, right?
Well, if you made it this far in the story, thanks for reading and for reliving my journey with me. I have few regrets, will learn from my mistakes, and am proud of my accomplishment. Keep on running!