I started my landmark birthday year with a marathon. The one thing I said I would never do. So really, this is just another reminder to never say never. Here’s the story of the day:
“Come run a marathon!”
“Come run a marathon in Napa. There’s concierge bottle service!”
And that’s how I came to run the 2017 Napa Valley Marathon with my husband Kenny, and friends Anne, Kim, and Kelly. Clearly I can easily succumb to peer pressure. I never thought I would run a marathon. I never wanted to to run one. But there’s this whole Ironman thing happening in October, and besides the chance to go to Napa and hang out with some awesome people, I figured that running a marathon wouldn’t be that bad of an idea.
I went in to this training scared – scared I would get hurt, scared I wouldn’t make the time cut off and get swept, and scared I just flat wouldn’t be able to do it. I’m not a fast runner. At all. Last time I trained for a standalone run race, I busted my ankle apart. So my goals were simple: make it through training uninjured, and finish. That was it. No time goals, no earth-shattering ideas.
Training was…meh. I had a lot of obstacles thrown at me from Christmas on. Holiday travel to both families, then a death in the family, then getting sick from my germy undergrads, and my IT band basically telling me “I hate you, and I’m going to show you how much!” I missed out on some runs, and some runs were just pure shit. I told Kenny at one point that I was surprised at how easy it was for me to give up and quit on a run. That never happens in the pool or on my bike. But something about going over a certain distance running, I would just be like ‘meh, screw it.’ That bothered me a lot. But the potential idea of DNF’ing and completely embarrassing myself bothered me more, so I kept going.
I made it to the start line mostly uninjured (my IT band was still not awesome, and I was having knee pain, but it wasn’t bad enough for me to pull out), so goal number 1 was achieved. I was a complete and total basket case, though I tried to keep that under wraps, because I didn’t want anyone else to have to deal with my mental struggle bus. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait around too long at the start.
I always have trouble going out too fast. With no pacers and no headphones allowed, I knew I would have to be extra diligent to watch myself. The roads for the first few miles were a killer for me. Not a lot of actual flat road – the road was full of cambers, so even when you were running downhill, you were still running uphill. I spent a lot of time either running zig zags to find the flattest spots, or figuring out where the least amount of camber was. That quickly became really hard on my knees and the ankle I had hurt before Charleston. Despite that, I was really pleased with my time and pace through mile 10. Miles 10 – 14 were a lot more uphill than I realized, and my splits started to show it. I had a good solid mile 13, and if I could have ended the race there, I would have been really pleased. But…there was still another 13 to go. I had been running with the same group of people, but I lost them around mile 14 because I had to go to the bathroom. I was bummed I lost them, because they had been a pretty solid group to pace off of. At mile 13, and police cruiser passed by blaring “Living on a Prayer” over his speakers, and I just laughed. Not long after that, another one came by blaring “Don’t stop believing” and a bunch of us just started cheering at that. That was awesome.
Miles 14 – 18 I don’t really remember much of. I was trying to figure out a pace/rhythm of my own, and kept switching back between trying to run, and doing run/walk intervals, which probably didn’t do me any favors. I had to take another bathroom break at mile 16 (which I didn’t mind, because it meant I was actually hydrating, which I am SO bad at), and at mile 18 I stopped to reapply vasoline to my feet. I discovered I had multiple blisters (shit) so I put a ton of vasoline on – so much that I felt like I was running through mush for the first few hundred meters after that.
Let me just talk about the weather for a moment. It was cold when we started. There was visible snow on the mountain tops. Kim very nicely picked up throwaway sweats for me and Kenny at Goodwill, and I kept mine on until mile 3. I ran in capris, a tank and a jacket then. It rained. It was sunny. It got warm. Then it got cold. Then it got grey. Then it rained again. Then it got sunny. At one pointed I said out loud, “Make up your damn mind, weather!” I debated taking my jacket off at one point, but literally 5 minutes later it got really cold. I figured I’d just leave the jacket on at that point, and sweat a lot if it got hot again.
Miles 18 – 23 were…I didn’t hit the wall, because I never felt like I couldn’t take another step or push on any further. I knew I could, but at this point I was running by myself, no one around me. No headphones allowed. So I was really just damn bored, and having a hell of a time getting into a pace. I knew what I was capable of, but I was all over the place pace wise. I’d look down and see 10:xx at one point, and a minute or so later 14:xx. I knew I was rapidly losing the bank of time I had built myself in the first half of the race (Napa had a 6 hour cutoff). The hill at mile 20 was just a whole bunch of yuck. When I got to mile 20, I knew I had just 10k left, and I knew I could handle that. I looked at the time, and realized that I basically had no room left to play with. So I started to panic. Every mile from then on was just a mental calculation of “Ok, I need to run XX and I can still make it.”
Mile 23 I finally caught up to some people. One group was obnoxious as hell, so I tried to get away from them. I found two women who were walk/running, so I paced off them and eventually passed them. At mile 24, I realized I probably wasn’t going to make the time cut off and I started to cry. A lot. At mile 25, I passed a volunteer, who said to me “You’re still going to be a marathoner no matter the time.” Which I realize was meant to be helpful, but I wanted to punch him. One of the ladies I had passed caught up to me and asked if I was on target, and I shook my head no. She said “But you’re my inspiration! You’re faster than me!” and then proceeded to run up ahead of me and I lost sight of her. Gosh, thanks lady.
I decided at mile 25 I was going run that last mile. I had a fairly comfortable pace, and dammit. I was going to finish running. At mile 25.5, the hail started. Big, pea sized hail, coming down pretty hard and fast. It freaking hurt, and I switched to walking, because with my luck, I’d slip on hail and break my leg. Once it eased up, I started running again.
I wound through the neighborhood, and remembered one of the people I was listening to at the start of the race. He said “No matter what your time is, if you finish, you’re a marathoner, and no one can take that away from you.” So I started crying again. I turned a corner and there were two women up ahead cheering me on. One of them said “I’m going to take your picture!” and I thought “Ok random woman, take my picture.” So I smiled as I went past, and one of them said “Anne is at the finish!” I then had a total “Oh my God” moment, because it was Kim and Kelly, and my brain clearly wasn’t working because I didn’t even realize it was them until they said that. I think I said “I didn’t realize it was you!” and kept running. Wound around, saw Anne cheering her head off as I ran down the shoot under the finish. I saw Kenny right up past the finish line, and I just ran to him. Yes, still crying. A volunteer gave me water, and asked if I was ok. I shook my head yes, and kept crying. He told me to go get my medal, which I did, and then I went over to fence and just leaned over and tried to breathe. The volunteer came back and put his arm around me and asked if I was ok again, and I said “Yes. I’m a glass case of emotion!!!!!” I think I told Kenny the same thing too.
Cutoff time was 6 hours. I finished in 6:00:24. I had secretly hoped for 5:30, but whatever. I did it. I’ll admit, I’m more embarrassed by that time than I probably should be.
I think that what I learned about myself from this was way more valuable than running the actual marathon. This was, by far, the hardest thing I have done in a long time, and it challenged me like I haven’t been challenged…ever? Writing my dissertation was easier. Getting tenure was easier. This was just tough as hell. I came to the realization though that while I enjoy running, I enjoy it at shorter distances. However, I don’t love it, like I love riding my bike and swimming, and that’s perfectly fine. My long runs took forever, because I’m so slow. I would like to get faster, obviously, and I’ll start working some speed work in, but I just really don’t want to go out and run a lot. I have really high standards for myself, and for me to accept that it’s ok to not be an amazing and fast runner is really the biggest victory for me in all of this. I’m looking forward to IM Louisville training – mostly because I can get back on my bike and in the pool.
I’m so glad I got to do this with my amazing husband and friends. Each one of you inspire me and motivate me in more ways than I can tell you. I am so thankful for their constant support and encouragement.
I know we should never say never…but I’m pretty solidly in the ‘never again’ camp right now.
Jazz hands, over and out!!!