I’m a marathoner! It’s still kind of hard to believe that I actually did it.
I followed a long, intense training plan for this race with my friends from the HOTV running group. It was based on a marathon training plan by Coach Jack Daniels and it runs for 20 weeks with mileage up to 65 miles per week. Suffice it to say, I heavily modified the plan because I’m lazy and I also just did not have the running base to begin throwing down that kind of mileage every week. My main goals were: Run the race as fast as I can and not get injured in the meantime.
In retrospect I’m glad I was conservative. Many of my friends ended up injured during training for various reasons and we all got a little burnt out from training so hard for 20 weeks straight. I ran all the long Saturday runs (many at marathon pace or tempo pace) and most of the Tuesday track workouts and then filled it in with a few miles a couple times a week for a total of about 40 miles/week. Not a lot, but apparently it was enough to get me there.
Marathon morning came early. I was up at 3:45 after sleeping soundly all night. Strangely, I didn’t feel anxious or overly nervous. I calmly dressed and fixed my hair and made myself some coffee. Then I grabbed my carefully packed bag and drove to my friend Lisa’s house. At 4:45, Sourabh picked us up in his minivan and we made the rounds through Corvallis, collecting our other running friends. On the way to Eugene, I ate a Clif Bar and a banana and helped Janine sharpie names onto her right arm for her marathon ritual of running a mile for each of her friends.
We arrived in Eugene as the sun came up and passed a downtown hotel with a line of yellow school buses parked out front. They were the shuttles, taking all marathoners to the start line. The streets were filled with runners making their way to the shuttles. My stomach suddenly gave a lurch and I put my head in my hands and moaned, “Oh my gosh! Now it seems real! I can’t do this…it’s too far!” Janine and Lisa patted me on the back and reassured me that I could indeed do it. We circled through the UO campus and came across Gerhard’s secret parking spot. It was only 100 yards from the starting line and the porta-potties, and no one else was there!
We all piled out of the van and got busy pinning on our bibs, our black ribbons for Boston, tying our race shoes, and applying liberal amounts of BodyGlide for chafing. I pinned a couple Gu gels inside my shorts, a trick I recently learned as a convenient way to carry gels without pockets. Some did a few warm-up strides and we all made a couple trips to the portapotties which had steadily increasing lines which allowed plenty of time for photo ops with Ana Lu.
Jenna and Lisa came to the bathroom line to let me know the marathon was about to start and I better high-tail it to my corral. By the time I made it to my corral, it was filling up with runners and I couldn’t find them. I located Elias and Sourabh, but I felt a little distracted because we had all been planning on starting and running together. The national anthem was sung and we had a moment of silence for the Boston marathon bombing victims. It felt good to close my eyes and clasp my hands under my chin and calm my mind for a minute. Then, the count-down was given and the wave of runners started to move.
The first mile was effortless, as we left the campus and wound through neighborhoods. I couldn’t stop smiling as we sailed past crowds of spectators waving signs and cheering. While I knew it was still early, the 7:50 pace felt ponderous. ”Twenty-six miles of this will be no sweat”, I told myself.
Soon, I spied Lisa and Jenna running right behind the 3:25 pacer. Sourabh, Elias and I caught up to them and we all settled into running together, chatting easily with one another and the friendly Clif Bar Team pacer.
At mile 3, I saw Keith, Jessie and E holding signs and cheering loudly. To my surprise, my sister Danae and sister-in-law Corina were there too! Danae was wearing a shirt she’d made that said “Team Rachel – Run, Chicken, Run!” and they had a slew of brightly colored, encouraging (and hilariously sarcastic) homemade signs. Seeing them made my heart soar – they had gotten up so early and come all this way just for me!
I saw Scott and Jenni cheering a short while later. It was so fun to be surprised by familiar faces along the course. Things were going well and we were running easily. That smile was still plastered on my face, but my right foot was beginning to hurt. I have small extra navicular bones on the inside of my feet and they used to hurt when I was an adolescent but haven’t bothered me in years. My shoes seem to have been rubbing them the last few weeks though, and the pressure on the bone was starting to cause my right navicular to be painful as I ran.
I knew it was likely to bother me, but I also knew I could run through it. So from mile 5 onward, the pain developed but I kept loping along. The road canted sharply to the right for a while (it felt like we were in a NASCAR race) and I had to run along the center ridge to keep the pressure off my foot. We were easily staying up with the 3:25 pacer though. At one point, the girl next to me tripped over her own feet and hit the pavement hard. I yelled and looked back to see if she was okay but we were running so fast she was instantly out of my sight. The pacer quickly handed his balloon sign to a random runner and told him to keep up the pace while he went to check on her. For a good two miles, Random Runner paced us and then the pacer suddenly reappeared and took the reins again. I’m glad he didn’t hand me the sign. I would have been horrified at that much responsibility!
The miles flew by. I wasn’t even feeling tired as we passed the halfway mile mark at 1:42:00. Our pacer was really helpful, giving us reminders to relax our shoulders, let the downhill slopes carry us, reminding us when to eat our gels. He told stories and kept our minds off the miles. I was really thankful to be running with a pace group.
Just less than two hours in, while I was somewhere around 15 miles, Keith got an automatic text message saying that I’d finished the race at a world record speed of 1:57:01. Everyone got a big laugh out of that, especially considering they’d just seen me running a few minutes ago. They chalked it up to a glitchy computer chip in my bib.
Keith and my cheering crew kept popping up mile after mile, hollering my name and waving their awesome signs. I was so happy to see them every time. Every time I saw them, I needed the encouragement just a little bit more than the time before.
Keith would run into the race with me briefly and hand me a water bottle and a Gu, and then duck back out. It wasn’t til mile 17 that I breathlessly told him my right navicular was killing me. I knew something was seriously wrong with it at that point, but I wasn’t about to slow down to find out. I just needed to tell someone.
Scott L. jumped in and ran a mile with me and took some pictures of me looking like a happy goofball. I was quite impressed that he could run while talking, taking pictures and holding my water bottle. After he left it took me a while to get back into the zone. I felt a little lonely and my stomach felt strange from all the Gu and water I’d been consuming.
I saw my crew again at mile 21 and high-fived all of them. Keith made me take one last Gu and I tried to refuse it but he insisted so I tucked it in my bra strap where it stayed for the rest of the race. I felt like I was going to vomit if I ate one more of those things. Keith shouted that they’d see me at the finish and then I knew I was on my own for the next 5 miles. That’s when things started to get tough.
Around mile 21.5, I felt myself fatiguing. The pacer warned us this was normal and said we just had to push through the next couple miles and it would get better as we got closer to our goal. But his balloons started to bob just a little farther ahead of me with each step. I fixed my eyes on Sourabh’s shoulder blades, watching them go up and down with each step, trying to zone out and just focus on keeping up with him. Jenna and Lisa and Elias had dropped behind me out of my line of sight.
Mile 22 suddenly felt very, very difficult. I had gone from effortlessness to feeling like my legs were made of lead. I let the pacer get a few more yards ahead of me and I told myself I’d catch him in just a minute. The man running beside me had his 14-year old daughter pacing him. She chattered on, “You got this Pops. You knew this would be hard, but just push through the pain! Reel that pacer in, Pops! Just push a little harder and you can BQ!” She’d been running with him for the past 5 miles, flitting in and off the path, running around fire hydrants, dropping her Gu and dodging runners to pick it up again. She had been driving me a little crazy, but now that push came to shove, I found myself grateful for her incessant patter. I ran beside her dad for a while, pretending the encouragement was for me and it really gave me a little extra push to keep my legs moving.
Miles 23 and 24 were awful. I wanted to die. I wanted off the course. The idea of three more miles didn’t seem hopeful – it seemed an impossible distance. The pacer and his ballons were out of sight around the bend in the path. I slowed to a walk for just a few steps, feeling defeated. There was no way I’d make my time goal of 3:25 and I was certain that Goal B of beating 3:35 was shot too. I didn’t turn around but I just knew the 3:35 pacer’s balloons were right behind me. I forced my legs to start running again. It helped to look at my wrist where Keith had written in fine-point Sharpie, “Run fast, have fun. You can do it!” and at my fingernails painted blue and yellow for Boston representing both my qualification time goal and the victims of the bombing. Each reminder kept my legs moving for just a few more steps.
At mile 25 I began straining to see Hayward Field but I couldn’t figure out where I was in relation to the campus. At this point I truly felt the race would never, ever end. I walked another few steps and thought how good it would feel to just lie down on the grass and quit.
But I wouldn’t let myself do it. I’d trained too hard and this race meant too much to me. I was going to finish victorious, if it took everything in me!
Then finally, FINALLY we were back on the road leading to the stadium and there were spectators lining the streets. I felt like I was running SOO SLOW, but I think it was all in my head. It took every last ounce of energy in my body to run through the gates of Hayward Field and round the corner onto the track. The thought of being done running consumed my mind. I heard my family shouting my name as I ran those last 200 yards towards the finish line. And then, unbelievably, the blue line was before me. I put my hand over my heart for Boston and crossed the finish line at 3:27:16. I heard my name over the loudspeaker and looked up and saw Lisa right behind me, pictured on the Jumbotron. I did it!!!!
Then a volunteer slipped a medal over my head, and someone else handed me a space blanket (which I eagerly grabbed – it seemed really important to me at the time to “look like a real marathoner”). I got a water bottle and then just stood there spacing out. I wanted a nap so bad. Water. Sleep. Water. Sleep. That was truly all that was going through my head right then.
I stumbled into Janine in the post-race area. She was wrapped in a space blanket waiting for all of us. She told me to eat something because I looked pale. I ate about 6 mandarin oranges and they were the best thing I’d ever eaten. Then I got a chocolate milk and drank the whole thing in record time. Then I felt a little sick. I tried to sit down to untie my shoe where it was rubbing my navicular but my legs wouldn’t cooperate, so I wandered around aimlessly for a while.
As everyone in our group crossed the finish line, we compared war wounds. Janine was in a lot of pain but putting a brave face on it. Something had happened to her hip at mile 18 and she’d finished the race in agony. Some of us had ice packs on knees, some had stomach issues…we were all so tired and sore. But we’d finished and we had a bunch of personal bests to show for it! Oh glorious finish line!
I finally made my way out of the restricted area to find Keith, Danae, Corina, Jessie and E waiting for me. They followed me around while I stretched and sat in an ice bath. That didn’t last long. I had had enough misery for one day!
Keith checked the computer at the results tent and apparently my name was showing up as the winner of the entire marathon on the front page of the Eugene Marathon website. Friends were already sending me Facebook messages and emails to congratulate me! I’m not really sure what was going on with the electronic results system, but it was fun to have it work in my favor for a little while. It’s probably the only time I’ll ever see my name in first place for a large marathon!
My mom and Mark sent me a bouquet of flowers!
Then we all went out to eat a post-race brunch at Glenwood Restaurant on Willamette and I tell you, food has never tasted so good. And then, I went home and took a delicious two and a half hour nap.
My foot still hurts and is quite swollen. I can only stand to wear flip-flops at this point, but I am confident it will resolve with rest.
I’m still reflecting on that race and what it means to me personally that I was able to run 26.2 miles.
It was simultaneously more fun and more difficult than I ever anticipated.
I feel so blessed to have a body and mind that are strong enough to go the distance. I truly thank God for that ability every time I run. It is a huge gift and I am resolved not to take it for granted.
I am endlessly thankful for the many friends and strangers who cheered for me, ran alongside me, sent messages of encouragement to me and otherwise helped me reach my goal. No exaggeration – I could not have run that race without my community of friends and family.
And all that? That is why distance running feels just like life.