The night before the race I set the three different alarms on my Ironman watch for 3:59, 4:00, and 4:01 AM respectively. None of the alarms were necessary though — I hardly slept a wink that night and when the first of the three alarms went off, I arose without hesitation. We adorned our race uniforms and warm-ups that had been strategically laid out the night before, and then each consumed a bowl of steel cut oats (according to Carl, the breakfast of champions). Carl’s parents and brother were staying with us in the same hotel room and it was nearly impossible not to wake them up with our pre-race activities.
When we were ready to go, Floyd (Carl’s dad) drove us to the park where we picked up the bus to go to the starting line. The bus we boarded was almost full, so Carl and I had to sit in separate seats. I sat next to a woman who was running her first marathon. In the past, I was always one to be silent before races – in high school and college the bus ride to meets was a time to focus on the task at hand. But this woman was very friendly, and I enjoyed hearing about how much this race meant to her and her family. Our conversations certainly helped ease my anxiety (and I believe hers too).
We got to the start about 5:30AM. It was pretty dark and cold on top of the hill, and loud music was blaring and all sorts of people were dressed in bulky clothing kneeling around fire pits trying to keep warm. There was elite everything – an elite warm-up area, elite fire pits, elite port-o-potties. I felt pretty special. After some time, Rusty and Jim Sloan showed up and we talked a bit about how we were feeling, what shoes we were wearing, etc. We were all anxious for the race to begin.
In retrospect, I should have taken more time to warm up, but I was trying to conserve my energy (and my body parts, which as you know if you’ve read my previous posts, have not all been working well these days). So my warm up consisted of two short laps around the warm-up area. I tried to keep as much clothing on as possible until the very last minute, but at about 6:40 I put my warm-ups into a bag and threw them into an UHaul truck that was supposed to bring them to the finish. I kept a long-sleeve shirt on, but took this off seconds before the gun thinking that my body would warm up once I got moving.
When the gun went off it was still pretty dark out. All I could see were a bunch of heads bobbing up and down traveling downhill. I couldn’t read my watch for the first few mile splits, but I felt good and relaxed and I quickly learned that the people I was running with were all trying to run about my goal pace. At least two of the women near me shared my goal – 2:47, the cut-off for the Olympic trials. I told them that it was great to have company.
As we approached mile 4 or so, the sun was coming up, but it didn’t feel like it was getting any warmer. We were still running downhill, effortlessly. I was chilly and felt like my heart was barely beating above resting rate. At around mile 6 I started feeling a strange pain in my right thigh, mostly on the side and right above my knee. Thinking I was just paranoid and that it would disappear, I kept going.
Between miles 6 and 7 there was actually a little bit of an uphill near a small town called Veyo. I never thought that I’d actually look forward to an uphill. At the top of the hill one woman I was running with said “I guess the hard part is over.” “Right,” I said, “unfortunately it’s the downhill I’m worried about!”
In the next few miles the pain kept on increasing in my right thigh. Then my left inner thigh started cramping, and before I knew it my legs were just one big cramp. I stopped for a minute and massaged them. “Come on girl,” another woman said as she passed me by.
I continued running until mile 12 and despite the growing pains in my legs I was a little under pace for a 2:46 (63:00 at 10 miles, ~1:16 for 12) but then I had to slip off the side of the road to go to the bathroom. At that point I realized just how bad my legs were – and the downhill was only going to get steeper.
I decided to give it one last try, so I ran another quarter mile or so but the pain was getting unbearable. As I stopped and massaged my legs, another woman passed me by and said something to me that will stick in my head for a long time. “Don’t worry, your day will come,” she said. Today was just not my day.
There’s much more to the story, but I think I will end here. In some ways I feel silly for even trying to run this marathon, let alone run it fast. Although my cardiovascular fitness was where I wanted it to be – even the up hills felt effortless – my leg strength was not. I simply wasn’t ready to handle the down hill, and the cold weather and lack of blood flow to my legs certainly didn’t help. But on a positive note, I stuck to my race plan (to drop out if I felt like I was injuring myself further) and nothing really bad happened. My feet, which have been bothering me for months, both felt great even after the race was over. Furthermore, I’m glad we made the trip to Utah. Carl ended up running a big PR (2:35:33) and really had an amazing race. I’m so proud of him! We got to spend time with Carl’s family too, which is always fun, and were able to see some beautiful sites in southern Utah. Moreover, my interaction with other runners, both elite and beginners, helped to remind me one of the reasons why I love running so much – runners are great people.
I’m not ready to give up on my goal yet though, and the message from the wise woman runner reiterates in my head. “Your day will come.” Time will tell whether this means achieving my 2:47 goal or just discovering what my limits really are.
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