I Ran for the Red

Hey, did you know I’ve been training for a marathon? I know I haven’t talked about it much, but I’ve done some training here and there over the past few months…

Yay!

So, Saturday was the much anticipated expo and packet pickup day.  After browsing the expos at the Rock N Roll Half and VIA, I was all set to stock up on Gu and possibly a new headband or tshirt with a catchy slogan (previous purchases include “will run for margaritas” and “will run for beer.” I have a theme.).  Alas, twas not to be.  Apparently, Run for the Red is but a teeny blip on the expo radar and not a drop of Gu could be found.  I did leave, however, with a brand spanking new tech shirt (free) and a bag full of tourism brochures for Stroudsburg.  Oh – and two (count ’em!) notepads from the state representative.  On to my runner’s haven, Aardvark!

Aardvark Sports Shop is my absolute fave place to shop for running gear.  Runners work there and actually know what they’re talking about as they fit you for shoes and answer your questions.  (Unlike walking into Lady Foot Locker and explaining I was in need of new running shoes, whereupon I was led to the “prettiest pair.”)  I grabbed my Gu, some Chomps, and chatted with the cashier who had already run Run for the Red and was running it again the next day.  She warned me not to go all out in the beginning on the downhill because there’d be plenty of uphill at the end.  I soaked it all in (and promptly forgot it once the race started, but we’ll get to that in a bit), grabbed my stash, and headed home to ready the house for the post-race celebration.

Race day! It was actually race day!  Up at 5 am (actually before, because I was excited/nervous/in need of bladder emptying) to get myself and the M&M Clan out the door by 6:30 am.  Being the organized gal that I am, everything had been laid out the night before, so we nearly got out the door on time.  (I never fully expect us to leave when we plan to; this is why we usually give ourselves a 30-minute “oh my God we have four kids” window.)  I forced down some oatmeal and green tea and packed a cooler of snacks for the rest of the Clan and a bag of gear for myself.  Off we went, some of us jittery and others sleepy.

Our course of action was a drop off and immediate departure for the fam, with nary a monkey foot leaving the van.  I geared up, posed for pictures, stole last-minute hugs and kisses and waved good-bye as they chugged on to the first spectator spot.  Suddenly, I was alone with 30 minutes to spare…I had to pee.

Luckily, the crowd at the starting line was minimal.  This was not the chaos I was used to from previous races, but that suited me just fine.  I was able to use the portapotties TWICE before I meandered over to the starting line just behind the 4:40 pace group.  I was feeling spry and thought I would at least start out with a faster group.  To help me chillax, I listened to the Fab Four until start time and marvelled at the wide range of runners.

Two things that continuously amaze me are the diversity and the community of runners.  You may picture marathon runners as incredibly sinewy and lean, and some of them are.  But they (WE!) are a much more diverse group than most would imagine.  There was not a “type” anywhere yesterday…Cultures, races, shapes, sizes, levels of fitness – everyone was represented.  And everyone was accepted with enthusiasm.  Runners are one of the most welcoming and enthusiastic groups I have ever seen.  When we find each other, we are like dogs spotting other dogs.  I swear, I may have even waggled my rear at times.  Because no one other than a fellow runner will truly understand what it means and why we’re NOT crazy to do what we do.  Also, we want to convert everyone we meet.  If we could only pause long enough in our weekend runs to knock on a few doors, we’d be eerily similar to certain religious sects.

So it was a good feeling there at the starting line.  There is always the jumbled mess at the beginning when everyone is fresh, but by mile two we began to separate.  I kept in pace with the 4:40 crowd and began taking my intervals somewhere between miles 2 and 3.  The first hour went by as it always does, in a haze of settling in to my stride and my breathing and gaining control of my thoughts (today they went something along the lines of “Holy FUCK! What did I sign up for?!?).  I always find my strength and my zen around the second hour and this day was no different.  I turned up my volume (one luxury of racing: you don’t have to listen for vehicles) and zoned out, forgetting the other runners and focusing instead on me. 

That’s a lie.  I didn’t eliminate them from my thoughts.  That 4:40 pace sign was taunting me endlessly, bobbing up and down in its irritating, singsongy way.  I pushed harder.  I totally forgot the advice of Wise Aardvark Lady and took full advantage of the downhill and the shade and the slight coolness of the morning.  That’s a partial lie, too.  I didn’t forget; I ignored.  This led to a sweaty stripping down while I made use of PortaPotty stop 2.  Which in turn led to me falling far behind the pace group and pushing even harder to catch up and PASS them.  I felt fantastic.

By the time I saw the Clan at the first spectator spot, right around mile 9, I was fully in my stride.  I untied my excess clothing from my fuel belt and threw it at them as they cheered me on.  I was on pace to not only make my goal of five hours, but to come in significantly sooner.  I had no time to stop (though I did end up pausing for a kiss).  Once again, I fell into zen mode, rousing out every 30 to 45 minutes to fuel up with Gu and water.  I passed the halfway point fourteen minutes under my previous half marathon time and ran faster.  Another reunion with fam at mile 16 perked me up again…and then came the heat.

Runners began dropping like flies.  People I hadn’t seen since the starting line were suddenly on the side of the road clutching bellies, removing shoes, and opting for the ambulance ride.  I saw runners falling and admitting defeat at every mile.  This was not something I had expected.  And it made the mental portion of the race that much more difficult.  Because when everyone around you is quitting, it makes quitting seem like an okay thing to do.  Even if your body is willing to keep going. 

My legs felt strong.  My cardio was on target.  But that heat…that heat.  I had not trained in heat.  I trained all winter long in layers, and in the spring when the mornings stayed cool.  Technically, it’s still spring.  But yesterday felt like the dog days of summer, especially with 18 miles logged.  At points I felt viciously jealous of those caving to the sun and the road; they were done.  I was barely trudging along, focusing entirely on my “one more minute” strategy to get me through each interval.  I shifted from counting singular miles to grouping them by fives, when I knew they would be posting on Facebook for all to see.  People would know if I stopped; people would know if I failed.  I would know.  My new mantras included “failure is NOT an option” and “failure is not in my vocabulary.”  Not original or thought provoking, but they worked.  I plugged on, letting my arms drop.

But that HEAT.  It was unbearable.  I pictured blue waters, cool swimming pools, even my ice bath.  I longed for my ice bath.  I grew irritable that the water stations had no cold offerings.  I didn’t want  warm Gatorade!  I wanted ICE COLD WATER.  It was my only clear thought.  And then…

The heavens parted.  A choir of angels began to sing.  And if I’d had a tear to shed, I would have cried.  I saw the most beautiful handwritten sign on the side of a cooler I had ever seen: “ICE.”  I dove in with two hands, splashing one clump into an outstretched cup of water and sending the rest into the front of my sports bra.  Relief.  From that point on, we were strictly in residential areas and apparently, the most wonderful people on the face of the planet live right on the Run for the Red route.  They sprayed us down with icy garden hoses, offered us plastic cups full of ice and cool water, all the while cheering us on.  I opened my arms wide and blessed their dear, sweet little souls.  Children squirted us with water guns and supersoakers – all of it FREEZING.  Bliss.  Pure bliss.  I gathered my remaining energy and realized I was in the home stretch now – only three more miles to go.

The closer I got to the finish line, the more finishers I saw walking back to their cars and to restaurants along Main Street.  Once again, I was jealous: not only were they done, they were done faster.  I pushed harder.  Upon entering the school grounds, I heard my big sister yelling “Go, BEAR!”  I looked up to see her and my daughter waving from the top of the bleachers.  I could not walk now…I had to finish running.  No more intervals.

I hit the track and knew it was less than a full lap.  I have never wanted to stop moving so badly in my life.  I desperately needed to walk, to just stand still…and then Crazy Train started playing.  It was my son’s theme song all wrestling season, and I was reminded of his tenacity even when we all knew he wanted to give up.  I was reminded of our many talks about following through to reach goals, about not giving in or giving up…and all the moments I watched his jaw set and his eyes narrow…and I started sprinting for the finish line.  I knew I was already over five hours, but not by much.  I could still make this a goal reached.

I crossed the finish line at 5:02:44.  (Upon checking my results, my official chip time was 5:01:04.  I’ll take it.)  I grabbed up my precious medal and stumbled into the open arms of Hubby, who literally swept me off my feet in the best hug EVER. 

I did it.  “Decide.  Commit.  Succeed.”  That is the Beachbody slogan I see at the end of every TurboFire, ChaLEAN Extreme, and P90X workout I have ever done.  And though a simple formula, it works.  I am proof.  And now I have a marathon PR…which I will beat in the VIA this September.  I just need to start training.

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