One heck of a race report!

It was bright and early, on Saturday, March 26th, 2011. Five am, and I was hitting the road to get from Virginia, where I’m staying, to the Washington, D.C. Armory for the start of the race. I had my museli in a cup, coffee for the road, and all of my race gear that I’d spread out the night before.

As I got on the toll road to DC, I spent my last seventy-five cents in change on the tollbooth, because there was no attendant at that time of day.  I was hoping I wouldn’t need change for anything else! Of course, in my somewhat sleepy state, and trying to follow my GPS, I got confused by some construction, and before I knew it, I saw signs indicating I was on my way to Baltimore. Awesome. Luckily for me, my GPS recalculated, and got me back on track, not losing any time! I ended up taking the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Even in the dark, it was a beautiful drive. The roads were winding through little forests with the Potomac River on one side; downtown DC was lit up against the dark sky. That little detour was strong medicine for my anxious mind. As I got closer to the Armory, the traffic got worse and worse. I waited at one stoplight downtown for so long: red… green, yellow, red… green, yellow, red… green, yellow, red… green, yellow, red… green, yellow, red… I kept thinking about relaxing my body and taking deep breaths. Eventually, I swerved around the car in front of me and took an uncharted route to the Armory. It turns out that I’d found one of the roads that leads directly to the Armory. Great! 🙂

As I sat in that (also) unmoving line of traffic, I noticed that there was a parking space on the street next to where I was waiting. I rolled down my window and talked to the guys parked in front of that spot. I needed to know if it was legal to park there. Turns out, the sign only prohibits parking there Monday- Friday, and during events at RFK Stadium. Well, technically the marathon was taking place at the Armory, even though we were supposed to be parking in RFK lots. It was about six o’clock, and I was probably about 3/4 mile from the Armory, so I decided to risk it and park there. I spent a few minutes gathering my gear, writing my split time goals on my hand, and making sure the car was locked. (My rental car doesn’t have automatic locks, windows, or cruise control!)

There were a lot of runners heading toward the Armory, so I joined the crowd as we walked on the very uneven sidewalks in the darkness. As I neared the Armory, I remembered to check the street name so I could find my car after the race. East Capitol. East Capitol. I kept repeating it in my head, wondering if I should make a note in my iPhone. I couldn’t forget that street name, could I? Wouldn’t that have been a nightmare?! The girl next to me distracted me from my thoughts and started talking to me about my race experience. She was signed up for the first five mile leg of a half-marathon relay. She thought I was pretty cool to be doing the full marathon. 🙂 As we walked together into the Armory, we saw the line. You know, the bathroom line. It looked to have about one hundred people in line before us! As I checked my phone for the time, and started doing the math, I was getting a little worried that we wouldn’t make the starting corrals in time. We started talking about the odds of us making it, and another girl came up to us in line. She gave us the ultimate race day secret: a secret bathroom in the back of the Armory. Through a curtain, up some dirty stairs, and into a mens’ room with no door. It didn’t matter- we had just won the race day lottery. A few minutes later, and accidentally walking out of my stall to see two men at the urinals, we were on our way to red corral number nine. It was a chilly 34 degrees, and the sky was starting to change colors, but the sun hadn’t risen yet. We met a few people from the Midwest, including a girl from Milwaukee.

At 7:00 on the dot, the gun went off. At 7:03, the sun came up. At 7:18, I crossed the start line, and began the hardest race of my life. The first five miles were great. My pacing was perfect, the course was beautiful, and the sun was shining on me.  Upon the arrival of mile six, I discovered The Hill. Graham and Kelly warned me about it, so I knew that it was coming. However, I wasn’t expecting a seriously long (one and a half mile!!) hill. Just when I finally got to the top, the road turned, and there was more hill waiting for me. Teasing me, taunting me. “So now what? Walk? Are you going to try and keep up your pace while climbing me? Seriously, girl… who do you think you are. You might want to give up.” Of course, I didn’t give up. I just made a mental note to add more hill training to my schedule this summer. I did, however, have a wonderfully delusional moment. A relay runner was in front of me, and I saw the bib on the back of her shirt. I thought it said “RELAX,” and I thought, what a nice gesture. It’s so true! Of course, her bib said, “RELAY.” Either way, I got a nice little benefit, and a chuckle.  There were a nice couple miles along the water, and before I knew it, we were at the halfway point, back at the Armory. Most of the race was on some sort of a hill, either a long, slow upward slope, or a slow downward slope. When I hit the 13.1 mile mark, I stripped off my fleece outer layer and my mittens, tying the mittens into the double knot around my waist. I really didn’t want to carry that for the entire race, but I love that shirt too much to throw it away. Luckily for me, the second half of the marathon took us on EAST CAPITOL street. Bonus!! As we raced down the street, I planned to run up to my car, toss the shirt and gloves into the wheel well, and continue my race happily unrestrained. I was running, and looking, and running, and looking, and pretty soon, we were at the end of the street, and the race course was turning. I hadn’t seen my car! I tried not to panic as I stopped running and grabbed the attention of one of the police officers guarding the side streets. “Excuse me, can I park here?” I asked. He questioned me, “Right NOW??” It was funny, I thought. “No, I’m running a race right now. I mean… I parked here earlier, but didn’t see my car as  I ran by.” He explained that it was legal to park there, and they hadn’t towed anyone. That didn’t ease my worried soul, not one bit. Not only was I stuck with my clothes, I didn’t know where my car was. I focused on the race, on my pace, on the even turnover of my feet, on my breathing. Anything to not think about the car, or the hills.

Miles 14, 15, 16, 17… pretty uneventful. I tried to act experienced, to reassure myself that I’ve trained for marathons, I know what I’m doing. I know what’s coming, I can handle it. I can handle anything! I know that .01% of people have run a marathon. I pondered the percentage of people that run one and cross it off their “bucket list,” versus the percentage that run one, reflect, and decide to try it again and do better. I kept thinking that I can do better than my last time of 4:46. I deserve better than that.

Then? Mile 18. All of a sudden, I couldn’t distract myself with the seafood places on the water or the historical area. All I could do was take deep breaths to distract myself from the cramp in my left hamstring that was shooting up into my butt. My self talk began, “Keep breathing. Don’t worry, it’s probably only temporary. Try to breathe and imagine that air relaxing those muscles.” I struggled through until mile 20. When my right calf muscles starting tying themselves in knots, and sending shooting pain down into my right ankle, I almost lost it. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t cry until I crossed the finish line. My carefully paced run slowed to a jog. Which slowed to a power walk. Then I gathered the courage to start to jog again, and fought through the pain until the cramping forced me to walk again. Miles 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25… It was all one long game of me fighting back tears, trying to run, checking my Garmin, and watching my dreams of a 4:20 finish fade into the distance. Then watching 4:25 fade away. Being passed by the 4:30 pace group, who continued their laughing and smiling, carrying their balloon- totally oblivious to my serious internal battle. I passed a very sweet woman who cheered loudly for us all, reassuring us that a finish under 5 hours was steadily and certainly in our grasp. I passed three drumlines with dancers, which allowed me to spend a short time reminiscing about my days as baby bass drum in high school. (Oh, the good times!) That memory carried me through a half mile with a smile, at least. By some sort of miracle, my iPhone playlist shuffle interjected the perfect song for me at mile 25. I couldn’t have prayed for a better song: A Little More Fight, by my friend Dan Mitchell. I have no idea what he wrote it about, but it was perfect at the time. A lyric sample…

…so the walls I’ve built are crumbling

my fortress has been breached

yeah, but this white flag doesn’t fly that easily

I may be all used up and broken down

You won’t hear me plead, no, no, no…

‘Cause I’ll just dig in deep

and find a little more fight left in me.

Let me be the first to tell you

I’m as human as the rest.

Sometimes I need to find my worst

before I can find my best!

So the walls I’ve built are crumbling

my fortress has been breached

yeah, but this white flag doesn’t fly that easily

I may be all used up and broken down

You won’t hear me plead, no, no, no…

I’ll just dig in deep

and find a little more fight left in me.

And I cannot always be

the one who sets the pace

But you will never see me drop out of a race.

…and you won’t see me drop out of a race. I tried to run the last 3/4 of a mile in the race, even though it was a strong upward slope. I walked some, and jogged some. I cried my way across the finish line. A lady handed me my metal, and a medical staffer gave me water. Then gave me a second look. Then gently took my arm and walked me to the medical tent.

The next thing that I know for sure is that I was hearing the doctor through a tunnel, and seeing black spots. I guess I was dehydrated, although I don’t know how that could have happened. They hooked me up to an IV and gave me two bags of IV fluids. Two bags of room temperature (well, outside tent temperature) liquid added to my body gave me a serious chill. They packed on the mylar balloon blankets and tried to keep me comfortable.  As I started to feel better and become more aware of my surroundings, I was urgently concerned with the fact that my legs weren’t moving. I know that walking for a while after the race is important. I walked roughly 50 yards before I was laying down on a cot with an IV. A lady came over with some serious Bengay stuff and starting massaging it into my legs right through my running tights. I looked at her and said, “I just met you, but I have a love/hate relationship with you. I love you for doing this, but that really HURTS!” The medical staff stopped worrying and knew that I was going to be just fine.

By the time I’d gotten all my fluids, ate a banana, and drank some water, they were ready to release me. As I exited the medical tent, I realized that there was no one left.  Since the streets of downtown DC need to be closed for the race, they had qualifying time requirements. I think 5:30 was the longest they expected it to take anyone to run the race. Between the 18 minutes it took me to cross the line, and my official finishing time of 5:01:04, there was no one left…

…AND I couldn’t find my car. I clomped my post-race lead-feeling legs up to a policeman on the corner near the Armory and explained my situation. He drove down the street and came back a few minutes later. “I found your car.” Turns out, it was about 10 blocks down. In the dark and in my pre-race mindset, I didn’t realize how far I’d walked. The police officer gave me a ride to my car, bless his heart. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Please tell me you didn’t fly here all the way from Wisconsin to run 26 miles.”

My reply? “Actually, it’s 26.2. And I surely did.” 🙂 He smiled, watched me get into my car, and drove off.

This race was the hardest mental and physical challenge that I’ve had so far in my 25 years of existence. It really is a special kind of person who takes on this challenge, and emerges on the other side a stronger and more passionate person. I cannot wait until Portland Marathon, in October. I want to do better. And besides, “Sometimes I need to find my worst before I can find my best.” 🙂

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “One heck of a race report!

  1. Amazing…..that’s what you are. When you end up having to dig so deep inside of you there’s no way around it- you come out a different and much stronger person! You’re such an inspiration, and one that is determined to never give up! Proud of you….more than you’ll ever know!

  2. Catherine Mossak

    You know, I read that and thought, that’s exactly the kind of challenge that makes marathoners so much different from other runners. They can claim that it’s no big deal, that they run 26 miles on the weekend, but you and I both know that a hard marathon changes your life. Good job on the finish,
    always inspired,
    Catherine

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