I learned a lot about myself yesterday…the hard way.
Sunday morning came at 4am for me and 30,000 other marathoners. My sister, my husband and I stuffed our pockets with Sport Beans and MetroCards, lathered cold bagels with peanut butter and then juggled half empty water bottles on the Washington D.C metro to head to the starting line of the 40th Marine Corps Marathon. We spent the next two hours waiting in the congested crowds of other runners to get on and off the metro and through security at the start. We were still in the port-a-potty line when the gun went off for the start of the race so we sprinted to our corral and immediately the race was on.
The first 5K went by fairly effortlessly. The three of us were cruising along at a comfortable pace of 8:44 and then an 8:38 pace into the 10K. I felt a bit tired but I was hoping I just needed to warm up a little more and work into a groove. The DC air was warm enough that morning to make the rainfall a refreshing welcome to us Pennsylvania runners use to the chilly fall air. We held an 8:39 pace into the 15K and an 8:40 pace to the 20K. So far, so good. An 8:46 pace to the 25K. At that point, we were well on track for a sub-4 hour marathon and a new PR for me.
But then…the busy weekend started to catch up to me. I was feeling pretty weak at the half marathon point but tried to deny it. Around 15, even worse. I had lost my breath after a water stop (it felt like a mini asthma attack) and had to pull off to the side of the course to catch my breath. THIS was when I told my sister and husband to run on and leave me. I was feeling rough and would only slow them down. They ever-so kindly denied my request, gave me a pep talk and pushed me along. Mile 17 and 18 went by slowly.
Our Team Beef cheer squad was right before the 18 mile mark and I knew I needed to appear fairly put together to run past them. (Thanks cheer squad!!) We were right in front of the Capitol when the fatal thought of stopping all together entered my mind. Our hotel was less than a mile away, I could trot along home, cut my losses and end the pain right then and there. Shortly past the Capitol I stopped again, this time, I was serious. “Leave me!” I pleaded. “I am NOT finishing this race!” “I don’t care anymore!” “I mean it, GO!” Sister and hubs were as determined to see me finish as I was to quit. A few seconds of verbal battling ensued and before long, I was back running…at a painfully slow pace. “Just make it to the 20th mile,” I told myself. “And then you can just walk the last six.” Oddly enough, I never saw the 20th mile marker, before I knew it, we had reached 21. We made it to the famed “Bridge” and much to my surprise, my legs were still trying to wimp out something that resembled running. My pace had slowed to a 10:30 and it stayed there until the end.
I remember feeling annoyed every time I saw a cheer sign that read something encouraging, “Push through the pain” “Don’t give up” “Finish strong.” Those lines of encouragement were for the OTHER runners, NOT me. I was in the middle of a crisis, not just a hard run. I needed relief from the pain, not encouragement to push through it. I had grinded out hard miles over the summer and fall and knew what pushing through the pain was like, this time it was different, it was serious. This time I was trapped in my pain and exhaustion. I NEEDED to escape it, I didn’t want to finish. I had two mentally and physically strong runners willing me forward and I was in the middle of my 5th marathon. A solo training run that goes poorly can always take a rain check for a better day but a race with determined pacers means you MUST finish. Finish at all costs! “There’s no possible way I will make it for another 5 miles,” I thought! “That’s nearly and hour more of running at this snail pace.”
I have run many races, but I held off buying race t-shirts until this particular race. My 5th marathon and the 40th Marine Corps Marathon. I remember thinking that I would have to give my newly acquired t-shirt away to someone who actually finished the race, because I wasn’t going to. I couldn’t wear that shirt if I bailed out and walked the last 6 miles. Who would I give it to I wondered.
Crystal City was somewhere along Miles 23 and 24. The crowds were incredible and the cheering was drowning out my pitiful thoughts. I focused on finding other Team Beef jerseys in the stream of other runners headed back out of the city (it was an out and back). I focused on making it to the next water stop. At least that would give me an excuse to walk for a few seconds. I focused on the word “Finish”…that was all I wanted to do. I thought about a frozen lemonade from Panera Bread and how all I wanted to do was lay down. I prayed to God for strength to finish. Mile 25…”oh gosh, I cannot possibly run another 1.2 miles. That’s WAY to far away and my legs are shot”. Before long, I could see that dreaded hill leading up to the Iwo Jima Memorial. “That hill…just make it to the hill and you can walk up it,” I promised myself. “It’s a cruel hill anyway.” I made it to the hill, it wasn’t pretty. I slowly ran up that hill and it was even less pretty. Who walks the hill when there are Marines lining it cheering you on? The end…the arc over the end, I made it. The will of my sister and husband driving me to the finish is why I finished. The grace and strength from God drove me to the finish. My tired legs and doubtful mind did little to get me there.
4:08:00 was my finishing time. I was 8 seconds short of a PR. 8 seconds. Even if someone would have told me I only needed to make up 8 seconds and if I only ran a little faster I could PR, I still couldn’t have done it. I had nothing left. I was darn fortunate to finish in the time I did. Top 13% of females and top 20% overall.
I was even more fortunate to have loyal companions get me to the finish. Why on Earth would my husband and sister give up on their sub-4 hour finish to see me to the end? I cannot thank them enough…seriously! God, friends and loyal companions are KEY and for this typically solo runner, I learned just how much I needed the strength of others to push on when I had nothing to push with!