I was supposed to, but I didn't, because I let life get in the way. And that's okay. But somewhere along the way I realized that I still wanted to run one. Maybe because when I stand at the line of IMLP, I don't want the last time I covered 26.2 miles to be last year in Coeur d'Alene, maybe because I've never run one before, and maybe because I'm not even sure why. Sometimes things just sound like a good idea. So I very carefully worded an email to Sonja requesting her consideration, and she shocked me by not only saying yes but that she had been thinking about it too.
Long story short, Saturday morning we flew out to Buffalo. We met up with Allison in the airport and then spent the remainder of the day doing all the things you do the day before a race, mainly eating too much and diagnosing yourself with multiple stress fractures and changing your mind about which shoes and which shorts and which gels.
Sonja powered me up with one of her "are you sure about this????" race plans before departing to Brazil, and it was full of talking about running by feel. About continuing to search for the hurt, trying to figure out how to race without fear. Where my brain is going this year, where it is, I care very little about time on the clock right now. It's still a new feeling but I'm embracing it, I've finally gotten it through my thick fat skull that we are supposed to be doing this for the joy of movement. Race day should be a celebration of hard work, when I show up I am grateful to be able to stand on the line at all. Especially when I get to stand there with my husband and a very good friend, when I know I will see them out on the course as we make our way through our individual days.
Race morning was a blur of throwaway shirts and peeing behind cars in the parking garage, and I had no sooner stepped into a corral then the gun went BANG and off we went.
Miles 1-5: 10:21, 9:53, 10:02, 10:10, 9:51
The first two miles were for warm-up. I was a little surprised when I glanced at the splits because I felt like I was moving a bit faster, but I just figured my body was getting a slow start. Despite peeing thirty seconds before the race started, my bladder was uncomfortably full so I pulled over in mile three or four somewhere. Once that was done, I started working down in effort. I remembered Liz telling me that I shouldn't be sweating for the first six miles, and I wasn't, but the mile splits that were clicking past just weren't matching up with the easy effort I felt like I was putting out. I wasn't upset or mad, just a little bit puzzled.
Miles 6-10: 10:12, 9:51, 9:53, 9:51, 9:44
By the time I hit the 10K split I had accepted that I needed to roll down the window and pitch out the race plan, because the legs I wanted weren't going to show up. And somehow, I was okay with it. My legs have done good strong work this year, and if they wanted to take a day off, then I was going to roll with it. There was a long out-and-back in here, and while I was searching for the poet I landed hard in a deep pothole and rolled my right ankle. Nothing too awful, but it felt pretty sore for the rest of the day. I also saw Allison in here somewhere, and she was inches behind the 1:40 pacer which made me incredibly excited for her day, especially when I realized that she was only a couple of miles from the finish.
Miles 11-15: 9:52, 9:55, 9:50, 9:39, 10:02 (half split 2:13:11 but based on gun time so roughly 2:11...ish).
When I had pulled off to pee, the 4:20 and 4:30 pace groups had both passed me. I caught up with the 4:30 group somewhere and by roughly mile 7 had settled in behind the 4:20 group. There was a blonde girl pacing and she was excellent. I ran with them for a few miles, content to hang back and zone out. I felt patient, I was waiting for the work to start, I thought of Sonja telling me about the tiger that sleeps.
When the half finish line showed up, I lost the 4:20 group in the chaos (also the 2:10 half pace group) and ended up out ahead of them. I saw the poet in here, he told me his finishing time and we high-fived, and I let him know that I was still feeling fine. There was an aid station around mile 14 handing out watermelon, and the bite I ate is simply the greatest thing I have ever tasted while racing. I don't remember seeing most of these splits go by, I wasn't watching my watch that closely, instead just trying to keep my effort nice and easy. But somewhere after the half split, the 4:20 pacer went by, and the pacers had swapped out, so now it was a tall, skinny guy and he was FLYING. I started to feel alarmed that maybe I had lost my mind and slowed down, but I chased him all through most of mile 14 before deciding to let him go. The split that popped up confirmed that as a good decision. I took a gel a mile later, and that's when it started to hurt.
Miles 16-20: 9:56, 9:54, 10:29, 10:20, 10:20
The first complaints came from my feet. I run on dirt here in Boulder almost 100% of the time, and although I had been warned that the asphalt/concrete/grated bridges would bother me, I still wasn't ready. After flip-flopping for weeks, I had decided to run in my Newtons, because I feel like they help me hold good form when I'm tired and falling apart. And I'm glad I ran in them, especially because I had no blisters or chafed toes or sore marks or busted toenails, but they have less cushioning and I think contributed a little bit towards the hurt.
When I got to mile 16 and could start counting down in single digits, I still felt okay, but I also know that if I was starting to hurt with ten miles to go, I was in for one hell of a rough ride.
Miles 21-26.2: 10:31, 10:44, 10:41, 10:49, 11:23, 10:37, final Garmin gibberish 10:27 pace...ish
One of the many things that I hung onto in my brain was the fact that Coeur d'Alene hurt this much. And there, I walked. I walked for almost seven miles before I realized that it hurt just as much to walk as it did to run. Having that thought in my head is what kept me running. I knew that if I stopped to walk, even a single step, I would be royally pissed at myself for giving in once I had crossed the line. For not being able to take this step forward, for sinking into old patterns of giving in and giving up.
These miles were emotional, a little, I think my brain was trying to distract me from what in the hell was going on. I thought of Sonja telling me before my first race with her, "You aren't going to die out there" (and then I ended up in the medical tent, so, um, hmmm). I thought about cheering on the poet through all of his marathons, and how strong he was and how much I wanted him to be proud of my day. I thought of dozens and dozens of my friends, different moments showed up in memory. Amy who loves marathons more than anything on earth including maybe beer and ice cream, Liz and her clockwork body that is genetically programmed to run 3:50 marathons, Allison who was there the first day I ran a half marathon and we tried to run together and now she can freaking smoke me. I thought about my own athletes, they are all struggling with different challenges in their lives and they all inspire me to be better. And all the while this was going on, I was running. Slowing down, for sure, and in pain like I have never been in pain in my life, but one step in front of the other, running.
When I got to mile 23 I knew that I had it. Mile 24 went by and I slowed to grab some cups of water at the aid station. My fingers were swelling and I knew I needed salt and fluids, so when I hit the station right after the mile 25 sign, I slowed WAYYYYY down and drank three cups of gatorade and three cups of water. And then I turned a corner and the poet was there, the loudest spectator on the planet, that's my husband, he is my biggest fan and I love him.
He jumped in with me, behind me, and didn't say much but I knew he was there. We came up on a guy handing out dixie cups of beer and he asked me if I wanted one. I said no, and then changed my mind and sucked one down. It tasted AWFUL. The wind started to pick up so I told him to run in front of me, and the last mile felt like it was going on forever and I couldn't think of anything other than how badly I was hurting. I thought of the guy I saw several times on the race course last year at IMCdA with the shirt that said, "WHERE THE F%#@ IS THE FINISH LINE!!!" and I have never felt that way as strongly as I felt in that moment. My watch beeped mile 26 and then I saw the mile marker and told myself, "Just one more lap of the track." And I turned the corner and I was in the chute and then I was done, it was over and I had done it and I was done and I could finally stop running. (Final time: 4:28:33).
I made my way into the convention center and it was about 10-15 minutes before my legs stopped screaming and my brain started working again.
And then we did all the things you do after a race, you hug and take pictures and hobble around and drink beer in your ice bath and eat all the ice cream you can fit in your stomach.
We hung out all afternoon at Thom's sister's house and it was perfect, so wonderful to spend time with friends and family and we even went for a walk
I'm still learning about how to race, but last week, in the marathon, I raced without fear. I remember racing Waterman's half a few years back. When things started to not go according to plan, I fell apart. Into a million pieces. That's fear of failure, and I've talked pretty openly about it here on many occasions. I was so afraid of failing that I couldn't stand to try. That's it. It's that simple. I judged myself so badly on those days, it was my own negative self-talk that ruined the day for me, not the bike crash or the heat or the puking or the whatever. It was my own brain, dropping a bomb that I couldn't run from, and the root of the problem wasn't the recovering from the drop, it was that it got launched at all.
And now, I can't even describe how happy I am to be in a different place. How much it's worth it to have grown, to have worked through a lot of bad shit and be here on the other side. I knew at mile 3 that I wasn't going to have the day I wanted, so I adjusted my plan, I made changes, I raced as hard and as smart as I could from line to line. In New Orleans last month my legs showed up and I ran joyfully, in Buffalo they didn't and I found just as much happiness in my day. I feel like there is such a good lesson for me to have learned here, how to manage a race when your legs don't show up, how to do damage control, how to manage to blood-letting, the explosion, how to still push yourself and stay with the pain no matter what my tiny watch that talks to the sky is telling me. Could I have a different race on a different day? Probably, who doesn't feel that way after they finish a race most of the time?
But I know, I am firm and certain, that this was simply the best race I could have had on THIS day. There was not one more second to be pulled from my body, I emptied myself out and when I bent over to catch my breath after crossing the finish, I was shattered, there was nothing left. There is so much peace there. There is no second-guessing, there are no what-ifs. I ran. Hard. Far. Strong. And my path unrolls before me.