For me, the journey through life is made more enjoyable when I write about it. Even if I don’t physically put words on paper or screen, I’ll catch myself composing sentences when I see something noteworthy. No matter how small the audience, reflection is good.
This holds even more true for racing. I almost don’t feel like a marathon is complete until I write the story.
I’d been looking forward to the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon all year, and Saturday did not disappoint. It dawned clear, sunny, and cool in the upper 30’s. It barely reached 60 by afternoon, so even though I’ll say the sun felt warm at the end I can’t complain one bit about the weather.
I’d felt tired and achy with intermittent headaches all week, but Saturday I woke up feeling healthy and ready. It was a beautiful day to run, and there were no excuses.
The drive and bus ride to the start were easy, and the only traffic I saw was the steady stream of trucks and SUVs pulling boats because it was fishing opener in Minnesota.
I chatted with several people on the bus and at the start, and I was happy to find my friend Jill to share pre-race excitement. I had eaten more breakfast than normal — cereal, cup of milk, toast with butter/jam and a banana — and I hoped that would prove to be a good choice. I still took a gel right before the start, and I felt just about right.
Jill and I lined up in the middle of 400 runners, and before we realized it the race was on.
I started my watch right with the gun even though we were a little ways back from the line. This is a small race with no timing mat at the start, and I didn’t want to see 3:59:45 or something on my watch at the end only to have a 4:00:01 as my official race time.
Once I started my watch though, I didn’t think too much about pace for a few hours. Easy was the goal, and I stayed around a 9:00/mile as we headed through town and then out to the trail. I’m always grateful when God provides the right companions during a marathon, and this race was no exception. I don’t remember who spoke to who first, but soon I was running with two women who made the early miles fly by.
I could hardly believe it when the lovely lady in the middle told me she was celebrating her 50th birthday this week! I thought she looked a few years older than me, but not nearly that many.
Do you notice the birthday girl and I have the same shoes?
My right hamstring was uncomfortably tight for at least the first hour. I kept hoping it would loosen up as I went, and eventually I forgot it even bothered me. It was probably a blessing in disguise because the painful twinge kept me from going too fast in the early miles.
Our group of three talked to several other runners as we went, and my friend in the middle told us about the disabilities her son has overcome. He’s quite a fast runner now, and her reason for this progress is simply “God is good.” We met an oncologist from North Carolina who has run marathons all over the country and even on every continent. He kept us going for awhile with tales of the rainforest, the arctic, and his Ironman triathlons.
At mile eleven (or maybe twelve) I noticed an 8:26 split. That was probably too fast, but it felt so easy and we were approaching halfway. I had told myself after mile ten I could speed up if I felt good, so I carried on.
By halfway I made a mental note that my watch was registering almost .2 miles long. (This doesn’t mean the course is off; it’s simply a product of a little extra at the start, weaving at water stops, and the imperfections of GPS.) I knew once I got to the end it would add almost two minutes to my finish. I came through the official 13.1 mark just over 1:58.
By this point our group had disbanded, and I was chasing the birthday girl in yellow shorts as she glided smoothly ahead.
I felt good, the weather was good, and I decided I wasn’t going to mess up. It was still early, so I had to be smart. I started taking my gels earlier than normal because on sunny days I have found salt to be a limiting factor. I had eaten a gel with water at about mile 5.5 and mile 11. At the halfway point I started eating my margarita flavor shot blocks which proudly proclaim, “3 x the sodium!”
I had two packs just in case, and I popped one in my mouth every mile or two as the urge hit. Spoiler: I ate them all by the end.
I chatted with a dairy farmer turned missionary for several miles around mile sixteen, and our conversation helped keep my mind off the building fatigue in my legs. He slowed and lost me at the next water stop, and I was tired. I decided marathons were too long, and I was alone as I looked up the trail.
The cheering had been energetic and motivational in the small towns we passed through, but this stretch to the finish was more straight and empty. I fiddled with my earbuds and music until I finally hit the right button and got some songs to keep me company. I was “in the zone.”
I passed mile twenty of the course at a few seconds over three hours, which is nearly identical to last year. I desperately wanted to stay stronger this year, but it was going to have to be mental because my legs were heavy and sore. I didn’t want any regrets this time.
I settled into my aloneness, and I already knew I would look back on this as a good race. I had met so many people along the way, and I was going to finish my fifth marathon. The only question was how fast.
At each mile my resolve would start to die, and I do think my mind was stronger this year about fighting back. But the other part of my strategy was purely physical. I would eat another shot block, taste the sugar and salt in my mouth, and my brain would recognize there was enough fuel to keep going.
My mile splits didn’t start with eight anymore, but I was still churning out around 9:15’s. I kept doing math over and over to see if it would be enough, and by mile twenty five I knew it would be. I should even finish under 3:59.
I raised my arms in happiness (and to ease my cramped shoulders) as I saw a photographer snapping on my left. I still had a painful stretch to go until the finish, but it’s different when you have been passing people and know you’re going to hit your goal. I am positive I have never looked or felt that happy at mile twenty five before. I’m still looking for this “arms up in triumph” picture, and I’ll add it if I find it!
The cheers became audible as I saw the water tower and neared the finish. This is as close as I’ve ever been to tears as I crossed a finish line. It wasn’t about my time as much as it was about staying strong with the body and mind God gave me. God is good.
It felt amazing to see 3:57 in red numbers as I crossed the finish.
I know the actual difference from my 4:03 of last year isn’t that big, but it felt significant and amazing. Space blanket, medal, shirt, and chocolate milk in hand, I hobbled back to the finish in hopes of seeing Jill. I didn’t have to wait very long to see her strongly running toward the finish.
The cookies and pizzeria pizza smelled amazing as we went to the line for food, but I simply couldn’t chew anything I put in my mouth. I drank another couple glasses of milk and even some cherry coke (shame!) as I kept trying to do justice to the pizza. I finally gave up, and I knew in a few hours I would eat when my body calmed down. All I wanted was fluid.
We wandered over to check results, and I was shocked at what I saw. A girl I met on the bus who was running her first marathon had placed second in our age group, and I, Lisa, had placed third — I think JR can still hardly believe it. :-) Had I been in the age group above or below I wouldn’t have even come close to placing, but I was thrilled with my coffee mug award just the same.
While driving home I thought about the beautiful day, the good and bad in my training, the decisions I made, and the highs and lows of it all. Given where I was on race day, I finished knowing I ran the best race I could. That is a remarkable feeling.