I’ve been known to say the cows never cooperate when I have a big event coming or somewhere I need to be. This weekend, however, they proved me wrong. (Apparently they were secretly rooting for my marathon too?)
We’ve had a busy calving time lately, and that’s one of the main things that can lengthen chores. Wednesday-Friday we had 13 babies born, and I was sufficiently worried about being home at a reasonable time Saturday evening.
Saturday we only had 1 calf, and everything else fell smoothly into place. 7:30-8:30 is a normal range to be done on Saturday, but this time things were nearly wrapped up by 6:45.
I managed to get home, care for the birds and dogs, make and eat a huge pile of spaghetti, lay out *all* my race stuff, and be in bed around 9:00.
(I knew I was missing something, so we’ll get to that later.)
Minneapolis is a long but do-able drive on a race morning, 1.5 hours. This race started at 6:30.
That meant I shut off my alarm and crawled out of bed at 3:15 am on Sunday morning. I was truly more excited than not to be awake, and I realized runners must be a strange breed as I ate, dressed, and said goodbye to my sleepy husband and dogs.
I was originally going to stay in the city Saturday night, but it happened that none of my close family or friends were around for the weekend. I was far too cheap to look for last minute hotels unless JR was coming, and we decided he really needed to look after the farm.
So — at 4 am I found myself driving down the dark highway toward the interstate, intermittently listening to rock, country, and the BBC on MPR.
I’d had my coffee and breakfast (toast with jam and 2 bananas if you are curious) and then I realized.
I didn’t have my watch. I train with my phone to track distance and time, but it’s clunky to carry or wear for 4+ hours.
I like to race with my little Timex so I can see elapsed time, but I knew I hadn’t packed it. Only 15 minutes from home, I decided I wasn’t going back. There was nighttime road construction ahead, and I wanted to be sure I was early enough to find parking, find a bathroom, etc, etc.
Things were easy when I arrived, and I still had time to meet up with a fellow Team Dairy runner and have a chance encounter with my speedy cousin, Anne.
The wind was whipping along as I checked my bag, and I saw runners in tiny singlets huddled alongside buildings and trees to avoid the chill. I decided to keep my long sleeve shirt on for the start, knowing I would be okay with tossing it if needed.
I hurried to find middle-of-the pack pacers as I heard the national anthem fill the air.
With the 4-hour guy in my sight, I double checked my sugar and music stash and said hi to a few people around me.
This was one of those wonderful races where I found a buddy right away. She was relaxed and friendly; just my kind of girl. I think she would have normally been too fast for me, but a foot injury was causing her to take it easy.
After a few miles one of her friends running the half caught up to us too. She was just as sweet, and at about 3 months pregnant I couldn’t believe how energetic she was.
You could tell 9 minute pace was easy for the little blonde, and we three happily ran through the first 10 miles or so. About then is when my hamstrings started their throbbing protest. It wasn’t bad enough to alter my gait, though I did take a quick stretch break at a water stop.
For the remaining miles my hamstrings remained tight but bearable. As the later miles came everything — knees, hips, piriformis, quads — started to hurt so my hamstrings had company.
We ran over the Mississippi on several bridges, and they all provided just enough uphill for welcome variety. We could feel the water spraying at the falls as we headed over the Stone Arch Bridge toward the old mill district and The Guthrie (theater).
The half marathon ended soon after, and we saw and heard the finish line party as we began our out and back for the final 13.1.
Both marathons I’ve done have had a larger half marathon alongside them, and I’m glad that both times I’ve felt truly excited to be continuing on the full marathon course.
13 miles is a long way on foot, but if I’m mentally prepared to run 26 it certainly seems shorter by contrast.
Overall I really enjoyed this course, but the final miles being out and back were daunting. As I was looking for the 14 mile marker the first thing I saw was the 26 mile sign. It was a jolting visual reminder of just how far I had left to go.
I wasn’t feeling so well as we passed 14, and the sun that had peaked out early in the race was now really beating down. It was barely 60*, but I felt warm and finally ditched the long-sleeve shirt I’d tied around my waist.
By mile 15 I was ever-so-slightly dizzy, and I realized I’d only been getting small sips, maybe 1-2 ounces, at each water stop.
I slowed up and power walked through the next aid station, drinking a full cup of both water and blue stuff to try and rehydrate. My belly sloshed some, but I started to feel better within minutes.
By this point I was leap-frogging with my original running buddy and another girl we’d met from Saint Louis.
It was also the point that I missed having a watch. Both of them had garmins on, and earlier they’d offered pace info at each mile. We’d come through the half in 1:59, and I knew a sub-4 hour finish was possible.
As I spread further out from my friends I didn’t have the comfort of a watch, but I could still see the 4-hour sign bobbing way up ahead.
By mile 19 I couldn’t see that little sign anymore. I just had to focus on keeping my legs moving and breathing as evenly as I could.
Running solo at that point became okay.
Even if you’re running with close friends, I think the last 10K of a marathon becomes a very personal effort. Encouragement helps, but you have to dig deep and run from the heart. No one can fight through those final miles for you.
The turnaround came at 19.5, and I could see I was at least several minutes off 4-hour pace but well ahead of the 4:15 group.
I couldn’t stress about my splits, and my legs just kept moving at the best clip I could manage.
Before the turnaround I’d cheered for the faster racers as they passed, and after I cheered for the slower runners as they made their way toward the turn.
The spectators were sparse here, but every now and then a few brave little kids would have their hands out looking for high fives. I tried to slap these eager little hands when I could, and one small boy looked particularly pleased as I reached out my hand.
I quickly realized he’d put something in it as he cheered wildly with excitement. He’d given me a single goldfish cracker.
I smiled, ate it, and immediately felt my mouth go parched and dry. I still think it was worth it.
At the next aid station I relished the cool water and thought about my calorie options for the remaining miles. I’d eaten 3 vanilla gu packets so far and the thought of any more made me sick. I did still have my orange shot blocks, and I managed a few of those before each of the next two water stops.
Perhaps I should have eaten more, but overall I did pretty well with taking in calories. Fueling was not my limiting factor.
It was more simple than that. I just didn’t put in enough miles to build the endurance to hold on for a 3:59 or faster marathon. It doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard in training; just that other parts of life are important too. I couldn’t carve out the time for 50-60 mile weeks, but I did train well enough to shatter my old mark of 4:29.
Whenever I looked down at my feet I remembered I wore the golden shoes. The little blonde I was running with earlier had told me she had the same pair. She thought of them as her golden shoes and always knew she’d have a good run when she put them on. It made me smile each time I saw the bright yellow of my feet.
I never gave up in those late miles, but I think I may have had another minute faster in my legs if I would have been able to see that 4 hour sign bobbing in the distance.
As it was, I didn’t really increase my pace until I saw mile 25. I passed a few people on the downhill and then my iPod, which I’d been listening to since halfway, started playing “Anywhere USA” from the Miss Congeniality movie. Maybe this makes me a super-dork?
I haven’t heard the song in forever, and it gave my legs some traction as I pushed toward the finish.
As I crossed the line and saw 4:06 I was thrilled to be done and finish under 4:10. God had brought me through the miles without a breakdown and to the finish with a smile.
I did the obligatory shuffle as I got my medal, water, and a small bag with potato chips and a mini nut roll.
The next person was handing out string cheese, and she gave me two which I gladly took along with a banana.
A strange assortment, but it was carbs, salt, and protein.
I managed to eat some strands of cheese as I wandered around the finish and looked for someone not too exhausted to snap a photo for me. No matter how tired I was I had to capture the moment.
It was a pretty scene along the Mississippi, but with no family there I mostly just wanted to find the buses and get back to my car at the start.
I bet it took me 20 minutes to hobble the giant uphill, which was probably a half mile and felt like three.
As I commiserated with other runners about the long trek we realized that it was good to keep moving and at least we hadn’t had to run up this hill!
About 45 minutes into my drive home I had an intense need to eat. I thought about getting a giant iced latte, but decided instead on milk, chocolate ice cream, water, and a cheeseburger (not pictured.)
The evening was long and busy at the farm, but I just kept reminding myself it was good to walk or I’d be more sore the next day.
As the realization that I ran my second marathon became truth, I felt happiness and a tiny sense of loss.
Why is it so bittersweet when a big race is over? I’m happy with the effort, and yet I wish I could try again.
This is the way of marathons. Of all races, I suppose.
In spite of the challenge, you are always left hungry for more because you know next time you’ll be ready to run a little bit faster.
A special thanks to all of you that emailed, tweeted, and left me comments of encouragement. It always means a lot to me, and during tough moments I really do think about this little community that is rooting for me. You are the best!