It’s hard to know where to begin, so I’m just going to go with what makes sense – the beginning. Bear with me, it’s gonna be a long one..
Saturday morning we were up bright and early, ready to head to the marathon expo. Lindsey came with us and the three of us battled crowds and weaved in and out of the booths searching for free goodies and snacks. Not gonna lie – this year’s expo was pretty disappointing. The only food sample was something from Smuckers that we couldn’t even get to because Denise Austin was there signing autographs – what? I think we were spoiled by the amazing Chicago expo, and now everything since has seemed a little pathetic.
The rest of Saturday was spent EATING and working on wedding projects, and trying to distract myself from thinking about running 26.2 miles the next day. We made a yummy pre-race dinner: whole wheat egg noodles tossed with just a bit of olive oil, parmesan cheese, and red pepper flakes. Simple and perfect. Casey set the alarm for 3:30am, and we headed to bed to rest up for the big day.
When the alarm went off for me at 4am (Casey got up earlier to start his eating regimen), I laid there for a few minutes on the premise that “If I get out of bed, then this is really happening.” Casey forced me out by telling me there was a gooey peanut butter and mini marshmallow sandwich waiting for me in the kitchen – sold!
I got dressed and ready, ate my sandwich, attached my number and timing chip, and was (physically) ready to go. Mentally, not so much. I made Casey take a picture of me before the race in case I didn’t survive to take finisher photos.
At 5am there was a knock on the door – our wonderful early morning chauffeur – Running Ritz! She was decked out in true Flying Pig Spirit – pig nose and all:)
We got our gear and it was time to go. Linds hesitantly told me that yes, it was raining, but that it wasn’t too bad. We got in the car, and she blared my power song – Poker Face – to get us pumped up. The car ride felt like it took about 2 seconds. When we got downtown, Casey told Linds that we would jump out at the next stop light. This is where my panic started to set in. I kept asking for one more light, and one more light – like if I didn’t get out of the car, the race wasn’t real. I did finally get out, and we started the walk towards Paul Brown Stadium in the cold, dark drizzle.
We got to Paul Brown and it was packed. It also smelled really, really bad – thousands of pooping runners – sooo gross. We had about 40 minutes until the race started, so we just hung out and I tried to get warmed up (in my garbage bag). Around 6:10, Casey started suggesting we make our way towards the start line. Once again – the race panic – and I basically refused to leave the stadium. Five more minutes. One more minute. Finally, I conceded – this race was happening whether I hid in a bathroom or not.
There was still a light drizzle, but the temperature was rising, so I felt encouraged that it wouldn’t be too miserable for long. We made our way to the 3:40 pace group and Casey gave me a big hug goodbye. I stood there alone feeling all the anxiety of months of training, countless questioning of my pace, and worried that I hadn’t trained hard enough.
And now begins the cheesy, emotional portion of my blog post. Bear with me. It has been a long few days…
You’ve probably caught on, that I have a pretty strong love affair with The Biggest Loser. I even joked to friends about how I was going to walk the half-marathon with Ali, rather than run the full myself, just because I love her so much.
About two minutes after Casey headed up to the front of the pack, standing there all alone, feeling anxious and sick, I looked up and it was Ali – walking right towards me. She was weaving her way back through the starting corral to the half-marathon crowd. It was one of those split second decisions – am I going to let her walk right past me? Before I knew what I was doing, I reached out and grabbed her arm. Like a big cheeseball, I said “Ali, I’m SO glad I go to see you, I was so excited you were going to be here.” And do you know what she did? She grabbed ME and gave me a gigantic bear hug. Like a genuine HUG. And she said, “look at you up here – you are AWESOME – there aren’t a lot of girls up here in this front pack.” Seriously. Best moment ever. I could not believe how nice she was. And then Betty Sue came along and SHE gave me a hug, and then they wished me luck and continued back through the crowd. (And for the record – Ali looks amazing in person – so tiny!)
I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was such a boost. She’s not a celebrity – she’s a real person with one hell of a story. From the 30 seconds I interacted with her, I could tell she was genuine and real, and it made me love her that much more. It was a great moment, and I couldn’t wait to tell my friends – just wished I had my camera! The next thing I knew the National Anthem was playing and they were counting down to the start.
All along I had worried about what pace to run. I figured I’d place myself between the 3:40 and 3:45 groups, and see how I felt. As soon as the gun went off, I started panicking that the 3:40 group was about 50 feet in front of me. The crowd was thick and it was hard to stay with them. The first few miles were terrible. I kept thinking about last year. Last year I was with Lindsey, and we were so excited to be running our first marathon. We were smiling and talking, running comfortably, and the miles passed by like minutes. This year, I was alone, and running fast, and very scared.
I started to have Chicago flashbacks. Around mile 4 that I decided that this was NOT going to happen to me today. No way – I worked too hard. I made a conscious decision to stop obsessively looking at my Garmin and watching the pace groups. I was going to run a pace that I thought I could realistically maintain for 26 miles – and that was not the pace I was currently running.
I backed off a little bit, just in time for the Gilbert massacre. Wow. Didn’t train that one nearly enough. It’s a straight uphill mile that seems to go on foreeeevveeeer, and even though I’ve run it many times, I never remembered it feeling that long. When I got to the top of Gilbert, I was holding around an 8:15 pace, but I had also totally burned my legs out on the hill. Rounding the Eden Park Overlook, I got depressed. I was sad. Sad that I was going to fail yet again. Sad that I was only 1/4 of the way through the torture. Sad that I was going to disappoint everyone up ahead cheering for me.
But once again, I got a boost. I got to the first relay zone at mile 7 and saw the blue pad – the one that sends text messages to all my friends and family letting them know how I’m doing. While this was not a physical group of cheering friends, it reminded me of all the people at home waiting for text messages, sending me wishes, hoping I was okay. I thought about Tina and Eddie, the whole Atlanta crew, Mary Ann down in Florida – all waiting for me to step on the blue pad. I pushed forward. I would not let them down.
Heading into Hyde Park, I should have felt awesome, but I didn’t. I don’t know why this first half of the race was so hard for me. My legs and hips were already so sore, and it made me nervous that I was hurting so early into the race. I blame my early pace. I got to the square and saw Liz and Eldrich cheering for me – thanks guys! Up ahead I knew my family and friends were at the Paxton corner. I saw them cheering and waving signs, and ran right up to them demanding ADVIL. They were all so excited to see me, but their looks of joy turned to fear when they saw how miserable I was. I scarfed down two pills and grabbed a strawberry Honey Stinger and kept going.
This was the turning point of the race for me. I finally snapped out of it. What was I doing? Why was I so nervous and scared? Who was putting all this pressure on me to run so fast? I realized I was driving myself crazy, and vowed to stop right then and there. I was almost half way. My supporters were cheering and proud. I was still running a great pace. I could do this.
Miles 13-19 went really well. I got into a zone and pounded straight ahead, pretty much blanking my mind out. The advil and goo had kicked in, and my body felt much better. I stomped on each passing blue pad, and felt my text message updates shooting all over the country. I felt bad that I had acted so badly when I saw my cheering squad the first time, and I was kicking myself for not finding out what was going on with Casey. I kept wondering where he was, how he was doing, and hoping he was feeling good. I was hoping to see my family in Mariemont, but the square came and went and I never saw them. I was bummed. And then right as I rounded the corner at the Frisch’s – there they were – mom and Sarah waving pink pig clappers! I cheered and yelled out to them “I’m doing much better!” I could tell they were relieved to see me in better spirits, and they assured me that Casey was smoking fast up ahead.
I felt good. My pace was good, around 8:30, which was what I intended to run all along – before I started all this Boston paranoia nonsense. When I got to the 20 mile marker, I actually thought it was the 21st mile marker, so that was a sickening punch in the stomach. I wasn’t happy. By the time I got to the real mile 21, everything hurt. I knew Lindsey and Wes were up ahead at 23, so I focused on the shorter goal of just making it to them. There was a huge crowd at that corner, but I finally spotted them, and was so excited when I saw the awesome posters they had made (inside joke not worth explaining, but it made me laugh really hard)…
They supplied me with much needed Vitamin Water and more advil, and sent me on my way to run three more miles. At mile 24 I started to walk. I did a full survey of myself – will I regret this at the end? Am I giving up? The answer was a resounding NO – I needed it. I started to walk, and two girls running past me encouraged me to keep running. So I started running. And then I started walking again. Another lady running past slowed down and said, “come on you can do this, don’t walk it in!” So I started running again.
At this point I was at the bottom of a slight, but daunting hill. I was still trucking along around an 8:40 pace, but my two minute-long walking breaks had dropped my average pace to 8:44. I was determined to not let it hit 8:50. I had no idea what that finishing time would be, but I knew I could hold on for two more miles. I focused on that goal, and that goal only. I ran up next to a guy, probably in his mid 30s, who was running right around my pace. Just as I got to him, he slowed to a walk. Here was my chance to be the same support that those women had been to me just a mile back. I grabbed his arm. “Come on – no walking – we’ll do this together.”
He sort of surprised me by his reaction. “Okay, you’re right. Let’s go.” We didn’t say much to each other, but we wouldn’t let each other stop. The only thing I know about him was that his name
was Chris and it was his second marathon (and his last, supposedly!). Perfect strangers, helping each other through what (for me at least) was some of the worst 15 minutes I’ve endured. Those two miles dragged on like eternity. Finally I saw the short climb at Riverside, and I knew from last year exactly where the finish line was. We picked up our pace as much as we could, and we charged ahead. And finally, finally I could see the balloons.
Chris and I ran the final stretch side by side, partners in misery. His family cheered for him, and then I saw my family on the other side. We crossed the finish line and I hit my watch without even looking at it. I gave him a huge hug and thanked him. He thanked me back and told me he would have walked the last two miles entirely had he not had me by his side. These are the types of things that happen in marathons. Indescribable and inexplicable bonds of loyalty to others enduring the same challenge.
I moved through the finish line towards the medals and looked straight ahead – Casey! I don’t know how long he waited in that spot, but when I came through the finish line, he was the first person I saw – wearing his medal and literally beaming with pride. He wrapped me up in a huge hug and told me how proud he was of me for running so fast. At this point I looked at my watch. 3 hours, 5o minutes. Holy crap. That destroyed my personal best by a whopping 46 minutes. Not bad for a year’s progress.
Of course I immediately wanted to know how he did – 3 hours, 11 minutes. Wow. The guy is fast. Like really, really fast. And let’s not forget he just ran a marathon 5 weeks ago, and didn’t even train for this one. Just tacked it on at the end. Obnoxious, really.
We grabbed some fuel and headed out to meet up with the cheering squad. They were so proud of us, and we were so grateful to them. Unless you run, you can’t possibly understand the power of people cheering for you. Knowing that they were waiting for me, cheering for me, and supporting me, made all the difference. They were the difference between Cincinnati and Chicago. Chicago was a huge crowd of strange faces that quite honestly just made me feel more alone. But in Cincinnati I had a team, and I knew where they would be, and they kept me going.
I know this post has been insanely long, and I doubt anyone is still reading. But here are my final thoughts…
A lot of people told me not to do this – run a marathon 6 days before the wedding. But I felt it was something I needed to do. A lot has changed for me this year. In fact pretty much everything has changed for me this year. Sometimes it can be unsettling – who exactly AM I? This marathon was my way of getting to know the new me – could I do it? Could I live up to the expectations that came with my leaner and stronger build? I know everyone else had the faith, but I didn’t. And I found it out there on Eastern Avenue.
Marathons are a place where you find out what you’re made of. You find out what breaks you, how much you can take, how far you can push. You find out who you are.
I can’t really describe what I found in myself, but I can tell you it was all good. I feel like I’m on top of the world. I ran the best race I could, and proved to myself how far I’ve come. I am so happy that Casey and I were both able to run great marathons, and carry the joy of that experience into our wedding this weekend.
I will try to squeeze in one more post before the weekend, but I make no promises. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll be back on the 18th as a Mrs., and I promise to share all the details and pictures right away!
There are no words for the feelings inside me as the wedding day draws closer and closer.
But to sum it all up…
Casey, thanks for believing in me, and – more importantly – for showing me how to believe in myself. I hope we always continue to run fast, and live slow.