Oh Boy, do I have an update for you folks! Let’s not waste any time, here we go…
Headed to Champaign on Thursday via Amtrak. I slept at least 80% of the train ride. Which is bizarre considering I had a decent amount of sleep the night before and it really wasn’t comfortable to sleep on the train. While it was more comfortable than an airplane, it was still mass transit and yet I slept better on the train than I did at the hotel in Champaign the following night.
We got to our hotel around 7ish so we decided to go out to eat right away because I knew I wanted an early evening. The rule of thumb is to make sure you get a good night’s sleep TWO nights prior to the race. It’s kind of a given that the night before a big race will be a bit restless so it’s best to stock up on sleep two nights prior. So our first night in Champaign was really uneventful. Which can be a good thing. The less drama associated with a marathon, the better.
Friday morning started pretty early, at least early in my book. Considering I didn’t set an alarm clock and didn’t have to be any where by a certain time, the fact that I was up by 7am says more about my nerves than about me being a morning person. And trust me, I am not a morning person. The rest of the morning was spent with continental breakfast, getting ready for the day including stretching and rolling out some kinks on the foam roller.
Then we headed to the expo for packet pick up and browsing. The time we were at the expo was a bit slow. I was a little disappointed because I didn’t get the good vibe I was hoping for. I didn’t get the excitement in my gut like I normally do when people are buzzing around before a big race. It was weird because the vibe was really mellow and I often wondered, “where the hell is everyone?” The expo was on the U of I’s college campus and even that didn’t provide a lot of extra excitement. I’m guessing the students were all hung over and sleeping off a good buzz because the campus mojo was really quite tame. After a quick lunch on campus we went back to the hotel to wait for our friends to arrive. They were also running the marathon and we were planning on running it as a group and sticking together. Once Mr. and Mrs. S arrived we helped them get settled at the hotel and then we all went back to the expo. This time the expo had a bit more hustle and bustle but it still lacked the ability to give me goose bumps. After the expo we went back to the hotel to get ready for our race. No, not the marathon but the 5k race we were doing the night prior to the marathon. Apparently running 26.2 miles isn’t enough of a challenge for me. Nope, I needed to run the night before too. It’s amazing what the offer of a special “I Challenge” medal will do to a girl.
We were in our hotel room when outside our door I heard the distinct sound of the clapper. I knew the Clappee (no, not that type of clappee, not the STD-type-person who has the gift that keeps on giving!) had to be Route Rocker Jolene. I had just found out the previous week that she was heading to Champaign to rock the route. Very Cool. After we let the Clappee into the room and were talking for a bit, a cowbell was heard ringing in the hallway. I knew this couldn’t be a coincidence that the two most prestigious marathon noise makers were just heard outside our doorway. So I figured the Cowbeller had to be another surprise route rocker. I peaked through the peep-hole to see none other than Burnin Squirrel Ty! I could not believe it. Ty and Jill had totally pulled one over on us and were there to rock the route, Squirrel style (forgive all of the squirrel references, it’s too long of a story to go into right now to catch you up on what it means). At this time Clappee, Cowbeller and Burnin Squirrel took their musical instruments of choice and a few stuffed squirrels across the hall to surprise Mr. and Mrs. S. And surprised they were. It was awesome. They never saw it coming, even though half of the hotel HEARD them coming.
I was impressed at how many people were out to run the 5K. And more impressively, was the amount of people who were out to actually cheer on the runners. The route was rocked for all 3.1 miles. I really give the community credit because they came out in full force for the 5K. BUT who I really give credit to were the college kids and all of the fraternities that we ran past. Granted they really didn’t do much more than take their normal Friday night party outside, but still it was cool. So many of the frats had loud music playing as most of the guys chugged beer and yelled as the runners ran past. It was awesome and it made me wish I had a more normal college experience. While it was cool that the college kids were out supporting the 5K, I was really going to hold my high praise to see how many of them got their asses out of bed and were back cheering us on at 7am Saturday morning.
After the 5K we had to do a quick change to make our dinner reservations. But it turns out we didn’t need to rush as much as we did (or literally change our clothes in the car as we were driving) because it took us well over an hour for us to get our food. I was not impressed. Throw some damn pasta in some hot water and poof, my meal is ready. How could they drag it out for so long? So, my anxiety level rose each time the kitchen door opened and it wasn’t our food. I usually eat EARLY (me and the senior citizens capitalizing on early bird specials-thank you very much) the night before a long run as not to upset my stomach. I sure didn’t want to eat late and then jump right into bed. I figured that scenario had porta pottie stops written all over it.
If you are wondering to yourself if I still get nervous on race morning, even after having 2 previous marathons under my belt, the answer would be – hell yes! (Have you not been paying attention?) Clappee sent me a text in the morning with our standard race morning greeting of “Race Day”. My reply was, “No, Sleep In and Lounge Around Day”. Not sure if I should be proud of the fact that I still had the slightest bit of humor left in me or if I should be ashamed of the fact that I might have went ahead with lounging around if I could have gotten Clappee to agree to it!
As you guys are all well aware that I was very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very concerned about the weather (actually I think I didn’t do my worrying justice and may have just undersold it right there!). But to my credit I didn’t check the weather for the two days prior to the race. I figured the weather was not going to change drastically enough for me to stop worrying but the opposite could happen. It could get worse for me, which would actually make me throw up. (Did I mention that I did actually spit up in my mouth on Wednesday? Not sure if I was catching a bug or if I was just that nervous and crazed.)
I got up, got ready and did my pre-race, warm up mile to try to pre-empt any possible bathroom issues before race time. And thanks to Mr. S. for joining me in the mile. Between the two of us, we have enough running/bathroom stories to fill a novel. And trust me, during all of our long training runs, we’ve actually discussed most of them. Gotta love the fact that eventually friends run out of shit (pun intended) to talk about so eventually the conversations turn to poop. I’m not proud of it, but it has helped us pass many a mile just chatting up a storm. But after our warm up mile we met up with everyone else and we were off to the races, literally!
Traffic to the race was not what we had anticipated and we got to the start really early. Which was fine with me. The extra time allowed me get in line for the bathroom, 3 times, and also have time to chit-chat, stretch and relax. I’m using the word relax but I really mean, sitting around pretending to look relaxed while inside I wanted to run away quickly. And if any of you have ever seen me run, this would have been the only time I actually ran quickly.
Lining up for the start we ran into the Route Rockers: Clappee, Burnin Squirrel and Cowbeller (I bet you guys didn’t realize those were your names? Feel free to use them for other covert operations.) The whole thing was relatively relaxed and I was ready for the race to start.
A bit of standing around, a bit more stretching, a lot of yawning, the National Anthem and we were off! As with the 5K, we started the race running through the campus. And in case you were wondering, yes college kids did show up for the start of the race. Well, actually two kids showed up. While Friday night had dozens of frat boys hooting and hollering on their front lawn, Saturday morning had two. I figured a) they never went to bed from Friday night and were still drunk or b) they were freshmen pledges that the seniors made go out and “represent”. Either way, I appreciated the effort.
The first few miles went well and went quickly. We chit-chatted about work stuff and had a few conversations we were “holding” until the race, so we had something to talk about. At this point the weather wasn’t horrible. The wind was strong and the air was still cool. Okay, coolish. Or perhaps a better way of saying it is… I was already sweating and hot and would have been perfectly fine if the race were a 10K and not a marathon. But I knew there was a good chance that before too long, I would be too hot to be happy! But in the mean time, I was trying to soak it all in and enjoy the moment I was in. AND to show you that I was truly trying to enjoy the moment, I didn’t even turn my Ipod on for the first 10 miles or so. I was too busy talking, listening and enjoying the spectators. I knew I could turn my Ipod on at any moment and fall back on my music to help motivate me. Or so I thought.
Shortly after 10 miles, I realized I was getting to the point where I was starting to overheat. But I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t. I was trying to think positive thoughts, appreciate the wind and pretend I wasn’t hot. And I needed more distraction so I thought “music, I need music now”. So I hit play and I got nothing. Then I did it again and again. I furiously worked the volume and the play button and I finally heard a faint tune coming through my ear buds. I realized my volume on my Ipod was fucked and frankly, that meant so was I. And I hate to admit it, but I knew this Ipod had a volume control issue and yet I chose to use it anyway even though I have another Ipod. I once had a problem with the volume on this Ipod during a training run and I couldn’t believe I still allowed myself to use this particular MP3 player for the marathon. The Ipod eventually played, it just played so softly it was hard to hear the music. So on this, my marathon run, the Ipod volume was damn near non-existent and then when you add in the wind that was whipping through my ear buds – I couldn’t hear a damn bit of music. I was just on the verge of defeat when I faintly caught a bit of the tune that was playing. It was Let It Be!!!!!!!!!!!! For those that have not read “Kanye, you Lyrical Genius” (March 13, 2011), Let It Be was one of my 5, “when-in-doubt-this-song-will-keep-me-going-for-miles” song. Let It Be has special meaning because of my dad, one of the two people I was running this marathon in memory of. I tried desperately to hear the song but I couldn’t hear it. Every now and then I would hear the chorus and that’s about it. I replayed it over and over again. I was hoping that at some point the volume would start working and I could enjoy the song. But even if the volume didn’t kick in, just hearing the words “Let it Be” almost brought me to tears. And it did get me through a few more miles!
The last 13.1 miles:
As I said earlier, I was getting warm and I was worried. It wasn’t the same as I felt in San Diego, it was different. In San Diego I had heat fatigue and in general San Diego was a bad race and I hit the wall – early. I didn’t have the overall fatigue like I did 2 years ago, I was just too warm. I was starting to question my vision and when I say question, I mean I was not seeing straight. This has happened to me in the past when I’ve been running and I overheated. It’s like my head is telling me, “HELLO, if you’re not going to stop, I’ll make you stop by making you run into a tree because you can’t see.” Obviously I wasn’t worried about running into a tree but I was worried about the implications that my blurred vision would have on my overall ability to keep running. I figured if my body is already protesting and giving me these “clues”, that I may be in for more bodily surprises. And not the good kind of surprise.
The blurred vision was now partnering with a bit of lightheartedness and dizziness. Normally blurred vision and dizziness would mean I just had one helluva good time with a 12-pack of beer and all I’d need to do would be to sleep it off a bit, and I’d be good to go again. But this dizziness and blurred vision wasn’t courtesy of Mr. Bud Weiser. So I, unlike the two frat boys that showed up for the start of the race, was not enjoying the feeling. I didn’t know what it all meant or how it was going to play out, but you don’t have to be a genius to realize that blurred vision and dizzy spells don’t make for a marathon PR.
Nope, no marathon PR for me. Instead I hyperventilated at mile 16. 16.68 to be exact. I started to feel “it” in my chest and I knew what was about to happen. I had hyperventilated twice while running in 2009 but haven’t done it since. So I didn’t really expect it to happen now. But once I felt the heavy, “I can’t breathe” feeling in my chest I knew what was happening. And to my credit (I think) I actually stopped running when I started to hyperventilate. And don’t laugh or think that stopping running was a given. The first time it happened I didn’t stop running until my husband made me stop, I thought I could “run through it”.
While I was hyperventilating I had a million thoughts run through my head. I was thinking holy crap I can’t believe this is happening after 2 years of it not happening. I was thinking OMG, how the hell do I finish 10 more miles after this? I was thinking is this just the start of it, what if something else happens? I was thinking, I hope I’m not making a scene. I was thinking, did I somehow make this happen to myself? I was thinking, and wondering if I could have done something different while I was running to have prevented the attack? I was thinking, about how horrible I felt for Mr. and Mrs. S. for ruining their marathon. Especially Mrs. S. This is her first marathon and the last thing she needed was my sorry-ass sidelined at mile 16. I was thinking, how could this be happening again? How could I be having another shitty marathon when I did so well during training?
All of these thoughts ran through my head in about a minute or a minute and half and then my breathing returned to normal. Which meant… it was time to start running again. I knew I couldn’t waste time “recovering” or waste any time walking, etc. If any of those two things happened, I knew it would be detrimental to me and I might not be able to finish. I know my downfalls and “resting” in this case would have been a downfall. I knew I need to get back on that horse. Even if it might not have been the best thing for me at the time.
The next few miles had me hurtin’. And that meant I was one crabby bitch. When I’m having a bad run, I get extremely bitchy and I want to hurt someone. And I almost had to hurt some of the spectators who kept cheering, “you’re looking good”, “you’re doing great”. I couldn’t have looked worst and I couldn’t have been farther away from feeling great. When you’re not doing well, the last thing you want to hear are these false statements. I am 100% the reason blogs and articles tell you NOT to say those particular comments. If I was carrying the knife I was given as a gift (from Mr. S.) for the marathon with me, I very well might have gone all South Side on these people and stabbed someone. The way it was, I threatened to stab Mr. S. with my safety-pin that was holding my bib on my shirt!
Not only was I hurting physically, but emotionally I was a mess. The fact that I was having another bad race was just beyond my comprehension. And while I knew it was a possibility because of the temperature, I always still held out hope it wouldn’t happen. So the fact that it was indeed another bad race had me low. And the guilt I felt for bringing down my running partners had me really low. I wanted them to go on without me (save yourselves!) so they could salvage their marathon but they decided to stick with me. They said we were doing this together. Which made me feel good and bad at the same time. Guilt, oh the guilt!
Running, running and more running. I just had to keep going. I ticked off every single mile in my head. Only 10 more to go.
Just get to mile 20 and you’ve only got…
6 more to go.
I told myself: That’s an hour. I can make it an hour. Anyone can make it an hour. But I’m having a hard time seeing and keeping my balance. If I need to, I can grab onto Brian for balance. Keep moving. Don’t think about it. Seriously stop thinking about the fact that you can’t see. Squint and shut your eyes tight and when you open them you’ll be “refocused”.
Don’t forget that you can always grab Brian and run holding onto his shirt for balance.
Mile 22 brought on another attack and more hyperventilating and this time it brought tears too. I stopped and Brian had me turn around and face into the wind to help cool off and to help get air into my lungs. I heard a runner as he ran past ask if we wanted him to send medical. I said “NO!” A volunteer came over and said that there was someone who could help just ahead. I just felt so defeated, disappointed and embarrassed that this was going to be my legacy for marathon #3. I was questioning if I had any right to ever run a distance race like this again. Obviously this whole time I’ve just been a poser and really do not have the chops and ability to pull it off. And once again… the guilt. How can I do this to my friends? I just wanted to cry. Oh wait a minute… I did cry!
But once I was able to breathe, we were off again to finish this fucking marathon once and for all.
At mile 25 Brian grabbed my hand and squeezed it and said, “this last 1.2 is for Jack and Alice”. I said, “yep!”. I appreciated each grueling step of that last 1.2 miles. Life isn’t always easy and neither is running. And the irony of how tough this past year was and how tough the journey of this marathon was also, was not lost on me. I just wanted to finish, cross that line, and realize that I had conquered one more challenge in my life.
I was almost done. The stadium was right up ahead, the crowd was so close I could hear the cheers and my watch read 26.0. Only .2 left to go, I was as good as done. Then I saw her. I saw Clappee and she was holding a sign that read, “4 Jack & Alice”. OH GOOD LORD! I needed that sign and I didn’t need that sign. The tears, oh the tears, that sign brought. And not just from me. I have to say I was not the only one with tears after reading that sign. This other person shall remain nameless as not to bust his macho mystique, but I may perhaps be married to him!
I crossed the finish line with my husband’s hand in mine and tears on my face. At that point I wasn’t even sure why I was crying. Was it because the race was so fricken hard again? Was it because I was so damn happy I had finished after a grueling final 10 miles? Or because I ran it for my mom and dad? I’m sure it was all of the above.
I’m not sure what my running future entails. In the days following the marathon, I’ve had a million scenarios in my head. I know I want to keep running. I need the discipline it brings to my life and I need the calorie burning it brings to my thighs. Also most of my friends are into running and it’s so much fun to do races and events together with good friends. I just don’t know what marathoning holds for me. I’ve learned I can’t handle the warm temperatures. But does that mean I should give up running the actual races and stick to just training during the winter months or does that just mean if I do want to do a marathon I have to find that elusive race on Antarctica (they do have one!)? Or as someone suggested, do I train in summer, which I’ll hate, but run in late fall when the weather is cool? Why have a good training season just to have a shitty marathon, right? Maybe I need to reverse it and have a hard, heat-filled training season in order to enjoy a cool race day.
Basically I don’t know what the answer is and I’m not sure I will for awhile. But I know I’m too stubborn to give it all up. And that’s okay. Because that stubbornness is the only reason I finished. Otherwise I might still be sitting at mile 16 trying to figure out who I can con into running to the finish to fetch me a beer!
So to wrap it up, thanks for taking yet another marathon journey with me. It’s been fun (at times)! I appreciate the support more than you could know.
Until next time… Gotta run.