I remember a life before running. The Sara of 10 years ago would have never considered running, not outside, not on a treadmill. I didn’t know what it was to be healthy, to eat healthy, to live healthy. I wish at times that I could go back to that girl and slap her upside the head! These things, they are connected. The way you feel is based on the way you take care of you.
It was one of the many thoughts that ran inside my head, during my 26.2 mile trek on Sunday.
Kevin and I got to the starting line just a few minutes before the race started. There were a lot of people there, so many crowded up front. You start to learn that those people are the elite runners. This isn’t their first time at the rodeo, you know? Whether it’s a 5K, fun run or a marathon, these individuals are always right up at the starting line, ready to cross over, so they are one step closer to that finish line.
It took us a good five minutes before we even got to the starting line. And that’s OK, because your personal race doesn’t begin until your shoes cross over the track. Kevin was revved up. He was whooping and hollering, filled with excitement. Unfortunately, I was filled too- my bladder was full. There was only one port a potty for runners before the race started, but once we crossed over the track, he and I made a beeline for a row of never used johns.
And NOW our race can begin.
Kevin and I jogged at an even pace for roughly 6 miles. I envisioned this, for us. I figured he and I could run the first 13.1 miles together, the 1/2 marathon, which he had trained for, and then I’d break away and continue on to finish the full. It was nice, talking to each other. The miles seemed to speed by. Yet around mile 7, Kevin’s right knee gave out on him. He immediately stopped and walked to the side, in order to stretch. I slowed down considerably, waiting for him. There are times a simple stretch is all you need to continue on. Other times, you can run through the annoyance, and it seems to heal itself. Kevin jogged up to me, and we continued on. Only, he had to stop a couple of more times, in total pain. He told me to go on without him, and I asked if he was OK. He said he was, and shooed me on.
Miles 7-13 were a blur for me. It was the same trail from the 2009 Omaha marathon. I got cocky, going up the hilled streets. A lot of other runners were slowing down and walking, and I plowed through, not stopping, and projecting forward. I thought about all the hill work I’d done over the last four months, in preparation for this moment. From mile 1 to mile 13, I only stopped two times, for water, and to gel.
And that was my downfall.
Pride cometh before the fall, isn’t that the truth?
Around mile 20, I was dying. Of course, not literally, but my hips felt as though they wanted to fall off. My knees were burning with a new intensity I’ve never experienced. I had to stop and walk. I had another gel, and started to stop and walk at every water station. A flagger with “4:15” was going in the opposite direction of me, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to make that time, but I held out hope for 4:30, which was the time I was trying to hit. But as the miles creeped on, I knew that was an impossibility, and I knew it even moreso when the “4:30” flagger ran in the opposite direction of me, too. A lot of walking now, and I could feel that brick wall hitting me in the face.
Soon, there were a few people scattered here and there, the majority of the runners now gone. I asked a nice man walking by me what the time was, and he told me it was 11:00am. We had started at 7:00am, so 4 hours in. We had passed the 20 mile marker a while back, so I felt there was no way I couldn’t at least make the marathon in 5 hours. I often run 10 minute miles, 6 miles would be completed in an hour, no problem. But, when your body is already horribly depleted of energy, and in pain, 6 miles seems as though it’s almost impossible.
The wall felt enveloping as I ran as much as I could, and then walked. I often would pull to the side and stretch my legs, and starting to run again after that was brutal. The thoughts that went through me were something like this: “I hope Kevin is OK. Maybe he’s in one of these trucks, coming to pick me up. Maybe I should just walk the rest of the way. Am I causing injury to myself? Can I make this? I’m such a douche bag, for leaving Kevin. I wonder how Ben and Nolan are doing. I can do this. If I can have babies with no medication, I can finish this race. And take medication later.”
I also thought about what I would do differently, in the next race I’d run in. Slow and steady, to conserve energy. Not try to be a hero. Go for the long distance, not the speed, which is what I’ve said so many times before, but obviously didn’t practice.
Mile marker 23 presented itself to me, and I walked up to it, and some cheerleaders handed me cups of water. I only had 3 more miles. That really was nothing, in comparison, and there was no way I’d stop and give up, because I don’t stop, and I don’t give up. And I would be damned if I wasn’t going to finish this FUCKING RACE!!!!
My legs were killing me, but my brain was on go mode. My lungs felt fine, and I was breathing a nice, gentle pace. I started to ignore my hips, and my lower back, and anything below my waist, as I cruised into each mile. It was slow, but I wasn’t stopping, not once. 24 miles came and went. I was listening to music, and this song started to play:
This made me think of Kevin, and I thought about him waiting for me there at the finish line, and it propelled me even faster. I just wanted to get there, to be with him again.
I hit 25 miles, and a water station, which I quickly grabbed a cup, and kept on running as I did so, tossing the cup to the side of the road. Less than a mile now. I could see the end in the distance, and I wasn’t stopping, not for anything or anyone- not even if some car decided to drive in front of me, or if there were a throng of people I had to burst my way through, I was not stopping.
Marker 26. So close now. Kevin was there, waiting for me. There was hardly anyone else, because so many people had already gone home. He was busy taking photos of me as I ran to cross the finish line. There was no huge fanfare, although there were Marines handing out lanyards, and one of them placed a heavy one over my head, and I stopped, disoriented. Was I really done? It’s over? I don’t have to run anymore? My lungs felt tight. I had a hard time breathing for a second or two. I hobbled over to the food, and snatched up two bananas, half a bagel, water bottle, and told the woman behind the table, “Hey, good thing about coming in late; no lines to contend with.” She smiled at me as Kevin met up with me, and we helped each other over to a canopy, where I proceeded to become unladylike, sitting with my legs spread eagle in front of me. Crotch shot? I could care less.
I barely could taste the bagel as he told me about his horrible knee pain, and walking was all he could do to finish up his 1/2 marathon. He was very disappointed, and had said he’d considered turning around, because it didn’t feel like a real win for him, in terms of completion. I told him it was very real, and he had finished, whether he walked it or not! He kept going and didn’t quit. he said he had to have his knee iced when he crossed the finish line. I was very proud of him for not giving up!
We were in so much pain afterwards. It seemed no amount of stretching or walking helped. We both hobbled back to our car, which was parked a few blocks away, and we joked about how dilapidated we looked.
But with all of that, and I can’t speak for Kevin here… I’m totally hooked. It’s not just the feeling of accomplishment. There’s something insanely addicting to running long distances, and if I could make better sense of it, I would. Running overall feels incredible, but crossing that finish line felt truly remarkable. I can’t imagine not being able to do it again. And again.
But not now. I need to seriously heal from this race first.