Did I mention that I fell asleep restlessly the night before the marathon?
The morning arrived! I was awake very early and as one can guess, did not get sleep much at all. I opened up my lap top to find an e-mail from Sarah that she had written the night before. Essentially this note told me I was ready. To believe I was ready and to calm down and have the time of my life running this marathon. It was very encouraging and very welcomed and I remember a moment of calmness washing over me as I read her words. Sarah was going to meet me at the halfway mark and run the second half with me. This thought was also a comfort.
I went into that race with a plan. I needed a 3:45 to qualify and traditionally, I race like a dumbass. I go out too fast and then struggle. This is in any race... 10k, half, whatever. I knew that was not the way to run this qualifying marathon. I decided to hook up (not literally of course) with the 3:50 pacer and run about 10 miles with him. I would then begin to pull ahead once I was fresh and warmed up and feeling relaxed. I would need to knock only 11 seconds per mile off my time in order to hit a 3:45. I felt I could do that (well, I felt I could do that when I wasn't freaking out).
Once dressed and ready, John and I headed to the lobby, where we met Sarah and Susan. I don't remember being as anxious as the day before. I was able to eat some of the stale bagels the hotel had sitting out and drink some precious coffee. I wonder if I was experiencing the calm before the storm. I was actually chatting and not nasty. We headed out to the car and drove downtown, parked in a garage and headed to the start. The forecast for the day was perfect. The morning was starting out in the 40's with a high expected in the upper 50's. I could not have hand picked a better forecast for that race. Making my way through the crowd, I felt the panic set in once again. Here I was. The qualifying marathon. The marathon that would get me a ticket to Boston. And then I began to recall my 2007 marathon. I felt my breathing get shallow. From 4:52 to 3:45... how in the HELL was I going to do this? I tried to hide my panic from John, Sarah and Susan. They were excited and chatty. John was snapping pictures and taking video.
We made our way to the 3:50 pacer without any problem. He had yet to have a flood of people crowding around him. I needed to go to the bathroom, but didn't dare leave my spot, so I didn't go. I listened carefully as the pacer told us he would be running "even splits". Perfect, I thought. This puts me at a pace of 8:40's for the first 10 miles. I can do that. Again, calmness. The crowd was thickening, the intensity was building. Music was blaring, excited and nervous runners were jumping and stretching and staying close. Runners were messing with their watches, girls were making sure their headbands were in place and pulling their pony tails tight. I enjoy the beginning of races. For as nervous as I was, I loved the atmosphere. It always makes me so proud to be part of such an awesome sport that anyone can do. An event where both elite and novice runners band together in the same place at the same time and for a moment, become equal. The starting line is a wonderful place to be!
The gun went off and the race began. I stayed so close to that pacer. Steady and even, allowing the stress anxiety and nervousness fall away. We were running nice and easy and when the first mile past, I glanced down at my Garmin to notice we had run that mile in 8:21. Ok, that's fine... he'll probably back off a bit this mile. Mile two.. our pace was 8:15. I felt good and decided I would just do whatever he did and not worry about it. Mile three... I could no longer avoid the fact that I needed to go the bathroom. Tons of Gatorade, water and nerves were finally kicking in. I stopped to use the mile 3 port o john... no line.. in and out. I caught up to the pacer and was feeling more relaxed and warmed up. By mile 5, his pace had slowed a bit, but was still not the 8:40's I had assumed we'd be running. Now I felt good. Now I got antsy and now I was about to throw my smart girl plan in the trash. I pulled ahead of the pacer (5 miles earlier than planned and over paced for even a 3:45 finish). I ran the next couple of miles easily. By mile 10, though, I began wondering if I'd made the right decision. All I could think of was "I'm not sure I can do this for 16 more miles." Ok, NEVER, EVER think of how much further you have to go when running distance. That will kill you... and it did. By the time I got to mile 13, I was not feeling great. Sarah jumped in and John told me I was behind. I was NOT behind as my pace band had me 2 minutes ahead. He was wrong, but didn't realize it. His statement however, upset me terribly. I began to think maybe I was wrong and I was behind and I STILL HAD 13 MILES TO GO! "How ya feelin'?" Sarah asked. "Not too great, Sarah." "Well, that is a problem. We are just halfway done." We ran along, chatting. She was trying to get my mind off how I was feeling. Unfortunately, she did not come armed with any good, juicy gossip. I'm sure that would have helped! Over the next 5 miles, I was beginning to mentally spiral downward and it was happening quickly. By mile 18, I was really struggling. Of course the thought of "I can't do this for 8 more miles" was killing me. I stayed steady for another 3 miles, but at mile 21, I'd decided I was done. I'll never forget this moment and how my body reacted. I turned to Sarah and said "It's ok, Sarah. I wasn't sure I was ready anyway. You know I'll try again. This is only my first attempt. I'll come watch you in Boston." Game over. Done. Guess what happened INSTANTLY to my pace? It dropped. Mile 21 was where fell off the pace band. It was also the moment my mind DECIDED I was not going to qualify. Some fighter, huh? Sarah was not happy with me. She did tell me that it was "bullshit". She continued to pull me along and try to get me to pick it up. But once your mind decides something, your body follows... involuntarily, it follows. The brain is the most powerful human organ and yes, my brain screwed my race. I was miserable! I was so negative during those miles. I was irritated with the spectators, the other runners and Sarah. She had only jumped in halfway and was trying to torture me. She did not understand what I felt like right then. I wanted her to jump off the course (I actually may have wanted her to jump off a cliff right then), but then again, I didn't. At mile 25, I saw John. I told him to come run with me. He jumped in and with Sarah and John each taking my hand, I was pulled for roughly the next 1/2 mile... physically pulled. That was also when I informed John I would be going to Boston to watch Sarah race. Prior to that, he told me "You can't go unless you qualify." Ok, that is funny.... he already knew that if I wanted to go, I'd go. Sometimes he likes to pretend he's in charge and throw his weight around.
John and Sarah jumped off the course as I made my way through the final .2. I crossed the mats and looked at my Garmin. Shocked! How did I manage a time like 3:50:10 for how slowly and horribly I was running at the end? I was expecting closer to a 4 hour finish. I made my way to my friends and family. Yes, there was Maggie, in from Houston. She came to watch me qualify. She looked a her imaginary watch and told me I owed her quite the hefty airfare. I hugged Krista, who had finished the half, Sarah... who I'm not sure what she was thinking and John, whose disappointment could have been spotted a mile away. "I'm sorry, buddy. Next time."
Now I had 4 minutes and 10 seconds to shave off. That was doable. I had just shaved off 1 hour and 2 minutes, so this would be no problem. And so I began to plan the next one.