Oct 24, 2006

"At the 18th mile you wonder why in the hell you are doing this and at 26.2 miles it all becomes clear." That was a quote I read on the back of a woman's T-shirt that was running in front of me at the Chicago marathon this past weekend.

Yup, I did it! Well, sort of. If you have been reading my blog, you will know that I went into the race with some injuries. The four weeks prior to the race, I couldn't train due to fierce pain in my arm and my pulled hamstring in my left thigh. So I rested for four weeks in hopes that all would be well on race day.
I flew up my older sister, Louisa (yes, I had to put that she is older - that is what sisters do) from Texas to see me race. She has never attended a marathon before and boy was she in for a surprise. This marathon is great! Almost 40,000 runners, over 1.5 million spectators, and lots of entertainment along the route.
Weeks prior to the race I have been eating lots of fish and chicken and really loading up on carbs. I am not used to all those carbs, all the more reason to start weeks in advance. I was beginning to feel like this race was not meant to be. First, my pain and injuries, then a WEEK early, my "ladies day" started the day prior to the race, cramps and all. Yes, I know this falls under the TMI catagory (too much information), but when I tell a story, I don't leave out the details. Then, the weather turns awful! It started out cold, and only got colder and the wind really picked up about mid race. And the two nights prior, I slept awful with the pain in my arm. You'd think I would have sense enough to say to myself: okay, there is pain, rain, PMS, and not enough training....maybe I should pass on this race.
But, who said I had any sense?
We get up at 4:30 AM and head for the 6AM shuttle that was 20 minutes late. We got to the starting area (Grant Park) and the wind started to really kick in. I had my sister carry my bag of "goodies" for me. It was filled with clothing, knee brace, gloves, hats, sun glasses, you name it. So as race time neared, and still trying to figure out the weather, I kept digging in the bag (and driving my sister nuts) and tried to decide: hat or no hat? gloves or no gloves? jacket or no jacket (I HATE running with a jacket), got my power shots? got my sunglasses? Ipod? earphones? oops, don't forget that extra tampon, now where in the hell do I store that on myself??? Water bottle? where is my other glove? ...it went on and on because when I run 26.2 miles, I want to be as comfortable as possible and have all that I need and not a single ounce more.
I stretch and warm up and pray that I get through this. My sis is snapping photos as if I was trying out for the Olympics. She is so proud, so happy, and so friggin sleepy and cold too.
I say my good-byes and go get into the crowd. I picked a pace of 5 hours. That means that I find the area in which other people think they can finish in about 5 hours as well so that way we all are running about the same pace. I looked behind me and was happy to see that there were two more pace times slower than the one I picked. I met a wonderful British woman who flew here to race her very first race. I welcomed her to America. The National Anthem played and I saw lots of gloved hands go over jacket covered hearts - mine included. It was a really touching moment. There were people from all around the world racing - when we all gather for a common goal - it really does make this world a whole lot smaller - which is comforting.
The horn blasts and we all cheer and ......wait....we didn't all start running just yet. You see, I am so far back in the pack, that it takes almost 20 minutes for my section to even get to the starting line. We all wear electronic chips on our shoes which record our time as we cross the starting and finishing lines and some area in between as well.
Well, I had on my Ipod, and as I crossed the the starting line, I cranked it up and the very first song I put on it, just for this race, was "American Woman." It has a great beat and I love that song. I was in a sea of bobbing heads and thousands, no, millions of spectators crammed on bridges, yelling, waving, cheering as we all passed under the bridge. Spectators were everywhere, making all the runners feel like Olympians.
I was really feeling good. No pain, nothing. I kept my pace a little bit slower than I wanted to, but that was a good thing. In fact, I ran the first 13 miles really, really well. In fact, I didn't even stop to walk or rest until after the 10th mile! I usually stop and walk a minute or two every 5 miles, but I was feeling so good. I remember thinking to myself: "Oh! This is what it feels like to be a real runner!...."
While running those first 13 miles, I put myself right, smack in the middle of the crowd. I wanted to be really "in the moment." You can't even begin to imagine what it felt like to be running side by side with thousands of runners and to look ahead and at the slight incline, get a wonderful view of thousands of runners, in all colors, sizes, shapes....and all of us headed for the same goal: the finish line. I had to look behind me, and when I did, I saw thousands of runners - some with smiles, some already huffing, some looking up at the buildings, some waving to their friends...it was just amazing to be a part of that crowd. For years, I've seen the famous photos of the Chicago marathon and its runners and always wanted to do this, and now, here I am - doing it. I even found myself choking up a bit with the thought.
I can think of no better way to enjoy a city, such as Chicago, then with the views that I and 39,999 other runners had that day. The streets were closed, and we got to see all kinds of neighborhoods, houses, buildings and have the city's finest (the police) wave and cheer us on as they blocked the roads and protected us as we ran.
I am asked often what do I think about or "do" as I run for so long. Well, in this race, I enjoyed reading the backs of the T-shirts of the runners. I liked the one that was in front of me for a few miles. It said in small letters: "If you can read this, then that means I am not last." Then there was shirt that said "If you are running this race, you are not a runner - you are an athlete." Me? An athlete? Never thought of it that way, and it may be stretching the meaning of that word a bit, but I will take it anyway! Then there were the spiritual shirts, religious shirts, the shirts that listed all the marathons its owner participated in. But then there were a couple of shirts that made it hard for me to breath because I got choked up. One shirt, worn by a woman said, "This jersey was worn by my sister. I run in her honor." Then it had her sister's birth/death date on it. Another shirt, worn by a woman, said "I am the first twin. My twin can't run, so I run for us both."
Then there were the spectators with their cheers and posters. A young man held up a poster that said: "Free massages for hot chicks. Everyone else, $5." I couldn't help but wonder if I would have had to pay or not. Then there was a poster from another man that said, "Are you tired? You should be. You have been running through my mind." Yup, the cheesy line is now in print. Another poster held by a woman said, "You can do it!" But what made it funny was that as she held it high, she chanted over and over "You can do it! But I can't do it. You can do it, but I can't do it!" And she chanted this as she jumped up in down in glee over and over.
Of course what is a marathon without a runner who juggles, a man in a cow outfit with utters, a man with a lizard hat, devils, fairies, clowns, "outlaws" in cowboy hats and a group of about 30 who blew whistles (loudly) with every step. Thank God they ran faster than me and I didn't have to listen to those whistles for very long.
About mile 12, I started to feel the all-too familiar pain starting to creep from my left butt cheek, down my thigh. Damn! I slowed down a bit and then stretched. I jogged some more, stretched some more, made sure I fueled up well, and kept going. I wanted to keep running, but my leg, at mile 16, said "ain't gonna happen." So, I had to stop. I stretched and stretched and stretched. I started to jog again, for only about 10 seconds and had to stop. That was it. I was now forced to walk the last 10 miles. I was so mad at myself and really, just pissed to put it bluntly. Well, I stayed mad for about a mile. I was just yelling at myself inside my head. Angry that all my training wasted because of this darn injury - and now I can't even run.
After beating myself up for over a mile, I finally told myself that I can stay mad for the last 10 miles, or I can just accept it and enjoy the fun all around me. I decided to enjoy the fun - and I also decided to power walk those 10 miles. So, what did I think about during those last 10 miles? The last marathon I did, last March (which was the very first marathon I ever did), I did a lot of thinking about my life, its turns, and what I went through in the previous months. This marathon, I thought of others. Not myself. I thought about my sister who was cold and waiting and waiting for me. I thought about my boyfriend, who is starting a new job and wondered how he was doing and really wishing he could be here to cheer me on. I thought about my new nephew, due in December and what he was going to be like. I thought about how today is Freddy's 50th birthday and I need to call him. I thought about my friend Debbie, and her 50th birthday coming up. I thought about my boyfriend's brother-inlaw who just found out the day before the race that he has cancer. In fact, I thought about him the most and how I wanted to finish the race just for him. I thought about all of my friends back in St. Louis, and how much they mean to me. I thought about all of you and how would I describe my day to you in this blog and if you would even care to read all the mundane details. I also just simply took in the beauty of the city, its people, and just being a part of such a great race. Oh, yeah, and I did do a lot of thinking about how friggin cold I was!!
Well, I had 800 meters left, and I wasn't about to walk across the finish line...so I began to jog again - with great pain, but I didn't care. I turned down my Ipod so I could hear the crowd and the announcers. I rounded the corner and I could see the finish line banner - never in my life did I ever love a banner so much. As I made my way down those last meters, I glanced around for my sister. I didn't see her, but then I heard "Go Bitsey! Go Bitsey!!" (That was my childhood nickname) and I looked up and she was cheering as if I was from Kenya and about to break a world record. I wouldn't say I set I record.
I finished at 6:31. A little more than an hour longer than my first marathon. I wasn't too thrilled with that. But, then again, I had to remind myself that I just completed 26.2 friggin miles in cold, the wind, and with a very painful leg. Not too shabby. Besides....there's always next year!
Louisa snapped photos and I waved and grinned so happily. I got my medal, my "warming blanket" and my chip off my shoe. I met Louisa at the tall chain-link fence and the first thing out of my mouth: "Is there any food in that bag?" She handed me a giant, and I mean giant cookie that I ate in about 3 minutes and asked for more food. We got a cab and went straight for the hotel. I jumped into a hot shower, gave my sister some BenGay and asked her to rub it in my left butt (what are sisters for if you can't ask them to rub BenGay into your sore butt???), I got under the covers, to try to get the chill out of me and then grabbed the "warming blanket" and used that to help me warm up. The photo below sort of says it all. I was out.
I woke up about 7PM, we ordered Chicago style pizza, watched the Cardinals, talked to my boyfriend on the phone, and I was out again.....I was out....I was happy....I was warm....I was full of pizza.....and I was an "athlete."
Thank you for your well wishes. They mean so much to me.
from my house to your house,


bethy said...

you re-told your experience so well. i feel like i was a part of it now. thanks for doing all the work. :)

you should be SO PROUD. you did it!

Anonymous said...

what a great post. my husband ran the New York marathon. the next day he walked around the city with me (my first time in NY). you reminded me of what a great time we had a looong time ago. Good for you!!!

Anonymous said...

Hey E-
This was one of your best posts! I really enjoyed reading it! Like your other commentor, I felt like I was right there. Ciao bella!


Anonymous said...

Your "shop talk" is such an inspiration to me. Now I can add your marathon story to it. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I hope you know what it means to those of us who are still in the "dreaming" stage.

Glenna said...

oooooooh. Your post made me teary-eyed. And now I really, really want to do it too. So I'm getting my butt out there tomorrow because I've been slacking off! Thanks for the great description--I get Runner's World, and your post was so much more inspiring than anything I've read there!

Elizabeth Maxson said...

Thank you all for such lovely comments. I am happy to report that I am not sore at all today (Tuesday) and I feel very validated that I did train properly and if it weren't for the injuries, I think I would have done pretty well. Thanks again for taking time to read about my run. I am looking forward to the next time!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, inspirational story. I loved it!! I can't imagine running as many miles as you did, I honestly struggle with one. Thanks for sharing!

Paula said...

Yeah! What a wonderful post and what a wonderful experience. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Congratulations - Great Job!!

Anonymous said...

you are simply THE BEST little sister in the whole wide world....i love and admire and respect and adore you:)

"Tweezer" (MY childhood nickname)

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