Monday, December 31, 2007


Warning: this is a ridiculously long post. Scroll down to the previous several posts if you want to see the pictures Rob took during the race!

This was my Second Worst Marathon Ever. The Worst was something like 5 years ago, when I made my marathon debut during a blizzard in Frederick, MD. Back then, my goal had been 4 hours (respectable for a beginner), and I’d ended up enduring a near death experience where I’d almost walked into the light, and then unceremoniously clawing my way to the finish line round about 4:20.

There was no blizzard today in Springfield, MO, but it was just about as unceremonious. To be honest, my training had been rather abysmal. During the taper, we’d been pummeled by snow and ice, so I’d done very little running for the past 3 weeks. Prior to that, I’d managed to do all the long runs, but I’d finished most of them on guts and adrenaline and practically crawling home. Factor in the dietary havoc of Thanksgiving and Christmas and the general chaos/lack of organization of today’s race, and I am beginning to see why this all spelled disaster.

The race was to start at 2:30pm (a departure from the traditional early morning marathon departure time) and was 8 loops around an approximately 3.1 mile course (plus an initial out and back of 1.4 miles). Oh, and in addition to the marathon, there was also a 5K, 10K, and half-marathon going on simultaneously. So pretty much, there were runners going in every direction and it was complete chaos. Also, the course was not closed to traffic. It was mainly through residential areas, but you did have to be extra-vigilant at the intersections (of which there were many), and constantly throughout the race, there were cars weaving in and out of the runners.

My first mile felt slow and easy, in fact, I felt great. My GPS beeped to let me know I’d gone 1 mile, and my time was 8 min 7 seconds. Just for reference, the pace for a 4 hour marathon is 9.09 miles. A 3: 45 marathon (which had been my super-secret goal) is 8.34. Either way, I’d gone out waaaaay too fast, which is a cardinal sin in marathon running. You never bank time in a marathon, because you will always lose it in the end.

I couldn’t settle into an even pace for the first several miles. One mile would be 8.17 and the next would be 8.47. I should point out at this time that I was relying completely on the GPS. There were absolutely no mile markers on the course and had I not had a GPS I would have had no way at all of gauging my pace. Plus, you were totally on your own for counting your laps. It might seem like a no-brainer to count out 8 laps, but in all honestly, through most of the race, I had no idea what lap number I was on. The initial out and back of 1.4 miles threw me, and when I started the first loop, I actually thought I was on loop 2. Again, if I wouldn’t have had the GPS, I would have had no clue how many more laps to go.

It also seems like, after having run 1 lap, it should have been fairly easy to stay on course because you’d seen it before. But honestly, there were parts of the race where it was very difficult to tell what direction to go; more than one time, I saw runners go in the wrong direction. Orange cones were somewhat haphazardly marking the turns, and there were never any volunteers telling you where to go. This was particularly confusing once it got dark and you could no longer see the cones. Coupled with the fact that the half-marathoners (who were doing 4 loops) were mainly done by then and you’d only see maybe a handful of other marathoners during an entire loop.

At any rate, I felt pretty good for the first 14 miles. Though my pace was somewhat erratic, I stayed on target for a 3:45 marathon. When I passed back through the start/finish area (the starting point of each lap) at mile 14 and saw Rob, instead of smiling and waving as per usual, my lower lip quivered and I said, “I don’t feel good.” My quads and calves hurt a lot. Nausea that I’d been trying to push away suddenly became impossible to ignore. I’d actually started feeling hungry around mile 5, but the thought of a carbohydrate/electrolyte packet (fuel of choice for marathoners round the world) made me grimace. Through most of my long runs, I had actually relied on dried mangos moreso than carbohydrate goo. Dried mangos seemed less offensive than goo, and luckily I’d brought some with me (stuffed in a side pocket of my pants), so I gnawed on those for a while. The problem, however, was that I get terrible stomach cramps if I try to take in stuff like that (even goo) without having water, and there was very little water out on the course. During each 3.1 mile loop, there was a water stop about 2.25 miles into it, and then another one at 3.1 where you started over. So I was waiting too long to intake calories and definitely not getting enough. Plus, by the time I made it to that water stop 2.25 miles into each loop, I was thirsty. Definitely a bad sign. You never want to be thirsty during a marathon, because at that point it is too late.

By about mile 17, I was feeling nauseated and weak enough to try to force feed myself a goo packet (these I had stuffed into my sports bra because they wouldn’t fit in my pocket… clever solution, I’d thought!), but by that point I was at least 10 miles too late to start intaking goo. Plus, even though I’d had a few sips of Gatorade early on at some of the water stops, by mile 17, (when I really needed it) even thinking of Gatorade made me want to wretch, and I just craved water.

It had been so bleak during that loop between miles 14 and 17 that I’d had to resort to my if-all-else-fails, ultimate contingency plan—the iPod. In the absence of cheering crowds (or even helpful volunteers), I was hoping that music would bring me back to life. This was waaaaaaaaay to early to hit the proverbial marathon wall. Unfortunately, something weird must have happened as I was “syncing” my iPod before the race, and instead of my carefully planned, ultra motivating marathon mix of music, a random assortment of songs came on. Most of which were songs I rarely listen to and certainly didn’t want to be listening to then. I still don’t know how that happened and why my usual playlist somehow got deleted.

Around mile 17 when I made it back to begin another loop where Rob was waiting at the start/finish area, I really really wanted to quit. Instead of taking my picture yet again (it may have been dark by that point, I really can’t remember), he said, “I’m going to run with you for a little while.” His hands were full of things he’d thought I might need—extra dried mangos, gloves and arm warmers, a bottle of lemon-lime Gatorade, and who knows what else. I’d thought he would only go a few meters or so, but he ended up staying with me for most of the loop. He got me through most of the difficult part of that loop—that first section before the long-awaited water stop. Then he cut back to get to the start/finish area where I would come through around mile 20. It was grim going in the dark mainly by myself after he’d left me. Just as I neared the spectating area, there was a woman standing by the road who must have seen the iron-on letters on the front of my shirt. “Go Auntie M!!” she hollered. In a lot of races, I’ve put my name on my shirt, and many other marathoners do too. There is just something about hearing someone cheer for you by name. You can be about dead and then someone claps and calls your name and it snaps you back to this world. Well, when this lady yelled, “Go Auntie M!” it was the first time anyone other than Rob had cheered for me the whole race. I broke out sobbing. I mean like, hysterical sobbing. “Thank you, “ I tried to call, but it came out as more of a whisper.

When I saw Rob again just after mile 20, he took off with me. Now, a marathon is 26.2 miles, but the real race doesn’t begin until mile 20. Somehow, the body can store enough energy to get you through 20 miles, but to go the last 6.2 you’ve got to dig deep down and find something else to keep you going. Particularly in my case, since I had long ago lost the ability to take in any more calories or electrolytes and just craved plain water.

By that point I had 2 laps left, and it was dark, and COLD. My hands wouldn’t work and my lips were numb. I felt like Rose in the movie Titanic. (Spoiler alert!) You know, when the ship has sunk and she is in the water, about dead of hypothermia, and then a rescue boat goes by and she calls out “Come back, come back” as it goes on past, but her voice is just the faintest whisper. Crazy things go on in your mind the last 6.2 miles of a marathon. You begin to realize how absolutely ridiculous it is that you are doing this. You wonder why you ever wanted to do this in the first place. You curse yourself because doing this was completely your decision—nobody’s making you do this—but now you’re in it and there is nothing do to but just finish. I was sick of it. Sick of that stupid loop (that wasn’t so well-lit afterall) and the stupid cars I had to look out for and the stupid water stops being too far apart.

Rob ran with me for every step during those last 2 wretched, wretched loops. I know that never in a million years would I have made it without him. He talked to me and told me stories. Rob had actually run the 5K in this event, and he told me that he’d finished 3rd place overall, and that it was so windy that when he finished his hair was sticking up like one of those troll dolls. He told me about how he powered through his half-Ironman a few years ago. He said that I didn’t have to run fast, I just had to run. And that was what I tried to do. 3:45 had fallen away not too long after mile 14. Now even finishing in 4 hours seemed like a long-shot. In spite of it all, I only slowed to a walk 2 times... just through that water stop, so that I would make sure to get the water inside me rather than splashed all over my shirt.

According to the GPS, mile 26.2 was fast approaching, but the finish line was nowhere in sight. I happened to look down at the GPS just as it rolled over to 26.2. My time was 3:55. When I finally crossed the finish line at 4:01 (actually it may have been 4:02), my GPS read 26.82. Almost a quarter mile too far. My gut feeling is that the GPS is pretty much right and the course was too long. But at that point I didn’t really care; my only thought was that I was glad to be done running. After I crossed the finish, Rob hugged me and I just stood there, sobbing inexplicably, in the cold and the dark.

The finish line was at the Trinity Lutheran Church, and Rob and I went inside where they had some baked goods, chili (blech, not vegetarian of course!), etc for post race re-fueling. As I was sitting there with a brownie in one hand and some Ritz crackers in the other, they started the awards ceremony. Come to find out, my abysmal race with my abysmal time was actually 3rd in the “20-29 year old female” division, and they gave me a cute little trophy. That almost took the sting out of such a wretched experience.

I’m still feeling pretty wretched; I can’t sleep so thought I might as well post this. Thank you so much to everyone for following along and thinking of me today. Especially my sister and aunt and mom and Rob's mom. I really felt you all with me, and that is the main reason why I was able to finish. I am eternally grateful to Rob, who did everything short of carry me on his shoulders to the finish line. There is no way I could have done this on my own; this one was truly a Team Ragfield event.

And thanks for reading this excessively long post. I’m going to sign off now and try to get some sleep.

--Auntie M.


Anonymous said...

Was so happy to find your post this morning ... and hear the whole story -- hope you were finally able to shut your eyes and get some rest and are feeling fantastic again today ... sometime i'll write you a 'blog' about detail and organization and how important it truly is -- this race sounds like it needed assistance in that department for sure!!!! By the way, when is your next marathon????? again, Congratulations to you and a huge hug to Robbie for being your beloved buddy!!!
hugs, auntie

Logan's Mama said...

Oh dear, I am feeling just sick reading about it and I didn't even have to run. What a terribly planned marathon. Obviously not planned by anyone with any experience actually running a marathon. Maybe you will have to stick to the majors after this one. But at least you got a major award out of it. And it's much better than a hideous lamp...

Logie is so proud of his Auntie M. Someday he will be able to go cheer for her :-)

Anonymous said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU DID IT! How proud you must feel when the race is over, and you finished. What a Great husband you have.


amypfan said...

This sounds so horrible that I can't even believe it. I'm with Michelle--stick to the majors after this. I hate things that are poorly planned, and this one sounds like it definitely falls into that category. I realize this is not in your nature, but try to rest and relax for a few days, okay?