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I, Marathoner

March 2, 2009

dscn6375Bib number: 14955

Overall placement: 783/1303 (60%)

Gender placemeent: 248/500 (50%)

Age Group placement: 48/82 (59%)

Chip Time: 4:30:04

We began the trek west on Friday, as intended, stopping about forty minutes outside of Tampa to have dinner at Cracker Barrel, one of the kids’ perennial travel favorites. The weather forecast for the Tampa area had been changing over the course of the week, something I’d been delighted with because the temperatures were turning toward the cooler side.

On Saturday, we rose fairly early, as is generally the case with little ones, and hit the expo. I got my bib and d-tag and lovely canvas bag (so much better than the plastic goody bags of yore) and took a quick (quick!) lap around the expo, the largest I’ve seen in my few years of running. The kids had absolutely no interest in any of the booths. I wanted to see Bondi Bands and the Stick, not to mention peruse the themed race shirts, etc, but it wasn’t going to happen with the kids in tow. The Boss did see what he knew to be a great price on the Adrenalines 8, and since he knew I’m going to need at least another four pairs of running shoes before the year is out, we went ahead and splurged on a new pair. Score!

We walked back to our hotel–about four blocks from where the expo was being held–and regrouped. The kids hadn’t had breakfast, so we got our car and drove to the nearest McDonald’s (how’s that for a good meal the day before a marathon?) and called my sister, who lives about thirty minutes south of Tampa Bay. We drove down to see her and ate lunch with her, then returned for a nap in the hotel. Dinner was a quick affair with the Boss’s brother’s family, who also happens to live in the area, and we were back in the hotel and bedded down fairly close to eight.

By now, the forecast had changed and turned south. The front that was bringing us those cooler temps had apparently stalled and was now due to arrive on race day–rain was forecast to arrive at six am, gun time. Lows were forecast in the 50s.

Alarm went off at four, race morning. I dressed as quietly as possible. I had prepared somewhat for unpleasant conditions: I’d brought along my hat in addition to my visor, and two long-sleeve tech tees, though I knew two layers would just get heavier in rain. I had a waterproof layer but it gets loud and uncomfortable in windy conditions and doesn’t wick sweat particularly well; I’ve also not worn it on a long run. Gear of choice, therefore, was shorts, tempo singlet, long sleeve top, Thorlo socks, Adrenalines, and Nathan belt with extra gel. I brought my ipod, just in case. The Boss and I had discussed my bringing along a cell phone in case the weather was too wet for him and the kids to meet me at the finish, but in the end decided if that was the case we’d just know he’d meet me at the hotel. Hat, bib, timing tag, and I was off to the start line with an hour to walk and unload some water.

It was neat to watch the pacers go through their . . . um . . . paces, giving instructions to their groups. The 4:20 group would keep a 9:55 pace, the 4:30 a 10:18 pace. I intended to stay between them.

The crowd had that electricity the crowd always does, talking, sharing, excited. The half marathon was running at the same time, and it was a little strange being on the other side for once, hearing them say they’d be done by eight and knowing I would not. It was cold, too, and we knew the weather would get worse before it got better. Even in the dark it had that strange sense bad weather does, in Florida and probably anywhere else, that foreboding sense of bad things coming.

Finally we started to pack in as everybody started to move forward, getting tighter toward the front. The gun seemed to go off in front–I didn’t hear it–and the guy on the mike started telling us how many seconds the leaders had been running–it was about a minute thirty by the time I crossed the start and clicked my Garmin.

And we were off. Amazingly, I felt okay keeping that ten minute pace, even felt like a real runner, in spite of those awful weeks of taper when I could not run to save my life.

It was packed those first few miles, people talking right in my ear about their mothers, their running, their dogs, watch your feet on the cobblestones (thanks!). Then we went on the bridge to Davis Island and it got worse, and I didn’t think it was possible but it was like being thrown into a funnel and suddenly it was all you could do to avoid the feet of the runner in front of you and I knew it was going to be really tight for the seven miles until the half marathoners broke off.

It was pretty dark those first few miles; I was a little surprised the race organizers hadn’t chosen a better-lit course. It was at mile 4 that I saw the first dry-heaver and I felt terrible; even running a half marathon, you’ve got a long way to go at mile 4. At mile 5 we had some impromptu bladder emptiers, both men and women, at an absolutely beautiful part of the course, in a nice neighborhood, too, and I felt like apologizing to the neighbors, “Not all runners will water your lawn!” But there were no porta potties on that part of the course and no other options were available.

The aid stations were set up beautifully: Gatorade (always lemon-lime Endurance formula) at the first two tables, then water at the next two tables, well spaced. The cups, especially the Gatorade ones, were only half full, so you didn’t spill them. For me, that was a beaut because I poured my water into my Gatorade and drank them together as I walked a few feet. Garbage cans were spaced yards ahead.

Off Davis island, a very sharp turn, and not far ahead, at mile 7, the half marathoners broke off. A young runner turned to us, looked right at me, and said, “You are the real deal. Have an amazing run. Get it done.” It meant the world to me to hear that encouragement, because I’ve been on the other side of that turn, and though I felt good at that point, I knew there was no turning around–I was going to run a marathon that day.

This section of the course had us running through parts of downtown Tampa for about five miles. It wasn’t very scenic, but I felt good. On the way back, though, as we approached the waterfront again, we saw those ominous dark clouds, and as a few of us commented on them within earshot of a police officer, he said, “We just heard–it’s on the way in, with strong winds.”

Sure enough, the first hard sprinkle hit at mile 11 or so. It was a cold rain, too, since it was part of a cold front. My long sleeve, which I’d tied around my waist at mile 6, came back on. I was trying to keep my inner shirt dry as long as possible. We tried to keep in good spirits about it. We figured the rain would keep the humidity and temperature down, and generally when the rain’s in your face going out, it’s at your back coming back, right?

We hit the waterfront at mile 12, and we were back on the half marathon course. There were spectators at random spots here, good souls who’d braved cold and squally weather. A woman in a Marathon Maniacs shirt was holding a sign reading “You’re all Kenyans on the Inside,” and I hoped she was right. There were people with their car radios blaring, soloists, blues bands, even the local Christian radio station with a solo van playing on the waterfront road. Random good-hearted people handed out jelly beans, water, and orange quarters. One pair of girls stood on either side of the road, handing out individually packaged snack-size Ziplocs with pretzels and gummi bears.

The miles went slowly, but well, in this middle portion. One of the best compliments someone called out was, “You look very relaxed.” That was the goal–and for most of the race I was hitting my mile markers perfectly: mile 4 at 40:00, mile 7 at 1:10, mile 13 at 2:10. The rain came intermittently at this point, lightly; at times it was like running through a mist machine. The wind was gusty, at times strong, and we ran with our heads down into it, arms pumping, to try to keep our pace strong, though we feared our effort would cost us later. These waterfront miles would have been great, we told ourselves, had conditions been different; we’d kill now for some buffer from the winds. We avoided the puddles to keep our feet dry.

Just past mile 19, the course took a weird little loop through a residential neighborhood and park. When you looked at it on the course map you thought you’d just go in, turn around, and come back, but when you’re running it, you’re back in the middle of nowhere, alone, forgotten, and running on a dirt trail, for miles (okay, it’s maybe 1½). Even the mime trying to cheer us up in the middle of the darkest hour couldn’t do anything for me. I was slogging, and I didn’t stop only because I knew moving forward was the only way to get any relief. The Marathon Maniacs woman was back here, too, still yelling her guts out, cheering us on.

Fueling was not bad, though it took some effort to remember it. I think I missed my first gel at mile 20. I’d felt like throwing up since about mile 17, but I’d kept moving mostly out of desperation and the futility of doing anything else. After all, I was still almost ten miles from home.

The moron rookie had felt so sick she’d even stopped taking Gatorade and water. Then a random, wonderful, delightful, deep-pocketed home owner standing in the street appeared with pallets of small bottles of water, and I took one. Half, I ingested. Half, I poured over my head (don’t let the irony of this be lost on you later). Finally, a light comes on in my energy-starved brain: I feel sick because I need fuel! At mile 21 or so I realized I needed sugar and forced myself to down a gel, though I felt disgusting and feared it would come right back up. I chased it with water. I tell myself in a half mile my pace will pick back up.

But, mile 22 and 23, the rain hit, hard, with gusty winds that probably hit 30 mph. We were running with our heads down again, arms pumping, teeth clenched. I could hear the water pouring into the gutters, like a river. There’s no more avoiding puddles; our feet were soaked, our shoes waterlogged, but we tried to keep to the highest part of the road. It was so cold. I realized I couldn’t feel my hands. I tried, I really tried, to keep running, but it was useless. I started taking thirty-second walk breaks.

The 4:30 pacer passed me at mile 25 or so. I tried to keep with her, but it was pretty useless. I kept her in my sights, though. I told myself I would not suffer the indignity of walking during mile 26, and even failed at that–though I managed not to walk past the 25.5 marker.

As I crossed the line; a volunteer called out, “It’s your Maiden Voyage!”–Gasparilla-speak for first-timers–and put a medal around my neck, just before someone put a mylar blanket around me, which is what I really craved: the promise of warmth. I looked for water and bananas. I felt weak, and cold. I knew my family wouldn’t be out in the miserable weather, and the promise of a five-block walk back to my hotel, alone, was bleak.

I spotted the Marathon Maniac woman, her of the “You’re all Kenyans” sign, and I thanked her for her encouragement. When she heard this was my first, she threw her arms around me. She told me, if I could run in this, I can run in anything, and I’ll do so much better in my second one, in “normal” conditions. I told her I wasn’t thinking of running another, not until I could feel my hands again. She hugged me again, told me to give it time, and congratulated again. She said, “You’re a marathoner,” and as she walked away, the tears came, for the first time. I wanted to cry those last four miles–running in a deluge, but I wouldn’t give in to the course. I actually thought the words out loud: this course will not defeat me. But at the finish, having come to the end of the training, the running, the agony and knowing that I’d done it . . . I admit, I cried.

My family was there, just over Marathon Maniac’s shoulder, kids jacketed, hooded, but smiling. The Lamb said, “Mom, you won, you got a medal!”

Who am I to argue?

*My time on the results page at Active.com yesterday said my time was 4:30:31. Today, it says my time is 4:30:04. I’ll take it!

**I’m not sure if you can see it in the picture, but my medal actually says “Maiden Voyage” on it. It’s not like I’d ever forget where I ran my first 26.2, especially this soggy endeavor, but it’s nice to have a medal that’s different from everyone else’s. Meanwhile, Maiden Voyage results have also been tabulated separately, and yours truly is listed as the 38th finisher among 113 female first-timers. The first “maiden voyage” female runner crossed the line in 3:23:35–speedy! I, however, will be content with my finish, which puts me in the top third of the first-time field and–better yet–in the “I’m finished!” category.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. whisfam4 permalink
    March 2, 2009 4:48 pm

    Congrats!! I loved reading about your experience. Good job!!

  2. March 2, 2009 7:49 pm

    Woo-hoo! Ya’ dun it. Great maiden voyage; excellent report. Rain, cold, and wind are nasty additions to any race but to endure that in a marathon?! You are a marathoner and you **do** have the heart of a Kenyan.

  3. March 2, 2009 11:10 pm

    Congratulations to you on a job well done. The conditions were horrid yesterday. I was just South of you riding in the Tour de Cure in Venice/Manasota Key. Even when the rain quit, those winds were just wicked! Kudos to you for a job well done. That lady was right… if you could run 26.2 in those conditions, you can tough it out through anything. Congrats again… terrific race report! So… what’s next???

  4. March 3, 2009 6:18 am

    You did a fantastic job for your FIRST marathon in those horrible conditions! Congratulations! 🙂 I got all choked up again reading your recap. It was such an emotional day for me.

    That’s pretty cool about the maiden voyage medal! WTG!!! So when’s your next one? 😉

  5. run4change permalink
    March 3, 2009 8:37 am

    You just did a wonderful job. The adversity that you endured is what the marathon and endurance running is all about. I am proud of you. You made it. And as the marathon maniac woman (I am maniac #931) said, give it time and you’ll probably want to do another. That is a fantastic time too. Great job and enjoy the recovery process.

  6. March 3, 2009 9:46 am

    wow, congrats! That is awesome. I’ve only done a half myself and still cannot fathom a full marathon. Someday!!

  7. the Zookeeper permalink*
    March 3, 2009 1:02 pm

    My heartfelt thanks for reading through that long, long, loooong, marathon of a race report! Only another runner would care about the random details of another’s run!

    Your pats on the back mean so much to me, as has your encouragement all along.

    I can’t believe I did it–and I can’t believe that the thought of another has already begun to creep into my addled brain and sore hamstrings.

    Yes, someday, I believe I will do this again. Not so much to pick it out or anything, but enough to start thinking of the possibility.

    Crazy, huh?

  8. run4change permalink
    March 4, 2009 5:38 pm

    Oh I knew that the thought would creep into your mind. It is just such an inspirational distance and those who run marathons have a special love for them. You are not crazy by a long shot. 🙂

  9. the Zookeeper permalink*
    March 5, 2009 12:00 pm

    I’m glad you don’t think I’m crazy. I thought my husband would be floored, but when I mentioned running another, he just said it was a foregone conclusion. He knows me so well!

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