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Chilly and Hilly

October 11, 2014

photo (2)Twin Cities Marathon 2014

October 5, 2014
Bib Number: 6081
Overall Placement: 5007 / 8852 (57%)
Age Group Placement: 318 / 654 (49%)
Gender Placement: 1824 / 3996 (46%)
Chip time: 4:24:00

The Start

It’s freezing out. We know it is, of course, not only because we’ve been outside, but also because we’ve been checking the forecast for days, even before we left Florida. They’re forecasting for temps to be in the low to mid-thirties in the hours before the start, so we’re expecting a very chilly time in the chute. We have gone back and forth trying to decide what to wear. We know it’s a temperature at which we’d throw on capri-length running tights back home, but we also know we haven’t done any training for distance in them–in fact, it’s probably been two years since we’ve run in them at all, because our winters have been so mild of late. We don’t know how the tights will fit after one, let alone four, hours of running. Will they pinch? Drift down our waists? We’re afraid to find out they’re uncomfortable while running a race we’ve been training for for four months. And we’ve also never tried the tights on a hard effort run–we think there’s a decent chance we’ll warm up quickly since we’re both planning to run this one at a pretty hard effort. In the end, here’s what we decide: we’ll wear shorts, a heavier tank than the ones we trained in (both of which are tissue-paper thin), detached running sleeves, and another long-sleeve layer. We add high socks, a beanie, and gloves. We know it will be coldest while we wait in the chute, while the sun still hasn’t warmed up and before we start generating any body heat. But we have planned for this: each of us has sweat pants and a sweatshirt especially purchased at Goodwill for this occasion. We’ll wear them as long as possible and shuck them just before the gun. We also have big, thick garbage bags, which we’re assured will help ward off the worst of the cold. The sign available in our corral as we wait says it’s 37 degrees. Around us, other runners are similarly attired, and most of us are shivering. I am waiting for the race to start with an anxious heart. I know twenty-six miles is a long way, and I’m also afraid (though I haven’t confessed it to anyone) that my knees and my hamstrings are about to snap. I fear the course and its rolling hills, especially in the last seven miles, which are always the hardest as it is.

We hear the last strains of the national anthem just minutes before the first corral is sent out. Our corral, number 2, begins the slow shuffle toward the starting mats. We hear a few last-minute announcements and then we, too, are off. It’s freezing out.

The Early Miles

The people in Minneapolis are out in full force. From the start, I am amazed at how many people are out braving the icy weather to cheer for us as we run. I am determined not to start out too fast or worry about my pace, so I have Garmie set up to show only distance and time. From this, I figure I’m running between nine and nine-thirty miles, which I’m comfortable running, but even from these early miles I start to wonder how long I can realistically hold this pace. The course is absolutely beautiful but also strangely brutal: we are almost constantly running either uphill or downhill. I start to worry about finishing, then start to worry about worrying because I’ve never thought that way so early in a marathon. I start to seriously consider whether Twin Cities might be my first DNF.

The Middle Miles

It’s long before the halfway point (in fact we’re not even into the double digits yet) when I start thinking “I hate running.” I haven’t even slowed down yet–I come upon the four-hour pace group and run with them for some miles, but also with a pretty solid cloud of self-doubt. I can’t really feel my legs–I joke with Little G that they feel like meat coming out of the freezer–and the more I run, the more I don’t want to. I keep waiting for my outlook to brighten (maybe I just need to get into a rhythm?) but miles go by without relief. I seriously consider dropping out, and start praying fervently that I’ll see Little G so I can make plans to catch up with her at the finish. For a few miles, I’m running with the sole intention of finding her to tell her, “I quit.”

At the ten mile marker, I promise myself I’ll regroup at the half-marathon mark. Mile 13 comes and I make myself go on until 15. At 15, I make a deal with myself to go on until 17 before I make a decision. Though I’ve been climbing rolling hills since mile 4 or so, I know the worst hill is waiting for me at mile 19, but that just two miles after that, Little G’s daughter is waiting for us to take the last of our dead weight.

Garmie told me a few miles back that the battery was low, which I’m frustrated by–the battery life has gotten progressively shorter and shorter during this training cycle, but I didn’t expect it to outright quit during the race. The lack of information should fuel me to simply run by effort, but instead I’m irritated that I have no sense of pace or how I’m doing on the clock–the race provides few clocks along the course. I’m running blind and have to depend on the pacers to know how I’m doing in relationship to the clock. I make plans to leave the Garmin behind when I see Gwynne’s daughter–no sense carrying it along if it’s no longer marking my splits.

These miles are by far the hardest–not only in this race but the hardest miles I’ve ever run, period. I want desperately to quit, and moving forward takes all my effort. I am amazed at the constant presence of cheerful spectators on the course, but feel defeated and empty.

The Final Miles

The hill we were warned about at mile 19 proves every bit as daunting as promised, but I know I have seen every mile of the course from this point forward–another four slowly rising miles, then a gradual descent into the finish.

I make myself move forward, but I’m walking many of the uphill portions already. Just before the killer hill of the mile-19 marker, I stumble in front of a family with two young kids. It takes me some time to recover and shuffle on. I have a list of things I want to accomplish when I see our race support, including handing off my belt, gloves, and beanie, and warn her that I’m moving very slowly.

K’s efficiency as racing crew is unparalleled. Before I’ve even come to a complete stop she’s made sure I want the belt removed and gotten busy unhooking its buckle. I ask about Little G and she tells me that she’s just two minutes ahead (this was a slight deceit for my benefit; Little G was, in fact, about four minutes ahead of me, and her lead was growing). I forget to take off my Garmin and the beanie on my head, which I could have done without at the end, but I manage to choke down some fizzy delicious Coke that K has for us in small cups.

I want information about my pace and time, but with a dead GPS and no clocks on the course, I’m left depending on the pace team. I know the 4-hour pacer is ahead of me, and since any hope of a personal best has been left in pieces on the hills, I figure my next definition of victory will be not making this my slowest marathon; with that in mind, I am anxiously waiting for the 4:30 pacer. I realize I’ve been passed by a balloon-waving pacer while distracted by the spectators, and now I’m a little frantic. That was the 4:30 guy? Yikes, that means this is officially my worst marathon ever. I struggle to get a look at the pacer’s balloons and am instantly comforted to see that this is the 4:15 team. I am still on pace to at least do better than my 4:30 marathon debut.

Meanwhile, the crowds continue to cheer, but the hills continue as well, even past mile 23, which is where the map said the course would begin to flatten out. People on the course know I’m struggling (I’m not the only one), and they tell me, “It’s all downhill from here,” but it’s a lie. The gently rolling hills continue, killing what’s left of both my quadriceps and my psyche.

We pass the St Paul Cathedral on our left, and I know the finish is near. One of the lovely things about this course is that almost immediately after the mile-26 marker, we can see the finish–not just hear it or see it in a far-off way, but actually, physically, see it. After 26 miles of almost incessant climbing, the last quarter-mile of the course opens up on a gorgeous downhill. Passing the cathedral, we runners see the wide open road, with a line of runners streaming toward the bright red banners of the finish.

As always at the end of these long races, I feel tears pushing at the back of my eyes as I run through the finish line. I am spent.

Beaten and frustrated by my inability to go under 4:06, I will comfort myself in the next few days with the knowledge that finishing this race was not a foregone conclusion–walking off the course and settling for a DNF was very much a possibility at the halfway mark. My victory, on this day, will be in just finishing the race.

And knowing I will never line up for 26.2 again.

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