“Sweetie, we need to let Jessica get to sleep. She has to get up before the crack of dawn for her race.”
“When it’s still a butt?”
This is how my aunt informed my ten year old cousin that I would be setting the alarm for the ungodly hour of 4:45am to be at the Whidbey Island Marathon on time. Getting up before the (butt)crack of dawn…when it’s still a butt. At the very least, a pain in one.
What a crazy weekend. Saturday was an all day volunteer dental event called Give Kids A Smile. From there, I drove straight up to Burlington (4 1/2 hours) to meet up with my family. We had dinner together and drove the country roads to look at all of the tulip fields. Who knew there was a tulip festival going on? The dinner was what we call a pre-race meal of the gods: sweet potato fries and a bacon cheeseburger. Not to mention the avocado on top and sautéed mushrooms. Did I mention these were bottomless fries? This decision was not regretted for a moment. Besides, this photo was what went through my head during that evening and probably the three weeks prior to my race:
In further preparation for the race, I had to make a last minute trip to the store. Who loves gummy bears for long runs? This girl! I don’t mind the Gu Chomps, Shot Blocks or other sport gummies, but I am a firm believer that a gummy bear does close to the same thing. It’s a little sugar boost. I like to suck on them, rather than chew them. It gives my body something to process, my mouth some flavor, and my brain something to think about and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong though, I have a weakness for watermelon flavored Gu Chomps. Just no Gu gels, please.
Don’t worry, I didn’t buy all three pounds of gummy bears. I cannot imagine how absurd that would have looked running with that bag…I bought a sensible amount. Clearly.
Race day brought that pre-5 am wakeup time. Ugh. I hardly slept the night before. Pre-race excitement is real. I drove out to Oak Harbor with enough time to catch the shuttle up to the race start and pick up my race bib. Crossing over the Deception Pass bridge on the bus, I was reminded of one of the many reasons why I run, why I get up at ungodly hours, why I push myself to do what I do:
This. Nature’s beauty in all of its simplicity. It was a perfect moment leading up to the start of a marathon. The last 25 minutes until the race start was spent waiting in line for a porta potty/blue room/honey bucket (read: every runner’s best friend before a race.) Then began the 5 minute, 4 minute, 3 minute, 2 minute countdown, which was when I dove into the next vacant stall. There’s nothing like the start of a race to make you pee fast! With not a moment to spare, I heard the gun go off as I pushed my way into the tangibly anxious group of runners, relieved in more ways than one.
The energy at the beginning of this run was palpable. So many energetic, smiling people. The views in the first two miles were phenomenal. That same view above on the Deception Pass bridge was revisited by over 600 runners. Many times throughout the run, glimpses were caught of the snowcapped Olympic mountains.
Mile 6 brought the ever so difficult shedding of my long sleeve. Okay, so taking off a layer wasn’t the hard part. The difficulty came from removing my race bib from my sweatshirt and putting it on my tank top; removing and reattaching safety pins while running. Not easy. I managed to both avoid stabbing myself and put the bib on straight. Success.
Mile 9 brought a lovely hill. And, a sign that said, “Run faster. My legs are getting tired waiting for you!” They, of course, had to put a photographer in place when we were a quarter of the way up it. Quick, hide the miserable look on your face!
Miles 10-15 found me lost in random thoughts, random chats with runners about cupcakes, and the delight in many gummy bears. It was a perfect mixture of shade and bright, bright sun. I spent nearly two miles trying to remember the saying, “Did not win is better than did not finish, is better than did not start.” Just imagine the variations and disorder in trying to put that together. Mile 16-17 was a struggle. Another beast of a hill. One. Mile. Long. I was losing my rhythm. I started to realize how little sense my thoughts were making.
I’d told my aunt, uncle, and cousin the night before to sleep in. I told them that I could hold my own through the first half, but their support in the second half would be invaluable. Indeed, it was. After climbing that beast of a hill, I needed some positive reinforcement. And there they were, shouting at me, “We love you! You’re amazing! Do you want a banana?” A banana?! To my semi-delirious mind, a banana sounded like gold. Outside of delirium, a banana is such a great snack while running. As she handed it to me though, I looked at the banana perplexed…How do I peel these things, again? I gave my aunt a hug and said, “Thank you! You mean so much to me!” To which she replied, “Don’t pants your poop!”
The runner in front of me turned around and gave her such a strange look. I had no choice but to explain where that phrase was from and the amazingness of this Marathon thoughts video:
Now, imagine a mildly delirious runner trying to describe the above video. Complete with wild hand gestures, shouting about Rob Thomas, second winds, and the perils of chafing. After that, my thoughts were making even less sense. So, imagine my surprise when those thoughts turned themselves into continued conversation with this random runner. I’m really curious what this runner thought of me; especially as I started spouting off about how I fancied myself a ballerina. That is, when my feet get tired and my legs feel heavy, I think about light feet. Keeping my steps light and not plodding. The first image conjured up in regards to light feet is a ballerina. I completed this thought with, what I thought, was a beautifully graceful leap in the air. Mind you, this was mile 23ish. Graceful and 23 miles do not go in the same sentence.
I passed a runner around mile 20. She says to me, “this is what I call guts.” I’d never thought of it that way. What is that ever popular adage? ‘No guts, no glory.’ Miles 18-26 are the guts of the run. It will gut you. It will take guts to push through, to make it, to complete the marathon. Without guts, without mile 18-26 gut of the run, there can be no glory. The glory of the finish line, the glory of another feat accomplished, the glory of knowing you pushed yourself to Empty.
I think of those last few minutes of the run, coming into Windjammer park. All through the race I’d kept a smile on my face. I was happy out there. I was doing something I truly love. But that last half-mile was the biggest mental game. I wish I could perfectly capture that moment, those emotions, the utter and complete desire to stop moving, stop breathing and pumping my arms. All I wanted was to be done. To cross that finish line. To collapse on that lush, green, sun-soaked grass that had come into view. My lungs hated me, my legs felt mechanical, and JT had become too much in my ears. It was exhaustion at its finest.
I gave everything I had left in the tank to sprint the last 0.2 across the grass. With simultaneous feelings of euphoria and the desire to die, I crossed the finish line of my second marathon. 13 minutes and 20 seconds faster than my last. I found my aunt, embraced her, and, as was true with my first 26.2, cried tears for the spectrum of emotions that washed over me.
When people ask how my marathon was, I tell them it was both agonizing and amazing. These two words could not have explained it more accurately. It was amazing in that I was pushing myself to do something that less than 10% of the population ever accomplishes in a lifetime. It was amazing how much my body could endure. It was amazing the runners I met, the views of the beautiful PNW, and the strength I demonstrated in which I did not know I possessed. It was equally as agonizing. It was agonizing mentally to push through that negative self-talk. The proverbial blerch that tells you that you’re better off walking up that hill, slowing down for a minute, or, hell, stopping to take a nap. It was agonizing physically as I’ve been nursing some pretty intense shin pain for the last month. It started acting up about mile two.
They talk of people being able to push through pain. The ability to push it out of their mind and focus on other things so that it doesn’t affect them. I never believed this was possible until it happened on this run. I pushed aside the pain in my shin. I managed to push through it all the way to the end. I crossed that finish line and collapsed in the grass. It took a week to be able to walk without limping. But, I just remember this:
I run for me. I run to keep my sanity. I don’t run for you. Or for them. I don’t run to beat other people. I don’t run to be fast. I run for those who can’t. I run to find myself.