Whidbey Island Whims.

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“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:

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Inspiration

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14 weeks of preparation. 500 miles of training. 2 pairs of running shoes. Countless hours spent in anticipation, frustration, and even a mild form of fear. All to run 26.2 miles. That is 1.7 million inches. A race against oneself. Testing limits and mental toughness. The race is the reward…right?

I can honestly say I’ve never found a truer form of happiness than crossing the finish line of a marathon. Every other emotion had been exhausted as I pushed myself those last 385 yards. Purity.

It has already been a month since my marathon. September 14th. And it feels like ages ago. And yet, still surreal. For the sake of reliving it though, let’s revisit.

Marathon Day  (Hagg Lake Hybrid)

5:45 am wakeup time. I got dressed in my already laid out and color coordinated clothes. They say preparation is a key to success. Waking up groggy and before the sun is up, I most assuredly agree. Having everything prepared the night before made my life a lot easier. I ate my pre-race breakfast with a knot in my stomach and a giant grin on my face. A pink lady apple with a few spoonfuls of almond butter and a green goddess smoothie, complete with spinach, protein, banana and mangoes.

7:20 arrival to Hagg Lake. What an unnerving time, waiting for such an event to begin! Observing everyone’s pre-race rituals was quite entertaining. ‘Excuse me, sir, but why are you running before you embark upon a race that will surely help you to meet your mileage requirement for the week? Is 26.2 not enough?’ Or, ‘How can you be stuffing your face with Hostess donut holes right now?’ and ‘Who does push-ups before a marathon?!’ It was all I could do to maintain an upright position.

7:30 — Then came the time to decide: running jacket or tank top? Music or no music? Garmin or no? With many trips back to the car, we settled on Garmin watch, no jacket and no music. I never regretted any of the above.

7:45 — Let’s be honest. A bathroom is a marathon runner’s best friend. Pre-race bathroom trips = 5 times. Glorious. I would venture to say that this is not abnormal. Prior to training for any kind of distance running, I had an irrational fear of port-a-potties and a strong aversion to public restrooms in general. It’s not hard to imagine how quickly those changed. When you gotta go, you go wherever is provided. And you thank the running gods for the invention of hand sanitizer.

8:04 am race start. With less than 100 people running the Hagg Hybrid Marathon, it was a low-key but very energized and positive beginning to a race. I have to say, I love smaller races. There’s something so close-knit, as if you’re running the race with a bunch of family. Regardless, my legs were restless, my heart was pounding out of my chest and my head was positively buzzing. This is really happening! 

Many people have asked me, “If you don’t listen to music, what do you think about while you run?” I think what they mean to ask is simply, ‘how do you make the time pass?’ A very good question that I do not have a straight answer to. If I were to try and think of key moments or actual thoughts I had during my marathon at Hagg Lake, I think the sum of them would amount to maybe 5 minutes. My first thoughts as the race began were, “Don’t start too fast. Am I going too fast? Breathe.” I started composing my blog post in my head, wondering if I would be able to tell all of you lovely readers how splendid the run was, or if I would have to report how miserably grueling it was.

“26.2. Think of how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.” This phrase hit me about mile four, when I still had a smile on my face, and the rolling hills hadn’t taken a toll on me yet.

The rest of the first half was really a blur. It took place on the road surrounding the lake and proved to be a nice challenge with a number of hills. I could not have made it through the first 13 miles without two amazing ladies, TJ and Heather. Between the two of them, they’d run over 70 marathons in the course of 10 years. Their amiable, determined, yet light-hearted attitude was admirable and quite impressionable upon my newbie marathoner mind. Not to mention, their pace was comparable to mine. And so we ran together. I wish I had obtained their info so I could give a proper shout out! Between forcing me to eat gummy bears and a banana at one of the aid station (which were both amazing, by the way) and telling me to “dig in and use as many profanities as needed” when climbing a particularly large hill, I really don’t know that I would have kept going at the pace I did. Thank you, ladies, for answering my incessant list of questions. It kept my mind distracted.

No sooner had I jumped on the trails in the second half of the marathon, exalting at my pace and still seemingly large amount of energy, than I stumbled upon my support crew. 5 of them all poring over their phones, trying to track my location. I was elated to see them, and their cheers meant the world to me. They were there for me at every aid station for the second half. Yelling my name, cheering me on and giving me more support than I can ever express in words.

Somewhere between miles 18-20, I started to really feel the fatigue. I began calling in my usual mental distractions. I dreamed up the best food I could think of. If I could eat anything after the marathon, I wanted a giant burger. With bacon. Avocado. Two patties. Pepper jack cheese. No bun. Sweet potato fries. And cupcakes. Glorious cupcakes. When that mental distraction no longer worked, I thought of what would bring me the most joy in that very moment, nirvana if you will (aside from crossing the finish line.) The first thing that came to mind was my huge polka-dotted down comforter. The smell of clean linen, the feeling of wrapping myself up in its fluffiness and curling up for a lovely nap. Nothing sounded better to me. And so I focused on burgers and linens.

I went through an aid station somewhere around mile 20, and all I wanted was electrolytes. That lovely yellow liquid was like magic to my mouth. Delightfully artificial and hydrating. I had high hopes that it was going to cure the dizziness that had started setting in. Post-race, my friends in the support crew informed me that I looked deathly pale. They hardly believed my two thumbs up while still managing a smile as I passed through the checkpoint.

Those last 6 miles kicked. My. Ass. Thoroughly. The ground kept trying to come up and meet my face. I wanted to die. I swore never to run a marathon again. Never in my life have I felt like I did in those last miles. Death would have been preferable to the burning in my legs. Those hills became giant monsters. I walked them and ran the rest. Not even the thought of food could get me through this one.

My Garmin watch said 24.2 miles as I rounded a bend and caught sight of Boat Ramp C and the finish line. That couldn’t be right. Were they going to make us run laps around the parking lot to achieve 26.2? Preposterous. But I steeled my nerves and told myself not to get too excited about the finish line, just in case parking lot laps were in my near future. But no, it really was the finish line, and my watch was off (which it tends to do on trails.) Those last 385 yards were the most exalting. A sudden rush of energy propelled me across those finishing mats, to complete my marathon in 4:45. I was met with hugs as soon as I finished, and I started crying. From sheer exhaustion, from happiness, from elation at being done, who knows.  But, I finished!

To anyone who hasn’t completed a marathon, it is incomparable to anything I’ve ever known or felt before. The feeling of simultaneous disbelief and accomplishment. Pushing one’s own limits. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” TS Eliot’s words have never rang truer.

This is my amazing support crew, cheering me on every step of the way. If nothing else, the thought of them waiting on me at the next aid station kept me going. Hearing their continual quotes of this amazing YouTube video kept a smile on my face:

 

Let me tell you, I did not see Rob Thomas, I did not pants my poop (which is an accomplishment), and those second winds are real! Of all the songs to be stuck in my head on race day though, lines from this kept popping in at the weirdest of moments:

It took less than a day to realize that I would, indeed, sign up for another marathon (Whidbey Island in April!) and the thought of an ultramarathon wasn’t so far-fetched after all (Hagg Lake Mud Run in February!). I’m an addict. Two more half-marathons this year: The Happy Girls Run in Sisters on November 2nd and The Holiday Half on December 15th.

Through these months of training, with my friends and family putting up with my ever-increasing addiction, I would just like to say thank you. I know it’s not easy to understand why I spend hours each week pounding the trail and pavement, but believe me when I say that it makes me the person I am today. It keeps me calm. It keeps me sane. It is my catharsis and my meditation. Join me on a run, cheer me on. Don’t hate me too much when I can’t shut up about running. I truly love it, and am elated if my zeal becomes contagious.

I aspire to inspire before I expire.