As I mentioned previously, I had decided to treat Rock n' Roll Seattle as my "second first marathon," so to speak. My first attempt at the distance (the 2008 Los Angeles Marathon) had resulted in a disastrous 5:26 heat-exhaustion induced death march (see here). Somehow, though, I was not scared off by that nightmare of an experience; rather, it only made me hungry for redemption. Here's the story of that race for redemption.
I met up with four of my college friends who were in the next hotel room over, and we headed off on the two block walk to the shuttle buses together. We got there a few minutes after 5 a.m., and there was already a HUGE crowd of people waiting on line (the buses ran from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.). Luckily, though, they were quite organized and were moving people out pretty quickly. Finally, it was our turn. I kissed Wilson goodbye and my friends and I hopped on a school bus to begin the journey to Tukwila. I was sitting next to a girl who I knew I should probably talk to . . . but I was just so nervous, I could hardly talk. We chatted briefly about my race belt, then went back to silently freaking out. After maybe a 20-minute bus ride, we finally made it to the start area with about 45 minutes to spare.
We went about our pre-race routine--gear check, porta-potties, stretching, hydrating. Finally, we headed to our respective starting corrals with about fifteen minutes until gun time.
After mile-3, we started making our way towards Lake Washington. Around mile-4 I got a nice boost when my friend Allan came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. I was so excited to see him that I increased my pace for a minute just to enjoy his company for a bit. Finally, I knew I had to let him go, so he continued on and I slowed back down, wishing I had someone to run with. Wouldn't you know . . . right about that time, the black shirt girls appeared out of the crowd and seemed to be running the PERFECT pace. I would end up following them for the next 4-5 miles until I lost them at an aid station--they were angels!
Mile-5: 10:24 (gel break)
Somewhere around the Mile-6 marker, we made it to Lake Washington, and holy crap, it was GORGEOUS. We ran on a road right alongside the lake for the next 3 miles, and the time seriously FLEW by. I was still following the black shirt girls, who were holding the PERFECT pace for me--it felt effortless. This was by far my favorite portion of the course. It was flat, shady, breezy and absolutely stunning! Someone even said they saw a bald eagle in this stretch (darn it! I wish I would have seen it!). It was like some kind of running dream, I tell you!
Mile-9: 10:05 (gel break)
After the Mile-9 marker, the full marathoners split off from the half-marathoners to complete about a 2.5-mile out-and-back along the Lake Washington bridge. I got to see Allan again on my way out, which made me happy. I smiled and gave him a thumbs up because I was still feeling awesome! I remember thinking, "Holy crap, I can't believe I'm already over a third of the way done! I feel like I've hardly done anything at all!" I kept trucking along on the bridge, enjoying the beautiful scenery all around me. Then something odd happened. A chipper runner ran up from behind me, passed me and said, "We couldn't have gotten a better day, could we?" I responded that yes, it was beautiful . . . but almost immediately thereafter, I realized how hot I was getting. Ouch. For the first time in the race, we were out in the open with no shade to cover us. Luckily, though, there was still a decent breeze coming up across the bridge.
Right around Mile-11, I first noticed that crazy pain in my legs. It was bizarre and frickin' all over the place. "You're fine, Irish," I told myself. "It's just a little achiness. Hang in there." It probably didn't help that all I could see at that point was a huge uphill stretching out in front of me. There was a voice in my head telling me I couldn't make it up that hill running . . . but I proved that voice wrong. I kept on chugging. Also during this stretch, we apparently came back together with the half-marathoners. This totally freaked me out for some reason. I guess I hadn't studied the course map quite as diligently as I'd thought because I did NOT remember this happening! I was convinced I had made a wrong turn or something--and I seriously wanted to cry. But it also gave me some adrenaline at the same time.
Mile-13: 10:26 (gel break)
I crossed the half-marathon mat at 2:12:44. I realized that I was doing a GREAT job of sticking to my plan. But then, shortly after I had crossed the halfway point, I saw a girl collapsed on the side of the road. I don't know what it is, but something about seeing people collapsed and needing medical attention always makes me start paying more attention to how I'm feeling. I realized I was pretty damn hot and my legs were killing me. "Maybe I'll just walk . . . just for a minute." I slowed to a walk just for a minute or so. "What the f*ck am I doing?! Get running, Irish! NOW! Don't be such a wimp--you'll see Wilson around Mile-16. Just make it to that point, okay?" I resumed running (albeit slowly), despite the fact that I was headed up a never-ending incline and embarking on a long-ass double out-and-back segment spanning from Mile-14 through Mile-26.
After running nearly two miles of gradual incline with no end in sight, I got pissed. REALLY pissed. I was SO OVER hills. I eventually slowed to a walk . . . again. As I did so, I suddenly realized my arm-pits were KILLING me. It was then that I realized I had somehow forgotten to use body glide in that crucial area. "Ugh, AMATEUR, Irish! You know better than that!" I thought about stopping at a medic tent to see if I could snag some vaseline, but decided not to for some reason. I kept on a-walking, anxious to see Wilson and finally have a running partner.
Now, originally, Wilson and I had thought while looking at the course map that he would meet me at the Mile-16 marker since it appeared to be just a few blocks from our hotel. But um . . . what we failed to realize was that the Mile-16 marker was literally inside a tunnel with basically no access to spectators. UGH. He couldn't get to me, and had to come up with an alternate plan. I was seriously sad, thinking I might never see him. Still, I knew I had to keep on going. I picked it up and resumed running, trying to ignore the awful pain that was taking over my legs in muscles I never knew I had.
When I got to the Mile-17 marker, I had all but given up hope of finding Wilson. I was hot as hell and my legs were absolutely KILLING me. I started to wonder if the deep tissue massage I'd gotten five days earlier was maybe a bad idea . . . because I was feeling soreness in places I'd never felt before--inside of my knees? Check. Outside of my quads? Check. Top of my ankles? Check. Front of my hips? Check. Ouch. Oh, and did I mention that we were STILL going uphill? 'Cuz yeah, we were. Thus, began my full-out mental breakdown. I slowed to a walk with little hope of ever running again. But then, off in the distance--like some kind of beacon of running happiness--I saw Wilson. THANK GOD. He joined me and we continued to walk on. I told him about the crazy leg pain I was having. He got me to run a little bit, but for the most part, I spent the next several miles walking.
Mile-18: 12:23 (gel break)
Finally, at some point during Mile-20, I got some kind of magical second wind. Or maybe I just stopped being such a wuss. Whatever the case, we had turned around on the out-and-back, and were finally headed back towards Qwest Field and the finish--and I was determined to run as much of the last 6 miles as possible. I took off running and focused on just putting one foot in front of the other.
I came up with a mantra; I think it was something like "Just Keep Running, Run Strong," and it really seemed to help to repeat it over and over again in my head. So there I was running on when most people around me were succumbing to the pain and walking. It felt like I was in some kind of a zone . . . that is, until I got the stabbing pain in my left shoulder blade. I screamed out loud, and Wilson looked at me like I was crazy. I'm assuming it had something to do with my shoulder injury combined with my form beginning to fail, but lordy was it painful! I managed to keep going and tried to focus on good form, and soon it faded to just a dull ache.
Mile-22: 10:27 (gel break)
Miles-23 through 25.5 were brutal. They were out in the middle of a highway, again leaving little hope for shade. The temp was up near the mid-70s and the sun was shining strong . . . I was basically FRYING. In addition, I felt like my calves were on the verge of cramping like crazy. Still, it was as though I had finally figured out the mental aspect of how to just keep running. There was no stopping me now . . . um, well, except for every time I saw an aid station. Then I was DEFINITELY stopping. And probably drinking multiple cups of fluids. But still, with the exception of the aid stations, I was doing a great job of pushing on. My pace was basically crap . . . but it was a mental victory for sure.
Right after the Mile-25 marker, there began a DEVASTATING uphill climb. It hadn't looked that bad on the course elevation map, but dear lord was this hill evil. As we were in the middle of another out-and-back along the Alaskan Way Viaduct, I had run down it in the opposite direction and I just KNEW it was going to eat me alive. Everyone around me was walking. I so wanted to keep running . . . but I swear to god, I felt like I was moving backwards. It was just too much. I slowed to a walk and attempted to crest the hill as quickly as I could hobble up it. As I was limping up the beast of a hill, I heard a voice ask Wilson and I, "How are you guys doing?!" all chipper like. I kind of wanted to punch this girl, but luckily, I was just too tired. "I've been better," I muttered. Wilson, being a decent human being asked Miss Chipper how she was doing, "Oh, I'm GREAT!" she replied. I resisted the urge to vomit on her. Finally, I crested that b*tch and was getting ever closer to the finish.
At some point soon after we had crested the hill and were making our way down an off-ramp back to street level, Wilson told me he was going to hop off at the yellow fences ahead. I had no clue what this meant and responded, "Okay, bye bye," not realizing that we still had almost a half-mile to go before we got to that point. I was seriously out of it and really confused when he continued to run by my side. Finally, just before Mile-26, we hit the "yellow fences" better known as the finish chute and Wilson jumped out, telling me to finish strong.
I sped up for a few seconds and passed about a dozen people, but then I realized I just couldn't hold the pace to the finish. I slowed a bit, but maintained my position. Finally, I saw it . . . the glorious finish line. I cruised on in. FINALLY, I was done.
Mile-26.2: 9:12 pace
Finish time: 4:41:55.
I stumbled forward, looking for water anywhere I could find it. Finally, up ahead, I saw people handing out bottles of sweet, magical H20. Whew, thank goodness. I snagged one and continued forward to grab my medal. I proudly put it around my neck, thrilled that I had managed to improve my previous time by 45 minutes, despite not really feeling that well and nearly losing it all back at Mile-16. I wandered around, grabbing at various food items--a banana, a couple of orange slices, a granola bar, iced tea (seriously?! iced tea?!). I grabbed a mylar blanket, knowing I would probably get cold seeing as how I had soaked myself continuously with cups of water since somewhere around Mile-12. It was a little chaotic in the finish area, but finally I found my way out and started over towards the gear trucks. I had quite a scare when the gear truck couldn't find my bag . . . that is, until the volunteer asked me if I was sure I had the right truck. "Of course, I have the right truck," I thought. But then I looked up and realized that NO, I didn't have the right truck! I was one off! Oops . . . maybe I was more out of it than I thought! Finally, I found the right truck and got my gear back, and headed back to the family meet-up area to find my friends.
Wouldn't you know, they ALL had earned themselves PRs as well! I made a joke that it was scientifically impossible for me to NOT earn a PR, considering how badly I'd done in my first marathon . . . but still, I was just thrilled. I felt like a 4:41:55 was a far more appropriate "first marathon" time for me. I had done it. I had FINALLY redeemed myself. There was a little part of me that was disappointed that I hadn't pushed harder during the rough miles between Miles-16 and 20, but hey, I'm still new at this. And I think I learned A LOT during this race that will help me to run even better races in the future.
Looking back, I think the most amazing thing to me is how "easy" the race was in comparison to my first one. I guess I had never realized how bad of shape I was in during the LA Marathon . . . I mean, I know that heat exhaustion can be devastating, but I just had NO CLUE how bad off I was. I had secretly thought that maybe I just SUCK at longer distances, and that's why it was so difficult for me. Having gone through another one, I can say without doubt that I CAN do this. In fact, I think part of the reason I felt the need to stop in those middle-miles was that I kept waiting for it to get as bad as it did in LA. When I realized it wasn't going to get that bad, I was able to get back on track and finish relatively strong, all things considered. It's a little bit disappointing, knowing that I probably could have pushed myself harder and hit my goal time, but at the same time, I think it was a GREAT lesson in marathoning. I'll take that knowledge with me as I embark on my next training plan and marathon. I can't wait to see what I can do now that I finally have a little extra confidence and experience under my belt!
But first, I will rest for a couple of weeks--I've earned it after all :)