It is difficult to put into words how much it means to me to have completed my first marathon. Achieving a life-long “bucket-list” goal is wonderful and highly emotional for me. I don’t recall at what point in my life I decided I wanted to do it, but I’m guessing I was perhaps in my 20s. So many years went by… so many years in which I wasn’t thinking about running at all or, if the thought did cross my mind, I had more or less given up on the idea, rationalizing that it wasn’t really “important” to me.
I began running again around December 2011 or so and posted about running at least a mile every day in January 2012. I did that because I had begun training for a GoRuck Challenge, about which I also blogged. However, my running wasn’t consistent at all. In 2013 I began running with more purpose, participated with a few running clubs, and began thinking more seriously about running goals. I completed a couple of registered half marathons and enjoyed those, and I also crashed a tough Brazen half marathon in Saratoga and was pleased with how I performed on a difficult, hilly course. In April I decided to check out race calendars and found the Santa Rosa marathon slated for August 25. Simultaneously, I found a marathon training regimen online that called for 18 weeks of 4 runs per week of increasing lengths, and I happened to be 18 weeks out from the Santa Rosa event! I began the training regimen, which was relatively easy at first, but I hedged my bets by not registering right away for the race. I liked my progress and eventually took the plunge and paid the registration fee. The regimen culminated with a 20-mile run 3 weeks before the event, the farthest I had ever run, and then allowed me to taper and run less the last 3 weeks to allow my legs to be fresh. Suffice it to say, the training worked perfectly for me, and I knew that I was ready.
I drove up to Santa Rosa on Saturday the 24th. I had gotten very little sleep the night before and was pretty tired, which made me a bit anxious about my race prep. I picked up the race packet at DeLoach Winery. Goodies included a taste of wine (I picked the Chardonnay, and I have to say, it was not to my liking), a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon which I have not opened yet, and a cool race jacket, which I need because I recently lost an expensive North Face windbreaker by leaving it behind in a restaurant (nobody turned it in).
I checked in at the same Motel 6 where I stayed before my 100-mile bike ride last year. No free Wi-Fi, no fridge or microwave or anything. Just a bed and a TV with less than 20 channels. The room didn’t even have facial tissues, for goodness’ sake.
I ate some greens I had brought with me, as well as some nuts and tortilla chips. At about 6pm I decided I had better eat a substantial dinner. Looked in the nearby Trader Joe’s, but realized I had no way of heating or preparing anything. Saw a Carrows further down the block, so I went in there and studied the menu. My criteria were: comfort food with the highest calories per dollar, and eventually I settled on one of those Supreme Skillets, about 1,500 calories! Not what one would consider healthy food for a serious training regimen. However, I’ve heard of ultra runners who scarf down pizza. Plus, I listen to my body, and it was telling me it wanted fattening food. I figured that I had eaten my salad, I was going to eat whatever else I wanted. There was even bacon in there. That meal disappeared quickly, and then I headed back to the room.
One nice thing about running: there is very little in the way of gear, very little time needed to get ready before a race. I laid out my clothing, attached my race bib and earphone clips to my shirt, gelled up some chia seeds, and set out the food I would eat for breakfast, then crawled into bed and watched a movie that had already started — kind of a detective/crime story with Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron, not sure what it was called.
The advantage of having not slept well the night before was that I was ready for sleep by about 8pm, and having to get up around 4:30am, I did have to go to bed that early. NO WAY I could have fallen asleep that early based on my regular schedule. In retrospect, it was a brilliant bit of crazy scheduling I pulled off.
I did wake up around 4am and then went back to sleep, but managed to wake up again with no alarm at 4:26. For some reason I can’t explain, I took a shower. I ate an orange, a banana, my chia seeds, and a protein bar.
I wanted to leave the room by 5am, even though the race start was only a couple of miles away. I did leave by 5:05, but stupidly I looked right at my wallet and left it in the room (?!?). I drove nearly all the way into town before realizing I had no way of paying for parking (let alone my freakin’ driver’s license). I swear, I don’t know how I manage things as well as I do given the dumb decisions I make. So I lost about 10 minutes of time retrieving my wallet, which proved to be costly.
I found one of the recommended parking garages easily enough, almost by accident, and started following other runners in the direction of the starting area. Made it there by 5:30, seemingly in plenty of time. WELL…
First, I had brought my race jacket, thinking it might be cold while waiting for the run to start, with some extra food in the pocket. Totally unnecessary, because even that early in the morning, the weather was balmy, practically ideal for running. I got into a long line for the bag check (with no bag). I simply attached one of the bag check forms with my name and bib number to the inside of the jacket.
Then, someone did another truly nice thing: a married couple was standing right there, and the woman asked, “Would you like me to attached your timing chip to your shoe? It’s one of my talents!” And I said, “Sure, thank you, because I would probably screw it up!” And I chatted with her and her amiable husband while she took care of my chip. It was dark, and she had a flashlight, and she helped many other runners in that way. I am very grateful, because it was one less thing to have to do.
So, with about 19 minutes until the start, I headed over to the crowd of runners. Unfortunately, only then did I realize I really did need to use the toilet. And naturally, as at all these types of events, the lines were huge. I looked at my cell phone, and it read 5:51 and I was WAY back in line! That was making me a bit anxious, although I knew it was not the end of the world — there are porta-potties along the race route.
Minor miracles, with seconds to spare I got in and out of a porta-potty and into the crowd waiting to start. The upside of that was that I had no time to stand around and think about the run or to get “butteflies”. The announcer was counting down, and then away we all went!
I just started running along at what I felt was a comfortable yet sufficient pace. I knew from my training that my natural pace was just about right for meeting my goal, which was 3’30”. One disconcerting matter was that the pace runners, who had been holding up signs in the crowd while waiting for the starting guns, did not hold them up every step of the way or even what seemed like a tenth of the time while running. Within the first mile, I could not find the 3’30” pace runner. But my pace felt right, so I didn’t worry about it and just relaxed into the run. However, I happened to slow down at a fueling station for some water, and when I looked up, I saw the 3’25” pace runner going by, so I followed that group for awhile.
Not much of note happened during the race. I listened to my running playlist on my iPod. I was carrying too much in my Amphipod belt, and it kept slipping over to one side, which was annoying and I kept adjusting it, but that served to take my mind off the running itself. I sloshed a few sips of Gatorade or water at every station. I breathed. It sounds a bit strange perhaps, but that’s the main thing I did for three and a half hours: focused on my breathing, just processing oxygen. I didn’t trip or fall. Occasionally I looked up to enjoy the scenery, which was very nice. There were many spectators waving and holding signs and calling about encouraging words, and I nearly always smiled and waved and gave the “thumbs up” sign. One sign said “Run happy!”, and that’s what I did. Another sign said “You’re all Crazy… but I like it!”, and I thought that was funny. One clever sign read “Go, Random Stranger, Go!”, which was cute. There was one guy about my age in a blue shirt, and I seemed to be running near him for the majority of the race. I made a mental note to out-kick him at the end if I saw him, but eventually I out-distanced him. I did see one woman puking off to the side of the route, but overall very little in the way of injured or struggling runners.
At the 20-mile mark, I was well aware that I was entering uncharted waters, and I actually looked forward to feeling how my body would respond over the last 6.2 miles. I am happy to say that my body answered the challenge, and I was mentally tough. I eased off just a bit during the 21st mile in order to gather my strength; I used that time to follow the cutest ass I could see nearby, which happened to belong to a young woman in very nice running tights. During mile 22, I passed her and chased down the next runners up ahead. During mile 23 I chased down a young woman who seemed to be passing other people and running well. And so forth… I finally chased down a guy who had passed me earlier. Right at mile 24, the song “Defying Gravity” from Wicked came up on my playlist —
“It’s time to try
I think I’ll try
And you can’t pull me down!
… I’m through accepting limits…”
That song gives me goose bumps and a thrilling sensation even under normal circumstances, but in that moment it was perfect and inspirational. I nearly got choked up. I knew that I was within reach of my goal, and I can feel that emotion again as I write this.
At mile 25 I began my closing sprint, and with a quarter of a mile to go I kicked into an even higher gear. I was a bit shocked to see that the official clock was very close to 3’30” (I remember seeing 3’29′”51 and having a sinking feeling, because I thought I was well ahead of that — my Garmin had told me I was ahead of my pace the whole run, so it must have been inaccurate. With a tenth of a mile to go, I found yet one more high gear and sprinted as fast as I could to the finish line, but I knew that clock was past 3’30”.
What I didn’t know until later is that of course that clock is the “gun time” when the race started and the first runners crossed the starting line. My own timing chip did not cross the starting line for another 17 seconds. Therefore, my official “chip time ” was 3’29″48, twelve seconds better than my goal! Yay. I did not know that until today, however.
After finishing (9:3oam), I was in a bit of a daze. I took the medal handed to me. My calves were really tightening up quickly. I passed a table where volunteers were serving trays of hard-boiled eggs, and I ate one. I found the line for the free pancakes, and was disappointed they only allowed one per person. I felt like I could have eaten a half dozen! I was pleasantly surprised how efficiently bag check retrieved my jacket. I did look for the posted times, but mine was not up yet. I wandered around a bit to make sure I wasn’t missing any freebies. I texted some friends and family and let them know I was done. I couldn’t talk on the phone to leave a coherent message — I kept getting choked up and cried for joy, not afraid to admit that. Around 10:30am I drove back to the Motel 6.
It is an unforgettable experience that I will not trade for anything. I don’t know my next athletic goal and am not even sure I will run another marathon. I’ll wait and see what I feel like doing. But for now, I am simply happy to have achieved this goal and will enjoy this sense of accomplishment for awhile. I don’t have to do any running this week, yippee!