I’ve really struggled with writing this post. I’m post-dating it so that it will appear in proper chronological order of my races and training, but in reality it is coming up on a year since the event. I feel like I should have some profound observations to make about it, because physically it was a very profound thing to experience, but I’ve never felt like I had a way to come up with equivalent words.
These are the moments and memories I took away from it.
The day started early and cold. There were thousands of people running the marathon, and that means moving them around takes a lot of time. They had an early start and an early cutoff for shuttling people out to the starting line, so Kris and I had to get up at 3:45 AM to get where we needed to go. Do I even need to say that I didn’t enjoy that?
The bus ride out to the starting line was kind of terrifying. It was a long ride, and the whole way out, I was thinking “this is how far I’m going to have to run back.” It was farther, in fact, because the course didn’t run along the freeway we took out there.
I was deposited at the waiting area sometime between 5:00 and 5:30. The race time was 6:30. It was still dark and cold, and there was a breeze that seemed to be picking up. People were worried about that, and it turned out that they were right to be worried about it. It got pretty windy by mid-morning.
The Beginning of the Race
My friend Justin was out there with me, and having him around was a major lifesaver. Not only did he help me with my nerves about the race, he gave me some critical advice about nutrition (“you need to eat more than that,” when I told him how often I was planning, and he was right). He also showed me the best way to start the race—wait until the call to report to the starting line, then use the restrooms. No lines, no waiting. There were so many people running the race that they were still filing across the starting line by the time we’d done our business and walked down.
Because of the above-stated tactic, I was the next-to-last starter out of the entire marathon pack. I wasn’t dead last, though! That honor went to Justin. His phone wasn’t picking up the GPS signal he needed to track his time, so he sent me on and tried to get it fixed. The race organizers were waiting on him so they could start clearing the equipment from the road. After a lot of dirty looks and a few incredulous questions (“are you ever going to start?”), they made him get going without it. He eventually got it working, but it took a couple of miles.
I was sick. Did I mention I was sick? The seasonal flu bug had been making its rounds, and I’d managed to avoid it for weeks—all the way up until three days before the race. When I woke the morning it started, feeling it coming on, I knew fear in my heart. I’d been doing everything I could to avoid catching it, and it had finally beat me. Fortunately, the symptoms never hit me as hard as they did Kris (she’d been dealing with it for some time), so I was pretty functional. Even so I ran that day with a cough, sore throat, and a headache. I vowed to tell everyone until the end of time that I ran my first marathon sick, and to this day I have. I ran it sick!
There were endless piles of clothes strewn along the side of the road in the first couple of miles of the course. People wore their layers for as long as they needed, until they warmed up, and then they discarded them. I thought it was kind of trashy, but all clothes picked up by the sweep crews were donated to the needy, so there was at least that silver lining to it.
The Middle of the Race
It was a race completely unlike any I’d ever run. People don’t run marathons the way they run shorter distances. I saw people doing walk intervals (you run for a while, you walk for a while). I saw people wearing and carrying every combination of hydration and nutrition systems you can imagine: belts, packs, armbands, handhelds, even bandoliers (seriously!). I saw people stopping and waiting for friends to catch up. I saw people going back to look for friends who weren’t catching up. I saw a lot of senior citizens, a group I see much less represented in any other race I’ve done. I saw one guy running in huaraches, carrying a backup pair (I assume) of conventional running shoes in his hands.
Side note: I also saw him after the race, still in the huaraches, but limping seriously. I know Born to Run has made everyone think that this is the “right” way to run now, but it’s really not for everyone. Don’t try this at home, kids.
I remember stopping at a water station early-ish (mile 7? 8? something like that) and being around a couple of people who were breathing pretty hard. It was way too early in the race for anyone to be pushing themselves like that. As the race went on, I saw a couple of people leaned over on the side of the road, throwing up.
There were spectators with encouraging signs all along the way. Some of them moved along with the race, so I saw them more than once. They had encouraging signs and funny signs, and I loved them all. “Worst parade ever” might be my all-time favorite.
The wind picked up as the morning wore on. There were long, straight stretches of running straight into it, and it was exhausting.
We were running down some major streets, with most of the lanes and sometimes the median blocked off for us runners. That forced traffic over into just a couple of lanes in places, and they’d slow to a crawl and be stuck there for a while. In one of those stretches, a runner ahead of me ran over to the free lane closest to them and held out his hand for high-fives. He had a lot of takers.
I sang myself through some rough spots. I had a long music playlist on my iPod for the race, and sometimes I sang along with it. I tell people that and they get a little horrified, but nobody around me batted an eye over it during the race.
Around mile 18, a guy on the sidelines told me that I looked like I was just getting started. I told him I didn’t feel like I was just getting started!
The End of the Race
I never really “hit the wall.”
I got tired (and that graduated to exhaustion), but there was never a point where I felt like I couldn’t keep going. I don’t know if that was due to training, pacing, nutrition, or some other intangible factor, but I dodged it.
My calves had been hovering right on the edge of cramping for several miles toward the end, so I stopped to stretch them around mile 23. After several races of dealing with this (my second loop at Ragnar, Illuminations, and now this one), I decided it was time to try calf sleeves again (note from the future: that was a good decision).
Miles 24 and 25 were the hardest. It was so, so close to the end, but not quite close enough for a last rush of elation carry me to the finish line. I had to get through those miles on willpower.
There was some downhill in the last mile. That sounds awesome, right? It wasn’t. My legs were beat after running 25.5 miles, and each footfall pounded down like I was carrying twice my weight. Okay… going uphill may have been worse, but I still wasn’t thrilled about the downhill. Let’s just say that I would have preferred flat and even.
Kris and my sister Rachel were near the finish line, cheering me in. It was awesome.
I crossed the finish line with the photography recommendations ringing in my head. “Don’t look down at your phone or your watch when you’re crossing the line. Look up. Look cheerful. Look excited.” I did and held it for that last 30 feet, and then I stumbled over to one of the chairs on the other side of the finish line and collapsed on it. I sat slumped there long enough that the finish line aides brought my finisher’s medal over to me there, and I kept sitting there long enough that they came over and asked me if I was okay a little later. Kris was looking for me and couldn’t find me, but all I knew at that moment was that I was exhausted and that everything hurt.
Fortunately, as it always does, the pain passed. A few minutes of feeling crushed, just demolished, sitting by myself in a hard metal folding chair, and I was able to get up and start connecting with everyone again.
I think it’s a given, but I’ll say it anyway; I was pretty tired for the rest of that day. The next day, everything on my body (but my hips in particular), had stiffened into near-immobility. I could barely move.
(I love that the one favorite/like that I have there is from the Phoenix Marathon!)
I made Kris let me buy our finish line medal photo. It was expensive and maybe overpriced, as race photos so often are, but this one was worth it.
Within a few weeks, Phoenix Marathon sent out an email offer to all race participants for registration for next year’s race at a steep discount.
Kris and I both signed up again.