It's been 2 weeks since my marathon debut at CIM - celebratory champagne has been drunk, donuts devoured, and I can finally walk again (yes, the post-marathon struggle to walk is REAL!). Now that I've had adequate time to reflect and recover, let's recap the race and revel in the sweet satisfaction that comes with reaching a goal.
**Be forewarned, this is a long race recap - but hey, 26.2 is a LONG way to go!**
I arrived in California a few days ahead of the race, with boatloads of luggage, prepared (ok, over-prepared) for any weather. On Thursday, my brother Brendan and I visited the UC Davis Children's Hospital with the Sacramento Running Association as part of the pre-marathon events. We had the opportunity to visit with some of the young patients and joined them in a mini-marathon around the hospital floor. With my mind spinning with pre-race nerves, the hospital visit was a good reminder to approach Sunday's race with gratitude for my health and the ability to race.
Friday and Saturday were a whirlwind, with a packed work calendar full of client calls followed by additional pre-race events. But perhaps it was good to stay busy and keep my mind off the race. Before I knew it, my alarm was buzzing early Sunday morning, and it was go-time.
At 5 am, along with the other elite runners, I boarded the bus to the start line in Folsom. The ride got off to a rough start, as I discovered that my Garmin had not charged!! Despite charging it twice the day before, my watch had no battery power - it appears that the watch had frozen and not taken a charge! WTF Garmin?! After a panicked text exchange with Coach Dena, I took a deep breath knowing that I could wear her watch (and would have my Strava race data to #proveit - priorities, you know!).
Crisis averted, I tuned out the bus noise with country music (don't judge my pump-up playlist) and ran through my pre-race "highlight reel." The highlight reel is a sports psych strategy I learned back in high school, where you reflect on previous performances where you've executed well, set a PR, or met a goal. Buoyed by powerful images of past success, I went for a 10 minute jog with Dena, stuffed my sports bra with extra PowerGels, and headed to the starting line.
And then we were off on our 26.2 mile odyssey! I set out to run ~6:00 pace, with the Olympic Trials A Standard of 2:37 in mind. But the first few miles were a little hot, so by 5k I made the decision to slow down and let the A Standard pack go. I found myself in no man's land save for Tori Tyler, who I was lucky to run ~15 miles with. I'd raced Tori in high school and college, and CIM was both of our debuts, so it was great to work with her for many miles! We found our groove and rolled through the half in 1:18:59.
The race got hard much sooner than I'd anticipated. I expected to feel smooth at least through 13.1, but in truth I never really felt good. The rolling hills in the first half took their toll and my quads were cramping by mile 10. I tried not to think about it, instead focusing on the pace and miles ahead. I was grateful to hear words of encouragement from my family and Dena at miles 6, 10, and 13.1.
Tori started to pull away around Mile 15 as my pace slowed, and then I was on my own. It's tough to be alone with your thoughts when you're hurting, so I kept my mind on my long list of supporters. I'd dedicated specific miles of the race to special people in my life - teammates, friends, family - and I planned to draw strength from their support when my own mental fortitude faded.
Miles 1-6 I thought back to joyful runs with teammates, on trails in Point Reyes, along Ohio bridle paths, on Rhode Island roads. Miles 7-13 were for friends, heartened by their texts, cards, and love. Miles 14-20 were for family, who are there for you always, through the tough miles in a marathon and in life. Mile 14 I tried to run joyfully like my 14-year-old brother Bryce, new to the sport and blissfully naive to the pain of racing - but I was struggling.
And just as it got hard, my other brother was there! Brendan had paced the men's Olympic Trials B Standard group through 16 miles; his pacing duties complete, he slowed til I caught up around 16.5, and MAN was I glad to see him! He ran stride for stride with me through 20.5, and while we didn't exchange many words, his presence was more than enough.
But the last 10k was mine to battle alone. I had to fight like I've never fought before, wrestling for every second, every step closer to that damn far-away finish line. I wanted to give up, and I did give in, slowing to 6:22 pace at mile 23. Miles 21-23 were dark, and the fog that we ran through matched my mental state. I was grateful for the cheers of the crowd during those lonely miles, rooting on the hometown girl who was running pretty ragged at that point.
And then, the fog cleared - I saw a woman in front of me, within striking distance, and some quick mental math let me know I could break 2:40 if I could just snap out of it! I got mad, got hungry, remembering how hard I'd worked for this. Digging deep, buried beneath my pity party the past few miles, I found my fierce inner competitor. I passed one woman, then another, and suddenly I was in Midtown with a mile to go! My in-laws were cheering and I managed a smile; my mom and sister-in-law were screaming, and as I looked ahead I saw former DHS and UCD teammate Drew Petersen.
Drew heard them screaming my name, and in an action that gave me chills then and now again as I write it, he turned back, and ran beside me. Just like Brendan a few miles before, Drew pulled me along as we neared the finish. It hurt so bad, but his selfless act -- the act of a teammate, a friend, a brother -- kept me going. It was one the kindest things someone has ever done for me, and I'll forever remember that mile we shared. Love you, Drew!
We parted as we came to the final 100 meters, with separate finishes for men and women. As I turned the corner onto Capital Mall, I started to cry - for how much the past 26 miles had hurt, with gratitude that it was almost over, with joy that I'd reached a goal I'd fought long and hard for. People say there's nothing quite like crossing the finish line of your first marathon, and they're absolutely right.
In 9th place, in 2:39:29, in an Olympic Trials qualifying time, I ran joyfully across the finish line, having never completed a race so happy and so relieved. The photos below, captured by Wendy Shulik, say it all.
The moments following brought hugs from Dena, congratulatory words, and a joyful reunion with my family.
I'm sure I'll run many more marathons in my day, but I'll always remember this one, my first. To share this journey with so many people, to run my Olympic Trials qualifier at home, is truly a special thing. THANK YOU to everyone - supporters, sponsors, family & friends! And now it's back to work for a fast 2015!