My First Marathon!

I know you all have been waiting with bated breath for the follow-up to my first post, and since I am running another race in a couple days, I figured that I’d better put you all out of your misery. So… the marathon…. March 6th, 2012. It was a cold, dark morning and I was tangled in my race shirt that I had lovingly lay on the hotel room chair the night before, pinned with my race bib, ready to go. The bib ripped and i had to scream for my husband to help pull it off of me. Hoping it wasn’t an omen of what was to come, I took my temperature one last time (just getting over a horrible cold that I feared was the flu), winced at the 3 eyedroppers of “kick-ass biotic” in my mouth, took 2 Tylenol (which my husband said would disqualify me if the officials found out – WHATever) and lubed up my feet. Stashing various energy bars, GUs, electrolyte pills and coconut water in my race bag, I was ready. Tired as hell (it was 5 AM after all, and I only got 5 out of my usual 8-hr beauty sleep), a little anxious, and, I’ll admit, excited, “andiamo!” I yelled at my husband. He’s Italian and always late. In fact, much of the night I dreamt that we would miss the bus to the starting line and miss the race. Of course,we were, in fact, the last people on the bus. They were all waiting for us, but we made it. *phew” Now the fun begins.

Jumped off the bus with my other awesome running friends, among thousands of other runners, all hopping around, trying to warm up in the 39 degree temp, which felt frigid given that most of us were wearing tank tops and short shorts. So many crazy people, just like me! I actually teared up with the enormity of it. My husband, Maurizio, and I had our plan down. We were going to find Johan, one of our running buddies, who is smart and experienced, and had his pace per minute calculated down to the mile to get his goal-time, under 4 hrs. We figured that if we could stay by him, we could get that pace too. Easier said than done.

With Johan. Doing well...

So the three of us started out together. I felt good- dare i say, invigorated, and determined to not let the excitement push me faster than I knew I should go. Everything i had read said to start out at a relatively slow pace, and then push for those negative splits (faster after the 2nd half). So we were at about 9 min/mile. Maurizio kept itching to go ahead. I could literally see the struggle playing out in his body. Johan finally said “if you can’t hold back anymore, go for it!”. Maurizio hesitated for a second and then lurched forward, not to be seen again until mile 20. This was around mile 8, and I have to say, from the beginning until about mile 17, I was feeling great. it was a gorgeous morning, and watching the bright sun infiltrating the dense fog, laying over the vineyards, was actually meditative and relaxing. I thought about how a marathoning book I read mentioned that the top runners never even notice the scenery in their races, and what a shame that was for them. I stuck like glue next to Johan, and we chatted about where Maurizio could be, our childhoods, our children and whatever else passed our minds. Four hours makes for a lot of conversation! I was mindful to eat little bites of my energy bars every so often and drink lots of water. I even forced myself to walk through the aid stations, every 2 miles, to drink the water, rather than having 3/4 of it spill out as I try to stay on pace. At the half marathon marker, I noticed that I had beat my half-marathon PR (1:55), and worried that my mom and kids would miss seeing me at the finish line. I had told them that I expected to finish in around 4 and a half hours, Maurizio probably around 4, and even considered slowing down for a moment so that I could see them. That moment passed very quickly.

Around mile 17, I started feeling the beginning of a side cramp, which is what sidelined me at the angel Island 25k, as well as during some of our longer training runs. i knew that if I couldn’t stop it from coming on full force, Johan would go ahead of me and there would be no way I’d make my goal time. Johan reminded me to focus on my breathing and to stop taking shallow breaths. I was so thankful for him at that moment. I did focus on it and remembered reading, among the theories of how to get rid of side cramps, that lamaze breathing can help. So I started my Lamaze breathing. I didn’t give a shit what I looked like at that point! I breathed and I pushed the air out, feeling like i was giving birth to my third child. The cramp came on anyway, but I didn’t talk and kept focused on my breathing 100%. In fact, I was so focused on my breathing that I hardly noticed the pain in my quads, in my calves, in my hamstrings, in my feet, just to name a few.

We hit mile 19, which I had been warned about as the last, tough hill. The hill would have been nothing for us any other time, considering all of the crazy hills we run on Mt. tam every week, but at mile 19 of a marathon, just when you officially “hit the wall” and your glycogen is depleted in your body, a mile and a half long hill is hell, no matter what it’s steepness. About a mile into it, I said, “oh, look, now it’s downhill. that wasn’t so bad,” to which Johan responded” It’s actually still uphill. At that point I knew I must be slightly delirious.

I imagined at this point that Maurizio was way ahead of us, and despite our “friendly” competition, was actually delighted for him, thinking, “wow, maybe he’ll even qualify for Boston. how awesome is that!” That’s when I saw him. He was a hot mess. Now he’s going to vehemently deny this observation, and maybe it’ll even spur him on to write his own version of the story, but here’s mine.  And all of my wanting to beat him (I’ll admit it) flew out the door when I saw him. I knew he had hit the wall. He went out too fast and couldn’t sustain it. He was so thankful to have found us, and I knew I had to help him through it. And in that split second my running partner who had kept me sane, on-track and calm took off. Johan says that he saw in my eyes that I was torn at that moment. But I don’t think i was. oh, I’m not going to pretend that I was a martyr. I become a calculating, type-A runner too on race day, and knew that I could still do a sub 4-hr marathon by ‘helping” my husband (oh, he is going to kill me for that!!) and then taking off fast at the end.  So I stuck by him, kept focusing on my breathing (sounding like a seal in labor by this point) and encouraged him to push through his pain.

Love this of me and Maurizio!

The last few aid stations, I had started actually stopping and having them fill up my water bottle rather than just grabbing a little paper cup of water.  All of the water was helping me through it, and I’m sure my body needed it as I didn’t even stop once the whole race to go to the bathroom (tmi). And now we’ve arrived at “the water incident.”  Get Maurizio going over a couple glasses of wine at dinner and he’ll expound on what a horrible, impatient wife I am, that I made him fill up his whole water bottle and then took off.  Well, that’s not quite how it went down.  This was the last aid station (mile 24), and I wasn’t planning on leaving him exactly at that point, but did want to take off somewhere around then so that I could make it a sub-4 marathon.  i had been checking my Garmin the whole time, and wasn’t leaving a second to chance. Not after I had pushed myself this hard! My marriage would survive this, but my ego might not if i didn’t take off running as fast as i could!  So when Maurizio was sidelined, waiting for his water bottle to be filled (well how long does it take to fill a water bottle after all?!?  the seconds-felt like hours- and they ticked on by- I waited.  I waited and I waited some more.  then I gestured for him to sprint and meet me.  He looked at me like I was insane.  So I took off.  I did feel slightly guilty, but this was my moment!  He’s beet me before and will surely beet me in the future, but I had run a smart race and I deserved to reap the benefits, goddammit.
My legs felt like lead at this point, but I was manically watching the clock and knew I could do it.  One-two-breathhhheeeeee, One-two-breathhhheeeeee, One-two-breathhhheeeeee.  I saw all kinds of people sidelined, bending over in pain, walking, laying on the ground, stretching. With each strong looking man I passed I felt stronger.  I thought about  who I was running this race for.  I thought about my friend’s baby, Vinnie, who had just had open heart surgery and who I was raising money for with this race and what strength and courage his parents have.  I thought about my grandmother, who loved walking as much as I love running, but now can’t take one step without a fear of falling.  And I thought about my dad, who died 10.5 years ago and who loved life, loved running and reveled in the natural beauty around him and inspired me every day.  I ran those miles for them, and they helped propel me to the finish line.  As I neared the finish line, i saw my mom’s friend, Doreen, with my 2 girls, and I was ecstatic.  I yelled to them and cheered, so relieved and proud that I made it.  My mom was parking, since I’d finished earlier than she thought.  Later Maurizio would see her on the course near the end, with her behind blocking him on that last mile, but that’s another story.
Maurizio, supposedly sprinting the last 1/2 mile, made it just two minutes behind me.  I was 3:57 and he was 3:59:58.  Right under 4! So proud of both of us!
After the race we found our other friends we had been training with, who had all been so supportive and wonderful.  Everyone had finished, even Michele, who pushed through with a calf injury.  No wonder we had nick-named our group, team “kick-ass.”

Lamaze breathing...

What I learned from this experience:
1. Marathons are a lot like childbirth. Lamaze breathing helps you through it and you definitely have selective amnesia following it.  What pain?
2. Focus, focus, focus on your breathing and try not to pay attention to the pain in your body.
3. Be mindful.  pay attention to what you eat and when you eat before and during the race, and drink lots of fluids.
4.  Don’t take off too fast.
5.  And most of all, be it emotional or physical strength, we are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.  The only way to grow is to challenge ourselves and push the boundaries.
We are stronger than we think.
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Prelude to a Marathon

It’s only fitting that my first post would be of my first marathon.  This is, after all, what has inspired me to start this damn blog. But running my first marathon was such an amazing and life changing experience, that I feel the need to put it in words to be able to understand why it was so powerful, and share it with you. This blog is about what fuels me.  Running. Painting. Mothering.  And a healthy dose of spousal competition to ignite the mix.

I guess I’ll start with my background.  I was never one for sports.  Spent most of my free time as a kid in the house, drawing.  I was a calm child, more lazy than active.  My poor parents even took my sister and I to the Grand Canyon when we were 9 and 13, and we refused to walk around it.  Closed ourselves up in our hotel room playing poker.  Poker!?@ At the Grand Canyon! How f*cked up is that?

I started running in college, mostly as a way keeping my weight under control (never mind the entire boxes of non-fat cookies I ate for dinner). I was a slowwww runner, and stayed that way until about 5 months ago.  I kept running, mostly on my own, until October, when I became part of an official running club.  I always enjoyed my time alone on the mountain as a time for meditative stillness (read: an escape from my two wonderful, though needy children and a loving, um-consuming, husband). So I was resistant initially to joining a running group.  But once I started running with them, it changed everything about the way I run.  I was pushed (by weight of my own competitiveness) to go further, faster and start racing.  A huge plus was how warm and supportive the group was, a wonderful mix of runners of different ages and backgrounds. So I signed up for a half-marathon.  Then did a 25k. And then signed up for a marathon.

I think what made me the most nervous about running a marathon wasn’t as much the marathon itself, but the fact that the few people I knew who had run one said that they would never do it again (well, and also the defecation while running possibility I’d heard discussed over long training runs) .  I didn’t want to stop running after that, or even curb my running.  I can’t imagine what kind of mother I would be if I couldn’t run, what kind of artist, what kind of person.  It’s an intrinsic part of who I am.  Keeps me sane, grounded, confident and strong. Allows me time to empty my mind and fill my soul.

So I ran and I ran and I ran some more, training with an amazing group of runners, who became, stride by stride, close friends.  And with my husband.  Here I must digress.  I adore my husband.  He is the love of my life, after all. But when it comes to competition, he is also the bane of my existence.  I may be exaggerating a bit, but man, does he know how to push my buttons.  My husband, let’s call him “M,” is the true definition of an athlete.  An amazing road biker, mountain biker, skier, tennis player, etc. etc.  So once he saw me so passionate about running, is there any doubt that he would pick it up on a whim and immediately be as strong, if not stronger than I?  No doubt.  Annoying though.  Definitely annoying.  I went on long runs with my group.  He came on long runs with my group.  I signed up for a marathon.  He signed up for a marathon.  We ran many times together, and I have to say, it was quite a different sensation running with him than with my new running buddies.  Gone were the easy conversations, the similar paces and innate support.  It was WAR! We never ran together.  He ran ahead.  I ran ahead.  He caught up to me and then sprinted down the next block.  Imagine 18 miles of this and you can see why I got tired of it.  But I love my husband, and his boyish spirit is so endearing.  Just. Not. When. I. Run. Oh, I tried to change him.  I asked him why can’t we run together, arrive at a pace together, support each other for pete’s sake (ok, the words were a little stronger than that). But we all know that you can only do so much to try to change your partner, and then you need to resign yourself it.  I resigned.  I resigned so much that I decided the inspiring, soul-searching runs would still happen, but on my own time.  With my husband, I was determined to out-pace him. To win.

Hence our first race together.  A half-marathon in Healdsburg.  We started out together, but only 2 miles into it, he got sidelined by a leg cramp.  I waited with him, but he told me to go on after he saw it might last a while (he did, I swear).  I went on to beat him by over half an hour (1:55 for me).  Not over yet, he declared! So we signed up for a 25K trail run that circles Angel Island twice.  This time I got the cramp, on my side.  And he ran ahead (did I not a slight smirk as he dashed off?).  Needless to say, he beat me that time, by a lot (He was 2:11.  I was 2:20).  However, we both did place in that race.  M was second in his age group and I was third in mine.  Don’t ask how many there were in each age group though. We both thought that we placed second in our respective age groups.  You should have heard the hooting and hollering when the ribbons arrived at our house, and he saw that his was second, and mine third.  Ours girls, 6 and 9, looked at us like we were crazy.  One of those poignant role-reversal moments that they will likely talk about in therapy 20 years later.

I sighed with relief.  That’s it.  He beat me.  now he can go back to focusing on his many other sports that he excels in, and I’ll make running my own special thing.  So I signed up for my first marathon with a couple other women runners from my running group.  I had heard so much about the bonding that goes on during marathon training, and was eager for some female camaraderie from these cool women.  Oh, but as soon as soon as M heard that I signed up for a marathon, he wanted to play too. The stage was set. It was 1-1. Game on.

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