Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Magic Marathon Part 2: Miles 17 through 26.2

And now for the hard part.

Miles 17-20
9:21; 8:56; 8:44; 9:07

Main Street is where our little group fell apart. We were reaching the every-man-for-himself stage of the marathon. Lauren, Mark, and myself - the three newbies of our little band of musketeers - were still hanging together through this portion of the race. I knew that Teresa had dropped back at the bridge and had considered stopping at that point... I was still worried about her but knew that there would be a Coach to take care of her. I tried to let my guilt and worry go, but was feeling sad that she wasn't with me anymore.

And then somewhere along Main we lost Greg and then Kit. When I realized this, I had a tiny moment of panic. 

Greg has been with me through this journey from the beginning. He came and did my lame 30-seconds-running, 30-seconds-walking first "run" after the incident-that-shall-not-be-named, and continued to stick with me in endless laps around runners' purgatory (otherwise known at the Byrd Park Vita Course). We ran three amazing PR races in the spring - the Shamrock Half, the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, and the Monument Avenue 10k. I couldn't imagine finishing this marathon with out him.

And then there is Kit, who I had half-jokingly called my Sensei throughout the training cycle.  He is the quiet strength of our group, who finds just the right time to impart wisdom or the perfect "That's what she said!" joke. He never complains and always finds the joy in the run, even when we are miserable. How was I possibly going to finish this race without the steady, reassuring presence of Kit?

Just then, Coach Shawn appeared and jumped in. 

"Kathryn, are you even sweating??" he asked, in disbelief.

"I don't know.. maybe?" I said. "Or maybe it's just rain, I can't tell at this point!"

He asked me how I felt and told me that if I just kept doing what I was doing, I was going to rock this. Somewhere along Main Street, I spotted Bart Yasso again and got a high five from the man himself. And I reminded myself that Lauren, Mark and I were still together. The three Marathon Virgins would get each other through the unknown.

Mental anxiety conquered, I was ready to finish this thing.

Physically, I still felt strong. I knew that the hardest part of the course (terrain-wise) was over and to me, that meant we were home free. A crazy thought at this stage in a marathon, I know. 

Shawn left us as we turned right on to Boulevard and I became the official optimist of what remained of the group. "This is our town, you guys. This our hood. We have done this so many times... if we just keep this up, we will all get that sub 4 today."

To this point, I had not had a single moment of feeling physically bad. Not feeling the greatest, sure. But bad? Not once. That all changed when we hit the dreaded overpass.

On the Boulevard just south of Sports Backers stadium, there is an overpass with a very steep incline. Many many many of our MTT runs incorporate this dreaded overpass, usually at the end of the run. It becomes your worst enemy and your savior - you know that as soon as you go over it, you are home... but getting over it at the end of a long run is not pleasant. 

One of the rules of Team Navy is that you don't ever walk on the overpass. That rule exists because of this precise moment in the Marathon. You come to it during mile 19 and at that point, all you want to do is go home and be finished. 

But on Marathon Day, the Stadium is not home. 

On Marathon Day, there are still 7 miles or so to go. 

Mark, Lauren, and I attacked the overpass and as we reached the summit, my legs suddenly felt incredibly heavy and I was out of breath for the first time. Until then, my cardio had been fine. I had never been so much as breathing heavily. But as I dragged myself past the familiar turn off to "home" at Sports Backers stadium, I had my only miserable moment. I felt tired... and I still had so far to go. 

But then, something very lucky happened. To my right, I saw the back of the head of one of my co-workers. My brain was so dead at this moment that I couldn't summon her name. "Hey! Hey...!" I called, and then suddenly it came to me, "Claire! Hey Claire!" I yelled and she turned and immediately recognized me.

"Kathryn! Hey!!"

We then exchanged small talk. During mile 19 of a marathon. She explained that she wasn't running the race but had just jumped in to help her friend (another MTT runner, actually) for a few miles. Our little chat was a welcome break for my brain, and made me forget all about that sudden overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that I had experienced after the overpass. As I pulled away, she said, "Good luck! You look so strong!"

At mile 20, I had been running for 3:02:43. 

In my addled brain, I thought to myself, "Holy crap, I can run 10 minute miles for the rest of this and still get the sub 4!" 

I was wrong, but my bad math took a load off of my mind. 

I had this.

Miles 20-23
9:07; 8:56; 8:53; 8:47

Claire's words carried me through the Northside of Richmond, along with the promise of seeing Marcey, who I knew was stationed somewhere along the street between mile 20 and 23.

As Lauren, Mark, and I approached the familiar Pope Arch, I was once again the cheerleader. 

"This is OUR arch you guys. OUR neighborhood. We've GOT THIS. 10k to go - that's NOTHING!" I said.

During this entire stretch, all of my concentration was going to finding Marcey. It was the perfect distraction because although I wasn't feeling bad, I wasn't feeling great either. Despite my big talk, this was the part I had been most scared of - the uncharted territory. The last 10k is where people fall apart. Where they throw up, where they poop themselves, where they break. 

Where they hit the wall.

I kept waiting for it. As far I was concerned, it was inevitable that I was going to hit it... I just didn't know when. Us Marathon Virgins had been warned about the wall so many times. We had been told that it was going to hurt and that it was going to suck. Stories of perfectly pleasant people turning into cursing angry runners during the last 10k were shared multiple times. Our coaches told us to just keep the finish in mind as we suffered.

I had no reason to think this wasn't going to happen to me too. After all, this was my first marathon and to be honest, I'm not exactly the poster child for good fueling strategies. Thus far, I had done pretty well with hydration - I took water or Powerade at every aid station (every even mile marker) and despite not stopping or walking, managed to get most of it ingested... well except for at Mile 20 when I accidentally inhaled some Powerade. (NOT advisable, by the way.) 

But for fuel, all I had consumed were some candy corn kernels and maybe 8 mini pretzels. I had tried a Gu during a training run at mile 16 and it felt like it was stuck in my throat for the rest of the run. Not for me. Since then, all I had used during our training were pretzels and Mike & Ikes provided at SAGs. Though it had worked during training, I had my doubts that it would get me through the last 6.2 miles... but I was also too afraid to try something different. 

Adding to my anxiety was my back. Despite taking it easy, stretching, and using heat therapy during the days leading up to the marathon, the pain in the lower left quadrant of my back never went away. Kit asked me back at mile 4 or so about how it felt. I just said that it hurt and I was trying not to think about it. He said he wouldn't ask me again. I had managed to put it out of my mind but as miles 21 and 22 dragged on, my left glute and hamstring had started to make themselves known, along with my back. Ignoring it was becoming more difficult.

So there I was, waiting for the elusive wall to smack me in the face at any moment, but thankfully distracted with the task of finding Marcey among the spectators. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was really only 2 miles, I saw her at the intersection of Faquier and Brook Road just past mile 22. As soon as I realized it was her, I started to cry. It was happiness, relief, and also for some reason it dawned on me at that moment that I was really going to do it... I was going to finish this marathon. 

Having done my incorrect math back at mile 20, I felt like I could stop and hug Marcey without risking missing out on my sub-4 goal. And hug her I did... in fact, I had a hard time letting go and she was saying "Go, KBP, Go! You gotta go!" I don't remember what I said; something to the affect of "Marcey, I'm doing this! I'm going to do it! I love you! Thank you! I love you!"

Marcey's awesome sign. My initials along with
a no-pooping message (by request). Perfect!

As I tore myself away from Marcey, still crying, I caught Lauren and Mark again. That moment had given me some pep in my step. Then Lauren said, "Hey, isn't that Giles?"

And I'll be damned... it was. Giles had gotten ahead of us way back during Mile 11 and I had definitely not expected to see him again. But, just as we had planned, after the Lee Bridge we had been able to make up some time with a few sub-9:00 miles and sure enough, there he was.

Energized and starting to feel the rush of the imminent finish of the race, I yelled, "Hey Giles! I'm coming for you, man!"

He looked over his shoulder recognized me, and said, "Come on!" with the usual Giles smile... and I hit the gas. When I pulled up along side him, I could hardly believe it. He looked so strong still, as he always does. How was it possible that I was running alongside Giles, our rabbit, at mile 23?? 

Where in the heck was the wall?

Miles 24 - 26.2
8:43; 8:43; 8:37; 3:04

Giles and I ran together for a tiny bit and then suddenly he was saying to me, "Stay strong, Kathryn. Have a great finish!" and I was ahead of him.

I still have no idea how that happened. First timer's dumb luck is all I can chalk it up to.

So now, it was just me. This was not at all how I had pictured the end of the this marathon. In my mind it had always been the little band of Navy Team musketeers pushing each other til the end. This had all been a pipe dream because the reality of that happening was pretty slim to none. I accepted that I was going to have to run the last bit on my own, knowing that I would see my friends at the finish line soon.

Mile 24 and 25 felt so long. Knowing that our coaches were somewhere along this stretch, I once again was grateful for the distraction of searching for them in the crowd. Suddenly I spotted Coach Val, who jumped in with me for a minute and told me that I looked amazing. I said, "Giles, Mark and Lauren are right here with me!" so she told me to finish strong then dropped back to find them.

Grace Street has never felt longer, I promise you. But victory was in my grasp and I found my second wind. There wasn't going to be any wall today. I was going to finish this marathon. I was going to get a sub-4. And I was going to look strong doing it. I found it within myself to pick up the pace.

Somewhere along Grace Street (I think) ~Mile 24
Don't worry MarathonFoto, I'll be blowing lots
of money on these pictures soon enough.
I spotted another running friend, Theresa, along Grace cheering on runners. I knew she had been part of an elite training team for the half and so I yelled to get her attention and asked how her race went. She rocked it, of course, because she is an amazing athlete. I congratulated her, she told me to run beautiful, and then she went to look for Greg to help him through the last bit.

We crossed Belvidere. This was it. Mile 25! And then there was my Dad and my brother! This time I stopped to hug them. Then there was Aunt Sue! And then finally, my Mom, taking a video and screaming like a nut. Of course I screamed back. This is when the real joy set in for me. Not only was this marathon real, but I was really kicking its butt.


My next landmark was Penny Lane Pub at the corner of Franklin and 5th Street. It's a favorite haunt of mine,  and during the marathon it also happens to be mile 26. I knew my in-laws would be there to give me one last boost of energy as I rounded that corner and began the downhill to the finish. As I approached, at first I couldn't spot them, but then there they were screaming their heads off!

My sister-in-law snapped this photo, which says it all:

I've got this!

To my shock she jumped in with me and started jogging along beside me. "How long do we have to go??" she asked. "A quarter mile down hill!"

"I'm out!" she laughed and peeled off, letting me do the running.

As I continued toward the finish I spotted Husband and Sheila again. Both started running along with me. I couldn't believe it was happening. I was smiling so hard that my face felt like it was breaking. It was all slow motion. Just like a movie.

When the race clock came into focus over the finish line, it read 3:59:20. In my mind, I knew that we had been at least 3 minutes ahead of the clock at every split. This led to the realization that not only was I going to sub-4, it was going to be not by a few seconds, but maybe by a few minutes.

I probably could have done the crazy fast finish down that hill, but I held back. I was still kind of afraid of loosing my legs and tumbling over the finish. I knew I had made my goal... no reason to get nuts. Instead I just coasted toward the line, smiling big and soaking in every second of the end of my first marathon.

I distinctly remember the guy in orange putting his arms up
and thinking to myself,"Oh yeah, I should do victory arms now!"

As I crossed under the clock, it read 3:59:50-something and then the tears started. Immediately after crossing, there was Bart Yasso again on my right. Of course I got another high five from him. After that, I looked at my Garmin.


I had done it. I started crying and smiling all at the same time and over the loud speaker I could hear the announcer say my name wrong, then correct himself, and then he said it a third time. "Kathryn Pullam, wherever you are, your friend really wants me to get your attention. Can you hear me Kathryn?"

I started waving my arms frantically and then spotted Sheila, who was leaning against the barrier and crying too. She was screaming, "I'm so proud of you!"

I tried to hang around the finish line (being a bad girl I know) because I just knew that Giles, Mark, and Lauren could not have been far behind me. Giles crossed first, just 29 seconds after I did. I hobbled over and gave him a big sweaty hug and then the race officials started to yell at us to keep moving, so even though I wanted to wait for my friends I behaved myself and made my way through the chute, collecting my medal and finishers blanket along the way. Sheila and Husband followed alongside on the other side of the barrier snapping photos.

At the end of the chute I got my hugs from Husband and Sheila, then my in-laws who arrived shortly thereafter. I delayed moving across the footbridge to the finisher area because I was still desperately searching for my posse. Just a few days later I can't remember how we all came to be together again, but at some point I know I spotted Kit and gave him a giant sweaty hug, along with Greg. And then there was Teresa! I had no idea that she had stayed in the race and seeing her come through that chute was the most wonderful surprise.

Once again we were getting yelled at by race officials to move on, so we begrudgingly made our way toward the finisher island (for lack of a better word). Along the way a photographer grabbed T and I and asked if we wanted our picture taken. Of course! (Duh!)

Please note that we somehow were
assigned consecutive race numbers.
We were obviously meant to be.
More celebratory photos followed along with obtaining some post-marathon pizza (so what if I got 2 slices...) and my Finisher pullover (so what if I had already purchased the pink pullover at the expo on Thursday?)...

Best. Spectator shirt. EVER.

<3 this girl.

Pizza is yummy.

After milling about on the island for a little bit I started to get very cold, so we headed back to the hotel, where my whole family was waiting. I had wanted to wait to try to see one of the coaches and more of the Navy Team members, but I didn't want to keep my fan club out in the cold any longer.

Back at the hotel, everyone just kept saying that they had been astonished with how great I looked at mile 25. This was the first time any of them had seen me at a race, so they didn't know what to expect. As they waited for me to arrive, they said they had seen many runners who were really struggling and therefore had prepared themselves for seeing me looking pretty bad. Apparently when I came "sailing by" (their words, not mine!) they were all shocked by my appearance. Mom showed me the video she took and I was also floored at how effortless my stride looked at that point. It sure hadn't felt that way.

I spent a while on the floor with the foam roller, concentrating on my back and glutes which were really the only things bothering me. After a shower I tried in vain to take a nap, but I still had so much adrenaline that it just wasn't going to happen. So instead I cleaned up the hotel suite (cause that's what everybody does after running a marathon, right?) and got ready for our dinner reservation at Stella's.

Can we eat now?
I don't have much to say about Stella's other than it was the absolute perfect ending to a perfect day. Our group of 14 was half of the restaurant, which was crammed full of happy diners, and our waiter was my favorite waiter. Greg, Kit, and Teresa joined in on the smorgasbord and my Uncle made a toast to the marathoners. Everything was absolutely delectable and selfishly, I loved being surrounded with the people who mean the most to me - my family and friends.

I love this photo of Greg eying his Stella's Filet.
Don't get between a marathoner and his dinner.

I also got the Filet. It was spectacular.
(Along with a ton of other food.)

The Marathoners.
Why did I call this the Magic Marathon?

Because I loved every minute of it.

There wasn't a second when I thought to myself, "Why am I doing this? This is terrible. What was I thinking? I'm never doing this again!"

I'm not sure why it happened that way. Like I said, I kept waiting for the wall and the misery... but they never arrived. Guess they didn't get an invitation to my marathon party.

Really I just feel lucky that my first experience was so wonderful. The only thing that would have made it perfect was if we had all been together at the Finish, but let's be honest... that's just splitting hairs at this point. I didn't get tired. I didn't poop myself or puke. I could have sung a song at any point. I had my posse with me for almost the whole thing. I had the most amazing support along the way from my friends and family, who I can't thank enough for suffering through the drizzly morning. I got THREE high 5s from Bart Yasso.

I finished in under four hours.

Perhaps most importantly, I smiled through the whole race. In looking through my official photos, I have a huge smile in every single one. It is pretty ridiculous and almost embarassing.

It was truly a magical experience.

So... when is the next one?

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