What doesn’t kill you… makes you stronger??

I finished the Women Rock Marathon yesterday.  I finished it.  The course kicked my butt.  It was the hardest race I have run to date.  For me, it was mentally and physically tougher than the Green Bay Cellcom Marathon in May where they black flagged the course due to the heat.  This course had hills- even though the race advertised itself as a “downhill race” and the heat cranked up in an instant- it went from very pleasant to “I’m boiling!”  Overall, I’m happy with the results- I finished in 4:11:10 and I placed 70th overall amongst the 238 marathon finishers and 14th in my age group.  For how tough that race was for me- I’ll take that!  Plus, 4/11 is my birthday, so I’ve always loved that number combination :).

To start, my mom, dad, and Tawnie came to St. Paul to cheer me on!  I was so excited to have them here!  And the course looped the same area twice, so they came up to the start and subsequently saw me again as I passed that same point at mile 6, 13, and 19.  Knowing they were there gave me renewed energy, it was so great!  I loved having them there :).  I can’t describe the feeling that I had when I saw them, it was just so uplifting to see their faces, hear their voices, high-five Tawnie’s hand, and read their signs of encouragement.

Ok, on to the marathon.  It was 60 degrees when it started- perfect! 🙂  There were 5 of us running the marathon and my friend Adrienne was running her first 10k.  Adrienne and I stayed together this weekend and walked down to the lobby to meet Molly at 5:45 am and walk down to the race area, where the 10k race would start and the shuttles would be waiting to take Molly and I to the starting line.  This was the first Women Rock Marathon, and it was clear, they weren’t expecting runners to show up that early.  Nothing was set up.  We found the area where the bag drop would be set up, and camped out for about 10 minutes while the volunteers got things rolling.  Finally, we were able to give them our bags and walk down to the shuttles.  By this time, Lauren, who was running her first marathon had caught up with us.  I hugged Adrienne good-bye and good luck and we boarded the shuttle.  I didn’t pay attention to where we were driving on the way to the start. I should have because it turns out, it was the course.  And it would have red flagged in my mind that it was hilly.  But we were chatty, excited, and anxious for the run that lay before us.  Once we got to the start, we headed to the 10 minute pace sign- our designated meeting spot for Kate and Hillary.  It was also Hillary’s first marathon and Kate’s second.  I was feeling my nerves.  I felt like I hadn’t trained as hard as I had for other races and I really didn’t have a time goal in mind, although, if I could finish within 4 hours, that’d be cool.  I just didn’t know exactly what I had trained for.  Kate, Hillary, and I ventured off to find the porta potties one more time and by the time we walked back, we were 5 minutes till the start so I hugged Kate and got in line with the 3:40 pace group.  I figured that was a good goal and really my training should have put me near that pace… and it would be a PR :).  Win-win, especially with a downhill course, right?

The first mile went fast- I quickly struck up conversation with the pacer, who also happened to be a pacer at the Green Bay marathon, so we spent the mile complaining about the race and how the directors handled the heat, calling off the race, etc… we kept up great conversation, getting to know the 3 other runners who were running in the pace group for the next 6 miles.  About mile 7, my legs started feeling wobbly.  Uh-Oh.  The down fall for me when I run with a pace group is water stops.  Since they don’t stop, but run through them, and I have yet to master drinking from the cardboard cups while running, I did not take in a substantial amount of water from the get go.  I would take a sip, wet my palate, and toss in order to stay with the pacer.  And I was feeling it.  I needed water.  And unfortunately, this was a stretch where there wasn’t a water stop for another few miles…

By mile 8, all 4 of  us who were running with the pacer had dropped back. We were still running as a group, the pacer was just ahead of us and getting further ahead.  Slowly, we separated from each other as well, I was fading, still not having come to a water stop and saw one coming up at mile 10.  This time, I stopped and took in an electrolyte tablet I was carrying and two cups of water .  Kate and Hillary were coming down the course on the other side of the street and waved  and called to me as I got going again.

And then it hit.  As I started going on a slight uphill, I felt a side stitch settling in.  I just told myself to breathe and run through it.  I knew it was my fault- I didn’t take in water from the beginning and I was dehydrated.  I felt it and now my body felt it.  It got worse, I could barely stand straight, but walking is NOT an option and I trudged along.  Slowing my pace, I started saying a prayer asking God to PLEASE take this pain away, please please please!!!  It lasted for 2 and a half miles.  By mile 12, I told myself I needed to stand tall and pick up the pace, there was another water stop coming up… I stopped again and this time took water and powerade.  As I got going again, I could feel the pain lessen and after another half mile, I was feeling GREAT!  And, my parents were going to be at mile 13, also the half way mark!  Yay!  I passed my family feeling great, all smiles and high-fiving Tawnie on the way.

The next 4 miles flew by.  I couldn’t believe how great I was feeling, especially coming off that awful side stitch.  I felt like I could definitely pick up the pace and make up time.  As we looped, I passed by the pacer who called out encouragement and then another girl who was running with the group a little ways behind the pacer who called out as well.  Then, mile 17.  A huge hill.  We had run up it during the first loop, around mile 3 or so and it didn’t phase me then, but this time- man!  I felt like I was barely moving.  Like one of those gerbils running in a spinner, putting forward all your might, only to be staying in one place.  I knew I was moving, I was just not moving fast.  That hill kicked my butt.  Once on top, I took in some breaths, smiled at the course marshalls who were encouraging us and kept in mind that my family would be cheering me on at mile 19- I just had to get there.  By mile 18, I felt better, the hill behind me.  I ran towards my family and greeted them with a smile as I threw my spibelt at my mom so I didn’t have to carry it for the last leg of the race and called out to my dad, who was video taping me, that I’d see them at the finish line.  I couldn’t believe how much energy I had at mile 19- this was going to be downhill now (according to the race website), I’d be able to make up time, and finish strong!  I was so excited!  I was doing this! AND I was still on track to finish in sub 4 hours!

At mile 20, it started to get rather desolate.  There were no spectators and there were only 2-3 other gals running on the course around me.  I will say this about the race- and I don’t know if it is because it was all women, but everyone was so encouraging.  As you passed another runner or a runner passed you- everyone would tell you what a great job you were doing and to keep going, you were looking great!  However, this was the same stretch I mentioned earlier by mile 7 where there were no water stops for a few miles and it was getting hot.  REAL hot.  We were also leaving the shaded part of the course.  And the sun was beating down, unforgiving.  I started to get crabby. I admit it.  I started to have some very nasty thoughts about the race directors.  Who lied about the downhill course.  Who lied that there would be water every 2 miles and near the end every mile.  Finally, around mile 22 and a half, came a water stop.  I was thirsty.  As I drank my powerade, I asked a volunteer how long before another water stop. She told me 1 mile.  Ok, I could do that.  I knew at this point, with the heat and previous dehydration, I would need water every mile.

As I passed mile 23, I knew another half mile and there’d be water.  Only, instead of a water stop, I was greeted with a huge, massive looking hill.  No water, and a hill?  I started to lose it.  I felt the sighs welling up in my chest.  I wanted to cry.  I actually let out a few whimpers and was reminded about how Tawnie had broken down and whimpered during the last 5k we had run together.  This must be how she felt.  This sucks.  I decided to push up the hill, suck it up, there was nothing I could do now but keep running.  I did not cry, but pushed forward.  At mile 24, at the top of the hill, there was water.  I told myself 2.2 more miles- I’ve got this! The volunteers said it was all downhill now too!  I’ve definitely got this!  And I took off a rather happy gal :).

Only to encounter another hill just a half mile out from the water stop.  SERIOUSLY?  And there were no spectators, no support.  The course was along an industrial highway.  A rackety train was pulling along beside the road, which was lined with manufacturing plants.  At this point, I told myself I did not care about my time (although, I did, dammit!).  The only thing I did know at this point was that I just needed to get to the top.  I was NOT a walker.  My mantra was “just one foot in front in the other” and my crabby thoughts towards the race directors ensued once again, who lied about the downhill course and the wealth of  water stops.

At mile 25, again, top of the hill, there was a water stop.  I took my time at this stop and gathered my breath and my wits.  My legs were tight- lactic acid setting in.  As I walked through the water station, I knew I looked like I had just dismounted a horse and a volunteer couldn’t help but smirk when he made eye contact with me.  Which, made me smile too.  I couldn’t imagine what I looked like at that point.  But only 1.2 miles to go- again, I’ve got this!  I’m finishing!  And the finish is really soon!

That last mile was brutal.  Still on the industrial highway, there were no people.  No shade. And the sun was now blaring, resulting in unbearable heat.  There’s really nothing more to say except that last mile really sucked.

At mile 26, I could see the pink banner at the finish line.  I could see people lining the “shoot.”  And soon, I saw Tawnie, who I motioned to jump in and run with me.  Then my mom was there yelling at me to “kick it in!”  I had to chuckle to myself- this WAS kicking it in dammit!  I could not go any faster.  I had truly left all that I had on that course.  A first for me, as I usually sprint in the last half mile with energy I’d reserved for the finish.  Not today.  I was finished- running on empty.

I had never been so happy to finish a race.  As I crossed the finish line, a volunteer asked if I was ok, I responded yes, I was just tired!  (man, I must have looked really awful at that point to have been asked that!) I grabbed water, it was not going down.  I grabbed food for later and met Adrienne and my family.  We walked over to the bag check where I grabbed my ID so Adrienne and I could get our Champagne reward!  It did not sound good, but dammit, I deserved it!!!  And actually, the carbonation helped settle my stomach- it wasn’t so bad!  I could only drink half a glass before I was done and ready to drink some water.  My parents headed back to the hotel to eat lunch, while Adrienne and I stayed behind to watch for the other girls to cross the finish line.  Kate and Hillary came in first.  Kate was dehydrated and went immediately to the shade.  Hillary looked pretty good!  Although, I feel bad this was her first marathon experience!  If this had been mine, I doubt I would have ever run a second.  As Adrienne and I waited for Molly, I started to feel sick.  The sun really got to me and I needed to be indoors. NOW!  As we were saying good-bye to Kate and Hillary, Molly finished!  She looked a little woozy, so the 3 of us walked up a long hill to our hotel together.  Recapping our experience.

Now that it’s behind me and I’ve had a chance to cool off- literally!  I realize, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.  It was tough!  And, that means I am tough!  I am actually kind of happy with how I persevered through it 🙂  It makes me a little proud.  And I am very proud of my friends who persevered through it too :).

We came, we ran, we conquered :).

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