The Tucson Marathon proved to be “my” race… in the sense that I set a new PR and qualified for Boston (!), however, it was definitely not the run of my life!
From the time we arrived in Tucson, my stomach was a mess. It has been for a while and I was hoping against all odds it would miraculously straighten out before the marathon… it didn’t. I woke up at 2:30am Sunday morning with tummy troubles. And the persisted up until the start of the race, despite the prescription drugs I was taking to help alleviate the… um… “symptoms” (for lack of a better word and to avoid TMI).
The start of the race was absolutely beautiful! Tummy troubles aside, I was ready to go! I was so excited to be running with Josh and I had the confidence that I could meet my goal time with him by my side to push me. It was a chilly morning, with strong wind gusts, and we had bundled up in clothes we tossed at the start line. It even started snowing as we waited for the starting gun to go off. Breathtaking– snow in the mountains and the pre-race adrenaline, it was sort of magical in that moment!
As we started out, we banked some time on a steady downhill the first mile. It felt great. Adrenaline was definitely carrying us and we just ran what felt good to get us going. The strategy was to bank time early to make some leeway for the hills that were coming in the last 5 miles of the race. Not a typical race strategy, but with the course, we had decided this was the smartest because I tend to slow down on hills. The first 3 miles felt excellent! I was having fun! The sun was starting to come out and the wind was at our backs. As we tackled some rolling hills around mile 5, my stomach did some sort of upheaval and a large amount of puke came swelling up my throat. Gross! I know- I was the one experiencing it! Little did I know at that point, that was the first of many of those instances during this run. I felt fine afterwards and kept on running. Josh was keeping me on pace, telling me to slow down and not get ahead of myself. I had the giddy ups early on and it was hard not to get caught up in the momentum of it all! We turned on to Oracle Road, leaving the winding mountain highway behind us. I was still fighting the giddy ups along this stretch and mentally preparing myself for the first set of hills that were coming up at the halfway point. It was starting to warm up and I felt nice and relaxed. I was even mastering drinking and running at the same time!
We turned in by the Biosphere, which is where the hills started. These hills are where I lost it in 2011 and gave up running my goal pace. I knew I needed to run them smarter this time in order to finish strong. Josh and I had built in time to slow down uphill and planned to pick up the pace again later on the steady downhill. The hills felt good. I was prepared both mentally and physically and wasn’t phased by them. Although, the loop through the Biosphere seemed to take forever, I was still feeling good and anxious to finish. I knew in my head and my body, this was my race. I was going to do it. I was going to run a Boston qualifying time. At this time, we were ahead of the 3:30 pacers, so I knew we were in good shape and on target with our race strategy.
As we headed back out to Oracle Road, the mental monkeys started to play around. My legs all of a sudden felt heavy, most likely from the hills and the adrenaline finally subsiding. I knew I needed to get my head in the game. I kept telling myself I had run further at a faster pace and that I could do this. I was doing this. I was going to finish on pace. I felt pretty strong until around mile 17. I guess, thinking back, that is where I hit the infamous “wall.” It was a mental struggle. I felt like we had been running on Oracle Road for ages and I needed to get off of that road. I knew we would be turning into the Saddlebrook neighborhood soon and I became fixated on that, searching for a sign that we would be turning. Josh was now a few steps ahead of me, encouraging me to pick up the pace, but I just couldn’t shake the mental slump I had fallen into. I continued a few strides behind him for a few miles. I just kept telling myself to keep up and to pull myself close to him. What’s worse, I was continuing to throw up a little every time I took in fuel- whether it be gels, gummy bears, or gatorade.
We finally hit the Saddlebrook neighborhood around mile 20-21 and left Oracle Road. I had a few surges of energy where I would pick up the pace and keep up with Josh. This was always greeted with a cheery “THAT’S my girl! I know you have it in you!” Somewhere around mile 21, my breathing got funny. I couldn’t get a decent breathe and I was wheezing! It sounded like Darth Vader! It was the strangest feeling- I have never experienced anything like it running before. I just kept on going and pushing through it. I can’t imagine what runners around me were thinking- I know what I would be thinking if a noisy runner came up beside me, and, well, it probably wouldn’t be very polite… there was just nothing I could do to shake it! It was somewhere around here that Josh told me he was done being nice. I had slowed the pace down enough that we had lost our cushion in time that we had built in early on and we needed to pick up the pace if I was going to make my goal. I mustered the energy to tell him I was trying. In my head, I was telling myself I was too far to just give up now. I needed to dig deep and pull through this. We got up and over the big hill at mile 23 and coasted down the big hill that followed. The scenery was gorgeous. The sun was breaking through the clouds over the mountains. I was wishing I felt better to enjoy it. I was telling myself this run wasn’t supposed to be easy and that I needed to push through this.
Around mile 24, the 3:40 pace group passed us. I was pissed! 3:40 is what I needed to qualify. As I was wheezing with every breath, I felt like my chances were gone. I started to feel pretty dizzy at this point. I didn’t know if I needed water or what. I just knew I needed to keep on running. Josh was a few strides ahead of me again. At one point, I thought if I were to pass out, Josh wouldn’t even know it and would keep on running without me! Then, I thought, if I can just keep up with him, I can pass out at the finish line! At mile 25, Josh turned and told me that all hope was not lost. If I could dig deep and pick up the pace, I could still make my time. I could still qualify. But I had to dig deep. I had to find the strength. I picked up the pace for a while- it was probably only a quarter of a mile, and I was definitely giving my all. In all honesty, it’s the first time ever that I have run a race all out, where I didn’t hold anything back. We got closer to the chute and we saw the finishing clock. It was 3:39 and some seconds. I muttered “oh shit!” and took off. Every last bit of energy that I had went into those last strides. I felt awful, but dammit, I was going to make it! And I did! At that point, I felt so dizzy and so sick to my stomach, I couldn’t see straight. I had thrown up in my mouth 7 times throughout the run. I was still wheezing. I was absolutely spent. Here’s my finishing picture, oh man, could it BE any worse?It’s a good thing I value the ability to laugh at myself. That is definitely the worst picture that could have been taken :). But, as soon as it was over, I knew it was worth it. Josh and I got our medals and left the chute to walk a bit. I needed to keep moving and let the feeling of nausea subside. After a good 20 minutes, I finally felt stable and we returned to the chute for a post race picture.
I did it. I finally qualified for Boston. I squeaked in with 38 seconds to spare. I ended up finishing 9th in my age group and 220th overall for the full marathon. I’m happy with my results, but honestly, I thought it would feel better. This run was the most challenging run I have ever completed physically. I know that Josh is the reason I got to the finish line when I did. I’m so thankful for him. He was amazeballs (sorry, inside joke here 🙂 ).
I have been a variety of emotions since Sunday. After I got over the physical sickness and got my breath back (in hind sight, I’m pretty sure what I experienced at mile 21 was an asthma attack), I felt disappointed. I did well, and I know I can still do better. I went into this run thinking this was going to be my best run ever. It was my best pace ever, but it was not my best run. I know it’s out there. And I’m hungry for more. I guess it’s a good motivator to keep me training and working to better my times and become stronger. I’ve already talked to Josh about what I can do to improve and shave more time off of my finish time. And I know he’ll help me get there. I’ve also been overcome with love for Josh. I mean, I know this guy loves me! This was such an amazing experience to run with him, to rely on him, to trust him to get me to the finish. To allow him to see me at my absolute worst (hey- I threw up 7 times!! and had an asthma attack!) and be in such a vulnerable state, it has bonded me to him in a way I cannot explain. I have so much respect for him and I know that he believes in me. Lastly, finally today, I feel a sense of accomplishments. I ran my first marathon 3 years ago with a finishing time of 4:37. In three years, I have shaved off more than an hour. That’s incredible! I have worked through injuries and disappointments and I have come back each time more determined. After this marathon, I know I have the ability in me. I know I can do more. I know I can and I will.