It’s been a long while since I last blogged. I told myself I wouldn’t blog until I shook the negativity out of my head and began to once again run with joy. I found it in the most unexpected way. In the midst of a marathon that went terribly wrong. I had a choice: become frustrated and distraught or seize the opportunity to slow down, enjoy the race and simply run with joy. I chose the latter.
Tucson is one of my favorite places on earth. For starters, an aunt, who is a very dear friend to me lives there and I love the opportunity to visit her and her husband. Second, I have had the opportunity to stay with my aunt while I have worked through some tough things in my life. It’s a safe haven, a place where I have found serenity when I’ve needed it the most along with the wisdom and sometimes just the silence of the company of a good friend. I suppose it’s because of that, that the Tucson Marathon is one of my favorite races. OH, and I’ve also set 2 PR’s there, so the course has been friendly to me :).
The morning of the marathon couldn’t have been more perfect. It was chilly at the start of the race and was expected to slowly rise in temperature to the mid-60’s. The hubby and I donned our finest sweats and I did my best to knock out any pre-race nerves. It wasn’t hard. I had pre-determined that this day was going to be what it was. It was totally unpredictable as I had suffered an injury in my left foot 2 months prior that prevented me from finishing the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. Nonetheless, my physical therapist told me days before the Tucson Marathon that I should just go for it. There was nothing physically preventing me from running a PR or close to it. So, with that in mind, I had a positive outlook and knew, above all, I was going to enjoy the sheer fact that I was finishing this race.
Josh and I bid goody-bye after crossing the start mat together and set out on the course, each running our own race this time. My strategy was to start out conservatively, to save energy for the HILLS miles 10-14. It was tough. The course starts fast with a steep decline and I had to constantly slow myself down. Regardless, I ran the first 7 miles about 30-20 seconds faster than my goal pace. By mile 2, I felt like I had to go to the bathroom. With the cold and the nerves, I told myself it was all mental and I could power through, willing the feeling the subside. By mile 4, the 3:40 pacer was on my heels. I knew he was pacing the group MUCH faster than he should be as I was slightly faster than my 3:35 pace at that time. I kept telling myself it wasn’t a big deal, they were running too fast, and I needed to stay on my own pace and run my own race. For the most part, I ran with the same group throughout the first 10 miles. It helped to keep me on pace to keep the same people in my sights.
As we neared mile 10, I told myself to stay conservative to tackle the hills. My strategy was to slow down a whole minute for 2 miles to save energy and not tire myself out in the 1st half. As always, the stretch between miles 10-14 were tough. The hills are not the “rollers” as they are described. At least, not what a girl from the midwest would consider “rollers”. I skipped a water stop at mile 13 because I didn’t want to stop on an uphill. The minute I was past it, I knew that was not a good idea. I needed that water and mentally I struggled to keep my mind from thinking I was dehydrated.
My strategy had worked though and as I rounded the corner back onto Highway 77, I was on track with my strategy- approximately 2 minutes behind a 3:35 finish. From there, my pace was all over the place. I was too fast, then I was too slow. I kept trying to find my “sweet spot” and stick with it, but it was proving a difficult task. By mile 15, it was apparent that I was going to have to make a potty stop. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I still had to go. I said a prayer that this would be the quickest potty ever and God answered my prayer. I don’t think I have ever pee’d so fast! I was back out of the kybo and on the course in no time. Of course, that was my slowest mile. But I just paced myself, gradually working my way back to my “sweet spot”. I noticed it was starting to get hot. One of the guys that I had been running near for most of the race had taken his shirt off and from that point forward, was known as the “suns out guns out” guy in my head. I would see him several more times on the course as I challenged myself to keep going. I also noticed a girl with a tattoo of wings on her lower back. I would see this tattoo again later on the course as well.
MIle 17. My chest tightened. My breathe became raspy and hard. It hurt every time I took a breathe and it felt like I couldn’t get enough air. The more I tried, the more it hurt. I started to panic. My mile 19, I had slowed to a walk to try and get my breathing under control. It was at this point, I knew I had a decision to make. I could crumble in defeat, knowing my chances of PR were completely shot or I could run with joy. I looked around me at the majestic mountains. The glorious sun. What a blessing it was to be running in such a beautiful place! I gave thanks to God and decided I would continue and run simply run with joy. Using that mantra, run with joy, I started to slowly get my breathing back under control. I had to stop often after that, but when I felt my chest tighten up, I kept repeating “run with joy” in my head and it seemed to help keep me calm. From mile 19 on, the course had a water stop and an aid station every mile. I stopped at every single one and asked every volunteer if they had an inhaler. This added minutes to my time with each stop. I wasn’t having any luck. Desperate, I began to stop at every intersection and ask the policemen controlling traffic if they had an inhaler. Still, no luck. I had started calculating in my head where Josh would be at this time. Knowing he was near the finish and would be worried if I didn’t make it in under 4 hours, I kept going.
At mile 21, I could barely get the words out as I asked volunteers if they had an inhaler. The volunteers at that aid station all turned to 1 guy who quickly walked over to me, very concerned. He asked me about my heart rate and seemed a bit alarmed when I told him I had no idea what my heart rate was. I told him I was going to walk and run the rest of the way to the finish and that I’d be ok. He looked skeptical and cautioned me to do just that- walk and run. I set off on the course again. Up ahead, I could see a photographer. Suddenly, the thought popped into my mind to just cheese it up for the cameras. Do something fun that I would never take the time to do if I was running for a goal time. I quickened my steps and leapt into the air with a big, cheesy grin. Cheesy and wheezy was my new mantra.
After I landed, I realized that wasn’t such a good idea as my chest tightened again. Up ahead, there was another aid station. I told myself to run slowly there and then I could take a long drink and a breather. Less than hopeful, I asked the volunteers if they had an inhaler as they handed me my water. 1 of them said “yes! but it’s in my car…” she started searching for her keys, when another guy said “mine is right here in my pocket!” No way! He graciously let me use it. I took a minute to let it sink in and then started back on the course. Up ahead was the last big hill. Keeping in mind what the concerned volunteer cautioned about my heart rate, I decided to play it safe and walk halfway up it. By the time I got the top, I could notice a difference in my breathing. The inhaler had done it’s work and opened my airways. I picked up the pace a little big, still staying on the conservative side. Another photographer was ahead. Keeping with my new mantra, cheesy and wheezy, I quickened my steps and leapt into the air again, laughing this time as I landed. The photographer was happy and yelled at me with a huge grin that he had captured it.
I was nearing the end and counting down the miles. I knew at this point, I was definitely going to finish in under 4 hours. The last 3 miles wound around and around and seem to last forever. By this point, my stomach was upset from all the gels I had ingested and it totally rejected the last one I had planned to take at mile 22. There were more spectators the closer we got to the finish. I started to remind myself to lift my hands above my head as I crossed the finish line to fulfill a promise I made to Andrea at the start of the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. We had jokingly said we would all do it for a cheesy photo op. Staying with my new mantra, I had to remember to do it. As I rounded the last corner and entered the finisher shoot, 3 large ladies were walking (half marathon finishers) and taking up the entire width of the shoot. I was beyond irritated. Not knowing what the proper race etiquette was, I kept my mouth shut (I probably couldn’t have mustered any words at that point anyways) and went around them. It was at that moment I heard Josh yelling and encouraging me to finish. As I neared the finish line, I started raising my arms and giving little fist pumps in the air, an ode to Andrea!
I crossed the finish line, got my medal and looked around. I didn’t immediately see Josh, so I walked a lap. Or tried to walk a lap. I don’t remember feeling that stiff at the end of the race in past years. I felt like I could barely move. What was worse was all the emotions that came flooding up. I do not cry in public! It hit me. The panic I had felt. The accomplishment of finishing 2 months after an injury. How scared I had been. Finishing amidst all of that alone. I finally saw Josh and as I tried to explain to him what happened, I was choking back the tears. We rounded back to the finishers area for a picture together (I cheesed it up one more time… I couldn’t resist even though I felt like crap) and slowly made our way to the shuttle bus to go back to our hotel.
I couldn’t be more proud of Josh, who ran a PR. Even though he is disappointed he didn’t make his goal time, he is still an incredible inspiration to me and doesn’t cease to amaze me. Great job, babe! And I’m looking forward to sharing many more courses with you throughout the years to come. Cheers!