My Tucson marathon adventure started with a solo drive “down the hill” and through the beautiful state of Arizona. I purposefully worked on staying hydrated throughout the trip. I should always think about fueling my body properly… but this is the first time that I paid close attention to what I was eating and drinking the day or two before a race.
The hotel was easy to find, packet pickup was smooth and I visited with a couple of Flagstaff runners at the Expo (they went on to place 11th and 17th – and one of them scored his first sub-3-hour finish – woot!). I tried to go to Wildflower for dinner but it wasn’t a Wildflower Bread Company… it was a fancy-pants restaurant called Wildflower. I ended up at Coco’s (a big supporter of FLOC) for chicken, rice, and a potato.
Race morning I set three alarms: 3:50, 4:00, and 4:10. I was awake before the first alarm went off! I headed down to the lobby for the shuttle and walked right on the bus. We waited a short amount of time for it to fill and then we were on our way. The ride was pleasant because the woman sitting next to me and I had plenty in common and she was easy to talk to. She was from NH (so is Glenn!), started running about 3 years ago (I have been running for almost 3 years!), and just picked up running ultras (I plan to run my first in February!). Normally I’d prefer not to chat that early in the morning before a race with a stranger… but my visit with her was so nice. At the risk of seeming like a stalker I may look her up in the results and try to FB-congratulate her and thank her for keeping me company.
The ride to the starting line took about 25 minutes. Once we were parked they let us sit on the bus and wait until it was closer to race time. The bathroom worked on the bus – Bonus! No porta-potty visit at the Tucson Marathon for this girl!
I got off the bus at about 6:40 and took a picture or two of the sunrise. The temps were pretty cold so putting on my sunscreen and taking off my pajama pants was no picnic! I kept my sweatshirt (though I tossed that right before it was time to start) and gloves, turned in my drop bag, and looked for the pacers.
Locating pacers forced me to make a decision about what my goal was for the day. I struggled my entire training to commit to a goal for this race. My marathon in Phoenix was all about finishing. Mental breakdown and heat exhaustion aside, I got that accomplished in just under 5 hours (4:58). My unspoken goal for Peoria was to run faster than Phoenix and to have a better experience. Finishing in 4:57 meant I achieved one of my goals (barely)… but the marathon itself was ugly. I started to fall apart mentally in some ways at mile 13, contemplated stopping, walked a good half of the last few miles, and was miserable and hot for most of the race.
For months I told myself halfheartedly that my goal would be: finish Tucson without falling apart. Yet this time my training felt different. I ran all but maybe one of the runs in my intermediate-level plan, ran lots of trails, and incorporated speed work at the track occasionally. I called up Glenn and had him ride his bike next to me for the last two miles of one of my 17-milers but did it mostly for the company. 18-milers were long and hard, but I didn’t feel like I was going to die. My 20-milers landed on two of the worst weather days of the whole eighteen weeks – but I ran them both at faster paces than I intended to when I began. I realized I might be able to finish the marathon in Tucson in a significantly shorter amount of time than I had run my previous two marathons – if I took the risk.
Now, faced with the reality of the starting line, I acknowledged the whisper of a plan in the back of my mind that I had been unwilling to admit out loud even to myself. The truth? I wanted to try to RACE this marathon and not just RUN it. I decided to shoot for between a 4:15 and 4:30 finish and see what happened. I lined up between the 4:00 and 4:15 pacers.
After a couple of announcements and Leanne Rimes’ Star Spangled Banner the horn sounded and we were off. There was a significantly steep downhill almost immediately. For the first few miles I focused on keeping my ear bud in my ear and feeling things out. What was the weather like? How did my body feel? How were the road conditions?
Glenn, Andrew, and my in-laws signed up to get text message updates about how I was running at certain points along the course. It was cool to cross the timing mat alerting Glenn that I was averaging a 9:15 pace 5.5 miles into the race. Slowly I saw the 4:00 pacer slip further ahead of me. In my mind operation “Don’t Let the 4:15 Pacer Pass Me” had begun.
At about the 9-mile mark we ran a 4 mile out-and-back. I was able to see my friends Stephanie and Katy and give and receive some much-needed encouragement. I crossed the timing mat at 12.5 miles and knew Glenn would see I was generally keeping up my pace (9:22). Another surge of motivation ran through me.
I passed and was passed by the same two guys a time or two a little while after the out-and-back. I sped up a bit to put distance between us so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Then, as if he had been sprinting, one of them came right up beside me! He then slammed on his brakes and settled in to run with me.
The best thing that could have happened? Yes!
Having this guy running with me between miles 15 and 20 was a complete distraction. He wanted to run with me for a reason… my pace? Well then I’d keep it up! A few of the miles we ran together were sub-9 minute miles. We had to pass people and make room for one another. We laughed/moaned together watching a runner ahead of us decide whether she should bend over to tie her shoe. My attention was entirely diverted from my pain. A diversion is exactly what I needed.
For me the marathon is largely about listening closely to my body for as many miles as possible – what pace feels right, what fuel is needed, how much water to drink – and then knowing when to stop listening to my body! In my limited experience, the marathon has always tried to break me at some point. My mind exaggerates the incredible pain and exhaustion my body is feeling. I’m reminded of the quote, “Your mind will quit a thousand times before your body will. Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
My running buddy took off to run ahead and almost immediately pain and fatigue demanded my attention. I willed myself not to listen to any voice in my head that had anything to say about being tired or not being able to continue. This is the point in the race when I had slowed down considerably in Phoenix. This was where I had started to walk in Peoria.
The truth about this race was starting to sink in. This was a different race. It was possible to finish this race still running, still maintaining a decent pace. I was still ahead of the 4:15 pacer. The miles until this point showed me I was a different runner than a year ago: I wouldn’t have ever dreamed I could run for 20+ miles at a 9:20-ish pace. The miles from this point forward would show me how much running has changed me.
New voices were winning and drowning out the others:
“There is no quit!” — A mantra a woman yelled at us earlier in the race.
“You are strong. You can do this. You have done this before. This pain is temporary. You didn’t do all of this training and come this far to let up now. How will you know if you could have finished strong unless you try? If it’s too hard you can always quit later – but for right now keep going! You are doing such a great job. I am so proud of you. You’re rocking this race. You can do it. Your body was made to do this right now. Today. This race. You are here for a reason. You’ve GOT this.” — My self pep talk.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13. This Bible verse is used often but has started coming to my mind at the end of my long runs. The verse was on a gentleman’s shirt running in front of me! I was meant to keep this pace and see this man at mile 21!
Mile 23… I wavered and my pace slowed. I heard a man encouraging his running partner, “You can do this. You’re going to get 4:10 easy.” His words were enough to keep me moving forward and to make me speed up each time I thought about slowing down.
Then… The finish line: 4:04:09!
I saw Stephanie almost right away. She was standing with her family and she told me through tears and a huge hug that she had qualified for Boston. She’s such a rock star!
Though I was certainly tired and sore, I didn’t have the chills or feel lightheaded like I’ve felt after previous races. So many factors were different – the temperature was lower, I made sure to fuel regularly and drink water often, I spent almost an hour less out there pounding on the pavement.
I hit the food tent and picked up my drop bag. I took the shuttle back to the hotel and drove home (with many stops along the way to stretch my legs). I am presently enduring the pain (my God the pain) that 26.2 miles of running downhill will deliver. One thing I haven’t done is shake the awesome feeling of accomplishment that comes from running a marathon. Stephanie’s Facebook status said it perfectly:
“And now it is a memory… Pain will pass, pride will last!”