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     A few weeks ago I read an article where a professional runner said that come race day, they could tell if they were going to make their goal in the first mile. I wondered at that idea as I read it. Questioned if it were true, then wondered what it would be like to know your own body to such a degree.
     I’ve been training with a running coach for about a year. When I was training for the North Face 50k last year I had a moment a few months prior to the race where I realized that I had no idea how to train myself for that kind of distance, so I enlisted her help. After successfully completing that race, I realized that I really liked working with her, so I kept her on.
     After the ultra I decided to work on my real challenge, speed. I can run all day. I like to run long distances, but I can’t do any of it very quickly. Since last summer I’ve PRed a 10k, and unofficially, the 5k though I still need to do it in a timed race. I’ve run faster times consistently and hit my 10k PR time more than once during training runs. I have made progress, happily tracked by my trusty Garmin, so I can go back and see those times after a not so great run.
     This weekend was my most recent PR attempt. I’ve been working very hard to PR the half marathon and beat a time I set in a race I ran last spring just for fun. In the first mile, I knew I wasn’t going to meet my goal that day. The article I read a few weeks ago popped into my head as I compared how I felt this past Saturday in the first mile of the Rock n’ Roll USA half as compared to how I felt in the Iron Girl half last April – I felt slow, I felt tired, I felt like I was already working hard in the first three miles. Something just felt off. During the Iron Girl race, I felt light, my feet felt like they were hardly working – I knew I was going to PR.
     So I spent the Rock n’ Roll half toughing it out and finding joy where I could. We ran across my favorite bridge in DC which leads to the Women’s Military Service memorial. I paced off of a guy in a kilt for several miles. I appreciated the fact that I did not have to pee the whole race. I enjoyed the animal costumes (a cow beat me by at least 45 seconds). I appreciated the fact that I did not walk the whole race, not even through water stops, or up the hills miles 6-8, even though I wanted nothing more. I was not going to beat myself in this race, but I did not let the race beat me either.
     I also had two free hours during the race to think about running. To think about why I love it even when I don’t. As I was pondering my relationship to running I passed a man holding a sign that said “Run with Gratitude” and that pretty much summed up the thoughts swirling around in my head. When I am running, the gratitude comes without me even trying to be grateful or think about being grateful. With every, often slow step, I know that it is a gift just to be able to do it. To be physically capable of running, of propelling myself forward under my own power.
     This race gave me a new respect for the distance. I’ve gone farther, but that doesn’t make 13.1 miles any less difficult. It gave me a new respect too, for my fellow runners. You never know what a distance means to someone. What they’ve overcome to get to the finish line. A 5k can mean more to one person than 50 miles means to another. I think this is something that I’ve lost sight of over time, believing that running further means more in general, and that is simply a fallacy.
     I am reminded as I propel myself down stairs, hovering one foot over the step below me and then pitching myself forward, hoping I land on the step below, or decide to just stand for a bit instead of sitting because my quads are still sore from missing my goal, that sometimes the best thing for you is to be humbled by something you thought would be easy.

This past Saturday I ran my first ultra, 50K at the North Face Endurance Challenge in Sterling, VA. I finished in 08:20:51. It took way longer than I thought it was going to and the humidity and heat was just brutal. Below is my full, totally long winded race report.

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Pre-race – I got up at 4AM and put on all the things I laid out the night before. Had a plain bagel with PB&J like usual and gathered my gear. I had a camelbak filled with watermelon nuun and packed with snacks, TP in a ziploc, and lip balm with sunblock (which I didn’t use and fortunately didn’t need.) J. and I have an agreement where she only has to come to new race distances (or if I talk her into a destination race where she’s just kind of there already and we can meet up at the end) so she took her duties very seriously and drove me out to the suburbs of VA, dropped me off and agreed to be back at 1ish, the earliest possible moment I thought I would be done.

I saw two Mr. Sweaty-Tops-Off before I was even on the shuttle. The ride took about 15 minutes to the race site, which is gorgeous. I’ve never been there before and I was treated to a breath taking sunrise over the river which really pumped me up; I felt so lucky to be there. So I hung out, I hit the port-o-johns like 16 times, and eventually meandered towards the start with the rest of the crazy folks, who weren’t crazy enough to do the 50 miler. Dean Karnazes announced the start, and say what you will about that man, he is crazy fit.

My plan was to hydrate every mile at least until I felt thirsty, and save my ipod which was strapped to my wrist, until I needed it.

Miles 0-5 – These were pretty uneventful miles. I knew that I just needed to pace myself so I tried to hang back a bit. So I just found people to pace off of. Paced off of two chicks who looked younger than me and super fit until like mile 4ish (to discover later that they were more than a decade younger than me and finished more than an hour after me – small victories). I knew the hills were coming around the five mile markers of the race and sure enough the elevation started around mile four. I was also trying to figure out the passing thing on the single track. I mean I know you kind of announce that you’re coming and where but I knew that I shouldn’t be going all out, certainly not at this point, but I really felt like I could be going faster at some points and just kind of felt conflicted about what to do. In retrospect I wish I had pushed it more when it was cooler, because later in the heat, it was just impossible.

But I ran behind a woman for a mile or so in head to toe pink with flowers in her hair who was talking about the litany of ultras she’d participated in – Javelina, the Vermont 100, then mentioned that she got hit by a car, possibly in two separate instances while volunteering at Badwater and then ran into the emergency room doctor that treated her later at another ultra. I hung out for a while just to hear her story and moved along.

Miles 6-10 – Aid station two came around mile 5.7. The first one was really early and small so I had a cup of water and pretty much ignored it. The second one was the famed ultra buffet and it was a wee bit overwhelming. I wasn’t really hungry but knew I should take fuel so I grabbed some water and unpacked some sports beans and had a few. Already I was having that long run reaction where as soon as I put the food in my mouth I was like, meh… I don’t want this. It really made me wish I did better with gels.

There was a significant amount of grassland in the single track of the first section which I didn’t anticipate (in places the grass was shoulder height) but this section was more of what I anticipated in terms of wooded canopies next to the river which was nice. Even though I face planted somewhere around mile six (no pokey sticks to the face or gut, so no worries) I was feeling pretty good for these miles, it was hot but not crazy, and I was pretty happy with my times. Mile ten-ish took me over some hills that I knew I’d be crossing again. They were pretty tough, tougher than I expected based on the elevation maps as it was less than 400 feet of elevation gain at the peak but it was a series of ups and downs for each hill set. I could already feel the effort in my quads a bit but it was totally dealable.

Miles 11-15 – Great Falls came around mile 12 and this is where we were co-mingled with the 50 milers doing these crazy sadistic not-quite-loops. Around mile eleven I saw a guy, dead behind the eyes who looked like he might fuel by reaching into a tree and grabbing a live squirrel. My guess was that he was the winner. The aid station here was this crazy triangle set-up with tons of snacks. I refilled my camelpak here, shocked that I had drunk at least two-thirds of my nuun. I had a shot blok, and orange slice and a piece of boiled potato. I really did not want to eat, which made me nervous this early on so I just made a decision to consume whatever seemed appealing. So I had a cup of water, the Clif electrolyte drink (which I think I really like) and some Mountain Dew, disgusting on a normal day, but suuuper awesome during the run. I hit the port-o-john and moved on.

The course is really gorgeous here. I put on headphones just after the aid station and had saved this week’s AMR podcast for this week for the race. There was one point where Dimity was recounting catching a glimpse of her shadow during her Ironman training race on the bike, saying that her own legs moved “like pistons” and getting choked up, almost in disbelief that she was capable of undertaking such an effort. I  paused the podcast when I heard the rush of the river over the rocks to my left, and felt my feet hit the ground almost silently as I’d trained myself to do, and saw the runners coming towards me after they hit the turn-around, quads flexing, arms swinging saying, “hey good job” as they passed me, and I got a bit choked up myself. I was there. I was running my ultra. It’s so cliche to always point back to the post-cancer accomplishments, but at this point in my life I am just amazed at what my body is capable of.  I descended to the turn-around point, rounded the turn and took the ascending hill at a run.

Miles 16-20 – The Old Dominion aid station was mid-loop through the 50 miler loop and it was crazytown. I lost so much time here because I was totally overwhelmed. There were multiple tables, tons of volunteers, and I just didn’t know what to do with myself. It looked like a sweaty party — maybe I should mingle? I also started to realize that I was soaked. I couldn’t have been more wet if I had jumped in the river, which I started to fantasize about. Fortunately the race volunteers were amazing. An EMT doused me with a gallon of cold water, another opened a bag of pretzels for me as my hands were too wet to do so, I grabbed a shot block, had a single pretzel, an orange slice and the water, soda, electrolyte drink combo that I decided seemed to be working for me. I chatted with a 50 miler in the port-o-john line who was super nice, had put in 32 miles already and let me go in front of him because I would be quick, and he had stomach issues. I wished him luck and was back on my way.

This section also hit Great Falls again around mile twenty. I was feeling tired at this point and knew I wasn’t taking in enough nutrition. So I had a couple of bites of a banana, and more soda, water, electrolyte drink. I should have refilled my camelbak here but I was afraid of how long it would take and I felt like my hands, and brain quite frankly weren’t working and I just couldn’t process how to make a refill happen and didn’t just go to a volunteer and say hey, can you do this? Which I totally should have done.

Also somewhere in here was the rock scrambling section which the coach (who is wonderful and wildly encouraging) I had enlisted to help me about two and a half months prior had mentioned encountering when she ran it the previous year, and then there were all of these crazy wooden stairs. That part was super fun and exciting. I did some fancy downhill footwork around miles 18-19 (I usually love these miles in a marathon for some reason) and passed some volunteers who seemed a little surprised at my speed and good spirits.

Miles 21-25 – I had my first down moment around mile twenty – twenty-one. I knew it would come and I was prepared for it. I remembered what fun I had hiking the AT in the Poconos back in April, so I just decided to speed hike it until my joy came back and sure enough, within about a mile I felt better. This was the next section of hill repeats so there was a lot of necessary walking through here. Also at some point my Garmin got off track because I thought I was way further along than I was as was evidenced by the extra mile it said that I ran on Saturday.

There’s a flat section around miles twenty-three to about maybe twenty-seven, twenty-eight. This is where the wheels came off for me. The heat peaked and I just felt like I was baking. I started looping around the same group of runners. All of us would run a bit, walk a bit, try to encourage each other. For a few miles I fell into a group of about six guys who were trail and ultra seasoned and really interesting. One fellow had run Bear Mountain earlier in the year and was running about a marathon a weekend for several weeks. Another guy had run with Scott Jurek and Chris McDougall earlier in the week. So we chatted and just walked for a while. I just didn’t have the will to move any faster. I knew I was low on water and nutrition. I tried to eat but it just wasn’t working. I felt like I was going to puke if I moved any faster.

Miles 26-finish – It felt forever to the next aid station. I felt like I could feel the entirety of my quad muscles and where they attached to my leg as a whole. I fell back in with the ultra guys for a few miles and then just broke away. I tried to run two minutes, walk a minute which descended to running thirty-seconds, walking for two. I chatted with runners and we tried to pass out encouragement. There were smaller hills here, which felt huge and my quads were screaming and I realized that camelbak had possibly chafed a huge section of skin off of my back. It was uncomfortable but I really didn’t care. Fortunately after the last big section of hills it felt a little cooler and I started to run/walk with more frequency. Unfortunately, it was this point where I realized for certain that my Garmin was at least a mile off, if not more, and before I reached the finish, I would have to hit that aid station that seemed so close to the start.

Along the way I passed a couple of people just laying or sitting next to the trail. There was a woman pouring water on the head of another runner who was puking into the grass. A few runners asked if she needed help and she asked if we could send someone back at the next aid station. Even though the marathoners still had a loop at the next aid station, we were all still so close. At this point I realized that just finishing was enough.

At the aid station I had two cups of soda, electrolytes, and water. An volunteer pulled a gallon of water from a cooler and asked if I would like to have some poured on me too cool me off I said absolutely, mentioned that my phone was in my pack, so he told me to tip my head back and poured the water over the bill of my cap and it rushed down over me. I gasped. It was a shock to the system, a fantastic one. I thanked him profusely and asked how far it was to the end. He said one and six tenths of a mile.

So I took off, walking one minute, running (really, shuffling) for a minute. There started to be spectators, which helped. Once I saw the finish I was able to shuffle for the rest of the way. I heard my name as I approached the finish and saw J. coming towards me with the camera and I couldn’t believe it. I was done. It was over. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I think I did a little of both.

Post-race – I wanted ice bath, beer, t-shirt in that order. I chatted with some of the runners that I spent time with on the trail. I drank a ton of water. I was a little disoriented but so, so happy.

The bad: I think I needed to run more trails and hills and maybe I should have overdressed for some of my runs, but I’m not sure how I could have prepared adequately for that heat and humidity. I need to rethink my camelbak and/or practice quick filling it or just be okay with taking the time to fill it because I was definitely out of water around mile twenty-five.

Also, sure I am sore but the worst is the roof of my mouth, towards the back of my throat is sore and my jaw is distractingly achy. What’s up with that?

The good: Listening to Steve Reich in the woods is pretty amazing. I met a lot of cool people. The volunteers were incredibly accommodating. I didn’t walk away hating endurance racing or the distance but for now I think I’ve hit the limit of the distance I’m prepared to cover and I’m okay with that. I’m looking for my next race.

Later that evening: After getting some food we decided we could make it the house of dear friends for their housewarming-turned-engagement party. My friends expressed their surprise that I made it and made a fuss over me, which was sweet, poked at my quads which was actually kind of funny and indulged my race story blow-by-blow race accounts.

In DC when you chat with new people everyone always asks what you do – it can get pretty tedious. This was the first time that instead, what I did that day was a topic. The race had been a floating topic of conversation. One fellow had heard the distance and looked at me and said, “So it was a cycling race.” I replied no, and watched him think for a minute. “Wait, so you were running?” I said yes. “So you ran almost 32 miles.” Yes. “That’s crazy!” Sometimes people say this about marathons and I pass it off, because ultimately it’s hard, but not totally out there. But that evening, I took a sip of my adult beverage, looked at him, and agreed.

There is nothing so simultaneously exhilarating and bizarre as running a marathon and realizing that there are people you don’t know cheering for you. There are thousands. They are pressed up against metal grates, leaning into the road rattling cow bells and party whistles. They are lounging on their front stoop in a lawn chair next to a case of beer with a sign that says, “This one’s for you!” They made you jello shots. They brought you pretzels and orange slices as if you were their guest at some strange party. They give you a dixie cup of beer at mile 23 and don’t deny you when you circle back for another. They’re your significant other who won’t protest too much when you cover them with sweat as you steal a kiss in passing. They’re still in their PJs, coffee in one hand. They’re tiny kids, 4 or 5 with their arm outstretched waiting for a high-five from the next passing runner. They let you stop and pet their dog who got all dressed up for the occasion in a tutu and a race t-shirt. They’re active duty in fatigues pacing you at the water stop so you don’t have to slow down. It’s a police officer who tells you, “lookin’ good” as she holds back traffic for you to pass even though you know you’re slow and far behind the pack.

If you ever want to feel like a rockstar, without really doing anything special, take a few months, do some running and sign up for a marathon – you’ll feel like a star but will soon realize that you’ve bought yourself front row seats to the best show in town. And while I am sad about the events at the Boston Marathon, and I am sad for the runners who worked so hard to participate in such an epic endurance event, my heart is broken for the spectators who were just there waiting and supporting the finishers. Those who are standing, waiting expectantly, cheering runners to the finish line. Who else would bear the brunt of this kind of attack?

Training for the Marine Corps Marathon has sucked. I ran two marathons last year and while that training was challenging, especially considering that they were my very first, this cycle has presented challenges that I couldn’t have prepared for and have really kept me from putting in the mileage that I hoped to this time around.

First there was the stress fracture of my 4th metatarsal, right before my two week vacation to Israel. Immediately prior to the fracture, I had really been pushing myself, apparently a little too hard. But it felt so good! I was running regularly in my VFFs. I PRed a the beautiful Decker’s Creek Half , and slow as I am, I was keeping up with the paces of friends who were running 10 minute miles for long distances. I knew that the Marine Corps Marathon could be awesome and it would be seriously possible to cut my marathon to around 4:30. Then on a run to work there was a sharp pain in my foot around mile five and that was it – 3 weeks of the boot. In Israel. Hiking. With no running (except to catch flights.)

Just as I was getting back into the swing of things, my Grandmother’s health took a steep decline and she eventually passed away. Needless to say, running during this time was not exactly a priority.

Two weeks ago I got the cold from hell. No energy means no running. I skipped my long run completely one weekend, putting in just 15 miles for an entire week.

This leaves me at just under six weeks to go until race day with the short runs leaving me sore and long runs on the weekends feeling like a death march. Though I’m raising money for the American Cancer Society (donations welcome!) I haven’t been running with the group or even with friends because I’m just too embarrassed for anyone to see how badly I’m struggling.

That is up until this past Sunday. I got up around 7AM, took the dog out for a mile, gathered my gear and went to my current favorite trail. We had brunch plans but I still had about four hours to put in my long run and I was shooting for anywhere between 17-20. The way things have been going, I figured that would be enough. It was a beautiful morning, cool and a little dewy. The woods smelled like fall. Everything just clicked. Each step felt good, sure. I took a little walk break every two miles or so to simulate water stops and even with waiting for some red lights at intersections, I ended up putting in almost eighteen miles with a pace at about 12:05/mile. For the first time in months, when I got home I didn’t growl when asked how my run went. So, I guess this means I’m ready!

Last year I accomplished a life goal – I completed a marathon. I did it twice, actually. Now, I wasn’t speedy about it. My plan to qualify for the Boston Marathon is to keep running until I’m very, very old and hope that the standards don’t get any higher. But at least for me, the point is that I did it and while it wasn’t easy, running 26.2 miles was far from impossible. With the right amount of training and the mental discipline to just not stop, you too can run a marathon.

However if you have not yet done this, even if you’re a runner, and a fast runner at that, a marathon can appear to be a pie-in-the-sky goal. I think I felt this way before I finished one, but I tend to forget that I ever felt this way. Earlier this year after I picked up my race number and t-shirt for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, I wondered around the expo that fills the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. Amongst the race tables, there was a booth taking registrations for the National Race for the Cure, which benefits the Komen Foundation. I typically try to make this race, despite the fact that I’m not crazy about shorter distances and this one tends to be crowded with walkers, and strollers, and dogs. But all that dodging does give me a great excuse for a slow time, so I walked over to the booth and began filling out a registration.

As I was filling out the paper work, I began to listen to the conversation between the woman behind the table, who appeared to be in her late 20s,  and an older male volunteer soliciting registrants for the 5K. “You’d have to be fit, really fit to do that,” I heard the man say. “Oh, I know. I can’t imagine,” the woman replied. “I’d like to try it though, one day…” the man responded as he nodded his head, a determined look on his face. The man looked to be in his mid-50s, and very lean and fit. I sneaked a glance at the deep cut of his calf muscles exposed by his running shorts. I felt out of place, between this obviously very in-shape man and a woman several years my junior, at least 15 pound lighter, and inches taller than myself.

As she and the man continued to talk about marathon running I continued to fill out the race registration form and tried to decide whether or not to reveal myself as a completer of said impossibility. Just by looking at these two individuals, I was pretty sure that either one of them could beat any of my times from any race with ease. I felt even more conspicuous as they began talking about how fit someone would have to be to run a marathon. I tried to listen more closely, because maybe they meant race a marathon, which is a decidedly different thing than just running to finish. “Well, I’d like to just finish one!” the man laughed as he paced back and forth in front of the booth, his quads flexing with every step.

No longer able to help myself I piped up, “I actually ran two marathons last year. I think you should go for it,” I said addressing the man as he paced back in my direction. “Really?” he asked. I could feel the two of them assessing my body in the same way I had theirs only moments before. I felt their eyes on my thick frame and short legs. I was totally blowing their mental image of what a marathon runner looked like. I saw the woman’s eyes widen involuntarily in surprise. “How was it?” “Well a lot of it is mental,” I said. “I mean you follow your training plan, hope you don’t get hurt, and on race day you just keep going until you get to the finish.” The man laughed at my description.

I signed the registration and put my credit card back in my wallet, thanking the woman as she handed me my copy of the registration. I didn’t know whether to be proud of myself or ashamed to be able to run a marathon and still not look particularly fit. But I did kind of hope that if visible fitness had been a barrier for either of these potential marathon runners, it would no longer serve as an excuse to not take on the challenge.

Last year I ran two marathons. It was my first real attempt at to take on any kind of endurance challenge. For me marathon running is both terrifying and exhilarating. You get to the start and wonder – did I train enough? Did I do enough speed work? Run enough hills? Log enough miles? Drink enough water? I secretly love the training, the hours of running, in the heat, in the cold, with the dog. I loathe the last 2-3 weeks before race day where you cut back on mileage to prepare. I get bored, and crabby. I’m really fun to be around during that period.

Having had cancer myself, when I signed up for my first marathon, I considered doing so with an organization that raises money for fight cancer. However, though it may sound silly, I wanted to make sure that I could do it first! So this year I will be running the Marine Corps Marathon through the DetermiNation program in order to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

I am on the hook to raise $1275, which is no small chunk of change. Honestly, I would love to raise more. Please help me with this goal. I will be thanking you every mile.

Yesterday I ran my second marathon in Richmond, VA. I ran my first in Pittsburgh, PA this past year in May after a Christmas Party agreement with my cousin’s husband, Luke last year. After we recovered a bit from Pittsburgh we talked about doing the Marine Corps, here in DC but it filled too quickly so I pitched the idea of running Richmond because it’s still pretty close and is supposed to be a nice time and a good course.

With Joanna gone in Maine for a few months, I thought that I would have plenty of time to train and would get tons and tons of miles in. While I did have a good deal of time I also took on a freelance editing project and work got really crazy. On top of this I ended up visiting in Maine more than I anticipated. A wonderful thing, but the traveling did leave me more tired than I anticipated from time to time. I also ended up being sick on and off for two weeks or so before the marathon. That said, as the marathon came closer, I kept reminding myself that I was averaging about 5 more miles per week in training than I had for the last marathon, was running faster, had been doing more controlled training, like speedwork and tempo runs and was feeling better during and after my long runs. As Luke and I walked out of the hotel to position ourselves at the start I remember talking about how we were each nervous but ultimately, it was like any other weekend – we were heading out for a long one.

My family was coming from around the Morgantown area and were kind enough to offer to pick me up and take me back – I had planned on taking the train as the thought of driving after the marathon sounded completely miserable. So they arrived just after noon on Friday. We had an easy drive down to Richmond, stopping on the way for lunch where we ate carbs, carbs, carbs. We hit the expo and picked up our race packets. Luke got a headband to cover his ears in the cold and I introduced him to BodyGlide. I’m not sure how he has survived running this long without it.

We checked in to our hotel, the Comfort Inn on the north western part of Richmond. It was a bit of a lackluster pit whose advertised internet didn’t work. But it was cheap and we booked it just a few weeks before marathon time. Finding dinner the night before proved to be a complete and unanticipated fiasco. It never occurred to me that we should book a reservation but we found no wait under an hour at any of the restaurants we tried in Carytown so we gave up and hit the chain restaurants just outside of the city. At that point it was a relief just to find a place to relax and I played word games with their son as Luke and my cousin worked out the logistics of the next day.

I was nervous, but I didn’t feel as overwhelmed or anxious as I had before Pittsburgh, maybe because it wasn’t a complete unknown. We went back to the hotel. I got my things together, talked to Joanna on the phone, took a shower and went to bed about midnight.

The next morning I ate a spare bagel Luke had brought with honey and almond butter (I found these great packages where a nut butter and a sweetener is combined in a little packet. Really convenient.) I had a little bit of coffee, and some gatorade. I met up with everyone and we headed out to the car to drive to the start. My cousin, Sherea and Perry were going to try to meet us at a couple of points during the marathon but really, most of the city was blocked off in some way from the marathon. Figuring that out was going to be a real trick for them and as we got further downtown we were noting streets that were open and where they were in relation to the marathon course.

It was freezing when we got to the start. Both Luke and I were wearing top layers. I planned to chuck mine at some point along with the cheapie gloves that I was wearing. Luke was planning to give his shirt to Sherea at mile 3. Instead of stand in line at the porta-potties Sherea located a Starbucks inside the Marriott on the same block as the starting line so she and Perry got beverages while Luke and I stood in line with a bunch of other runners inside the nice warm hotel once, and then again. I will say that the entire marathon, for being as large as it was, wasn’t a hectic experience. We didn’t head outside to line up, maybe 10 minutes before the marathon start, finding plenty of room around the midway point for our respective corrals. I ended up ditching my sweatshirt just before the gun went off and we headed off and were able to cross the actual start pretty quickly.

Last marathon Luke totally went out too fast and bonked a bit at the end so my good pace is his reserve pace so we ran where I felt like I was making a little effort and used my Garmin to reign in our pace around a 10 minute mile from miles 1-4. It was nice to hang out, chat and actually get a little running time in together. It’s funny that we do running events together but haven’t actually run together until this marathon! Somewhere around mile 1, we were still downtown and on a straightaway before me I see a man with a mike, a small speaker and a huge sign that starts with the word, “repent” – no good ever comes after that word, especially on a sign. I quickly scanned the sign and sure enough partway down I saw the word, “homosexuals.” There’s nothing like being condemned to hell within the first 10 minutes of a race. I couldn’t help myself, as we passed the man, I leaped in the air, hands waiving and yelled, “I’m gay! I’m gay!” a second later we heard, “and God loves gay people, too…” I apologized for my outburst but Luke seemed to think it was pretty funny. Around 2.5 miles I ditched my gloves. As we approached the first turn at mile 3 we began to look for Sherea and Perry but didn’t see them so Luke ended up stashing his shirt at the corner of a building, hoping that it would still be there if we came back to look for it post-race.

At mile 4 Luke and I split up because I decided to hit the bathrooms. I grabbed some water at the stop and as I waited in the port-a-potty line there was a guy in front of me with very cool green stripy arm warmers. He was also drinking water and as he turned towards me I noticed that his bib said, “moose”. Being a little over-excited from the initial race endorphin rush, I slapped him on the arm a few times and pointed to my own bib which said, “m00se”. He was very gracious about it and only spilled a little on himself. I got back on the road and had a few sports beans. The back pocket of my knickers was loaded with various energy things and it looked like I had a weird tumor growing out of my back so unloading the oddly shaped things first seemed like a good idea.

Though I was warm from running and I could tell that the temperature was rising, I noticed that my hands were absolutely freezing. This has happened to me a few times recently, that my hands get so cold during a run that by the end I can barely move them. I really wanted those gloves back. It was getting difficult to even change songs on my MP3 player. So, around mile 6 I started scanning the ground for abandoned gloves.

I found a really cute pink striped pair but spotted the mate too late to make a grab. I was still keeping up a great pace for me, about a 10 minute mile, but I was missing pacing myself off of someone for whom the pace seemed effortless. As I was thinking about this I noticed a younger fellow in red shorts and a white top. We seemed to be running at about the same pace. So without thinking I just kind of tried to keep up with him for a while. It wasn’t hard, and didn’t require me to push myself too much but it was just nice to have a focal point for the run. I could keep running and pretty much know that I was on target in terms of pace without looking at my watch all the time. I kept this up until I stopped to make a pit stop around mile 12.

As I ran over the Huguenot Bridge at mile 7 I spotted a black pair of gloves almost identical to the ones I had tossed previously. I thankfully put them on my freezing hands as I took in the view from the bridge.  We were entering the more rural part of the run along the James River. It was simply gorgeous. There were some houses but for the most part they were off to our right with the river on the left and a gorgeous canopy of autumn leaves above us. This was probably my favorite part of the whole run. It was funny how serene it felt even surrounded by all those other runners.

This was also about the point in the race where the crowd support got kind of funny. Richmond is hailed as the friendliest marathon course. So far I hadn’t seen it, but I didn’t really have much to compare it too besides Pittsburgh. Except for a mile or two here or there, the Pittsburgh course felt like a party the whole way, despite the lousy weather. The support over the course of the Richmond Marathon wasn’t as constant but it did have it’s quirks. After we left the riverside, we ran though a more residential area, passing a woman standing at the edge of her lawn with a noisemaker a huge bowl filled with pretzels held out the the runners. Lawn or even living room furniture filled with spectators was a common sight as was people out on their stoop or leaning out of a window shouting support. At one point I high-fived a little girl in footie pajamas still wearing a bit of breakfast on her cheeks. I remain awed by the support one finds when running a marathon not only from fellow runners but from the spectators. Before we took off Luke and I were discussing the way running in a marathon felt, how you could have this little rockstar experience that one might not get in any other context. It is hard to explain, but it is crazy to spend a few hours with people holding signs, screaming, telling you that you can do it, and you’ve got this, and you look great, passing you food and beverages and cops stopping traffic for you. Really, it’s just wild.

Remember those abandoned gloves? Without thinking, from mile 7 until about 12 I proceeded to take those gloves of unknown origins and wipe my entire face with them. Those gloves were on the ground and probably had been run over by a few hundred runners. Long distance running, as a general rule, is pretty gross. Around mile 10 I took a Gu gel which in retrospect was a mistake. I think the gel really screwed with my stomach for the next 10 miles forcing bathroom stops at miles 12, 14, and 16. I didn’t feel completely terrible, but I didn’t feel great either which sucked after the first 10 miles, which were pretty great. As I waited in line for the port-a-john at mile 12 I tucked my gloves into my bra, then realized it had warmed up and I really didn’t need them any more so back to the ground they went.

Around the halfway point I ran for a bit behind a woman who had a sign on her back saying that she was running in honor of her late husband who had died earlier this year. It was a sobering way to think about running as a solitary experience, even in the sea of runners. I saw her several times over second half of the race.

I hadn’t really poured over the course map the way I had for Pittsburgh. According to what I had read, something happened around mile 15, a hill or something. I knew whatever it was, it was coming and I was trying to prepare myself for it. Despite the stomach issues, I really wasn’t feeling too bad, but kept having weird thoughts about quitting, which was strange for me because that rarely happens. As I approached the marker for mile 15 I saw a long bridge stretch out to my left and I got excited because I love running bridges, then I realized that this was the dreaded thing. I couldn’t figure out why just looking at it so I made the turn with just a little pang of dread but still, looked forward to running the bridge. I got a “lookin’ good” from a cute cop as I hit the overpass. I allowed myself to think that she actually meant it just for the ego boost. Then I saw a sign that said, “Make the Lee Bridge Your Bitch.” It seemed like a good plan of attack. The view of the James River from the Lee Bridge was just extraordinary. This was a nice distraction until about ¾ of the way across the bridge when I realized that the problem was the bloody headwind. It felt like you were fighting for every step as the end of the bridge got closer, but then just like that it was over.

My stomach felt the worst miles 16 though 19. I was afraid that it was just going to get worse but as I ran on to mile 20 there was a drastic improvement. Somewhere in here I was offered pretzels, I don’t think it was from the designated junk food stop at mile 16 (where I had a gummy bear and tossed the rest of them. I don’t know how anyone eats a gummy bear while running). Again, a testament to how disgusting running is – the woman offering the pretzels, God bless her, had a hand full suspended over a bowl and deposited them directly into my hands after we made eye contact. Brilliant, because I didn’t even slow down. Disgusting because, well it was. I think double dipping amongst a group of marathoners wouldn’t even be an offense. Eating and running is something that I’ve been afraid of as I’m clumsy and figured that the focus required to chew and run would automatically result in my tripping right into a ditch, but I happily munched on 6 or 7 pretzels over the next few miles. I finally saw my cousin and her son at mile 19 which was a welcome sight and gave me a nice boost as I approached the last 6.2 miles.

Mile 20 always seems kind of scary because you’re tired, and maybe a little bored and you know that “the wall” is supposed to come and flatten you and grind you into the pavement. I made my last pit stop here and as I left decided that I should check out the local NPR station on the radio because I was bored with my music. A little clicking around revealed only a classical music station and no fun weekend NPR shows which was a disappointment, so back to the music. The beginning of mile 22 was a glorious festival of people and snacks. First the usual water and Powerade stop, then no kidding, a homemade sign showing pretzels and beer. As I was offered a cup I said, “beer?” to the nice lady and she nodded as I said “brilliant!” as I trotted off. Part of me wondered if this was a good idea. Theoretically I knew it was not, however as I gazed into the fizzy head atop my little dixie cup of light beer swill (yum!) I said what the hell and took a sip. It was good. I felt good. It was awesome.

As I approached mile 23 I saw what looked like someone stretching in the middle of the street off in the distance. I thought to myself, come on man, you’re going to do that, right there? You can’t move off to the side? As I got closer I saw a man crouched down with his right leg stretched out at an angle in front of him. In typical me fashion I was still a little annoyed even though there was plenty of room to get around him. I waited for him to switch legs and stretch out the other. A few more steps and I saw that his left leg was fitted with a running prosthetic. I don’t know how many times I have to prove to myself what an asshole I am. Running for me has always been a quantifiable way to know that I was improving at something. Distance running especially is a chance to see how I can push myself, to literally see how far I can go. Here was another reminder that there are other ways of pushing myself, to not be so quick to judge and quick to annoyance. Sometimes, yes you do just have to stretch right there in the middle of the street and everyone else will just have to get out of the way. As I passed I sped up and felt the full weight of my body on each foot as it touched the ground, grateful for each step. I cried right through to the water stop at mile 23.

I have a bad habit of wanting to be done with a run just before I hit my target distance. It’s like my body knows how far I need to go and really doesn’t want to go a single step farther and just to ensure that this doesn’t happen wants to stop just a mile or two before I’m done. This was mile 24. I kept flipping songs, looking for the right one and telling myself just two miles, you can do two miles without even trying. This is so easy, just keep going. At mile 25 I picked it up and “In for the Kill” by la Roux came on around mile 25.5. I booked it right into mile 26 and hit repeat. There is a short sharp downhill at the start of mile 26 which I actually think kind of sucked because the grade felt severe on my tired quads. The descent was short though and there was the finish line right in front of me. I surprised myself by running even faster, tired though I was, and was running about an 8 minute a mile pace as I crossed the finish. I hope to learn to maintain that kind of speed through the whole race in the future.

My official time was 4:51:06. It was better than my first by about 22 minutes, but not as good as I had secretly hoped. It was sub-5 hours and that was a time I could live with. I am happy that I learned to eat and run and to know how good a little beer can taste on the race course. I think I need to ditch the Gu for good and find something else that works for me, the bathroom stops are killing me and I’m far to slow to absorb them. Overall it was a fun and quirky race but I don’t think I feel the need to make it a repeat event, but thanks Richmond for a great race!

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