Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Tri Cities Marathon

Photo by Javier Pita
This marathon has left me perplexed, surprised, elated, and feeling slightly ridiculous. I never thought success would come in the wake of such intense uncertainty. When I found myself consciously trying to ignore the way I limped across the park the night prior to the race, I couldn't ignore the thought of trying to run (race) the Tri Cities marathon the next day. I hoped that by attributing my pain to the way many of us feel before a big event when everything hurts, everything would be okay.

I even posted to Facebook to put forth my disclaimer of a poor race performance that I envisioned would actually transpire. Perhaps to some, it looked more like a "woe is me" attempt. In some ways, I wondered exactly what I hoped to read from the responses of friends and family. That night, Javier Pita responded to my Facebook post in ways I never imagined anyone might. Also in the Tri Cities preparing to race the next day, he offered me endless words of encouragement and advice that I appreciated. Having found himself in similar circumstances in the past, he suggested methods of holistic pain control. Finally, before heading off to bed, he quoted Prefontaine: "The best pace is suicide pace, and today [tomorrow] looks like a good day to die." By the way I felt at that moment, it seemed quite plausible I'd find myself face down next to the 7 mile marker tomorrow. Dead.

Race morning arrived in a way the Weather Channel app hadn't predicted it would, as the 80% chance of showers appeared to have surrendered to the other 20% chance of no showers. Skies looked cloudy; temperatures felt comfortable. I have toed this particular start line two times prior to this one. Therefore, it felt odd to feel so terrible for my third attempt when I thought my experience here should make me confident. The countdown began, and with one last look of irresolution toward Bryan, I shrugged and started running the way I had prepared to for the past 6 weeks. I ran to reach mile 3.

Photo by Bryan. My view for a good part of the race, the
Columbia River and its scenery didn't disappoint. 
I did, and Bryan greeted me with my first round of nutrition. Taking inventory, I realized my wheels had not yet started to wobble as I figured they might. By mile 8, I dared to think I could find mile 13. At mile 10, blisters started growing on both feet. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I had never planned on blisters slowing my pace. Not on this day. My hip, calves, and right hamstring had already signed up for that preferential pleasure to end my day prematurely.

Running faster than goal pace, I sat myself down just before the 13th mile marker and attended to my feet. Bryan swears it cost me 40 seconds, but it only slowed my overall pace by 3 seconds per mile. Even then, I still ran far faster than my original goal pace. Henceforth, I ran with a little more nerve as I approached the third bridge.

Miles 15 and 16 made me realize my attempt to quell those developing blisters failed. Ironically, I enjoyed the pain they caused because it seemed like nothing compared to the pain I had envisioned I'd struggle with yesterday. Pangs of hunger started to bother me, but Bryan always stayed just ahead of me on the course, prepared with bottles of PhD Glyco Durance to sustain me. He also managed to entice me with updates on the shrinking gap between me and the first place woman. Up until mile 17, I'd brushed off his persuasions, reminding him that I felt happy just to run on pace. By mile 20, though, I saw her. My perspective changed.

In all three marathons prior to this one, I'd found myself in the last 10 kilometers feeling no better than complete shit. Imagine my utter disbelief when my pace alerts coming to me for miles 20, 21, and 22 suggested I had found a pace faster than goal pace by approximately 20 to 30 seconds. Perplexed, I thought this felt odd. I surely hadn't planned on feeling this good this late into the race. I certainly hadn't envisioned myself catching the first place woman, let alone passing her at mile 22. Yet when I met Bryan for my second to last replenishment of nutrition just prior to mile marker 23, I had done just that.

I ran surprised, with such severe astonishment that something might snap, my blisters would burst, my competition would catch me. Prior to crossing the final bridge with just over a mile to the finish line, I greeted Bryan with one last question, "How far back is she?"

When Bryan responded, "I can't see her," I grew wings. For no other reason than perhaps pure excitement, my pace accelerated to that of something I had used in training runs for 10 kilometer intervals. (It occurred to me that as much as those damn intervals hurt at the time, my coach had prepared me well for this last celebratory mile.)

Photo by Javier Pita
Taking the final turn into the parking lot, heading for the finish line, Javier urged me to "kick it" to the finish line. At first I wondered what made him think I had anything left, and then I saw the clock. Up until this moment, I had not kept track of time. Only mile markers and pace alerts had kept me in the present. It turns out that when just 15 seconds remain until the clock reads 3:11:00, you push with everything that remains to keep the clock from encroaching upon that next minute.

I crossed the line with a time of 3:10:48 and promptly sat on the ground to find the exuberant congratulations proffered by my two devoted training partners, Ryder and Maci. Of course, Bryan grinned from ear to ear, elated by my nearly 14 minute PR. It took just a few minutes for him to admit his new dilemma as to how he'd have to come out of retirement to defend his now shattered marathon PR. (Perhaps now you all understand my strategy to keep my husband active and racing with me well into his old man years.) Marital competition has no boundaries.

So then, why not feel slightly ridiculous by the dramatics of it all? I had every intention of starting this race with confidence, but I had none. I felt convinced Bryan would find me on the side of the course asking for a trip back to the hotel, deflated and hobbled. Instead, I shake my head with mixed emotions when I think about how the entire experience allowed me to respect the distance and have faith that what I set out to do, I will accomplish.

Mettle. Determination. Fortitude. Here ends 2016; here begins a new outlook for 2017.

My cheer squad and confidants.
Photo by Bryan. Congratulations to Javier for
accomplishing his goal of a sub 2:50 marathon.