I've spent a lot of time not writing this post. I finished the marathon 10 days ago and have done nothing since but think about how I wanted to sum it up in a blog post. Considering how much effort I put into training for this - my seventh marathon - and how much toil I went through trying to hit the sub-4-hour goal, you'd think I'd be bursting with words now that I've actually done it. I tend to do that sometimes, burst with words. It's irritating. Just ask Twitter. Like, people unfollow me on Twitter just because I talk too damn much. I go off on tangents, and before you know it, I'm talking about Twitter instead of writing about my epic marathon.
But I'm afraid to put it in words. I've had it all in my mind. The first few strides. The beep of my Garmin. How solid it all felt - my pace, the slap of each footstrike, my breathing. Everything was on. I won't forget the quickening of my heartbeat those last 200 meters. Inside I knew I was going to hit my goal, but I wouldn't allow myself to think it until it was real. Until I stopped my watch and saw 3:58.
Many details of the day are lost to time. I have images, of course. The alarm sounding at 2:45 a.m., in particular. Washing my hair and wrangling it into two tiny pigtails - all I could manage since chopping a few inches off the week prior. Doing my best work with a Sharpie to write the names of Team In Training donors on my arms and legs. I ducked into a Port-a-Potty three times that morning before the race, something I've never had to do. I get gun shy pre-race. I can't just pee under pressure. I tried choking down a protein bar - a complete lost cause. Who's hungry at 4-something a.m. before running 26.2 miles?
Before the starting gun, I remember looking around at the other runners - an overwhelming crowd of Team In Training participants. Runners and walkers participating in honor of a friend, or in memory of a mother or father or brother or sister. "For my mom," one shirt read. She looked about my age, running in memory of her mom. Moms aren't supposed to die; not when we still need them.
The race started at 6:15 a.m., which is ridiculous, but damn, I'd be thankful for it when I crossed the finish line before 10:30 a.m., when the sun was already blazing like a son of a bitch.
Those last few seconds before crossing the start line are unforgettable. You make all sorts of deals with yourself. With your mind. With God. Anyone. God's not really my go-to guy, but in those moments you'll go to anything for motivation. You'll cross the finish line changed, and you just want to get there. I wanted to get there in under 4 hours, and I had a lot of people banking on me to do it.
That was one hell of a stress factor, you guys. And a motivator. When you know people are at home getting text alerts of your progress, both quietly and openly rooting for you, all you want is to make 'em proud. So badly. I smiled every time I crossed a timing mat, remembering what someone said to me earlier in the week. "We'll be here watching," he said. "You'll be blowin' up all of our phones." A secret: I blew a kiss as I crossed the 13.1-mile marker. Halfway. A kiss to every single person whose phone buzzed and chirped in that second.
Please forgive the next paragraph, for I have to get technical for my own sake, and for the sake of those who pay attention.
I knew I had to maintain at least a 9-minute per mile pace to comfortably break four hours. Within a half mile, I slid easily into an 8:30-per-mile pace. I felt good. Really good. I kept my pace below 9-minute miles for 16 miles. Looking at my splits now, I can see where I started to fall apart, although I only inched above a 10-minute pace for three miles. (My splits are listed below). My Garmin clocked a total of 26.37 miles at an average of 9:03 per mile. And I tell you what, I did not need that extra .17 of a mile. Hell, I didn't need the last four miles, but I digress.
San Diego was the perfect backdrop for a marathon, though to be honest, I don't remember much of it. I tried my best to enjoy the scenery, but I tend to zone out during a marathon. It's not unlike closing your eyes to hide from monsters when you're a kid. If I can't see it, it can't see me. If I don't pay attention to what's going on, it's not really happening. Try it. It works.
I remember palm trees. I remember spectators. I remember running down a line of high-fives. The girls handing out popsicles; I ate one. I thanked the volunteers who handed me water and Cytomax, and the guys with the cold sponges at miles 22 and 23 once the sun was out in full force. I remember the band performing 'Smooth Criminal' near mile 24. They knew I needed a little Michael Jackson.
What I won't forget is when I knew I wasn't going to break four hours. I thought I knew. Mile 20. Up to that point I was so confident. So sure. And then I just wasn't. It started to hurt. I did the math in my head, and knew I didn't have it in me to maintain the pace I needed. Surprisingly, I never hit a wall. Sure, I reached a point where sub-9-minute miles weren't going to happen anymore, but I kept on. But mile 20, that was my weak spot. For about five minutes I wholeheartedly accepted that I wasn't going to hit my goal. It didn't matter then. I just wanted to slow down and feel better. It'll just be so much easier if I can slow down.
But then it hit me - what the fuck was I doing? I trained my ass off. This is why I did the speed work. The hills. The repeat 400s. This exact moment and this exact feeling. So I could push past it. And people at home were rooting for me so hard. Mom. Dad. Amber. Anne. Tracey. Rochelle. Marty. Mike. Shayla. Amy. Sarah. Cheryl. Everyone. I thought of all of you. And then I got scared. What if I can't do this? I spent the last six miles with my eyes fixed on my pace. I became afraid of failing, and fear is a powerful tool.
Mind games run rampant in the last hour of a marathon. I can do anything for six miles. For five miles. For four. For three. For 20 minutes. You've got 10 minutes to finish, or you're not going to break hour hours. Just one mile. Two-hundred meters. This is no different than your favorite route at home. Speed up. Stop looking at your watch. Faster. You've run a half mile hundreds of times. Literally.
This is not as bad as cancer.
That did it right there. A friend of mine lost her father to the same disease Team In Training fights against on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Two nights before the race, she sent me an email. It stuck with me. She thanked me, and encouraged me. She lost her father to leukemia, and my own dad was at home, glued to the text alerts coming through every time I crossed a timing mat.
Stop bitching. Start running. Keep going. Do this for her. For her dad.
And Ellen, if you're reading, I did run for you. And for him.
In those last 200 meters, I ran for everyone. Everyone who would be so proud as soon as I hit that finish line and their phones blew up with a final text message.
Those last 200 meters - those are the worst. Just as you make deals with God at the starting line, you make deals with the devil in that final minute. You're racing a clock. You're racing yourself. You're racing your patience. You're racing your capabilities. You're racing the guy next to you and the girl behind you. You're racing the last 3 hours and 57 minutes, which is what my watch read as I dashed through into the final point-two.
You know in that moment that you're either going to make or break your goal, and that's amazing or completely crushing, but all I wanted was a finish line.
And just like that, it was over. 3:58:34.
Crossing a finish line alone is very anticlimactic. No hugs. No cheers. I remember the rush of everything in my mind. It's over. I did it. I'm so thirsty. I'm so hot. I want to call home. I just want someone to share this with.
But I realized everybody already knew I broke four hours. The final text message had gone through. That's when the tears welled. I knew my parents were cheering. I knew mom sent an immediate text to my sister. I had a feeling it was all over Twitter, which I soon realized to be true. I wasn't alone. At all. All around me were hundreds of other runners and just as many spectators. My cheerleaders were at home, celebrating just as excitedly.
The rest of that morning is details. My own details. My own moments. Feelings I'll always remember. Thank you to everyone who was with me that day. I carried each and every one of you with me in my one tiny pocket.
I did it.
Run a sub-4-hour marathon: check.
Rock N Roll San Diego Marathon mile splits: 8:30, 8:40, 8:27, 8:25, 8:22, 8:37, 8:34, 8:45, 8:54, 8:48, 8:50, 8:00, 8:41, 8:44, 8:50, 8:59, 9:18, 9:10, 10:02, 10:03, 9:48, 10:17, 9:55, 9:56, 9:36, 9:08.