Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nike Women's Marathon Recap

I am coming to you today, a marathoner, and I can't believe it, I really can't. The whole experience still makes me weak in the knees (literally and figuratively) and thinking of the moments that lead up to crossing the finish line makes me both smile, and grimace.

My friend Ashley asked me to describe to her over e-mail the marathon in short, and here is what I sent her:

First 5K: Euphoric
Next 8 Miles: wanting to scream at half marathoners and walkers who didn't have any etiquette
Miles 13-15: Good, course clearing up
Mile 16-19: Down pour, hit wall, think it's never going to end
Mile 20: Realize, I'm really going to do this, get SO excited
Mile 21: They give you chocolate, nuff said
Mile 22-24 More rain, but feeling great, mind vs. body fights with walking vs. running
24-26 Whole body hurts, want to die.
26.2 I'm in tears, I did it.

And that really does sum up this process. I started the race with Breck from Indianapolis. We met through the Nike Women's Marathons facebook page.

She was running alone too, and we said no matter what we'd start together since we are a similar pace.

Breck and I at 6:15 a.m. ready to race!

Having her at the starting line with me was the best thing EVER. We stood there fore nearly 45 minutes waiting to take off, and sang along to the DJ, made small talk, and kept each others nerves at bay. We ended up running the first four miles together, and it was great.

The first 5-10K, I kept saying over and over again, "I'm running a marathon!!" people were smiling and laughing at me, as I said it, but I could tell they were thinking it too. My friend Megan who completed the Twin Cities marathon two weeks earlier said she had the same thoughts, and it carried her through those first few miles.

Mile Six Smiles

The next few miles were frustrating because we were on the same course as the half-marathoners, which can be fine, but many of them didn't have very good race etiquette. The Nike Women's Marathon is a race for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and a lot of Team In Training members participate in it.

Although, I think it's a great cause, they really make this "their" event, having their cheer coaches darting in and out of the course, a forming lines of both runners and walkers that sometimes span nearly the whole course. This can be really frustrating when you're having to speed up and slow down, and spend energy weaving in and out of people.

My advice to any new racers: if you walk any part of the race, do it on the right side. The race course works just like the interstate, faster people pass on the left.

Once the half-marathoners cleared, it felt good, but I also started to think of how I still had so many miles ahead of me. I met a few women along this way, who helped keep me head clear. It's amazing the way you form these friendships on the course just from the single, difficult journey you're doing at the same time. I'll most likely never see these people again, and don't remember their names, but I'm grateful for how they helped me get me through.

Around Mile 15 the mist and sporadic rain drops that had been hitting us turned into an all out down pour. It was at this time, that I hit that "wall" you always hear about. It all started when I reached for one of my chews, and my fingers and arms were so numb, I couldn't get a grip on it, and it went tumbling to the ground. I nearly lost it, it was cold, I had given my removable sleeves to Ben at mile six when I was hot, but now I was freezing, and wet, and the distance in front me seemed never ending.

Then at Mile 16, I saw Ben and our friend Stephanie and I lost it. Tears streaming down my face I said, "this is SO HARD," as they swiftly walked next to me and I asked him for my sleeves back. Ben was very reassuring though saying, "Ten miles is all you have left, ten miles, you've done that so many times, and it's all mainly flat from here, it's all down hill from here Alexa, I know you can do this." Stephanie chimed in with a "you're amazing, you're running a marathon!" and I knew I had to buck up and keep going, after all, there wasn't a choice here.

A man even tried to offer me salty foods when he saw my tears, thinking I was hurt, or cramping and in a very honest moment I blurted out between sobs "It's all up here!" while pointing at my head, and I knew I was right.

The rest of the route, I just kept thinking of how far I'd come, and how easy it would be to quit, but that I didn't want to take the easy route. Someone had a sign that said, "Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever," and it rung in my mind over and over again.

I saw Ben and Stephanie again right before mile 20 and they were relieved to see I had a smile on my face.
Just before Mile 20, sleeves back on, saving me!

Ben and Stephanie and the great poster she made me!

Those last six+ miles is when my body started to really hurt, my Achilles tendon on the left side began to ache. My feet were blistering due to my soaked shoes, my hips felt stiff, and my arches seemed to want to collapse, but all I could think of was how I had to see that finish line. Even the nausea I had felt since mile 15 felt like nothing compared to how my joints were feeling at this point.

But, it was thinking of my support system that got me to this race, that really helped get me through.

I thought of how my friend Wendy had met me nearly every Saturday to run some of my long run miles with me, how could I ever tell her that all all that running those early mornings was for nothing, and that I just quit?

I thought of my friend Katy, running the NYC marathon in mere weeks, I couldn't DNF before her marathon, I needed to help her keep on believing for her race.

I thought of how my 55+ mother-in-law runs the Boston marathon, and if she can raise four kids and run that fast, I can finish a marathon in the allotted 6.5 hours.

And so, I did. I saw the finish, and my husband both at the same time. And being the wonderful man he is, he ran me in as far as the course workers would let him. I choked up repeating to him that I loved him, as he kept telling me how proud he was of me.

Ben running next to me in Boise State Orange

About 200 feet from the finish line, they kicked Ben off the course, but I ran through the finish, hands in the air. Then, in the true spirit of the Nike Women's Marathon, a tuxedo clad fireman handed me my Tiffany finishers necklace while I cried and I cried and I cried.

The finishers shoot was a blur, I found out they ran out of this year's Tiffany Necklace, and I got an old one, and would be mailed a new one, "No problem, I'm done running" is all I thought. I knew I was in a daze, as being the queen of free stuff, I didn't even really stop to get all I could. Volunteers threw random Kashi bowls and pineapple juice cans in my bag as I thought, "where's the bag check? must. get. dry. clothes."

That day, I swore up and down that I had made my peace with the marathon, that was it, I had finished one, never again. But, yesterday, upon seeing Breck at the airport, we got to talking and she said, "I think marathons are like having babies, you forget the pain after awhile, and remember the glory and want to do it all over again a few times." The weird part is...I'm starting to think she's right... but for now, I'll just concentrate on being able to sit and stand without grimacing.


Tricia said...

I'm SO proud of you,congrats!

Cindy said...

I am so so so proud of you, Alexa. You are just amazing. We have to celebrate your accomplishment soon! <3

Sarah (Fat Little Legs) said...

So inspiring! This is an amazing accomplisment. Soak it in. Thanks for sharing... it lifted my day!

Kelly @ Dream. Strive. Succeed. said...

I just cried, right here at my desk at work, reading this. I am so thrilled for you, Alexa! (And in one of my favorite cities, to boot... we got married in San Francisco!)

Kate said...

Wonderful accomplishment, and post. I cried through it and really felt your ups and downs and emotions. Congrats on a race well run!

Jen Hendrickson said...

Alexa - I have tears in my eyes as I read the last half of your recap! I am making a lifestyle change as we speak and I am just so inspired by your strength and determination. I don't know that I will be aspiring to run a marathon anytime soon but you definitely have provided the motivation I so need! I really enjoy reading your blog and have saved a couple of recipes that I am going to try in the next week! Take care and I hope that sitting and standing continue to get easier!

Anonymous said...

Seriously Alexa, I'm sooooo proud of you. It is really amazing what you accomplished and very few people have ever run a marathon. Never forget the feeling at the end. If you can run a marathon, you can truly do anything in life. Only words of wisdom: don't run at all for minimum of 2 weeks. I tried running 50 feet 1 week later to grab something and nearly yelled out in pain. And I wasn't sore at all, just sneaks up on you. Jody Powell

Leah said...

Amazing and inspiring story, Alexa. I loved it. :)

Shelly B said...

Alexa, you so amaze me girl - so proud of you. I miss you!

Alexa said...

Shelly, I miss you too!!

Jody, thanks for the advice, I'm still a bit sore, five days later. =)

Jen, that is AWESOME! Good for you! Let me know if you need any advice, want to ever go for a walk, etc. There are great, very affordable walking/running groups to join at the Running Room stores located throughout the area, and that's what got me started on this journey. I did their "Learn to Run," and have been hooked ever since!

Jake said...

Good Job Alexa! I am proud of you. It is not easy to beat the mind vs body battle and you did it. Are you going to put a 26.2 on your car like everyone else now?

Alexa said...

Thanks Jake! Ben's mom gave me a 26.2 sticker, but I just can't stomach putting a sticker on my car, if they had clings, then maybe I would. I just hate the idea of having to get that sucker off when I go to trade my car in.