In 1994 – 17 years and several pounds ago – Oprah ran a marathon in 4 hours, 29 minutes and 20 seconds. Going into yesterday’s race, I had been only half-jokingly saying that I wanted to beat Oprah’s time. Frankly, I thought I would be able to, at least by a couple of minutes. Well… I didn’t. 1994 Opes was about seven minutes faster than me, but that (teeny tiny) disappointment is the only one I have about the entire experience.
It’s over! I ran a marathon yesterday. I’ve been talking about it so much that maybe all it has sounded like in the last couple of months is “blah blah blah.” I know that there have been times that it sounded like that to me. So, let me just say again – as much for myself as for anyone – I ran a MARATHON yesterday. 26.2 long, strange, exhilarating miles.
The most extraordinary part of the whole thing is how smoothly it went for me. I am probably going to be exponentially more sore tomorrow and the next day than I am right now, but at the moment, I feel good. I felt good when it was over, good for most of the rest of yesterday and good ever since I woke up this morning. In fact, I felt so okay yesterday that I was sort of alarmed. I expected at any moment to drop dead. By about 3:00, when I was still alive, I started accepting that I would probably live to see another day. None of this is to say that it was not hard, because dear God, it was. It’s just that I don’t hate myself right now, I don’t regret running it, and – most importantly – I can conceive of running again in the next week or so and having my legs actually agree to go with me. A large part of me did not expect to be able to say any of those things a mere 34 hours after finishing.
As far as particulars about the race go – though a lot of it is a blur – here are some of things that I remember:
– I tried not to think during miles 1-7. Particularly during the first 4 or so, I really didn’t want to look down at my Garmin and be reminded of how far I still had to go. It was mile 15 or 16 before my thought process changed from, “You have to run a marathon today” to, “Wait. You are actually running a marathon RIGHT NOW.”
– I understand the necessity of the out-and-back portion of a distance race, but the Front Ave. stretch that so many Portland races use is pretty much not my favorite thing ever. There is nothing like seeing the 4 hour pace group pass by you going the other way – simultaneously mere feet away AND about 2.5 miles ahead of you – to effectively kill a (totally unrealistic) dream.
– In a marathon, tall friends in the crowd are awesome. I spotted Joe well before he saw me, which gave me plenty of time to stand up straighter and run faster than I had been up to that point. Fooled him! And actually, in a marathon, ALL friends in the crowd are awesome. David, Joe, Merrin, Lesley(s), Susan, Nora, Sarah, Mikkelsens, Jessi, Jana – thank you all so so so much! Even if I didn’t see you, I am still so grateful that you were there.
– At 13.1 miles, if someone is going to have to hear you say, “My armpits are full of Vaseline!” it might as well be your almost-nurse friend, Nora. Nora was working the aid station at the halfway point and greeted me with a huge smile and a plate covered in Vaseline. I took a glob, slathered it under my arms and kept running. You do what you have do during a marathon.
– I fell in love with at least 20 strangers yesterday. The man holding up the “Go, complete stranger! Go!” sign. The older lady, with her “Run with moxie!” sign. Every person who yelled out my name and cheered me on as if they knew me. I loved all of them yesterday. If you ever find yourself in the crowd, watching a marathon, cheer like a crazy person for the strangers running by you. I promise, it will mean the world to them.
– Similarly, if you ever find yourself in a crowd, watching a marathon, cheer like a crazy person for the people you know running by you. I promise, it will mean the world to them. The first 20 miles went really well. Obviously I had some slow moments and I definitely took every opportunity to walk through the aid stations as I drank my water, but on the whole, the first 20 were solid. Right before the 20 mile marker though, I could feel myself starting to lag. The 6.2 miles I’d never run before were up ahead and I needed something to perk me up. And then, I swear to God, right when I needed it, this happened:
An entire family of Mikkelsens, waiting, just for me. I knew they were coming down from Olympia for the race (an incredibly touching gesture in itself), but I didn’t expect to see them until the finish. To see them waiting there for me was an amazing surprise. And let me tell you, if you ever run a marathon and can only have one person there cheering you on, Megan Mikkelsen is the girl you want. One look at her and I was in tears, and then SHE was in tears, and then she was running towards me. And then there was hugging and then I was hugging Susanna and then they were running with me for a little bit and there was shouting of hellos to Drew and Eliza and there were pictures being taken and it all happened in about 45 seconds or less, but man, it was PHENOMENAL. Seriously, the best part of the whole race. Which I absolutely needed, and which carried me through the next two miles or so.
– I was lonely for some of the race. I had moments where I wished I had trained with someone and had a buddy running with me. A bit before mile 26 was not one of those moments however. I was pretty glad to be alone as I watched two girls positively melt down. “Hey! You don’t need to be cranky with me!” turned into stone cold silence and then one of the girls sort of ran on ahead, away from her friend. It was kind of brutal to watch.
– Barefoot runners. Seriously. I saw at least seven of them. I don’t understand it at all and can only assume that they are either some sort of superhuman race or zombies.
– Running conservatively through some parts of the marathon left me with enough juice to really go hard at the end, which felt incredible. This nifty stats tracker thing on the Portland Marathon website tells me that over the last 6.2 miles I passed 287 runners and was only passed by 31. More than that though, what felt great was running the last several hundred yards with strangers calling out my name, going as hard and fast as I could toward and then – FINALLY – through the finish.
There were plenty of emotional moments throughout the race, but I don’t think the full reality of actually completing it hit me until last night. I was watching some local news coverage of the marathon and burst into tears. I think it was equal parts relief, pride and exhaustion. Plus, what now? What do you do when the thing that you’ve worked toward for so long is suddenly in the rear view? For a few more days I can talk about it and revel in the accomplishment, but after that, it’s over.
It is probably too soon to say for sure if I’ll consider running another one of these in the future. What I can tell you though is that if you perused my Google search history for the last 24 hours, you’d find that last night I looked up “Boston qualifying times.” Like I said, too soon at the moment, but that sure would be one hell of an answer to “What now?”