Last Sunday morning, while I was running the California International Marathon, Facebook and Twitter were clogging up the feeds of my nearest and dearest with obnoxious posts about my splits. Thankfully, y’all are in fact my nearest and dearest for a reason, and some hours later, when I got back to my phone, I had all kinds of love and support waiting for me. One of the many calls, texts, tweets and comments came from my friend Bill, who posted, on the update announcing that I had come through the half in just under two hours, the very simple and lovely, “Flow forward, friend.” I wished very much that I had somehow been able to see that message during the race, because though I was indeed flowing fairly effortlessly forward at 13.1, I could definitely have used that mantra in some of the later miles.
It’s been a week since I ran my seventh marathon and while my legs are pretty much back to normal and I’m already thinking about what’s next, not an ounce of the emotion I felt crossing the finish line last Sunday has subsided. So this recap is going to be a few things. It’s going to be braggy and it might be dramatic and it’s probably going to be all around too much, but I don’t know any other way to talk about it.
I might have mentioned once or twice in the last year that CIM 2012 was a gorgeous, soggy mess of awesome. So much raining, you guys. So much. This year was thankfully dry, but cold. Sub-freezing temps at the start (maybe 27 or 28 degrees?) and not much above freezing by the time I finished. Some year I’ll run CIM and get the moderate California weather that makes it such a desirable December marathon, but my two experiences so far have definitely been extremes.
After a delayed flight out of Portland and some medium sized anxiety about getting to the race expo before it closed, things clicked into place the minute I landed in Sacramento. Made it to the expo with time to spare, had a perfect pre-race dinner at the hotel and got just the tiniest bit assaulted by a creepy Santa.
I was ten kinds of weird and superstitious about what to wear during this race and in addition to my usual good luck charms (Nuun temporary tattoos, jelly bracelets and a necklace from my mom), I decided that it would be inviting failure to not wear some of the same clothing I wore last year. So I wore the same tank top (with a long sleeve over it), same capris and the gloves that had been part of my 2012 CIM packet gear. Consider it a runner’s version of the whole “something old, something new, something borrowed…” tradition.
You’d think I would have been thrilled that the conditions, though bitterly cold, were so different from last year. And I was, I guess. Sort of. But I really loved running in the rain and that race has remained my PR even through two other marathons and the bottom line is that last Sunday morning on the shuttle to Folsom, I realized that I was very scared of failing.
On Saturday night, before the race, I was talking to Molly and telling her how even though all I wanted was to sub 4 this one, it’s a good idea to set A, B and C goals for a race. So I told her that my A goal was sub 4, B was to PR (anything under 4:09:48) and C would be to finish under 4:15. And even as I said it, I knew it was bullshit. There was no B and there was no C. There was only sub 4. And it was that all or nothing mentality that had me scared and shivering on the cold bus to the start line Sunday morning. I knew that so many things were going to have to happen – some very much within my control and some very much not – for me to run the race I wanted to.
The good thing about the cold was that it took my mind off everything I was worried about in the last half hour or so before the start. Bag check, porta-potty stop, realizing that I might be wearing my throwaway sweatshirt for longer than half a mile – all of that done with chattering teeth and a desire to get the show on the road so that I could start moving and maybe warm up!
And then it started. And just like last year it felt great to run. And just like last year all I listened to was my Bruce playlist. And not at all like last year it was dry. About a mile in, I had this very clear, calm thought, “You’re going to do this. Today is a sub four kind of day.” I was so sure. Not even in a hopeful, I’m going to will it to be so kind of way, but with absolute clarity. It was ridiculously early in the race to feel certain of anything, but in a year when self-doubt has reigned supreme, to know something about myself that clearly was a welcome gift.
The first half was fairly uneventful. The only things really noteworthy that happened were the first several water stops. Because of the below freezing temperatures, all the spilled water at the aid stations turned them into ice rinks. It only took seeing four or five people go down hard to make me avoid water for the first several miles. Eventually the sun came up and the temperature climbed just high enough to keep the water from freezing, but not before a number of people took some pretty nasty falls.
I easily passed the 4:10, 4:05 and 4:00 pace groups pretty early on and had the 3:55 pacer in my sights from a manageable distance for a while. Around mile 12 I caught up to the group and settled in. The pace felt comfortable and good and it was a huge relief to not have to think about numbers and trust that if I could stay with the group, I’d finish with time to spare. And for the next eight miles, things were awesome. I hit the halfway point in under two hours and not far from my half PR, but definitely not feeling like I was going too hard. At one point it occurred to me that I was feeling so good that I might want to pull away from the 3:55 group at some point. And then I freaked out. WHAT?! Was I actually considering running faster than 3:55? Did I think that was something I could do? Apparently so, because a handful of times I put some distance between myself and the pacer. Each time though, I fell back into the group because my brain just couldn’t wrap itself around the idea of running faster.
And then… Mile 20. I hit that wall HARD. It wasn’t right at 20 on the dot, but definitely not long past it. By 21 I was looking at the back of the 3:55 pace group and soon after they were gone. And I think that is where my race began. I ran the first 20 miles in just under three hours and I knew that I could finish in under four if I focused and didn’t let all the shit in my head that was starting to get louder and louder take over and ruin me. But it tried. It tried really hard. Gone was the clarity from the early miles and the strength of the middle miles. All that was left was some dark ugliness and a voice in my head saying things like, “Who do you think you’re kidding? You’re gonna sub four today? Yeah right. There’s NO WAY that’s happening.” I was tired and there were still miles to go and normally at that point I let myself slow down. I give in to the pain and the fatigue. I keep running, but I focus as much (or more) on everything screaming at me to stop as I do on that quieter voice telling me to keep going.
This time, somewhere around mile 22 or 23, I shut that naysaying bitch up and I ran.
I don’t remember a lot about the last few miles. I remember thinking that if I could get to 25 in 3:45, then I could definitely sub 4, barring something catastrophic happening. I remember getting to 25 in 3:45 and still not believing it might happen. I remember getting close to 26 and starting to cry. I remember at that moment realizing that I was going to finish in less than four hours and finally letting myself accept it. I remember turning the last corner, seeing that the timer over the finish line was still under four and knowing that since my chip time was at least two full minutes less than the gun time I really really really was going to do it. And I remember crossing the finish line.
I don’t think I’ve ever loved a number so hard.
And then it was over and I was chugging a can of Coke (delicious), eating some tomato soup (necessary) and trying to keep my space blanket wrapped around me (unsuccessfully). I was so cold and so overwhelmed and so happy.
While I’ve warmed up and calmed down in the week since, the happiness hasn’t worn off. My race bib has joined its 4 hour+ brothers and sisters and I’m pretty sure they all know I have no problem playing favorites.
But I’m not planning on resting on my sub 4 laurels for long. 3:57:07, magnificent though it was, is not my final marathon resting place. There are still minutes and seconds (17:08 to be precise) to be shaved yet. I’m under no illusion that it will be easy to get there, but I’ll take everything I learned about my worst self and my best self in Sacramento last Sunday and I’ll keep flowing forward.