I did it. I ran the Nike Women’s Marathon in 4:41:44.
And so it began…We landed in San Fran on Saturday morning, met my brother and sister-in-law in the airport and immediately hit the expo. Having been to the coolest race expo only a few months earlier (Boston Marathon), I had high hopes for what this could offer. When I turned the corner and looked at Union Square, decked out in yellow and pink, women everywhere, I was ecstatic. However, the rest of the expo wasn’t nearly as exciting. There were only a few booths and all of them had long lines. Compared to Boston, where freebies were everywhere, celebrity runners were aplenty, and merchandise was easily accessible, this was a bust. Needless to say, we spent little time there.
I am not sure which is more unreliable in downtown San Francisco, finding a cab or AT&T 3G service. Both caused us headaches throughout the trip. Not having internet access on my phone was frustrating, nevermore so then when my sister-in-law, Nicki, asked me if I had seen my best friend Nathan’s tweet earlier. I had been receiving so many well wishes from friends, family and coworkers, and was couldn’t wait to see what he wrote. As we are standing in the hotel lobby, checking in, she shows me it on her phone….he had tweeted a picture of Union Square and the NWM expo. I was so confused as to why he had a picture of something we just saw…until finally, I turn around to see Nathan and his boyfriend, Hunter, standing in the lobby! Nicki was the only one who knew about this little surprise and I hugged them fiercely while yelling “SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! What are you doing here?!” I could not have been more shocked and thrilled. They didn’t just show up to watch me race, they came with tshirts that said See Meggie Run for everyone to wear. Nathan is my oldest friend…we’ve known each other since kindergarten and have been best friends ever since. The fact that he and Hunter made this effort to see me, along with my brother and sister-in-law, is completely unforgettable and humbling.
We spent the day exploring the city (walking up and down hills) and enjoyed a lovely meal together. While my spectators formulated their cheering plan for the next day, I mentally prepared myself for the race. I had seen some of the hills in San Fran and no longer could downplay the course. I just needed to stay mentally strong and let my body do what it was trained to do.
5am on Sunday – wide awake and pumped. I was bouncing off the walls singing “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz and probably annoying everyone in our hallway. JD came with me to the start and made sure I was lined up with my pace group. Other than the burning desire I had to empty my bladder, I was ready to go. I met Kathryn, the pacer and felt confident in letting her lead my way. I also met Heidi. It was her first marathon and she and I became instant running friends. When we turned the corner towards the start line, I had visions of her and me at the finish line – embracing and knowing we’d gone through 26.2 together. Unfortunately, these things never quite work out the way you imagine.
Overall, I was not impressed with the way this race was organized. It’s a Team in Training race and everyone who raised money was able to start at the front. This meant that if women wanted to walk 4-wide throughout the course, they could and it left us runners bobbing and weaving through the first 5 miles. We would sprint when the field opened up, only to be forced to slow while breaking through the walking groups…it was miserable. But I always kept Kathryn in my sight and Heidi by my side. Those first 5 miles were the most fun I have ever had in a race. I didn’t look at my watch, didn’t pay attention to the mile markers and didn’t listen to my iPod. I was having a blast. And then I lost my iPod. As I reached into my fuel belt to get my first course of jelly beans, it popped off. I ran backwards to pick it up, and sprinted forward to catch my group. Out of breath at having to increase my speed, trying to force down jelly beans, I was very conscious of the fact that I was approaching as the biggest hill of my life. At the foot of the hill, mile 6, I looked at Heidi and we fist bumped….we can do this! We started to climb. And climb. The Golden Gate bridge is to my right and one might think that was beautiful, but I could barely see straight as I was exerting so much effort. My face felt like it was going to explode, my heart was racing, my calves screaming. Up and up and up. For an entire mile. Steep. I lost the pacer. I lost Heidi. I was devastated…but I knew I could catch up with them on the downhill. When I finally got through that hill (which trust me, if hell exists, mine is running up that hill for eternity), the downhill was just as steep. I let loose – forgoing all the advice of lean back, heels first. I was flying down the hill and could see Kathryn and Heidi in front of me. I advanced to about 5 feet behind them and then we reached another hill. At this point, I turned on my iPod and decided that goals 2 and 3 were long gone. I had to run my race, alone and do my best to enjoy it. I watched as they surged again up that next hill, leaving me behind.
My spectators were awesome. I saw them at mile 3, 4.5, 9, 16, and 25. They busted their bums to find me as much as possible and I can’t explain how great it felt when I would see those yellow shirts up ahead. Seeing my best friends, husband, brother, sister-in-law, screaming their heads off for me – it was exactly the energy boost I needed. Not to mention, they all made efforts to keep my at-home-listeners abreast of my progress through Twitter (#meg262). At mile 9, JD ran up the hill with me. I told him how I gave up on my time goal and just hoped to get through it. That I had run up 8 hills already, 3 of them I didn’t even see coming. (In Indiana, they would have been the worst of a course, but in SF, didn’t even register on the elevation map) He told me to just run my race and to enjoy it.
I have no memory of miles 10-12. Weird how that works, but every marathon I have done, there are missing miles.
At mile 12, my legs were on fire. My muscles were tight and hot and I kept thinking that someone had replaced my quads with porcupines. I thought to myself, if I quit right here, it would be the hardest race I have ever done. And then I ran 14.2 more miles.
After another round of jelly beans, I had a surge of energy. Miles 13-16 were fantastic – I think partly because my mind was so preoccupied in finding a bathroom. I was almost to the point of ducking behind a bush when I found an open porta potti. Though I had passed by many since the start line, I refused to lose time standing in line. At mile 15, that open stall called to me like a beacon. I eagerly entered to find the most disgusting scene possible. A lot of runners, me included, have stomach issues when they run and at mile 15, I was seeing it all in plain view. I ignored my natural desire to run as far away as possible and did what I came to do. I felt immediately better and at the next water stop, took two glasses of water to wash my hands.
I found my spectators again at mile 16. JD told me that the pace group wasn’t that far ahead of me and that I was actually doing really well. By this point, the time on my watch was null and void. I forgot to take the “auto-pause” setting off my Garmin and as a result, whenever I lost a GPS signal, the time stopped. So though hearing that my goal time was within sight was encouraging, I still had 10 miles to go. By this time, I was on flat land for the first time since mile 3. Though the hills had disappeared temporarily, the wind and rain had picked up. I was running along the coast and the sideways rain found a way to chill my entire body.
At mile 17 I finally took IBUprofen and at mile 18, when I should have been having my third course of jelly beans, I just couldn’t. My stomach was a mess….I was nauseous and crampy. I was craving water yet felt the more I drank, the worse it made my stomach. I forced down a few beans for good measure and plugged along.
At mile 19, I see Heidi. She wasn’t walking, but you could hardly call it running. I slowed down to talk with her. Apparently, dear Kathryn never let off the accelerator. Though she promised to slow down going uphill, according to Heidi, she raced up and down them. Every time she looked at her watch, they were doing a 9:36 pace. She had nothing left and though I wanted to stay with her, and still have a chance for my fantasized scene of the two of us at the finish, I knew I needed to run my race. I told her she was fantastic and that she was doing so well considering the weather and hills. I reminded her that her 5 girls were going to be so proud of their mama when she completed the race. I told her to stay strong and then I surged ahead, this time, leaving her behind.
At mile 21, there was another damn hill. I had given up counting them long ago but I really felt the angst of this one. I just had nothing left. The power to propel myself forward comes from my hips and upper thighs…and that tank was empty. Every part of my body ached. At mile 22 I stopped to stretch. The minute I stopped forward progression, the tears came. In buckets. God it felt good to release all that emotion that I was holding back. I wasn’t crying because of the pain. Or because I was scared I wouldn’t finish. Or because I wasn’t going to get a personal best. I cried out of respect for the course and the magnitude of what I was doing. Luckily, a Team in Training woman walked by and offered me a pretzel. No, I didn’t want one, but thank you for snapping me out of it. I started running again. For the rest of the race, I would run 8-9 minutes, walk 2 minutes. I have never walked so much in a race, but I knew if I wanted to get through the last 5.2 miles, it was the only option I had. At mile 23, there was a downhill and I begged my body to unleash and let gravity do the work. But my legs were too weak and too tight, the pavement too slick and I cruised down at a slow 10:33 pace. At mile 24, I ditched my fuel belt. My stomach was no better and I thought having that thing off my waist might help.
At mile 25, I see JD. He, wearing his khackis and a backpack, runs with me for the next 9 minutes. He tells me I am amazing and inspiring. He tells me that Nathan and Hunter are waiting for me up by the finish line and will run with me then. I can see the finish line and am thrilled it’s almost over. A spectator gets right in my face and yells “Number 19201, YOU are a mar-a-thon-er!!” God bless that man for making me smile. Nathan meets me when I have only .2 miles to go and screams at me that I can do it and that I am fantastic. He definitely put his former University of Iowa cheerleading skills to use.
As I make my way to the finish, I find energy to pick up my legs and some speed. At this point, I am sobbing. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done and I am finally through it. I made it.
As I cross that line, I sink to my knees in physical and emotional exhaustion. A volunteer comes over and asks me if I need medical attention. I answer no. Then he asks if I need him to hold me, and I say yes. I literally fall into his arms and cry on this stranger’s shoulder. God bless this man for hugging not just my body, but my heart. I look up at the firemen who are holding my prize on a silver platter. That little blue box.
By the time I make it through the finish area, I have a bag full of crappy food, a Tiffanys necklace, a finisher’s tshirt and some chocolate milk. My fans find me immediately after and I hungrily grab the dry clothes JD brought for me.
We make our way to the spectator busses to which I paid $15/ticket for transportion back to the start. The queue for the busses is at least a mile long. I ask a woman how long she’s been waiting and if the line is moving fast. “Oh yeah…I have been here for 15 minutes but I have moved a little. You just have to have faith and patience.” I look down at her bib and see that it’s pink, indicating she is a half-marathoner. Maybe I would still have faith and patience after 13.1 too, but I lost those well into the second half of the race. We hailed a cab.
I had three goals for this race – the most important one being to enjoy the race. I can’t say that I did that. The scenery was beautiful and had I been in less pain, maybe I would have noticed it more. I will say, that I somehow managed to keep my mind strong throughout. I never doubted that I would do it. I never played the mental games or let myself get crazy. And the fact that I was a mere 8 seconds slower in San Francisco then I was in Champaign, IL last May, means my body is definitely in the best running shape of my life. Had that course been flat, a PR would have been mine.
So onward and upward! Less than 3 weeks before I do this again, this time in Indianapolis. I haven’t thought about goals or strategy for this one yet. Hell, I’m still applying Bengay 3x daily from this last one.
No one likes being out of control, yet our jobs, families, health, relationships aren’t always things over which we have power. But setting your mind to something like a half or full marathon, training for it, completing it – that is something we runners decide and something we control completely. Come rain or hills or injuries or pain, we make it happen. The sense of achievement from doing the Nike Women’s Marathon is my little nugget of pride buried deep within me.
I won’t do this particular race again, but nothing will take away the reward of completing the NWM. Having my loved ones cheering for me. Having friends surprise me. Having tons and tons of messages, tweets, texts and emails waiting for me when I finished. Knowing that I took on a horribly difficult course and prevailed. When I wear this little silver necklace, it is those things I will remember. Always.