Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Slow and steady finishes the race.

This was a marathon to forget and remember. I am choosing to forget the time, but remember the experience...

A few days before Marathon Monday, the forecast projected 88-degree heat. The BAA sent out emails discouraging people from running and even offered to defer entries to the following year.Based on my 20-mile race pace and other solid recent races, I figured I could run in the low 2:50s. With the hot weather, I readjusted my expectations. My Plan A was to run 6:50s and finish under three hours. Plan B was to finish under 3:09, my slowest marathon ever (less than a year after having Bruce by C-section) - certainly I could do that even on a hot day, right? Plan C was to just finish; stopping was not an option.

I lined up at the start; I was in the fifth corral of the first wave. I lined up with two other GBTC teammates and we trudged forward when the gun went off. It took about a minute and a half to cross the starting line itself and then we were on our way from Hopkinton toward Boston.
There are thousands of people packed onto a two-lane country road for miles and miles, so we dodged in and out and tried to calm our nerves a bit. Somewhere around mile 7 or 8, we got separated. The heat was already getting to me and I went through waves where I felt great and waves where I felt like I was going in slow motion and melting into the hot pavement.I ran toward the right edge of the course where I could snag a little shade from a few trees and buildings, but everyone else did too - making for some mild traffic jams. I lost time on water stops too: runners frantically crowded, grabbing water and Gatorade, slowing down and stumbling over each other (myself included) to grab water before the few cup-filled tables were gone for another mile. There wasn't much of a choice: if I passed the water stop without getting water, I risked heat stroke and not just a slow time but not finishing. My times were creeping higher into the 6:50s. I made sure I got water and/or Gatorade at every stop, sometimes grabbing two cups and downing the Gatorade first, then a few gulps of water before dumping the rest on my head or passing the cup to runners who missed out in the thick tangle. I downed Sport Beans continuously and was soon sick of the sweet taste of the jelly beans combined with the sweet Gatorade. I grabbed paper cups from kids along the course; their water was often colder than the race's water, which had been sitting in the sun for awhile.

I slogged into Wellesley feeling like I was melting again, but was reinvigorated by the "Wellesley Scream" and a good stretch of solid shade. I passed the half in 1:31, over 3-hour pace. I knew I wasn't going to keep pace: the heat was affecting me more than I had anticipated and I still had the hard hills ahead. At this point, I was aiming for Plan B.

Somewhere around Mile 15, I got bored. Random songs started playing on my inner iPod - "Sleepyhead" by Passion Pit, "Black and White" by Mike Snow - and I began counting the miles until I could see Scott, Bruce, Phoebe, and my parents. They were at mile 19 waiting, and waiting. My parents flew in last-minute after deciding that they just couldn't miss this race. Boston is probably the best and worst spectator marathon: the best because it's a fun atmosphere with thousands of people crowding the roadsides, but the worst because it's a point-to-point race so you only get to see your runner for about 30 seconds if you see them at all in the crowds of runners. My parents came, and I couldn't wait to catch a glimpse of them.

Another heat wave hit me and I grabbed a popsicle from a kid and kept running. Someone else passed out ice chips and I shoved a few in my jersey. I finally made it to mile 19 and saw Scott and Phoebe first; I stopped and gave Phoebe a kiss. My parents were across the street, holding another pack of Sport Beans for me. Everyone looked elated to see me and again I felt reinvigorated.It was short-lived this time. I hit the Newton Hills and slowed. I had passed hundreds of runners earlier, but now they were passing me. My coach had advised to not push the hills in the heat anyway, so I figured I would fire up my engines once I was past them.

But once I was past the hills, more trouble awaited me. Around mile 21 my stomach cramped up and I ran hunched over and began feeling like I couldn't breathe in a full breath. I slowed down and ran a nearly-9-minute-mile. I graduated to Plan C. Just as my breathing and stomach regained function, my legs started to cramp up. My quads, just above my knees, felt like someone was stabbing them with a knife every time my foot hit the ground. My hips were tight and the finish seemed so far away. I willed myself to mile 24 where my GBTC teammates would be cheering. I was partially embarrassed by my slow pace and partially proud for having made it this far. Stopping is not an option, I told myself. Especially here.

I fist-pumped my way past the GBTC cheer squad and made my way past Kenmore Square and the rowdy Red Sox fans. Now I was in territory that I run frequently, but the finish still felt so far away. I managed to pick up the pace from very slow to slow for the last mile. When I went under the Mass Ave. overpass, my achy quads were actually grateful for the small hill: going uphill felt better than going downhill at this point. I reached Hereford Street and made the right turn, feeling my left calf tighten in protest. I made the final turn onto Boylston Street and finally saw the finish line a quarter-mile ahead. Knowing I couldn't muster a sprint, I still tried to rally for a quicker pace. I may have picked it up a tiny bit, but everyone around me was going faster. Even with the finish so close, I ran to the far right edge of the course where the shade of the buildings protected me from the hottest rays of the day. It was 89 degrees, the hottest April 16 ever recorded in Boston. I finished in 3:19:18, my slowest marathon ever. I was the 149th woman to finish, out of almost 9,000.

I passed the finish and slowed to a walk, stumbling along. I shuffled down the line and was handed a water bottle, a snack bag, my finisher's medal, a metal blanket. I craved salt, so I opened the only salty item: a bag of potato chips. I nibbled on two chips and couldn't eat anymore. I opened a bottle of Gatorade, but it was too sweet so I stuck with water. I trudged along to a bus where I picked up my belongings and then trudged around the block to meet my teammates. We exchanged a few battle stories, took a few pictures, and parted. I headed for the train station and cringed at the two flights of stairs I had to go down. By the time I got to my T-stop, I decided I couldn't walk the half-mile home. My muscles were seizing up and I felt foggy, like I needed to eat but couldn't stomach anything. I texted Scott and asked him to pick me up.

He did, and he whisked me home where a shower and a place to sit awaited. After cleaning all the sweat, sunblock, and Gatorade off, my mom pampered me. She brought some fancy creams and oils and gave my legs a thorough massage. I drank a few water bottles and my appetite returned after an hour or so. We headed out to dinner.

I ate some salty food and topped it off with real ice cream. I drove my parents to the airport, then came home and laid on the couch and truly vegged out. The next morning it's back to the daily grind: babysitting, kids climbing on me, walks to the park, cooking and cleaning. I am moving slowly, but I am moving. I am more sore than I should be for a 3:19, but I am taking the rest of the week off and will take it easy for a few weeks. I will be back to racing soon, but at shorter, more forgiving distances. At least for awhile. :)

Thanks, Ellen, for the pictures.

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Blogger ellen said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again, YOU ARE AMAZING! It was great to see you at Mile 19! You really are a rock star. Get some rest. :)

10:37 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Wahoo Emily! Congrats for finishing on a super hot day. We heard stories about runners being treated for heat exhaustion clear out in Hawaii, so it must have been a doosy. I'm glad you made it!

3:16 AM  
Blogger Sweeney Household said...

I 2nd what ep says: You are amazing and a Rock Star!!!

7:49 AM  
Blogger Doc said...

I was so impressed when I saw you go by at 24! Sub 2:50 is there somewhere... you just need the right race.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Gary Cattarin said...

Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, who's counting? You SURVIVED and that alone is worth celebrating. And now I know you have a blog, too!


9:35 PM  

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