You might have gathered from the past month of silence that my experience at the NCRT Marathon wasn’t the greatest. In fact, as I told a friend this past week, those 26.2 miles completely wrecked me. All things considered, I think I’ve rebounded pretty well–I didn’t stop running, I just ceased wanting to talk, think or blog about it. I guess I just needed some time to get my head around everything I put my body (and mind) through. It’s been three weeks and I’m feeling much better about the whole business … perhaps even well enough to tell you a bit about it.
First of all, the organization of the race itself was amazing. There were only 400 marathoners so we were all able to met up at Sparks Elementary School to wait in the heated school cafeteria prior to the race. I’d picked up my race packet at Charm City Run a couple of days before (where I’d been handed my bib and a pretty sweet NCRTM sweatshirt as my race premium), but the day of we still needed to get our race chips and secure the timers to our laces. There was also coffee and bagels, and easily accessible bathrooms which I took advantage of twice.
I was flying solo at this race. The course made it difficult for families to catch participants along the course as the trail only crossed the main roads a few times and parking was limited. In hindsight, it would have been pretty easy for Kirk to drive to one of those points and park, but we anticipated those spots to be pretty crowded and more of a headache than it was worth. Ultimately, he dropped me off at the school and then headed out to knock out some Christmas shopping before swinging back to pick me up in 5 hours.
I was a little disappointed in this arrangement, but once I started running I realized that if I was going to finish this race, it was best that he wasn’t there. Why? I was cold. Miserably cold. Four miles in I began to lose feeling in my fingers. By eight miles, I felt like I’d been running for eight hours. By the time I reached the half-way point I was fighting tears. And by mile 14 I was having to ask volunteers to open my Gu packets because my fingers were so frozen that I couldn’t grasp the packets.
I picked this race because it follows my favorite trail. The lush, green, Disney-like forest is usually bustling with wildlife and provides endless visual stimulation on long runs. In November, however, any remaining leaves are brown and brittle and the forest gives way to ugly twigs and knotted branches. The deer were hiding from our stamping feet and the other woodland creatures were likely warm in their dens – much like the place I would have preferred to be.
Each time I passed a main road I hoped that Kirk wasn’t there. I knew that if I saw him, the tears would come and I would beg for him to take me home. I think he would have done it too, as he’s not one to enjoy another person in such misery, even if he knew that I would regret it later. And I would have, which I why I silently prayed he hadn’t come.
By mile 16 I knew that I had to get feeling back into my hands or risk serious health concerns. I had worn running gloves, and within the first hour hand drawn my fingers out of the glove tips and into fists to retain more warmth. This obviously hadn’t made much of a noticeable difference, if any at all, and I wasn’t sure what else to try. First I tried rubbing my hands together, then clapping – neither of which are easy feats to accomplish for any duration while running. What finally seemed to bring some sensation back was slapping my hands against my hips as I ran, but the tingling sensation soon became a burning one, and before I knew it the fire in my hands was overwhelming. For the next hour, my hands oscillated between freezing and an excruciating, burning thaw.
I watched the clock. In every other race I’ve run, and in every jog around the neighborhood, there’s always been a period where I’ve mentally checked out and gone on auto pilot. Not this time. I was fully aware of every step I took, every second that went by, every mile marker I passed and every one I had yet to meet. I’m fairly certain that Dante erred in overlooking this particular circle of hell.
By mile 20 the 9:40/mi pace that I’d carried for the first half had slowed. The crowd I’d been running with for hours began to pull ahead and I couldn’t keep up. The course was amazingly flat and my hip flexors were screaming in opposition. I began to look forward to the few inclines I knew were ahead–no matter how small–as I knew they would be an immense reprieve to the single muscle group I’d been working on those flat stretches.
My goal for this race had been to finish faster than the Baltimore Marathon I’d run 6 weeks prior in 4:27:40. Almost immediately, I began to lower my expectations. I did not however, lower my effort. I passed the mid-point right at under 2:10, right where I wanted to be. Still, I knew that if I finished in under 4:30 it would be incredible. Somehow I just knew that there was no way I was going to be able to keep it going.
With less than 5 miles to go I began to see my 4:27 goal slipping and I began to rework my splits to allow for a 4:30. With three miles to go, I ceased to care about a goal time at all. My hands were finally warm, but the rest of me was shutting down. The snowflakes were falling faster than I was moving and all I remember thinking was that I could cry when it was over.
With a half a mile to go, I saw our car, and just beyond that I saw my husband. Seeing him gave me the pick-me-up I needed to get to that finish line and I passed a couple of runners in that final stretch. Kirk grinned at me as I passed him and told me I looked awesome before turning and cutting across a field to catch me at the finish. Thirty seconds later and I turned the last corner and passed under the arch. My final time was 4:31:10.
As I crossed the last timing mat I was surrounded by volunteers. They snipped the timing chip off my shoe, and draped a medal around my neck. My husband stood by anxiously for his turn, and I know he wanted nothing more than to toss them aside to get to me. And when he did, I fell apart. I buried my face in his chest and bawled. It was over.
Will I run another marathon? I don’t know. I can tell you that right now I have absolutely no desire to pursue another one. I am glad to have my first marathon experience though–just 6 weeks earlier I’d had a far different impression. That race was hard, but it was wonderful. I had been so happy when it was over–proud of my accomplishment and glad I’d endured the effort. I’m not happy at the thought of ending marathoning on a negative note, but if it means I don’t have to do another one right now, I think I’m ok with that.
Distance running still intrigues me, but there’s something about those last 6.2 miles that can really take the fun out of it and I’m not sure that it’s worth it. I think for now, I’m going to stick to half marathons. I can even see getting excited about a 20 miler, but 26.2? I won’t say never, but the bumper sticker on my car, just might have it right.
26.2 … Been there, Run That.
Speaking of, stay tuned for my next post. Blissful Runner bumper stickers are in the making and one could be yours!