I've had a hard time thinking about what I would say when I actually got around to sitting down and putting my thoughts out here in cyberspace. The buildup to Sunday was so long and once the race was actually over it took a while for me to sort out my thoughts...in fact, I'm still in the process of sorting them out, so I'm sure I'll be coming back to this down the road.
Sunday morning came faster than I thought it would, but at the same time, it felt like it was taking sooo long. We got up at 4.30 AM so I'd have enough time to eat, get dressed and make my way down to the starting line. Even though I was so tired Saturday night, I couldn't sleep. I wasn't really nervous, but I just had a hard time. It didn't seem to matter though - I was wide awake when the alarm went off, and I didn't even need the second alarm to go off before I was out of bed and eating my pre-run breakfast (pop tart and banana for those of you nosey people). At 5.45 me, Mike and my mom all headed down to the starting area to meet up with Denise. The entire time, I felt great...no nerves at all. I was just really excited. I think it helped that I'd spent the past couple of days telling myself that it was "just another long run."
I finally went to line up at 6.45 and made my way all the way to the back of the pack...I know where I belong! On my way back there though I found a 5:30 pace group and I stopped - big mistake. After chatting with them for a while, I admitted that 6 hours was probably more realistic for me, but I'd start out with them and just try to keep their balloons in sight. They were such a cool group of people! Honestly, if they weren't so nice, I would have been smarter and left them alone! I didn't even hear the gun go off...it could have been because I was so far back, or - most likely - because I was too busy running my mouth with my new found friends. Anyway, before I knew it, we were off! I stayed with the pace group for the first mile and then realized that as much fun as they were, there was no way I was going to manage that pace for the next 25 miles, so I dropped back. It was so sad seeing their balloons slowly bounce away in the distance, but by Mile 12, I couldn't see them at all anymore.
I wish I was able to break the race down mile by mile, but I really can't. I was out there for hours and hours, and I know it was a long time, but it's still a blur. The course was so pretty and wound it's way through downtown Denver and past some points-of-interest in the city, as well as some gorgeous parks and some really fun neighborhoods. The race went very well for me. I know it wasn't fast by any means, but it wasn't bad. The only horrible thing that happened was my iPod froze up at Mile 18 and a race official was a few feet away when I made that horrible discovery...and he had news for me. He said "Just so you know, you're about 2 minutes slower than the 6 hour pace." Yes, thank you for pointing out my slowness...it's not breaking news. He wasn't being rude, and it WAS the truth, but talk about horrible timing. Anyway, I was forced to finish the last 8 miles with no music. 8 long, grueling miles.
Everyone told me that the marathon really starts at Mile 20, but I don't think it got much harder until Mile 22...but even at that, I honestly don't think I ever hit the wall. I was literally expecting a giant brick wall to drop from the sky at any moment, but it never did. I won't lie - it hurt. My legs hurt. My back hurt. My feet hurt. There was this clapping sound in my ear that wouldn't go away, so even my ear hurt. But it wasn't the kind of pain that makes you want to stop. I never once asked myself "Why am I doing this?" I saw Mike, Denise and my mom at Mile 23 and I said "This is so hard. Seattle...no way." But the second the words were out of my mouth, I wondered why I'd said them. Yes, it was so hard. It was, by far, one of the hardest things I've ever done, but OF COURSE I was still doing Seattle! I'd been re-thinking my training program the last couple of miles by that point, 100% intent on doing even better then.
Also somewhere in the 23rd or 24th mile a bunch of bicycles had caught up to me and another woman near me. I heard them talking amongst themselves and figured out that they were part of the race crew and were sweeping the course...but I was going to be the last road racer. Yep, you read that right. They decided to open the road right behind me. I don't know how I pulled that one off, but I'm so glad I did. It would have been horrible to have to finish on the sidewalks! Anyway, this got me and the other woman talking and I found out that she was turning 50 soon and she had just finished up her last round of radiation the week before the race...she'd survived thyroid cancer. It took everything inside of me to not stop running right then and there and burst into tears. We spent the next couple of miles going back and forth, one of us in front of the other. At 25.75 she caught up to me again and said "Can I stay with you? You're going to finish this thing and I'm not sure I will. I need to be with someone who will finish." I showed her my watch and said "We have less than 3/4 of a mile to go. We're both going to finish!" The next thing I knew, Mike was by my side saying "the finish line is right around that corner, you're going to run a marathon!" I looked up and saw the 26 Mile marker and took off.
The shoot was so long and I felt like I was running so fast down it. My legs were on fire and my feet felt like they were bruised and blistered, but I couldn't stop. I heard the announcer say "Here comes Valerie into the finish line" and all I could think was "raise your arms for the picture!" I swear, hearing the beep of the timing mat was one of the most beautiful sounds I've ever heard. My mom, Mike and Denise were all standing right in front of the finish line and I couldn't help jumping on top of Mike as soon as I was done. It was officially one of the happiest moments of my life.
(In order: Almost there, FINISHED!, and Completely Exhausted but rocking the pink Crocs!)
The official chip time was 6:08:15 and I was the last one in my age group. I'm 100% happy with it. :)
I've read so many marathon race reports and thought how can it be so short...you're out there for so long??? But really, it's so hard to summarize the entire race and to put it into words. It's really something that you need to experience and even then, I don't think it'd ever be the same for different people. I've heard so many times that running a marathon will change your life, and I'm still waiting to see the change in mine. No matter where I go, or what happens to me down the road, I'll always be a marathoner. Emotionally, I feel a little different. I feel like I can take on anything now. And even though it sounds a little dumb, the fact that I did those last 8 miles without my iPod - my lifeline - I feel even stronger for it. I feel proud of what I've done...not only the race, but the fact that my husband has definitely decided he's doing the next half marathon that comes up and most like a full within the next year or so...and our friend, who despised running only a year ago, is so excited and motivated now and has decided he wants to give a marathon a shot. Inspiring others was something that I never thought would come of this, but if it has....wow. I'm speechless. For once.
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