Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Marathon Story

My Marathon Story

This is the only picture I could currently find – courtesy of the Buffalo Soldiers MC Killeen – TX

I don’t even know where to start with this. Probably because I’m still trying to figure out what I feel about my very first marathon. Sometimes I think back and want to give myself the biggest pat on the back and say, “Damn. You went for it, girl. Who knew you had it in you?” and then other times, all I can do is feel like I somehow failed because when it comes down to it, I only completed 23.5 miles out of 26.2.

And despite what many people have told me, 23.5 miles is not equivalent to a marathon (even if the waddle in my step for the past few days wants to argue otherwise!)

…and I’m about to start crying again.

It’s been going on like this for the past few days. This rollercoaster of emotions, which probably looks pretty similar to the elevation chart for The Army Marathon. Ba-dah-bing, ba-dah-boom.

2014 Army Marathon Course

Oh, yeah, in case you’re wondering I’m one of those people that channels sadness into cheesy jokes and awkward dance moves. I won’t confirm or deny whether I did something similar to The Robot just then.

I thought about starting this out with an apology for the length of this post you’re about to read but that would be doing myself a disservice seeing as I want to remember this - all the good and the bad. But mostly I’m going through it all so I can remind myself that I’m capable of anything even if the circumstances are completely shitty. Phew. Okay. Here we go.

I woke up Saturday morning with a twinge in my back, I tried to ignore it as I got ready to pick Lillie up (she stayed with her grandparents the night before) so we could head to the Expo and pick up my bib and race bag swag. It was faint but nothing to really call home about. I popped an ibuprofen but by the time we were heading back (it’s about an hour and fifteen minutes from my home) I knew what was happening.

Back spasms.

A little background – right after I had Lillie I began having back spasms. Since all the muscles are connected, not only my back hurt but my ribs as well.They were so bad I made my way to the ER at least twice in the year after Lillie because I thought my gallbladder or appendix was about burst. They also have a tendency to make me throw up. Like, a lot. And they would last for days. I went to a chiropractor for months and he helped me immensely (Dr. McMullen in the Waco, Texas area. Highly recommend). He showed me stretches, adjusted my back and he explained why he thought it was happening. Basically, I was overweight, had bad posture and my purse (and diaper bag) was entirely too big/heavy and it was throwing my spine out of whack. The spasms were just a way my body was trying to straighten me up. Once I started working out regularly, they vanished. I haven’t seen him in over a year. If I did have a spasm, it would maybe last a couple hours and was manageable.

Back to the current spasms – they were intense, so I panic texted Mojgan who advised me to take some Advil, take it easy and stretch. I slept off and on throughout Saturday afternoon, while Lillie got her fill of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. She typically only gets to watch 1 episode a day, so this was like a vacation for her. Kids can be pretty intuitive and depending on what’s going on it’ll either be really creepy (read: But mommy, there’s a weird man in my closet) or right on the money, so she knew something was wrong with me and would randomly come and rub my back or try to bring me Gatorade without me asking. Alfred came home (he was out working all day) put Lillie to bed and I felt slightly better so I got all my things together for the morning. Alfred and I made a plan for what I expected to happen the next day and filled Emilie in on it as well via text. I planned on leaving the house at 4:45 am and did not intend on forcing my husband and daughter to wait around for 6 hours for me to finish. So, Alfred & Lillie would ride with Emilie, Justin and their son, Tanner (aka TanMan). Once everything was figured out, I managed to eat a popsicle without it coming right back up and just prayed the spasms would lighten up just enough for at least most of the race.

I woke up Sunday morning seemingly spasm free. I pulled on my running capris, yellow tech shirt (I wanted to be bright so Alfred could find me!), Spibelt, music, watch, shoes and after glancing at the weather grabbed my red pullover just in case

The weather started out close to the 70s. It was beautiful running weather. I crossed the start line feeling excited and ready! Mile 1 went quickly and I seemed to be right on pace with where I wanted to be. This great feeling continued on until right about mile 8. At that time, it felt like the temperature was drop kicked off a fucking cliff by a gawdang Spartan. It just kept going down. I was starting to see my own breath. It was now in the 30’s and with the wind, it felt more like the 20s.

Miles 8-13 were not fun. But not because my legs were tired – they actually felt really strong. It was my hands that were over it. I simply couldn’t feel them. I was running into the wind which made it worse – I couldn’t even open the zipper on my spibelt to get my fuel out (I went with strawberry shotbloks). I had to get the volunteers to do that for me at the water stations. They had swollen to about twice the size they normally are. I already have sausage fingers, so yeah, it was intense. I wish I could have taken a picture.

Anyway, I’m not ashamed to admit I kept looking for gloves on the side of the road that someone may have dropped. Spoiler: I did not find any. I started telling myself just make it to the halfway point. I kept moving simply because if I stopped to walk, I would start shivering and it felt so much harder to pick my legs up to get going.

By the time I hit 13.1 miles (at 3 hours, so I was right on pace with what I expected/hoped for) my back spasms reared their ugly head. I finally cut on my music to try and focus on the lyrics and kept moving forward.

Then the sleet started coming on and off. It wasn’t bad but it was there and I could feel the tiny iced rain droplets attaching themselves to my eyelashes. The bitches.

I was at the end of the pack, there were maybe 2-3 runners behind me but when I hit mile 15 I started passing people. My legs still felt good (or numb, whichever), my back spasms had stopped and the way the course was set up I wasn’t really running into the wind anymore so my hands were halfway thawed out. I started focusing on the person in front of me and before I knew it, I had passed 5 people by the time I was coming into Mile 20. I looked at my watch and knew at that point, I probably wouldn’t finish by 6 hours. It’d be more like 6:20 but I didn’t care. It was happening.

I started tearing up a bit as I ran past that Mile 20 marker. I knew that I was going to do it – I was going to run a fucking marathon. I wish I could bottle up and sell that feeling to you people, because that shit was golden.

When I closed into Mile 21 I saw Alfred, Lillie, Emilie, Justin & TanMan (BTW – I couldn’t ask for better friends!) I was ridiculously excited and I yelled for Alfred to grab my gloves. He crossed a 4 lane highway to get to me (my hero!) and then proceeded to warm my hands up under his armpits. Classy, I know. I didn’t want to waste a lot of time, so after a couple minutes he helped me put the gloves on. And by helped, I mean he did all the damn work. I am not exaggerating when I say I couldn’t feel my fingers. He had to guide each one into the correct finger and it took at least 10 minutes. Later on he told me I also had ice on my face but didn’t want to mention it to me at the time thinking it might freak me out.

He’s a smart man.

I took off feeling revived! My husband, my daughter, my friends were here! My hands were warming up! I was so close! Then I heard it.


LOUD lightning.

I vividly remember saying out loud, “No. NO. NONONONONO.” The Army Marathon had already expressed in their emails/facebook that their was a possibility of closing the course if lightning struck. But I was almost there. I could feel it. That finish line photo. That medal dangling from my neck. That feeling of “FUCK YES I RAN 26.2 MILES BITCHES”

And in case you are wondering, crossing a finish line of something you trained 5 months for abso-fucking-lutely qualifies as a reason to curse.

I started speeding up (or at the very least I felt like I sped up) and then the wind started howling. And the clouds started darkening and at mile 22 a police officer pulled up next me on his motorcycle. My heart briefly sank as he said, “We are closing the course. It’s no longer safe. You can try to finish it out but we are picking people up. Someone will be by in a little bit.”

I don’t even think I looked at him as I briefly said, “Okay” and pushed forward thinking well, he did say you could finish it out so that’s what I’ll do. I don’t care what the weather says. I got this. I can’t get this close to not finish. NO. At least he’s not telling me I’m so slow they’re going to pick me up. Positive thoughts. Positive thoughts.

And then it started getting worse. And rain/sleet started coming down a little harder. I heard a motorcycle coming up behind me. I kept running as the office informed me the course was closing. I had to get into the car that was following him. I yelled, “But I’m almost there!” and he replied, “We’ll bring you to the finish line, you’ll still get your medal. You still did it. We know you would have finished but it’s not safe, now get in the car.”

He stopped his motorcycle. I turned and looked at him and in a last ditch effort to keep moving I said, “But my husband, he’s right up there. Can I just run to him?!”

Alfred wasn’t there. I couldn’t see him. But I could see mile marker 24. And the officer, God bless him, knew I was lying. He parked his motorcycle, put his arm behind my back and led me to the passenger seat of a small, green car as I wept. I wanted to scream and yell, “It’s not about the medal. It’s not! I just want to finish!” but all I did was cry silently in the car as we passed other runners being picked up and the lady driving tried to console me.

She drove me to the finish line, about 20 feet away, looked at me and said, “Come on. I’ll run in the rain with you! You did it! Congratulations!”

I crossed the finish line, refused to let them put the medal on me (actually, I still haven’t worn it. It’s sitting in my console in the truck as I type), they gave me a windbreaker jacket, and sent me to the warming tents where I silently cried as I sipped on chocolate milk and watched other rain soaked runners come in after me.

I heard a text message go off, so I struggled to get my phone out of my arm band, figuring it was probably Alfred or Emilie wondering where the hell I was. And then roughly 6 minutes later it rang.

It took me 6 minutes to get my phone out of my arm band because they’re were that cold. And probably would have taken longer if it wasn’t for a nice older gentleman (in his 50s) that saw me struggling and helped me out citing “Paternal Instincts”. He also covered me up with an extra blanket.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – runners are awesome.

I finally talked to Alfred, they weren’t able to get close to the finish line to pick me up but they had shuttle buses to a parking lot nearby and I could meet him there. About 45 minutes, I was changed into dry clothes (changed in the truck in the parking lot) and we decided it was time to go eat. To be honest though, I wasn’t feeling it. I just knew the kids were probably hungry. I stopped crying but continued to ignore all the wonderful comments on facebook/twitter from my friends and family who saw that I had crossed the finish line at 5:56:59.

Chronotrack time

I wasn’t trying to be rude by ignoring it. I was simply tired of thinking about it. Thinking about how maybe I should have just pushed away from the officer and kept going. Or maybe I should have trained harder to finish faster. Or damnit, Tamara, why the hell didn’t you just wear your gloves in the first place? There was a lot going on in my head. Eventually I did post a status to let everyone know what had happened.

The love and support from my friends and family was amazing. I’m seriously blessed to have such wonderful people in my life, whether it’s people I talk to daily or people I only interact with online. It definitely took the sting away from the huge hole of disappointment that had nestled itself inside of me.

But it hasn’t taken it all away. I don’t know if it ever will. This was my first marathon. This was supposed to be a day of joy, a day of laughter, a day of crappy race pictures to commemorate this amazing accomplishment.

And it felt like none of that.

I know, first world problems, right? I have so much to be grateful for.

This was the longest I’ve ever ran – mileage and time-wise.
I successfully trained for 5 months.
I did not quit.
I did not get injured.
I had some amazing races & accomplishments (2 PRs – 10k and half!) during those 5 months.

I am not trying to diminish any of those things but like I said in the beginning, 23.5 miles is not 26.2. And on some level, it feels as though I failed. My only goal was to finish. I couldn’t even do that. And while it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t, that still doesn’t help the feeling.

As far as the race goes, I would definitely recommend The Army Marathon. They did a wonderful job! They had plenty of water stations with extra goodies (I consumed a fair amount of gummy bears and fruit snacks) and lots of cheering. This was a point-to-point race and we were on some fairly busy roads. We were constantly surrounded by EMTs going back and forth on the course and police officers directing traffic. It was well organized (Lillie and I got a TON of stuff at the expo) and went off without a hitch. The only thing I didn’t account for was that this is Texas. And even if Saturday was 80 degrees (it was) that does not mean Sunday will be. I swear we can have all four seasons in one damn week.

So, at this point the most common question I’ve had is, “When is your next one?”

And truthfully, I don’t know. I mean, there will be a next one it just won’t be anytime soon. One of the hardest things I’ve found with my training is working around my mom schedule and trying to keep that a priority. There were days when I felt like I was just going through the motions (because I was tired, or focusing on what I needed for my next run) and so, I knew that without a doubt that once I completed this marathon I would not complete another one for quite some time. At least until Lillie was a little older.

But now that I haven’t actually completed 26.2 miles, I feel like I’m in limbo. Should I just sign up for one and get it done? Or should I wait it out like I wanted to in my original plan?

After many tears this week (a lot of them while writing this post) I’ve decided that I’m going to focus on improving my pace. I want to get faster. I need to get faster if I want to train for another marathon and have more time for my family during the training process. Faster times mean I’m out on my feet less during my training runs even though I’ll be going the same distance. I’ll start with the 5k and move up from there.

I’m hoping by really trying to put in some speed work and increasing my strength (New Years Resolution), that this plan will really get me to where I want to be.

At the fucking finish line for my next 26.2 miles, wearing the shit out of my medal, finishing at a faster pace than I ever thought possible.

What I thought was going to be my moment may not have come when I hoped it would but I’ll be damned if I don’t ever get it.

Until we run again


Genna said...

I know you sorta feel like a failure, but you ran 23.5 miles more than me that day :) you ran 23.5 more than a LOT of people. You didn't quit, you were forced to finish differently than planned. You would have if you could have and we all know that. Now you know and for the next one you will kick some ass knowing you CAN and you WILL! Think of all the drive you're gonna have next time! The whole time you're gonna be thinking "fuck that lightning I'm doing this this time!"

Kate said...

I have so, so, so many things I want to say to this, but I feel like nothing I can say is good enough. I just want to hug you or bring you booze or both? I don't even know.

You obviously know that I think you did an amazing job. I have been so, so proud of you. I even bragged about you to Michael while you were running because I was just so damn excited to see how much you have accomplished. You, my dear, are incredible.

I can understand why you feel like you didn't run a marathon. You were so close, and it was ripped right out from you. But to me? I still consider you a marathoner. So sue me.
But ya know what? Even if you NEVER run another marathon, that will never take away from the fact that you are a good person, a good mother, and a good runner. Finishing a marathon or not finishing a marathon will never define who you are as a person.

So even though I have full confidence that you WILL run a marathon one day (whether it's next month or in 10 yeas), the fact that you made it as far as you did on this one is something you should forever be proud of.

jaime said...

I teared up reading this. I'm so sorry you didn't get your full 26.2 miles. I'm sorry the weather was a jerk and I can only hope that you're able to find a good-fit-marathon in the not-so-distant future so you can get all of the miles you deserve (because I know you can do it.)

Marathon training is HARD with a mom schedule! You've done a great job these past few months.

Holly said...

It was so hard to read this knowing how it ended up for you, and I was actually tearing up because I could feel your frustration and pain :( You're right. 23.5 miles is NOT 26.2. I would be pissed, too. You worked SO HARD to accomplish this and it just didn't happen.

But, I really hope that you can look back at this and say "Hey, that SUCKED a big fat one, but I ran 23.5 f*cking miles--that's INCREDIBLE! And eff the effing sleet and lightning that Texas decided to rain down upon us all that morning. If it weren't for that, I would have FINISHED!! EFF YOU LIGHTNING!!!!!" Because that's the truth. You WOULD have finished!!! So I still think you're amazing and am proud of you for going that far and fighting to stay with it to the end!!!! You're a rockstar, Tam, and I KNOW you're going to kick another marathon's ass soon!!!

The Lady Okie said...

So, I started crying while I read this. The part where the lady says she'll run in the rain with you the last 20 feet to the finish line. That's a scene out of a movie or something! Gosh darn it. I wish the weather had been better. I completely understand feeling like you didn't actually run a marathon. I mean, you didn't really. I get that. I would feel the same way. When I'm on a training run I can't stop at 4.98 and say I ran 5, you know? Well, you do know. Obviously. All that to say, I still think you came out of this with exactly what I did when I ran my first marathon: the knowledge that you CAN do something, no matter how difficult, if you put your mind to it and make it happen. Because you WOULD have finished. That's the biggest lesson I've learned in all of this, and having a medal doesn't mean you didn't learn that too. The entire fact that now you KNOW you could run a marathon if you signed up for it is awesome and a completely different mind-set from when you first decided you wanted to do this one. Plus, you really do have a great story. Once the sting leaves and you can tell it without crying, it's pretty awesome and totally hard core.

Lacy @ Running Limit-less said...

I know how much that hurt to not be able to finish. You worked so hard to get here and all you wanted was to just cross that finish line. You have to take the good with the bad and this was something you couldn't control. Knowing that you would have finished is amazing and knowing that you can do another one shows how amazing running can be. Take this experience and the lessons you learned to tackle your next one. Hopefully the weather will not be as bad. The disappointment will eventually fade away and you will be so much stronger for it.

Anonymous said...

I can't even imagine how hard that was for you. I'm so sorry you didn't get to finish. I've been cheering for you telepathically. I think you're absolutely amazing for making it as far as you did and I can't wait to cheer for you whenever you're ready to run again.

Catherine said...

Oh, girlfriend... :(
There is nothing that I could say that could justify, reason or make things better so I'm not even going to try to be all, the sun will come out tomorrow bs. Just wanted to let you know that I totally cried with you when I read what happened and I was sending as many mental hugs as I possibly could! *HUGSSSS*

Amanda Arr said...

I finally read this today (it's been on my radar, but I just got back from vacation). Having been injured (which seemed to jump out of the blue) and backing out of a couple already-paid-for races this year, I get it. Frustration, anger, sadness, and more. Sometimes there aren't enough adjectives and expletives to truly express how we feel.

The time suck for marathon training is a pain, and maybe there'll come a day where Lillie can participate with you (riding a bike, doing the kids dash at a fun run, etc), but I think you'll know when the time is right to train for another one (heck, I'm going on two years, and I might wait one more before giving the marathon another go).

You did what you could in the time you were given (stupid weather, grr), and that's something to be proud of.

Keep on keeping on, girlfriend!