Tuesday, October 22, 2013

No Longer a Marathon Virgin

When I started training for my first marathon last June, I had no idea where my training would take me. I had no idea if I had it in me to run 26.2 miles. I had no idea that the friendships I forged during training would be instrumental in getting me across that finish line. And I was clueless about the emotional impact it would have on me. It’s been a few days since I finally completed the Nationwide Children’s Columbus Marathon – and even though my body is battered and bruised, my inner self is still jumping for joy.

One of the reasons I wanted to run this particular marathon was that it benefitted Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Each mile marker was reserved for a Patient Champion and their families. These kids and their families are patients at the hospital – and many of them are long-term visitors with rare and complicated diseases. I knew what it was like to be one of those parents – after all, Maya was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia at 2 months. She received her liver transplant at the tender age of 19 months. We spent months in the hospital, both before and after transplant. And although our ordeal was spent at Cincinnati Children’s and I had never actually been inside of Nationwide Hospital, that didn’t matter. I KNEW what it was like to live in the hospital, unsure about the future of my child. I KNEW what those kids go through on a daily basis. And I KNEW that an event such as this marathon would help raise more than awareness and money for the hospital – it would also raise the spirits of the kids and the families. 

The day before the race, we headed to Columbus and checked into our very nice hotel room - no kids, no dog, AND a king-sized bed. Recipe for sleep, right? Wrong. I'm still trying to figure that one out. I guess I'm used to having a 65lb dog vying for space every night. But we did have a wonderful dinner and some kickass chocolate cupcakes for dessert. (And as we all know, chocolate can improve just about any situation.)

On race day, we had to be in our starting corrals at the bright and cheerful time of 7a.m. (Seriously. Why so early, people?) We left the hotel around 6:30a.m to walk to the starting line. I managed to drink a little bit of water and coffee and cram half of a plain bagel in my mouth, but my nerves wouldn’t allow anything else. The race was scheduled to start at 7:30, but due to the massive amounts of people (I think around 18,000 total between the ½ and the full), it took 20 minutes to cross the starting line. Did I mention that it was freezing cold and that I was wearing shorts? Luckily, I met up with my friend TerriAnn, who did her best to make me laugh and calm me down. This wasn't her first rodeo and she kept telling me I would be fine. I didn't necessarily believe her, but I kept nodding my head and agreeing with her because I was too scared to do anything else. 

As soon as I crossed the starting line, my body clicked into gear. Unfortunately, I lost TerriAnn.  During the first few miles I just tried to settle into a comfortable pace. Around mile 4, I took my fleece off. (It was purchased at Goodwill and I knew in advance I would be tossing it on the course. All the clothing tossed on the course was recycled back into Goodwill.) The first half of the race seemed relatively decent. Crowd support was great. I drank water at almost every water stop, ate my yummy Chocolate Outrage GU at my predetermined spots, didn’t puke, etc.

Right around mile 17, I started faltering. My legs were on fire. My quads and hamstrings felt like they were going to pop out of my skin. I had to keep going, though. Part of the course takes runners through the infamous Ohio State Stadium – and I knew some friendswould be waiting for me there. So I kept barreling along. That brief moment I saw them was fabulous – and I managed to smile and keep going. They later told me I looked great. I’m still not convinced they weren’t drinking even though it was way before noon.

By the time I hit mile 20, I hit the proverbial wall. My time at that point was 3 hours, 19 minutes and 34 seconds. I had another 6.2 miles (10k) to go by that point. Normally, I can run that distance in under an hour. Instead, it took me almost an hour and 15 minutes to run those miles. I was a wreck. My legs were on fire. (Yes, I know I said that already. It's worth mentioning. Several times.) The only thing that kept me going was the thought of seeing another Patient Champion at each mile marker – and it was the thought of those kids and my kids that kept me going. (Plus I knew I could have wine when I was finished.) It seemed that each mile was harder than the previous ones.

At mile 22, I realized I had to go to the bathroom. Badly. So I ducked into a porta-potty. (Again, not a fan of these contraptions.) Have you ever tried to do the hover above the seat trick (ladies, you know what I'm talking about) with quads and hamstrings that were on fire? No? I don't recommend it. The only thing that propelled me out of there was the fear of being found passed out on the floor by race personnel. Somehow, I got back on the course and resumed running. I use the term "running" very loosely here. The mental picture I have of myself resembled one of the zombies from The Walking Dead. 

I despaired that I would ever get to the damn finish line. Finally, though, I saw it. And as I ran down the final yards, I realized that one of Maya’s favorite songs was playing – Roar by Katy Perry. I wanted to laugh and cry. The feeling when I crossed that finish line was incredible. It was unlike anything I had ever felt before. I did it! 26.2 miles! Suddenly, the pain didn't matter. Nothing mattered at all except that feeling of complete and utter elation that I had accomplished this damn near impossible goal. It was made even better when a nice lady put a medal around my neck and directed me toward where my friends were waiting for me. 

During the (uphill, one mile) walk back to our hotel room, I found out that two of my friends from my running group had qualified for Boston that day, including Tracey, who had ridden with us to Columbus. My time of 4:33:29 would not earn me any awards, but that's okay with me. I was just happy to make it back to the hotel room before we had to check out at 1 so I could take a shower. And I won't go into detail about almost getting stuck on the toilet in the hotel room. 

By the time we made it home, I could barely move. But I was also starting to plan for my next major challenge – a 50k. It’s not until June. I have plenty of time. And I already plan on doing a half in November and another full in the springtime, along with a few other races – including another triathlon. And all the aches and pains were worth it - the marathon raised over one million dollars for Nationwide Children's. And that's kind of a big deal.