Something funny happens when you finally experience something that you’ve been thinking about and dreaming about for a long time: it doesn’t feel real.
That’s how I feel today about Sunday’s race. Because although I definitely felt the build-up, the pain, and the joy of it at the time, I’m still having a hard time internalizing that it happened.
And it did happen…that moment that I’ve been focusing on and training toward for months and months; it’s actually a reality.
This race had the quintessential makings of a marathon experience: the adrenaline-filled, blissful first half, the scary and lonely middle miles, a head first slam into the wall, and a finish line that felt like the best place in the world.
Let’s go back to the beginning:
I was really confident in my training going into this race. I felt as if I had done everything I could, and I knew that unless disaster struck, I would have a pretty good shot at my goals.
BF and I did a little shake out 4-miler on Saturday, and we headed to the expo which helped crank up my excitement.
There was a little caveat though in terms of my race prep that had me worried. On Thursday night, I slept really poorly, as I did again on Friday night thanks to a late night of driving down to Oregon. Now, I think we all know that the golden rule of marathoning is that you want to get a lot of sleep the night before race eve, as a restless sleep is pretty much a given on the night before any race. So, on Saturday I was already worn out from the two nights before, and couldn’t stop thinking about how important it was that I sleep well that night.
And guess what? When you think about sleep, particularly on a night before you attempt a huge running goal, there is no possible way you can fall asleep. And that’s exactly what happened to me. Despite my fatigue, I spent hours awake attempting every trick in the book to wind down and shut off my brain. When my 5:30 alarm went off, I knew there was no way I had slept more than 3 hours…all of which was in 20 minute increments. Not exactly comforting.
But, I couldn’t do anything about it. And despite feeling exhausted, the race day hype kicked in like clockwork, and I was excited to get going.
I got to the start line in plenty of time for a porta-potty stop and good corral placement. I even managed to see Lora at the start! I was really impressed with the set-up and general energy of the starting area, especially that it was right outside of Hayward field where we would eventually end up.
After the National Anthem was sung and a moment of silence was held for Boston (so beautiful and powerful), it was only a matter of minutes before they let our corral cross the start line. And off we went!
Despite a gradual uphill start, I was filled with energy from the crowds and the general atmosphere. I really internalized that I was in track town, running a marathon, and striving for a goal that felt unattainable just a year ago. Needless to say, I clocked in a wee bit too fast:
Mile 1: 7:36
I knew I needed to buckle in, get it together, and run the race I planned out. I didn’t want to regret going too fast, so I spent a good amount of time in the first few miles getting to an 8 minute pace. I don’t like looking at my watch so often, but in races, I’ve found that a lot of my pacing instincts are thrown off.
Mile 2: 7:55
Mile 3: 8:01
I ran into Sarah just before mile 4, who stood out immediately in her bridal running outfit. She was running the half and gave me some good words of encouragement. Thanks Sarah!
Mile 4: 8:03
Mile 5: 7:49
The “hill” that was promised at mile 4 was barely anything to worry about, and there was a very nice downhill for a while afterward. I try to use downhills to my advantage as much as possible, so I forgave the quicker paces that were showing up.
Mile 6: 7:53
Mile 7: 7:58
Still, I needed to focus on the “slower start” I had promised myself I’d stick to. I knew another hill was coming up in mile 8, which would obviously help.
I saw my cheer squad for the first time also around 7.5, which is where I took my first few Honey Stingers as well. I loved seeing them, and I knew seeing them later on during the race was going to be really helpful. It certainly added that they were wearing these shirts:
Mile 8: 7:56
Mile 9: 8:04
Side note: The “hills” in this race aren’t anything to worry about. If you train with hills even a little bit, you wouldn’t bat an eye at this course.
By this point, we were leaving the cute Eugene neighborhoods and heading toward the river. We passed by Hayward and I caught a glimpse of the enormous sign that read: “Believe in the Power of the Run.”
Track town, you cut me right to the core.
I knew we would be splitting from the half-ers around mile 10, and I mentally prepared myself to get into the marathon zone. It’s those middle miles that can feel scary and daunting, so I tried to psych myself up for them.
Mile 10: 7:57
Mile 11: 8:02
Mile 12: 7:55
I was leap-frogging back and forth with a few runners, but it felt like we were pulling each other along instead of competing. Around this point, a shirtless dude with the shortest shorts I’ve ever seen starting matching me stride-for-stride, and it was obvious he wanted to share a pace. Alrighty sir, let’s do it.
Mile 13: 8:00
I LOVE reaching the halfway point in marathons. Mentally, I start to count down instead of up, and I was feeling pretty good at this point as well, which was encouraging. I had clocked just under a 1:44 half, which made me think that a sub 3:30 might be possible.
Miles 13-17 were probably the least memorable for me. They were in a lonely, residential area that was a little boring. I remembered getting to mile 17 and thinking, “Less than 10 to go!” which helped. I was definitely starting to feel tired at this point, and by tired I mean literally…I could have curled up on the side of the road and fallen asleep.
Mile 14: 7:53
Mile 15: 7:55
Mile 16: 7:49
Mile 17: 7:55
My legs were feeling pretty good, although my right leg was doing a strange thing that it had done on a few training runs where my glute, hamstring, calf, and even foot all got tight. Not painful, just tight. It wasn’t anything I couldn’t run through, but it definitely reminded me that I was running a marathon. We were on a beautiful path along the river at this point, which helped mix up the race and kept things interesting.
Mile 18: 8:00
Mile 19: 8:00
I saw my family again during mile 18, which provided another boost. More Honey Stingers, and my mom ran with me a few paces to check in. I admitted to her that I felt tired, and she reminded me to slow down if I needed to. No worries Ma, I had been thinking that same thing.
It was comforting to know that I’d gained a lot of time in terms of running under 3:35. While I always love the idea of negative splitting, sometimes in the marathon you need to go with the flow and let your body do the talking, so I gave in and let myself slow down a little bit. And much to my dismay, at mile 20, that horrible iPod Shuffle voice came on and said, “Battery low,” which elicited more than a few four-letter words. Probably the worst timing. So I shut it off, saving the final dregs of battery for the end.
Mile 20: 8:02
Mile 21: 8:10
I could feel the pain creeping in, and while it didn’t feel all-consuming yet, I knew it was going to be a long final 5 miles.
“But it’s only 5 more miles! You almost always run further than that on average days.”
Those were the kind of thoughts I kept trying to get in my head, but unfortunately there were other voices shouting a bit louder.
Just before mile 22, the familiar dark feeling from Tacoma last year started the veer its ugly head. I had a hard time telling if it was actually the same type of pain as last year or just the bad memories that got me so unnerved, but either way, I did everything I could to remind myself to be smart. I allowed myself a 5 second walk break to get my bearings, and then pressed on.
Mile 22: 8:24
At this point, my legs were toasted. My feet felt hot, and it didn’t help that the temperature was rising. I stuck to the shady parts of the path as much as I could and dumped water under my hat at the water stations. Most of the fatigue was in my head, which I instinctively knew was from having not slept the night before. I saw my family again at 22, which certainly helped, but I didn’t like the idea of them seeing me in such a bad space.
Apparently though, I hid it well. BF started running with me for a bit and said I looked great, which was nearly impossible for me to believe- but I took it as a sign that my body was doing better than my head.
Mile 23: 8:28
Admittedly, it was comforting to know that I could run up to 10 minute miles and still come in under 3:35. I had already resolved that I would have a huge positive split, and that was okay. As much pain as I was in, it kind of humored me to think, “Oh, this is why the marathon is so hard. This is what the wall feels like, huh? I get it now.”
But, I knew that with such a big goal, a goal that was far below my current PR, this race was going to take a fight. So I fought. The miles felt so incredibly slow. The 8:30 pace I was holding felt like a 7 minute pace, and I could feel every single incline and decline in the road.
Around this point, I spotted Lauren up ahead, who I’d already seen twice earlier cheering like a champ. She started running alongside me and asked how I felt, which I fully admitted to feeling horrible. She gave a lot of words of encouragement, including offering to continue running with me. While I was incapable of expressing it or realizing it at the time, this was a huge save for me. She distracted me and kept me going when all I wanted to do was stop. I took another short walk break, and as slow as they were…the miles kept going.
Mile 24: 8:39
Mile 25: 8:49
It was excruciating at this point. I felt like my head was crushed into tunnel vision, and it took everything I had to keep the BQ goal in sight. Seeing Hayward come into view was helpful, and while I was still battling the ghost of Tacoma Marathon past, I knew I was stronger this time around. Lauren was a game-changer, and I cannot begin to thank her enough for pulling me through those final miles.
She dropped me right before the entrance to Hayward, where I was greeted with a huge Oiselle cheer group of familiar faces which helped get me excited.
Mile 26: 9:03
Coming into Hayward was surreal. It was something that I’d been envisioning for so long it didn’t even feel real. I was in so much pain, but so happy to be done. It’s actually a little hard for me to remember since I was so foggy and tired at the time, but when I heard my name on the loud speaker and saw the 3:32 on my watch, all those dreadful and slow miles melted away.
I’d done it. I held my hand over my heart and raised my hand in the air. Boston, that was for you.
It was so relieving to be done. I was a little off kilter once I crossed the finish line, so a volunteer helped support me a little bit. I got my medal, got my bearings, and headed toward the finisher’s chute. I immediately felt nauseated and steered clear of the food they were offering. I wanted so badly to sit down, actually to lay down, but I knew I needed to keep walking. I have never felt so sick after a race, which was annoying considering all I wanted to do was celebrate, and I knew I needed to find my people.
BF was on the hunt for me, and we spotted each other pretty quickly. Not too long after, I joined up with the rest of my crew, and after a few minutes of my hands on my knees and some deep breathing, I started to feel a bit better and the accomplishment started to register.
It’s funny how pain can mask other emotions so much. Of course all I wanted to do at the finish line was cry tears of joy and relish the feeling that I’d accomplished my goal, so it’s a little disheartening that hitting the wall so hard took away a bit from that.
However, my wonderful support crew helped draw me back into the light. We visited the foam rollers they had available in a tent (quite convenient), hung out on the turf, and eventually made our way out.
After a heavenly shower and a change into flip lops and stretch pants, I started to feel like myself again. My appetite was no where to be found, my legs were completely shot, and my arm was chafed to the point of a scar, but I knew that it was all worth it. There’s something incredible that happens at the end of a marathon. You are stripped of every last defense and ounce of strength inside of you, and yet you still manage to do what your body and brain are both fighting against. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to hurt. It’s the fight against the pain that makes the marathon so mighty.
And in the end, I don’t care that I had a 4 minute positive split. I don’t care that I can’t walk down stairs today, and I certainly don’t care that I lost so much sleep over this race. I did exactly what I came to Eugene to do, and the reality that I nabbed my BQ is settling in more and more every minute.
And truth be told, something as great and as honorable as running the Boston marathon, especially next year, shouldn’t be easy. It supposed to be earned, to be fought for, and it took a good kick in the butt Sunday for me to truly realize what that honor is all about.
I cannot begin to thank everyone enough for your words of support and encouragement. This community is filled with an unbelievable kinship, and on Sunday I was reminded once again of how proud I am to call myself a runner. A big congratulations to everyone who raced this weekend! I hope you all celebrated well and are resting properly.
If you need me, I’ll be with my chocolate and my pillow. Probably wearing my medal.
Thanks Eugene! You proved your legacy ten-fold. And here’s hoping that next year’s spring race takes place in another legendary place, on a different coast 🙂