CAUTION : Semi-longwinded race recap below. Also, some self-realization and maybe a few tears. If you’re looking for snarky Sarah Soon-To-Be, you should skip this post and come back tomorrow.
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As with my first marathon (Cleveland), I went into NWM with a last-minute injury and an absolutely piss-poor attitude. It infuriated me that I could train for 15 weeks virtually pain free - with nothing more than a small blister or some sports bra chaffing to complain about – and then wind up completely shut down the week before with an injury I’d never shown warning signs of.
The Cleveland “broken foot” was a lesson learned (Nike Free’s are not for 16 milers). But this NWM out-of-nowhere shin splint taught me nothing more than YOUR BODY IS NOT MEANT TO DO THIS, BUT YOU’RE A STUBBRON CRAZY ASSHOLE AND YOU’RE DOING IT ANYWAYS, YOU DESERVE THIS PAIN!
Race week was spent incessantly icing, wearing my Zensah calf sleeves, and (almost) crying at B’s office while getting therapy. I moved gingerly, made B run errands alone, and refused to walk anywhere I didn’t have to. I gave that blasted shin every fighting chance to heal itself before Mary Day, but knew deep down I’d be running in pain (if I even ran at all).
Saturday night I devised an “escape” plan. If the pain got to be too much, I’d peel out with the halfers. With RnR Vegas just 6 weeks away, I didn’t want to risk seriously injuring myself. I was about 85% sure I’d end up running the half, and 100% sure it would kill me to do so.
After my carbo-loading win Saturday, I slept like a baby and obviously hit “dismiss” instead of “snooze” on my phone and woke up race morning 30 minutes late. Pre-race jitters, what? None here apparently. I frantically showered, coffee’d, and got dressed :
My best friend L’s mom passed away in August, and this saying was her favorite. Putting on that shirt race morning was such a reality check for me. I suddenly felt so small and insignificant, standing there at 6am ready to run a marathon. What did this race even mean, once I looked past the self-gratification? Would it change my life, or the lives of the people around me? Would anybody’s life be even the slightest bit different if I finished – or cut short – this run?
Around 6:45 I walked with B to the starting line completely humbled and kind of numb. I didn’t have my normal pre-race anxiety, and the massive heard of people didn’t excite me like usual. I gave B a hug, found a place in my corral, put in my headphones, and silently waited for the start.
I breezed through the first few miles without taking much in – I vaguely remember fisherman’s wharf and some carnival-type mirror funhouse, which had my brain not been complete mush I probably would have found extremely odd.
Fellow NWM’ers : I was one of those assholes walking the hills. I knew I hadn’t trained well for them, and wanted to save my legs for the rest of the race. Sue me. I got my kick at the finish, so… I’m not sorry.
The pain in my shin finally set in around mile 11. I was having such a mental battle trying to decide whether or not to go for the full - the thought of crossing with all the pink bibs (half marathon) while wearing my yellow (full) was like a very literal scarlet A in my head. Everyone would know I’d failed my attempt at the marathon.
I was deep in this argument with myself when I spotted B for the first time. We were coming up on the split and he asked if I was going for it. For no sensible reason I blurted out “FULL!” and veered left, wondering what the F I’d just gotten myself into.
About .04% of the 20,000 runners ran the full. This left the course pretty empty once the two races split, and that was fine by me. I’d been shoulder-to-shoulder almost the entire race, and found the elbow room a breath of fresh air. Plus, to be honest, I was never really running alone anyways.
A little after the split I realized that running on my toes of the sore leg alleviated a lot of the pain in my shin. My calf and achilles screamed in protest – they were NOT conditioned to work this hard – and a bit of pain set in on my opposite knee for the compensation, but my shin felt better. I wasn’t certain I could run like this for 14 more miles, but I decided to face that issue when I came to it.
The rain started around mile 13 or so, if I remember. Normally I’d be all “GAWD whyyyy does it have to be raining?! Ugh!” but I took this minor unfortune in stride (literally). The temperature was just warm enough that the rain was refreshing, rather than chilling, which I was thankful for.
Miles 16-19 were a boring straight-a-way along the coast. Around this time I realized how uncharacteristically out-of-my-head I was. When I’m running my mind is usually going as fast as my legs – thinking about everything and anything under the sun. Seriously, if I carried a notepad I’d probably have the cure for cancer by now. Or at least my wedding planned. Instead I kept getting lost in my music and concentrating on my form.
(Stolen from SkinnyRunner)
Since the second half was an out-and back, I got to see the winner cruising through her last mile towards the finish. Again, in my normal state of mind I would have found this terribly discouraging. Instead of getting pissed that she was almost done and I had 10 miles left to run, I was inspired and happy for her.
(Are you wondering if I had a stunt double run for me? I didn’t recognize myself either, don’t worry.)
We got to Lake Merced, which was the part I’d been nervous about. You come up at mile 19 and you can see JUST.HOW.MASSIVE the thing is. I kept my head down and focused again on my form and not getting run over by the heavy traffic driving next to us. I hit the 20 mile marker still feeling strong and focused. I felt like I was holding my breath (not literally) waiting for the pain to come crashing down on me, or to run smack into “the wall”. I was certain one of the two was looming right around the corner.
At mile 23 I got the confidence boost I needed – if I hadn’t hit a wall by now it wasn’t going to happen. I looked up to the sky and asked Mom2 if she was still with me, and if she was ready to turn it up for the last 5k.
The rain was coming down pretty heavily by now. My shin & knee pain were manageable, and I still felt good overall. I put one foot in front of the other, a little faster each time. I crossed mile 25 and dug for everything I had left to finish the last 1.2 strong.
Eventually the finish line came into sight. I splashed through a bunch of puddles, but didn’t care - it was too much effort to dodge them. B yelled – I waved and smiled. And I kept smiling all the way through the finish.
Once I crossed the finish I gave another look to the sky and thanked my running partner for getting me through what I thought was going to be a miserable run. I’ve never finished a race – regardless of the distance – feeling so proud, humbled, or comforted.
I ran in memory of L’s mom, which seemed like a gratuitous effort at first, but it ended up being the opposite. It was selfish - in a good way. I got through those 26.2 miles with the comfort of her presence and the memories I had. Crossing that finish line signified a running accomplishment, but more importantly, gave me the peace I’ve been searching for since August 5th.
Nike Women’s Marathon, 10.17.10 : 4:17.49 (unofficial) NEW PR