I’d just about given-up on 2011; it’s not been my finest year of running. But upon closer examination, I realize it just wasn’t my year of racing. I’d had some really good training (and even a few good races) but missing from my calendar were my usually spring and fall marathons.
Number eight was supposed to be Boston until I derailed myself with an injury; I never imagined I’d be sidelined from a fall marathon as well. Then seven weeks ago, when I as lamenting about my lost opportunities, I decided 2011 didn’t have to be a complete wash. Before I knew it I’d booked a ticket to Sacramento, was trying to build my 12 mile long run to 16, to 18 and then 20 in about five weeks all to pace my friend Shannon in her very first marathon.
I arrived in Sacramento not sure if I’d be at the start line. Training had been going really well, my track workouts had been fast and I managed a 19 and 20 miler that both felt pretty good. Two weeks before the race I was scaling back my mileage when I felt the first sign of pain. I’ll spare you the boring details but the Friday after Thanksgiving on my cool down from a hard workout my foot was acting up. I felt it again the following day after 4 miles and decided to pull myself off the road for the remainder of the week.
By the time I boarded my flight I could feel my foot pain while walking around, but the pain was hard to identify and/or explain. Yep, it’s time to play another round of “What’s wrong with Robyn’s foot”. It wasn’t really painful, it just didn’t feel right. And the pain didn’t exactly match the pain from the spring, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I’d told Shannon the week before it had been acting up, but I didn’t let her know how concerned I was about it. A fellow marathoner on the plain asked me if I was going to run the marathon and I said no without hesitation. Clearly thinks were not looking promising.
I tried to push the pain out of my mind when I met up with Shannon. It had been a rather eventful flight with a very intoxicated man yelling at a crayon and a loud snoring man next to me with his had pulled down over his eyes. Clearly, I was happy to get to Shannon’s house.
I go it pretty late so I went to bed when I got to Shannon’s , at this point I kept trying to forget my foot, it was tingling though which made it hard to forget. As I tried to fall asleep my mind wandered I’d realized that my foot actually felt worse when I put my running shoes on, it was like the area of my foot was being pushed in different directions: pushed in from the sided and squeezed from the top and bottom. A few weeks earlier I was having trouble with my socks slipping off my feet while running; had my feet grown? Was I running in shoes that were too tight?
I hatch a plan to hit the local running store to buy a new pair of shoes for race day. Yeah I know, not the best idea, but I was pretty sure the alternate idea was worse. My plan was to find a pair of Nike Vomeros. I’d run in them before, and since it’s a really soft shoe I knew I wouldn’t have to break them in (at all).
The next morning we slept in (like 8:30) and ran 3 miles easy through the neighborhood. It was a beautiful day but winder than one would like the day before a marathon. My foot didn’t hurt while running (still didn’t feel exactly normal) but it did hurt when we stopped. Obviously this still made me nervous, but I had a solution right?
We made our way to Fleet Feet in Sacramento, they were great. I picked up my new shoes, a half-size bigger than my other running shoes and one and a half sizes bigger than my normal shoes. I also picked up SPIBELT so I could carry my phone during the race. If my foot started hurting I’d give Shannon’s husband a call and he’d pick me up. We also picked up some shot blocks, including some margarita ones which were a life saver at the end of the race.
We made our way to the expo, picked up Shannon’s packet and took in the sights.
We made a quick stop at the pacing table to pick-up pacing tattoos for the 4 hour group. I was excited to see that I made it into the picture for the 3:10 group from the previous year (yes everyone at the table thought I was strange for taking this pic… I’m okay with it).
By the time I’d decided to run the race it was sold out, but we’d made plans to buy a packet from someone. I was going to wear her number without a chip so I could run the whole thing with Shannon, but she never showed.
After multiple text messages and phone calls we finally found out she wasn’t coming, luckily she gave us instructions on how to pick-up her packet. I was relieved to have a number, I couldn’t imagine running the whole race and not finishing with Shannon.
After a whirlwind morning we settled down at Shannon’s, her husband made us an amazing dinner (gluten-free pasta noodles and all) and we did our best to calm our nerves (Shannon’s about her race and mine about my foot).
We laid all of our goodies out for the next morning and were off to dreamland. Sleep however would not come easily for me, finally close to midnight I dozed off.
Before I found some sleep I came across this verse in my weekly reading (sorry to get all spiritual on you but it’s pretty significant) “I rested and slept; I awoke, for the Lord protects me.” I felt a strange peace that Sunday would be okay, whether I finished or not, I would definitively start.
On a less spiritual note, I was happy to find these inspiring words “Start slowly, then taper odd” I still have no idea what this means, but it reminds me of my college days and my friend Heather.
4:45 was a lot earlier than I remember and nothing about me wanted to leave the warm cocoon of Shannon’s guest room. But I managed to stumble out of bed excited for the day ahead. I was super excited that my iPhone said it was already 50+ degrees outside.
All the weather reports said to expect the 30s, I was quickly disappointed to find that my phone failed me again and that it was going to be a cold morning after all.
I managed a bowl of gluten-free oatmeal and a protein bar. Before I knew it we were dressed and I was in the backseat of Shannon’s car. We made it to the drop-off point, boarded a bus and were on our way to the start.
The longest row of porta potties greeted us upon arrival.
We found Shannon’s running group, dropped our clothes off and found the four-hour marathon pace group.
the race (finally…)
The first several miles flew by, you run a mile and then take a tight right turn and then a straight road with rolling hills for 4 or 5 miles. We settled into our pace and waited for the day to unfold. Shannon looked strong and my foot felt good. The miles flew by until around 10 for me. Apparently I worked on my hydration too much and needed a pit stop, and here lies my only complaint. There were very few port a potties on the course, and when you did happen upon one there was always a line. I finally found relief before mile 12, but it meant veering off the course and sprinting to catch Shannon.
I spotted her pink socks ahead of me and settled back into pace. Unfortunately my little break left my hip-flexers in a world of pain. To be honest, I was in enough pain that I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to the finish we were only at mile 12. I’d run several 12 milers in my training, two 16 miles, a 19 and a 20 and hadn’t felt like this (okay except maybe the first 16 miler… that one was ugly). I tried not to think about it and just settled back in to pace keeping our eye on the 4 hour marathon sign.
We made it to 15, then 18. We were expecting to see Shannon’s husband at 18, but no luck, then right before 20 he appeared with a cheering section and peanut M&Ms; 7 miles to go. Our mini goal was to get to the 22 mile marker, but the wall found us a few miles before that, right at the 20 mile marker (there’s an actual wall there… I kid you not).
It’s hard to explain to someone what happens at 20 or 22, but it just gets hard, you’re fighting your body every step, trying to convince it to take just one more and one more after that; and that’s what we did. We devised a run walk plan for mile 20. We’d walk for one minute and then run for two. After a mile we’d try to run the next mile. The margarita shot blocks were a big help at this point, they have extra salt in them which was much-needed by this point.
We were approaching mile 25 and saw the 4:10 pace group pass us. I knew Shannon’s goals was four hours but the group she’d been training with had been racing at 4:15’s, I was fairly confident we could get her in under 4:15 but we’d need one more mile run and that was going to be mile 25.
I knew she’d hate me during it, but we set a goal to run the entire 25th mile, and she did. We started 26 with two rounds of run walk and then ran it in. Shannon was amazing.
I kept trying to encourage her but had to stop because I was crying. I was so proud of her and of this moment. She’d worked so hard to get to this point and she was finally there; she was a marathoner.
To me honest, I was crying for my-self as well. I wrote about this moment in my Week in Review last week: I’m not sure Shannon knows how much this marathon meant to me, I needed this race more than she realized. I just needed to get out there again and see it was possible. I know this wasn’t my fastest race, but I also know that sometimes you have to slow down a bit to reach your ultimate goal. I simply needed to see I could cover the distance and in the process I was completely inspired by friends journey to cover the same 26.2. Clearly a pretty race; not only in the fun clothes we wore, but in the amazing friend I have in Shannon.
I set a goal two weeks ago that I was afraid to share because of my foot. I want to run under 3 hours this spring at Eugene. Sunday was an important step for me in that journey, thank you Shannon .
run pretty run fast