In the weeks approaching the Richmond Marathon, I had a span of time where my body just was worn out and not ready to race. As the days went by, and I took some time off, and then slowly got back into training, I thought for sure I would be ready for my 2nd marathon. In some ways I was, but now, after a full day of rest and reflection, there are a lot of ways I was not ready. And while I’ve already rehashed the race with my coach, and he’s told me not to second guess myself, I still find myself doing just that due to the soreness in my quads and hamstrings today. I fear what day two after the race brings.
I didn’t sleep well the night before the race, which, in all honesty, is nothing out of the ordinary for me. I had been going to bed early on purpose for the entire week so that I would be mostly rested for the race even if I didn’t sleep well the night before. The following seems to be a common theme for me prior to a big race: start taper week, get sick, get overloaded at work, stress about not getting enough, food, sleep, runs in before the big race. All of the above happened this time too. I’ve had a severe chest cold, which I feared was going to turn into bronchitis, starting two weeks ago. Obviously, it is not a good idea to take cold medicine the day of the race for the fear of it causing a rapid heart beat during an intense workout which can lead to a multitude of heart and/or health issues. So, I still have said cold, but it didn’t inhibit me like I thought it might during the actual race. The pouring down rain woke me up the night before the race because it was coming down so hard. My only thought was “I really hope it stops raining by the time the race starts.”
As soon as my alarm went off at 5 a.m. on race day, I knew that rain, even pouring rain, would be a variable in the race. I had three hours before the race would start, but the likelihood of it stopping was pretty slim. I slowly got ready, ate my trusty bowl of cereal, visited the bathroom a bajillion and one times, and finally was ready for my friend to take me to the starting line. I have to confess, it was super nice not to be the one battling traffic on the day of a race. It was nice to be a navigator for once. So, for this, and for your support at the race, I have to say thank you, Josh, for being there for me!
I hadn’t packed anything that would deter the rain. I had packed warm weather gear and cold weather gear, just in case the weather turned one way or the other. I opted for my warm weather gear, and donned my black and pink polka dot compression socks. I knew shorts were going to be my best bet so I would get some relief if I got hot. My pink sparkle skirt from Team Sparkle was a must, since it has played a key role in my big races, and was a reminder of how running can be fun. I also had to pull out my shirt that says “I may look completely innocent on the outside, but on the inside I am BADASS.” I think I have earned this shirt, and proudly wore it on race day! I pinned on my bib after tying my sparkly pink ribbon around my braided ponytail, and I was ready to rock and roll.
I was nervous all week long about this race, but on race day, I actually had this calmness about me, as if I knew what was coming, and I could handle it. I was sad that it was raining, but I wasn’t about to let it deter me from doing what I set out to do. I had trained in the rain, per Coach’s instructions, and I knew what it felt like to run long, and to run soggy. I was ready to tackle 26.2 miles. I was ready to complete my primary goal for this year; this was the 13th race in 2013. My secondary goal for this race was to PR. I’ll get to that later.
I took one last pitstop before getting into my assigned corral, #5. My phone was acting up again because it was tucked into a plastic sandwich baggie, and the raindrops on it were making it confused. I fussed with it until I had the Nike+ Running app set up to play my running playlist, and that it was to do a distance run of 26.2 miles. As the announcer sent the wheelchair marathoners on their way, we started to move in the corral, and then move forward. I looked down to get my headphones on the correct side of my face, then positioned in my ears, and realized another raindrop or my clumsy fingers had increased the mileage on my phone from 26.2 to 45. Whoa buddy. I was not running 45 miles. I frantically made it switch back to 26.2 just as I was about to walk across the start line. I was not going to start my race messing with my stupid phone. I held back for a few seconds until it started, and then crossed the start line. It was at this moment that I was fully overwhelmed with emotions. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I started to cry. It was at that moment, that I swear I felt my mom with me. It was one of those moments that you just don’t question it. I had nothing to cry about. I wasn’t hurt; I was starting the third biggest race of my life. But she was right there. Maybe it was her way of showing reassurance, and showing she believed in me. I don’t know. I’m not sure about any of it. The only thing I am sure about is as soon as I crossed that start line, my emotions overcame my sense of calm, and the tears started.
When I was nearing the first mile marker, the sky opened up, and the rain just started to pour. At this point, I remember thinking I was grateful because then no one could tell the difference between my tears, and the rain. I thought about how good the first mile had felt, and then the running app told me my pace. 9:16. I was out of the gate way faster than my coach and I had planned. Time to pull in the reigns and keep steady. I progressively slowed down, and tried to get myself in check. My pace slowed, the tears slowed, and the rain continued to come down. The first several miles went by so quickly. I remember hearing people yell “Go, Erica, Go!” It was on my bib like that, and I tried to smile, or give a thumbs up. I started to distract myself from the running, and focus on the people who had gotten me to this race. I thought about my mom. How I wished she could be there running it with me. She was a runner too, and I think she would have loved it. I thought about Murphy. I saw all the labs as I ran by the spectators, and my heart hurt because he couldn’t run with me. I thought about all my running buddies who had helped me get to this race. I thought about that stupid fox, and what he says. (And yes, Sheila and Jaime, the ridiculousness of it made me laugh every time). Then I really started to note my surroundings. I wasn’t focused so much on my times as the miles passed by, but I was aware that my pace was consistent, and that’s what I wanted to hear, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other.
There seemed to be hills, but they were soft, rolling ones, and I didn’t notice so much until we started the descent. My training on Trashmore, the Great Neck Bridge and in FLSP definitely helped with that. I made a new friend around mile 4. She told me she’d been chasing my skirt for the first four miles, and wanted to know who she was chasing. We stayed together for a bit til her knee was bothering her, and she stopped to stretch. I just kept on moving. Seeing the changing colors in the leaves on a rainy day is a bright spot in a long race. It made the day less dreary than it could have been. As I approached mile 6, I knew I needed to fuel and take a salt tab. I walked through the water stop so I could actually drink all the water with the salt tab, but didn’t realize that right after the water stop was another hill. I had lost momentum going up it by stopping, but I realized it wasn’t as steep as I had thought when I got to the top.
I couldn’t hear the people around me talking, but could hear the spectators cheering us on. My music was turned up pretty high, just enough to tune everything out so I could focus on the race. I was taking the advice from my Coach, from my running buddies, and from the conversation I had had with Bart Yasso the day before seriously: “You are in control of your time. Be on top of your pace.” For me, this meant tuning everything else out except my own thoughts, and the occasional conversation from a fellow runner, which would in-turn prompt me to pull out one headphone. My goal was to PR, and to do it well. I was giving it what I had, but being smart about it. I was moving right along til just before mile 12, when suddenly, Mother Nature called, and it was urgent. I found the next porta-potty, and used up two minutes of my time to answer her call. I wasn’t happy about it, but I couldn’t ignore it either. Running with a full bladder is just not fun. The rain wasn’t coming down like it had been before, but it was drizzling in varying degrees of light to heavy rain, and situating wet gear is NOT fun. Thankfully, it wasn’t overly hot or cold out, and my body heat was keeping me warm while running.
Once I hit the half way point of the race, I had already tackled a pretty significant hill through a pretty rural area of Richmond, and another hill that went over a bridge and made an almost 180 degree turn down another hill. My legs were used to the hills, and were seemingly ready for more. I knew that at this point, the real race had begun. The half mark had come and gone, and I was anticipating seeing my friends who were there to cheer me on, and had essential race goodies waiting for me. I had already passed on of the Junk Food Stations and acquired sour gummy worms, and had gobbled them down. The sour worms were the best taste ever at that point in the race. I was supposed to have fueled again with sports beans at this point, but didn’t want to push my luck by adding beans on top of worms, and just gulped some water at the next water stop instead. I was really impressed with how well-manned, well-stocked, and well-prepared the volunteers were for us marathoners as we hit every water station. They did an awesome job!
I had made a new friend at this point, Caroline, who was running her first marathon for fun. She’s a college student from JMU, and wanted to do it because it was on her bucket list, and this was the friendliest one in America. She was a fun companion for the miles we stuck together. I told her to go ahead when I spotted my friend, Josh, at the next bridge, around mile 16. My legs were still feeling strong, but my hips were starting to ache a bit. I was trying to ignore it, and think of other things when they started to hurt. I really think the way the roads were paved made a huge difference. There was just no way I could away from the grade of the road, even with my trying to stick to the middle so there would be less wear and tear on my IT band. When I saw Josh, all I said was “Beans. Beans. Red!” I was too focused to have an out and out conversation, and I was trying to ignore how my hips were aching. I think he realized this as he handed off my beans, and I took off. Josh- I am sorry I was no conversationalist, but I am grateful you were there, and that you were willing to hold my fuel!
From this point in the race, we were heading back up another hill. When I saw a hill ahead, I kept with my tactic that I had trained with all summer. I kept my head down, focusing on where my feet were going, and keeping runners in my periphery so I didn’t knock anyone over. The hills all seemed a lot less daunting this way, and I got over them a lot quicker. Any time I started to think about what hurt or how my hips were aching, I did some butt kicks or high knees, and then reverted to thinking about “What does the fox say?” or “How does an animal eat?” Both of the videos on YouTube are ridiculous, but enough to make anyone laugh. The guy showing how an alligator eats got me through a number of negative or “I hurt” thoughts. It often made me laugh out loud. There were a ton of signs along the course with varying sayings that got a good chuckle out of me too. It’s nice to break up the seriousness of the race with a sincere laugh. I read one sign that said “The half marathoners are finished by now, and are drinking all the beer.” I was like “That is so not fair!” I think this was closing in on mile 19 because it was shortly before I saw Jaime on the course with a big sign for me! Jaime- you rock! Thank you so much for being there! She, her mom, and friend Evan, had pretzels and flat coke for me as well. By this point, I had already taken my 2nd salt tab, but I knew I was losing a lot of salt. Every time it drizzled a little harder, the sweat dripping in my eyes stung like crazy. Those pretzels and flat coke saved me! Mile 19 was up over yet another bridge that went right past the Squirrel Stadium. It was long, and not what anyone wants to see this late in a race, but I stuck to my guns, held my remaining pretzels, and took it on.
I was drinking water at every water stop, except one, and I think that one got me. They had powerade on the course, and at mile 22, Mother Nature called again, and it was an emergency. Thank goodness there were porta-potties all along the course. This took up another two minutes of my time, and in turn, taught me not to use what I have not trained with. Yes, I’ve had powerade before, but I have not trained with it all summer long. I also had not trained with sour gummy worms, but at mile 22, anything could have caused the GI distress I felt. I wasn’t questioning it, I just went. At this point, I had 4.2 miles to go, and I was trying to visualize this distance from my home to another location and back. It was an easy distance that Murphy could run with me. I was getting tired, but I was trying to not slow down. The GI distress had slowed me down, but I was determined to pick things back up. I focused on the spectators as I continued to put one foot in front of the other. I looked at the dogs as I passed by them, and thought of Murphy. I even saw a mailbox with MURPHY on it at one point. I read the signs people had made. One woman held a sign that said ” Runner, fill in your name here, I am SO proud of you.” I wanted to cry at that one. I saw some funny signs that had me chuckling. One said “Smile if you’re not wearing underwear.” Another said “Try not to poop.” These signs kept me going because I wanted to keep reading them as I moved forward. I gave lots of high fives to spectators, young, and old. I don’t know if they understand the impact that has on a runner who is nearing an end of a big race. It’s a sincere pick-me-up to have that physical contact and support.
I approached mile 24, and my calves were beginning to ache. I just kept repeating “2.2 miles to go. That is nothing. That is a walk in the park. That’s an every day run with Murphy. That’s cake. That’s less than 30 minutes to go.” I sung “Pa papapa papapa pow.” And I felt my hands making the chomping motions that an alligator’s mouth would make to eat. I whispered “RUN STRONG.” Having the spectators practically lining those last 2.2 miles was an incredible experience. It definitely kept my momentum going, and encouraged me to increase my pace as I continued to get closer and closer to that finish line.
I ate some more pretzels, and tossed what I couldn’t stomach. I tried not to think about how I hurt. I knew it wouldn’t get worse. I just had to finish. I was so focused on reaching the finish line that I pushed my pace, and found myself weaving in and out of other marathoners. I’m sure I looked angry. I was focused. I was determined. I was ready for that damned finish line to hurry up and get under my feet. I could hear the cheers before I even reached mile 26, with my headphones still blaring. I knew I was close. As I wound my way through the remaining distance to the finish line, I wanted to cross it so badly, that my pace increased again, and I felt myself flying. After running as many miles as I did already, it felt like flying anyways. It wasn’t difficult to feel this way considering a huge chunk of the final distance is ALL down hill. And not a soft, rolling hill, but a steep descent that made me fly and watch my footing with every single step. I saw a girl who I had been playing race tag with the whole way. She didn’t have on a sparkle skirt, but she had on a tutu. I set her in my sights, and was determined I would pass her before the finish line. There was a slight curve as I approached the finish line, and I made the strides past her. I thought I heard my name being called by spectators, but I’m not sure. I know I heard cheers of “Keep going!” “Keep running strong” “You’re almost there!” “Way to finish the race!” Who knows if they were directed at me. I was just so focused on the clock, and that orange and blue grid of a line I had to cross to say I completed my 2nd marathon. I crossed at an all-out sprint, and my calves screamed and started to spasm. The clock read 4:44 something. I had PR’d. Big time. I had finished my 2nd marathon, and my 3rd biggest race in 3 years. And I wanted a personal masseuse to stop my calves from about to charlie horse. I remembered that they had felt this way after my first one too. I thought it wouldn’t happen again, but then of course it would. I had pushed myself just as hard, and I had PICKED IT UP the last three miles of the race. I got my medal, and said thank you a ton of times to all the volunteers who had congratulated me. I sipped some water, and found a spot to sit and massage my calves. It seemed only pressure was helping ease the hurt at this point.
I sat for a bit before the text messages started coming. My official time had gone to a number of friends and family who were tracking me the entire time. I had finished in 4:39:23. I had PR’d by 28 minutes and 42 seconds. WHAT?! I had improved my marathon time by almost half an hour from my first marathon! That’s insane! ESPECIALLY considering the variables from the race: me being sick again, the rain, the porta-potty stops, etc. WOW. I killed my time. That is an incredible feat in itself. I totally took advantage of the massage tent after the race, and it relieved the tension in my calves a great deal. Am I hurting the day after the race, yes, but it’s my quads and hamstrings. Should I be hurting? Yes, especially after the effort given, the hills tackled, and the steep descent to the finish line on yet another hill. Was it a great race?! Absolutely! I loved the course, the spectators and their support, the water stops, the junk food stations, and the scenery. I would love to run this race again someday. It was an amazing race. And I completed it. #13 in 2013!
Live. Love. Run. Passionately!