It goes without question that San Antonio left much to be desired in the world of marathon performance. The heat, humidity and sun created conditions that tested our physical and mental fortitude. My thoughts toggled between simply surviving the race and questioning my sanity for putting myself through something that grueling. Every time I would go to that negative place in my head however, I remembered all of work I done to get myself to that race, and I took one more step.
As I began this training season many months ago, my head and heart were conflicted. In my head, I knew I would be running another marathon in the Fall. In my heart, however, I was frustrated after coming off an injury that kept me in a boot for 5 weeks in April/May. I had gained about 15 post Austin Marathon pounds and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to start from square one all over again. I kept reminding myself, however, that square one was not June of 2011, but rather December of 2008, when I was 50 pounds heavier and totally out of whack J
Let’s pause for a little flashback to my journey as a runner…Although I’ve played sports my entire life, I’ve had the lovely pleasure of battling my weight my entire life as well. I was a chubby kid starting at age 9, a heavy softball player in high school, and a fantastically dedicated studier yet professional partier in college. After graduating, I worked a ton as a new teacher and before I knew it, I was at my heaviest weight and absolutely miserable. Thank god I came-to and realized that the only person that could change my current situation was myself and all I had to do…was do it. So I worked for a year or so to lose about 65 pounds. I was not (and am definitely still not) at my goal weight when I decided to tackle distance running but figured I was at least healthy enough to give it a try. I had seen Rogue shirts on the trail so I signed up for Bobby’s group because it fit with my schedule…little did I know I was in for a life changing experience! Bobby’s group provided the perfect setting for me, as I was accustomed to team sports. I had a supportive coach and an awesome group to lean on during all of those painful hills and exhausting workouts!
Okay…so flash forward to Summer 2011. With each run during those first few weeks, I gave myself credit for the distance (literally and metaphorically) I had come, and began to accept that my strength and speed were not where I wanted them to be. As long as I just didn’t quit, however, I would begin to transform my frustration into accomplishment, and eventually, my second marathon. My body acclimated, but I really struggled to lose the weight I needed to in order to increase speed. I was traveling a lot and not as focused as I needed to be on eating in order to lose weight. I considered quitting several times, as I felt like a failure for not losing those annoying pounds that I knew were slowing me down! (and not to mention the competitor in me loathed being a slow poke at our workouts!) I knew however, that if I quit, I would only be letting myself down and giving up all that I had worked for. So I just kept training, albeit slowly.
As race day approached, I put my pride on the shelf and accepted that I wasn’t going to shoot for a PR. This was not due to the dismal weather forecasts, but rather, my inability to speed up over the season. Then race week arrives and bam…I’m sick! I couldn’t believe it! Luckily, I heeded the advice of many friends and family and hydrated, rested, took vitamin D, and backed off running big time. My body held out- nothing hit me full blown by Friday-so I knew I was going to get to run! By Saturday, all things marathon were in effect…expo, extra-hydration, shake-out run, bagel and banana purchases, and a fun pasta dinner with the team! Of course, I barely slept and anxiously awaited the next morning. I was awake by 4:45, so I decided to get up and enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and peanut butter bagel. I slapped on my 4:30 pace band, a sweet temporary tattoo, thinking that if I focused and paced conservatively in the beginning, I could hit that time. Little did I know, I was in for a very different ride!! We headed out the door by 6:45 and felt the race energy walking to the start. Seeing the fellow Rogues jazzed me up even more…that team thing really pumps me up! I found a porta potty line that seemed to take hours, but after getting my turn, I stepped out and looked for my corral. I was slotted for 17, but found Steve in 13 so decided to stick with him. We used his strategy of run/walk the first mile or so. I have never done that, but thought to myself, hey, this guy ran two marathons in two days…he knows what he’s doing! We picked up the pace to mile 5 and I realized that I was struggling. I couldn’t find my rhythm, I was already super sweaty, and my knees were aching, which made me tense and nervous so I fell back and let Steve push on. I continued to tighten up, and starting doubting my preparation for the race. Why hadn’t I met my weight goal? (if you’ve ever run heavy, you know the feeling!) Why did I think I was ready to run? Blah, blah, blah. And then it hit me at mile 7, I HAD prepared and I was OKAY- so I needed to SUCK IT UP and run this thing with a smile on my face. The tension lifted, my shoulders relaxed and I finally found a groove. The group was dense, but I refrained from passing too many people, remembering what someone had told me that I would waste too much energy shuffling around people. I saw Bobby, Margaret, Chrysta and Bryan somewhere around 9, I think, which gave me another boost. I thought about how thankful I am to have my coach and teammates on the course- and I remembered to smile. I knew my dad and niece would be somewhere around the half; I just kept focusing on that moment. We split from the half-marathoners and I felt another weight lift off my shoulders- we finally had some breathing room. As I continued to focus on spotting my dad, I saw the motorcade coming towards me for the lead runner. Incredible! He was gliding and looked effortless. I gave him some cheers and continued on. Then the clouds cleared and the sun shone down. My god, that sun…must have sunglasses!! Oh yeah, they were on my head. I put them on and remembered to smile again as I looked for my dad and niece. I found them! I stopped and we hugged, and of course, dad wanted a picture! I told them I’d be “right back” and my dad reminded me to grit my teeth and push through it, and that they’d be waiting for me. And that, I am certain, is what got me through the brutal out and back. My pace was slowing a bit with each mile, but I was feeling better than the beginning of the race, so I pushed on. I saw Ryan fly by me looking like he was running a 5K as opposed to mile 22 or something. I screamed something incoherent to cheer him on and felt so inspired by his strength. Then came Trey, also looking strong as he flew around a turn. Again, I yelled something non-sensical. Not long after, I saw James and got to high five him-way cool. I was so proud to call them my teammates! My pace continued to slow and my energy was draining. As I looked at my pace band and realized that 4:30 was out of the question…but maybe I could hit 4:40. Then came mile 17 or 18 up that slow, brutal, sunny hill. I have no idea what happened, but somehow I made it to the top and high-fived coach Carolyn at the top. It was then that I realized that I had over 8 to go and I was draining quickly. I eased up a little and committed to drinking a Cytomax and two waters at every station, as well as pouring two waters over my head.
18-21 were an absolute blur and I thought to myself “get over the time goal…just don’t end up in the ambulance”. Then I saw my dad and niece again. Oh thank god! I cleaned off my sunglasses on my dad’s shirt, gave quick hugs, took a photo and turned to go. He then told me that my brother was at 23 and my friend Ellen was at 24 and then for the first time in at least 5 miles, I smiled again. Just knowing they were there kept me going. I did everything I could to keep that smile on my face despite the exhaustion. “just don’t stop” was all I could say to myself. I made a deal with myself. Keep running now (at that point it was just jogging) and then you can walk the water stops. Finally, I saw the sign for 23. And then my brother and his wife were there yelling for me! I yanked off my ipod and headphones and mumbled something like “it’s so hot…the sun, the sun, thank you for being here, the sun, I love you” and kept on. One more mile and then I would see my dear friends Ellen and Jackie. One mile, don’t walk, just jog. And then there they were with a precious sign in hand and a bag full of goodies. I drank some water, mumbled some more nonsense and felt full of joy again as I was so grateful to have them there. My smile returned. Jackie decided to run with me and I truly believe, kept me sane. She gave me a turn by turn of what to expect over the next mile. Her dad and sister joined us until mile 25, when they said I was ready to finish this thing. And that I was!! A random guy on the course at 26 pointed at me and said “ma’am, you look strong!!” So I summoned that strength he somehow saw in me and pushed myself up that dreadful hill for the last .2. I turned the corner and knew I had done it. I looked at my watch-4:49. Oh man, I can finish this brutally hot and miserable race in under 4:50 if I just pick it up. I “sprinted” to the finish and heard my family screaming. I threw my hands in the air and knew that it was over. 4:49:41. Certainly way off my Austin time, but I was both proud and overwhelmed with gratitude. Proud of my team. Proud for not quitting the season, and proud for not quitting the race. More importantly, I was proud of the life that I own now- one focused on health, balance and accomplishing goals. I was-and will forever be-grateful for the friends, family, coaches and team that shared their love and support for me out there. Despite the heat, sun and humidity, I felt like the luckiest runner on the course that day and once again, I smiled.