If you had asked me a few weeks ago how my marathon would go, here’s what I would have predicted: I’ll eke out the first three quarters of the race with gradually deteriorating speed and energy, just as in both my 32K (20 mile) training runs. Then, I’ll limp through the final 10K, running at a pace that’s barely distinguishable from a walk.
But that was a few weeks ago.
A funny thing happened after my last long (32K) training run. I began to feel stronger. For the rest of my pre-race runs, I felt swift of foot and full of energy. I began to experience a sense of mental flow where time and the miles seemed to slip by. I was no longer counting the steps but relishing them. My body began to whisper, “I’m ready”.
When I wasn’t running, it was another story. I felt nervous and jittery. I obsessed over everything I needed to prepare for race day and scanned my body for signs of injury or tension. When I wasn’t running, I wasn’t enjoying myself.
But when I woke up at 5 a.m. on race day, all that tension miraculously evaporated. Refreshed and ready to go, I tossed on my race gear (Pearl Izumi short-sleeve tee, shorts, and trusty but very uncool hair band, and of course, my new slightly-larger sized-to-avoid-blisters Aasics). Had my pre-race breakfast of champions – oatmeal and canned peaches. Packed my water bottle and fuel belt (one gel, a bag of cran-raspberry Clif Shot Bloks, four e-Load capsules, and a couple of emergency painkillers). Headed out the door.
At the race site, I lined up to use the washrooms and then lined up to use them again. Before I knew it, it was time to join the other marathon hopefuls at the start line. It was sunny but cool (around 8 degrees C) to start, with very little wind. My husband, father and dear friend Lisa were there to see me off. Lisa had custom-made a special sign, screened onto a big pillow case, including my photo and a reference to my blog. I felt like a rock star.
I wish I could give a kilometre-by-kilometre description of the first half of the race, but I can’t because it just flew by. I felt borne along by a wave of support coming from the thousands and thousands of people who came out to cheer on the marathoners: little kids holding out their hands for high fives; people sitting at the end of their driveways in pyjamas; teams at designated “cheering stations” in costumes and make-up.
Some moments stood out. At the 11K, Lisa appeared again, cheering and waving my sign. At 12K, we watched the elite marathoners pass by on the other side of the road, looking awesomely strong at the halfway point of their race. At 16K, I attempted my very first mid-run bush pee and wished I’d had the foresight to pack a couple of tissues. Except … what would I do with them afterwards?
In terms of strategy, I stuck close to the 4:30 pace bunny, Mark, who earned my undying respect for running the entire race carrying a sign and wearing rabbit ears. The pace bunny followed the Running Room method of “10 and 1s” for the entire race. I decided not to walk every 10 minutes for the first half of the race, stopping instead at the water stations spaced 3 kilometres apart across the entire route. I wasn’t totally convinced I could keep up with him, but wanted to at least attempt my fantasy finish time.
I expected to feel fatigued at the halfway mark, but I felt energized. At about 22K, a group of belly-dancers entertained the crowd and provided a fun distraction. And beside the belly-dancers – my friend Lisa, this time with her family! The route from 23K to 30K runs along the
Sure enough, at 32K, when the race course started to climb upward, I began to lose the 4:30 group. There’s a hill at this point in the run, which for many is topped by a big, looming, imaginary wall, but in reality is actually marked by a big, orange sign that reads 33K. I ran most of the hill, and walked a little, choosing to marshal my energy for the final 10K stretch. Unfortunately, that meant I had to watch the 4:30 pace sign get smaller and smaller, and eventually disappear. Now, I had a new goal: don’t let the 4:45 pace bunny catch up with me!
Can I be honest? The last 10K was easy. Sure, I slowed down a bit. Yes, it hurt. And part of me (especially the part from the waist down) just wanted it to end. But another part of me (from the neck up) was elated. People I knew appeared all along that critical last stretch. A co-worker and fellow runner waited for me at the 34K mark with Hershey Kisses. At 35K, my mom, husband and kids cheered, took photos, then sprinted to the car in a mad dash to the finish (they made it). My dad stood at 40K, bellowing encouragement with such enthusiasm that he got people around him cheering. And Lisa was there, of course, with my own personalized sign at the 250 metre mark. At the very end, I saw my ordinarily quiet and collected mom, waving her arms and yelling at the top of her lungs: “Way to go, Theresa!” I gathered up their love and support in that final stretch and wore it near my heart like the very best kind of finisher’s medal.
Then, all of a sudden, I was a marathoner. I crossed the finish line at 4:36:42 and realized that I had been stronger and more ready than I knew. And that was the big surprise waiting for me at the end of 42.2 – that my ability to complete a marathon was actually no surprise at all.
I had it in me all the time.