Sunday, October 17, 2010

This Isn't Over, the Pressure is on

Julia's Marathon Experience Part III

Ok, here you go-perhaps the most anticipated part of the marathon experience-and definitely the longest: RACE DAY.

Where did I leave off? Oh right, trying to sleep. I tossed and turned all night long. That's not surprising. I was anxious about missing my alarm, and being late-since I've been known to do that before. Turns out you don't need an alarm when you don't sleep. I don't normally have anxiety issues, but my heart rate was just through the roof and I absolutely could not shut off my brain. Finally and frustrated, I got out of bed at 4am and let out Goliath. I stood barefoot in the freezing dew and thought: Today, you run a marathon. I made myself some coffee and oatmeal. While each warmed up, I got dressed and stared at myself in the mirror. TODAY, YOU RUN A MARATHON.

I sat at our computer reading the news, and surfing trying to distract myself. I had hours to kill before I needed to leave. I woke up Logan, so he could get to work and take care of his weekend assignment before the race and not miss anything. He kissed me goodbye and said he'd see me in the first three miles. I sat back down, and blankly gazed at the monitor and tried to choke down oatmeal. Too nauseated to eat, I drank some water. Then, Logan called thinking it was him being sweet and wishing me luck I answered only to hear "Uhm can you come outside? My car is dead..." Sweet. I walked outside to see Logan's Acura stuck in the middle of the lot. It's a manual, so we thought we could give it a rolling start to get it to start. We pushed it up a hill, and then I'd push it down while he ran alongside. All in vain. It was dead. We both panicked, what are we going to do? This took a considerable amount of time: he had to go to work and I had to be at the race. He just told me to drop him off at his Mom's and he'll figure out how to get down there, he kept telling me not to worry-but like that was going to stop me.

I dropped him off, and ate a cliff bar on my way to the race since there was no time to eat my oatmeal. I tried to shake off nervous energy to some songs, but a mile away from my exit I found myself stuck in traffic-which hey happens with 11,000+ try to get to one place. I had originally planned on leaving earlier to avoid this situation, but the dead acura foiled me. I inhaled and exhaled and said Today, you run a marathon-it's going to be ok, you'll get there. I sat there for 45 minutes just trying to get OFF the highway. Then Eric texts me that parking took forever, and that's when the real panic set in. It was now 7:00, and I wasn't off the highway and guntime was in 30 minutes.

By the grace of God, I finally exited but only to sit at more lights and I knew I wasn't going to have enough time to park in the designated lot so I cruised downtown KC looking for an open spot on the street. Of course most were taken, so I resolved to park in a spot that may have been illegal. I geared myself up, threw my belongings in the trunk because I knew I didn't have time for bag/gear check and took off for the start line which was about 2.5 miles from there. I arrive, out of breath and more nervous then ever. Did I mention 30 minutes ago I realized I had to pee? It's now 7:20 and almost all the runners are in their corrals and lined up with their pacers-but guess who's frantically searching for port-a-potties? me. I couldn't find one and the anthem was starting. Crap. I had found Megan and Sofia, they wished me luck and I resolved to just use a bathroom along the course and take the time penalty.

I pushed my way to my 4:15 pace group, inhaled and exhaled. I was lined up with a gentlemen who had a giant foam cowboy hat on and suddenly realized this was suppose to be fun. Duh! I smiled and then the gun went off. I still had to pee, very badly, but I said just stop at the first available. My pacer was a lady named Carol, who has paced me in several other races. I knew if I just stuck with her I'd be ok and maybe my nagging bladder would go away.

The first mile seemed to crawl by and I still couldn't shut off my brain. There were so many people who I knew running this race, and I seemed to run into them every so often, they clinch my shoulder or wave to get my attention-wish me luck and then pass me. In the second mile, we made our way up a hill that according to my garmin was a ascent of 504 feet. It just seemed to go on and on and on. I confidently forged this hill, I remember thinking "uhm yeah hill repeats what's up." Atop the hill there were hundreds of people gathered to cheer, the hill we had just climbed was Kansas City's famous Liberty Memorial Hill. With all these people, and balloons it seemed like some political rally. Overwhelming really, I looked at all the faces. Now, it's all blurry but running through it I could see everyone so vividly. I scanned each face, looking for a familiar one. Then I saw bathrooms...then I saw the line. I decided I could wait and pressed forward.

Remember that hill Megan and I were joking about? Well turns out we had to run the opposite side. It's that hill of infamy from Hospital Hill Marathon in June, the one that we approached at mile 12 that stopped us dead in our tracks. There it was. We hiked it, and our pacers stopped to walk and said "We'll need this energy for later" Little did I know how right she was. This was about the time when an old high school class mate passed me with her mom. We picked up the pace, and mile three was done. Thirty minutes were behind me, three miles complete and I felt okish despite my nagging bladder. I saw my husband, elated I waved and he pointed to the opposite street where I saw my mom holding a giant sign.

This is about the time where I started to really panic. My stomach started to hurt because I had been holding it for so long. I started asking volunteers where the next bathroom stop would be, but no one seemed to know. Mile five was approaching, and it had nearly been an hour of running with a full bladder. There were plenty of businesses along the route, but I wanted to stop in a race sanctioned stop, ya know? So I just kept going and going. Finally, it got to the point where I had to pee so bad that running was nearly impossible. I stopped because the even a jog was putting an immense pressure on my bladder. Of course the second, I stopped running I lose momentum. I knew in my head if I lost my pace group, I probably wouldn't recover either so it was so hard for me stop-but physically I had to.

The second I stopped, I saw my mom and husband again who just looked at me like what the heck are you doing?! I yelled at them why and I hoped they understood. Coming up on the course I knew there a few gas stations, and I KNEW I had to stop. I pulled to left, out of the pack and ran up to the station store, upon entering I saw two other racers in line. Dang it. We stood there for about five minutes waiting on someone else in the bathroom. Frustrated and adrenaline pumping all three of us decided that if whoever it was didn't emerge in 1 minute we would knock, and finally that time came around. The girl first in line knocked to see if the occupant was ok. The response we got was less than desired, especially after waiting for what was now nearly 10 minutes. The lady screams (not even exaggerating) "I'M IN HERE AND DOING MY BUSINESS I'LL BE OUT WHEN I'M DONE!" Well alright. Nothing like getting yelled at while someone is clearly having pooping issues. I waited another five minutes before giving up and moving to the next gas station, which was a Quik Trip less than a block away. I got there and it was basically the same situation, I waited another five minutes there and finally had relief.

The damage was done though, the grief from holding it in for over an hour had fatigued my abdomen and used a lot of energy. I tried to recover quickly with a GU, and luckily there was an aid station pretty quickly thereafter. Mile eight was approaching, and I was still on target for a 4:20 finish, I saw my cheerleaders again who got a wave and an emotional nod. Now, I have to mention that even though I was still near my target time at this point my attitude was miserable. I wasn't feeling "right" something in me was internally irritated and irrational, like the sun got in my eyes and it pissed me off-or a song on my play list that I love would piss me off. The big 8 passed and I was looking directly into the sun, and had a headwind. I just got angry. ANGRY. I felt my jaw tensing, my lips pursed and then the weird phenomena: my arms went completely numb. My hands weren't purple so I couldn't blame it on circulation, it was my tension.

This is actually coming up on mile 20

I can't tell you how irritating it is to have two limbs you can't feel. I need my arms to propel me forward, and I just couldn't even feel them. annoying. So there I was: Mile 8.2 pissed to hell because of a rude runner in the bathroom, fatigued as crap already and with numb appendages. I convinced myself that I should walk a bit to calm down, regroup and pep up. I closed my eyes, shook out my arms and inhaled then exhaled. We ran through the beautiful plaza for the next two miles, y'all have seen a few of my races down there (trolley run, dog-n-jog). Then this wave of indescribable sickness and pain hit me, I was approaching mile 10 when it happened. It was like getting struck with an emesis lightning bolt-but as quick as it hit, it was over. I clenched my tummy, bent over and hurled just missing my timing chip. My mind couldn't help but focus on what other people were thinking, they probably thought that I was under trained or over ambitious.

I pulled out my phone and sent a text to Logan "i just puked mile 11 is coming" and he responded he'd be at mile 14. I started getting really overwhelmed, Today I was WALKING a marathon crept into my head. I just kept trying to put on foot in front of the other, and then I remembered my dedication. I looked up and "Waka Waka" by Shakira came over and I had this minute of inspirational push. I gritted my teeth, and felt this urge to cry due to abdominal pain but tears wouldn't come out. I knew if I could let go of the tears, I could move on. If I could just let them out maybe I'd be able to get over the anxiety and pressure and just RELAX.

I kept curling over in absolute agony, as pace group after pace group passed me. I started hoping that Eric would catch up with me, so I wouldn't have to be alone anymore. I quickly went from finishing in under 4:20 to just finishing. Sure enough, I started up another hill when I looked down and saw Eric. Heavens to Betsy, relief. I was comforted to be able to have just someone there. He could see the agony in my face, asked me if I needed a hug-apparently I looked like I did. We tried to push the next few miles with a walk-jog-run-walk combination. At this point, I had stopped sweating and couldn't really walk a very straight line. We crossed the threshold of the half way point. As we were approaching, there was this couple who held hands and asked a stranger to take their picture in front of the mile marker. It was really sweat, their first marathon together.

After mile 13, Eric told me to go ahead my legs were turning to stones and I knew walking wasn't doing me any favors. I struggled onward, it kept me going knowing that Logan and my mom were ahead somewhere. Then it hit again, the emesis lightning bolt. Numb arms, bent over perpendicular to the group and revisiting my strawberry-banana GU, if you know what I mean. I stood back up, walked if off and kept going. All these stops, all these attitude adjustments-all these things were totally harshing my marathon experience. I kept wondering: Where's my magic? Where's my emotional breakthrough? I wanted to be able to soak every ounce of this, every inch of the 26.2 and all I could focus on is how I wanted this over. I so badly wanted it to end, but it was a marathon-they are like never ending, and that's kinda the point.

What killed me was that at mile 13.1 we didn't turn around and started heading toward the finish. That makes sense no? Apparently that's psychologically too easy. We had to run another 4 miles south and make a hypotenuse like return to the origin. That messed with my head so bad, it's so easy for me to mentally tackle a split on an out and back-but for some reason I just couldn't do the math on this. Yeah, I had reviewed the course before but it's a whole 'notha story once you're out there. Mile 16 came and this is when things started getting really real. The crowds had thinned, but there were still people along the way: high school cheer squads, volunteers and neighbors-everyone. The runners now were more spread out, and now each time you'd pass they could see your bib and cheer you on personally. I felt like the most pathetic celebrity alive, they'd say my name and it felt good and shameful at the same time. These strangers kept telling me to keep going and sharing in one of the most vulnerable moments of my life. I have never ever felt so weak, so tired and so sick and here they were telling me I was strong and to take it home.

I kept trying to think of certain monuments to look forward to, to keep me going. I knew where people would be and knowing that would keep me running temporarily. I couldn't hold my pace for very long, but every time I'd stop I would at least try to start again. Right after 16 passed, I saw my family including my sister in the distance. They all had signs, they were screaming their heads off. I wanted their energy. I wanted it refuel me but more than anything I wanted to stop and let them sweep me off the course. I kept going, anyway-but I admit, I really really didn't want to.

The next few miles were about the same, equally tough but I started a new battle with fatigue. I literally started falling asleep while running. I would forcing myself to run, and my eyes would droop and I felt like I could just nod off. I fought this giant internal war to not take a nap, you can not nap and run and finish a marathon. The muscle fatigue in my core was no better even, and right around mile 18 I started feeling full on muscle failure in my obliques and transabdominals. They vibrated like they were receiving texts messages, and holding myself up became a chore-but throwing up a third time was even more of a chore. Mile 19 came, and I saw volunteer friend Scott who I think could see things weren't going right. I tried to choke out that I've been puking to offer up an explanation-but I'm pretty sure my face was reason enough. He told me to take it home and I started to count down the miles.

I figured that once I saw mile 20, maybe I'd be able to just have this complete out of body experience and have the last SIX MILES flash forward. FAIL Worst assumption ever. Mile 20 is when things only got really more realer. My family was starting to get worried that I wouldn't finish in under 6 hours, and until that point I had never even thought about it. They shouted at me how much time I had left to get those last six miles in-and I thought Today, you FINISH a marathon. I had to finish, but I couldn't help be discouraged. How did this happen? How had things gone so wrong? How did I go from a 4:15 to worrying about making the 6 hour time limit? This is what I had trained for? This is what the last three months had been all about?

This is The Man, Steve!

Mile 20 marked my BFF Megan guarding a street. I had waited the whole race to pass her by, and all I could feel was shame. She waved at me as a motorist tried to get through on the course. Miles 21-24 were lucky enough to contain my fourth puking episode and I was lucky enough to meet a fellow struggler named Steve. I noticed we were both following the same pattern of agony, so I asked him how many of these he had done. It was his 5th. We shot the poop for the next mile or two, and the conversation was distracting enough to get to mile 25.5. I gave him my laundry list of go-wrongs and he laughed and said "Yup, you've had a bad day" I quickly told him that I don't think I'll ever being doing this again, half marats were for me. He again laughed, knowing the certainty that this could not be my only and last marathon. He encouraged me to stop by the medical tent WHEN I finished. When? Oh that's right? He then said "Guess what? In less then 6 minutes you'll be able to sit down" Glory!

We turned a corner and I saw Logan and Emily running toward me, screaming my name. They were saying the finish line was just here and I have 15 minutes to finish. I picked up, and according to my garmin I pushed that last quarter mile at an 8:30 pace. I don't know how. Megan, came in the shute with me and people were just screaming at me. I couldn't hold my head up, and halfway there I doubled over in pain. I heard a "NO! GET UP!" and I did. I saw the blue mats, then I saw my feet touch the blue mats and then I stopped. I was done.

Finished. That was it. Where were my tears? I still just couldn't let go. I think part of it was I didn't want to waste my tears on such an experience I was totally unsatisfied with-but I think it was largely due to dehydration. I gathered my medal, my finished shirt, and some food that I knew I wasn't going to be able to eat. I walked away from the shute and found the closest patch of grass and just laid down.

It was finally over. I finished in 5:48 and some change, a full hour and thirty minutes off my goal time. I did everything right in training a prep, but when you mentally wear yourself down and your luck plays out like a series of unfortunate event, it happens. I wanted to badly to be happy with finishing, but in my heat I felt cheated. I wanted better, and I know it's natural to be slightly disappointed. I knew I had to do some major reflection on accomplishment and the like. So I returned home from the race to do so.

This concludes Julia's Marathon Experience Part III, if you read this whole thing you're the best thing ever.

Up Next: Julia's Marathon Experience Part IV: Recovery and Reflection


KT Bee said...

you're amazing. you should know that. cause you are!

MeaganLikesIt said...

You FINISHED, Jules! I am so proud of you! I am in tears reading this because I am so proud!

Andrea said...

you FINISHED a marathon! what an amazing accomplishment!!! sure it might not have gone 100% your way, but it is a spectacular feat!!!

i hope you know how amazing you are and how inspirational you are!!!!

Kathykins said...

This is why we all get scared prior to race day. Because no matter how much we trained or didn't train we never know EXACTLY what is gonna happen on that course. I know what it's like to have a race go wrong, it's an awful feeling. But what matters is that we push forward (and like you've already done) sign up for another race! Congrats on finishing your first marathon. You should be damn proud of yourself :)

kates said...

Finishing is an amazing accomplishment! I know you'll smoke you're next one. Everyone who has the running bug knows there is always a next one. Go get 'em!

Stephanie Anne said...

WOW you are so amazing to push through like that feeling sick the entire race! You have totally given me an inspirational morning :)

Sarah said...

My eyes started tearing up as I was reading this. You are amazing and such an inspiration! Congrats on finishing!!!

Mrs. W said...

As I've been telling you since the race, you FINISHED. Also not to mention that when you started the race,it was 45 degrees, and when you crossed the finished it was 85!

You did amazing. It was your first race! No matter what, you can't beat yourself over it. I was at on the course, there were lots of people that were behind you!

No matter what, I will always be there cheering! You will be even more amazing in 6 months! (Hey it's Wizard of Oz, how could you not do fantastic!!!)

Jana said...

Phew! Glad I wasn't the only one tearing up reading this. I am so glad my husband is still asleep.

Way to go Julia! I am sorry things didn't go as planned but how awesome is it that you can say "I RAN A MARATHON!" :)

Diana said...

Congratulations on *finishing* your marathon. I'm so proud of you for pushing through!

Manderz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Manderz said...

YOU finished 26.2 miles when most would have quit. YOU have the strength and determination that most people lack. YOU are amazing! I totally understand being disappointed - it's normal but dont forget that you did complete 26.2 miles! Your next marathon will be better - and yes I KNOW there is another one in your furture :)

Scott said...

Im so glad you finished....I enjoyed reading about your experience. Keep running and I'll see you in Topeka!

elkonigin said...

I want to run a marathon too!

I'm so proud of you! Congratulations!

Ashlee said...

Congrats on finishing!

You are an inspiration, and I cannot wait to read about the next one! :)

Meg said...

you. are. AWESOME! be proud of yourself!!!!!

Michelle said...

You are amazing and inspiring! You finished a marathon. Maybe not the way you wanted but you didn't give up!

ashley & sundance said...

Julia- I'm so sorry that your race didn't go as well as you hoped. I know you'll rock your next one, because lets be honest... we are runners... we are obsessive... we have to run. ;)

Can't wait to hear the rest of the story.

ashley & sundance said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deanna said...

Congrats on finishing. What an amazing accomplishment. I love reading your blog and it is such an inspriation!

Kelly said...

Julia, this made me cry.

I am SO proud of you. You FINISHED 26.2 miles. In under 6 hours.

I know I've said it before, but I will keep telling you - you are one of my biggest inspirations. Thank you.

I'm sorry this one wasn't a good experience. I know you're going to rock the next one.


Lauren said...

I know you're disappointed with the results, but this is amazing! You are so awesome! As someone who just struggles to finish 5ks, I think you are a superhero for even attempting a marathon!!

Keep it up, girl! You are an inspiration :)

Anonymous said...

even though you struggled, it was inspirational to read this. you could have stopped but you didn't. way to motivate me and i'm sure others. :)

now that you know how it goes, i know you'll do better at the next one!