Warning: This post contains descriptions and/or images that may be disturbing to some readers, i.e., some of it’s gross.
Also, it’s very very long. I have included headings so you can skip to the parts you are interested in. And like my friend said in HIS marathon blog post, it’s a long post because it’s a long race!
Why Run a Marathon?
I never ever wanted to run a marathon. 26.2 miles? Never. Ever. It wasn’t even on my bucket list. I’ve wanted to learn Spanish, go on a Prager Listener Cruise, visit the Mayan (Incan? Olmec?) Ruins, publish a book, and and do all sorts of other things. But running a marathon was NOT one of them. I have always enjoyed running. I ran the 1/2-mile, the mile and the 2-mile in track in high school. I wanted to join Cross Country, but I honestly did not think I would be able to run a full 3 miles. And I always thought that running a marathon was not humanly possible and that people who did it were superhuman.
I started running longer distances (like 4-5 miles) after I had kids and was trying to lose the weight. I tried to run as far as I could in one hour and began running farther and farther, finally running six miles at a time (not within the intended hour). Then one day my friend asked me to run the Fontana Days Half Marathon with her. My first reaction was, “What?! HECK no!” But the more I thought about it, the more it sounded like fun. I thought that if I could jump into a training schedule, and run the number of miles that were required of me at that point out from the race, then I’d do it. I ran 8 miles that Saturday and was fine, so I signed up. I ran that half marathon and two others and was hooked. I thought, if I can run this far, I’m halfway from a marathon! Lots of people say that humans aren’t meant to do this, reminding me that the first person to run a marathon, Pheidippides, died at his destination (roughly 25 miles from the battle of Marathon to Athens). But I say, he didn’t have a water belt, Gu, and Power Bars, but I do! If other people can do it, then so can I! So I started training.
The marathon is all I’ve thought about for the past few months. It especially consumed me during the 3 weeks leading up to the race. I have Plantar Fasciitis which causes my heel to hurt. I’ve been seeing a chiropractor who is a family friend, and he helped keep it at bay while I did the training. I followed the training plan (Hal Higdon’s Novice Supreme with a few tweaks of my own) and did my 16-mile run and even my 18-mile run without much pain in my heel. But after my last long run, the 20 -miler, my heel was killing me. So much so that I stopped running altogether. The good news was that I was in the tapering phase of my training, which means that I was supposed to be cutting back on my mileage and running less and less in the weeks leading up to the marathon. But I was supposed to be running 12, 8, and 6 mile runs; not no runs at all. I tried running 2 miles here and 1 mile there, but it just kept hurting so I stopped again. The looming marathon had me worried out of my mind. They say to trust your training. If you can do the training, then you can do the race. And I HAD run 20 miles. But I was afraid that my heel hurting and my not running for 3 weeks would undo all that I had worked so hard for. I was slow enough as it was, running my 20-miler at a 15-something minute/mile pace. A lot longer than the 13.75 minute/mile pace I had to do to finish within the 6 hour time limit of the racei wanted to do: the Santa Barbara International Marathon. I was also worried that I had failed to lose the amount of weight I wanted to. Actually, I failed to lose any. OK, OK, I GAINED weight during my training. Not good for someone 70 pounds overweight, with heel pain wanting to run a marathon. It was a gamble, but I decided to do what most runners do: ignore the injury and run anyway. And hey, worst case scenario: my heel starts hurting and I drop out. At least I tried. As a friend once said, “‘Did Not Finish’ is better than ‘Did Not Start'”. But that result would still leave me devastated and crying my eyes out. I really hoped that a “DNF” was not in my future.
The Morning of the Race
My same friend who ran the Fontana half with me was running the Santa Barbara Half Marathon with her sister so we all went up to Santa Barbara together to stay in a hotel. We had a blast. It was the kind of fun that can only end in a noise complaint from the neighbors (yeah, it was that bad). But that was mostly the two sister’s fault. I was the good one. As is common on race eve, we went to bed late and woke up early. I could barely eat, not from nerves, but from eating so much the night before (I really shouldn’t have had that extra piece of pizza. OR that second doughnut). But I forced down some carbs, protein, and a whole Gatorade and we left for the race. We waited in line together for the shuttle buses for a while, but when we separated I felt so alone. I was really doing this. On my own. I got the proverbial butterflies in my tummy, and there were a lot of them. While waiting for the marathon bus I met a guy doing his 80-something-eth marathon. He told me that he had run one last week, was running the one that day, another the next day (back-to-back marathons? who DOES that?!) and then had another planned for the next week. I was like, ” Wow! Yeah, this is my first…so…yeah.” But he was really nice and wished me luck.
The bus dropped us off and we had to walk (!) to the starting line. I was so mad. I wanted to conserve my energy and did not want to travel a single centimeter on foot farther than 26.2 miles that day. But alas, I followed the crowd up a semi-steep hill to a high school parking lot. Everyone was passing me on that hill and I just remember thinking, I’m conserving energy, so it’s OK that I’m the slowest one here. Things will be different in the race. It was a foreshadow of things to come.
In the parking lot by the starting line I ate some more, drank another Gatorade (gotta hydrate!), took some Ibuprofen (I know, I know, I could die of a heart attack. But seriously, I think I was more likely to be in intense pain due to my heel than to keel over from heart failure), peed, stretched, pood (don’t want to have to go during the race), stretched some more, and found my way to the back of the pack behind the starting line. I saw a friend there and we chatted for a minute. We were both running the full marathon, but since he was hoping to stick with the 4:30 pace group (that’s the group that wants to finish in 4 hrs. and 30 min.) and I wanted to finish close to the time limit (6 hrs.) we separated and got ready for the horn/gun/bell. I can’t really remember what they did to start the race. For all I know someone might have yelled, “On your mark, get set, go!” I just followed the crowd as it surged over the starting line and I high-fived the announcer on my way. The butterflies in my tummy had been coming and going and now they were coming again. I was so nervous and so excited!
Those butterflies continued to come and go as I ran the first mile or so. I was looking for the mile 1 marker when I was pleasantly surprised to see the 2-mile marker. I hoped the rest of the race would go that fast and tried not to think about the mile 3 marker. After what was surely 2 miles I started looking for the mile 4 marker. That’s when I saw the mile 3 marker. The same thing happened at mile 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, you get the idea. Whenever I thought it had definitely been 2 miles, I discovered that it had only been one. At about mile 6 (? 9? I’m really not sure) things started to look familiar and I realized that we were back at the high school. We passed near the starting line AGAIN and I commented to a person next to me that I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Were we ever going to get anywhere?!
Most of the race is a blur, and I can’t remember what happened at what mile but here are some of the things that I do remember:
-People were passing my like I was standing still. And I had been at the back. Maybe they were late to the race. I was quickly getting farther and farther behind the pack.
-A little toddler girl with a lion hoodie on tried running with us and I said, “Go, go go!” She was adorable.
-THE best was when a group of high school kids who were handing out water started shouting, “Go Crystal, go Crystal, go Crystal, go Crystal!” It was a much-needed boost! By the way, they knew my name because your name is printed on the front of your race bib.
-I was trying to keep up with another overweight girl running with a more fit girl who I assumed was her trainer. The more fit girl was talking to her the whole time and stuck with her The. Whole. Time. They were getting farther and farther ahead. When she stopped to pee I finally got my chance to pass her up, but afterward she quickly passed me by. But I tried my darndest to keep that girl in my sights. It was a great motivator. I ended up doing the first 6 or so miles at about a 12-something minute/mile pace, way better than the 15-something pace I did when I did my 20 mile training run. That 15-something pace included bathroom breaks and I had gone JUST before the race, so I hoped I wouldn’t have to go the whole time (wishful thinking).
-I saw a few people turn around and walk back. I felt so bad for them. I’m sure they trained just as long and just as hard as I did, paid just as much for the race entry, showed up eager and excited and even ran a good 9 miles or so. But something happened and they ended up walking back. I really felt sad for them.
– A few weeks ago I asked everyone I could think of; the race organizers, People on a Runner’s World forum, friends on Facebook; what happens if you don’t meet the 6 hour time limit of the Marathon? Well I was about to find out because at about mile 10 (???) I looked behind me and saw a school bus, a motorcycle cop, and a couple of “Budget” rental moving trucks behind them. I thought, so THIS is what happens when you don’t meet the time limit. They were following behind me very slowly and I realized that I was dead last. I started cracking up. Then a photographer took my picture, just as I was telling the people on the side of the road, “I’m last! Ha ha ha!”
Online I saw some pictures of me from the race. They are SOOOOO not flattering, and when I saw them I was thinking, that’s how fat I am? And more importantly, that’s how I run??? Embarrassing. There were Budget trucks in the background coming behind me to take down the water stations. There are pictures in which I am laughing. They are the ones where I realized that I was last in a race of 1,300+ people.
-I was in a race against the bus for what seemed like several miles when a cyclist told me that they were going to start opening up the streets to traffic, so unless I could stay ahead of the bus, I should move onto the sidewalk. Confident that I could keep racing the bus to the finish line, I nodded and kept on running. Not long afterward, the motorcycle cop came up to me and told me the same thing. But I wasn’t phased, I was still technically ahead of the bus! So I kept going. After awhile the bus passed me, I moved to the sidewalk and tried to catch up with it. When I did, the bus driver stopped ME (I was furious! Didn’t he know that this was a RACE?!) And told me that I could either get on the bus now and be driven to the finish line festivities, or else I was on my own with no one stopping traffic for me. I was offended that he would suggest that I wasn’t going to finish, and I assured him that I WAS finishing this race, so I left him in a hurry and hoped I could stay ahead of him. But instead of following slowly behind like he had been doing, he just took off up the road to pick up weary stragglers.
-I had finally passed the lady and her trainer as they started walking. But when the bus passed me I didn’t see anyone on it, so I assumed they were still back there and I was no longer last. I was slowing down, too. I had run too fast (for me) for the first several miles and now I was going so slow that the 12-something minute/mile average had turned into a 15-something minute/mile AVERAGE. Meaning that at this point I was going way slower than a 15 minute/mile. I don’t know how slow I was going at this point because the number of miles to divide into however many minutes I had gone altogether was getting too large for my little non-math-oriented brain.
-This is where the race got really hard. I caught up to a girl, and we started chatting. It was nice having someone with me who was equally slow as me and equally determined to finish this race, no matter how long it took. Unfortunately at this point we were “on our own” and had to stop at stop lights and didn’t have signs showing us which way to turn on which streets. There were still a few cones set up so we followed those, and when we weren’t sure where we were going, there were people taking down water tables and they were able to give us directions. I understood only part of them, but we kept running. I use the term “running” loosely. It was more like a jog or even a shuffle. But it was propelling us forward, and that’s all that mattered.
-At one point a little more than halfway through the race I ran out of water on my water belt and didn’t see any more operating water stations. I was terrified that I wouldn’t get through the marathon due to lack of water, so I prayed and prayed that there would be a water station soon: I was getting really thirsty. Amazingly, around the corner there was a fully operational water station and they filled up all of my bottles. They even sent me with an extra bottle of water to take with me. Hallelujah! Along the way there were a few more water stations. Some were packing up and gave us water bottles, some were unmanned but had cups of water set out for us stragglers. Either way, we stayed hydrated, thank goodness!
-About mile 14 I started to feel like, We’re only halfway? How am I ever going to get through the rest of this race? My buddy and I were running through neighborhoods, through a bike trail with lots of forks in the road, and through more neighborhoods. I wasn’t sure which way to go, but I started to notice these spray painted arrows on the ground that seemed to point the direction that looked like the correct way to me, so I started following those and miraculously they led me in the right direction. Especially miraculous because, as I found out later, those arrows weren’t for us.
-At around mile 15 I had to stop and poo again. My tummy had been hurting for awhile and I was glad of some relief, just not glad of the pee that was all over the seat and the lack of toilet paper in the stall. I resorted to using seat protectors to wipe down the seat and wipe…whatever else. Thank goodness they had those, at least.
-About a week before the marathon, our branch president (that’s the guy in charge of our congregation at church, kind of like a pastor) Told Hubby and I that Hubby should come to the race and run the last 6-8 miles with me. I wasn’t so sure that was a great idea. Who would watch our kids? Oh yeah, and Hubby hates to run! But the Branch President and his wife offered to watch the kids, and Hubby agreed to run with me. We found a bus route that would take him from the finish line to the 20 mile marker and I would meet him there.
-At about mile 15/16/17/18/19 we kept telling each other how far we had to go to meet Hubby and she said, I can’t WAIT to meet your husband!!! I couldn’t either. Only 5 more miles/4 more/3/2/1!
How My Hubby Saved Me
We finally got there and I was overwhelmed with relief! I saw him walking toward us and I just knew everything would be OK. He was supposed to have taken the bus to the 20 mile marker but found out that the bus stop was 4 miles away from the finish line, where he was parked. So he walked 6.2 miles along the race route from the finish line to the 20 mile marker and waited for me for 2 1/2 hours (thankfully he brought a book) before I showed up. Lucky for my husband I was “running” so slow that Hubby was able to just walk beside me which was really good for him because he hates hates hates to run. Whenever I stopped to walk he’d pull me by the hand and make me run.
This is when I started to get weird. I was on the verge of tears and was saying over and over again how glad I was that he was there. I looked at my skin and it was a blotchy pink and white. Also, I felt kind of week and…lightheaded isn’t the word…light bodied. So I ate some Gu (WITH caffeine) and I was OK.
Up to this point those arrows had been leading me in the right direction, so when I saw those arrows point to the right I started to turn right down a street. Hubby stopped me and said, “No, we go straight.” I was positive that we were supposed to turn because that’s what the ever-present arrows were telling us to do, but Hubby insisted that he had come from this direction earlier and he knew we were supposed to go straight. It hit me that if he hadn’t been there I would have followed those arrows off the course to who knows where and ended up lost and alone. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to realize I was lost, or what I would have done at that point. I can only assume that I would have sat down on the ground and started sobbing until I was able to flag down a car driving by and ask them to drive me to the 20 mile marker where I was supposed to meet Hubby.
This is where the mile markers disappeared and I found myself arguing with Hubby over how far we had gone. I was always convinced that we had gone farther than we actually had when we would see the occasional mileage painted on the ground.
When we finally made it to the last mile (Hubby remembered them shouting to the runners at this point that they only had one mile to go) I was barely moving forward. I kept stopping to walk, but would walk so slow I didn’t think I would ever get there, so I’d start running again. I kept praying that I would get my medal even though I was so far behind. We could see the stadium where the finish line was and it looked so far away, but soon we entered the stadium parking lot and I saw a family getting into an SUV. There was a girl who looked about my age, who said to me, “Are you JUST finishing???” ” said, “Yeah.” And she went on and on as I was running past about how I was an inspiration. As I passed I heard from behind me that whole family yell, “Go Crystal!!!!” I started crying.
I entered the stadium and saw the finish line. I started booking it. The timer was no longer up and working, but the mats were down and I pounded over those mats 7 hours and 5 minutes after I started, 1 hour and 5 minutes after the time limit, and well after they had packed up all the vendors and took down the finish line festivities. I was greeted by a sweet woman with a medal and some snacks for me. The time limit was an hour before so they did NOT have to do that. But they did and I was soooooooo grateful. I had finished! ME! I FINISHED A MARATHON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was euphoric. My buddy and the girl with her trainer were a little ways behind me. From what I can tell I was 4th from last. Not last!
I was so sore for the next week that I was limping. Luckily my heel stopped hurting during the race and didn’t hurt after, but my foot and ankle swelled up so much that I went to the Dr. and they checked me for blood clots. There were no blood clots, just tissue damage, apparently. Don’t worry, the swelling went down. But NOW my heel hurts. So 3 weeks after the marathon I’m still limping.
During the last couple miles of the race I felt my toenail moving around and I thought it had fallen off. When I looked at it, it was still there, but I could tell it was only connected to the edges by the skin. I put a Band-aid on it because it was oozing clear liquid. I think it was a popped blister under the toenail. I was tired of not being able to wear shoes because of the sensitivity of the nail, so I tried ripping it off. First I pulled it off with the skin still attached to the bottom. Then it was just flapping there and I couldn’t have that, so I held onto the top skin so it wouldn’t rip too much and I ripped off the rest of the nail. Luckily it didn’t hurt, it was just creepy.
It was a rough race, but as a friend said to me, “remember that the first guy who ran a marathon died when it was finished. I guess anything less than death is a good thing.” Tru dat, sista! I’m just glad I’m alive!