I didn’t sleep well throughout the night, and kept waking up thinking I had overslept and missed the alarm. Cheryl had asked if I would mind sleeping with the TV on, because it helps her to drown out more erratic noise outside the room, and I agreed, not thinking it would be a big deal. But with the TV on, I was especially concerned that I would get used to the noise and not notice the new noise of any of the alarms I had set. Fortunately, I was wrong, and when my first alarm went off, I did hear it; unfortunately, I woke up tired and kind of wanting to go back to bed. I got up anyway, and within a few minutes, the fogginess cleared and I felt okay about the upcoming race. Maybe not psyched about it per se, but okay enough to get myself going. Though it was just before 6 AM EST time, seeing the room clocks displaying 3 AM was very much a turnoff.
We headed out right at 4:00 AM – about 10 minutes later than intended, but it ended up not being a big deal. It was a quick 15 minute drive to the host hotel/start, and I used the time to call Boyfriend and make sure he checked in on time for his flight. Since we assign standby seats based on check in time instead of seniority, it was very important that he check in at the designated time – and he did, thanks to my call. Yay 🙂
At the host hotel, I checked my suitcase at the front desk, picked my packet up from the bins of unclaimed packets, and headed out to the line of school buses that would take us to the start. In the process of doing all that stuff and then heading to the bus, I somehow lost my roommate Cheryl, so when I headed for the buses, I first walked up and down the bus looking for her… to no avail. That was the only bus that was loading, though, so after looking briefly outside the bus, I gave up and boarded anyway. I ended up sitting with a really interesting and talkative guy from the 50 States Club, and he was so entertaining that unlike the bus rides for the Deseret Morning News Marathon and Mesa Falls Marathon, I didn’t go to sleep. I wasn’t quite as tired as I had been when I first woke up, and the ride was only about 15 minutes anyway. Nice!
We arrived at a strip mall kind of in the middle of nowhere, which was apparently the start. Not quite the same as starting under the Olympic arch in Atlanta or hanging out in an art museum for Niagara Falls, but it was perfectly fine. I suppose if it had been raining, I would have blessed the organizers for coming up with a location that provided shelter for the runners 🙂 I passed the time chatting with 50 staters and Maniacs, which was really fun. It was so cool to do a race where 1/4 of the participants were frequent marathoners like myself – there’s just something nice about feeling like one of the crowd instead of a crazy marathoning freak of nature! One of my favorite people to chat with was a 50 stater I had met back at Hatfield McCoy in June – Sally was running this one with her dad, and it was his 65th birthday that day! They made custom shirts, with Sally’s letting everyone know that it was her dad’s birthday and her dad’s saying “thanks for coming to my party!” So cute 🙂 Sally asked what sort of time I was aiming for (she’s really fast, with her PR somewhere in the lower 3 hour range). She said she was planning to just go at her dad’s pace, which could range anywhere from 5 to 6 hours, so we expected not to be seeing each other much on the course. I said that I was looking to be somewhere between 4:15 and 4:30 was my goal, but that I really didn’t care how slow I was as long as I finished. How prophetic those words would turn out to be…
Before too long, volunteers started making last call for bag check. I headed over to the Uhaul van that was taking the bags, only to see it start driving away! Panicked, I started running after it, along with a crowd of other runners in the same situation. Luckily, a volunteer stopped us, and told us it was just circling around the building to park on the other side and do all the loading there. Oh. I relaxed, and calmly loaded my bag once it stopped. I was a little nervous about getting my stuff back, as I didn’t have one of the “official” drop bags since I had done the late packet pickup. Instead, I used my trusty drop bag I saved from the Country Music Marathon, and then just stuck a small paper tag on it with my bib number, name, and cell phone number in case it got lost and then found later. I hoped that the tag would be seen, but just in case, I made sure I had my driver’s license, credit card, and money in my fanny pack, so if worst came to worst, I could leave my drop bag to fly out and have them mail it to me later.
From the bag drop, I headed around the back of the building to the porta potties – and found ridiculously long lines. Longer than I’ve ever seen for any marathon, and it was only 5 minutes to the start. The lines moved fairly quickly (everyone wanted to just hurry up and get to the start), but it wasn’t long before we heard the Star Spangled Banner… while still standing in line for the porta potties. Uh oh! I remarked to someone else that at least we were still in line for the porta potties, as I’d feel pretty unpatriotic and inappropriate if I were using the porta potty while listening to the National Anthem! Finally getting my turn, I made it to the start just seconds before the gun went off. Sweet!
It was absolutely pitch black on the road, and many runners were complaining that they couldn’t even see to turn on their Garmins. We joked that we thought we had turned them on and started them properly, but that ten miles in, there was going to be some poor person who would finally be able to see the screen and realize that their watch was still off. I hoped it wouldn’t be me! Fortunately, a few hundred yards down the road, a streetlight gave off enough light for us to check and see that we had started them correctly – no mishaps for me.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for my iPod. I tried to turn on my “Marathon – Country” playlist, and my iPod froze when I hit play. I tried toggling the lock switch, holding down the center button and play button simulataneously (supposed to reboot the iPod)… no dice. I figured it wouldn’t be a problem though – I’ve run plenty of races without my iPod, and I usually get along just fine by singing to myself (in my head) or finding people to talk to as we run.
The dark presented another problem though, as I realized I had to be very careful about where I was going. We were running on the shoulder of the road and far right lane, which were lined with traffic cones to prevent us from wandering into oncoming traffic (though really, there wasn’t much of that at 5:30 AM). However, the glitch here was that the reflective tape that goes on the top of those cones only really reflects if there’s some sort of light to reflect… and there wasn’t. It was such utter darkness that I usually couldn’t see the cones until I was almost on top of them. It would seem that other runners had the same problem, as I saw a lot of cones that had been knocked over, presumably by people who had run right smack into them. I appreciated that the race director had started the race so early in order to help us not be running in the heat, but it was tough to be running in such darkness without streetlights or portable lights (like Deseret News) or something.
Within an hour, though, it started to lighten up. I couldn’t see the sunrise – it was more of a gradual realization that I could see the things around me – but it was appreciated nonetheless. As it got lighter and lighter, I was also very pleased to see that the day was extremely overcast, which meant that I didn’t necessarily have to trade darkness for sunny heat. Excellent! Now I just needed to overcome the altitude that was making me feel a little short of breath (despite my relatively slow pace) and overall sluggishness.
Now to tell about the most embarrassing experience I’ve ever had while running. If you know me in real life, I would kindly appreciate it if you would skip the rest of this paragraph and continue with the next one – I’ll give you a version of it that will still allow you to follow along. If you only know me through the internets, well, I guess you can read on at your own discretion. Though it wasn’t sunny and I actually wasn’t sweating at all, I was still sucking down Gatorade and water at every water stop as if I was sweating bullets and needed to replenish. This turned out to be a problem when I ignored the porta potty at mile 4 and then couldn’t find another porta potty for miles. By mile 10, I was really considering just hitting the side of the road for some relief (as the guys were doing), despite the fact that there wasn’t really any cover in order to do so. That’s how desperate I was. But finally, I spied a porta potty and ran to it eagerly (probably at a faster pace than I had ran thus far in the whole race). I thought I was lucky and in the clear when I saw there was no one in there and it was all mine, but I neglected to take into account that I was wearing my stupid skirt that has a tie at the waist instead of a purely elastic waistband. I can’t quite bring myself to write what happened… but I think you can guess. I will add that it was NOT what happened to this poor guy (warning: NOT for the faint of heart).
For the sake of my real life friends reading, let’s just say that at the mile 10 aid station, I accidentally knocked over a cup of lemon lime Gatorade and it completely soaked my skirt. In some summer races, this would not be a problem in the least, as being out in the wind and sun for hours will usually take care of that problem. It is a wicking skirt, after all. Unfortunately, the wicking properties seem to not work as well when it’s cool out, and my skirt just felt cold, clammy, and uncomfortable. I tried to stop at a porta potty and grab some paper towels to dry it a little bit, but that wasn’t till a few miles later when I found another porta potty.
Side note: by the sink in the porta potty where I got the towels, there was a sign noting that the water in the porta potty sink “is not to be used for drinking or cooking.” I was glad to see that sign, because while you know I sometimes cook in strange places, it helped me remember not to try cooking in the itty bitty room that reeks of runners’ trots.
Continuing on, I felt a little better thanks to the paper towels, and a lot better once I heard a DJ pumping out “Sexy Back,” which reminded me of when I did the Hartford Marathon and the DJ there played that while shouting out how sexy I was. Why can’t Boyfriend come to more of my marathons and do stuff like that? Oh, yeah – because I have a habit of making it a boring trip when he comes. Thinking about that, I felt bad for Vegas being so boring for him the last time, and I just couldn’t wait to get there to do it right tonight!
However, my motivation was just nowhere to be found. Normally, I’m motivated to get to the finish line by thoughts of the yummy food I’m going to have when I finish, but my plan today was to deprive myself at the finish line, in order to be able to further indulge on drinks and buffets as soon as I got to Vegas with Boyfriend. Unfortunately, finishing faster wouldn’t help me get to Vegas any sooner – my flight was scheduled for 12:50, and there wasn’t an earlier one that I could catch by running faster. 12:50 was also late enough that it meant I could pretty much go as slowly as I wanted without fear of missing my flight. The combination of this and my frozen iPod left me with no motivation whatsoever, and I found myself utterly and completely apathetic, to an extent I’ve never felt before.
To make matters worse, we were now running on a paved bike path through a really boring area. The scenery was pretty much nonexistent, and the only differentiation between the miles was the other runners/bikers/walkers who were out getting their normal recreation on the path… and getting in our way. Perhaps this is a bit selfish, but I’ve always thought that if you’re running on a marathon course (and especially if you’re in the last few miles), the polite thing to do is look out for them. I hate when I’m going along in the later miles of a race, barely plodding along and just trying to get through to the end, and then I have to weave around people not in the marathon. Is that wrong? This time, I was particularly annoyed by a little girl biking who was riding back and forth on the path and ringing the bell on her bike every time she would come up behind. Not ringing it just once, but ringing it over and over until she was finally past you. Then, once she had passed you, she’d turn around and ride back to her parents, and then do the same thing again. This game of leapfrog was particularly annoying due to the fact that she was 6 years old and I wasn’t about to even politely ask her to cool it with the bell.
Around this time, I started really trying to come up with ways to pass the time. I had already tried singing in my head to make up for the loss of my iPod, but I inexplicably got the Chicago song “They Both Reached for the Gun” stuck in my head. Not the whole song, as I don’t even know the whole song, but just the chorus, which repeats over and over and is kind of hard to get the rhythm of. I spent a good 30 minutes trying to figure out how many “oh yes”es and “the gun”s there were in order to get it to line up with the beat… not the most productive or satisfying way to spend my time. Now, I turned my attention to how I was running and how I could get myself to the end. Inspired by Jeff Galloway’s speech the night before, I decided it couldn’t hurt to try the Galloway method of running and walking.
I started with an interval of four minutes of running to one minute of walking. I had no idea what the proper interval for a ten minute pace was, but I figured if I did two minutes at about a 9 minute pace (my normal running pace) and then two minutes at about a 15 minute pace (my normal walking pace), it would equate to about a 10 minute mile. While starting this technique off, I calculated that with 10 miles to go, it would mean twenty intervals of four-to-one, so I could kind of think of it like the elliptical. Unfortunately, this mind trick stopped working when I got bored with the four minute intervals and switched to two minutes of running followed by 30 seconds of walking. At first, I liked that I could get going really fast on the two minute sections, because I knew I’d be done soon and could walk for a little bit. I also liked that this created kind of a HIIT (high intensity interval training) pattern that would hopefully burn more calories. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account the fact that doing two minute/thirty second intervals would require a lot of looking at my watch, which meant the time passed really slowly. Without some sort of setup to alert me when my interval was up, I hated this, and I gave up after about four miles. But hey, that’s four miles closer to the finish!
The next trick up my sleeve was to call my mom. I had kept my cell phone with me for the race (lately, Boyfriend’s been really sweet about calling me to encourage me during marathons), so I figured I might as well use it to “phone-a-friend.” I was going so slowly anyway, it’s not like I had any trouble talking on the run! Unfortunately, my mom didn’t really have that much to offer, other than what I already knew: if I wanted to finish, I had to get there, and the faster I did it, the faster I’d be done. However, what kept running through my mind was still that getting to the end didn’t really matter – all I really wanted was to get to Vegas to see Boyfriend.
In the last few miles, I actually started going back and forth with Sally and her dad over and over. So much for my 4:15-4:30 finish! We were all about on pace for a 4:45 or 5:00 at mile 21, depending on how we pushed it for those last few miles. The problem was that I had no interest whatsoever in pushing myself. Even when it got down to mile 23 (just 5K to go!), I still couldn’t motivate myself to keep running, and I was walking a lot. Lucky for my motivation, the sun came out and it started getting hot. There’s inspiration to finish! At mile 25, with just one mile to go, I finally picked the pace up to an easy jog. There were still very few spectators, even though we were getting back into town, with the majority of the accolades coming from the volunteers policing the intersections. Several of them remarked upon how fresh I looked so late in the race, which… yeah, of course I looked fresh – I had been really lazy and barely putting in any effort! (Not that they knew that). Until the sun came out, I quite literally had barely broken a sweat, and it was only in these last few miles that I started to get a little glow.
Finally I started to see some familiar landmarks (the highway, the host hotel) and knew I was approaching the finish. Sure enough, I turned onto a side street and saw the 26 mile marker ahead. Yippee – I was almost done! I kissed my hand and slapped the mile marker, but still not seeing the actual finish line, I decided not to sprint it in. It turned out to be a good decision – though a chute of flags sprung up just after the 26 mile mark, it still felt like forever till I ran that 0.2 miles to the finish. I checked my Garmin, and the distance was measured correctly (though I had noticed long before that I picked up about an extra 0.2 miles somewhere along the way, probably by not being careful of my tangents). However, I’m a big fan of designing courses so that once you hit the 26 mile mark, the finish line is within sight and not around a corner, as this one was.
The other thing I didn’t like about the finish line was that while there was a big roped off chute for the finishers to run through on their way to the finish line, there were no spectators lined up on the sides of it. In fact, there were very few people even paying any attention when I finished – how disheartening. Granted, I finished pretty late, so maybe there were crowds of people cheering earlier, but to me, the roped off chute just seemed superfluous and only highlighted the fact that there weren’t crowds.
On the plus side, there was an announcer who took great care to look up each finisher’s number and announce their name and hometown as they came across the finish line. When I got within about 30 feet of the finish line and the announcement was made, it inspired a few people to clap and cheer, but my only possible response was an ironic half-smile. They were cheering for my accomplishment, but I knew in my heart that it was no accomplishment – in fact, I had done a pretty poor job of pushing myself and actually trying. I was actually kind of embarrassed to be crossing the finish line and given a medal under those circumstances, and though I raised my arms in a V for Victory in time for the finish photo, it was a very halfhearted salute that I’m sure will be reflected in the pictures.
After having my chip removed, I proceeded to the little park next to the finish line, where other finishers directed me when I asked for food. Actually, I just wanted to scope out the selection and see what food there was, but I wasn’t planning to have any – I really wanted to save my calories for Vegas and a delicious icy-cold pina colada with Boyfriend. However, I found myself tempted by the asiago cheese bagels (I love them so much and miss having them now that I watch what I eat) and these delicious little round brownie bites. They were so chocolate-y and tasty (and sadly easy to pop in your mouth and devour), and while I saw they came out of a package that indicated they were imported from some bakery in San Francisco, I tried not to look too closely at the label – I did not want to see how many calories I was consuming every time I popped one of those.
Just as I was about to head back to the hotel to shower, they announced that the award ceremony was starting. Though I thought my own performance was terrible, I’ve learned my lesson from past races that you should always stick around for the awards just in case. When it came time for the F20-24 age group, they announced that there was no third place finisher, and I started laughing. So I was going to win second place by default, because there were only two of us in the category? As it turned out, they called someone else for that one and for first place – I had finished so slowly that they hadn’t even seen my official result when it was time to distribute the awards! The organizers told me to stick around till the end of the ceremony and they’d give me my third place award then – a little disappointing to not get recognized on stage or anything, but still cool that I got an award. While I waited, I called my mom to tell her the good news, laughing hysterically about the fact that I never run fast enough to win anything, and then the one time I put next to no effort into it, I win by default.
I was a little annoyed that I had to wait around till the end – I wanted to get back to the hotel and shower – but when the results finally came out, I was glad I stayed. Believe it or not, even with my 4:57 time in a young age group, I actually didn’t win by default – there were six of us in the category, but three women came in after I did! That made me feel a teeny bit better about accepting the award, which was a pretty cool piece of handpainted Native American pottery. After collecting it, I met up with my friend Diane who was helping me out by letting me use the shower in her hotel room, and we started walking back. It was about 3/4 of a mile, and I got halfway back before realizing that I had never seen the checked bag pickup. It was starting to get late, so I found myself running back to the finish line to find my bag. Ironically, I think I ran faster to get my bag than I did when I was actually heading for the finish line 🙂 From there, I jogged part of the way to the hotel and then settled into a walk. If you add that to the 0.2 extra miles I covered in the race, we can chalk the day’s total up to about 27.5 miles. Does that mean I get to count it as an ultra?
After a very quick shower, I threw my business clothes on and headed down to the lobby to catch the shuttle to the airport. I had inquired about the timing of the shuttle on my trip upstairs to shower, and they had told me it had just left on a run and would be back in 15 minutes – hence why I was rushing the clean up in order to be back on time. When I got down to the lobby, the clerk told me that it still hadn’t gotten back and should be there momentarily – but others who were waiting for the shuttle said that it had gone out just five minutes earlier and probably wouldn’t be back for a while. Lucky for me, a couple who were about to head to the airport in their rental car offered me a ride. I know my mother always said not to accept rides from strangers, but does that include runners, particularly marathoners? I guess now you’re all learning my weak spot, and I hope there are no criminals reading this to take advantage of me, but I’m pretty trusting of runners and racers – certainly more so than I am of the general population. Many people have already written a lot about this subject, so I don’t want to belabor the point, but just the simple fact that running requires a lot of hard work and dedication (often with little promise of reward) tends to weed out the bad apples.
I made it to the airport, thanking my new friends profusely for the ride, and headed for check in. It was 12:18, and I was proud to make it just before the 30 minute window for my 12:50 flight. However, looking at the displays above check in, I discovered that I had written down the flight time wrong – it was not at 12:50, but 12:35! As soon as I got to an agent, I begged her to let me at least try for the flight, swearing that I would run through the terminal and that I was packed to go through security very quickly. I was expecting a fight or denial, and planned to just get whatever ticket she would give me and then beg the gate agent to move me up, but to my surprise, she agreed with no complaint. However, I still kept my promise of trying to get to the gate as fast as possible. There was no crew line at ABQ, so I had the misfortune of getting stuck behind an elderly woman who was clearly a very infrequent traveler and had no idea what to do with her shoes, socks, and liquids. I toyed with asking her if I might go ahead of her in order to catch my flight, but I felt bad asking, so I instead just tried to help her figure out where things went so we could get through as quickly as possible.
Bursting out of the TSA area, I then went into a full-on sprint for the gate. Despite the fact that I was carrying a totebag, wearing dress shoes, and dragging a rollerboard suitcase, I can say with certainty that it was the fastest I had run all day. I arrived at the gate breathless, but just in time for the flight. See, the problem is just that medals aren’t motivational enough for me anymore. Someone really ought to sponsor a marathon where you run 26.2 miles to an airport terminal, and if you get there in time to board the flight, you get to go to the Caribbean. Perhaps I’ll suggest it to marketing… I could really use another PR.
After all of that, it was now on to Vegas, baby! The best part of my weekend was finally here: I’d get to lounge, eat, drink, and gamble with Boyfriend for a day and a half before we had to return to New York and our jobs. A (healthy) marathon, some (unhealthy) debauchery, and a cross-country trip to explore two new cities – what could be better than that?
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 260/378
Gender place: 79/138
Age group place: 3/5