“26.2 miles, because 26.3 would be crazy”

That was one of my favorite signs at Saturday’s race. 

I feel like I should warn you that this post is about a million years long. But if you don’t have the time for a novel right now, my friend Paul kindly wrote a scarily accurate summary of my race for you without me even having to tell him about it:

“I ran, then I ran some more, then I ran up a hill, then I ran down a hill, then I had to pee, then I was thirsty, then I ran some more.”

How did he know exactly what happened?! It’s amazing. So yeah, that’s all you really need to know. Continue at your own risk . . .  

The funny thing about races is that, once they’re over, the edges tend to get a little blurred for me. I sort of start to suspect that maybe I dreamed the whole thing. And the longer I race for, the hazier my memory becomes.

The Baltimore Marathon was easily the longest I’ve ever run, and also the first time I ran anything longer than a 5k by myself.

So, I sat down to write this race report for you all, and realized that I have no idea what the hell happened while I was out there running for 26 miles. I think some stuff happened, and I’m pretty sure that some other stuff happened, and I’m sort of guessing that a few things happened. But this race report is going to be ALL over the place. No structure. A very loose timeline. Possibly fictional. Brace yourselves.

 

TYPICAL PROBLEMS AT THE STARTING LINE:

“Oh my God, I have to pee so badly right now.”

Poor Josh. I may have said ‘Hi’ or ‘Good morning,’ before I blurted out my current predicament. But probably not. I kept telling myself it was just nerves and that I didn’t need a pointless trip to the bathroom, until it was too late to actually make one anymore. Now, at 7:45 I was starting to wonder whether I would even make it to the first porta potty stop, which I was pretty sure didn’t show up until mile four. Too much information? Yup. Imagine how Josh felt.

Despite my less-than-conventional greeting, I was really quite pleased to have found Josh at all in the mass of people milling around the 4:30 start sign. I didn’t really think I was going to finish in four and a half hours; I hadn’t been training enough for that. But he was aiming for under four, and we had compromised to at least cross the start line together.

About two minutes before the gun went off, while we were standing in the gray, semi-dawn drizzle and I was fretting about my tiny bladder, Josh turned to me and said, “Thanks for talking me into this.”

I said, “Thanks for doing it,” and then, “You know you’ll be cursing my name around mile 20, right?”

“Yup. That’s why I thought I say it now.”

That conversation is the last thing that I’m absolutely, positively, one-hundred-percent sure happened. I might have hallucinated the rest of this.

 

BUT WHERE’S THE DANG PORTA POTTY?:

The beginning of a run is never really my favorite bit. I’m a failure at short distances, because it takes my legs a good four or five miles to warm up. But THIS four or five miles was especially miserable because I was horribly distracted worrying that I might pee my pants.

I remembered reading in the race info that there would be porta potties at every even mile except mile two (Apparently, we were supposed to have enough sense to pee BEFORE we started. As if.), so I was overjoyed to see a couple of them only a mile or so after the start. Then I was less overjoyed to see the enormous line of people who were evidently having the same problem as I was. I decided that it just wasn’t worth five minutes off my time, and that I could persevere until mile four rolled around. Also, I felt smugly happy that I could pretend I was not one of those poor planners.

Except that I turned out to be the worst planner of all, because mile four came and went WITHOUT A PORTA POTTY. The race literature had LIED. I briefly considered joining the gangs of men who kept darting in and out of the woods when we got to the first park, but decided that this would not go over quite as well for me as it was for them.

The promised porta potties finally showed up about a half mile later. I still had to stand in line. It was totally worth it.

 

SOME SCARY GUYS AND MORE ON HAVING TO PEE (BUT NOT REALLY):

Remember how I said the timeline was going to be wonky or nonexistent in this post?

Okay, good. Just making sure. There are a few hilarious snapshots from this race that I’m pretty sure actually happened, but I have no idea WHEN they happened.

The running festival happens every year in Baltimore. More than 25,000 runners register. It’s very well publicized. Everyone knows about it. Almost everyone.

At one point, I was passing a street corner at the same time that two tough looking guys were trying to cross the street. Unsuccessfully. Because there were too many runners.

“What the fuck is this?!” Said one outraged tough guy to the other.

“I dunno man, breast cancer or something.” His buddy replied.

I started giggling, and then figured I’d better run faster, just in case the scary guys realized I was laughing at them. Then I saw a sign that said, “Smile if you’ve peed yourself running.” I immediately tried hard to look frowny, but this only made me laugh harder. The people holding the sing definitely noticed me. They waved. I waved back. Why not? I had ALMOST peed myself at mile four, after all.

 

DID YOU SAY CROSSFIT??:

Obviously, I cannot go anywhere these days without finding someone else who crossfits and then talking endlessly about it until some normal person in our vicinity interrupts with, “Wait, you hate snatches, love thrusters, and were cleaning and jerking what last night? Can you please talk about something APPROPRIATE?”

So, of course, when I heard the words “Sally up” crop up in a conversation going on behind me, I immediately spun around and blurted out, “You CrossFit?!?” to the two people behind me. For the next mile or so, we proceeded to have an enthusiastic conversation about weights, PRs, favorite wods, and how much we had NOT run in preparation for this race.

Crossfitters are great. I saw my new friends on and off for most of the race until we got to the worst of the hills, and I lost them for good.

 

A GU SHORTAGE AND MY INABILITY TO SPOT SOME REALLY OBVIOUS MILE MARKERS:

Running distance always creates an odd sort of battle between my stomach and the rest of my body. Gels and sports drinks have an immediate and magical effect on my energy level. They make me feel FANTASTIC about 30 seconds after I consume them. About two minutes after that, they also make my stomach dance an Irish jig. Not in a good way.

As my adopted running coach, L had stressed over and over again the importance eating enough during the race, and I had agreed that I would need at least four packets of Gu for the marathon. She thought this was enough, but just BARELY.

When I left the house, I brought along three packets of Gu, assuming that I would be able to pick one up along the course. I ate one at mile five. I ate one at mile ten. I thought it was odd that I only had one packet left, because I was pretty sure the first Gu stop was supposed to have happened at mile eight. I passed the halfway point. I started to worry. I’ve never “hit the wall” before, and I wasn’t really interested in trying it out today. I passed mile marker 14.

Then I stopped passing any mile markers at all. I’m serious, people. They just stopped showing up. For a lot of miles. And I was looking for them too, because I was in a panic of indecision about when would be the best time to eat my last remaining Gu. Finally, after running for about another hour, I had the presence of mind to ask one of the volunteers at a water table what mile I was at. He gave me kind of a funny look and said it was mile 19. About 30 seconds after that, I spotted the 19 mile marker. Ahh, yes. Well, you can never be too sure about these things.

I ate my last Gu and hoped for the best.

 

MY BRAIN STARTS TO MELT, BUT REALLY, I WAS NEVER GREAT AT MATH ANYWAY:

At mile 19, I glanced at my watch for the first time in a while, since I finally had a distance to match my time with: it was 11:09. Crap. I felt like I had been running fast enough to hit my four-and-a-half-hour goal, but I should have been at mile 20 almost ten minutes ago if I wanted to finish by noon.

Just in case you’re wondering, the race started at 8a.m. A four-and-a-half-hour marathon would have me finishing at 12:30. Have you spotted where I went wrong yet? Yeah? Too bad I didn’t.

I heaved a sigh and took the only course of action I could think of: I sped up. I knew I was too far behind to make up enough time, but I could at least go a little bit faster, get a little bit closer to my goal time. Thankfully, this revelation took place at the top of a hill, otherwise I may have decided to give up altogether and just walk the rest of the way.

 

I AM A TOTAL ROCKSTAR, MOSTLY BY ACCIDENT:

Ever since L gave me my first real lesson on running efficiently, I have been able to run down hills so much faster. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but actually, I used to run down hills only marginally faster than I ran up them. So, once I decided to speed up, I was flying past most of the other runners on the way downhill. Except for this one girl who had obviously gotten the same efficiency lesson before, because we were running down the hill at exactly the same pace with exactly the same form, stride for stride. I’m pretty sure I muttered something like, “Thank God for gravity,” which made her laugh.

Once we got to the bottom, my new friend started to get ahead of me again. But since I was so far behind schedule (read: still couldn’t do math), I decided I would make an effort to pace with her. Which I did. For SEVERAL miles. I felt like I deserved a pat on the back. Then, while weaving in and out of the crowd, I finally got a look at the number she had pinned to the front of her shirt. And guys, get this: she was not running the full marathon. She was not even running the half. She was running the relay. I was pacing with someone who had STARTED running a couple of miles ago. Hell yeah! I deserved something better than a pat on the back. Stopping running, maybe? That would have been a nice reward.

Shortly after that, we got to a water stop, and I lost my pacer. (I guess she wasn’t thirsty.) It would have been a sad moment for me, but that was also the moment when I spotted the mile 22 race clock and realized that I was, in fact, 10 minutes ahead of schedule rather than 20 minutes behind. Hallelujah.

 

SUDDEN DEATH OR SOME SUCH NONSENSE:

Good thing I made up so much time on those hills because at some point between miles 23 and 24, I DIED. I went from feeling pretty much fine except for my sore quads, to feeling totally awful in the course of five minutes. If I had walked at all during the rest of the race, I would have started walking then. But I hadn’t, so I didn’t.

Except for some slight cheating at the last water stop.

I had decided it was ok to walk while I drank water because past experience suggests that you lose more time by choking than by walking, but up to this point I ran up to every water stop, got my drink, and started running immediately afterward. THIS time, I started walking as soon as I saw the stop, and only grudgingly started running again once I passed the last table. I’ve still been saying that I ran the whole thing. Shhhh, don’t tell on me! It sounds so much less cool if I ran ALMOST the whole thing.

 

WHO PUT THE FAKE FINISH LINE THERE?:

I have sprinted through the finish line of every race I’ve ever run. Well, maybe not a full on sprint, but I always speed up.

I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to run any faster at this finish line, but when I saw an arch up ahead, and everyone else started to speed up, and the crowd seemed pretty excited, I decided that I could run faster after all.

Only it turned out to be just some random archway, because I ran through it and, instead of shouting things like, “Well done! You’re finished!” the spectators were still shouting things like “Only 0.2 miles to go!” How the heck was I supposed to have known it wasn’t the end? (Okay, don’t answer that. I do realize that finish lines will obviously always be marked as such. But remember, I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time.)

I felt a little bit like I was going to throw up after that. Sprinting twice was more than I could manage. I ran the rest of the way, but didn’t sprint through the finish line. But, bonus, I also didn’t throw up.

4:21:16

I almost fell down a couple of times in the finish chute. Then I sat down in the parking lot for a while and decided that I didn’t feel TOO awful. I wondered briefly if that meant I could have run faster. Oh well, too late now. I went to find Kate (who was nice enough to bring me some dry clothes) and get some lunch.

 

P.S. I didn’t bump into Josh again at the race, but I feel like he’s come up enough in most of my marathon-related posts, that you all might be interested in knowing that he also hit his goal time (under four hours) with 3:55:50.

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4 thoughts on ““26.2 miles, because 26.3 would be crazy”

  1. You and Josh did a great job. Very impressive. I think you can safely say that you ran the whole thing. Only one break for the bathroom? What was the course best time? To finish a race of 25k people is excellent! Hope you got a t shirt out of it.

    • Thanks! It was a lot of fun. We got quite nice Under Armor shirts out of this one actually … one of the better race shirts I’ve gotten.

      I think the fastest overall time was a bit under 2.5 hours. I checked it, but I don’t remember exactly what it was now.

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