Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Running with Jason

On September 19, 2009, for the first time in my marriage of two years, my husband ran an entire marathon WITH ME! This is big if you know how quickly my husband usually runs a marathon. If you count the beginning of “us” to now, we have attended twelve marathons together, running our own races and meeting at the finish (usually with him waiting for me…for about two hours). Never in all those races have we run together, unless you count him coming back a mile or two to run in with me.

The arrival of the Air Force Marathon found Jason dealing with some serious ham-string issues. I’d already signed both of us up to run the marathon, but he decided to change his race to the half-marathon and run with me until they split off. This plan was foiled, however, when we discovered the half started two hours after the whole. So he switched back to the marathon and said he’d run with me.

I was ecstatic.

We awoke early Saturday and headed to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. We were told to arrive as early as we could due to traffic, however, we had no trouble getting on base, which left us an hour in the 56 degree morning until the start of the race. Never before have I wanted to hang out in a port-a-potty as long as I could.

We stood huddled together in the dark, surrounded by old air planes, and a ton of other chilly runners. About twenty minutes before the start, two men could be seen parachuting out of the sky. One carried the Air Force flag, the other the United States Flag. This was followed by the singing of the National Anthem, and a hush fell over the crowd as the words seeped into our hearts. I was sporting my red, white, and blue Fleet Feet Racing Team running digs, a matching visor, and, as many of you know, none of that is complete without matching red toenails. I was ready to run for my country and the men that made the freedoms I enjoy possible.

We talked briefly with Mom, Gary, and Beth who had surprised us at the race expo. Two F-16s did a fly-over and then the shot rang out that began the race. As we started to inch forward I suddenly realized I had not received my three good-luck kisses. “Quick, kiss me!” I said, and Jason did. Our race had begun.

On my wrist, I wore the split bracelet for a 4:10 finish. I really had no idea where I was as far as my marathon time was concerned, and this marathon was where I planned to find out. Jason said I could do better than that, but I wasn’t sure. With scorching summer days and back issues as my training buddies, I didn’t know how I’d do.

We started slightly behind the 4:00 pacer and that was fine with me. I intended to keep him in sight, but it wasn’t long before we’d caught and passed him. Shortly after that, we caught and passed the 3:50 pacer as well. I wasn’t sure I could hold that pace, but at the moment I felt great! We seemed to glide effortlessly through mile after mile, and I felt strong and steady. Miles 9 and 10 took us off base through a little downtown area, and it was like a big 2-mile party. I laughed and waved as the cheerleaders, boy scouts, and bands cheered for us. I felt like a celebrity.

On and on we ran, and I was continuously amazed at the pace, which was anywhere from 8:18 to 8:40. We reached the half-way point in 1:53 and I couldn’t believe it. That was the fastest half-marathon within a marathon that I’d ever run.

It was so fun to run with Jason. Every once in a while we’d chat with each other and the runners around us. We’d run apart, but always within eyesight. At water stops he’d get two cups, fall back, and hand one to me. He grabbed a Gu every time I needed one, tearing off the top so I could squirt the disgusting goop into my mouth. We laughed about that, saying that only in a marathon would you do such a thing. We ran close together when we saw a camera, and I teased him about smiling and how I wished he was wearing HIS red, white, and blue running outfit so we’d be twins.

When we reached mile 15, I did a little calculating (which is questionable for an English major in the middle of a marathon) and Jason helped me figure that if I ran an 8:30 pace for the rest of the way, I could run a 3:40, qualifying for Boston. At mile 15 this seemed somewhat possible. At mile 18, however, I began to tire out. I told Jason that I didn’t mind not qualifying for Boston this time. I was already doing WAY better than I’d imagined and I was happy with a personal record. Even if I slowed down to a nine minute pace, it looked like I would finish in 3:47. I was ecstatic!

Unfortunately, this did not last. By mile 19 I was VERY tired. By mile 21 I started to ache horribly. By mile 23 I wanted to pull my legs off. Mile 23, I believe was a thirteen minute mile. Mile 24 wasn’t much faster. I thought to myself, this is INSANE. You have TWO MILES. GO GO GO! But my legs were killing me. It hurt to run, it hurt to walk, it hurt to stretch, to squat, to stand still. Jason took my hand and we walked up the hills, weaving in and out of the half-marathon walkers. I was a little sad that my personal record would end so painfully…and then sad when I watched it slip by. Jason was also hurting pretty badly, but I think he was more concerned about me than about himself.

Finally, he told me to lie down and he would stretch my hamstrings. I didn’t want to, but I didn’t know what else to do. So, during a marathon – the very END of a marathon – I laid down on the side of the road. As Jason helped me stretch, I thought this would be funny later. Later.

Finally, at long last, we could hear the sounds of the finish line. I’d already told Jason I wanted to hold hands and run through the finish line and he agreed. When we got close, I told him to take my hand and together we finished the race. As soon as we crossed the line, he pulled me around and gave me a kiss. This was followed by the whoops of the Airmen around us. One even gave me a high five.

Jason apologized several times for starting me off at such a fast pace. He felt responsible for the way I felt at the end. I however, was still excited about my performance, and I told him so. No way would I have ever known that I could run 18 miles under nine minute pace, unless I tried it. And I wouldn’t have tried it on my own. We’d finished in 4:04:39 and that was my second fastest marathon ever. And I’d lain down during it, stopping to stretch multiple times at the end as well! I was not disappointed at all. I was excited, determined, and hopeful that maybe Boston was closer than I thought.

And finishing time aside, this had been one of the most fun marathons I’d ever run. Doing something that I love, in the country I love, with the man I love – you can’t beat that. Not by qualifying for Boston or getting a personal record. This marathon will always be remembered as one of my most favorites because Jason ran it with me.

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