But what an amazing time I had! Oh, it was the best experience! Here's the story.
The weather was perfect. Not too cold, not to warm, not too windy and mostly overcast. I lined up at the start line around 7:45, held my 4:30 pacer sign high and the runners started to come. I met many of them as they told me their goals for the day, how many marathons they'd run, and where they were from. They had many questions about me, such as how many marathons I'd run and what my best time was. One guy told me I looked like I ran much faster than a 4:30 pace and asked if I'd be able to slow down for them. That made me feel good, of course (although, I have no idea what "look" I had going on), and I assured him that I could slow down.
|Mom is in light pink with a white hat.|
She had a group of good friends running with her, so I knew she would be fine. I also knew she would not be upset about not making her 4:30 goal, so I held pace and tried not to worry about her.
A few people stayed with me, and we talked about races, where they were from, their running experiences. As I lost those who started with me, I gained others and got to know them as well. I met two girls who were grad students at Auburn, running their first marathon. I met a man who graduated from Auburn in 1981 when I was 1 year old. This was his 23rd marathon. I met people from Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and all over Alabama. Every time I met a first timer, I could see the excitement in their eyes as they took on this challenge, and it was amazing to share in that excitement.
While some people were very happy to see me and many kindly expressed gratitude for my presence in the race, some were not so thrilled when I showed up. I could understand that. I have been caught by pacers I was trying to beat, and it can be disheartening. I told them, however, that I was only a minute behind the clock and that they should come and run with me. I jokingly threatened one guy with my sign, and he ended up staying with me for quite a while (I'm formidable, what can I say?).
As I ran on, my numbers became sparse. My strategy was to run a little under pace (which is a 10:18 for a 4:30 finish) so that my runners could stay with me and still have time for aid at each aid station. I would grab a water or Gatorade, walk for about 10 seconds and then slowly begin jogging, increasing in pace until I returned to 10:05 or so. I explained this to the runners who started with me, and they were all game for that plan.
A few times I was a little fast, so around mile 23, I stopped and stood looking at my watch until I felt enough time had passed for runners wanting a 4:30 pace to be on target. It was only about a minute, but I did not want to discourage people who were still on pace. One such runner was Brian. He was struggling, but hanging on really well and I knew he could do it. Every once in a while I would tell him how much he had left, and how many minutes he had to do it. There was plenty of time, and I think that encouraged him to keep pushing.
I took the liberty of encouraging any runners I came upon as I neared the end. The last 6 miles are usually the ones where people begin to fall apart, and there was evidence of this as far as I could see. I felt like some sort of coach carrying that sign, so I cheered for everyone I approached and encouraged them to run with me. Some did.
I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 4:29:18, and a clock time of 4:30:01. I could hear people in the crowd saying, "She's right on pace! She's exactly on pace!" and I was pleased. It was a lot harder to do than I'd imagined, but despite being a tad fast at times, I hadn't missed the mark.
I turned to cheer in Brian, who did in fact make his 4:30 goal. I then quickly got out of the finishing chute and ran back to where I'd seen Dad and Gary who were waiting for Mom. It wasn't too long until we saw her and she looked good. She said with a smile on her face, "I gave it up! Wasn't meant to be today," and finished in 4:43, which is her second fastest marathon time.
While I waited for Mom, I saw many of the runners who started with me and they weren't missing the goal by much. I saw several others inside the host hotel and they smiled and thanked me for my help. I had not expected so much gratitude. I never realized it would mean so much, but it felt good to know I, in some way, helped other runners around me.
As I said before, running a marathon is a long, hard race no matter how many times one has done it. It was a true honor to be a part of that journey with so many runners, and I would gladly do it again.
It wasn't a personal record for me. It wasn't one of my best. I didn't get to feel the exhilaration of pushing my self to the limit and racing this challenging event. But it had to be, hands down, one of the most rewarding experiences in my running journey and I enjoyed every step of the 26.2 miles I ran that day.