Tuesday, February 15, 2011
A Red Letter Marathon
On February 13, 2011 I awoke to one of the most perfect days in the history of perfect days. It started out around 35 degrees, clear and crisp with a vibrant blue sky and warm sunshine, reaching the high 50's eventually. It was perfect for being outside and that was a good thing. Because not only would I be outside, I would be outside running a marathon and continuing to chase my own personal record.
My husband and I along with two friends, Shannon and Kristi, drove to Birmingham on Saturday for the Mercedes Marathon. Shannon would be running her second half marathon and Kristi would be running with her. Jason was also doing the half, and I was planning to run the full marathon. We went to the expo, picked up our packets and tested our race chips before heading back to the hotel for some dinner and relaxation.
That night I hardly slept at all. I tossed and turned and tried every position I knew, all to no avail. I think I fell asleep sometime around 1:00 a.m. only to wake up again at 4:30 a.m. for good.
I worried about this but then I thought about Jason's Ironman and how he had hardly slept the night before. If he could do that on so little sleep, surely I would be fine for my marathon. I drank a little coffee, ate half of a Cliff Mojo bar and got dressed. Jason and I met Shannon and Kristi in the lobby and we walked to the start line with many other runners in the chilly morning air.
Jason kissed me before running a warm-up mile, and Shannon, Kristi and I found a spot in the crowd to wait. As we stood there Shannon looked at me and said, "I read that it does not matter how much sleep you get the night before a race, because the night before that is the one that counts." I felt relieved. I had gotten GREAT sleep on Friday night. I decided to quit worrying about sleep or lack there of and run the race I came to run that day.
Finally the race began and we were off. I ran with Shannon and Kristi for a bit but I was very cautious about starting out too fast, so after about 2 miles they ran ahead. I tried to hold my pace between 8:40 and 8:50 until around mile 9 when I decided I wanted to catch up to them so I could cheer for Shannon before we parted ways and I ran the 13.1 course again. That mile was an 8:07.
I pinched their butts when I caught up to them and we ended up running the rest of the half marathon together. Shannon was way ahead of her goal and feeling good, so it was exciting to know she'd be getting a PR that day. It was very fun to have them to talk with for those few miles and just as we separated for the last time, I saw Jason running to meet me.
He ran with me until mile 15 and kept me company. He had run a 1:17 half marathon and he was very pleased with that. It had been a while since he had raced anything and he was not quite sure where he was. So far, everyone had run exceptionally well that day. All that was left was for me to join them.
When Jason left I knew it was time to dig in and focus on my race. So far I was on pace, and my plan was to slowly begin to speed up and run negative splits. I continued running 8:40s until around mile 18 and then slowly began allowing myself to pick up the pace. I listened to my body and was somewhat concerned about running out of energy, but I had also planned 4 Gus and I had followed that plan. Despite my intense dislike of them, they got the job done and I did not ever become depleted of the energy I needed to hold the pace.
By mile 20 I began to get excited and somewhat emotional as I realized I still felt good. How I had longed for this moment! To reach the end of this race and still have it. It is the balance I find harder and harder to achieve as I try to run faster marathons. To start a race fast enough to PR, but slow enough to have something left at the end... On this day I knew I had done it.
I let go of my inhibitions and caution and allowed myself to continually speed up. The course was somewhat rolling, but when I approached a hill I reminded myself that I ran hills every day, and that I wanted this. I refused to slow down as I climbed.
The miles flew by until 23 and then they seemed to double in length. I did not slow down, but I was beginning to feel fatigued and I was determined to speed up anyway. As I watched the clock, I realized that it was possible to run a 3:45 if I held pace. I wanted that 3:45. I set my gaze ahead and my mind to the goal and I ran with all I had.
As the spectator crowds began to thicken along the end of the course, I kept my eye out for the one I could not wait to see. Sure enough, there he was. I gave him a thumbs up and smiled the biggest, goofiest grin I could summon. To the sound of church bells, I ran around the corner picking up speed as I watched the clock of the finish line. As I ran under it, it said 3:46, but my chip time was 3:45:52. I was ecstatic. On top of the world. Overwhelmed. Overjoyed. I grinned as they put my medal around my neck, and when the volunteer handing out finisher caps asked how I was I said, "GREAT!"
Jason soon found me, followed by and Shannon and Kristi. Hugs, congratulations and smiles were given as we took pictures and made our way back to the hotel. I could not believe I had done it. I had finished the Mercedes Marathon in 3:45:52, a thirteen minute personal record from my 3:58:57 finish in 2009.
As I stood in the shower after the race, it was my first moment alone to reflect. With the goofy grin still painted across my face I thanked God for such an amazing race.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord. I know it is just running and that I didn't even go anywhere but to the same place I started. But it means so much to me and I am so very happy. Thank you so much for this gorgeous, perfect day and for this able body."
What began as a red letter day soon became a red letter marathon and I remain grateful, excited, amazed and humbled by the experience. And as I bask in the excitement of another personal record I feel empowered to look ahead and wonder what is next. I can't wait to find out.