I ran a marathon, people! A year ago I remember telling someone "I literally can not wrap my brain around how you could run 26 miles." And then, one night over dinner and drinks with friends, I made an announcement that shocked even myself: "I want to run a marathon." The next day, before I came to my senses, I signed up (and paid $90 to register for) the Portland Marathon. I really had no idea if I could (or would) actually do it. At the time I hadn't been running for a couple of years. But I wanted to start again and I needed a goal. A big goal. So I chose the Portland marathon.
My mom wants the blow-by-blow, so here it is.
I was so anxious and grouchy the few days leading up to the marathon. Poor David and Anna got their heads bitten off several times as we packed and got ready for the trip to Portland. Our wonderful friends Rod and Julie joined us there, and we had a great Italian dinner the night before to celebrate Anna's birthday. I was so nervous that I allowed myself one glass of wine with dinner, which was probably not the best idea. I got to bed a couple of hours later than I'd meant to, and when the alarm went off at 5:30 it felt like I hadn't slept at all. I got ready, ate something, drank lots of water and we headed for the starting line. David and Anna and Julie wished me luck and I was off, on my own in a sea of thousands and thousands of marathon participants.
I stood around eves-dropping on people, trying to focus on others instead of my own anxiety. There was one woman near me, she must have been in her late 70 or early 80s, with a sign on her back that said "This is my 42nd marathon! How about you?" Many people were having their photos taken with her and she obviously was in her element. Me? I was terrified.
Finally the race began and we were off. I honestly didn't expect to see my family and friends until the finish line; they were all tired and I fully expected them to go back to bed. I wouldn't have blamed them a bit. But within the first mile or so, I heard my name and there they were, David, Anna, Julie, and somehow, in the 20 minutes or so since they'd dropped me off, they raced back to the condo and got Rod out of bed. It made me feel so loved and supported that I ran the next couple of miles with a grin on my face. I saw them again as we ran back by the same spot; I could see David (thank god I married a very tall man with a propensity for goofy hats; it makes him easy to spot in a crowd); Julie and Anna were so busy looking for me that they didn't notice me until I grabbed Anna and gave her a big hug and a kiss. A few miles later, in an industrial district, they appeared out of nowhere, David offering me a banana and water and a bagel. Again, I had no idea they would be anywhere along the route, but somehow, despite my being "in the zone" I got the feeling that they were there, and they were. Each time it was a wonderful surprise to see them.
All along the route there were people cheering, playing instruments, waving signs, banging cowbells. It's amazing how all that energy really does carry you along. There was a woman dressed, inexplicably, like a blueberry, and she was just cheering everyone on, yelling "You are my heroes!" "You're doing great!" and "You're looking good!" There was another guy, all by himself, standing on the side of the road saying "Good job Kim!" "Looking good Steve!" "Way to go, Jennifer!" "You can do it, Meagan!" I wondered "How does he know all these people??" Then it occurred to me he was reading our names off our bibs. I loved that! Just to know that these people got up at 6:00 in the morning for the sole purpose of cheering on complete strangers as we attempted something we weren't sure we were capable of doing. Also along the way, there were bands playing, so you didn't run more than a mile or two without coming across a group of people playing everything from pan-flutes to punk to jazz and even hand-bells. There was one woman sitting in an otherwise empty parking lot, playing a harp. I was so busy watching the crowds and enjoying the entertainment that it didn't even occur to me to use my IPod until about mile 13. At that point we (I was running alone, but it's a steady stream of people running so it feels like you're part of a group) were headed into a long, boring straight stretch on a fairly busy road with no room for supporters, along-side big old ugly industrial buildings. It was the only part of the entire route without supporters, and it was by far the least interesting to look at. Also? At the end of that stretch was a big-ass hill that we had to climb. So I started listening to podcasts to keep my mind occupied. Thank you, Terry Gross, for getting me through that stretch. I walked up that killer hill (mile 17) as I'd been told to do by many Portland marathon veterans. At the top was the long St. John's bridge across the Willamette river; the view was amazing and I almost cried as I ran across it because at that point, I knew I was going to do it.
At mile 18 or so, I saw my sweet family again; Anna said "Guess what! Your mom is tracking you on-line and she and Davie are talking on the phone about how you are doing. Grandma says you're keeping your pace up!" That made me feel great, to know that my mom, in Boise, was rooting for me too.
Throughout my long training runs, my right knee, foot and hip would begin to really bother me at about mile 14. Every time. So I fully expected to be in serious pain the last 12 miles of the marathon and frankly, I didn't know if I would be able to go that long in the kind of pain I was expecting. Luckily, I didn't notice the pain until about mile 19 or 20. I stopped and did some stretching. By mile 21 or so, I was in pretty much constant pain, but I was mostly able to ignore it. I saw my family one more time, unexpectedly, at about mile 22. I didn't even stop to hug them that time for fear I might not start running again. I smiled weakly and said "I'm fading..." to David. But just then we rounded a corner and it was all downhill, literally, from there. Mile 23 and 24 were brutal; my entire right leg was throbbing and my pelvis felt like it had been stomped on by a rampaging elephant. It became impossible to ignore and I briefly considered walking the last couple of miles, but at that point I just wanted to get the damn thing over with. Also, oddly enough, it hurt less to run than to walk.
The route was a bit weird at the end; you couldn't see the finish line. I knew was was within a mile or so, but didn't know exactly how close. So I just kept my pace until I was fairly certain I was within half a mile or so and then I finished strong. There were people at the end who were in bad shape, barely walking; one teenager had his shoes off and his father was supporting him as he limped across the line.
David, Anna, Rod and Julie were of course there at the finish line, giving me big hugs. I can't even begin to explain the sense of accomplishment I felt when I finished. People who know me know that setting goals and completing tasks is not a strong point of mine. I'm full of brilliant ideas, almost always meant for other people to carry out. So for me to set this goal (back when I literally could not run a mile without having to stop and walk) and to stick with it? I have to say, I am quite proud of myself.
I now know that I am capable of running a marathon. In fact, I'm already planning to run another one in the spring. Despite running off and on most of my life, I've never felt that elusive "runners' high" that they talk about. But now that I've finished my first marathon? I think I understand that the high doesn't come as you're running, but after. Now that's the kind of high I can spend a lifetime chasing.