Monday, June 11, 2007

Part Deux

(Standard, hoo-boy am I long winded, get some snacks cause this couldn't possibly be more drawn out disclaimer. And part one here.)

Elite runners & the running Elvises

The first few miles literally flew by. I was consciously holding back... so many warn of those who start off way too fast. I knew that if I was conservative and got a nice slow, steady start, I’d go the distance. We passed by a group of our mentors and coaches for one last cheer, and we were off. After about a mile we came across the first band. I looked at Tony, and at about the same time, we said “THIS is awesome”. It was everything I expected that the start would be: hopeful, exciting, comfortable. Quite crowded, as you’d expect in the beginning, but it was manageable. Asked Rebecca what our pace was (GPS watches are cool) way too many times. My first few miles ticked off:

Mile 1: 9:49
Mile 2: 9:20
Mile 3: 9:09
Mile 4: 9:01

Hey! It's my fan club! They're out there cheering for me somewhere!

After about two or three miles, I maintained a steady pace while my teammate Tony and mentor Rebecca sped up a bit. A mental goodbye and I realized that I was on my own, and would be for a while. Passed the first couple water stops (read: slippery chaos) and made the decision to just pass right through them. Also passed the first group of porta-potties and said a quick thank you prayer for our good fortune at the start. Cannot imagine waiting in line for a bathroom after just a couple miles. Might as well also point out that I saw literally hundreds of men taking care of business on the side of the road during the marathon. No shame, you men.

I'm sure they're all waiting for me...

At this point in the race we were running in and around downtown San Diego... these were some of the most fun miles because your legs are fresh, the crowds are having a good time, there are so many bands, everyone is running and laughing... it was everything I thought a big marathon would be. Started taking water at the water stops... got my first sinus rinsing of the day (it does take a bit of skill to drink on the run). Took down Gu #1 (banana. yum).

The crowds were amazing. I had my name on my shirt, and so many people were there for a “GO CAROLINE!” or a “GO TEAM!”... (All TnT runners wear purple singlets or shirts, so we stand out). I was feeling the love y’all. The miles were ticking by so quickly. If you asked me to point out on a map where we ran, I’d scratch my head and give a good “Hmmm.” I sort of just followed the people in front of me. We turned and twisted and snaked through downtown and I was still feeling amazing. Passed my first running Elvis of the day (sidenote for future reference: Sweaty white lycra = totally see-through. Good to know.). Saw some good signs... “Run Like U Stole It” is my favorite from this point.

The King. Totally rockin it.

Mile 5: 8:24 (mental note: slow your butt down Caroline)
Mile 6: 8:59
Mile 7: 9:01
Mile 8: 9:03
Mile 9: 8:45

Right around Mile 10 it was time to get on the highway. There’s a good three miles of the course that run North on Highway 163. That stretch of 163 is long, lonely, and slanted. I knew that this part of the race might be tough. People started to spread out and quiet down. Spectators are few and far between, bands are scarce... it starts to be just you and the road. I was having a couple aches and pains... that same knee that’s been bothering me all season and the achilles on the same leg. The hill wasn’t a problem (my personal thanks to Coach Topher and the town of Prunedale for all the hill work), but at just ten miles in, I still had a long ways to go. More guys being one with nature. The guy with a giant back tattoo that I’d been following from the start pulled away from me. I was having my doubts... struggling to relax into the pace and just trust that the training had prepared my body well.

Confession Time: All season I’ve learned to run without the iPod. For many reasons, one primarily is safety. I’ve also found that running with music can be a little distracting at times. That said, I had brought the Shuffle along with me as my emergency stash, just in case I needed a distraction during the race. Granted, I would have thought that this would happen much later in the race, say miles 18+, but as I headed up the hill at Mile 10, the fear was creeping up, and there was only one thing to do. Folks, I dedicate mile 10 to Miss Britney Spears. (Britney, I don’t care if you are completely insane and in the midst of a really nasty fuzzy-growing-out hair stage... I still love ya girl.) It’s funny, but just a little bit of music got me through that moment. Once we were off the highway, the crowd support was back, and I tucked that iPod away back into the sports bra. Took down Gu #2 and I was flying high.

Mile 10: 8:55
Mile 11: 8:59
Mile 12: 9:02
Mile 13: 9:00

Somewhere on the 163.

Hit the halfway mark and saw our team manager Melissa who gave me a huge boost with her cheering. Passed a group of walk mentors whose energy had been strong all morning... these wonderful women weren’t even walking the race, but they were up with us before the crack of dawn and stayed with us throughout the day. Our team is incredible. I was feeling so strong... all pains were gone, I was halfway there. Saw a sign “Thank You from a 73 Year Old Cancer Survivor, GO TEAM” and another one that said “I’m Here Because of You”. A good reminder of why I was doing this and of the many people that we were running in honor of. I would remember those signs for the rest of the day... it was that push allowing me to dig a little bit deeper.

Mile 14: 8:54
Mile 15: 10:47 (Pit stop #1)
Mile 16: 9:05
Mile 17: 9:35

Somewhere around Mile 16 there was a shift for me... the race turned into a mental struggle more so than a physical one. I’d been running at this point for about two and a half hours, and I still had TEN MILES to go. That’s a long ways, and time to reach inside for some inspiration. I had not stopped for a walk break yet (save for the quick pit stop at 15) and knew that at Mile 17 I was supposed to take a salt packet. Mile 16 was mighty long... I had a packet of Bloks in my right hand, was trying not to sweat into the salt packet in my left hand... just waiting on a water stop because the thought of salt with no water.... FINALLY got a big cup of water and walked for a bit. Made ALL the difference in the world. I felt like a new woman. Passed a sign: “Runners are Sexy”. I was feeling anything BUT sexy at that point, but it was a nice gesture. Also passed a (no longer running) Winnie the Pooh... poor guy looked like he was in desperate need of Hunny.

Mile 18: 8:13

Betcha didn't know the Flash was a marathoner, did you?

At this point we were winding through some residential areas... getting high fives from kids, passed a lady with a bowl of watermelon. Took some, without giving a thought to “hey, maybe you shouldn’t take random food from strangers on the street”, but heh... it was darn good watermelon. More food from strangers when a guy had a big bowl of pretzels. Also started to pass the guys offering ice cold beer. Not one or two... but LOTS. And I couldn’t believe how many people were actually stopping to partake. As you’re getting close to three hours of running, trust me, there is nothing that sounds better than frosty beer. Yet I kept going... asking more than one to “have one of those for me”. I’m sure they did. Some UCLA boys ran past me doing some sort of Bruins cheer. Couldn’t fathom where on earth they got that energy.

Mile 19: 9:10
Mile 20: 10:40 (Pit stop #2)
Mile 21: 9:22

Things were starting to get a little dicey around Mile 20. You leave the neighborhoods and hit a stretch of pretty desolate territory. Forget bands... there just plain aint much to keep your attention. Sun is starting to peak out and it's getting a little warm. At this point I wanted to do ANYTHING but run. Some random cheerleaders were handing out ice cold Vitamin Waters and I grabbed one and took a big swig. Only then did I think... you know, this probably isn’t the best time to try something new. Especially not something sickly sweet, but oh so cold. Tossed it to the side. People were starting to walk. A LOT of people were starting to walk. You could see people breaking down left and right.

It was around Mile 21 that my body looked up at me and asked “Hey wait a minute. Are we on fire?” Uhhh, no? “Well, is there someone chasing us with a sharp knife?” Nooo... don’t think so? I should have seen it coming... I was hit with the worst stomachache... my entire digestive system was about up to here with the running thing. This was A Problem as I still had five miles to go (that’s almost an hour of running!). This was not the time to break down. Stopped for a few minutes and had a pretty serious conversation with my stomach... gave her a stern “KNOCK IT OFF” and set out again. Oh, the things no one tells you about running a marathon...

Mile 22: 15:34

As you can imagine, once you stop running at this point, it’s nearly impossible to get going again, but I pushed through. We finally hit Mile 22, which is a quick out and back with bands at either end. There were tons of TnT coaches at this point, and I was SO glad just to see non-running people again. I perked up, and realized that I was going to finish. Without a doubt, it might get a little tough, but I was going to finish. Passed a guy running barefoot but carrying his shoes. I’m telling you, people get a little crazy after this many miles. Questionable U2 cover band at 22.5, but their energy was fantastic.

Mile 23 had an incline as we went up and then over an overpass. Still three miles to go... literally willing my body to Just. Keep. Running. Just. Keep. Running. Pulled out the contraband iPod one more time, and it stayed on for a couple miles. It was just enough of a distraction to keep my mind busy. Passed a waterstop with some little kids. One asked if he could throw a cup of water on me and I can only imagine the daggers that must have shot out of my eyes.

At mile 24 I hit a waterstop and luckily stopped to peek at what they handed me, cause it was most certainly NOT water. Some genius had poured Accelerade (read: yuck and guaranteed stomach issues) into the white water cups. Aww no, I was NOT going to drink that. Plus it was time for that final Gu, so I needed some darn water. Tossed it to the side and prayed that I could hold out till the next water stop. Suddenly the heavens opened and I passed an angel handing out – oh, it was so good it gives me chills to type – ICE COLD BOTTLES OF WATER. Had I thought my legs could handle it, I would have stopped and kissed her. Best Water Ever.

Mile 23: 10:02
Mile 24: 9:48

The fan club... patiently waiting!

Mile 25. Glorious, Wonderful, Beautiful Mile 25. Def Leppard was Pouring Some Sugar on Me. What a combination. I was SO close, and I remember thinking to myself that I can do ANYTHING for twenty more minutes. Crowds were getting strong again, and I put the iPod away for the last time. Adrenaline and that amazing crowd were going to pull me through. Saw one of our team captains, Ben, and drew on his energy. I was SO glad to see him. I knew that Topher and Rebecca would be somewhere near the end to help us in, and I started scanning the crowd, just waiting. That permagrin crept back onto my face.

Mile 25: 9:57

I turned that last corner into the Marine Recruiting Depot and finally saw Topher and Rebecca. I have never been gladder to see anyone in my life. Both hopped into step with me and suddenly I was chatty Cathy... I was fine, I’m gonna do this... all is well. Rebecca headed back to catch Tony and Topher asked if he could run in with me. I remember telling him that I was fine, laughing that no matter what my time, I was about to get a PR (personal record), I think I told him that this had been one of the greatest things I’d ever done (a bit delirious maybe? But happy). He pointed to a big yellow building, and said “You’ve just gotta get to that building”. This was such a mental boost to me... Topher, I can't thank you enough. I remember picking up the pace, silently reminding my legs to keep doing the one in front of the other thing. I think I came perilously close to stumbling a couple times (in true Caroline fashion, of course).

Mile 26: 8:43

We rounded the final bend of the course. Screaming happy people lined the course. Hey, wait a second, those are my screaming happy people!!! Krystal, Chris, Martha, Kari, & Nicki... still toting those neon signs around. I wish I would have realized that they’d be taking my picture, cause I most certainly wouldn’t have done this:

... but I was SO happy to see them. You guys seriously Rock. Topher turned to me at this point and asked me how much I had left... I remember giving him a good “OH YEAH” and taking off for the finish. He gave me a final push towards the mats and as I pumped a fist in the air, I crossed that line.

Marathon? I just rocked you.

(Part the Third: The aftermath. Stay tuned.)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Marathon Story, Part 1 of Many

Perfunctory Warning: This is a long story. Actually a multi-part looooonnnnggggg story. A marathon length story if you will. (Sorry, that was bad.) If I were you I’d grab a cup of coffee and settle in. Consider yourself warned.

I never thought I’d actually be able to say this, but HOT DAMN EVERYBODY...I ran a marathon!!!!

My marathon day began at 2:30. I’m not even going to dignify 2:30 with “in the morning” because 2:30? Is not “in the morning”. It’s 2:30 in the middle of the damn night. But I digress... 2:30 wake up call. Eyes pop open and my first thought is “26 miles? Really?”. But I’m up, in the shower, thanking God that I’d followed everyone’s advice and laid out my complete outfit the day before. There’s a reason they tell you to do that... it’s called Marathon Brain, and I was in its grips – no clear thoughts, just moving on autopilot and trying not to completely lose it. People, I’ve done nervous my entire life... this was a whole other level of nervous. Somehow I managed to pull myself together, gather up all of my gear, and get out the door. Our team met in the hotel lobby at 3:30 in the middle of the damn night, and I actually found the collective nervous energy to be somewhat soothing. We took a team photo, took down the first salt packets of the day (sounds good, huh?), exchanged anxious pats on the back and hugs, and got on the bus. The bus that departed at 3:59 in the middle of the damn night.
Picking up my race packet. Also known as: Before The Pain
And... that girl to my left is giving me that "Girlfriend you are plain crazy" look.

In hindsight, I’ve done a good bit of moaning about how early we headed to the race, but I am so thoroughly glad that we did. We were amongst the very first to arrive at the race start and this was awesome for a number of reasons... fresh porta-potties being the first to come to mind. As you can imagine, put about 20,000 very hydrated marathon runners in one spot and the number of porta-potty visits per capita is kinda ridiculous. The race start was incredibly organized, easy to navigate, and our team found a great spot to relax near the coffee. Had my breakfast... whole wheat english muffins and peanut butter (I even brought the peanut butter from home because we were told “try nothing new on race day”. Overpacker + nervous runner = pb in your suitcase.) and a banana. (Marathon Brain Moment: asked my teammate Tony “hey, where did you get that banana?” Ummm... gigantic sign reading “FRUIT” approximately seven feet away. Brilliantly observant.) It was still dark at this point and it was interesting to see how the nerves manifested differently for each of us. My anxiety was focused solely on fiddling with my race number... where to pin it? Shorts? Shirt? Fold it down to make it smaller? Ok, think I got it now... nope, not quite perfect, let’s try that again. Oooh, I’m kinda crooked, nope that’s too low, uh-oh, can’t cover up my name on my shirt, nope not folded quite straight... I was even starting to annoy myself by this time. Finally got that settled, then the porta-potty visits became more and more frequent.. am I too hydrated, not enough? Should I have coffee? More water? It was a little maddening that I just couldn’t sit still and relax.

Finally, it’s about 5:30 am... the starting area is getting more crowded, time to check our gear bags with UPS (UPS is awesome. What can brown do for you? Well at the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon, brown will take your gigantic gear bag, and transport it to the finish line where you can easily and efficiently pick it back up.)

Even bad coffee tastes amazing at 4 O'Dark.

Ok. A word on the gear bag. Those of you who have had the pleasure of traveling with me know that I like to have options when I travel. I like to be prepared. Hi, my name is Caroline, and I suck at packing light. The gear bag was no different. Suddenly sprout extra feet? No worries... I got six pairs of running socks. Shoelaces not matching your outfit? I've got you covered. Need a little cream in your coffee? You get the idea. I had it all, and then some. So I lugged the thing over to UPS, and handed it over to the nice volunteer who probably laughed when I said “Please don’t lose this.” Yup. I am that girl.

Hey, you two ready down there? Also pictured: Gigantic Bag O'Stuff

It was around this time that my cheering section showed up. My best friend Krystal, her husband Chris, and her mom Martha all arrived with “Go Caroline” shirts and neon posters in tow. God how I love those three. I didn’t realize just how emotionally fragile I was at that point; the warm hugs and reassurances were so needed. Good timing, Krys. Like always. I needed you, and there you were. You guys gave me the boost I needed.

Still dark. But there are snacks to be had.
And check out how empty that other runner's bag is. Bet
she forgot something. Poor girl.

Our team gathered for one more pep talk, a reminder of our Team In Training honorees, all those people we were running in honor of, some singing (we sang, right? This part’s a little fuzzy for me.), and then we did some warming up. You figure we’d be saving every step for the actual marathon, but the warmup got things moving, burned off a little nervous energy, and gave us something to do rather than fidget and think about how long those porta-potty lines were getting. And they were getting rather cumbersome. After warmups it was about 5:50... race start at 6:30, so we said goodbye to Topher (our TnT coach), hopped in the enormous line and sent “Pee Fast” vibes to all of those in front of us. While in line, we: watched Marines playing the US Marines Hymn, sang the Star Spangled Banner, saw lots of running Elvises (Elvi?) heading for the start, and tried to stay calm. Someone was smiling down on us because we were at the front of the line at 6:23. I remember this distinctly. PERFECT timing.

In line at the porta-potties. Still dark. Boy, by the looks
of me, you'd think this might be an "after marathon" picture.

We jumped into the nearest corral (runners are grouped into the starting line by corral, based on your expected finish time. This is done so the fast people are at the front, and slower as your get further back. There were 23 corrals – we started in #9, based on a projected finish time of between 4 hours and 4:15.)

(Ha... I think I warned you about the length of this. We’re actually getting to the part where I run now.)

The five minutes before the gun were stunning. Possibly one of the best moments of the day. The anticipation, the giddy excitement... I was hydrated, fueled, ready to run smart, had my gear situated, shoes tied just so... I was READY. There were four of us together at the start... two teammates and one of our TnT mentors, Rebecca. (Rebecca, I’m thanking my lucky stars for you because your experience and reassurance helped me hold it together for the first few miles, and especially in those final moments before the start.) Aaaannnd.... the gun! Went Off! The Marathon Has Started!!

But... ummm... we didn't move. Well, we sort of nudged forward, but there was not much fowardness happening. After a few seconds the crowd began moving towards the start... it took us about three minutes to actually reach the start line, and as we crossed those mats and the huge balloon arch, I broke into a run.

I was running a marathon.

Upcoming in Part 2: The real fun begins. Featuring: Nudity. Alcohol. and Britney Spears. (All during the race too. Get excited.)

So achingly appropriate...

I am working on the marathon saga... I promise details are forthcoming. In the meantime, this is exactly how it is:

Sunday, June 3, 2007

It was a good day to run...

...Wide open down a two-lane highway

It's about time that some things went my way

Throwing troubles out to the wind

And prayin' that they never catch up again

I'm gonna say my worryin' days are done

This looks like a good day to run....

I survived. It hurt. But I loved every second of it (alright, that's a lie. I loved MOST seconds of it). Came in around 4 hours 8 minutes. I will post all the gory details here soon. Stay tuned!!! So much love to all of you for the amazing support!

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