I’m going to brag a little today. I finished the Chicago Marathon this weekend. Twenty-six point two miles of road, bridges, cheering fans, fluorescent signs, balloons, volunteers, music, bananas, Gu, Gatorade, water, sweat, and yes, some tears. 40,000 runners and over a million spectators crowded themselves onto the streets of the city, undeterred by the below freezing temperatures. I ran my first marathon a year ago, the same weekend. I blogged about it then too, but I just can’t get over how much I learn during this process.
Because I’ve got the special kind of crazy that it takes to run a marathon and then think, “Let’s do it again, but try to go faster next time,” I set a goal to improve my time by 20 minutes. Over the past year I’ve lost some weight, my baby has become a toddler–so no more nursing, and I’ve trained and worked hard: speed work, tempo runs, long runs, recovery runs, core workouts, and yoga (all in the early morning before kids are awake). I also prepared last week by going to bed earlier than usual and eating lots of healthy complex carbohydrates (and maybe some candy too).
The result of all that preparation=goal reached! From 4:58 last year to 4:38 this year! And though so much of it was a personal journey as my feet hit the streets over and over and over I kept thinking how I wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t had help. Support from my husband with the kids, help from friends who babysat if Matt had to leave early on a Saturday before I’d be back from my long run, motivation from running partners, love from my mom and dad, and inspiration from sisters and brothers who are training and running across the country in Utah. I did it because of them, for them, with them.
At mile 24 my leg started to cramp, not just tightness, not merely fatigue, but the quadriceps in my right leg were tying themselves into a knot. I tried to send loose thoughts down there and keep going, but it got to the point where I felt that if I didn’t stop and walk it out it might tear. So I slowed to a walk. Tears sprang to my eyes and I started to choke as I willed them not to fall. It wasn’t just the physical pain, but I wanted to reach my goal and I became overwhelmed with discouragement. When your body is that exhausted the emotions are close to the surface and difficult to control. My friend Rhonda, an awesome enthusiastic and chatty mom I met at mile 1, kept repeating words of encouragement, “You can do it! You want that PR! All these people are here to see you!” I wanted to believe her, but my mental ability for positive self-talk failed me. I shook my head and instead of talking myself into running again I started to think of all the reasons it would be okay to just walk and how the under 4:40 goal wasn’t that important. I vowed not to look at my watch again and just get to the finish. Right about then a tall lanky runner in a yellow jersey came up to my side, put both hands on my shoulders, rubbed them for a minute, looked at me and said, “You can do this! Come on.” He kind of pulled me along until I started to run again and Rhonda looked over her shoulder and smiled. I started reading all the signs along the road, putting my name in place of the names of the sign-holders friends and family. “Heather, your feet hurt because you’re kicking so much a**!” (A personal favorite I had chuckled about several miles before.) “Heather, catch those Kenyans!” “They’re running out of beer at the finish.” (That one did little to motivate, but made me laugh.) Then a smaller sign, no glitter or puff paint, just clear black letters on a white poster, “THE HARD IS WHAT MAKES IT GREAT!” I repeated that in my mind over and over until we climbed the last little hill at mile 26, turned the corner and saw the finish. I looked at my watch, 4:36 with .2 miles to go. I lengthened my stride, ignored the burn in my quad and ran!
One of the most common questions I get about running marathons is, “Why do you do that?” I asked myself that same thing at mile 24. And though part of the answer can be found in the paragraph above, you may just have to try it for yourself to really find out.