On Sunday I ran the Portland Marathon. 26.2 miles of pure adrenaline, will power, mental and physical energy. It's been four days and as the runner's high starts to wane, the reality of the accomplishment is beginning to set in.
In a way, I'm glad I didn't get excited about this race until two weeks before the gun went off because those two weeks were filled with great anticipation and lots of nervous energy. Saturday was the worst. I spent Saturday morning packing my bag since I was spending the night at my running partner Carissa's house. I got more nervous with each item that I carefully laid out and by the time I crossed the last thing off my list, I was quite certain I might barf from nerves.
We left the kids with a babysitter and Curt and I headed into the city to meet my brother (via my mom's husband) Ben at the runner's expo downtown. We exited into the downtown area and all the street lights were clothed in official "Portland Marathon" garb. The closer we got to the starting area, the more signs we saw and the deeper the pit in my stomach got. We drove by the start area and saw the "Portland Marathon" fencing being installed in the finisher's shoot. The expo was packed with excited runners in all shapes and sizes. I'm always amazed at the variety of people who run. It's a sport that crosses all stereo-types and athletic ability. If you have will power, you can run.
We hooked up with Ben and took the pre-requisite pictures holding our bibs and smiling nervously. The three of us walked up and down the rows of vendors and were bummed by the lack of freebies that are usually standard fare at stuff like this. At the end of one row I found a vendor that was giving away a free plastic cup with a flyer for a Shamrock marathon. Excitedly I told Ben about my find. He came back smirking and holding a stack of three cups. I booked it back to the table and told the ladies, "My brother just got three cups and I only got one. Can I have some more?" To my great delight, they dug into their supply box and gave me an entire stack. You should have seen the look on Ben's face before he burst into the loudest laugh. Scoring those cups and watching him laugh may be my favorite marathon memory aside from crossing the finish line.
The last stop at the expo for me was at the pacer's table. Experienced runners volunteer to pace runners who are trying to attain a certain goal time. They take turns carrying a big red lizard sign with the goal finish time printed in huge white letters. They also offered little wrist bands that listed times for each individual mile and the collaborative time after each mile to stay on pace for that goal. To qualify for the Boston marathon I had to finish in three hours and 45 minutes, a feat I felt was basically impossible. I tried to pass myself off as confident when I nervously picked up a 3:45 pace band and shoved it in my goodie bag.
We shared a meal with Carissa, her husband Tass, and their three adorable sons. For good measure I took seconds of everything she served and then chowed an energy bar before going to bed. I said goodbye to Curt and we prayed that God would calm my nerves and allow me to sleep well in a strange bed the night before a big race. Miraculously, I slept like a rock. That NEVER happens before a race. I was so grateful for that answer to prayer.
I was up by 5 a.m. and even though it was pitch dark, I saw rain drops all over the windows. It was a stormy, rainy and dark morning, not exactly perfect weather to run for hours on end. Carissa and I ate breakfast, took a picture with her self-timer, and hit the road. We picked up her friend Michelle and headed into the city down dark, foggy, rainy roads. We parked a few blocks from the start and were drenched within seconds of getting out of the car. The skies opened, the wind picked up and I couldn't help but think, "This could be a long morning."
We wanted to start with the red lizard 3:45 pace group, but our bibs were pre-printed and color coded based on our estimated finish time from when we registered. We both guessed a 4 hour finish time and that forced us back one corral. Ben ended up in the wrong corral and we never even saw him on race day which was a big bummer. Before the gun went off, we prayed together and asked God to give us strength and power, a good attitude, and an awesome experience together. And then we were off. Running through the dimly lit morning and the pouring rain. Soaking our feet in the streets that were quickly puddling and dodging through openings in the sea of runners. It was glorious.
My wonderful husband got the kids out of bed at 5:45 a.m. and then met my equally amazing Mom and Terry at 6:30 a.m. so they could be in the city for the start of the race. Just like when I ran the Chicago marathon, Curt brought a huge American flag and gave me estimates of where they'd be setting up along the race course so we could find them through the crowd. We ran past our rain-coat clad fans at mile 2 and then back past them at mile 4. They were holding home-made signs and chanting cheers they made up while they were waiting for us. It made me feel so loved. Curt's prayer for me all along has been "that you have the run of your life." Knowing he was praying for me and that so many of my friends were praying too made it even more exciting to be out on the course.
We ran and ran. Periodically I could feel the rain that never let up the entire race pool at the bottom of my running dress and then pour down my legs. We were at the mile five marker when we saw our first red lizard. We were so surprised and we threw ourselves a little party when we caught up to and then passed the 3:50 pace group. Within minutes, the 3:45 group came into view. Carissa and I couldn't believe how much time we were making up. We even tried to slow down to conserve energy, but once we saw that red lizard, we stayed with it. We passed the pace group on a downhill stretch around mile 12 and ran steady and strong through the entire first 13 miles.
Shortly past the half-way mark, I had a little moment with God. The reality of what we were doing washed over me and I got very weepy. I was running a marathon. I was doing it pain free. I was doing it faster than I ever dreamed was possible. And I was doing it with a friend, compatible running partner, and sister in Christ. It was so humbling and exciting all at once and I just burst out, "We're doing it Carissa. We're really doing it. All Glory to God, we're having the race of our lives."
Around mile 15, the 3:45 pace group caught up with us. We were in a section of road where the width of running space was very narrow. The crowd enveloped us and when I looked back, I couldn't see Carissa. I knew she was getting tired and was thinking of slowing her pace just a tad, but I didn't want to run without her. I kept looking over my shoulder trying to find her in the crowd, but I never saw her again until the finish. I ran the rest of the race by myself, but prayed for Carissa the entire time.
The pace group passed me climbing the big hill up to St. John's bridge, but I passed them coming down the other side. I expected to fall apart around mile 20, but my strength remained. I saw my family again at mile 21. The kids were drenched, cheering loudly and appeared to be having a ton of fun. At one point shortly before mile 23, I prayed, "God, I thought this was going to be tough. I'm not sure what's going on or why I still feel good, but I'm grateful. I know I'll need your strength to finish."
It couldn't have been more prophetic. Within minutes, I felt my legs start tightening up and my body getting tired. I was determined to stay ahead of that red lizard so I dug deep, found some mental stamina that I didn't know I had left and pressed on. Those last three miles were T-O-U-G-H. The pace group caught up to me. Then passed me. And proceeded to run further and further ahead. I kept chanting to myself, "Catch that darn lizard. Do not lose sight of the lizard." But around mile 24.5, the lizard disappeared around a corner. I was tempted to quit chasing the dream of Boston qualifier and just finish slowly, but I had one remaining hope: the buffer we had from starting one corral back. I wasn't sure how much of a lead they had on me but I knew if I didn't slow down, I still had a chance to qualify for Boston.
Our bibs were printed with our names on them and the closer I got to the finish line, the more fans I encountered who were kind enough to read my name on my bib, see that I was struggling and cheer for my by name. They hooped and hollered, encouraged me to pass the boys, and told me the finish line was just around the corner even though I knew they were lying. I saw the big mile 25 marker and figured I'd need at least ten minutes to finish the race. The red lizard was long gone and it was with fear and trembling that I checked the time on my garmin. It said, "3 hours 33 minutes." I couldn't believe it. If I pulled out all the stops, there was still a chance. It felt a bit like Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber when the married woman he'd been chasing all the way to Vail said his chances of being with her were one in a million and he gleefully replied, "So you're saying I have a chance?"
I really am not sure how I finished the last one.point.two miles without crawling. I was completely and entirely spent on all levels, but by the grace of God, the blue Portland Marathon fencing appeared and I entered the finisher's chute. I heard someone scream my name and pressed up against the fence cheering wildly was my husband, my children, and our good friends, the Buchstaber's. I rounded the corner, spotted the finisher's mat and heard someone else scream my name: my mom and Terry. It makes me cry just typing this - I felt so loved and treasured that these people would give up their Sunday morning, get soaking wet, schlep kids and snacks and home-made signs through the city to watch me chase a dream.
I have never been so glad to see a finish mat. I stomped on the mat with my shoe and pushed stop on my Garmin. 3 hours. 43 minutes. 57 second. I squeaked into a Boston qualifying time with two minutes to spare. How is that possible?!?!!?
Apparently I looked as bad as I felt and within seconds of finishing had a volunteer ask me if I needed medical assistance. I assured her I was okay and pushed my way to the food tables. I claimed my finisher's shirt, got my picture taken and somehow ended up with two finisher's medals which made me laugh given the cup incident with Ben. Carissa finished just minutes behind me - her first marathon and she finished in 3 hours and 49 minutes. What a stud!
We all hooked up with our families and eventually headed home. By that time I was shivering uncontrollably, noticeably limping, and flushed and queasy for the next four hours. I was positive I would never run another marathon even if you paid me and was not at all interested in running Boston. But that was four days ago. I don't have a muscle that hurts any more, I'd like to go for a run tomorrow, and I've been on the Boston marathon website scoping dates and information. But that's the way runners are - slightly crazy and very driven.
I heard myself being a Braggy Braggerson's to someone last night and was disgusted by the ugliness of it. More than anything, I want to give God the glory He deserves for restoring strength and healing to my knee. For giving me the physical capability to run and the mental energy to enjoy it. For meeting me on my long runs and whispering His love to me through the rain, the trees, the beauty, the sweat and the tears. I am in awe of His goodness to me and can say with the Psalmist, "I run in the path of your command, for You have set my heart free." Thank you Jesus!