We arrived in Duluth early Friday afternoon, excited and anticipating a fun weekend full of things we love the best: running, running stuff, runners, and food. Things nearly got off to a rocky start when we were informed by the nice girl at the Sheraton's registration desk that we were actually scheduled to arrive Thursday, and therefore our entire reservation had been cancelled. I laughingly made a joke about the guy in Runners World who had slept in a port-o-pot the night before a race, but Hubby didn't even crack a smile. He didn't even actually breathe until the girl came back declaring we could still have the room after all. Whew.
We got settled and walked to the Expo in an air of nostalgia. Grandma's was the first marathon I ever watched Hubby run...before we were married and before I ever considered running for any other reason than to get away from something scary. (Grandma's, although not the year I went the first time, was also the very first marathon Hubby and his brother ran...back when they called themselves the Irish Striders and raced nearly every weekend thinking they were so cool...which they probably were.) The Expo was great, although jam packed full of people. Once we made our way through all the masses we went to Grandma's for an early dinner. Most of the other diners looked as though they had just run the 5K race or were carrying race packets for the next day. The atmosphere was fun and people were wishing us good luck as they walked by our table. I love runners. They are some of the nicest people around. I really think if you took a control group of runners and measured them against a control group of non-runners, the percentage of jerks in the runner group would be far less than the non-runner group. The world needs more runners.
The ambience was terrific as we left the restaurant. Volunteers were working on the finish line, runners were taking pictures, and there were people everywhere. You could just tell this was going to be a great race. And then, the fog rolled in. Suddenly I was freezing. Which meant I also started to panic, thinking my sleeveless singlet was not going to keep me warm enough during the race. We had been watching the weather all week and there had been little change in the projected high of 62 degrees, so I didn't even bother to pack anything else. Little did I know that my worry of having the wrong attire was going to be a bad joke.
Saturday morning, we left the hotel only to discover 65ish degrees and about a million percent humidity. Long gone was the fog and chilly air from the evening before, and in its place was a magnificent, bright, and cloudless sunrise. As we walked to the bus that would take me to Two Harbors, I reminded Hubby to look for Nic. I had told him on the drive to Duluth that he was hoping for a sub-3 and to look for a bright yellow shirt with NF on the front. I also tried to relay the plaid shorts story, but it seems blog humor doesn't translate well when trying to verbally explain it...nor do I think it translated well the third time when Hubby tried explaining it to Nic's dad! Anyway, I found out later that Hubby didn't remember Nic's name, but remembered the NF, which made him strike up conversation with these people at Knife River (around the five mile mark):How about that?! Hubby was hanging out with Nic's fan club at mile five. He even caught a pic of this guy looking fast and strong:
Speaking of mile five. By the time I got there, I was absolutely drenched in sweat, thirsty, hot, and salty. After only five miles!! I knew this wasn't good, but I was keeping pace. Between miles six and ten, all I could think of was wanting a drink. Every. Single. Step. I knew from reading my race packet the aid stations were every two miles in the first half, but this didn't keep me from looking for water at every mile mark. I even daydreamed (hallucinated?) about asking a spectator for their bottle of water so that I could fill it up at the next water stop and carry it with me. Aid stations at every two miles is typically more than adequate, but it was hot. Really, really hot. I was so hot and thirsty I couldn't quiet my mind enough to get my breathing into a rhythm, nor could I think of anything else but getting that next drink.
Somehow, I made it to the half only a minute over my desired pace. The minute might has well have been an hour, though, because mentally I had already checked out. I knew there was no way I could run the second half with an even split. It was getting hotter, there was not one merciful cloud in the sky, and absolutely no shade on this otherwise beautiful and breathtaking course.
Nothing was working for me. Not the ipod, not the mantras, not the breath counting, not the silly games where I mentally tie myself to a runner ahead of me. Nothing. And then...THEN....I see the sign that says "drop out zone." I don't have any complaints about this well organized and awesome race, but maybe they could come up with something better than "drop out zone!?" To someone who is already struggling mentally, these signs were like handing the jail keys over to the inmate and expecting him to stay locked up. After seeing that sign, I stopped to walk for the first time. I also decided for the first time ever that I was going to quit without finishing. Yup, that's what I was going to do. I was going to DNF. I started to look for Hubby, knowing he would be somewhere near the half so I could tell him I was done.
Then the inner dialogue began. "DNF??? Are you crazy? Just because you can't make it to the finish line in a time you decided was "good enough," you're just going to quit? Man, what an ego. How about you be happy that you're healthy, and that you have two strong legs that even make it possible for you to consider going 26.2 miles. How about you be a little grateful that you get to travel and meet people and run fun races and be with your husband while doing it? How about you think what running actually means to you and why you really run in the first place? Do you run because you think you can set a record by finishing in under five stupid hours? Seriously?!Who cares? Give me a break, will ya, and suck it up and do this thing. Who the hell cares what time you finish in. It's the journey, man, not the destination."
After that jacking up, what else could I do but take a deep breath and start running again?
Unfortunately, that first walk made it easier to take another walk break at mile 15. And easier yet to take another one somewhere before 17. I also started drinking Ultima because of how much I was sweating, and all the bodies sitting on the side of the road were starting to freak me out a little bit and the last thing I wanted was to be one of them. The Ultima made my tummy hurt, which then made me wish I could vomit for the next several miles. I was so happy to see Hubby at mile 19 I stopped to give him a salty kiss. I was beyond caring how long it took me to finish but also wishing it would be over soon. I saw him again at the bottom of Lemon Drop Hill, right before the 22 mile mark. I think he must have given me a boost, because I actually ran all the way up that hill! After that, I really don't remember very much other than people shouting encouragement to "smiley," which apparently was me, but why was I smiling? I have no clue. I felt used up, burned up, and my feet were starting to feel as though they had been through a meat grinder.
I do remember the 25 mile mark and thinking that all I had to do was run another mile. I couldn't even talk myself into that, and took a walk break about half way into it. Finally, at the turn that would take us the last few tenths I was able to muster up enough to run across the finish line....where they announced my name!!! I'm so glad I was coherent enough to hear it! I've never had my name announced at the finish of a marathon. Cool.
The final damage: 9 blisters caused by wet feet from running through every single sprinkler and hose on the course, a severe case of monkey butt from sweating in places one shouldn't, sunburn because the sunblock was sweated off by mile 2, and a finishing time of 5:23:20.
But I didn't quit.
But really happy. :)