... I said "Be ready for anything" quite a few times to my husband when we were talking about what to expect (from me) after a marathon. When I ran Lake Placid, it was my first so I had no clue how I might feel afterward. When I ran my second marathon this weekend, errr.... well, it was the first time I ever ran a marathon only two weeks after I ran a marathon. Therefore, I had no clue what to expect after the race.
My previous post playfully explains what happened after the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut 26.2 and now that I am (mostly) recovered, I can say HOLY CRAP. That was dangerous. But this entry will not be a dramatic recap of how I could've died after a marathon. I'll only touch on that lightly.
This race was vastly different from any other long-ish race (as in 10 miles or more) that I've run. I think I have somewhere between 10 and 15 long-ish races under my belt and with the exception of this 20k nonsense nothing comes marginally close. This race was a 13.1 out and back (twice) through a beautiful park. A pretty stream was always within view and mallard ducks, turtles and tiny chipmunks made appearances throughout the course. It was mostly a bike trail so even though it was wooded, we were on asphalt or pavement most of the time. There was a bit of trail running and open field (grass) running as well. The trail has several rather steep downhill spots that made this run dangerously challenging for anyone who wanted to spare their knees. (I walked ALL of the down hill portions of this race because I am still not entirely recovered from Lake Placid)
Having run a marathon only 2 weeks before, I have to admit I'm kind of impressed with the fact that the first 13.1 miles just breezed by. The clock read 2:20 when I went out to take my second bout through the course. (That's a bit faster than I should've been going but hey, I was doomed anyway. I just didn't know it at that point.)
This course was stated to be "mostly flat" on the website. I'm not sure if that was supposed to be sarcastic or if whoever wrote that really didn't see the course at all. I was not expecting so many hills- now they weren't crazy inclines all the time but they were enough to make you hurt. It was by no definition "mostly flat" with the exception of maybe the first 2 miles. Race support was adequate but there were only 2 places with port a johns. I had the pleasure of using an old dark (no electricity) bathroom that happened to be open on the course. It's amazing what desperation will make you unabashedly willing to do. (If you're afraid of TMI, skip the next sentence.) Since there was no toilet paper, I used the sweat drenched red bandana I was wearing on my head. (relax, it was only a #1!) I held on to the thing for the next mile of the race and finally ditched it close enough to a garbage can. I didn't start feeling truly humbled by this course until maybe mile 16 or so. I didn't have a time goal at all (though let's face it, I knew that I'd be bummed if I showed up too much later than 5 hours) so I had no qualms with walking hills. I still don't know what "the wall" is. Is it when you decide that it's best to walk? I'm not sure that any part of this race could've had a wall for me since I was completing it only to qualify for Marathon Maniacs. I wasn't pushing too hard and I had no solid expectation of myself. I just needed to finish it and there was no doubt in my mind as to whether or not I'd cross that finish line. Ha! This whole race was walled and barricaded in my mind because I was far from recovered from my first marathon just 2 weeks ago. Once I approached the 15 mile marker, even the slightest hill pounded at my quads. My calves burned whenever I ran anything but a very comfortable pace. My knees still felt rickety and unsteady. Perhaps the wall was at the start..? My mindset in this race was completely different from Lake Placid. And because the race was inside a park, the spectators were sparse. It's amazing how much hearing "great job" or "looking good" or any form of encouragement from a total stranger means when you're entrenched in what feels like an never ending challenge.
By mile 16ish my stomach started feeling a little upset. I was hydrating enough- my mouth wasn't dry and I was continuously drenched in sweat. I took gatorade and water at every aid station and I drank most of it. I also had four power gels. I felt hot and dizzy at some points but since I am a runner who embraces the heat/humidity in the summer, this didn't really phase me much except to emphasize the need to stop at every single aid station. I had completely stopped running ANY hills at all and I walked about 90 percent of the trail portion this time. My brain had lost it's ability tell my feet how to quickly dodge protruding roots and stones. (Is that the wall?) When the path was straight and clear I ran. Although 5:08 is a startlingly slow for me, that pace is just over 5.1 miles per hour which isn't a lazy stroll through the park pace by any stretch.
The last 3.2 inspired me to run more consistently- I was 5k away from the end and don't I know that I can run a 5k like it's nothing. In this home stretch I caught up to a few (literally maybe four as this was a small race) runners- one of whom looked so young. I chatted with him and he told me he was fourteen! Am I impressed or a bit concerned that a child would be out there alone- I still don't know but I have a lot of respect for a young kid who has the discipline and will to finish a marathon. I passed him while he was walking but I decided that if he should come anywhere near me, I would allow him to pass me and finish ahead of me so that I could tell my sons that a fourteen year old boy beat me in a marathon.
I was feeling really weak and dizzy when I saw mile marker 24.1 so I actually pulled out my cell phone to text my husband and say that I had 2 miles to go but I might end up walking a lot of it. I saw the time and noticed that I was approaching the 5 hour mark- I assumed I was doing the math wrong- surely I had to be closer to 5:30 or 6 hours. I was having trouble staying focused. At one point I nearly burst into tears and I have no idea why. I wasn't in pain, per se. There was an inner struggle of some kind. My body felt almost lifeless yet I could keep my feet moving. (Is this the wall?) I hoped that all of my friends weren't worried about why I was taking so long. In fact, I hoped that they all went ahead to the post race party without me...
When I saw the 26.1 mile marker in the distance, immediately after a surge of joy and relief, something scary happened. My throat felt like it was closing up- like I had an airway the size of a straw. My vision blurred a bit and I literally laughed and said "NO" to whatever was happening. I slowed to a walk to try and regain control. Two men on the side of the path cheered me and said "Come on! You're almost there!" and I told them that everything was blurry and I was having trouble breathing. One of them offered me a water bottle with one good swig left in it. I wasn't thirsty at all but I thanked him and drank it. My vision was clear again and I started running. The fourteen year old boy catches up and I tell him he has to pass me. I approached the finish and to my surprise the clock reads 5:09 and all my friends (two ran the half and one ran his first full marathon on this day) are there with my husband. I cross the finish and a medal is hung around my neck and within seconds my throat feels like a tiny narrow straw again.
Coincidentally, I am right next to an ambulance. There's an EMT standing next to it and I tell him what is happening. He tells me how to try and control my breathing and I am surprisingly comfortable with the fact that I just might fade out- no panic no worry at all... My vision is blurry again and I feel like the ground is shaking. He tells me to sit on the grass and he takes my blood pressure and tells me he doesn't know how I am even coherent enough to converse. I got into the detail of all of this in my previous entry so I don't want to mull over it again, but based on what was happening, my sodium levels were likely dangerously low. I was hydrated but my sodium and electrolytes were uh... gone... The EMT told me that when people are dying, their blood pressure lowers and their heart rate rises. (It was one of those "you had to be there" kind of conversations- he was being kind and informative even though it sounds scary and threatening when typed out.) Once my heart rate was closer to normal, I left the ambulance and found moments of joy and glory for this accomplishment. Two marathons. Two weeks apart. I am endurance. Really.
Now that several days have passed, I am still proud and I still feel like it was kick ass to do two marathons that close together, but I am deeply humbled. "Be ready for anything" was what I told my husband, but I was not ready to end in an ambulance. Just a couple of weeks before I read about Zachary Gregory, a 25 year old healthy experienced runner who collapsed at the Chicago 13.1 and died that same morning. Remember what the EMT said to me? Well, this may be my last heat-of-the-summer marathon. I am not ready for anything. Other runners out there who aspire to challenge themselves with a long race, please remember that anything can happen.