Marathon #4 is now officially in the books! And it was quite the unforgettable ride. But first, let me back up a little and start the story properly…
My friends and I arrived in Victoria late Friday afternoon to miserable, dreary weather. Things were only projected to get worse; on Sunday, the day of the race, weather.com was predicting 90% chance of rain. Having run the Napa Marathon in the rain just last year, I was not keen to relive that particular experience.
We all stayed in denial about the weather (“There’s a 10% chance of it not raining!” Janine kept saying), and I, in a moment of delusional grandeur, even made the Joe Namath-like declaration that I would make sure we would not see a drop of rain. My friend, Juana, told me (with a serious face that was a little unnerving ;)), “I’m holding you to that.”
Onwards we proceeded, strategizing about finish times and contingent finish times and what we’d need to do to accomplish each time goal. We all decided we were going to shoot for a 5 hour marathon, but would be prepared to drop back to a 5:20 finish, just in case things didn’t go as predicted. “Piece of cake,” says Janine (it wasn’t, but more on that later).
With each hour that passed, my anxiety grew. By the time Sunday morning came, I was one giant raw nerve, and I had to take a moment to pray, meditate, and reflect on why I was doing this in the first place. I thought of my Honorees, especially my dear Brittanie Siobhan, whose diagnosis came just one year ago this past Wednesday, the same day as the seven month anniversary of her passing. I wrote her name on the bottom of my shoe, touched the dragonfly charm on my necklace, and asked her to carry me forward in the toughest moments.
I think she heard me.
We stepped out onto the start line and miraculously, there was no rain. Not even a hint of it–only wet pavement and blue skies up ahead, where we were headed. So much for the 90% chance of rain! That was my first “hello” from my dragonfly, and many, many more to come as the race progressed.
The first half of the marathon went swimmingly–my friends and I stuck together, stuck to our plan, and we were on track for a kick-ass finish. At the pace we were going, we were actually headed towards an improbable 4:45 finish, a full 15 minutes faster than any of us had planned for.
And then the wheels came off, and boy, did they come off.
I’m still not sure what made the switch flip, but at around mile 13 or 14, I felt the fatigue set in, the aches and pains start to taunt me, and as I fell behind my speedier, stronger friends, I started to feel discouraged, lonely, and wishing I had chosen to do the half marathon instead.
That’s when my dragonfly went to work. I felt her presence with me with every step and thoughts of her kept me going–and also made me cry. I thought of her struggle in her last few months on earth. I thought of her parents and her sister and her brother, and the great void she’s left in their lives. And I thought of the many years we were out of touch and how I wished more than anything we could have reconnected sooner. When I saw Coach Stacy, the coach from our sister team in Santa Cruz, at the 34km mark, the dam broke completely on my tears. I cried uncontrollably, heavy sobs wracking my body, and I babbled out, “I never got to say goodbye to my Honoree.” Thankfully, Coach Stacy knew exactly what to do and say. She ran with me and got me through my mini meltdown.
“Don’t let me give up,” I told her.
“I won’t,” she said. “Just put one foot in front of the other. That’s all it takes.”
The next 7km or so (how many miles is that exactly? I never did figure that out) were miserable, hard, and took everything I had in me. The dream of a 5 hour finish was long gone, but I still had a shot at the “piece of cake” 5:20 (did I mention it wasn’t a piece of cake?). I sucked it up and kept going and made a deal with Siobhan: “I won’t give up on you if you don’t give up on me.”
At 40km, I saw a dragonfly flutter past, and I knew I could take this home. Not long after, I saw one of my teammates, Mike, and I asked him to run with me. He told me I was going to rock this and that I was nearly there. He left me at the start of the last 400m, and then Coach Tim met me. He asked me if I was going to PR and I told him yes. He asked me if it would be a big PR, and I said yes. He gave me a high five, told me he loved me, then let me take the final .2km in towards the finish line.
Legs throbbing, lungs burning, I heaved myself across that finish line and let out a primal scream.
This journey was not undertaken alone. I owe so very, very much to my teammates, especially Juana, Janine, Ilya, and Marc, who ran most of this marathon and the season with me; my coaches for pushing me to do my very best and made it a breakthrough season for me; our team manager/den mother for taking such good care of our team; my family and friends for their unwavering support; my incredibly generous donors for helping the cause that’s so close to my heart; the Hansons and the Gunters for their encouragement, strength, and grace; and of course, Siobhan, Evan, and Papa Loc, for carrying me all season long, especially in the toughest moments yesterday.
Now it’s time to celebrate, recover, and get ready for this coming Sunday’s Nike Half Marathon.
Oh and my time? 5:17:58. Almost 31 minutes faster than my previous PR of 5:48. It was a very good day.