Going out on a high note

My friends and I have a bet going.

You see, when I declared that I would be retiring from full marathons (coincidentally, not too long after completing marathon #5 on Sunday), there was some healthy skepticism. Ok, it might have had a little something to do with having said something similar four other times. Whatever. I realize my words carry little credibility at this point, so I guess it’s understandable that my friends were dubious about how long I’d be sticking to this decision. I conceded with a slight amendment of, “for the foreseeable future,” but for all intents and purposes, Sunday, October 9, 2011, was probably be the last time I would run 26.2 miles all in one shot.

Probably.

In any case, it was incredibly important for me to go out with a bang–after all, a bad outing was going to make me want to waver in my decision, and then I’d be stuck eating my words once again. But somehow I knew it was going to be a good race. I knew it from the moment I woke up that morning of October 9.

First of all, the weather forecast had been predicting rain and cold weather. Up until a few days before, it was all but a foregone conclusion that we’d need to bundle up and find a way to stay dry throughout the race, and so I had prepared my wardrobe of a 30-gallon garbage bag, throwaway sweatshirt, and throwaway gloves. But when we walked outside into the pre-dawn darkness, not only was it not raining, but it became pretty clear from the outset that I was not going to need my throwaway armor at all. We were going to have perfect running weather–and that was my first sign that it was going to be a good run.

Which isn’t to say that there weren’t challenges. The first one came right out of the gate, when my shins started to tighten up as soon as I started running. They tightened up so much, in fact, that during the first walk break–a mere 5 minutes into the race–I fell behind and got separated from my running buddies, Leah and Janine. That was devastating for me; we had trained the entire season and though I knew there was little chance we’d stay together the entire run, I also didn’t think we’d get separated that early.

I came to the realization very early on that I’d have to do this thing on my own. I’d never run an entire marathon by myself. I wasn’t even sure I’d have the mental fortitude to do it.

With my friends before we all got separated... (photo courtesy of Janine Penny)

But do it, I did. I whipped out my iPod–which I had brought with me in case of “emergency” (i.e. in case I had to go through a stretch of running by myself), popped in those earbuds (thank you Keith for those PureBuds–they really did stay in the entire time!), and fired off my music, praying that I’d somehow find the will within me to do the rest of this thing by myself.

For the next 26 miles, I charged ahead. I listened to Elizabeth Campisi’s songs over and over to get my mind off the tedium of running. Before long, my shins started to warm up and the tightness went away. I saw familiar faces along the course. I saw teammates, coaches, and our awesome team manager, Simone, cheering me along–ringing cowbells, snapping pictures, screaming my name, running with me. Before long, I was in a groove and hoping that I would be able to push out the dreaded “wall” for as long as I could.

Smiling huge because I've just seen our team manager, Simone--it's great to see a familiar face! (photo courtesy of Simone Sarracino)

Remember when I said that the weather was the first sign that it would be a good race? Pretty soon, other signs came. After a brief downpour of rain, the weather cleared up again. I hit a long stretch of downhill–a welcome break after the steep climb leading up to St. John’s Bridge on mile 16. And then I spotted a dragonfly on the back of some stranger’s shirt and I knew Brittanie had come to say hello.

I knew I had this in the bag.

The downhill gave me the energy boost I needed. For the next 5 or so miles, I had new life again, and by the time I came upon another significant downhill around mile 20 or 21, I felt like a new woman. I was running through my walk breaks, feeling no fatigue in my legs or lungs–I may as well have been just starting out on a run, rather than coming up on the tail end of a marathon. This was usually the point (actually, usually, the point comes much, much earlier) where the mind games I play with myself start to affect my game and the aches, the pains, the fatigue get to me and I start to fall apart. But that didn’t happen here.

I thought of Britt. I listened to Elizabeth’s beautiful, inspiring music. I kept eating my gels, drinking my electrolyte drink, taking my salt tablets. And I kept on pushing, kept on pushing. At mile 24, I ran into Coach Tim and told him giddily, “I think I’m going to PR.” At mile 25, I was stopped by a train, giving me a brief (albeit unwelcome) rest.

1 mile to go and what happens? A train happens, that's what! (photo courtesy of Simone Sarracino)

At mile 25.5, I saw Coach Kris, and she said to me, “You see all these people cheering? If running a marathon were easy, they’d be running it. But they’re not. You are. Dig deep. Finish this strong.”

Finishing strong (photo courtesy of Ilya Shafir)

And I did. Limbs tingling, head light, feet numb, I kept on charging ahead and somehow made it across that finish line–and I got my PR. It was a close one: a mere minute and 1 second (damn that train!!), but it was a PR regardless, and I would take it.

It was a good day. It was a good way to say goodbye.

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