Since I really didn't write anything about the actual running of the marathon in my last post, I decided to write about it now, before I forget.
I got to the starting line at about 7:15 and quickly turned on my Garmin. That stupid watch sometimes takes ten minutes to get a signal, so I wanted to make sure it was going to get one before the start. Of course in this instance it found a signal immediately so I had to keep telling it not to go to sleep! I ran about a quarter mile around the block and then returned to the 10:00 pace sign, where I saw Amy C and her husband. We chatted for a few minutes and the chute started filling up. Then my running partner Kat showed up and gave me a pace band, which I thought might be ridiculously ambitious but I put it on anyway. And with that, we were off.
The first few miles were surreal. We held to a little over 10:00 pace and chatted as we ran through the streets of Providence. Those miles were so much fun, so free of pain and so full of conviviality. The race wasn't super crowded, but there were enough people to make it feel like An Event. I stopped to loosen my shoe around the 1-mile mark, since the top of my right foot was already getting achy. As we neared the first water stop, I grabbed a cup and kept moving. Before the race started, I had considered walking through the water stops, but it seemed weird to walk before the 2-mile mark, and we ran on.
We went up some hills and down some hills, and we ran about 9:55 pace. At mile 7, Kat asked me to hold her water bottle while she did something with her phone. I was amazed when she took the bottle back and said "First live tweet from the course!" I can't imagine typing on my iPhone while I was running. That woman is seriously talented. Oh, and she has a broken finger.
Around mile 8, my knee started to twinge. I alternated between running on my midfoot/forefoot and running in my normal style (mild heel strike), and that seemed to help. An older guy named Sean asked if he could run with us for a while, and he asked lots of questions and was really chatty, which helped the time go by. I was worried about my knee, but I felt good about my chances. Around mile 10, my knee gave out a couple of times. I didn't fall or anything, but I definitely felt the twinge and had to catch myself. It hurt to bend my leg, so I altered my stride to push off more from my left toe and landed with an almost straight leg on the bad side. I kept that stride up for the rest of the race. It wasn't pretty but it worked.
Around mile 11 or so, I started walking through the water stations. We were on the bike path at that point, and it was really quiet and nice. Sometime after that, I told Kat to go on. She and Sean had waited for me once before, and I didn't want to be That Girl. The crowds had thinned out, and for a lot of the time it was just me. I kept up with my gels (about every 30-40 minutes) and I alternated between water and gatorade at each stop. Just after mile 14 I stopped to stretch, but that made my knee hurt a lot more so I decided not to stretch again. At mile 15 I decided to walk for 30 seconds at each mile marker as well as the water stations. Normally I hate the idea of walking on a run, but I didn't care. I was going to finish and I was going to conserve enough energy to get there.
I realized my time goals were completely unobtainable, and I shifted to just enjoying the journey. I saw geese and people taking pictures of birds in trees. I high-fived kids. I thanked the few people who were out cheering. I danced past a house where they were blaring the theme from Rocky. I was pretty surprised by how easy it was to let go of the "race" and just enjoy the experience. Usually I'm such a control freak and I'm obsessed with my pace (such as it is), but the experience of the marathon was so much, it busted right through that crap. I knew I could run another one later, without being injured, and try to run faster. But this one, the first one, was special.
At about mile 18 I started cramping up. The worst cramps were in my hips and glutes, but they weren't terrible. As usual, my anxiety over the possibility that they might get worse was itself worse than the cramps. I took more gels and drank more Gatorade. Many of the water tables had run out of cups and were offering big water jugs to people, but I avoided that (could I ever be that thirsty?) and ran on to the next water stops where luckily, they still had cups. I felt a little sad when I realized I was so far back that they'd run out of cups. So far back that people were cheering "You can finish!" I thought, "Of course I can finish. Do I look like I can't finish? I'm fine. You didn't even start! Don't tell me I can finish!"
I kept the cramps at bay with more fuel. I remember at mile 17 I thought "Only 3 more 3-milers to go, and I'm going to do the first one first and think about the others when I'm done." That seemed manageable. As the miles ticked off, I counted down my 3-milers. With 5 miles to go, I thought about my favorite 5-mile route around my house and marked the remaining miles by thinking about landmarks on that course. Now I'm across from the high school track. Now I'm running down the hill by the bus stop. Now I'm turning onto Farview.
At mile 21 I took a gel with caffeine and the little bit of nausea I had went away. I felt pretty strong. I walked up and down the hills and jogged the flats. I smiled at everyone. I was running a marathon.
I had planned to run (i.e., no walking) from mile 24, but my legs felt really sad so I walked a bit at 24 and 25. At about 25.5 I saw my family. Fortunately I saw them from a few hundred meters back so I could have a little cry before I got to them. When I passed them, I grabbed Maple and she ran with me to the finish. Before the race, I didn't think I'd want to run with her, but it turned out perfectly. I felt like I was running so fast at that point, that there was no way she could keep up. But I think I was a little bit confused about my pace, because Maple seemed like she could have gone a lot faster. A bunch of photographers kneeled down in the street in front of us to take our picture as we ran towards the finish. I asked her if she was ever going to run a marathon, and she said yes. And then it was over.
I'm really proud of myself. I'm proud of finishing the marathon. I'm proud of training for it. I'm proud of not giving up even though my body wasn't thrilled and my knee is still killing me. And I'm really excited to do it again.