Friday, November 8, 2013

We Ran a Marathon, and it was Monumental

Be warned, this is a long post!

After 18 weeks of training which included 714 miles, several pairs of shoes, aches and pains, blisters, scorching temperatures, massages, sunrise after sunrise, and plenty of encouragement from several running friends we arrived in Indianapolis last Thursday evening for our first marathon. We're in agreement that the road to the race was just as significant as the race itself. Training together for hours on end, encouraging one another, and working toward a common goal made us closer and strengthened our marriage.

 It was cold and rainy when we arrived in Indy Thursday evening. Stormy, actually. I prayed that we wouldn't have to run in a torrential downpour come Saturday morning.

We headed to the expo to pick up our packets containing our shirts and race bibs. Verne was smiling from ear to ear. He'd wanted to run a marathon for years, and the moment was finally getting close. I'm so glad I trained for this marathon with him. It's one thing to watch someone that you love enjoy something, but I think it makes it even more special to participate with them.

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and enjoying dinner. Traveling for a race is a bit different than just going on vacation as you need to be careful of what you eat. I can easily get a migraine when eating out because of MSG, and I have to be very careful of my choices. And no one needs an upset stomach on race day. We ended up at PF Changs where I ordered a bland dish of quinoa and garden veggies topped with an egg. Though it wasn't extremely flavorful, it was a good choice.

On Friday, we attempted to drive the race course, but it took us nearly 30 minutes to get 4 miles, and we called it quits. There was too much traffic, and too many one way streets to be successful. We had baked potatoes for lunch, and I had a cup of chicken noodle soup alongside mine. Verne chose a salad, and was a little bit sorry later.

The rain had stopped, and we walked several miles in the afternoon, went through the expo again, and ended up right on Monumental Circle where I splurged and got a haircut. Verne waited for me in the relaxation room, and then we walked some more.

Most runners eat pasta the night before a race, and while I love pasta, sometimes the acid in the tomato sauce can upset my stomach. We had decided that we were going to be untraditional carb-loaders and have pancakes. It worked!

We were in bed early Friday night, and surprisingly we both slept pretty well. The alarm sounded at 5:30 Saturday morning, and I hopped out of bed and began packing my suitcase. We had to check out of our room before running the race since we knew we'd not make it back to the hotel for the 11 am mandatory checkout. Verne headed to the lobby to toast some bagels we had brought from home, and was met with envy from other runners when they realized that the hotel wasn't offering them for breakfast. We topped our bagels with peanut butter and shared a 16 oz bottle of orange juice. After carrying everything out to the car, we waited in the warmth of the hotel lobby until it was time to walk the half mile or so to the start.

The sidewalks were lined with other race participants and everyone was very friendly- especially the ones from Pittsburgh wearing Steelers attire. ;-) It's funny how you can sleep a stone's throw from Lucas Oil Stadium and not see one Colts fan, but meet several Steelers fans in five minutes.

It was much darker than these photos show as we waited for the race to start. We had prayed together in the hotel, but Verne prayed with me again as we lined up in the crowd.

It took a few minutes after the start to feel like we were making any progress, as the streets were crowded with runners and clothing they had shed just as the race began. We waited until about mile 3 to remove our top layers and left them on the side of the road.

Both of us felt unusually relaxed considering the daunting task ahead of us. We ran and talked, and I loved looking over at Verne and seeing the smile on his face. He was finally running his marathon. I felt much more emotional watching his delight than anything I may have been feeling.

I don't remember much about the early spectators, but I really started enjoying the crowds around mile 5 or 6. This is about the point that I usually really start enjoying my runs, anyway. Those early miles don't excite me. I'm definitely more of a distance runner.

Back to the crowds- I loved how many people lined the streets of the neighborhoods we were passing through. I loved that young children stood at the road's edge to give the runners a high five. I loved that people were blasting music from speakers set up on their driveways. I loved the guys who sat on the side of the road and played guitar and sang. I admired the creative signs that spectators had made, and that they made eye contact and called us by name as they encouraged us. (Our first names were on our bibs.)

Some of my favorite signs:

* You Run Better than Our Government
* Run, Random Stranger, Run!
* Pain is Temporary, Results are on the Internet Forever!
* YOU are AWE inspiring!

Around Mile 20 there was a girl on the side of the road with a yellow poster board sign that said, "Punch here! Guaranteed to Give You an Energy Burst! No one passed her without punching the designated "punching spot". You have no idea until you've experienced it just how the acts and encouragement of random strangers can affect you.

Of course there were water/aid stations, but residents lined the streets and handed out fruit snacks, water, candy, pretzels, and beer.

I loved that people had their dogs out, and that the dogs seemed to be cheering us on. The entire race Verne would ask me, "What breed is that?", and I'd answer. It was great to occupy my mind with something that I love.

Speaking of occupying my mind, most people don't realize that running is just as much mental as physical. I quote Scripture to myself when the going gets tough. I sing songs in my head, and thankfully, Verne and I had each other to talk to. One of my favorite things about the Monumental Marathon were the trivia facts around mile 19, if I remember correctly. There were signs set up with a trivia question, and just a short time later there was another sign with the answer. This was a great mental break for me, and I heard others commenting about it as well. Sometimes when a run gets boring I think about quilt blocks. It didn't happen during this race, though.

I'm happy to say that I never "hit the wall" during the marathon. My stomach did feel very crampy around mile 20. I had nibbled on a Honey Stinger waffle, ingesting only about half of it when I started feeling bad. I mentioned it to Verne and then immediately saw an aid table with a sign advertising that they had bananas. JOY! and then disappointment as I realized that they had run out of fruit. On the table were pretzels, Jolly Ranchers, and fun size Snickers. I looked at the Snickers, and thought about the fact that I needed fuel, but also going through my mind was "Nothing new on race day!" I hadn't trained with Snickers. In fact, I hadn't eaten a Snickers bar for years. For some unknown reason, I found myself grabbing and unwrapping that candy bar and taking a bite. Instantly, I felt better. It was the weirdest thing!

That was truly my only struggle through the race. Verne struggled in a different way. His hamstrings felt tight around mile six, and by mile 13 he was in serious pain and feared he was getting a Charlie horse. If I haven't mentioned it before, not only did we train together, but we decided to run the marathon together. Not just at the start, but the entire 26.2 miles. My delight in watching his excitement, and praising God that we could share this together quickly turned to prayer for mercy and strength for Verne. I knew we'd finish, but I didn't want him to be disappointed if we had to walk for miles and miles. I kept a watch on the time, and reminded him when it was time to take another SaltStick cap. I suggested he eat a few of the pretzels we packed with us. The cramps were getting worse in his legs despite trying to fight them off, and around mile 22 he needed to walk. We walked just a short distance, and he was ready to try running again. The running didn't last too long before I could tell he was in excruciating pain. I suggested we move to the side of the road and stop for a minute while I would try to rub the cramp out of his leg. He agreed. I rubbed his thigh in the offending spot as hard as I could, and we tried running again. This happened twice, and we had to alternate running and walking for a few miles. Verne kept apologizing, and I kept telling him not to. We were in this together. We are a  team, and he wasn't letting me down. Finally, at mile 25 my inner drill-sergeant kicked in and I told Verne that we could run slowly, but we weren't walking anymore. I know it was a struggle with his cramps, but he's glad we ran that last bit of the distance.

When we passed the sign for mile 26, I don't think he was feeling much pain. Verne took my hand and we sprinted for the finish. Now, Verne's over a foot taller than me, and holding hands and running with someone isn't easy. I felt like I was being taken along for a ride. We crossed the finish at the exact same moment, and fell into each other's arms. There was no one there to witness our finish(that we knew) except each other. Our official time was 4:24:28.

Immediately after finishing, we were given medals, solar blankets, and a water. I appreciated that the volunteer was opening the waters as he handed them to the finishers. Such a small act, but I thanked him for it. We both grabbed a banana, and started walking back toward the course hoping to see a few other runners from our town. In this sea of people, as we walked along the sidewalk we ran across a young man from our homeschool athletic team and his dad. Verne has coached the boys in this family for basketball, and we've coached them together for track and cross country. Here we were, five hours from home, seeing familiar faces. It was great to be able to walk and talk with them. Andrew was visiting a college, and they had hoped to watch us finish.

We walked two miles before driving south to the hotel where we'd be spending the night. Verne had arranged a hotel with a jacuzzi in the room where we could enjoy the evening. Once arriving at the hotel we stretched for nearly an hour, enjoyed the jacuzzi, and dressed for dinner. We hadn't really had much to eat all day and we were beginning to feel hungry.

Back when I first started walking, a friend of mine suggested that Verne and I take a trip somewhere to reflect the mileage that we were accumulating. I guess this was that trip, though it came much later than anticipated. It was like a honeymoon of sorts, with a really long run thrown in. Verne doted on me, and made me feel special, as he does every day. It's a joy to be his partner in running, and in everyday life.

I've been asked several questions, so I'll answer them here. If you have any more, feel free to ask!

What was the farthest you ran before the marathon? We were scheduled for 20 miles. Verne did that, but I threw my back out and had to skip the long run that week. The most I ever went was 19.

You and V stayed together- I would imagine as a male he is a faster runner than you- so how did that work out? Well, let me tell you that we've been asked this a lot. The Monday before the marathon, Verne's boss was here for dinner and asked if I'd be able to keep up with Verne. I was offended, but kept it to myself. After the marathon, a (male)friend of our ours who is training for a half marathon asked Verne if he had to slow down for me. Um, no.

In 2012, I beat Verne in a 5k (3.1 miles), a 5 mile race, a 10k (6.2 miles), and a half marathon (13.1 miles). He also beat me plenty of times. That being said, we aren't exactly evenly matched. Most of the time, Verne's going to beat me in a shorter race. He sprints better than I do. As I explained above, shorter distances aren't my thing. My body doesn't feel wonderful the minute I start running. It takes me several miles to warm up and feel really good. Because we trained together so much for this race, we were very used to running at the same pace. It wasn't difficult at all to stay together.

Do you know if your pace was consistent throughout, or did you run faster for like the first half? 
The plan was to run the first half slower, pick up around mile 18, and then again around 23 or 24. Plans don't always go the way you think they will. We started too fast. I'm the one that keeps us on pace. My runs are usually really consistent. Our first mile was 9:11. I wanted it to be 10:00. I told Verne we needed to slow down, and our second mile was 9:41. Miles 3- 12 were very close to a 9:30 pace, and then Verne cramped at mile 13 and we slowed. Obviously the miles we had to run/walk were slower and we ended with a 10:06 pace.

Why did you do a race in Indiana? I really dislike the heat, so we wanted a fall race. Indiana was advertised as flat, and a great course for first time marathoners. It fell at a good time of year.

How did the cold/heat affect you throughout? The temperatures were perfect. It was about 41°F at the start, and about 52°F when we finished. I felt really warm the last 3 miles or so because the sun was really bright, and was glad that I had worn a sleeveless tank.

How was your recovery? Honestly, recovery was great. We walked 2 miles after the race. We stayed on the second floor of the hotel, and I made us walk down the stairs several times that day and the next morning. We walked around an outlet mall after dinner the evening of the race. I think keeping active helped immensely. I did have really bad lower back pain on Sunday, but after we walked following the race, I stood in the cold for close to 30 minutes before we left for the hotel. I think I held myself stiff because I was cold, and it hurt my back. The long drive back home didn't help, either. We stopped and went to church before coming the rest of the way home, but that was more sitting. Monday we walked a little over 3 miles, and I ran 2 miles, and walked again on Wednesday. That evening we both had massages. I don't feel at all like I ran a marathon. Verne's legs are still sore. That cramping takes awhile to go away. He ran 2 miles for the first time this morning.

Are you happy with your time? Yes, and no. The goal for your first marathon should be to finish it, with no time expectations. I don't know anyone who does that, though. I knew that realistically we should be able to finish between 4:10 and 4:30. I'm disappointed that it took us closer to the 4:30, but I'm also pleased that with the complications we had that we came in under the mark.

I was texting with my friend and fellow runner, Amy, in the afternoon following the marathon and sharing my feelings with her. Here's her reply to me:

Ahhh....I recall feeling the exact same way, happy to have finished, but a little disappointed I hadn't finished faster. What I think is important is that YOU DID IT!  You accomplished something so many people never will, something some people only dream of, something some people would die to be able to do just once.  Think of all those runners out there that will never run a marathon, that will never do it in the time you did, those that are injured now and couldn't run, or pregnant like me who'd love to have raced today.  The gift is being of able mind and body to accomplish such a feat. The number to focus on isn't so much your finishing time, which I believe is awesome by the way.  It's all the hours, days, weeks, and months that you put into preparing for it.  That's the real accomplishment.  And more than anything, I think the most special part of it all was doing the training and the race with your life partner.  First marathons, like any firsts, are special, but yours was special in a way that is quite unique and different than most everyone else.  You shouldn't feel anything but happiness and pride right now.   I'd trade a faster time in any day for having had the opportunity to run my first, our first, with Matt.  You may forget the time.  You won't forget the circumstance.

And you know what? She's absolutely right!


Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

I'm so happy for you Tracy! What an awesome accomplishment for you and Verne!

Love you

Bonnie said...

Great job- thanks for the post. Really enjoyed hearing all about it. Steeler fans are the best- it's funny you found so many of them in Indiana. What a cool name for the marathon- Monumental.You guys look great at the finish-what a special experience to train and finish together. Thanks for answering all my questions. I doubt I will ever run a marathon- seems overwhelming to me-but love hearing your story.

Margo said...

oh, Tracy, it's just so special! I loved this post - got a little choked up :)

farmhousequilter8 said...

Enjoyed reading. Loved Amy's thoughts.

Rachel said...

Thank you so much for sharing your entire experience. I was curious and pleased to know it went so well!!! I think God made you to be a runner :)

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