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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sugarloaf, served cold and rainy on a bed of sore muscles and a lactic acid reduction sauce with a side of sprained ankle

This sign, from an unknown spectator of the Sugarloaf Marathon, sums it all up:

The Sole Sisters, plus (mercifully and thank god for) Sandi, left Saturday for a lively road trip to Sugarloaf.

We picked up our race packets, settled into our condo, drove the course and went out to eat.  During supper I was thinking with the marathon just a mere 12 hours away, I was so relieved that I had made it there without any real incident.  My crazy itchy rash didn't interfere.  I didn't get sick.  All my caution around yard work and too much lifting had paid off and I was injury free. 

All that self-congratulatory back patting can only lead to no good.  I saw to that by returning to the condo and rolling my ankle on the (unreasonably poorly lit) stairs.  I went right down, bumping into the TV and thudding to the carpet. 

With the future of this marathon tipping in the precarious balance of the soft tissue surrounding my lateral malleolus, I lay on the carpet catching my breath from the shooting pain and carefully constructing a secure wall of denial around my injury.  Minimization, along with ice, elevation, a handful of Ibuprofen and some Reiki by Sandi, allowed me to go to sleep certain that I would be able to run in the morning.

I woke up with my ankle feeling no better, initially hard to bear weight, stiff and "catching", but I laced up my shoes, determined to run that marathon even if it meant I would not be able to walk once I crossed the finish line.

The rain we were hoping might wait until a few hours after the starting gun had no such plans so we all suited up in the matching ponchos Christine had so thoughtfully purchased.  We were going to wear garbage bags but, thankfully, Christine has much more style than that. 

Emilie, who made everyone's weekend by opting to come and downscale to the 15K due to her recent and persistent illness, had a different starting line since her race ran the last 9.6 miles of the course.  We all hugged it out and she went in one direction and we went in the other.  THAT was weird.  It felt like we were missing something because we were.

(And we were all super proud of Emilie for making such a responsible decision.  So as not to waste her 18 week efforts and marathon readiness, she is going to be running the Burlington Marathon that we did last year along with Jen and Christine.)

At the starting line, I was shocked to see our friend's Mindy and Charissa and their son Emerson!  I knew they planned to come at some point, but they had woken up at 3 AM to drive and be at the start.  This bowled me over.  They kept saying, "This is a really big deal!" and I had to wonder how people besides Sandi love me enough to make this a big deal in their lives.  Last year Matt and Ange drove with Sandi all over Burlington to cheer me on and this year Mindy and Charissa.  That is some love and friendship I tell you.

They even had signs!

Allow me to just say THANK YOU!!!

The first few miles were wet (my sneakers were soaked through by mile 1), flat and uneventful.  As the crowd thinned out, Amy and I ended up running next to a young, incredibly sweet and cheerful first time marathoner from Bar Harbor.  Her name was Tia, a college track and cross country runner who knew speed rather than distance and was working hard to pace herself early since she had not run more than 18 miles in training.  We chatted, she asked for advice (I left out "turn back now" since it didn't seem helpful) , I shared my GU and we passed a few miles easily.

Tia is in the white.  Her story loops around later.

Mile 5- all five of us still close together

Meanwhile, Emilie had begun her 15K just 30 minutes after us so Sandi took off and drove to the end of our course to catch her running. Unfortunately all of the pics of her running and finishing are very blurry she was going so damn fast.

A couple of Emilie's students also ran the 15K.  I have no idea how many people Emilie has directly and indirectly inspired to run but I wager it is in the hundreds.
The Sugarloaf course is banked as a downhill, or negative elevation gain, course. Which it is. Technically. What that means is that the only really big climbs are from mile 8-10 and then it is smaller, rolling hills after that, with more down than up.

Mile 8, the first climb and an episode of low blood sugar all felt cause to meet at the same moment.  I was entirely blessed to look up the giant hill and see my friend Mindy running toward me, sneakers laced, positive attitude at the ready to run the most difficult mile on the course.  Bless her.  We hit mile 10 together and I felt my body hit its stride.  The warm up was over and I was ready to run.

I had a couple of fast downhill miles next, searching searching for when I would see our tricked out Silver van holding Sandi, dry shelter and heat- a combination that might have been just too much for me to resist.  I started to feel my ankle more, knew it was time for more Ibuprofen and started to feel the wet aloneness of the course get under my skin.  Despite a 5 mile effort, I could not catch Susan and Christine who were maddeningly within my sight and not within my reach. 

Finally I rounded the corner and saw the van and Sandi and, somehow unexpectedly to my mind, Emilie as well, waving her arms in a way that made me feel her pride and enthusiasm for us from several hundred feet away.

Of course the inevitable happened.  Or what I think is my normal for marathon running.  I started sobbing. Uncontrollable, heaving sobs that I'm fairly certain (and slightly humiliated to think) Sandi caught on film.

Emilie asked me what she could do.  "Run with me?"  I asked, a little desperately. I mean, I was sobbing after all.

And she did.  She calmed me down, talked me down and helped me get my head screwed on tight again.  I found out later she had JUST changed into dry clothes in the van before they saw us.  What a friend.

(For the record, I hope Emilie and I always have emotional friendship moments during marathons.  Currently we are 2 for 2.)

Christine and Susan, hammering out the miles and the pace despite the slogging rain.

Unbeknowst to me, Tia, who was apparently experiencing significant pain from hip dysplagia,
 had hooked up with Jen and Amy.

Mile 20, checking my pace.  You can see my three electronic devices in this photo:  ipod, insulin pump (pink) and Garmin.   And yes, I know how completely uncool the continued wearing of the poncho was but, hey, I simply couldn't afford to get cold.

I had run the Burlington Marathon in a semi medical crisis, with a great deal of struggle in 5:14.  I had high, but unadvertised, hopes of achieving a 4:45 at Sugarloaf.  I would have been thrilled with under 5 hours but my training was solid and I believed I could pull it off if nothing major (such as a night-before-the-race sprained ankle) occurred. 

My hardest miles were from 19 to 22.  I was by myself, slogging through rain and occasional downpour and mile 26 seemed like it might as well have been on the moon.   I kept thinking Tia, who had been pacing herself with a plan to pick it up at mile 11, would come smoking by me anytime and I would try to keep up with her. 

This would be the darkest part of my race.  The part I knew to expect,  but was hoping to avoid. 

I began to have the unhelpful thoughts:

A marathon is a good way to ruin a perfectly good 20 mile long run.
I wonder if those people in that car know how LUCKY they are to be in a car.  I would love to be in a car right now. I think when I am done, whenever and if ever that happens, I will just stay in a CAR for a few days.  That sounds so nice. Maybe I will live in my car.
Are these miles getting longer?  What if they moved the finish line as a practical joke?
How do people have the nerve to have finished and be back at their condos showering right now and I am STILL OUT HERE! 
They keep telling me I'm looking good and they are LIARS.

I fought back with these thoughts:

This is what I came here to do.
I've trained for 18 weeks.  That determination lives inside me.
Settle in. 
You're tougher than that.
You've got this.

It was at about this time that I saw what I was certain was a mirage up ahead of me.  It was red and wearing jeans and normally does not run because it comes at too high a physical price.

But there she was and she had come, unplanned, to run alongside me.

Four or five times during the last 4 miles, Sandi would drive up ahead, park the van and run back to me (much to the dismay of the runner's she was running against I'm sure).  We would run together for a bit until we saw the van and then she would hop in and drive ahead again.  Talk about dangling a carrot.

Mindy also ran mile 20 with me. And somewhere in the higher miles I also saw my friend Jess, a new runner who had just completed the 15K, on the side of the road cheering and jumping up and down telling me how proud she was of me. I've come to realize that while I likely am capable of running a marathon on my own, I simply don't ever want to. I like all the support and the love and the we-won't-let-you-die-out-here-alone quality of having people I love nearby. It takes the Lifetime Television Movie level of drama in my head down a notch.

The last time Sandi caught me was just before the last water stop at mile 25.2 that boasted a sign "1 more mile left!".  I ripped that #$%^&^ poncho off myself, handed it to Sandi and said, "I am done with that friggin' thing. I don't want to finish with it on." 

She said she was going to run to the van where she had parked it a ways back from the finish line so she could photograph my finish.  I told her to go.  She said she would stay till we were closer.

"Go,"  I said.  "I want to do this part on my own."

Christine, coming over the finish line:
Followed only a minute later by Susan:
(I love this shot with the medal hanging in front of her.)

And then it was my turn.  I looked at the clock and saw that it said 4:45 and change.  I began to sprint as fast as my trashed legs would go. I wanted so badly to make it in 4:45 if I was that close.

You can see the clock! And the slow moving lady trying to impede my speed!

I stepped over the second of the 2 mats just as the clock turned to 4:46:00 and I was too proud even to care anymore. I was DONE. And I wanted that medal. 

I walked through to the hydration table and started to gush to the volunteers about how HAPPY I was to see them.  How this was my FAVORITE water stop.  I turned away and I'm pretty sure I saw them exchange the CRAZY sign behind my back.

Then came Jen and Amy, hand and hand.

I found Tia's mom at the finish line, having recognized her from all the cheering she did during the race and asked how her daughter was.  Her mom told me about her hip and then said, "But she found a couple of really nice girls to run with and she is doing fine."

After they all came across the finish line, and I saw the three of them hugging I said, "Wait a minute!  She found my girls!" and thought that was the coolest thing.

And then, a mere handful of hours after we began, we were all back together again. 

And, naturally, once we had all finished safely I couldn't stop crying.

People often compare running a marathon to giving birth.  "But at the end of labor, at least you get a baby!"  they say about labor.

All I could think was, yup, that is a lot like labor and I am SO glad no one gave me a baby!  

Things I've learned about the marathon:
-The distance will eat you up and spit you out and you are only at mile 22.
-It makes me cry.  Every friggin time.  During, after, and the next day.
-I hurt after a marathon like I never would on a 22 mile long run.  Those extra 4-6 miles seriously kill my legs.
-The meal I eat after a marathon holds unparalleled enjoyment.
-That it is completely surreal that you can run a marathon in the morning, be entrenched in that grueling experience for hours and be sitting at lunch, showered and chatting with your friends in the afternoon.

The numbers:
My average running pace was 10:46 min/mile (I had about 3 minutes of stopped time).
I finished in 332nd place out of 392 finishers.
I burned 3,141 calories.
When I checked my official result time, it was 4:45:59! (Which is 28 minutes faster than Burlington!)

I heard Ella tell someone Monday morning: "My mom ran a marathon yesterday. Running a marathon means you run from here to Ellsworth and your body hurts all over when you're done." ( I had told her that the distance of a marathon was about from our house to Ellsworth.)

I can't help but wonder if maybe I should run marathons over and over again in succession so, like the initially daunting and then completely manageable 16 miler, they might become easy.  Or maybe then, in the absence of that challenging edge and the accompanying feelings of desperation, I will just find a larger, more grueling endeavor. 

As we talked over my race yesterday, Emilie asked "Did you have that 'I want to die' feeling?" to which I was able to answer (thankfully) no.  What is this sport we have chosen that this is one of the feelings that is reasonable to expect?

I don't know but as the profound sense of accomplishment settled in , as I limped around on my swollen sprained ankle and the lactic acid began to have its way with my muscle tissue, I found myself looking forward to the Mount Desert Island Marathon in the fall.

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