Fitness · Recounting the Race · rock n roll · The Journey to 26.2

A Marathon Tale – RnR San Diego 2018

I’ve sat down to write this blog post so many times since the marathon on June 3. I’ve written it in parts: a little in June, a little in July, some August, and now, here we are, in September, exactly three months later.

June 3rd, folks. June 3rd. Three months ago, I ran my first marathon. I still haven’t ruled out the possibility that it will be my only marathon, but that’s getting ahead of the story a bit, don’t you think?

Why has it taken me so long to write this? Why have I stopped and started so many times? Well, it was BIG and I felt like I didn’t have the words to digest and explain and share this story just yet. I was worried that I’d miss something important. Now, I worry I’ll miss something important because I’ve waited too long. What if I’ve forgotten pieces already? I never imagined writing about this experience would take so long, that I would deliberate so much over writing it right as if there was such a thing.

I just don’t want to forget any part of this journey (as evidenced by the multiple other unfinished drafts along this journey… maybe they’ll make it to published one day too).

So, I write. Deliberate. Rewrite.

This is mostly in chronological order. It’s long. Very long. There are no pictures. Sorry. Not totally sorry. I had feelings. And words, so many words, that got written and rewritten. There are probably still typos. It’s fine.

It started with the expo on Friday. I left work to meet Emily and her sister at the expo on Friday afternoon. Just walking into the expo, waivers in hand, it felt monumental. I wanted to memorize every second of the experience. Gah, it’s real now. Really real. Then, picking up my bib(s) even though I’ve picked up so many bibs now over the years, felt like the first time.

We walked through the official merchandise for quite awhile, as we’d all sort of given ourselves permission to spend. I know I for sure had sort of given myself carte blanche to purchase since it was SUCH an occasion. But, alas, there wasn’t anything I wanted besides a finisher jacket and I’m WAY too superstitious to by a finisher ANYTHING before I actually finish the thing. I do have wine glasses from a few other races, so I checked those out and decided if I wanted one I’d come back again on Saturday (the stemless was the only 26.2 only and it didn’t say San Diego… the stemmed had all the race distances and said San Diego).

I did have a few other “must visits” and plans for the expo though and so, once we were ready, we ventured beyond the official merchandise and into the rest of the expo. I wanted to visit Pro Compression for some calf sleeves, I wanted to visit SpiBelt to see if they had water bottles, and I wanted to pop by Sparkle Athletic because I was considering another visor. We did all that (I didn’t get the visor because I ended up treating myself to some Oofos). We also signed up for next year’s half and 5k, took some photos, and got flash tattoos. After a couple hours, we parted ways, and I headed back to work to finish my day.

But, my marathon weekend wasn’t just the marathon.

When I got home Friday night, it was all about prep for the 5K (my first ever!!) the next morning. I KT taped, I ate dinner, I drank a bit more water, and I flatlayed my outfit (which is both a “do it for the ‘gram” thing AND a practical thing ’cause then everything is together and ready for when I get dressed in the dark of the middle of the night-morning). I went to bed as soon as I could manage for that dark and early alarm the next day while still waffling between two plans for the 5K.

The first plan was safe and also practical: I would casually walk the 5K in the hour timeframe I had to save my knee for the marathon on Sunday. There’s an unfinished draft (likely somewhere with those long overdue Wine & Dine recaps) about the behind-the-knee pain I’d been having since my 20-miler, so the quick recap is that the lots of RICE wasn’t helping my running (after the first 5ish weeks?) and I had done a couple long walks in preparation for a 16-minute pace per mile for both days. Walking didn’t hurt, so I thought… maybe don’t risk trying to run when you have a longer, more important race the next day.

The second plan was a bit of a risk, but not necessarily unsafe: I would (attempt to) run the 5K to the best of my ability. I figured I could see how the tape helped, whether all that rest had finally started to pay off, and if it hurt, I could revert to the walking plan without too much damage because it was only 3.1 miles.

I truly didn’t know which plan I was going to go for until the actual moment the announcer said GO. But, that’s getting just a little ahead of myself. I got ready early the next morning and met Emily and her sister at my work (since the race was taking place in Balboa Park). We walked across the Park and made our way to the corrals that were very well marked. Emily’s sister had a PR goal in mind that was just ahead of my old pace, so when we started, I told Emily I’d try to keep up. Emily’s sister ended up going much faster than us and Emily took it super easy (for her) and stuck with me the whole time. We didn’t do set run/walk/run intervals, but went based on my feel.

My feel was HOLY HECK I HAVE NOT RUN IN SO MANY WEEKS AND MY LUNGS ARE BURNING AND WE ARE DYING AND OH MY GOD. This is not far from an exaggeration. I had done some cardio in the form of dance, as that didn’t hurt, but I had largely been cardio-free for week. My lungs did NOT know what hit them and I nearly puked when we crossed the finish line. Talk about PUSHING that pace!

I would like to say I had a really awesome 5K time with those kinds of feelings, but the reality is that my time was not even my best. We finished in 37:54 with a respectable (for me, especially given the circumstances) 12:12 pace. Literally almost puked. Lungs on fire. BUT MY KNEE DID NOT HURT!! HURRAH!! It felt SO good to run and was the greatest confidence boost I could have asked for going into the marathon on Sunday morning. Emily bought a tank at the merchandise tent and we walked around a bit before heading back through the Park to our cars. We then caravanned down to the Convention Center to return to the expo for some much needed items.

Emily’s order with her running belt didn’t arrive on time, so she needed a belt. I decided to get the 26.2 stemless wine glass with my newfound confidence boost. After an hour or so at expo, we parted ways and I headed home to do NOTHING for the rest of the day. By nothing, I mean: ice my knee (precautionary), epsom salt bath, rest, hydrate, rest, hydrate, hydrate, rest, hydrate, flatlay my marathon outfit, double check everything four times (except, as it turns out, where gear check would be), solid early lunch, more water, slightly lighter early dinner, NO MORE WATER, and then a very, very early bedtime (with some melatonin for assistance).

MARATHON SUNDAY!!!!!! O! M! G!!! WHAT!?

This happened. It’s been three months since that day and despite my inability to sit down and just power through to get to this moment in writing (and instead writing it at a snail’s pace over three months), it still feels like it just happened. Like, how was it so long ago?!

I woke up in the middle of the night to get ready for the marathon. I texted Emily. I had water, a RxBar, and brought a Rockstar with me (yes, I know they’re not great for me). I sunscreened. I retaped. I got ready. I double checked my gear check bag. I used the restroom since I knew it was port-a-potties from there on out. I braced myself for how my knee would feel walking down the stairs and to my car (it felt good!). Officially on my way to the Old Town Trolley Station to meet Emily! IT WAS HAPPENING. For the record, my emotions can really be described as ALL CAPS, UNDERLINED, BOLDED, and ITALICIZED. They were big emotions. Everything felt heightened and multiplied by at least 100.

Upon arriving at the trolley station, I realized that I didn’t know where gear check was. Was it at the finish? The shuttle was taking us to the start. Was it at the start and they would transport to the finish? I had no idea. So, I left my planned gear check bag behind in my car. It’s unlike me to not have every detail prepared, so I was really surprised when I realized I hadn’t checked this detail. (As it turns out, and what I anticipated, gear check WAS at the start and they DID transport it to the finish… also, the gear checks were all separate UPS trucks and that was super awesome.)

I met Emily, she bought our tickets, and we waited for the trolley. Every emotion We chatted with some runners on the trolley and then tried to figure out where to go for the shuttle when we exited. This could have been much better signed. We walked the wrong way for a couple blocks, then turned around and found the shuttle. The shuttle to the start was quick and easy. We used the port-a-potties at least twice. I walked around to see if I could find friends running, I didn’t find any IRL friends, but I did get to finally meet Carlee and that was great. I got some very wonderful words of encouragement from her and a couple other ladies and then headed back to Emily.

The corrals were starting to shuffle and move (it seems the race may have started a few minutes early), so we parted ways. I headed to Corral 21. I knew one other person who would be in 21, so I started keeping an eye out for her. And I found her! Evelyn was running her first half marathon (though she didn’t ever let on it was her first half, even though all the while I was yammering about my nerves for my first full). We kept each other company and I set my watch and phone in preparation for the run.

I did a lot of research on Saturday about potential intervals once I saw how my knee handled Saturday. Obviously a 5K and a full marathon are TOTALLY different, but I wanted to try and run/walk/run, because that was how I trained and how I’d run and loved so many races, after seeing that my knee held up Saturday. BUT, I wanted intervals for a much slower pace than my previous training pace and plan AND intervals that I could easily alter mid-race if necessary. I settled on a 1:1 ratio.

And then, just like that, the journey to 26.2 both ended and started with the race start line. The journey to it was over, the journey through it was just beginning.

I felt good during Mile 1, but took the first opportunity to stop and use the restroom right around the one mile mark. The beginning was the same first stretch as the beginning of the 5K, so that probably helped the nerves.

I continued on from the port-a-potty down University with some speedsters already headed back our way (and not even the elites—they were long gone!). I don’t remember any remarkable signs during this stretch, but I do remember a band and a hill that was absolutely mis-marked on the course elevation map. I had test walked Miles 2-8 on my last training “run” because the elevation map showed there was supposed to be a somewhat significant hill. I finished the training like, “huh, well maybe it’s because I was walking, but that hill seemed fine,” yeah… no. The hill was just before Mile 2,  not just after as I’d anticipated and prepared. I walked it (and every subsequent hill too, #spoileralert).

Miles 2-8 felt good and my pace was on target for my new plan. Not only because I had tested them out and had an idea of what to expect, but also because North Park and (mostly) Normal Heights. The Normal Heights neighborhood came out in full force with a full block of MINI BARS, yes really!, and signs, and they were just SO supportive of the runners. I should probably say *comes out* and *are* supportive because I hear they do it every year and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be just as amazing next year.

Miles 9-10 felt tedious, but it was great to know I’d passed my first “sweep” checkpoint with plenty of time. There was one super short, but really steep hill right before (I think) Mile 10 that was no fun, but I power walked that puppy and kept going. My pace was slowing. It was HOT. Then, a family after (I think) Mile 10 had out their own aid station… with sunscreen! This family literally saved my day. I am still so grateful every time I think of them. I would have been a lobster, 100%, if not for them. Their kindness also gave me a good boost, but then University into Hillcrest and Mission Hills felt long… possibly because it was just so much quieter than it’d been in Normal Heights. Mission Hills was really quiet, except for a few elementary-aged boys on bicycles (at least one with a sign, “run faster, I farted”) cheering the runners on. To the boy that let me know I was getting close to the halfway point, thank you!

The downhill through Presidio Park and into Linda Vista was so welcome. This was also where you hit the halfway point in the race (OMG!) and where I saw Emily’s sister volunteering at the aid tent just past 13.1! A friendly face and some personal cheering was ALSO very welcome. Also, HUGE shout out and thank you to ALL of the volunteers. Seriously. I headed into Linda Vista and down Morena, watching the other side of the road for Emily who I knew was at least five miles ahead of me (I was tracking her and getting updates to my watch) and so I knew I could potentially see her. She spotted me first, but I’m so glad I saw her see me! More happiness! We were doing the thing!! She was so far! OMG! There was a lot of OMG the whole time. See also: Wow! This is happening! This is real life! Wow!

Brief pause. I feel like it’s worth noting that I listened to Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone In The Dark during my marathon. The interest in the book was critical as I got into these harder miles though, so shout out to audio books for their entertainment and narrative. I love music, but I don’t think I could have done music for that many hours.

And we continue… The trek out to the bay and back felt super boring, with the exception of a few clusters of wonderful, beautiful spectators. They are everything. It makes me so emotional. The run along the bay was surreal. It was like, “here’s this chunk of your all-the-time training route.” Literally, every long run. But this time I was RACING it. Except, I didn’t really feel like I was racing at this point. I’d definitely slowed down, started taking more walking breaks, and was just feeling HOT. But on I went on with a #onemoremile mantra repeating in my brain.

During this time especially, I kept seeing texts pop up on my watch – encouragements from Andrea and replies from Emily who was walking and loathing the 163. An aside, I loved seeing every text of encouragement that I got during the race pop up on my watch face, it was so wonderful and so helpful… I mostly tried to not respond to save battery and time, even on walk breaks, but every one meant SO much and made me smile.

But then, as I started to make my way back into Linda Vista, somewhere around Mile 18 I think, Emily called me. Emily’s calling?! What??? Is she finished? Why is she calling?

“There’s an active shooter in the finish area.”

Deflated, terrified, overwhelmed, angry, frustrated, worried, sad… just a handful of EMOTIONS that I quickly and repeatedly cycled through during and after our conversation.

I learned that Emily’s husband had called her to tell her they were evacuating the finish area. She was around 1-2 miles from the finish line at the time. She later texted that she was being held back from finishing. I continued towards Friars thinking every possible thought, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • “Are my friends that ran the half okay? I hope they weren’t still in the finish area.”
  • “Is anyone hurt?”
  • “Will they stop the race?”
  • “I’ll never complete a marathon if I get picked up between here and the finish line.”
  • “What’s happening?”
  • “I hate guns.”
  • “This was supposed to be a happy day.”
  • “How will I finish?”

Now, I know it’s pretty common to #hitthewall between 20-22 miles, but I definitely hit the wall early at around 19 or 20. I think it was a combination of the heat, leg fatigue (my last long run had been SO long ago at that point due to injury, much earlier than a normal taper… my knee was doing great), and mostly, I think, that news. I started getting other texts, my sister-in-law for example, “I hope you’re okay!” “Yes, I’m still far away.” The news had become news.

So, I walked. I think I walked almost all of Friars. Every police officer on a bike that rode by I thought, “Are you coming to tell me that someone is going to pick me up? That the race is over?” They never stopped. It never happened. I can’t remember when I saw Emily’s text come through that they’d let them finish and all was fine, but I think it was while I was walking Friars. It helped me keep going.

Aside: Everyone was fine. Some people near the finish at the time of the evacuation didn’t get to finish their races as all precautions were taken. Everyone seemed pretty glad that all precautions were taken, even though there were certainly some disappointed they didn’t get to finish. Those further back, like me, were grateful that the race didn’t get called entirely and that the situation was contained quickly. Thankfully, the “shooter” didn’t have a real gun, it was an airsoft, and also was not targeting the race. One officer was injured (shot himself accidentally).

To the man with the cool, wet sponges at Fashion Valley: Thank you! I really, really needed that.

When I rounded onto the 163, I got really emotional. Okay, a 10Kish to go, I can DO this! And just very shortly after getting on the 163, I passed the final sweep point (I think it was 22.1). It was that moment that I almost started crying… I thought, “I’m actually going to finish. No matter how slow I go, I will finish. Wow. Wow. Wow. Pinch me. Is this real life?! My legs say yes.” But, the 163 is terrible … and hot … and long … and so I tried to get some run intervals back into the mix. Once I hit the hill on the 163, though? It was all walking from then on. The 163 isn’t terrible (just) because of the sun and the hill though, it is terrible because it’s a super banked, slanted road. It was so painful to walk and run on ground that was so uneven. My ankles hated it and it didn’t help that it comes so into the race.

Right before Mile 23, my sister texted me with something to the effect of “Just a 5K to go!” (so, clearly tracking was a bit off). Around Mile 25, my friend Holly (who I ran my first half with and who ran HER first full last year) texted me, “You’re a marathoner! You’re almost there!” or something to that effect. Cue tears. The support I felt from loved ones so far away was amazing.

Winding through downtown felt both incredibly long and incredibly short at the same time. When I reached the Mile 26 marker, I thought, “I have no idea what a .2 feels like.” But, as the half had the same finish line, I got the Mile 26 marker, then .1 later, the Mile 13 marker… so, I got to do two .1s instead of one .2.

I crossed the finished line. 6:47:59.

I am a marathoner. O! M! G! I honestly still can’t believe it.

IMG_6343

And in the interest of finally publishing this, I’ll save the other pictures and the post-race feels for another post.

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