Sunday, October 9, 2011

#2 - Marathon Completed

Pavel and me with medals.
Left to right: my brother, my mom, me, my dad.
As I crossed the finish line this afternoon at the Royal Victoria Marathon (4:39:38), my brother called my name and asked me how I felt. "Like I just ran a marathon," I said, and that was the truth.

Though I did finish strong. Check it out on YouTube. (Scroll to 5:54 where the announcer says, "Nice strong work here from 1227" – that's me!)

I hardly know how to describe the feeling of getting to the end of 42.2 km (26.2 miles) and finally being able to stop pounding the pavement. It wasn't exactly what I'd expected it to be. It hurt so much. I almost cried at 34 km. Almost.

Like any race, it started well. It was a gorgeous sunny autumn day here in Victoria, and my brother and I were in good spirits this morning. As we crossed the start line I told him to go on ahead of me because he's fast. I had my MP3 player with a good two hours of inspiring tunes (everything from Beyonce to Josh Groban) to keep me company and the first half (21.1 km) was a piece of cake. I cheered out loud as I crossed the halfway mark. If that had been it, I'd have been ecstatic, because I got a PR for the half, coming in at 1:58.

But then things turned ugly. Well, just painful. At the 23 km mark, I started to feel my quads seize up, and they just got tighter and tighter until at around 28 km I started to wonder if I'd have to stop. I ate the banana I'd been holding in my sweaty hand, but it didn't help. It was a really awful feeling, both physically and emotionally. Though I didn't really have any kind of goal for the race, I knew I wanted to complete it and not walk any of the course (which I managed to accomplish), but I secretly hoped to run a sub-four marathon. My brother Pavel managed to finish in 4:03, which is fantastic, especially since we clearly didn't put in enough training. I hadn't run in three weeks, and yesterday and this morning I woke up with a headache and a sore throat.

Anyway, I did have to pause for a few seconds a couple of times to do the classic bend at the waist, hands on knees, grimacing with head hanging in defeat. But I soldiered on, despite wondering if I was irreparably damaging the blood vessels in my lower legs. (I'm sure the veins would explode right now if not for the fact that I'm siting with my feet up and in compression socks.) From 28 km to 40 km I basically just plodded along in pain. Screaming, wrenching, awful, indescribable burning pain from my hips to my ankles.

Smiling for the camera. Fake it till you make it.
Truth: a marathon is not just double a half-marathon. It's a half marathon immediately followed by another two hours of totally masochistic torture. Can you believe runners pay a lot of money to voluntarily end up on the couch icing their knees and popping Ibuprofen for the rest of race day? And all I got was this lousy T-shirt... Actually the shirts are pretty bitchin' this year. The medal's nothing outstanding as far as medals go, but hey, it says "marathon" on it, so that's all I need.

By the time I got to the 39 km sign, trying to enjoy the amazing views of the ocean as I plodded along, I was wondering why God had forsaken me (well, not really, but I did have to seriously contemplate Jesus on the cross to motivate myself to keep going) and then I saw my parents and family friends on the sidewalk, with cameras and cowbells. My mom ran next to me for about a kilometer (ringing the cow bell until I had to tell her I couldn't take it anymore) and then the sign for the final mile came into view around the bend and I picked up my head and straightened my shoulders and picked it up again. And then I saw the finish. And like in all my best running fantasies, there was a crowd on either side of the fence, cheering and yelling and clapping... for me. I thought, well, there are two people ahead of me in this final 100 meters and they're walking... so I'd better put on a show for the people. So I furrowed my brow, pursed my lips, and leaned into a sprint, my arms pumping and Lady Gaga reminding me I was on the edge of glory.

And then... Katherine Switzer gave me a hug!!! The first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967 (despite women not being allowed to participate until 1972) was at the finish line of the Victoria Marathon today congratulating women on running... and she hugged me! (Or maybe I hugged her in my shock and admiration, but she didn't seem to mind either way.) The only thing I could think to say was, "Kathrine Switzer!" and she said, "Haha, yes!" to which I replied, "Thank you!" and then walked away in a daze. (For those who don't run, just imagine Sydney Crosby surprising you with a high five after your recreational hockey game.) Very cool.

I don't know if I'll do another marathon again, being able to cross this off my list but I -- oh, who am I kidding? I've got to try to beat my time... 4:40 just isn't good enough, and I know with better training I could do a sub-four. And I don't want to do any plodding next time. Just a strong, steady race.

What a day. What a run.

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