There was a marathon, as predicted. I finished, as predicted. And yes, it hurt. A. Lot. As predicted.
Here’s how the pain unfolded in Newport, Rhode Island on Sunday October 17th:
My running partner (RP) has connections and was able to secure lodging for us the night before the race. Not only did we get to stay in a house with our own bedrooms, FOR FREE…but the house was located right on the race course. As if that wasn’t good enough, the house was located about a mile from the start/finish area, AND we would pass by the house TWICE within the first twelve miles of the race. This perfect location lent itself to being the perfect solution for discarding unwanted gear as race day warmed up.
We participated in the usual carb-loading for dinner, and talked about all things running with our host, who was also running the marathon. We discussed – at great length - what we would be wearing and how we shed our layers throughout the day as the weather was predicted to be in the low 40s for the start, reaching 60 by noontime, but with windy conditions. I planned to wear a long-sleeve cotton shirt over a short-sleeve tech t-shirts; shorts under wind pants; and a light pair of gloves. Plus, of course, an orange baseball hat (yes, the yellow hat has been retired since Livestrong in August).
There was the typical restless night for me, with very little sleep – which I completely expected, as it seems to be my ‘norm’ for the night before a big event. The morning also progressed as usual, with coffee and breakfast and multiple trips to the bathroom.
Finally, at 7:15 a.m. we decided we should make our way down to the start line. My RP and I walked down the hill towards the mass of people that were gathering at Easton Beach. I had two goals in mind: use a portapotty and find a pace group to run near during the race.
The pandemonium at the start staging area was incredible. It was instantly obvious that there were NOT enough portapotties for the number of runners registered for the race. The lines were long and winding, seemingly without end. I finally found a line that looked ‘reasonable’ just as the race promoter called out ‘20 minutes to start time!’. I stood in line figuring I was at least standing somewhere that could possibly have a decent end result.
However, when I heard the call for ‘6 minutes to race start’ and there were still 20 people in front of me, I did the math and knew that I would have to take drastic measures. My RP had already been scouting out the situation near the dumpters, as it appeared that behind one dumpter was the ‘ladies room’ and behind the adjacent dumpter was the ‘men’s room’. She called me over and assured me that I could manage it, and then she offered me her body as a shield as four of us scooted behind the dumpster together.
With that ‘goal’ met, we made a beeline for the start line and found ourselves at the back of the pack. We pushed as far forward as we could before the crowd grew so thick that we were stuck in place. My other ‘goal’ of finding a pace group quickly slipped away in the crush of nervous bodies clad in wicking fabrics.
As I glanced around, spectators and runners were still getting off shuttle buses, and the lines were still deep for the bathroom and the bag check. I had my warm-up pants crammed into a bag in one hand, and a bottle of water in the other hand, and then gun went off! Of course not much happened because there were so many people crammed in together that it took a minute or two to reach the actual start line at an actual ‘running pace’. (I have no idea what happened to all those runners who weren’t even at the start line yet!)
Remember the hill we walked down to get to the start? Well, now we were running UP it, which was a great way to 1) warm up and 2) thin out the pack a little. I spent most of my time on the sidewalk, trying to squeeze in open spaces when I could find them. I dropped my bottle and bag at the house, somewhere around the Mile 1 mark and felt like I was off to a good start with a good pace.
The first half of the race starts with marathoners and half-marathoners all together. We passed through some beautiful historic neighborhoods, ran along the water, spotted a cruise ship docked in the harbor, ran out to Fort Adams and then Ocean Drive State Park for some spectacular views of the ocean along Ocean Ave. The wind was noticeable, but not problematic, and my pace was actually a little quicker than I wanted it to be, despite the multiple times that I demanded my legs to slow down a little.
Then past The Mansions and Salve Regina before heading back by the house, where I dropped some more clothes. I ran back down the hill, and had to literally pass right by the finish line as the half-marathoners peeled off to get their medals and call it a day, and the marathoners continued on for the rest of our miles.
In my head, I reminded myself that the race was only now beginning for me, and that up until this point, I had been merely warming up. My legs were not excited by this announcement, but they continued along at the same pace, somewhere in the 8:25-8:30 range.
The next part of the course moved us into a more residential area with a few ‘out and back’ sections. Somewhere around Mile 15, we had a nice downhill that brought us to Sachuest Beach, with more spectacular views of the water, including a wind surfer. I was feeling like a rock star, feeling strong, and reminding myself that I was not allowed to pick up the pace until Mile 20. I hit the turnaround at suddenly realized why I had felt like a rock star - the wind had been at my back. And now? In my face.
My pace slowed and my spirits dipped just a little bit, but there was a turn coming soon, and it was away from the water, so it had to get better…right? I think we all know where this is headed…
The next out-and-back section was long. Very long. Road to Hell long, and not even paved with good intentions. So long in fact that the race leaders were just reaching me (18 miles for me, 24 miles for them). It was not a good thing, to see all the suffering pass me by…to know that I would be in the same situation in a few miles. I slowly realized that the hill I had just run down, would have to be faced on the way back. A look ahead revealed that there were more hills to come. To top it all off, the wind was ever-present. I got out my bricks and mortar and got to work.
The suffering began promptly at mile 18, just as always.The suffering continued, but would ebb and flow as my willpower tried to beat it down. I picked up the pace a few times, and would just get into a groove, when the wind would inform me that I cannot control the weather. I reminded myself that my mom was with me every step of the way, and I would not stop until I reached the finish line - I would persevere as she had so many times. I had to.
After a third and final pass through the ‘Spookytown’ rest stop, I made my way back up the last hill…conveniently placed at Mile 24.5…a nice, big, hill near a place call Purgatory Chasm. I heard a runner cry out ‘This is so unfair!’ as we were almost to the top. I responded “Meanest. Race course. Ever.”
I fell into that zombie-runner phase for the last push – willing my feet to continue moving forward, trying not to look at my watch, wanted the finish line to be closer. Finally, the spectators filled the sidewalks and I could hear the race director announcing people’s names as they came in to finish…I rounded one final sharp corner, and crossed the line. Hyperventilating. Relieved. And suddenly in a great deal of pain. My watch read 3:47 which was pretty darn close to my prediction of 3:50.
I wandered around aimlessly for a few minutes, and the pain in my legs intensified. My muscles ached deeply, like they wanted to tear themselves off my bones and never work again. I sat down, and suddenly found myself crying…from emotions more than pain. This was my first finish line that I couldn’t share with my mom – in person or even on the phone. This was a finish line at the end of a long year. This was a finish line without a hug, and I didn’t much care for it.
I pulled myself together, tried to stretch a little, walked around and tried to get my brain to figure out where I might find my running partner. Finally, 15 minutes after I crossed the finish, I found my RP by the finish line, and yelled out her name. She turned and relief washed over her face as she realizes I am not still out on the course trying to drag my carcass to the finish line.
We began the long walk back up the hill, with me dictating a snail’s pace because I couldn’t possibly move any faster, even if my shorts were on fire. We regale each other with stories of pain and suffering, and head back to the house for a post-race clean-up and prep for the drive home.
It’s a perfect sunny autumn day. Marathon #6, another adventure in the books.