Note: This post is not scary. But it is very long. Go use the bathroom and get a drink before you start to read this (and believe it or not, I left out some details!).
Running the last 6.2 miles of a marathon is something that cannot be fully described or understood until you have been there yourself. When other marathoners try to tell you that the real race begins at mile 20, it’s easy to brush that off as typical runner’s exaggeration – much like the “big hill” or the “fast pace” that always gets bigger and faster with each re-telling of the story. But don’t be fooled. Everything you have heard about the last part of the marathon is true.
Inside the mind of Running Chick during the last 6.2 miles of her first marathon:
Wow. I can’t believe our pace leader hasn’t caught back up to us from his potty-break…hope he’s OK….we’re getting close to the 20 mile mark.
Huh. My left hip muscle is feeling really tight…and the right quad is starting to tense up too. Hopefully it doesn’t get any worse than this. Still got about an hour to go.
Hey…someone’s calling my name! It’s Kristen – wearing her new orange shirt! Oh thank goodness she’s jumping in with me!
Kristen: Hey Di! You look great! How are you feeling? How are your feet doing?
Di: I’m good! Legs are getting tired, but I’m OK…feet are FINE!
Kristen: Everyone is just up ahead, on the right.
Hooray! The 20 mile timing mat…and there they all are…a sea of orange shirts…Tamieka’s waving a big sign at me…hell, I can’t even read that…there are my parents with the Gatorade…lots of shouting…I have no idea what any of them are saying…gotta swap bottles…get rid of this stupid CLIF bar and hand them back the new one too – no more CLIF bars for me…David’s yelling “Go! Go!”…so off we go!
April-Anne jumps in too! And she’s wearing her new orange shirt too! How sweet!
Di: Hi April! (to self: I should introduce her to Kristen)
April: Hi Dianna! You’re doing great!
Di: Thanks! How was your half!?
April: It was good!
Di: Yes, well, but how WAS it? What was your time??
April: I don’t know, I forgot to look! But I think I did really well.
Kristen: Hi April, I’m Kristen.
Di: I was going to do that, I swear! Please don’t feel like you have to keep the t-shirts on! I know how hot they can get.
[Kristen and April start discussing how far each of them is going to run…April says she’s just staying for a little while and Kristen’s in for the long haul]
Ugh….here’s the BIG hill – is it really a mile long?…hey, the DJ is playing Beautiful Day by U2…I love this song! Woo hoo! Here we go! Up the hill…and up…and up…this f***ing hill really sucks…does it ever freakin’ end? And where the heck is the water stop?
Hey! The pace leader’s back! Excellent…just focus on the yellow shirt and he’ll lead you to the finish…just stick with him…I’m determined to stick with him (and I announce this to my running partners)….here’s the water stop…oh sweet jesus, we get to walk for a few seconds…what did he just say? I think he just said he can’t walk the stops anymore so he can bring the group in on time…ugghhh nooo…it’s ok…I can keep up….I can keep up….No I can’t….it hurts too much…it hurts a lot…I need to slow down…I need the reward of walking for 20 seconds through the water stops…sigh…
Kristen: Di, are you stopping for water?
Di: Yeah, I have to. It’s OK. I’m OK with it.
Kristen: No you’re not.
Di: Yeah, I really am. This sucks, this is really hard. I’ll still finish.
C’mon you can push a little bit…you can do it…keep him close…Wow. This. Really. Sucks. It’s ok not to push that hard. It’s OK to NOT finish in four hours. At this rate, 4:15 will be good. That’s still a great first marathon for a new runner. It’s OK…just get through the next 5 miles…this is all I have left and I have to work with it.
Dammit. Jeff Galloway’s book made it sounds like walking through the water stops would leave me with all sorts of energy for the end of the race. I’m still waiting. Where the hell is that energy I was promised!! He’s a big, fat liar-head.
April: Dianna, you’re going so good!
Kristen: I’m not slowing you down am I?
Dianna: Uh…no. Trust me, this pace is the pace I can handle right now.
There goes mile 22…holy freakin’ crap this is freakin’ hard….and who the hell put all these stupid f***ing hills at the END of the race…whose brilliant idea was this? Stupid ass should be beaten for something this cruel. This is insane. Why did I think this was a good idea? What was wrong with the 20K and half-marathon races? NOOOO…little Ms. Bigshot has to do a marathon. Nice job, dumb ass. Feels good huh? You won’t be doing THIS ever again, let me tell you. OK.
Onward. After. That which doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Pain is your friend – it reminds you that you are still alive…pain is weakness leaving the body…Onward. After. Ooohhh how great will it be to eat chips, and not run.
Dianna: Who came up with this stupid race in the first place? Wasn’t it some guy who died at the end?
Puff, puff, puff. Run, run, run.
Dianna: THIS FRICKIN SUCKS!! THIS IS SO HARD!!
Jen (off to the side): Hey Di! You’re doing awesome! You look great! You can do it!!
Dianna: HI JEN!!
Awwwww….Jen’s here! On her bike! And she’s cheering me on…she’s so sweet…I can’t believe she came out here to do this…I think I might cry! Did she just hear me yelling about how hard this is?
Ow, ow, ow, ow, oowwwwiiie….Uuugghh….taking corners really, really hurts. Yikes. And another hill. Nice. Twisty turny roads with hills. Realll nice.
Dianna: April, are you still here? I thought you were only staying for a little while?
April: But you’re doing so good, I don’t want to leave!
Dianna: OK, but as soon as you’re ready to, stop running! You ran a half-marathon already today!
April: I will, I promise!
Mile 23 is here and gone…hey, there’s Jen again! She biked to another intersection! AAwwww…she really is so sweet…and here’s April and Kristen running with me…aw jeez…what the hell did I do to deserve such great friends? I think I am going to cry!
Water stop…ahhhh….walking is good…wait. No. It. Isn’t. WHAT THE HELL. Who put blisters on the ends of Every. Single. Toe. And what the hell is happening underneath my right foot. Agh! It hurts to walk now too! Never again. This was a dumb idea. I’m going to finish this stupid race and never look back. And I will finish. I might puke first, but I will finish. And I hope to never eat another gel or drink Gatorade ever again. Dammit why aren’t there any potato chips out here? I wish my stomach felt better.
[April and Kristen are talking to me from time to time, cheering me on and trying to distract me with stories, questions, etc. I have pretty much stopped talking, and can hardly keep my head up at time, looking down at my feet way, way more that I should…in the beginning of the race, I would clap and WOO HOO when people were cheering for me; now all I can muster is a half-hearted wave]
Crap. I am all turned around. I have no idea which way I just came from or where I’m going…good thing all these people and signs are out here…did someone just say “candy store?” What the heck is that all about? Ooohh…there’s candy and Vaseline just before the next water stop. That’s a cool idea…to bad they don’t have anything that isn’t sicky sweet. I still think I might puke.
Ugh…another hill…wow…this one’s a little steeper…what was that noise? The guy behind me stopped running…don’t look back at him, don’t look back…dammit I told you NOT to look back…his face is all red…hey wait…my face feels flush…really warm…wow this hill is kicking my butt…I feel like it’s harder than the enormous hill I ran last weekend at a 7-something min/mile pace…huh…I bet that’s a bad thing…maybe I should slow down a little bit…yeah, let’s walk that last little bit of the hill and try to get the heart-rate back down.
And wooo hooo a downhill…hope this doesn’t hurt…hey I hear footsteps pounding behind me…it’s a little old lady and she’s passing me like I’m standing still…oh wait, I practically AM standing still. Why? Because this is hard. It hurts. And it sucks.
So what’s the watch say? And the pace band…weird…I’m having hard time reading the numbers…contacts are all dried out…and holy cow, doing math is impossible right now…hey…that’s a cool looking building…Kristen wants to know what it is…huh, that cop car looks familiar sitting in front of the building…That’s the Wadsworth…wait, no….the Wadsworth is in Middletown, near where I work…that’s uumm, uhhh…OH! That’s UConn’s West Hartford Campus! Oh god. My brain is fried. That can’t be good.
Puff, puff, puff. Run, run, run. Puff, puff, puff. Run, run, run.
Hey there’s Jen again!
Wait…I just heard the sweetest words…someone just said Mile 25 is at the top of the hill…is it true? Only a mile or so left? Hell, I can suffer through anything for another 10 minutes.
April’s leaving…wow…she ran 18 miles today…holy cow…she’s so awesome…and here’s Kristen running along side of me even though she hasn’t been running as much as she would like to lately…if they can give that much effort to me, I can finish this race…if my friends can go to Iraq, I can finish this race…if my mom can survive cancer four times, quit drinking, quit smoking, replace a knee and other various body parts, I can finish this race. Onward. After.
Kristen: Do you want to run the last mile alone?
Dianna: Uh. NO. Hell no! Don’t leave!
Wow. This is it. The last mile. Mostly downhill…sweet, sweet downhill…hey there’s the DJ again…he’s playing that “How far from heaven” song by the Los Lonely Boys…I love this song! I feel like flying…now I know why that guy in the Olympic marathon did the airplane-arms when he came into the finishing area…
Kristen: Heaven’s just around the corner Di!
And here it is…under the arch…smile at all the cameras – remember what Richard said about runners making faces! – smile because YOU DID IT. YOU MADE IT. Smile and run towards that Finish Line with your head held high. Breathe in, breathe out…huh. Not working. Chest is all choked up with emotion…trying not to cry (yet)…smile..try to breathe…smile…take it in.
HOLY CRAP. The clock says 4:03! WOOOOWW. That’s close enough to 4:00 for me! How the hell did that happen?
Cross the timing mats. Walk. Smile. Try to breathe. Drink some water. Have timing chip removed from sneaker. Keep walking. Ow. Ow. Ow. See family. Cry. See friends. Wow. That was really hard. Holy crap. I just ran 26.2 miles. Hot damn!
Smile. Beam. And then beam some more.
Now lets go eat some chips and drink some beer.