Sometimes running a race in your hometown seems like a bit a of a let down. there’s no traveling to a fun location. No fun exploring with friends and teammates. You just go through your regular schedule, and normal life until you all of a sudden find yourself at race day. I have to say that this time around event weekend was a blast! The expo on Friday with a good friend, and lunch Saturday with great people from DailyMile, there was lots of fun to be had.
Waking up Sunday I knew that it was going to be okay. When I got to the Team in Training tent everyone was asking how I felt. The answer, fabulous. The morning of Chicago I could barely keep food down, and Sunday was the complete opposite. I was calm, and had no problem eating. I got to see lots of friends, get hugs, and sat for a bit, collecting my thoughts and drinking my blue Gatorade. Just before heading over to the corrals my Chicago coach came over and asked what pace Ken, and I were planning to run since I had mentioned our plan to run/walk. He had a runner from his team that needed someone to join. It was his first marathon, and his pace was pretty similar to ours. Not a problem! From there we easily made our way over to corral (1st time in 4 years that’s happened!!), and hung out with my current coach for Alaska.
After a rather out of tune, and, um, colorful national anthem we were off (why can’t people just sing the dang notes? I’m thinking of starting a campaign against bad use of coloratura with the national anthem. It’s a song everyone should be able to sing together. Put your spin on your own music!). I felt really good the first 8 miles. Maybe a little stiff, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I saw my friend Karen with the 4:00 pace group as they went by, Betty and Jeremy just before mile 5, and then came the Team in training water stop at mile 5. The first really big hill came just after we split from the half. Not the first hill of the course, but the first real challenging hill. Ken and Ty were taking the hills a lot faster than I was, and I just let them knowing I would catch up after I got to the top. I didn’t want to push too hard knowing the hills that came on the back half of the course. A short stop at mile 10 for the boys lead to me stiffening up a bit, and caused me to chug up yet another tough hill to start the turn into Decatur.
For me this is where I had to mentally keep it together. Physically I was fine, but we were running through the part of the course where my wheels came off in 2008. I remembered something my friend Elizabeth had said to me the day before, don’t sike yourself out. I just ran from walk interval to walk interval. Just nice short 9 minutes of running with a quick built-in break. It worked like a charm. We saw Ty’s family, our friend Lynn, and Ken’s wife and daughter which really helped get us through Decatur. And then out of the blue just before turning into Emory one of my violin student’s drove by and started cheering me on, and right then my mental focus and mood made a dramatic change. It was like a little switch had been flipped and everything was okay. It couldn’t have happened at a better time since Ty started cramping up on the infamous Lullwater hill. We got him to stop and stretch, reassured him that it was okay, and got him walking before he started to stiffen up. From that point (mile 16 on) we did whatever he could. Sometimes that meant running the 9:1 intervals we had been doing, sometimes it was whatever he could do, which meant walking. Our goal was to get Ty to the finish. Somewhere around here a girl asked what our pace was because she liked it so much, and that’s when I realized I had not once looked to see what our pace had been. Sure, I had looked at the total time to see when to take salt and gels, but never the pace. It was refreshing, and freeing. We were just running what we had that day.
At that point everything just became fun for me. I was thanking the volunteers, police officers, and random people cheering. For the first time ever in a race I actually believed people when they said I looked great! I felt strong! I knew I could get to the finish, and I knew I that there was plenty in the tank to do it with. By the time we got to Piedmont Park Ty was spent. And at some point during the out and back built into the park Ken’s Achilles went. I went into to full on mother/teacher role. The mission: don’t let them stop moving. I made little goals for us, get to the next pole, start at a shuffle, whatever it took. I even pointed out the photographers and got them to run past smiling! We walked the hills, and shuffled when we could. I watched how they were running, and walking for clues as to how they were doing. I knew I had more in me, but it wasn’t about what I could do, it was about getting to the finish together. I knew I was pulling them, and I was happy to do it. I took everything in, and enjoyed the time I was out there running. I saw my parents at mile 24 just before Georgia Tech. I knew mom would be worried. We were a lot slower than planned, but I think she saw how happy I was, and I really was! Sometime back at mile 16 I had started smiling, and I didn’t stop until after I finished.
I knew Ken hadn’t been looking forward the GA Tech portion of the course. I had run it during a training run, and tried to reassure them that it wasn’t as bad as they thought. It was the last of the hills. They was a little bump on Marietta Street, but compared to what we had already done it was nothing. Marietta Street is tough. It’s industrial, and even for the 1/2 marathon there is very little crowd support until you get to the finish line. It’s a street that can feel like it’s going on forever. I pointed out buildings that I knew were at the finish area. “Look at how close they’re getting!! Can you hear the music? the crowd? They’re all going to be cheering for you!” I told Ty. Just a couple of blocks from the finish we came to Head Coach Tommy Owens. I looked at him, and smiled. He knew what this meant for me. “Look at what you’ve done compared to Chicago,” he said. I was beaming, and having a blast. You could see it all over my face. Chicago had been revenged. The time didn’t mater. We were well off my PR time, but we were still way ahead of my 2008 Georgia Marathon time. In the final block we saw Brenda who was jumping and cheering when she saw us, and I sprinted to give her a high-five. Then we ran past Whitney, and I knew the final turn was there, and then the sprint started. For the first time all day the gears that had been patiently waiting fired, and I just flew. It felt like nothing, and everything all at the same time. I was free of the burden of bad marathons, free of hitting the wall, free to fly across the finish in sheer triumph with my hands over my head. It was the most amazing feeling ever! And then I turned and saw Ken next to me, and Ty running with Brenda who had jumped back in after running the 1/2 marathon to finish together. I was so proud of our little group! We had done it together! All through the finishing shoot I had a huge smile. I apologized for how I smelled, and got my medal with a huge smile, a complete 180 from what had happened in Chicago. This day I had tears of joy where Chicago had tears of disappoint. I learned a lot this day, but that’s another post for another day. This day I finished my 6th marathon with a smile on my face, and a huge sense of satisfaction. I had conquered the beast in 5 hours and 20 minutes (a full 25 minutes faster than my 2008 Georgia Marathon, and on a harder course).