In case you hadn’t heard, last Sunday I RAN A MARATHON.
Yes indeed-y, I- the girl who not even a year ago, would rather have walked ten miles barefoot in the snow than run three miles wearing comfortable sneakers in a climate-controlled gym, the girl who could only run if there was a piece of cake in front of her and a rabid panther behind her, the girl who’s face used to get so red and breathing so labored after just a short bit of light jogging that people stopped her to make sure she was “ok”- ran 26.2 miles and lived to tell the tale.
After making our way to the starting area and standing in line for far too long waiting to use some Porta-Potties, Don and I joined the mob of runners lining up in the early morning darkness of downtown Waikiki to await the official start of the race. The elite runners were directly in front of the mass of commoners in a roped off holding area of their own, and, although I was not close enough to see, I presume they were off like a pack of jackrabbits as soon as the starting shot sounded. Don and I got to enjoy a little bit of the fireworks show that marked the start of the race because, even though we lined up pretty close to the front, it was still another 5 minutes before the crowd thinned out enough so that we could actually started running.
We wound our way through Chinatown, past the Honolulu City Lights all lit up for Christmas, and out of Waikiki, and I struggled to find a space of my own. I had intended not to waste a lot of energy zigging and zagging around other runners, but in order to avoid running into people who were stopping to take pictures of the fireworks, the Christmas lights, other runners in costumes, etc., I had to do a little bit of maneuvering. My right knee, which had been giving me trouble since the 20 mile run but had been feeling good the week leading up to the race, started to twinge around the 5k mark, and I worried that it was going to make my run a miserable one. Fortunately, the twinge remained only a twinge for the duration of the race.
As we made our way up the hill near Diamondhead, I braced myself for some hard running because all summer long, people who had run the marathon before would mention the “dreaded Diamondhead hill.” I’m not sure if it was the excitement of running the race, the cheerful enthusiasm of the high school-aged volunteers holding the lane markers on that stretch of road, or the training on essentially every hill that could be found on the Windward side of the island that helped me out, but I was up and over before I knew it. It was probably a combination of excitement, cheer and training that got me to the other side wondering if that really truly was the “dreaded Diamondhead hill” or only a small precursor of something more hill-like to come.
The excitement of the day got me to the halfway-mark before I even knew what was happening and I felt great. Because I had water with me and I had trained all summer, I was able to skip the first several aid stations and get out of the crowd to find a space of my own. At the 13 mile marker, my FitBit timer showed 2:30 exactly, and I knew then that, because I would get more tired and likely slower the longer I ran, I probably wouldn’t make my goal of running the entire race in less than 5 hours, but my goal didn’t seem all that important in the moment. What did seem important was that there were volunteers who had dragged themselves out of bed just as early as I had in order to stand in first a light drizzle and then the hot sun to hand me a cup of cold gatorade or give me a high five, also important were the families in Hawaii Kai who, because our route went through their neighborhood, were trapped at home and instead of grumbling about the inconvenience stood on their lawns to offer us oranges, pretzels, candy, and a spritz with the garden hose; seeing the first elite lady-runner flying up the hill in the opposite lane felt pretty important as did hearing the cheers of “you’ve got this!” “you guys are amazing” and “keep smiling” and reading the cleverly-crafted signs- my favorites were the ones that read “Go, Random Stranger, Go!” and “Run like Kanye is going to give your medal to Beyoncé” and, of course, “Beer in 10 miles!”
The spirit of the moment kept me feeling pretty good until about mile 18 where some volunteers affiliated with our running group had parked themselves with an aid station just for us. I stopped at the aid station to take some more Advil, have a little soda (Coke is surprisingly satisfying while running) and do a bit of stretching. I maybe stopped for too long because as I started again I noticed that my LEFT knee was starting to ache and feel quite stiff. Until I paused at mile 18, I had only taken short power walking breaks through the aid stations and I made myself power on again until mile 20. At mile 20, I took a longer walking break which was bittersweet because it felt good to rest for a few minutes but I find that the longer I walk the harder it is to start back up again. I made it to mile 24 before I allowed myself another short break and then soldiered on to the end. When I finally saw the finish line up ahead, I felt relief like I’d never felt before. I imagine it is the same kind of relief that a parent who has lost a child in a crowded mall feels when the child is finally spotted tearing the leaves off a plant near the fountain or the relief that my friend, Kath, who was charged with watching my beloved escape-artist puppy on my wedding day, felt when she finally caught him after he slithered out of the office and ran amok around the North Country for a few hours (an escapade I learned of years later but which explained why she was hours late to the reception!). As soon as the finish line was in sight, I found my third or fourth wind and sped up. I started passing people and was once again zigging and zagging to get through the crowd with only one thought on my mind: the sooner I get there the sooner I can STOP EFF-ING RUNNING.
My final time was 5:02:51 which I’m pretty happy with considering that fact that I used to hate running and 26.2 miles is an obscene distance to attempt to run. After being adorned with my medal, I found Don still in the finisher’s area lying on some bags of ice. I knelt upon those bags for a few minutes, refilled my water bottle, and we went in search of our running group and our friends who not only baby-sat Jack for us the night before (no escaping this time! What a difference 7 years makes.) but also got out of bed early enough and hung around the race long enough to cheer us on both in Hawaii Kai and at the Finish Line.
I’m still pretty impressed with myself. Not only did I run a MARATHON and not only did I finish within breathing distance of my goal, but I kind of had a good time. This week was
tough; when I awoke Monday morning the only parts of my body that weren’t stiff or sore were my fingers. Everything else hurt. I spent all day alternately looking for food to satisfy my ravenous hunger and wishing people would leave me alone so that I could take a nap at my desk. The creakiness improved throughout the week but when I went for a short “recovery run” (as recommended by Mike) on Thursday, I felt like a bucket of bolts and both knees threatened to fall onto the ground and stay there. As often happens when someone has been working toward a special event and has successfully completed that special event I now find myself plagued with some sort of sinus infection/cold type illness. It doesn’t really matter though, because I am a badass who ran a marathon.
I learned a few things during the race: everyone says that the final 10k of a marathon are the hardest- and they’re right, a good solid training regime with lots of stupid hills will get you to the finish line, and the kindness of volunteers and spectators (for what has to be the most boring sport to watch) can really make a gal feel good when she is deliriously wondering if this is all just a terrible nightmare in which the mile markers continuously reset to 20 and she is trapped in a Sisyphean cycle and will never see the finish line.
I imagine that running a marathon is sort of like childbirth; people say they forget how painful it is and that is how they end up doing it more than once. I hope so because I think I’d like to do it again. I’ve signed up for the Hapalua half-marathon in April, but for now I will let my running muscles recover and focus, once again, on my weight lifting and HIIT training because I know that having a strong core is as helpful to being successful as a runner as running up all of those god-damned hills is.
Thank you to everyone who sent me wishes of luck, playlist suggestions, and all-around good thoughts, thank you to the Windward Endurance Training group for accompanying me on this journey and dragging me along when necessary, thank you to Don for agreeing to this madness (although he has forbidden me from signing up for any more restaurant newsletters since this is how we got involved to begin with), thank you to Dave and Rosie who perfectly executed both dog duty and cheerleading, and thank you to the organizers and volunteers of the Honolulu Marathon- I never went thirsty and my spirits didn’t have the opportunity to flag.