Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ten looooong miles

Ten looooong miles

Last Friday night (10/2) Aaron, Adam and I went to the free Health & Fitness Expo to pick up my race packet. There were over 70 vendors at the St. Paul RiverCentre and while we had no intention of buying anything, we wound up spending $52 (I have the same problem at Target, when I go in for shampoo and napkins and somehow spend $75). We bought me some really cool fitted ear bud thingies (I don’t run with headphones mainly because I have a hard time finding headphones that fit my ears), a long-sleeved running shirt for race day, and some Gu Chomps for fuel (I tried a Gu gel packet once, and it was like eating a spoonful of raspberry jelly on an empty stomach. I gagged when I swallowed. I tried a Chomp at the Expo and it was yummy – like a thick and chewy Gummi Bear). I didn’t know if I’d really need “fuel” since I was only running 10 miles, but I figured it would give me something to look forward to around mile five.

My race packet contained my ChampionChip (an ingenius little invention that looks like a poker chip. You attach the plastic chip to your shoelace and—once activated—it magically records your official time), my race number, and a sweats-check bag in case I wanted to wear layers to the starting line, then drop my sweats off at a truck before the race started. When I left the Expo, I felt very “official.”

On Saturday we woke up around 8 a.m. and headed over to our friends’ Leah and Paul’s beautiful home in the Prospect Park neighborhood of Minneapolis for the Badgers/Gophers football game. College friends Jenny and Dan drove from Milwaukee with their two kids, Sam, 4, and Madigan, who will be 2 in Feb., and our friends Kay and Joe drove from Green Bay with their three kids, Grace, 3.5, Andrew, 2, and Claire, who will be one in Feb. Softball friend Kevin was there, along with a bunch of Leah and Paul’s buddies. As you can imagine, the house was loud and chaotic. It was a good kind of chaos though (even though the Badgers won). In true “house party” style, Leah and Paul even got a keg. I figured I could have a few beers since beer is full of carbs, and carbs are good before a long run, right?

After the game, we headed back to the East Side where Aaron made Adam and I a delicious spaghetti dinner (more carbo-loading!), we watched some TV, and then I went to bed. I wasn’t feeling the best … I’m guessing most of my nausea was due to nerves. I had no trouble falling asleep, but I had a heck of a time staying asleep. I tossed and turned from 3 a.m. until I finally got out of bed at 5 a.m. I showered, put on my running gear, tried to eat a slice of peanut butter toast, got Adam up and ready, and started to freak out just a little when my parents arrived at 6 a.m. to ride to the Metrodome with us. Race day was here! There was no backing out now!

As the five of us drove downtown, there was a light mist falling and the temp was around 48 degrees. It was COLD. Suddenly I didn’t feel so confident in my long-sleeved shirt and shorts. I felt like a self-conscious kid on the first day of junior high and hoped I wasn’t dressed all wrong.

Aaron took the Fifth Street exit off 94 and HOLY COW was there traffic. And traffic. And more traffic. I have taken that exit a billion times to work, and yet it looked completely different this time around. It was 6:45 a.m. and the 10-mile was set to start at 7:05 a.m., with the marathon starting an hour later. There were runners and cars everywhere. It was pretty apparent that I would miss the start of the race if I sat in the car any longer (the light changed three times and our car barely moved), so I followed the lead of other runners getting dropped off and said some hasty goodbyes (it felt weird saying, “See you at mile six!”) before kissing Aaron, patting Adam’s knee, grabbing my parents hands, then flinging the door open and bolting across the street. I followed some other runners toward the Dome (I was glad to see some of them wearing shorts like I was), stood with some people at a gate for a minute, then realized I was in a line for the marathon. I saw a small sign stating “10 mile” with an arrow to the right, and took off jogging. I was cold. I was nervous. I didn’t know exactly where I was going. I followed more runners all the way around the Metrodome to the corner of Portland and Fourth Street and was relieved to hear a traffic cop bellowing “Ten mile over here! Corral one, over there! Corral two, line up over there! Corral three that way! Corral four over there!” I headed over to corral four with 10 minutes before start time. People were chatting nervously/excitedly (most people had a running buddy) or zoning out, listening to their headphones. We were packed together and the body heat felt nice. A little after 7 a.m., the “Star Spangled Banner” blared through the speakers and we all turned to face the American flag. At 7:05 the first corral started running, at 7:08 the second group got going, at 7:11 the third corral took off, and at 7:15 it was our turn. We crossed the starting line and rushed toward the Mississippi River like a stampede. The mood was lighthearted and happy, with people joking and laughing and talking. I wondered how long that would last. I passed some runners, some runners passed me, we were all trying to find our individual pace. The first mile flew by. It felt like we had only run a block, not a mile. I glanced down at my stopwatch to see if I was on pace and was disappointed to see that I wasn’t. I was at 10:30 rather than 10 minutes. I turned it up a notch in order to shave 30 seconds off my next mile. At the second mile marker (which didn’t come quite as quickly as the first) my watch read 20 minutes. I did it! Trying to make up that time may have been my downfall, though, because I was WINDED and between miles two and three, I was faced with a boomerang incline that left me wondering if I would have enough energy to finish. How could I possibly run another seven and a half miles when I wasn’t even sure I could get up this hill? I heard some choice swear words right about then; the same four-letter words exploding in my brain. Soon after the hill, I had to use the bathroom and was glad to see some port-a-potties around the bend. I made a last-minute decision to hit the biffies and was SO GLAD that I did, even if it added minutes to my time (there was a line). Not only did I feel better physically, the brief stop gave me time to collect my thoughts. I could run ten miles. I could-I could-I could.

The first time I really noticed cheering spectators was on the Franklin Bridge, before we hit East River Road in St. Paul. Seeing cheerleaders with their signs “We’re proud of you!” “Run Fast!” “You can do it!” got me excited to see my family between miles five and six, although I knew there wouldn’t be a sign involved. When I asked Aaron if he was going to make a sign, he responded, “How about we just yell really loud instead?”

At mile four, I hit a wall. I tried to remind myself that—if I was running a marathon—I’d be at mile 20. Thank God I wasn’t running a marathon! How do they do it??? I quickly realized that if I was going to get through this race, I was going to have to play little mind games. I decided to walk through every water stop until the last mile. I had never—not once—walked during my training runs with Aaron (and we ran nine miles just the week before), but I needed to set little attainable goals in order to keep going. I really missed having my running buddy beside me. Even though I was running with thousands of others, it was lonely on the course.

At mile five, I reached into my pocket for a Gu Chomp. I popped it in my mouth and BLECH! it immediately turned into a sticky mess. I had to scrape it off my teeth with my fingers and contemplated spitting it out. So much for my fuel.

I saw my mom (holding Adam), my dad, and Aaron right after that point, at the intersection of Cleveland and Summit. I stopped to give them all a big hug. What a beautiful sight! Adam’s eyes lit up when he saw me, and I felt the exact same way. They were clapping and cheering and having a great time. I told them I’d see them at the finish.

I ran into my friend Jeremy a little down the road, and he ran alongside me, encouraging me and asking how I was doing. I was honest. It was tough.

I struggled up the Summit Avenue hill (what was up with all the freakin’ hills?!?) and at the crest I could’ve kissed a spectator on the mouth when she shouted from the sidelines, “Way to go, runners! You made it up those awful hills! It’s all downhill from here!”

At mile seven I saw my friend Kirsten, standing alone on a corner, and stopped to give her a big hug. She laughed and told me to “Keep running!”

I had a 5K left, which should’ve been enough to give me the mental endurance I needed to finish strong, but a 5K is still 3.1 miles. Not three blocks … three miles. I was grateful for the water stops and, let’s be honest, used them as an excuse to walk a few steps, regardless of whether or not I was thirsty.

I was thrilled to see mile marker 8, and even more ecstatic to see mile marker 9. I didn’t stop after mile 9. I was almost done!! I saw the Cathedral and then, around the corner, there was the Capitol in the distance. I gave it everything I had and sprinted down the hill to the finish.

My friend Lisa gave me a big hug after I crossed the finish line (she volunteers every year for the marathon) and it was great to see a familiar face and even better to know I was done!! I ran ten miles!!! I collected a banana and granola bar, a bottle of water, and my finisher T-shirt and shortly after that I saw my parents, Adam and Aaron. They said they were proud of me and asked how I felt. I told them that—next to childbirth—running ten miles was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And even though it was a grueling mental battle, and even though my time wasn’t what I had hoped it would be (I was shooting for 1:40 and I finished at 1:47. I know I’m being too hard on myself, but I can’t help it. I keep replaying certain parts of the course over in my head and wishing I had done things differently), and even though the cold air threw my system for a loop and my lungs are just now getting back to normal—four days later—I would totally do it again.