This is the part of the show where I'm finally going to tell you what my Pace Band said: 4:04. And for a long time it's going to look like I was on Team Awesome. And for parts of miles here and there, I was.
As the race started out from the Stadium, I had a surprisingly hard time navigating the crowds to hit my first mile pace. It shook my confidence for a moment, but I knew better than to panic. I methodically made up for it in the second mile. This stretch was through downtown--a part of races I always enjoy. I love seeing the buildings, hearing the sound of thousands of feet running the streets. The rather intense fogginess of the morning added to the effect. I wish I could say I remembered a lot about the landscape, but truthfully, I look down when I run, and on top of that, I was pretty focused and just wasn't looking around much. I do remember that the early section of the race reminded me of running Detroit, which was kind of cool. Actual mile times in black, target times in blue.
Mile 1: 9:56/9:48
Mile 2: 9:26/9:38
Mile 3: 9:16/9:13
Mile 4: 9:15/9:18
Mile 5: 9:06/9:08
I know these times don't look off-mark, but by mile 4 I knew I was working too hard to hit them, but I had no idea why. Sure, it was crazy humid, but it was cool--in the 50s--with a very light mist. Certainly that couldn't be blamed. And I'd fueled properly. I decided it was early race stiffness, and assumed I'd run out of it.
I honestly can't tell you much specifically about these miles. I really wasn't looking around much. Around mile 6 or 7 I looked for the Redhead Cheering Section. Not seeing them, I assumed B.o.B. was ahead of me, they'd seen her, and moved up the course to cheer her into the finish. Sadly, no (you can read what happened here). I Gu'd shortly after mile 6, as planned. The spectators and on-course entertainment were awesome. Church groups, community groups, school groups, it seemed like everyone was out and cheering, misty fog and all. And every single one of them helped to keep me moving and smiling, even if I hadn't run through the stiffness; even if mile target times weren't getting easier to hit.
Mile 6: 9:18/9:08
Mile 7: 9:01/9:03
Mile 8: 9:19/9:08
Mile 9: 9:18/9:03
Mile 10: 9:07/9:03
Right around mile 11 I knew we were heading back toward the Stadium, where we'd started. I was starting to watch for the marathon/half-marathon split when I heard a guy on a bullhorn. Oh, on-course entertainment, I thought to myself. I've never heard an on-course entertainer quite like that. I think he's encouraging the ladies to chick people. Where is this guy? Oh, there is is. WHOA, those chicks with him are wearing really colorful wigs. COLORFUL!?! Wait! It's the Redhead, Jen B., and Spike!! We spotted each other just about the same time, I think. I waved and gave them a huge smile and just laughed and laughed listening to Spike's encouragement on his bullhorn. Best cheering section EVER that did not include a two-year-old.
Mile 11: 9:16/9:13
Mile 12: 9:10/9:03
Mile 13: 9:08/9:23
Mile 14: 9:32/9:08
Mile 15: 9:20/9:13
The marathon/half-marathon split was rather unceremonious, but the sign was plenty big and did its job. So I turned, Gu'd and went on my way. By the half, I was only about 1:15-1:30 behind pace, which was fine with me. And I smiled thinking about my support system back in the Central time zone, which I knew was tracking my splits and cheering me on. Plus, the bands and groups on course were great. I heard "This Little Light of Mine," which I love. I heard some GNR (and really, who doesn't love some GNR on a Sunday morning?!?), some early 2000's stuff.
But miles 14 and 15 had both missed their mark, I was doing a pretty careful eval of the pace band, my legs, and my head to gauge how things were going. I decided that there were only really a few "fast" miles left to go before the 80 second "cushion" in my pace would start to kick in around mile 20-21. I decided I could handle just a few more "fast" miles and then start to slow it down.
I think this section of the race was my favorite. For miles 17-20 we ran through Rockefeller Park, which was really nice. The park had areas named for different countries, and had a pretty canal. I saw a girl walking and encouraged her, which I never do. But she looked like she could use it. She would later return the favor, when I needed it.
For all the loveliness of the course, my goal times were slipping away from me, and I was starting to accept that there was nothing I could do about it. I'd mentally given myself a 7-second per-mile pace window, meaning that anything upwards of 7 seconds from my pace band was fine. For a while I had stayed within that window or made it up from mile to mile, but by mile 17 I just simply couldn't. I willed my legs to move faster, and couldn't believe the pace number on my Garmin wasn't budging. But it wasn't. Not even a little.
Mile 16: 9:25/9:13
Mile 17: 9:46/9:13
Mile 18: 9:38/9:08
Mile 19: 9:32/9:08
Mile 20: 10:01/9:13
At mile 19 I did the math quickly and thought I could still go under a 4:10, barely. A sub-4:10 had been my mid-range goal. Not even a mile later, at the end of mile 20, I knew it was not physically possible. I just simply could not will my legs to move any faster, and I'd fallen too far behind. Around this time I gave myself permission to walk all the way through water stops without feeling like I had to make up the time. That took off some pressure, and it helped me keep running between water stops.
I wish I could tell you the moment it happened. Like the moment I first knew I was pregnant with my son. Or when I was 16, running intervals for cross country, and I knew in an instant that I had a stress fracture. But I can't tell you exactly when I hit the wall. All I know is that I hit it so hard I cried on impact. I'm a grown woman. A marathoner. I've given birth. And I cried. On the course.
It wasn't even tear-filled crying. Just sobbing, trying hard not to burst into tears completely (why oh why was I wearing mascara?!?). Let me tell you something. There is nothing dignified about crying on a marathon course. It lacks the element of strict physical control you've honed over the 16 or 18 weeks you've trained for the event. While it's happening, all you want to do is go home. Get out of the cold drizzle (which the mist had now turned into). Stop moving. And all you can do is keep moving forward, in pain, watching your goal slip farther and farther away, unable to do anything at all about it. Your choices are simple: move forward, or get a medic to help you. Those are the options. I had more than one bike-medic offer to get me help when they saw me fighting to hold back tears. But as miserable as I was, I was going to see it through.
We ran by the lake for a while, which was reminiscent of the half-marathon I ran in San Francisco. Then the course returned to city streets, again reminding me of the last few miles of Detroit. I was walking more, and not just through water stops. It was in that stretch that the girl from the park passed and encouraged me. I thought it was incredibly classy, and kind.
Mile 21: 9:42/9:18
Mile 22: 11:14/9:33
Mile 23: 10:14/9:28
Mile 24: 11:28/9:38
Mile 25: 11:41/9:38
Mile 26: 11:04
0.2: 2:39 (Garmin measured it as 0.32 miles, GPS error accumulated from the whole race)
I knew how close I was, and I tried to run as much of it as I could. Finally, I came over the bridge, passed the 26th mile marker, and turned toward the finish line. I scanned the crowd for the Bloggy cheering section, but I couldn't imagine they'd stayed out in the rain after B.o.B. had finished and was probably cold and hungry. I sped up as much as I could, thinking I could possibly beat the clock from rolling over to the next minute. More than anything, I was just thankful to be done.
Chip time: 4:16:07
76/173 age/gender division
I got my medal (which is awesome, btw), some chocolate milk, looked around (unsuccessfully) for Jodi, Jenn, and Dave, and headed toward the bag-drop area. I walked for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably 10 minutes, and found it. Even the lady that retrieved my bag asked me repeatedly if I needed medical attention. I was shaking, shivering as an only possibly related matter, and still trying very hard to maintain control of my emotions. I told her I was going to be fine, but thank you. I got my bag, walked to an open space, and sank to the floor. Still half-crying, I started digging through my bag for anything that might be a comfort. My new hoodie sufficed, although I hated to get it wet with sweat and rain. Mr. Joanna called just then; later I felt bad that he'd had to live those awful moments with me. And I still had to walk, in the cold rain, back to my hotel. Thank the Lord I'd put an umbrella in my drop bag (#neuroticoldpersonbehaviorftw).
After I got cleaned up, I went to meet part of the bloggy crew to recap and return a shirt that had gotten stowed in my drop bag. Seeing them and decompressing was undoubtedly a highlight after the race we'd all had. But we'd all finished. We were all marathoners.
I know. I know. RunningFirst has already reminded me that I took 11+ minutes off my PR, and I should celebrate that. AND I AM PROUD of that accomplishment. I KNOW that every runner totally bonks during a race every now and then. I KNOW that the weather wasn't the best. I KNOW that I slept like hell for the 2 nights before the race. I KNOW.
But this was not the race I'd planned for. Trained for. Hoped for. And it hurt like hell. I burned through every gear God gave me just to finish. And it didn't have to be that way. At the end of Lewis & Clark last October, I felt great. At the end of Martian in April, I was ecstatic. It needn't have been this way in Cleveland. So what went wrong? I need to know. I want to go 26.2 again, and I never want it to feel like this again.
I know this has been a VERY long post--thanks to those of you who are still reading. All told, even though race day bit the big one, this training cycle was a blessing to me. I'm choosing to see it for the good in it. It was the me time I needed in an otherwise beautiful and stressful life. It was the introduction to my city that I needed. It was a goal, and I needed that, too. And while just 24 hours ago I was cussing under my breath that I'd never do this again, now I just want it more. I will NOT let this beat me. I am a runner.