My First Marathon – Race Report ……

I’m sitting here overwhelmed .. I returned to Vancouver tonight (home sweet home!) and my luggage is still on the floor unopened. I thought I would check my email before I unpacked and it’s been 3 hours and i’m still going through it all. my email inbox is flooded with congratulatory emails from everyone – my friends, my club members, everyone .. i’m so touched.

this moment is the best part of running that marathon.

some have been there every step of the way and some have received sporadic quips from me – sharing in my ups and downs and minor anxiety pangs and panic attacks … all being so patient with me, giving me advice, providing me with words of encouragment and support, sending good “vibes” over my way.

it’s been so wonderful – all of this has provided my “base” for this marathon. Of course, the physical training gave me the fitness i needed to complete the marathon but it was everyone’s support that got me through those last 6 miles. and boy, they were tough.

Friday, December 1st, a group of 12 drove to seattle and flew to Sacramento – 11 of which were going to run the California International Marathon, and of those 11, 2 were to experience their first marathon!

Truth be told, I was not excited about running the marathon – I just wanted to get it over with. Racing hasn’t made me nervous in a while but this one did and rightfully so but for those who know me well, I have very little patience for this sort of thing. =) Ten days before the marathon, at the height of my anxiety, I emailed my Lions Gate coach, pleading him to help me .. to give me direction. I doubted my ability .. I was lost. I didn’t know what to run or how to run it or what I was capable of. The response I received initially caused my heart to stop and sent my mind into shock .. but as soon as i caught my breath again, i let it slowly sink in. The time was far beyond any goal I had set in my mind but, after all, my coach knows me best .. he knows my fitness, he’s seen me at the track just about every week for the past 2 years .. i had faith in him so from there, i built my race plan. And from that point on, I was calm.

Fast forward to race morning .. we all got up insanely early to catch the bus to the start line, as the CIM is a point-to-point marathon. There was a medical situation on the bus while we were en route to the marathon and thankfully, the person was alright (but was still rushed to the hospital) and it didn’t seem to send any of us in a panic. We still had a bit of time before the start so we decided to stay warm in the bus. The morning was brisk .. about 0 degrees and it was still dark.

Before we know it, the time is nearing and we all head out to do our last “pit stop” before going to the start line.

Our group of 11 walked into the crowd of just under 3800 people, all on equal ground – each with different expectations, different goals .. but all to be marathoners. to pound through 26.2 miles, to battle the beast ..

3 – 2 – 1 and off we go. I try to stick around the pace bunnies in the time I had set out for myself. I took my coach’s prediction and gave myself a buffer of 10secs/mile on the slow end.

I stayed between two pace bunnies – little did I know that they were going to start off too quick! My first 5 miles, I was running a sub-8:00min/mile pace. When i looked at my watch, I knew I had started too fast and had expected the infamous “bonk” later in the race. So i brought the pace back a bit and would try to hold on for dear life. Hopefully, it would cause my “bonk” to happen later than sooner!

The course was a NET downhill course and they were right. The course was undulating and for every downhill portion, there was an uphill to match it. Surprisingly, I felt fairly strong for the first 15 miles or so – i tried to pick up on each uphill section, keeping in mind that i would recover on the subsequent down or flat section.

I ran into a few friends along the way – I’m thankful for that as it provided me with a pleasant distraction from the race. Colin passed me somewhere around 8 miles (my memory’s a bit fuzzy) and i kept him and Tavis in my line of sight. Shortly after the half mark, i was able to creep up to Colin and then we were running together. We had a quick chat and then we fell into our own pace again.

I had been feeling some discomfort in my left knee during this time but i continued on. Near 17-18 miles, I was starting to tire. My quads were hurting and my knee was starting to bother me more. At 18 miles, I saw Ron cheering me on and i was so relieved. I was definitely struggling but seeing him gave me that bit of energy to continue, regardless of the pain. I thought in my head that if i get to Mile 20, I could take a walk break .. a friend told me that if i needed to walk, a 30 second walk break won’t hurt anything so i set my sights out for mile 20. Then i saw the mile 19 marker and it seemed to be so far away and I doubted if i could make it to 20 but i had to. So i continued. Mile 20 came and went .. and I went through “The Wall” (the CIM built an inflatable wall at 20 miles that you get to run through). A volunteer called out shortly after mile 20 saying that the bridge we were about to cross to get into downtown Sacramento was the last hill .. thank goodness! I crossed the bridge and was on that final long strip .. I knew the finish line was just off of 8th Avenue. I looked up and saw 57th .. oh dear. ok, forget counting down the streets .. I’ll just concentrate on the mile markers. smaller numbers seemed to bring me more comfort at that point. Everything was hurting and i was on auto-pilot by then, just barely maintaining a 9:00min/mile. Funny the things that go through your head to keep you going .. things that people told me .. advice that i was given ..

“Whatever you do, DON’T stop!”
“Start, Finish, and Don’t suck!”
“Just visualize the pain at certain parts of the course so that you’re prepared for it .. ” but this was so much more pain than i had expected.

The one thing that really stuck in my head though was talking to an elite runner friend and he told me that the only advice he was going to give me was not going to be about pace. He said to focus on the fact that my 2 longest runs were during really hard weekends ..

weekends when i had raced and i followed them with 3 and 3.5 hour runs. I had the fitness to do it. I just needed the mental toughness to get through it. So that’s what I had repeated in my head ..

“I have the fitness to do it .. I just needed the mental toughness to do it.”

21 mile marker. 5 miles .. 8 more kms to go. I can do 8km. Just plod along. I wasn’t keeping track of my time but I thought that if I could stay around a 9:00min/mile pace, I would still be ok. Just count down the markers.

22 miles .. 4 miles .. 6.5km to go .. for the first time in this race, i checked my watch for total time. i do a quick calculation in my head and deduce that if i stay under a 10min/mile, i can get in under 3:40.

23 miles .. 3 miles .. 5km to go .. i check the total time again and again, if i stay under a 10min/mile pace, i can get in under 3:40.

but then i get a shooting pain. my knee. and I stumble a bit .. and continue. and then another shooting pain but this time, it’s at the back of my knee and shoots down into my calf. i drop my pace off a bit and continue, knowing that i was changing my gait to compensate for the pain. i can’t let it beat me. i’m close .. i’m TOO close.

“Whatever you do, DON’T STOP.” … “I have the fitness to do this .. i just need the mental toughness” …

24 miles .. 2 miles to go .. just over 3kms .. the pain is just excruciating. my quads were radiating pain and now i was of the verge of muscle spasms in my calves .. i try to stay on pace .. just keep plodding ..

25 miles .. 1 mile to go .. i’m just about there ..

and then the pain gets worse .. SO much worse .. the shooting pain from the back of my knee goes up into my hamstrings and i stagger again. i let out a cry of pain but grit my teeth and continue .. and manage to plod along again ..

26 miles .. i’m there .. i’m nearly there.

i’m 5 blocks away from the final turn to the finish chute and try to pick up the pace and am brought back to a horrific reality as the pain shoots up into my hamstrings again. i drop back a bit and continue. it’s so close. finally, i make that turn and pick up my pace .. praying that i don’t send my hamstrings into a full muscle spasm .. i head down the finish chute and cross the finish line. i stumble a bit and then manage to stabilize myself with my hands on my knees, wincing in pain. The pain was absolutely unbelievable. A volunteer offered to get me to a first aid tent but i declined and thought i would do better with a bit of a walk. little did i know that i could barely walk. Each step was more excruciating than the last. I was near tears …

I had been told that the feeling you get when you cross that finish line is better than anything else in the world. I didn’t get it. It didn’t come.

I proved to myself that I could do the time that I had set out but at that moment, I honestly hated the experience. I thought i had injured myself, I was in the most pain I had ever been in my life .. and I was alone. I stumbled and limped around and saw no one. No friends. And we forgot to pick a spot to meet up so I was alone.  A kind woman – just a spectator – saw that I was disoriented and struggling so she generously helped me to the Bag Check so I could get my clothes.  It was near 30 minutes before I finally found a familiar face.  Eventually, I was reunited with my friends and I was relieved but that “moment” still hadn’t come. I was still too upset about the pain and the possible injury. And the only feeling that stayed with me post-marathon was being alone.

For a while, and even up to the actual event, i questioned my reason for doing this marathon. My heart wasn’t in it .. I think I committed to it during a very vulnerable time, coming off an injury and feeling almost like a failure as I had lost so much of my fitness, or so it seemed. I wanted to use it to prove to myself that I had the ability to do it and use it to better my other race times.

Over the course of the next couple of days, the realization of my feat was becoming clear. I would have small moments of a sense of accomplishment.

In retrospect, it was an insane experience but I’m thankful for everything – for all the support, for my friends who were there to experience it with me, for my friends who weren’t there but were my support system.

The race course was beautiful – a lot of community support and spectators and it was a beautiful day. It was a perfect day. The marathon started at 7am and by about 8am, we had sun and it was sunny all day. Although it was a downhill course, it was not an easy course. I have many highlights in my mind that i won’t ever forget .. the voices in my head .. the words of encouragement .. the advice .. and somehow, i don’t know how, but somehow i managed to get through those last 6 miles .. the most painful 6 miles of my life.

I had a minor *moment* of elation driving home today .. just reflecting on the day .. and then it hit me again, harder, when i read all of my emails.

Tonight, Paul picked me up from the airport and he gave me a recap of the Lions Gate Christmas party. I’m still disappointed I wasn’t able to go but I was happy to hear it went well. And when I found out that Paul won the most improved male award, it just capped off my night. i’m so happy for him.

I know people think my accomplishment of qualifying for Boston is a fantastic feat, and I’m humbled by it but my accomplishment is no better than anyone else on that race course. It’s no better than anyone who’s entered a race and completed it, regardless of the final time. We work hard, we train, we set our goals, and hopefully we meet them. The process requires dedication and hard work .. we do it because we are runners. It’s inherent in our life. It’s who we are and it what’s we do.

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