NOTE: My apologies for the lengthy post. In the days following the marathon, I've slowly been able to put together this account of Marathon Day - although I suspect there are many more details that will pop up in stories to share in the future. Enjoy!
TWO DAYS AND COUNTING
A case of the nerves was building as I approached Marathon Eve. A day earlier I had picked up my race number. I scrolled down the alphabetical list of marathoners posted at the expo. Next to my name I saw the number 34. Immediately thinking that must be the column listing runners' ages (I still have a hard time thinking of myself as 34 - how did that happen?), I kept looking.
I soon realized that I'd be wearing a bold "34" stamped on the bright yellow bib, secretly advertising my age for all to see. I didn't care, though, I was just thinking how cool it was to be holding my own personal marathon number. I smiled a bit, thinking that some people were going to think that I was some almost-elite runner with such a low number. Little did they know I just signed up early. Way early.
Almost predictably, I snapped a photo of my bib and uploaded it to my Facebook account. Comments started rolling in. The first, posted by Kevin, was one of my favorites: "The Truth. Perfect."
Just outside the expo, I grabbed some lunch with Shawnna. We split a grilled veggie wrap and I added a cup of pumpkin soup. And we each had a pre-marathon beer - despite the fact that my plan was to forgo alcohol for the week leading up to the marathon. (In reality, it wasn't the lunchtime brew with Shawnna that broke the plan. I'd had a glass of wine with TC at least once earlier in the week.)
Shawnna and I strategized - planned water breaks, GU stops, what we would wear, where we would meet on race day, and a number of other details. I confided to her that, despite the fact that I felt ready and excited for Marathon Day, I was starting to feel nervous. Could I do 26.2?
With a huge smile, Shawnna quickly quelled my fears. "Teresa," she said, "you've done the hard part." It was true. We'd put in the miles and training. We'd gotten up early every Saturday of the summer, we'd planted water stops behind trees, we'd mapped out our routes, we'd run those long miles alone and in the rain.
On race day, she reminded me, we'd have people handing us water, people out there cheering, volunteer holding back traffic allowing us to pass, perfect weather.
TnT leaders often remind runners to think of Marathon Day as a day to celebrate - a time to celebrate all of the hard work you already put in. I never really understood what they meant.
As race day approached, well wishes poured in from friends and family in the forms of text messages, emails and Facebook posts. (Thank you, technology!) I planned to have a low-key day and spent most of the morning catching up on things around the house. I began to feel a little stir-crazy and grabbed The Beast for an easy jaunt - justifying a quick jog as a necessary to loosen up my legs and test out my new iPod playlist.
The Beast (the affectionate name for my lovable, snuggly-when-he-needs to be, 115-pound German Shepherd) sensed he was coming with me this time and was more than excited to join me. I gave him the "let's go" cue and he ran around my condo from end-to-end, sometimes up and down the stairs. Finally, he sat at the front door long enough to me to attach his leash.
It was unseasonably warm, reaching into the 70s on the last day of October. I wore shorts - the same ones I planned to wear in the marathon, after an overnight wash of course - and a tanktop. I decided to try a new route, a 3.1-mile loop that would take me along a gravel road without much traffic. It would be nice to run on a new surface and without the worry of traffic. Plus, because The Beast has a great habit of scooting off into the woods for his business, I wouldn't have to carry any pick-up bags.
I opted to do the loop counter-clockwise, which would put me on a downhill for the last mile or so. The first part had a steady incline up a semi-busy road before I made the turn to bring me to a country-like setting - the kind I love finding on the outskirts of Manchester.
The Beast trotted along beside me, sometimes going from one side to the other - an annoying habit I'll try to break him of at some point. I talked to him along the way (yes, I talk to my dog - a lot) and he looked up at me with that irresistible face. I swear he was smiling. And I couldn't help but smile back.
He stared intently at an older woman who waved to us and said hello as she tended to her goats. I remarked that he seemed more interested in the woman than the goats, even though I wasn't sure he'd seen a goat before.
The run was peaceful and relaxing. I didn't even wear a watch. My legs felt great, and even though I knew I could go faster, I kept it slow - not only wanting to reserve my strength for the next day's challenge, but just wanting to enjoy the moment. The last run before I'd become a marathoner.
As I downed the hill leading back to my condo, I started to reflect on my journey. I thought of those first runs I took with The Beast. I thought about all of the friends and loved ones who had helped me get here. I thought about how running has become a positive part of my life. And I thought about how much I love my life right now. I really do.
I felt a little lump form in my throat as all of those thoughts jumped around in my mind. My eyes got a little misty. If this is what I am like at the end of 3.1-mile run by myself, what am I going to be like when I cross that marathon Finish Line, I asked myself. Remember, I hate crying in front of people.
I'm not sure if I was "supposed" to run the day before my marathon. At that point, I really didn't care. I wouldn't trade those 3.1 miles for anything now.
The rest of Marathon Eve was spent with my Trusty Companion, scooting around doing some errands, enjoying a deliciously fresh lunch (actually, another veggie wrap - this one filled with black beans and corn, mmm) and sharing a perfectly presented cup of coffee at a hidden gem of a place I wish was just a tad closer to home.
TC ordered a "Cup of Love," which came complete with a chocolate heart swirled on top of the foam. I smiled as I looked at him with it in front of him at the table. (And snapped another photo, of course.)
Weeks earlier, I'd decided on my pre-marathon dinner, which is unusual for a person who is usually figuring out what to eat for dinner at 8 p.m. and making trips to the grocery store at times when some people are getting ready for bed.
Crazy Bastard. That's what I wanted. TC had snipped a Mario Batali recipe from a food magazine and earlier this summer we had our first taste of "Fusilli a la Crazy Bastard," named after a New Yorker cartoon in which a piece of pasta is shown talking on the phone exclaiming, "Fusilli, you crazy bastard!"
The name made me laugh. I probably would have eaten it just based on the name alone, but with a recipe that called for multi-grain pasta, roasted tomatoes, spinach and goat cheese, I knew it would be something I'd like. A good, fresh meal. Since it didn't really have a sauce, except for the one that came together by using a cup of leftover pasta water, a touch of olive oil and the juices from the roasted tomatoes, it was nice and light.
Dinner was accompanied by a cup of milk (served with my mandatory three ice cubes) - for some reason I was really craving milk - and plenty of water. TC enjoyed a glass of wine and I stole a sip near the end of the meal.
Our discussion turned to logistics for the next day. TC pulled out the marathon map and a pen. The forecast called for perfect weather, so he'd be on the course on his bike. We planned where to I'd see him and what I might need - ditch my long-sleeve shirt at the first stop, maybe a GU around Mile 9 or so, Glide along the way and plenty of moral support.
Part of TC's responsibilities was to also send text updates to a group of friends and family. We set up a group list and sent out a test text, sparking almost instant replies.
We finished up well after 9 p.m. - sticking right with our usual schedule - and sat down on the floor for a game of cribbage. (I'm in a Cribbage Immersion Program to learn the game so that I can partake in post-dinner activities at TC's parents' home and need almost daily practice to figure out all the rules of the game.)
Soon enough, I headed home to attempt to get a good night's sleep.
I'M RUNNING A MARATHON. HOLY CRAP.
For the most part, I slept well, despite the fact that everyone warned me I probably wouldn't. I woke up around 3:30 (we had changed the clocks that night, so it was "really" 4:30) and felt wide awake. I tossed and turned for the next couple of hours, scrolling through a list of things I needed and expected for the upcoming day.
By 5:30 a.m., I got out of bed. Let's get this day started.
I had prepared everything the night before - my clothes, my number, everything for TC's mobile support, so there really wasn't much to do in the morning. I took The Beast for a walk and started breakfast: a whole wheat English muffin with crunchy peanut butter and a touch of honey. I'd had eaten those a million times before training runs. Don't change anything.
I did a quick Facebook check and updated my status: "Teresa is running a marathon day. For real. Holy crap."
By 6:30 a.m., I was itching to get going, even though I hadn't planned to be at TC's until 7:30 a.m. I sent a text asking if I could come over early (not that I needed to ask) and headed out the door, not to return until after I crossed the Finish Line.
Shawnna met us outside TC's apartment - he lives conveniently only a few blocks from the start of the Manchester Marathon and almost exactly at the 13.1-mile mark. It was the same spot that we'd met every Saturday of the summer as we ran either half of the course for our training runs.
We made the chilly walk toward the start. After all, it was early and we were in shorts. But the day's temps were expected to get into the 50s, so running tights would not be needed later on. Phew.
We met up with some runners who were welcoming enough to open up their Elm Street business for us to stretch, keep warm and take advantage of an actual (not portable) toilet before the race. Time passed quickly and we soon found ourselves heading to the start - seeing two racers running along the way, one of whom easily jumped a traffic barrier.
I looked at Shawnna. Seriously? Is this what I signed up for?
Somehow among the 1,700+ runners, I managed to bump into a few people I knew. I chatted it up with Katie, who was running the relay with her family. Suddenly, the crowd let out a cheer. And we were off.
Yep, that was the start of my first marathon. Such little fanfare, so tucked away in the crowd that I didn't even hear the start. No worries, though, I was just glad to get started.
The timing chips - really uncomfortable and big black straps around our ankles - beeped as the runners passed over the timing mat. A crowd lined the street and cheered, whooped at hollered. I saw TC standing quietly on the sidelines just as I passed over the start. I gave him a smile and waved.
THE FIRST HALF
Although Shawnna and I had run parts of the course almost weekly during training, we'd never actually run the first mile. We'd usually go another way to wind up on River Road. The start took us down the Granite Street hill (which I mentally noted we'd be running up 24.5 miles from then) and through the Millyard.
It was crowded, and Shawnna and I consciously tried to maintain the 10-minute pace we wanted to have throughout the first half. Although we could run faster, we wanted to run a consistent race. We were trying to do it the smart way. The one piece of advice that every marathon vet gave us: Don't go out too fast. You'll have nothing left at the end.
Just past the second mile, I saw TC - an unexpected appearance that made me smile and wonder if he was already planning surprise stops along the way. I shed my long-sleeved, neon green shirt and tossed it to him. Underneath, I wore my trusty black tanktop - again, I'd worn it on countless training runs.
After much debate, I'd opted to display my name on my shirt. There is was, written on teal duct tape in a thick black Sharpie. As I rounded the first corner since shedding my first layer, a woman on the sidelines looked at me and quietly said, "Go Teresa." At that moment, I knew I made the right decision by having my name on my shirt.
The first half passed in a flash. It was great to run the course with other people, seeing friends along the way. At Mile 2 or so, our publisher was standing at a cross road. A little up the road, I saw Katie's husband. At Mile 5, Shannon had come out to cheer me on. A little past Mile 6, I saw Kate. Then just around the corner, Patty Jo and her family were waving a sign and rattling noise makers.
And all throughout, TC was there on his bike. Clapping, asking what we needed, giving us support.
As we approached Mile 8, just after we broke away from two guys we were chatting with about first-time marathons, I saw Kevin. He was holding a sign at the base of the hill that runs along Hillside Middle School. It's a relatively steep little incline, one that we'd done bunches of times in training. I smiled as I noted the sign and mentally noted that it kinda looked like a sign you see a homeless person holding. Instead of "Will Work For Food," it said "Go Teresa!" Very cool.
Kevin, who ran his first marathon in Boston this year and from whom I'd drawn a lot of inspiration along the way, jumped in and ran us up the hill. He was full of support - telling us we looked good, were keeping a good pace and all the other things we needed to hear at that point. We got to the 8-mile marker (right on time, I might add) and he sent us on our way.
Needless to say, the support I had from friends and family was awesome. I can't begin to tell you what it's like to see a familiar face, to see a smile or hear a cheer. Keeps those miles passing quickly.
A WHOLE DIFFERENT RACE
We made our way down Hanover Street, where the half-marathoners took a left turn and marathoners were directed to the right. To me, this is where the marathon started. We grabbed some water and made the turn.
We passed the halfway point at 2 hours, 13 minutes - right on schedule. Man, we were good. And we felt great. I just wanted to keep going. I wanted to run a marathon more than ever.
Suddenly, the cheers we'd heard coming down Hanover Street were silenced. In fact, I didn't see a single person. Elm Street, which was closed to traffic, was wider than I'd ever imagined it was. In front of me I saw three, maybe four runners.
It was quiet. It was a whole different race now.
TC's parents knocked on his window, which faces Bridge Street along the route, and sent well wishes through the screen of his third-floor apartment. We crossed the bridge and were quickly sent on a sharp right turn - a turn that we never made during training. Had we misread the course map?
We both knew we'd eventually get back onto Coolidge Avenue and the course we'd trained on, but I think Shawnna and I were a little taken aback by this sudden, unexpected turn. Just how would we get back?
To both of our dismays, we'd get there by making our way up a short but pretty steep (especially at Mile 14 or so) hill. It was a tough one - probably partly because we hadn't done it before. We both wished aloud we'd trained on it.
It was behind us soon enough and we snaked our way through the neighborhoods, chatting with volunteers at water stops and thanking them for being out there. (Race volunteers deserve as much credit - if not more - than the marathoners.)
Around Mile 16, I couldn't stand the chaffing and rubbing of the ankle timer. I took it off, looped it around in every direction through my shoelaces so it wouldn't fall off. I laughed out loud thinking of the poor volunteer at the finish line who had to take it off for me. Oh well, that's what they get for giving us these stupid ankle timers, I thought.
Mile 17-18 was the hardest for me. At one point, as Shawnna pulled ahead of me on Mast Road, I told her I needed to slow down a bit. My body was starting to get stiff - nothing unusual. It had just been running for 17 miles. I tried my iPod, thinking some music would be a needed distraction.
Silence. What? I'd tested it the day before, charged it up and everything. Why wasn't it working? I kept trying and trying and trying.
Just past Mile 18 on Daniel Plummer Hill, I saw TC. We stopped for some GU and water, as a passing running asked TC if he would give him a ride on his bike. (He'd already been offered $1,500 for it by another struggling runner with a good sense of humor.)
I tried my iPod again. It worked! Miracle.
I cranked it. "Add It Up" pulled me up the Daniel Plummer Hill. Thank you, Violent Femmes.
Near the top, we passed an older runner (much older than us, at least) and I glanced at his ankle. I saw a "26.2" tattooed in black. Above it, there were dozens of hash marks.
"Is that how many marathons you've run?" I asked him, pointing at his ankle.
"When I finish today, it will be 29," he said. When, not if.
Shawnna lifted the bottom of her shorts slightly to reveal her ink - a green shamrock on her right thigh. Below it, 26.2
We'd gone to get tattoos together to celebrate Shawnna's 40th birthday in April. It was something we'd talked about for about a year. I'd secretly always wanted a tattoo. I just never could think of something I'd want forever. And didn't know where to put it.
When I found the design online, I knew that's what I wanted. (The graphic of my "runner girl" tattoo is on the right side of this blog page.) I ended up getting "her" on my right hip, hidden enough that only those closest to me would see it.
At Mile 19, the random stranger with 28 hash marks on his ankle was "close enough" to me, I guess. I flipped the waistband of my shorts down a bit to reveal the runner girl. Going to add 26.2 after today, he asked. I'm still not sure.
The water stop at Mile 19 was one of my favorites. I had expected to be struggling at that point, so it's nice to have a good memory of the St. A's campus. The students manning the stop cheered like crazy, called my name (remember, written on my shirt) and blasted Michael Jackson's "Beat It' from a nearby car. They danced, we danced. Yes, I was having fun at Mile 19!
I grabbed a cup from the last student in the line. Water? I asked. He had Gatorade. "You want water? Stay here," he told me. He ran back to the front of the line and grabbed me a water. Very, very cool.
Just before Mile 20, we met up with Coach Jack and TC in a St. A's parking lot. I saw RunBlogger's students filiming footstrikes - I can only imagine what my gait looked like at that point. I wished I'd known Coach Jack would be so close to them. He's a shoe guy and a foot guy. I knew he would have been interested in what they were doing. Next time, next time.
Coach Jack had planned to run back into the city with us. We started on our way, Coach Jack with a backpack of supplies. We went down the hill - ouch! - and Coach Jack reminded us to relax and take it easy. At that point, the downhill felt worse than any uphill.
FARTHER THAN I'VE EVER RUN
My longest training run had been 20 miles. I was now in unchartered waters. I thought I'd be fixated on that, but honestly it didn't even cross my mind. The first mile with Coach Jack flew by. I saw TC and his parents (a nice surprise!) again at Mile 21. As I ran (or walked) through the water stop, more St. A's students greeted me with personalized cheers. (I tell ya, I don't care how dorky it is, I liked having my name on my shirt.)
We still felt great. This was amazing, I thought. I had been expecting to be dragging myself along the last six miles. Instead, we were picking up speed, laughing and chatting the miles away.
I buckled down for Miles 22-23, which I'd say were the most mentally tough miles for me. Still a long way to go. I cranked my iPod again (sorry if I don't answer you, I told Shawnna and Coach Jack). This time an unexpected song pulled me through those miles - "Evacuate the Dance Floor," an borderline annoying upbeat dance song given to me on a CD for my marathon playlist by longtime friend Kristi.
We'd just seen Kristi and her family a few miles earlier at the St. A's campus. They had a sign - "Run T-Bird. The Cooties Are Coming" - and cheered and waved it wildly as we approached. I stopped to give her a hug.
I played "Evacuate the Dance Floor" a couple of times during Miles 22-23, keeping my pace up and reminding me of friends, like Kristi, who have helped me get this far - literally.
At Mile 23, we met up with TC at a water stop. We were out of breath and I felt like I'd been running faster. I think we gotta slow down a bit, I told Coach Jack. We ran the last mile at a 9:30 - above where we wanted to to stay on pace, but notable because we could run faster than we planned at that point. We actually picked up speed at Mile 22. Pretty nice.
In reality, I may have been able to keep the pace for the final three miles, but we all opted for the smarter thing to do. Finish strong and with a smile, I told myself.
We chugged along the Westside and to the footbridge, where TC was waiting once again for us. I gave him a thumbs-up. I looked at Shawnna as we passed the 24-mile marker. "This is your mile," I said to her, referring to my the dedication of my marathon miles I'd sent out a week earlier.
We smiled at each other, and although we didn't say much, we both knew that we had helped each other do this and have fun while doing it. (Between running a marathon and getting tattoos together, we are pretty much bonded for life.)
Just behind the Fisher Cats' stadium, we hit another water stop. An older gentleman looked at my race number. "You must be someone important," he said. I laughed. Hardly. Shawnna told him that I was just proudly displaying my age to which he replied that there was no way I was 34 years old. I'm sure he was just being nice at that point. After all, I was almost at Mile 25 of a marathon. And I'm sure I looked it.
TC was precisely at the Mie 25 point, just as a They Might Be Giants Song played on my iPod. It was fitting because, just a few weeks after we met, TC had secretly dropped off a mix of TMBG songs for me with a note: "Good luck with your half marathon." (I ran the Hampton Half on Feb. 15. The note, which I have on my computer in front of me, still makes me smile.)
I looked at him standing at Mile 25 - a long way from that little note and CD he gave me. I flashed him a quick thumbs up and said "We've got this." One more mile.
Coach Jack ran with us to Elm Street, then in a pre-planned move, took a left to head to the Finish Line. We stayed on the course for the final mile. Shawnna and I had started this journey together, had put in the sweat and the miles. We wanted to spend that final mile together, alone. It was perfect.
We topped the hill on Auburn Street. "Last hill," I told her. We high-fived and smiled.
As we trotted along Pine Street, I heard the cheers of some loud onlookers uphead. We smiled and laughed when we discovered it was some of our TnT friends - Dave and Nancy and Ken and Bonnie. They hooted and hollered. Awesome. Again.
We turned onto Hanover Street, the last turn before The Finish. I shut off my iPod - not because it "wasn't allowed" but because I wanted to experience everything about the finish. Shawnna and I took a few moments to thank each other and to share a private a moment of appreciation.
Then we turned the corner. I could see it in the distance, the gated chute, the timing clock. The Finish Line. I could hear the crowd. Shawnna fell back behind me, letting me bask in the moment of my marathon finish. Looking back, I'm sure it was intentional.
We picked up speed and made our way down the chute. I saw familiar faces on either side. I saw Kristi and family shouting on my right. I saw Katie jumping up and down. On my left, I saw my family, cheering and smiling. I heard the announcer say my name.
And, 4 hours, 47 minutes and 38 seconds after I started, I crossed The Finish Line.
I was a marathoner.
AT THE END
I don't exactly know what I was expecting to feel as I crossed The Finish. A sense of relief? A sense of accomplishment? A wave of emotion?
I suppose I felt touches of all of that. What I noticed, though, was that The Finish was very mechanical, methodical. Cross here, turn there, move this way. Pick up your medal, get wrapped in foil, take water from the table. Stop here to get the chip timer removed.
It wasn't until I was out of the chute, after all of the must-do's were checked off the list that I think I really started to absorb what I had just done. I don't exactly mean what I had just done - meaning the 4:47 hours of running - I mean the task of successfully taking on a marathon.
I had done precisely what I wanted to do - finish smiling and feeling good. And, although everyone warned me not to set a time goal, I was secretly thrilled that I had finished in less than five hours. (Recall, I declared earlier this year that I wanted to beat The Biggest Loser marathon winner.)
There were plenty of hugs and well wishes to go around. I probably couldn't stop smiling as I accepted the congratulations of many and talked about how the run.
It wasn't until I made my way over to TC, who was quietly and calmly standing out the outskirts of the commotion, that I think the emotion of the marathon - and more importantly the hard work and training that led up to the Finish Line - came upon me.
I hugged him hard and tight, my eyes welling up as he told me how proud he was of me. I was so happy to have him out there every step of the way - not just at points along the course, but throughout the entire training.
I'd say, although I felt twinges of emotion along the way and as I crossed the finish, it was the first time I cried. I cried because I was happy and proud. I cried because I'd done something most people never attempt. And I cried because TC was there for me.
Yep, I had done it. And I had done it with the support and love of so many people who came out to help me celebrate Marathon Day. Running the course was a sort of this-is-your-life experience for me, with snapshots of people along the route who supported me in their own special way.
At that moment, I knew exactly what the TnT people mean when they say Marathon Day is the day to celebrate what you've already accomplished.
At dinner following the marathon - yes, I felt good enough to take a quick shower and join my family for a celebratory dinner - my dad asked, "So what's the next challenge?"
Anyone who knows me, knows that crossing the Finish Line isn't the end of this journey. They know I have another thing on my life's to-do list already lined up.
And they're right. At the top of the list? A Century Ride.
That's right. The girl who wobbled her way through her first bike ride earlier this year and just recently ventured into clipless pedals wants to try a 100 miles. TC and I are already talking about a September trip to America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride in Lake Tahoe next fall.
Don't worry, that's not to say I'm giving up on running. It's become a part of my life.
And because TC got me into biking, I'm dragging him into running. He'd already done a bunch of shorter training runs with me. After the marathon, TC told me he'd consider training for a half-marathon. ("After what I saw on the second half out there, I have no desire to do a full," he said.)
I'm confident we'll seek out a neat little half-marathon sometime next spring - which leads me to my next goal: a sub 2-hour half marathon. It's definitely within reach now, with my 2:07 finishing time at the Maine Half last month.
Oh, and I'm already thinking of my next marathon. Perhaps something early in the year so that I can spend the summer months training on my bike. I hear Vermont is lovely that time of year.
Stay tuned, friends.