Thursday, May 31, 2012

Marathon: The Start Line...

Sunday May 27th, 2012 - 5:30am

My alarm rings and I throw off the covers and spring out of bed.
"YES!" I enthusiastically proclaim. Kristin looks at me through the corner of one eye like I'm a crazy person and rolls to the other side of the bed.
"Today is the day that I've been training for!"

I bounce to the kitchen and toast my bagel. Half gets avacado, half gets peanut butter. I drink my coffee and pray to the bathroom gods. Success. A quick face wash, tooth brushing and I change into my gear (thanks Lululemon!). All of my things are laid out. My watch and ipod are plugged in. My bottles have been filled with water and Nuun tabs and my pretzels/cranberries/Stingers snack has been packed. I am ready to rock this race!

I'm nervous about the last 10km's. Maybe afraid is more appropriate. I know it's going to hurt. Everyone who I've talked to with previous Marathon experience has told me that nothing can prepare you for the pain involved in that final push. I've had pings of anxiety over the past week thinking about what might come up. I've also been really excited about facing the challenge head on.

There's one small thing I'm dealing with that I didn't really account for in my plan five months ago when I embarked on this journey. My throat is scratchy and my nose feels a little plugged. It's just the beginning of a cold and I know it's because I was interacting with a lot of people the week before while at Canadian Championships in Regina. It wasn't the most ideal pre-race week in terms of energy conservation, but I think I did a relatively good job of sitting when I could, washing my hands often (shaking lots of hands can get you sick as a dog) and getting lots of sleep. I also did a major carbo load with the winner of the Gym Revolution Video Challenge

My buddy, Kim, was going to pick me up at 6:10am, but some jerk put something in her drink two nights previous and so she had to withdraw from her half-marathon start. Instead, my buddy Keith grabs me and we head down to the start line. He's doing the 10K which starts at 7:30am, but he is such a nice guy that he didn't mind arriving a little early at the start line. 

After we park and walk to the start line, it becomes very apparent that this is the 'it' event of the day. Massive amounts of people are herding in to Stampede grounds. A very fitting venue when you come to think of it;) You can identify all of the marathoners by their RED bibs. Half Marathoners are wearing  blue, 10K'ers are wearing purple. I look around and start to eye up my competition. I'm also particularly proud of everyone who's wearing red…I know the journey they've been through to get here. I wonder how many people will struggle. I wonder how many people are aiming for sub-3 hours. I wonder who will be put on an IV at the end of the race. I wonder how many people have done this before. I wonder how many people are shakin' in their cowboy boots, just like me, worrying about those torturous last 10km's…

Martin and I have planned to meet at the 4:30 pace bunny if we don't find each other before. The race announcer calls all runners to the start line. It's 6:45am. I haven't found Martin, but I find the 4:30 pace bunny and settle in. I look around and finally see my Marathon Man wearing his Right To Play gear. Relief. 

The gun goes off. We start the race at an easy pace. I meet some of Martin's friends and for the first 2km's things are hunky dory. But then I unconsciously break off and start to find my own stride and pace. I've got to pee like a race horse, but there's no way I'm standing in a 10 person deep line to get a chance at the port-a-potty. I'm not known for my pee holding skills, but I figure I can hold it until things start to thin out or I see a few trees to hide behind.

I'm all alone, but I am focused. In fact, I'd much rather be alone right now. I'm feeling easily irritated by those who are stopping to take photos with their iphones. When you're training, no problem, but this is a race. I have a feeling that I'll never be able to break myself of my competitive mentality. I feel the need to put my head down and to be fully immersed in the game. 

The first 5km's feel like nothing. I'm just getting warm. I see a few friends running the half. I have a quick chat with them and then get back into my world. It feels eerily like a meditation - always coming back to the breath. In this case, it's my stride and my positive self talk that is the centre of my focus.

Some km's feel like they melt away. Other's feel a little more conscious and challenging. At a few points along the way, I realize how much I love my city. Thoughts of, "This is AMAZING!",  "I've ran here before" and "I know this loop" run through my mind. I'm a chatter box on the inside this morning, but pretty quiet on the outside. I'm in warrior mode.

At km 9, the half marathoners take a sharp right as the marathoners turn left. I imagine the signs reading "Half Marathoners turn right" vs "Hardcores turn left". The pack was pretty dense during those first 9km's, but as the groups separate, it's incredible how things thin out on the Marathon (aka: Hardcore) side. The rapid pitter pattering of feet becomes more like the leftover rain drops at the end of a storm. It's silent. It's haunting. This is when it feels like the real race begins.

I run by my friends at Impact Magazine and wave to my buddy Chris who's on the balcony cheering everyone on. I feel a lot of pride. I've talked about this with them and now here I am, actually executing it. It's always a great feeling when you follow through. For some reason, it feels even better when you have witnesses.  

At km 10, I see my friend Michelle on the sidelines with a cowbell. She brings it to World Cup ski races and now she's here cheering for me. I am so overcome with joy when I see her that I give her a giant hug. She says, "I'll see you again by my place at km 30". "Wow", I think, "I'm not even 1/4th done!"

I've set an ambitious goal of finishing the race in 3 hours and 45 minutes. I figure I'll start off nice and slow and then pick up my pace after the first 10km. Every time I look at my watch, I'm calculating. A part of me says, "Dude, just let it go. Run at a pace that you are comfortable with and enjoy this". Another part of me says, "Pick up the pace!!! If you want to come in under 4 hours, you'll need to start shaving off some time". I don't know what voice to listen to. I'm torn because I want to have some juice left for the end, but I also want to ensure that I reach my potential in this race. 

I run through our dog park and laugh at how sweet this is. I come here everyday. I practically own this course :) At km 14, I calculate that I am now 1/3 done. My knees are feeling a little bit of somethin' somethin', but I immediately revoke any sense of permission I've given myself to feel pain. Pain? What is pain? 

At km 15, I see a port-a-potty door swing open and I swiftly jump in. I nearly barf at the stench!! It's the worst one I've ever been in ;) Seriously people, why didn't you pray to the bathroom gods before you left your house?! I gag as I whiz and jump out of there as quickly as I possibly can. Note to self: pee outside for the rest of the race. Shudder. 

I know that Kristin, Cooper and my parents are going to be at the next aid station at km 18. I contemplate my jacket removal which takes about 1/2 a km;) Funny how nice a distraction can be. I can feel my anticipation and pride building as I round the corner to where they are standing. They've only really heard me talk about my training. They've seen me hobble around at family dinner on Sunday after my long runs. Now they get to see me in action and I feel kind of like a superhero. 

I round the corner and there they are. Coops is vigorously sniffing the grass, but his ears perk up as he see's me zooming towards them. I'm sure he wants to join me - he's been an awesome running buddy during those 10km runs - but he's not allowed. I take off my jacket and pass it to Kristin. I take a sip of water and have a 10 second visit. "How are you feeling?", Kristin asks me. "Good. Feeling a bit of pain in my legs, but no big deal." 18 km's down, 24.2 to go. 

I high five my neighbour, a former marathoner himself, and then run past my alma mater, Mount Royal University. I see some impatient driver riding the ass of a runner and then I see them get scolded by a police officer for being losers. Seriously people, respect the runner! It then occurs to me that all of these police officers and volunteers are taking time out of their day to support our goal. I'm moved and my eyes well up a bit. I make a point of thanking everyone I pass who contributed to this day.

I run through 21.1km's, the "halfway" point, and think back to October when I ran my first half marathon. On that day, I remember asking myself, "Could I do this distance all over again, right now?". The answer was a big "Hells no". But here I am, halfway done and embarking on the second 21.1kms. Sometimes it amazes me how far we can progress if we really set our minds to something. This moment makes me feel like I've grown and it's nice to have some sort of measurement to reflect on. Makes it feel more real. Looking back can be valuable sometimes, especially when it provides you with evidence of just how far you've come. 

To be continued….

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