It was the best of days, it was the worst of days…
Actually, just take out that “worst” part. Even though there were times when I felt miserable, it was an amazing experience and a wonderful day.
My friend Sarah met me at 5 am, we gathered up all our stuff–water bottles, fuel, running belts, phones, snacks, sunscreen (which we forgot to put on)–and hopped in the car for the ride to Richmond. Ray let us off at the Marriott near the start line, where we kept warm, waited in bathroom lines, munched on prerace snacks, and chatted with other runners. We met our friend Ruth , who was running the half, snapped some photos, and wished each other well. (Ruth and I take a weekly strength training class that Sarah teaches. She fondly calls Sarah “our fearless leader.”) Soon it was time for Sarah and I to head to the start line.
After one last prerace pit stop, it was time to move. Even before we crossed the start line I was starting to warm up, and I ditched my throwaway sweatshirt and gloves. I started my interval timer, which is an app on my phone that gives me voice feedback telling me when to “workout” (run) and “rest” (walk). I had it set for a 1:15/:30 run/walk interval, and the first couple of walk breaks felt a little awkward. Everyone was passing me, and no one was walking, or so I thought. I overheard another woman remark to her friend, “It’s so hard to walk!” Thank goodness I wasn’t alone! After a few minutes I prayed the Life Runners Creed in rhythm with my running, and then started in on the Rosary. I like to pray the Rosary while I’m running; not only can I run with Jesus and Mary, but sometimes it helps me space out my walk breaks when I’m not using a timer.
Pretty soon I realized that my timer was screwy, and it was telling me to walk and run at random times. I would run for as long as 2 1/2 minutes in some places, and immediately after telling me to “rest” it would say it was time to run again. I didn’t want to turn it completely off, so I just worked with it as best I could. At every walk break I counted to 30 and started running again whether it told me to or not. This made some of my running segments shorter than I planned, although many of them were longer. Despite the annoyance of the messed-up timer, I was able to enjoy the course and really got a kick out of all the spectators and volunteers who were cheering me on. I stopped and took pictures, and thanked the volunteers, police officers, and spectators whenever I could.
Just before Mile 8, the course crossed the James and ran along the river for about a mile and a half, and then into a neighborhood (which was a little bit hilly…they told me the course was mostly flat!). At Mile 15 we crossed the river again and headed back into the city. It was very windy on the bridge, but the views were amazing! Just before crossing the bridge I spotted Santa Claus cheering on runners, and I stopped to take a selfie with him. At Mile 16, after I had prayed all twenty-five decades of the Rosary, I pulled up Spotify and started my playlist I had put together for the marathon. Suddenly my timer started working perfectly! Go figure.
Just after the 18-mile mark, the course turns onto North Boulevard and goes right past the Richmond Medical Center for Women. It was on the opposite side of the divided street, which was open to traffic. I took off my headset and got down on one knee on the grassy median to pray for a minute. I couldn’t help but notice the two clinic escorts on the corner, waiting to whisk patients into the building before they could see any pesky pro-lifers who might be praying or offering to help. As I stood up and continued my run, I felt a deep sadness. How tragic that some mothers feel there is no other choice than to abort their child. How sad that “escorts” feel they must protect their clients from people who truly want to help them. In those moments I knew Satan was real and hard at work here, but I also felt God’s presence, and the love He has for those desperate women and their children. For a little while my aches and pains disappeared and I was grateful for the chance to pray here, if only for a minute.
Around Mile 20, the pain in my legs returned with a vengeance. (Maybe Satan was trying to get back at me and stop me from finishing…? That possibility didn’t occur to me until now, actually. I don’t really think about Satan much.) I adjusted my timer to give me a slightly shorter running segment before each walk break. For the next few miles I ran with a 1:00/:30 interval, but every run was torture and every walk seemed too short and it was harder and harder to start running again. The spectators and the music and the people at the aid stations were starting to get on my nerves. I found myself questioning the wisdom of signing up for a marathon. Thankfully my guardian angel was with me (who, I’m sorry to say, I don’t think about much either. Shame on me.) and I realized that if I reversed my interval–that is, run for 30 seconds and walk for one minute–and keep that up for the last couple of miles of the race, I would make it. As soon as I did that my spirits lifted and I felt much stronger. By that time just about everyone was doing a lot of walking anyway!
When I rounded the corner onto Lombardy Street at Mile 24, I spotted my husband Ray. Boy, was I happy to see him! He asked me how I felt, and I could truthfully tell him I was feeling pretty good. He started walking/jogging along with me, and I explained to him my strategy of switching up my run/walk to mostly walking with a little bit of running. (I wish I had used the Galloway method for last year’s Historic Half. I would have been in a much better mood when he met me near the end of THAT race. See Take #7 here.) For the next two miles we walked/ran together, chatting about ordinary things like, what time did the boys get up? When does Chris get off work? Where do you want to go for dinner? Before I knew it, the Mile 26 marker was in sight, and Ray had to veer off in another direction because I was suddenly in the finishing chute!
As I started the last .2 toward the finish (Downhill! Thank the Lord!) I began running, and sprinted across the finish as the announcer called my name. I didn’t cry, as I thought I would. (I did get a little choked up when I saw two women hugging each other and crying, though!) Mostly I just smiled from ear to ear. The medal was hung around my neck and I was handed a water bottle, which I was desperately craving at that point. It took me ten minutes before I was able to twist the top off. To my surprise and delight, I was also given a commemorative blanket and hat. Ray texted me to ask where I was, and when he finally found me (my brain was so foggy I told him I was to the left of the finish, when it was really the right) we walked back toward the finish line to cheer for Sarah.
Oh, remember that virtual geocache I told you about in my last post? The statue of Abe and Tad Lincoln near the finish that I was all gung-ho to visit? Didn’t happen. By the time Sarah finished and we took some post-race photos, we were all ready to head home. Tad and Abe will have to wait until another time.
My official finish time was 5:48:10. When I first signed up for the race and I was asked to predict my time, I had no idea what to put down. I finally settled on five hours. Maybe at some future marathon I can finish in five, but for this first one I am super happy with nearly six. I finished! And I was able to finish strong! And I want to keep doing them! And yes, I do want to eventually run the Blue Ridge Marathon, after I do a few more hilly races and learn to pace myself so I can make the 7:30 time limit.
I was SUPER sore on Sunday and Monday. By Tuesday the soreness had subsided significantly, and on Wednesday it was completely gone. Yesterday morning I went for a six-mile run with a couple of my running friends. I only stopped to walk twice, and I felt great. What’s next? I’m not sure yet, but there’s a half marathon in Fairfax County in a few weeks that looks intriguing…