The Journey of 26.2 Miles Begins with a Single Step

26.2 miles.

I have to repeat that to myself every now and then. Today is a good day to say it again.

26.2 miles.

One year ago today, I ran a marathon. This was not something I ever dreamed I’d be able to say. Never. Not ever. Actually, I still struggle with saying I “ran” a marathon. I jogged a good portion of it. I walked a bunch of it. I haven’t even written a blog post about it until now. I just couldn’t seem to put the words together. But, today is a good day to say it…

A year ago I became a marathon finisher.

[Short history – for most of my life I had a hate-hate relationship with exercise, especially running. I described myself as an “avid anti-runner.” I was morbidly obese for a good part of m y life, too. While those 2 things don’t always go together, for me they were intertwined. I had weight loss surgery years ago and lost excess weight, but did not lose my aversion to running. After my youngest child was born, I wanted to needed to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier. I learned about Moms on the Run (MOTR), joined the group, and began my running journey one painful, breathless, slow step at a time. (You can find a longer running history here and here.)]

Why did I decide to register for a marathon? I needed a goal. After my first summer training with MOTR, I set a goal to run a race every month for a year. I knew I would stop running unless I had something to work towards. I mean, why would anyone run in January in Minnesota?!? I achieved that goal. After my second season with MOTR, I wasn’t sure what to do. Then I read that it was going to be the 40th anniversary of Grandma’s Marathon,  the race in my hometown. Registration opened October 1st at midnight. I told myself that if I was awake at midnight, I’d register. I went to bed on September 30th around 10:00. At 11:58 my eyes popped open and I was wide awake. Damn.

So I registered.

Then I signed up for a training program.

Then I ran.

Mile after mile after mile.

I will be 100% honest. I didn’t stick with the training plan. I’m faster than I was when I started running, but I was (am) still very slow. It took more time than I had to do all the miles each week. I had a couple of injuries that kept me from running. But, I did what I could and set a realistic goal for my first marathon – to finish.

One thing that kept me training was that I was doing the marathon as a fundraiser for the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. I reached my fundraising goal. I knew thinking of people who were fighting Cancer, or who were lost to it, would keep me going. The morning of the race, I wrote their names on my arms just before heading to the starting line.

I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be. I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. But even some of the elite runners weren’t prepared for the 2016 Grandma’s Marathon. Out of 10,000 registrants, nearly 3,000 dropped out. The weather conditions at the start were very unusual. The typical mid-June early morning temperature in Duluth is about 50F. In 2016, the race start temperature was 75F. The humidity was high as well at 73%. The high temperature reached 84F and the humidity was an astonishing 93%. There was very little cloud cover most of the day. By noon, the race conditions were labeled “extreme” and I still had many miles to go.

And I was miserable.

I was blistered and sore and thirsty and sweaty and tired and stinky.

But…I continued.

When I got to the water stations, I walked and consumed as much gatorade and water as I could.

When I thought about the number of miles still ahead, I counted to 12 over and over to give me something else to focus on.

When I felt discouraged, I gathered energy from the many spectators that lined the entire race course.

When I got caught up in my misery, I listened to the songs people asked me to play for their loved ones.

When I thought my legs were giving out, I looked at my arms.

When I felt like crying… I cried.

Mile 15 was particularly emotional. That was the mile I was running for my Dad. He died on September 15, 1988. As I crossed into that mile, Clouds by Zach Sobiech, started playing. …so many emotions… Thanks for being with me, Dad.

I got a special boost from seeing faces of MOTR members, friends and family, my husband and sons in particular, on the road. Their hugs made me strong. Their signs made me laugh.

At mile 23, I was cramping. I stopped to stretch. A man was sitting nearby with his family. He said, “How’re you doin’, green?” I said something like, “I’m not dead yet, so I’m ok.” He looked me in the eyes and said, “You can do it. You’re almost there. You’ve got this.” I wish I could thank him again for helping me keep moving.

Finally, I reached the finish line. My official time was 6 hours, 20 minutes, 04 seconds, (6:14 by my watch – I don’t count the 6 minutes I spent in the bathroom). My son, Karston, ran across the finish with me. I immediately saw my MOTR coaches who congratulated me. I spoke briefly with my husband, picked up my medal, and headed for the blister tent.

Everything after that is a blur.

I was taken to the medical tent from the blister tent in a wheelchair. When the people in the med tent couldn’t get me stabilized, I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. I was a mess – heat exhaustion, dehydration, and a horrible sun burn… blisters as big as my toes themselves and bleeding under my toenails. Such is the glamour of a marathon.

I remember being horizontal on a cot in a tent. I remember being asked if I knew who I was. I remember throwing up. I remember shivering so badly my teeth were chattering and thinking it was odd that I felt so cold after being so hot all day. I remember being moved to the ambulance. I don’t remember riding in the ambulance or arriving at the hospital. I do remember laying in the hallway for a very long time because the hospital was overwhelmed with patients from the race.

Jim really is the unsung hero in this. He was waiting for me to finish in the blister tent, having ice cream with our boys, when he saw me being carted to the ambulance. Our car was parked  quite a distance away and he wasn’t familiar with how to get to the hospital. He tried to get a taxi from near the race’s finish line, but the driver said he was only to drive authorized Grandma’s Marathon staff. Jim finally did get a taxi and found me at the hospital. The doctor told him I’d get some fluids and be released, so Jim drove 45 minutes to gather our things and check out of the cabin. By the time returned, the doctor decided to keep me overnight because my electrolyte levels hadn’t recovered. That’s when Jim’s stress level rose to Defcon-1. On top of everything else, he had to fly out of Minneapolis the next afternoon for training for our new jobs overseas. He had to figure out a way to get me home, the boys taken care of, and himself on a plane within the next 20 hours. I tried to reassure him that I was fine, but he wasn’t buying it. I could see the fear and stress in his eyes. We did get it all worked out thanks to Jim’s brother’s family who cared for our boys and picked me up and drive me home. Jim didn’t want to leave me alone overnight in the hospital, especially with no way for me to reach him (my phone was ruined when the medical staff put it into my gear bag along with a partially open water bottle) but we agreed it was best for him to go.

I made it home the next day and spent the following week or so recovering. I knew I had finished the marathon, but it didn’t seem real. Running is very mental and emotional for me. An important part of my race experience is being around people at the finish. Whatever the distance, the post-race celebration makes the accomplishment real for me – I did something I once thought impossible. I missed out on that experience with the marathon.

About 2 weeks after the race, I put on my medal and finisher shirt and took pictures in my backyard. I put a copy of a picture of my shirt as the wallpaper of my new phone (and haven’t changed it since). I didn’t do these things for ego or vanity. I did it to help make it real. Finally, months after the race, after my muscles recovered, after my toenails fell off and regrew, after I ran a marathon relay in Bahrain… I know I finished a marathon.

Will I ever do another one? I know Jim’s answer to the question.

My answer is… maybe. I think I’d like to try Grandma’s again so I can have the complete experience. I want to be part of the post-run celebration with the other finishers.

Maybe then I will be more comfortable saying, “I ran a marathon.”

 

 

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