I ran a marathon!!

  • —This was printed in September of 2013 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 15th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

“There will be days you don’t think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of

knowing you have.” — unknown

I ran 26.2 miles of Santa Rosa pavement on Sunday, crossing the finish line after 4 hours,

1 minute and 17 seconds to join the 0.1 percent of the population who has run a

marathon.

I didn’t accomplish my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I didn’t even

accomplish my fall back goal of running my first marathon in less than 4 hours. But I also

never gave up, and that is a worthy accomplishment — especially because I was almost

unfit to run the race in the first place.

Everything seemed to come crashing down on me in the days before the Santa Rosa

Marathon. My daughter caught some kind of nasty stomach bug that induced a full day of

vomiting on Wednesday. I came down with a bad cold that abruptly turned into a full-

fledged sinus infection on Thursday. Then I caught the stomach bug early Saturday

morning. I began vomiting around 3:30 a.m., but still loaded up the car and began our

road trip at 6 a.m. Thankfully my husband drove, as I spent the entire road trip being sick

into a plastic bag.

I couldn’t keep anything down, not even crackers and water. Ideally I should’ve spent

Saturday hydrating and loading up on carbs, but I couldn’t do either. I can’t determine if

the illness passed on its own, or if it was the prayers of my running buddy Audrey Crow

and her husband Kenny that did it — but somehow I got better and was able to drink a

couple bottles of water that evening.

On race morning I still had the nasty sinus infection. I wasn’t dehydrated, but I wasn’t as

hydrated as I should’ve been for such a long run. Still, I pulled on my compression

sleeves, sprayed my feet with TriSlide and put on my socks, laced up my shoes, strapped

my GPS watch onto my wrist, pinned my race bib to my shirt, and said, “It’s now or

never.”

I forced down half a banana and a few sips of water prior to the race. I had four Gu

energy gels and five salt capsules tucked away in my pocket. I didn’t know how well my

stomach was going to take any of it, but I knew I couldn’t go the entire race without

fueling up with something.

The marathon started promptly at 6 a.m. Audrey and I stuck together for the first eight

miles. When we passed the sign marking Mile 4 I told her, “In January I couldn’t run

farther than four miles. Can you believe that?” Another woman running near us turned

her head to look back at me, seemingly stunned. “Really?” she asked.

The course took us out of downtown Santa Rosa along a shady trail, out to DeLoach

Winery and through its barrel room, then out along some country roads and back along

the trail to the finish. I know this because I just looked at the course map – If you asked

me to run it again from memory I couldn’t do it. I didn’t care where we were running, nor

how picturesque it was. I caught myself rolling my eyes at the woman who kept taking

her cell phone out to stop and take photos along the way, then sprint to catch back up to

where she had been in the race, which was five yards in front of me. I couldn’t care less

about the vineyards or the clouds or the barrel room of the winery. The only thing I was

looking for was the next mile marker.

My half split time was 1:51:58, which would have been my best half marathon. Too bad I

had another 13.1 miles to go after that!

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I actually felt pretty good about the race until I reached Mile 16. Then I became

extremely thirsty. My lack of hydration was getting to me. I had alternated grabbing cups

of water and Gatorade at each hydration station, but it wasn’t enough. During the last ten

miles of the race the stations were set up about two miles apart. I would grab a cup of

water and walk as I drank most of it and poured the rest on my head. As soon as the cup

was empty I’d start running again. About a half mile later I was dying of thirst and I had

to spend the next mile and a half looking ahead, searching eagerly for the next water

station. This brutal cycle continued until I finished the race.

Around Mile 22 I became especially discouraged when the 4-hour pacer passed me. I

tried to speed up to stay with the group but ended up about a minute behind them.

Sometimes the thirst got so intense I seriously considered jumping into the murky river

water that was down below the trail. I started looking around at the other runners to see if

any were wearing a hydration belt, but when I found one I was too ashamed to ask for the

last couple of ounces of water sloshing around in their bright yellow bottle. “Just get to

the next water station,” I kept telling myself. Somehow I managed to do so.

I almost stopped to walk twice before reaching a water station, but then I would think

“mind over miles” and realize I was just giving up mentally. My body was somehow still

going. I had no joint pains, no muscle cramps, no gastrointestinal issues, so therefore I

had no reason to give up. I was just tired and thirsty, so I told myself, “Get over it

princess. You’re tougher than that.”

The mental pep talks worked. I ended up catching up to two men in my running group

who were having difficult races — one was cramping so severely that he finished nearly an

hour after his goal time. He ended up finishing eight seconds ahead of me because I

found it impossible to sprint the last stretch of the course.

To be honest I almost stopped to walk that last 100 meters. It’s amazing that after running

26.1 miles the last little bit seems like the longest, most daunting part of the race. I wasn’t

even happy that I was about to become a full marathoner, I was just so dang thirsty! That

thirst kept me running. Well, that, and the cameraman waiting to snap finishers’ photos at the line. I couldn’t disgrace my running group — the kings and queens of posing for

photos — with a picture of me walking.

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It also helped that 50 yards from the finish line my husband and kids were standing there

cheering me on. My daughter was yelling, “I picked these flowers for you, Mommy! Go!

Go!”

I crossed the line, felt someone slip a finisher’s medal over my head, and stretched out

my hand and said as clear as I could, “Water!” A volunteer shoved a cold water bottle

into my hand and I chugged it as I walked, or more like stumbled, out of the way. I

slammed two more bottles of water before meeting up with my family. It was the best

water I had ever tasted.

Congratulations to Benny Madrigal, 27, of Madera, who won the Santa Rosa Marathon

with a time of 2:44:55 — after riding 100 miles on a bike the day before the race. That is a

stunning achievement and I can’t wait to see how he does in his Ironman competition.

Every runner in my group ended up finishing the race, with times ranging from 3:30 to

5:46.

I think that is the beauty of running a marathon. You don’t have to do it fast; you just

have to do it. If you can accomplish the feat in five hours, you deserve just as much

respect as someone who can finish it in three. We’re all marathoners, no matter how fast

or slow we are. I’m so proud to join the rest of the people in this world who’ve endured

the 26.2-mile challenge.

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The runners in my group are just normal people, not elite athletes. We are a group of

journalists, car salesmen, social workers, and other professionals, and even full-time

moms. Some of us have young children, some of us have grown children, and some of us

have no children. We’re in our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. We’re thin, we’re heavy, we’re

short, we’re tall. We are all so different yet we all share the dedication it takes to become

a marathoner. If we can do it, anyone can do it. All you need is the determination to not

give up.

My running buddy Erika Mendoza posted this quote from an anonymous marathoner on

Facebook after the race:

“At mile 20, I thought I was dead. At mile 22, I wished I was dead. At mile 24, I knew I

was dead. At mile 26.2, I realized I had become too tough to kill.”

Ain’t that the truth.

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