Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Marathon Mom

Let me say this off the bat: I completely brought this upon myself. I have no one I can blame. I placed the curse upon myself.

I had the gall--the gall, I say!--to think to myself, "Wow, after the last action-packed marathon, this marathon will really give me nothing to blog about. I know all the ins and outs of the marathon. I know the tricks. I'm fully prepared. I'll have nothing to write but, 'I ran my second marathon and I had a time of XXX.'"

Which is how I jinxed this marathon.

Let's start with the sinus infection. I was feeling probably 80 percent better. But that didn't bother me as much as the words of my doctor, which kept running through my head. "You may not feel healthy enough to run. You may not feel healthy enough to run. You may not feel healthy enough to run." The power of positive thinking right? Yeah, right.

Then there was the missing registration card. The ING site said, "All U.S. registration cards will be mailed the week of Oct. 13." So I waited. And waited. No card. Where is my card? The card that is essential for getting my race number at the expo? No card. Then, the week before the race, an e-mail arrived that read, "If you didn't get your registration card in the mail, you can use this e-mail," which leads me to believe they didn't mail all the cards out. Okay, that's all right. Taken care of.

Then I called the hotel to confirm our reservation. Oh, they had it all right. For twice as long as we had intended on staying. Thank goodness I called because they had us down as arriving on Thursday. Can you imagine how thrilled I would have been had I shown up on Friday only to find that they not only charged my credit card the $358 for Thursday night but had since given away our room?

I printed out my registration card and took a good look at it for the first time. There I was. Yep. There's my name. That's my age. It's me. But wait? No bus pass? I know I signed up for a bus pass as it's the only reasonable way to get to the start line! What a pain in the neck. I've got to make sure to remember to buy a bus pass at the expo instead of nicely and conveniently having it printed on my bib number.

I know, I know. You're thinking, "This really isn't all that big a deal. You were stressing over nothing." Which would be true if it weren't for the final thing. The ultimate jinx. The voice-from-above "I gave you plenty of signs you shouldn't run and yet you ignore me" jinx.

I took a closer look at my registration card. I noted my bib number. Last time I ran my bib number was 47474. A nice high number because I had put down a very slow predicted race time. No biggie. But this time my race number is W409. That's odd. Did they change the numbering schematic? And then I look one more time. There it is on the side, in all caps. "WHEELCHAIR START." Um, hello? HELLO!!!! I DON'T THINK SO!

While it certainly provided much fodder for the household banter ("Do we have plans for next Wednesday? I want to go out for dinner with a friend." "Well, I suppose it's okay. I'm sure I'll have managed to navigate bathtime in the wheelchair by then"), it turned me into a stress monkey. Which in a way was good, because I wasn't stressing about the race itself. I found myself being extra careful when I ran because I was convinced I was going to break a limb. (Again, the voice from above: "You wanted a wheelchair start? Well, I'll give you a wheelchair start!") My husband was convinced it was no big deal and they'd fix it at the expo but I was pretty sure they were just making me go to the help desk to publicly humiliate me and strip me of my running shoes.

As it turns out I was right in the first place: there really isn't much to blog about the marathon. My sister was correct when she told me, "All those jinxes were good! You got all the bad stuff out of the way and now you can run a great marathon!"

The trip to New York was hunky dory. The kids were well behaved and, except for that smell that began to seep out of Pie's diaper around New Rochelle, the trip was uneventful. We gave a ride to another runner, and Adam dropped the two of us at the Expo center on our way into town Friday evening. What a difference a day makes. Whereas last time, when I went on Saturday, the lines snaked out of the building, on Friday evening we walked right in. I went to the "Solutions Desk," and they did indeed solution my wheelchair problem. Hallelujah! It's a miracle! I can walk again! In fact, I ended up with a lower number (when I signed up, I think I predicted at 4:45 or 5 hour marathon and I knew I could do much better than that) and she asked me which color I'd like to start with. I didn't have a preference and she said, "I'll give you blue. That's a good one--you start on top of the bridge." And then she gave me a bus pass! How sweet was that? I was able to actually enjoy the rest of the Expo.

And then: Sunday. I woke a zillion times in the night (didn't help that Doodles was crammed between me and Adam, with his little head shoved into my side and his feet under Adam) and I finally got up at 4:55 a.m., five minutes before the alarm. I got dressed and headed to meet my friend to hop the bus to the start. This is definitely the most tedious part of the marathon--just waiting for the start. We took a 5:30 bus but the marathon didn't start till 10:10. The sun was just starting to come up when we got off the bus at the start in Staten Island. We had to split up, because she had a seeded number (she told me later that she got distracted at the start, because she looked up and over to the other side of the bridge, and there was Lance).

So I waited. And waited. And waited. Used the portapotty a bunch. Got some Tylenol. Drank a lot of tea. Jumped up and down trying to keep warm. Had a little massage. And I waited. And waited. Finally it was time to line up. We started to move up before the gun went off and sure enough the bathrooms emptied out. I was actually able to run in and be out in time to hear the starting gun. With my "low" number (if 30012 can really be considered low), it only took me ten minutes to cross the starting line. I decided to hang out with the 4:30 pace group. I really had no idea what my speed would be--hard to tell in training what you can reasonable sustain over 4 1/2 to 5 hours. My goal was a 4:45 marathon. My stretch goal was a 4:30 marathon. My don't-admit-it-to-anyone-but-what-I'm-really-hoping-for goal was a 4:22 marathon.

I kept with the pace group in the beginning, but realized I found it distracting. I wasn't paying as much attention to the crowds and the music and the scenery because I was so focused on keeping up with the group. I also found the run to be much, much denser this time, and I exerted way too much energy weaving in and out and around people. It was a tad claustrophobic. I made friends with another woman, Kelly, and we chatted and ran together for a while, but I soon discovered if I ran just in front of the pace group, it was a little less crowded.

My first goal was my family at mile 11. Unfortunately I didn't know which side of the street they'd be on, so I slowed down from the pace group so I could get a good look. My right knee started to bother me, but I decided to ignore it. At about 11 1/2 miles I spotted them. Doodles was day dreaming and even though I screamed his name about 12 times, he barely saw me. Pie was asleep in Adam's backpack. And I just kept running. At this point, the miles were coming fast and furious, just melting away. But about halfway over the Queensboro Bridge, my knee really started to bother me, to the point where I feared I might have to drop out. I considered stopping at a medical tent, but told myself I'd go just a little farther and think about stopping at the next one. I started to walk through the water stops, and that helped considerably. By this time the pace team was ahead of me, but I just kept a steady pace and around mile 18 or so, I had caught up, and by mile 19, they were definitely behind me. At mile 20, my sister was waiting for me with a friend. "My knee hurts!" I told her. She replied, "Just keep going! Keep running!" so I did.

Around this point, I was relieved that I had broken through the wall. I knew I was going to have the energy to sustain me to the end, as long as my knee held out. But this is also the point where each mile doubles in length. The miles were no longer melting away, but sloooooooooowly stretchhhhhhing ooooooouuuuutttt. I had to resist the urge to run faster, because five miles after 21 miles is still a long way to go. So I just kept a steady pace.

Once I hit 23 miles, I knew I'd make it even if I had to crawl across the finish line, so I let myself speed up a little. I would have liked to have sped up even more, but there were still so many runners on the course that it was difficult to navigate around them. I still walked at water stations--even at mile 25 (didn't want to collapse because of my knee in mile 26)--but I felt great. I powered through the end, feeling like a champ. Adam and the Pie were apparently at the end, at 250 yards, but I didn't even notice them, I was so in the zone. I flew through the finish line, clocking in at 4:25:07. Despite being three minutes off my dream goal, I was exceedingly pleased (remember, my only other marathon was a 5:19 marathon!). I feel confident that given a flatter, less crowded course, I could do it.

After the race, I gathered with my family and a close friend at my parents' place for pizza and wine. The next day I got my medal engraved, bought a finisher's shirt, and spent the morning at the Central Park Zoo. The ride back was fine except that the Pie was finished with it about 45 minutes before we were finished with it, which made for a painfully loud experience.

As far as body woes, my knee now seems to be fine. I have one very, very ugly toe (I tried to take a picture of it for all of you, but you can be grateful that it didn't come out well enough to really appreciate the black, bloody, bruised thing that it is) but I'm itching to get back out there.

So now? Now it's time to 1) recover and then 2) get back into training. After all, it's only two months, one week, and six days until the Miami Marathon! 4:22, here I come!