I have never been so relieved to reach the starting line of a marathon.
Usually, in the marathons I've done, I've felt anxious...wondering if I'm going to reach my goal, nervously biting my lip, probably yawning (remember that little trick I mentioned?). But this time, I exhaled and smiled.
This was probably very naive of me, since a lot STILL could have gone wrong. But, I just knew I was going to make it. I didn't realize the extent to which I was already hurting, and my body was angrily reacting to the beating I was giving it.
I was just happy to run.
So I started. My goal, if I could hang, was to break 5 hours. I knew that I was capable of this, but could my stomach do it? My legs? I felt great, but some of that was a false little high of getting off the freaking bike. I thought to myself, "Well, just try...just one foot in front of the other...like Rob says, 'Just Keep Moving Forward.' "
So that's what I did.
I saw Trina! Man, she's going to finish soon...she's a rock star. Then I saw TriAl, at his mile 12! I told him to GO--that he looked strong. I expected to see him again later.
I was still shivering, but ditched my mylar blanket as I warmed up a little around mile 2. I would later regret ditching it. "Stupid, stupid....you should have held onto that..."
At mile 3 or so, just before the stadium, I saw my girls for the first time!
They were at a bar appropriately named, "The Stadium." This way, they could stay warm and drink some beers, and Jim and Doug (Hedda and Po's hubbies) could watch football. A win-win situation. It would be my knowledge of them there, on that corner, that would keep me going when things got really rough.
I entered the Stadium to do my first loop around. At this point, when I hit mile 3/16, a teeny little blonde girl with a clear trash bag ran besides me.
"Only 10 more miles," she said.
"Oh, am I jealous of you...not ten for me," I replied.
"I am only at mile 3." I smiled, trying to crack a joke.
"Oh....don't be jealous of me," she said breathlessly. "I have abdominal cramps and I'm dry heaving."
Oh boy. I'd better not get ahead of myself here. It's a long way to the finish line.
I wished her well...I later saw her on the side of the road, crying, and two people I assume were her parents begged her, "Don't stop, Alicia...you can't stop now..."
I don't know if she made it.
I tried to block out some of the pain and bad stuff I was seeing around me, and I went down State Street...and lo and behold, I heard a "Go Sara!" I turned around and thought..."Hey...why does that guy look familiar....?"
"Zeke?!" I yelled.
He smiled and nodded.
"Running Zeke!" I laughed--he said he'd be there, and he was! I didn't see a beer in his hand to torture me with, though. :)
The first 5 or 6 miles went rather uneventfully. I was holding a pace that I thought was just about on target for a 5 hour marathon. I was, just like my coach said, passing a TON of people...now, granted, some were on their second lap and had actually lapped me by, oh, about 2 hours...but STILL--it felt a little good for the soul. We headed back to State Street to hit the 6.55 mile turnaround, and I saw RobbyB and Kris again! Those guys are absolutely amazing. They must have been so tired--and had to head to do their 9-12am finish line duties soon--and were STILL out in that cold rain. Seeing them lifted my spirits.
Pretty soon, around mile 7, I realized I had to make a potty stop. There would be no more Miles Davis-ing like I did on the bike...there were port-a-potties and I had to wait in line (ugh) to hit one. Man, I really wish I was a guy sometime.
I made small talk with the girl next to me after that stop. Her name was Becca, and it was her first Ironman, too. We passed through what must have been hundreds of signs--some were hysterical--for athletes. I found a few for me from my Second Sole friends, Jeff and Tracy! It gave me a little lift to the next food stop. I was just doing Hammer Gel and water, some e-caps, and gatorade, alternating with every stop.
So far, so good.
I made it back towards the stadium, around mile 10/23. And that's when I ran into TriAl again. I can't remember exactly what was said, but I remember saying, "You're gonna be an Ironman." And he said something like, "You are, too." And then I said something like, "You are sooner."
DUH! I swear Ironman makes me say and do the dumbest things.
I remember telling him to go for it--and finish strong. He told me to finish strong, too. I said, "See you at the end!" and he took off. I could see how happy he was just by seeing his face and his smile--he must have been so tired, but just took off on an adrenaline high that carried him to the end, to finish in 12:35--and negative split his last half marathon by THIRTEEN MINUTES. Amazing. That's finishing strong, alright.
Finally, I was around mile 11/24 and...
I saw my girls again! They cheered like I was some kind of rock star. It was awesome. Doug held up a sign that said, "Go TriSaraTops!" I knew it took a lot to have these guys be out of Columbus during the OSU/Texas weekend (or shall I say the DOMINATION of THE BUCKEYES), and it was so cute to see them all there.
That gave me a lift towards the Capitol. I felt great, but was very jealous of those who would go straight at the finish line, instead of me, who would turn. As I was running toward the line, a guy next to me, obviously ready to finish, yelled, "WHOOOOOO! WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" I told him to go finish strong--his energy was contagious. I headed towards the finisher's chute. Oh, man. I gotta run through it...and then turn around.
On one hand, it seemed cruel and unusual punishment to do such a thing. But, on the other hand, I think it was sheer brilliance. It essentially gave you a taste of the finish line--a little glimpse of the joy you would feel--and then sent you on your way. I saw my parents and Matt standing there, and I said, "I'll be back!" to them as I hit the first mat.
2:32. Pretty much dead on where I thought I should be. Truckin' along, walk through the aid stations. 10 minutes to the other side of the Prozac patch....just like Wil says...
So far, no Prozac patches needed. I still felt great. I told some random strangers, too: "I'll be back!!!!" They laughed and hi-fived me. I thought of Wil, IronJohnny, and Pharmie...they couldn't be too far behind. I had already seen Mr. Pharmie a few times on the run course, camera in hand, big smile on his face. I knew that Pharmie must be OK...but what about Wil and IronJohnny? I started to worry a bit. I hoped that they were having a good time, and they were running strong. You just never know with this marathon...things can change in a blink of an eye. I tried to focus and keep my pace.
At this point, I started to get cold. Really cold. The sun was almost down, so when a volunteer at an aid station offered me a black trash bag, I took it. And that became my new fashion statement for the next 13 miles.
I passed special needs, and grabbed my bag..."Go Mrs. Z! You can do it!" "Mrs. Z, swim fast, bike faster, run fastest...." "Mrs. Z hope U win and represent RIVAHHHHHH!" These little construction paper cards made me smile as I grabbed a few extra Hammer Gels, just in case. I grabbed a red shirt, too...I don't know what I was thinking of doing with it, as it was going to be way to hard to get into my trash-chic ensemble. So, I ran with it. In my hand. Yeah, pointless.
I saw Zeke again, somewhere...this is when things start getting to be a blur...I saw my girls again and they screamed like I was N'Sync, as usual. I saw Jeff and Tracy, and asked them to hold my shirt. I asked where IronJohnny was, and Jeff said, "He's back there...he's hurting a bit. Coach Kara had to walk with him for a few miles."
Oh no. I hope he's OK....
"Wait," I asked...."What happened to Kara?" She started the race with us this morning..and then I swore I saw her on the bike course with Brady.
Jeff's face fell. "She missed the swim cutoff by one minute."
Oh no. "But she's here, and she's cheering for you--keep going, keep going!"
I felt really sad for her, but I knew she has so much to be proud of, namely finishing DOZENS of marathons and inspiring HUNDREDS of runners in Cleveland. She was a HUGE part of me ever believing in myself as a runner and as an athlete. And she still will continue to inspire me and guide me into whatever the future race called life might throw at me.
I started to really worry about IronJohnny. He is my training buddy and we've been through this whole crazy ride together. I said a little prayer for him, too...
And I thought, "I hope Wil's OK....." I thought of her out there in this cold, and the knowledge that Stu was with her made me feel better. I just knew Stu would take good care of her.
I knew I needed to focus--on the moment, on my pace, on my breathing. I felt so worried for my friends and so proud of those friends who had already crossed that line, but I knew that I had to stay in the moment. Ironman can jump out in front of you and kick your ass the second you are lulled into a false sense of security, and I respected this. I focused on my breathing. The second loop was more isolated than the first, and I kind of liked it this way. The people I was passing this time were on their second loop, too, and for some reason it made it more legitimate. Man, I thought...I sure am passing a lot of people...just like Coach said..."Don't worry if they go blowing by you on the bike. Chances are you'll see them on the run."
Okay, I ain't seeing ALL of them. :) But, I have to admit, I saw several hundred. I didn't realize it until the end, but I really did pass several hundred people. That made me happy. Even though my marathon was "slow" in comparison, the fact that I was passing many made me feel strong. It was the strongest-feeling 5:24 marathon I was ever going to run.
I would realize, the next day, when I actually saw my splits, that this marathon was only 10 minutes slower than my first marathon. And that is something I will always, always be proud of.
And then, it came. Mile 17.5. I was hoping it wouldn't make an appearance, but it barged right on in, uninvited.
I knew it before...I never hit it in Cincinnati, but I do remember hitting it in Cleveland. 17ish-23ish for me can turn into the Berlin Wall. And, to quote Death Cab for Cutie, "There was no doubt about which side I was on...." At this point, I started playing little games with myself.
I walked up the hill on campus. It was the only walking I did...not that my running was all that fast from 17.5-24, but for me, I just gotta keep moving at a steady pace. I don't do so well with walk/running. So I shuffled along. I remembered my girls were at 23 so I started singing in my head:
"5 miles til I see my girls, 5 miles til I see my girls...."
"4 miles til I see my girls., 4 miles til I see my girls...."
You get the picture. I started to hurt. My stomach started to feel a little queasy. I got to the point where all I could ingest was water and the occasional Hammer Gel. The chicken broth they were so generously serving at the aid stations started to make me nauseous--just the SMELL of it really made me want to hurl. I thought of Dodgeball, where she says, "No problem...I just threw up in my mouth a little bit..."
I saw people throwing up. Tons were walking. I felt like a circus freak for still running, even though my "run" was almost a glorified shuffle. But, I kept on putting one foot in front of the other. "Just Keep Moving Forward," I thought, like Rob says...I knew I was slowing down, and 5 hours was slipping away. But, at this point, I thought: SURVIVE...SURVIVE...
I saw my breath in the cold foggy night air. The light reflected off it as I ran down a dark path.
I saw them. I lifted up my arm to wave.
They were still there. They are amazing. They have no idea how much I needed to see them there.
"How are you??" Screamed Jacks and Luscious as they shuffled with me, umbrellas in tow. I gave a weak thumbs-up.
"You're gonna do this!!! You're so close!!! We'll see you at the finish line!!!!"
And then, just across the street, I saw Jeff, Tracy, Brady and Coach Kara. They screamed for me, too...Kara ran alongside me and said, "Think of all the money you raised for people with cancer! You're going to reach your goal! All that hard work and you're going to DO IT!" Even now, she was still inspiring me to stride harder. She's amazing.
Jeff and Tracy had big smiles on their face. "Where's Johnny?" I asked. They looked a little worried..."Not far behind," Jeff said. "How are you? How are you feeling?"
"I hurt," I said, smiling.
"What hurts," Jeff asked. "Stomach? Legs?"
"Everything," I got out, weakly.
"You're almost there! Keep going! You can feel it now! GO SARA!"
So I went. They were right...I could almost feel it, now.
Before I knew it, I heard the finish line. I made a turn, and a girl said, "Up that hill, and around the bend, and your life will never be the same!"
A guy shuffling next to me said, "You might want to take off your bag." He had an awesome accent.
"You're right!" I said, wiggling out of the bag. "Where are you from?"
"London....it's bloody cold here."
I laughed and said with my horrible Ohio accent, "You're right! It IS bloody cold. Let's go home!" I thought of Wil, and knew if she was with me, she'd look at me to say, "Damn, that accent's HOT." I smiled just thinking of it--and in a way, she was with me then, just like she had been over the past year.
We took off, as best as our legs could go.
I tried to remember the chute. Eric told me to really look around, so I did...I saw the chute coming and I really can't describe what happened next except to tell you this.
I have never felt more alive in my 29 short years than I did in those 20 seconds.
I felt so aware of being. Of seeing light and feeling wet and hearing laughter. Of feeling my feet ache and loving my husband and adoring my friends and feeling unwavering gratitude for my parents. The smell of rain and mud and sweat all around me...the squish of my shoes on my feet, the feel of my hands holding my head in disbelief, that this body--this collection of bones and nerves and cells could do this.
It's funny--I always thought that I would cry at the finish line. Always. I'm not a cryer, but I just thought I would...after a year of my life being dedicated to this goal...I thought if I made it, and if I got to cross that line, I'd be so overwhelmed with emotions that I would just cry.
But that wasn't it at all.
I was screaming, I was jumping. I shook my hands in the air. I turned around to see Matt, my parents, and my girls and screamed again. I didn't feel tears--I felt my heart soar through the fog. I felt a direct rejection of all things cold and wet, and I laughed in the face of all that had been thrown at me today. Of all that had been thrown at me in the past year.
In the past 29 years.
And much to my surprise, I crossed the finish line in 15:32.32 with not tears, but laughter--with my hands up like I'm at a freaking Motley Crue concert.
It was pure celebration.
The first people I saw when I crossed the line were Greyhound, Kris, and RobbyB. I was so excited to see them that I just kept screaming. "AGGGHHHHHHHHH!" I screamed, and RobbyB did, too, as he put the medal around my neck. It was just like I dreamed it would be, except with me laughing hysterically in pure joy. Then, I saw TriMama and TriDaddy again--and Walchka! We all screamed and hugged each other.
"Where's Wil?" I asked.
The screaming stopped. TriMama and Greyhound looked at each other...you know, that look when you know something but you don't want to be the one to say it. Greyhound said, "We don't know...Stu's not really saying...."
Oh no. No. This isn't how it's supposed to be....
They hugged me again and congratulated me, and I started to get swept away, but I still thought of Wil. "Do you want to get your picture taken?" TriDaddy asked, I think. "Sure!" I laughed--and bopped over to the table. Snap!
Somehow, in the excitement, I missed all the food...all the water...I made a beeline for my family and friends. And we went nuts.
And I gave Matt the sweatiest-nastiest-God-only-knows-whatelsiest-hug there was, just like I had imagined. I knew I needed to get warm....so we went inside, and I tried to warm up. I found Pharmie: 15:55! She's amazing. We hugged and Mr. Pharmie snapped a few pics. Then I heard the news: IronJohnny--16:29! He made it--I felt elated for him.
My mom was appalled as I grabbed some random mylar blanket off the floor, used, to cover up. I slid down the wall to sit. "Mom," I said, "You don't even want to know what I'm already covered in...I'm sure this is just fine."
Then, Stu came up to me and told me the news. My heart sank.
And Wil came up to me. I waved to her, and tried to stand up. She gave me her hand to pull and steady myself on, just like she had so many times before in so many ways. And I hugged her as hard as I could.
And that's when I cried.