Oh, yeah. Things that felt perfectly fine 48 hours ago are now whining and complaining. And my knees look like water balloons. And I feel as though I could crawl into bed and stay there for a couple of days, given the opportunity. But other than that, I’m doing pretty well, post-marathon.
I want to say that the race was a great experience, on the whole, but I’m not sure how much of that sense is tied to the fact that it’s over. I can say with great certainty that somewhere between miles 19 and 23, I had one very clear thought: “This was a terrible idea.” That began to fade, however, almost as soon as I finished. It’s not for nothing that Frank Shorter once said “You’re not ready to run another marathon until you’ve forgotten the last one.” I’m not ready to run another one yet, but I’m beginning to see the faintest of glimmerings of the shades of ideas that at some point in the future I might contemplate doing it again.
What follows may be way more information than anyone other than me wants, but it’s here anyhow.
The day started well enough, considering. I didn’t get to sleep until about midnight the night before, too nervous about the impending event, and then had to get up at 5 am to get ready. Of course, I woke up at 4.30, and not just a stirring-about kind of waking up, but a full-on, wide-awake, heart pounding out of fear that I might have overslept awakening. So I got up, took a shower (Yes. I took a shower before running the marathon. In part, it just helped me wake up, but there was the added benefit that… well, I needed that shower already, and if I hadn’t taken it then, I’d have been absolutely unbearable after four and a half hours of running), packed my stuff, drank a diet Coke, and waited.
My colleagues meg and SH picked me up at 6 am, and drove me downtown. Starting time wasn’t until 8.15, but we weren’t sure about traffic; there can be a bad bottleneck coming into downtown from the east, and given the number of folks who were going to be trying to get there, we figured better safe than sorry. As it turned out, we got downtown in record time, found a great place to park, and… waited. We spent a while hanging out in the car, as it was a bit breezy that morning, but then we got our acts together, took some “before” pictures, and headed toward the start.
I left my posse at the runners-only entry gate, and weaved my way through the maze of fencing leading to the starting line. There was a special lineup corral for runners who had pre-qualified for the sub 4/5 start (that’s 4 or 5 hours, not minutes), and for whatever reason, I’d been approved for it. Friday, at the Emerald Nuts Quality of Life Expo, I’d signed up to run with the 4.30 pace group being led by the Clif Bar folks, and so once I got in the sub 4/5 corral, I started looking for the pacers. I spotted the pacers leading groups in all the times between 3 and 4 hours, but the 4.30 group was nowhere in sight. It turned out that both the 4.15 and 4.30 pacers had wound up behind the plastic fencing separating the sub 4/5 group from the over 5 group, but the woman standing next to me — Elizabeth — was also hoping to run 4.30, so we made a plan to just start out together and let the 4.30 group catch up with us.
As it turned out, though, they dropped the gate between the corrals about a minute before the start, and the effect was like pouring sand into a jar full of pebbles: the over 5 folks rushed for the front, filling in all the spaces between the sub 4/5 folks. The first couple of miles were accordingly slow and crowded, and Elizabeth and I found ourselves dodging and weaving around all manner of joggers and walkers, just trying to get going.
The marathon starts on a downhill, which is kind of nice for getting warmed up. By the end of the first mile, Elizabeth and I were both craning our necks trying to find the 4.30 pace group behind us, because it was clear that we’d gone out a little faster than we wanted to. We never did find them, and somewhere around mile 8 somebody told us that the group had gotten broken up by the frenetic start, and that the pacer had dropped the balloons she was supposed to be carrying for the group to sight her by. Elizabeth and I just ran along and chatted and sketched out our strategic plan, holding each other back from going too fast, saving energy for mile 20, when we knew we’d need it. Once things opened up a bit, after the third mile, we started walking through the water stops, both for the short break and to make sure that we got enough fluids down.
And so it went. The first 13 miles were amazingly easy, to the point that I now think the half-marathon may be my distance; it was a challenge, but not a painful one, and it’s something that I could see working at in some systematic way. The next 5 miles were a bit harder. My legs began their litany of complaints (first the left arch hurts, then the right knee, then out of nowhere the left hip, and so on), and I just started to feel myself running out of gas. I took Gatorade every time it was offered, and used a couple of those incredibly nasty energy gels. (If you use the chocolate, I’ve discovered, you can almost pretend that you’re just eating really bad chocolate icing.) That got me through, well enough.
At 18, though, I spotted meg and SH on the sidelines, and got a huge rush of adrenalin; I bounded over, high-fived them both, and trotted right on, re-energized and refreshed.
That lasted about a mile.
By 19, all that energy was gone, and I was just in pain. Elizabeth had hung in with me that far, and it was clear at this point that she was suffering, too. We stopped at one point around mile 20 or 21 because her quads were seizing up just above her knees; she tried to stretch, but couldn’t get them to loosen up. She waved me on, saying she wasn’t sure she was even going to be able to walk the rest of the way, and so I headed off without her. Amazingly enough, about a mile later she caught back up with me, and we touched base again, but then I lost her on the next uphill. Sadly, I never got her last name, but there’s an Elizabeth from southern Orange County (where she said she was from) who finished about five minutes after I did. I’m hoping that that’s her.
By mile 23, it was clear that I was going to finish, but it was going to be a miserable trudge. I was capable of no thought whatsoever except counting down the minutes until I’d be able to stop. As I told ogged, the math got really hard at one point, and I couldn’t figure out whether I had 23 minutes to go until the time I wanted to finish, or 23 minutes until I could actually stop running.
I should also mention the cruelty of the marathon finish: the last mile is uphill. Which is just mean. But the turn onto Flower Street, and into the thick of downtown, and the cheering crowd, kept me going. As did the fact that, slowly as I was running at this point, I was still passing people left and right. My higher brain function had stopped, but the competitive urge hadn’t died with it.
A few block before the finish line, just as I started to try and sprint (ha), I heard my name shouted from the sidelines. My posse had caught up with me there. The effect that this had on me can’t be underestimated; like a dog, pretty much all I heard was “blah blah blah blah, KATHLEEN FITZPATRICK!!!”, but it triggered some, well, dog-like instinct to run like hell. And so I did. And crossed the finish line.
And wobbled through the folks taking off our timing chips, and the folks handing out water, and the folks giving out medals, and the folks wrapping us in blankets. And found my way to what had been called the “Family Reunion” area. Which was an absolute madhouse, with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. (Note to LA: NYC has totally figured this one out. Check with them.) Given my limited brain function, this was no time for me to have to wander a crowd of thousands looking for my friends; the phrase “needle in a haystack” kept running through my head. Amazingly enough, I found them after what I think was only about fifteen minutes. And then babbled incoherently at them all the way back to the car, and back to Claremont.
That’s my story. One last note, though, for the record: 70 degrees and sunny is fabulous LA weather. Except when you have to run in it. For four and a half hours. I’m just saying.