A Little Running Background:
A little over two years ago, I had never run a mile in my life. I'd exercised in other ways, but running? That was for someone else. Then I gradually started to run and built up some stamina, culminating in running my first 5K when I was 12 weeks pregnant with my 8th child. I continued to run until I was about 6 months along, then just walked the last few months of pregnancy. After Katie was born in May of 2010, I did a bit of running, including another 5K when she was two months old, but nothing really serious.
In January I decided this was the year I was finally going to tackle my fitness in a big way. I thought I'd have a little break before our next baby was born (ha ha, joke's on me!), so I filled in the year with races -- a 10K in March, my first half marathon in June, and then, with a lot of trepidation and fear, I signed up for the St. George marathon lottery and got in!
I was running off and on, but my longest distance was still only about 3.5 miles when I started training in January. I gradually built that up, training first for the Utah Valley Half, and feeling so proud of myself. Along the way, I learned a lot of life lessons and really discovered why I was doing this.
With the half marathon successfully completed, I jumped halfway into a marathon training plan, gearing up for the St. George marathon on October 1st. A week later, I found out that baby #9 was anxious to arrive around Valentines Day. I decided to continue training, with some modifications, and I was all set to run. My doctor, however, wasn't so sure about running the St. George marathon when I was 20 weeks along. She's run four marathons herself, so I had to take her advice seriously. With that in mind, I chose the Mesa Falls Marathon, five weeks earlier, and my doctor said she felt much better about my running one at 15 weeks. She counseled me to avoid dehydration and training too hard and told me I was amazing.
Things were going pretty well in the training, and my 18-miler was a huge success. Then came my 21-miler, and horrible hip pain that kept me from running at all after the first nine miles. I was determined to finish the distance anyway, so I walked. It wasn't so bad the first few miles, but by the time I finished out the full 21, my feet were two masses of blisters, my right hip and knee were killing me, and I could barely move. I'd thought running 21 miles would be hard, but I discovered that walking the last 12 miles were worse! The recovery from that "run" was my worst ever.
The hip pain subsided over the next week, but the knee pain didn't go away. I struggled with it through the Provo River Half Marathon the next Saturday and I was panicked when it recurred during my 8 mile run the week before the marathon. I went to a physical therapist twice the week of the marathon, hoping to speed up the healing and get through the marathon in one piece.
I went out for one run on Thursday morning, but the knee was still really sore and I didn't run enough of it to see how bad it would get. Needless to say, I went into the marathon last weekend with very low expectations. If it hadn't been for the pregnancy, I would have canceled the race and focused instead on one a bit further out, giving my leg a chance to really heal beforehand. But I knew this was my only chance and I determined to make the best of it. If I could just somehow get through the miles, then I had plenty of time to take a long running break and get things working better afterwards.
But I needed to get through those miles first, and while I trusted in the assurance I felt from Heavenly Father that I'd be able to see success in my goals, I didn't quite know what that "success" would look like. I determined in my mind beforehand that if I could run for most of the first ten miles, then I knew I would finish, even if I had to walk the last sixteen. Every mile I could run after the first ten would just decrease the time spent walking. Make no mistake, however -- I knew walking that kind of distance on an injured leg was no piece of cake, either, and I dreaded the extra time it would take and the blisters that would surely form.
Nevertheless, I determined to make the best of it if necessary and try to enjoy the marathon.
Marathon: Day Before
Friday afternoon, DH, Joey, Katie and I left the other kids in the care of my wonderful mother-in-law Carolyn, and headed up to Ashton, Idaho, a five hour drive away. It has been years since I've been on the part of I-15 that goes into Idaho. It was a lovely, soothing drive. I'd gotten most of my anxiety about the race worked through earlier in the week, so I felt calm and relaxed, saying to myself, "Come what may!" The lovely farmland, rolling hills, and beautiful sky were wonderful to drive through. I was amazed by the fields and fields full of sunflowers all along the route.
In Ashton, we stopped first at the elementary school to pick up my packet and enjoy the pre-race dinner. The packets were in Idaho Potato sacks, and I loved that little touch.
The volunteers at the race were so friendly and helpful all the way along. I talked briefly to the race director, reminding him I was doing the early start. He said there were two others who were doing it and reminded me it would be dark. He told me to be at the school at 4:00 and that his driver would leave at 4:15. I was happy to hear I'd still get to enjoy the free runner's breakfast that started at 4:00.
We'd paid $5 each for three tickets to the pre-race pasta dinner that night and ate in the school cafeteria. The pasta dinner was pretty simple -- spaghetti with two kinds of sauce, garlic bread, baked potatoes and salad. We talked to an older couple nearby from Boise who had both run many, many races. With only about two hundred runners doing the full, and around three hundred doing the half, it seemed that most of the marathoners were veterans. It's not a big or well-known race (St. George, for example, attracts 7,000 runners!), and there’s not a lot of downhill, so it seems to attract more veterans, especially those who want to do a marathon in every state and are attracted to one that starts just an hour from Yellowstone. At breakfast in the morning, I sat by several people who had on "marathon maniac" shirts and they were swapping stories about this race or that one and I could see that for some, marathons are addicting!
We stayed at a hotel about a mile north of the elementary school. Katie seemed to know just what her pack-n-play was for, and insisted on getting in it right after we set it up. We got her out a short time later because she wasn't ready for sleep, and she pleasantly ran around the room, climbed on the beds, and ripped up a magazine. DH took Joey out for shakes at the FrosTop drive-in while I stayed back to help Katie to sleep. She hardly whimpered as I put her down, rolling around a lot to get comfortable, sucking on her ring finger as usual, and going to sleep after about a half an hour.
When DH got back, he had to work on his laptop while Joey and I went to sleep. I slept pretty soundly, though I still woke up several times in the night (darn pregnancy hormones!).
I woke up at 3:15, took a quick shower and braided my hair, got dressed and made sure all my gear was in order, then woke up DH to drive me over. I was really worried about my knee, which was feeling more out of whack, and we said a prayer together in the car just before I left. I got a quick breakfast -- there was a huge spread of fruit, bagels, donuts, juice, milk, and cereal to choose from, all free for the runners and just $3 for others who wanted to tag along -- and then a volunteer named Robert asked who would be doing the early start. It was me and a very fit empty-nester named Doug Calder doing it. The others had decided to start at the regular time, Robert said, and Doug had chosen the early start because he'd found out the night before he was supposed to pick up his daughter at the SLC airport at 3:30. He was using this run as a training run for the Top of Utah marathon in Logan in three weeks and was quite a runner, having done several ultra-marathons in addition to many marathons. Robert told us he would drive behind the slower of us to scare any cows off the course and to illuminate the run for us. That was a nice surprise and a great courtesy. I'd been told I needed to provide my own water until the aid stations opened and that I'd need to provide my own light as well. I'd brought a headlamp, but it was great not to need it.
We started around 5:15 a.m. The first nine and a half miles were on a mostly-level gravel road in the Targhee National Forest. It was very dark when we began and slightly chilly. The stars were stunning and there was the teeniest sliver of a moon. It was a lovely place and I couldn't help but feel it was a great privilege to be out enjoying such a stunning landscape. We startled an owl nearby at one point, but the only other animals we saw were cows.
Doug was kind enough to run alongside me for the first five miles. I really enjoyed having someone to talk to, and felt great through the first three miles. I skipped a lot of walk breaks because the pace we were going was easy enough. At around mile three, however, the knee started acting up and I had to adjust accordingly. Doug was great to walk with me when the pain got too intense for running and with a few more walk breaks than I wanted to take, we got through the first five miles in about seventy minutes. About that time, the sun had come up enough to distinguish the path. Doug went on ahead, and I told Robert I'd be fine. He'd been great to follow after us all that time. He filled up my water bottle and then went on ahead.
I was on my own then, and though I was really worried about the knee, and some additional hip pain I now experienced, I felt like I'd gotten a great start. My goal at this point was just to focus on getting through the first ten miles, running as much as possible. Each mile that passed brought greater confidence, though the pain got worse. The gravel road was surprisingly easy to run on. I'd been worried since I've trained exclusively on asphalt, but though at times there were larger rocks to watch out for, there was plenty of packed dirt mixed with the gravel and it was easy to get footing. I loved the solo running, just me and the lovely landscape, with evergreen forest, open range, and some patches of aspen trees to enjoy. Watching the sun rise over the Tetons in the distance was just icing on the cake.
At around 6:30, I passed my first aid station. I told the volunteers I was pretty sure I was winning, but they pointed out that there was another runner (Doug) ahead of me. I was impressed with the offerings at this and every aid station I passed. Not only was there water and several varieties of Gatorade, but there was a good variety of fruit, in this case, bananas, grapes, and orange slices. Some of the aid stations had a variety of granola bars, power bars, Gu, and gel, and every single one was staffed by nice people. Even towards the end, when I was more towards the back of the pack, the aid stations didn't seem to change. They were still just as well-stocked for the slower runners as for the faster ones. My last two races had been really poor in that way, with aid stations virtually empty for the slower runners -- at the Hobble Creek Half, when I'd deliberately walked the last five miles in order to taper for this marathon, there weren't any volunteers at all, no sign of any food or gel, and some aid "stations" had just a few cups of water left on the ground. So well-stocked and staffed aid stations every other mile or so was not something I took for granted!
After nine and half miles on the gravel road, the course turned south onto the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. At mile marker eleven, we turned and got to run on the path overlooking the falls. Just before the turn, I started to get passed by the fastest of the male marathoners (the "real" runners!). It was an awesome experience to be an early starter, because I got to see and cheer on individually most of the other marathoners one at a time. The back of my shirt (which read "Mother of 8, Baby #9 on board”) got some comments and accolades from "Should you be out here?" to "You're an inspiration!" and I really enjoyed handing the compliments right back. Dane Rauschenberg, an author who ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 2006, was especially encouraging, which I thought was kind (I even got a mention on his blog later on).
There was a photographer near the falls and she got a picture of both the front and back of my shirt.
This picture doesn't do the falls justice:DH was going to meet me at the falls, but it took him a little more time to get the pain medicine I was begging him for (I'd passed an aid station at mile ten and took a half dose of pain pills, hoping they'd help, and knowing DH would have more for me if I needed it). My hip and knee were getting worse and I was hobbling through both the running and walking at this point, but feeling great that I'd gotten through my goal of running the first ten miles and that I was nearing the halfway point.
I met my husband, Joey, and Katie at around mile twelve and a half. Joey ran with me for just a bit.
I braced myself for a lot of walking as the pain was overpowering at this point. I prepared myself mentally to be walking most of the rest of the way. I switched my socks to cut down on blistering, and handed my watch and water belt to my husband. "The aid stations are well-stocked, so I think I can do without this stuff now, " I said. "Don't you need the watch?" he asked. "I'm in so much pain I think I'm going to be walking the rest," I told him. "At this point, all that will tell me is how slow I'm going, and I don't need that!" I tucked another half dose of pain medication into my pocket (I used it around mile 17).
I walked for about another quarter of a mile after meeting DH, but blessedly, the pain started to subside – maybe because the the pain medicine started to work, and certainly the result of all the prayers said on my behalf. I began to run again just before the half-way point. The half-marathoners were gathered at the side of the road waiting for their race to start. It was somewhere around 8:30, because not long after I passed, they started to pass me. They were a great cheering section. They cheered me as I went by, and then I heard the exclamations as they read the back of my shirt. "Mother of eight! My word!" One half marathoner told me later that I was famous among them. Another told me, "I heard about you." Still another, later on in the race, told me that after I'd gone by, she couldn't decide if I was crazy or amazing. We were in the last few miles by that point, and I told her I couldn't figure that out myself.
The pain was still present, but not enough to keep me from running. After I passed the half-marathoners, we turned onto a dirt running trail for three and a half miles that overlooked the Warm River.
There were wildflowers along the path. The sun glistening along the river below brightened my spirits. Best of all, I could run!
The next four miles were just fabulous. I figured as long as the pain wasn't too bad, and I was able to do it, I would just keep running. I took no breaks and just ran and ran and ran, all the while being passed by the pack of half-marathoners (remember, I’m a slow runner!). It felt amazing. I felt strong and healthy, and I told myself, "THIS is what I've trained for, and THIS is how I want to run all of my next marathon." I figured every mile I got through was another one I wouldn't have to walk, and that felt great.
I felt as though I could go on forever, and I didn't take a walk break until I was nearly at the end of the dirt path. We passed a campground, along with mile marker 17, and headed into the hardest part of the course -- a two-mile hill that curved around and up to the farmlands that would make up the rest of the run. It was starting to get hot, but most of the hill was shaded by trees. It seemed to last forever and I ran a lot of the first part of it, but then decided that with eight or nine miles still to go, I should conserve my strength. I enjoyed talking to some of the other people walking the hill and cheering on the runners who passed us. At mile 18, I still felt strong and great and anxious to tackle the last eight miles. Mile 19 saw the end of most of the hills, though there were a few more in the rolling farmlands we followed the rest of the way.
About this point, the heat started to bother all of us. I heard from an EMT at mile 22 that it was already 83 degrees, and that was before 11:00. Usually the weather is much cooler at this time of year, but the day before had reached 96, so the heat was to be expected. Most of the earlier miles had lots of shade, but now we were in open farmland with none. Still, it was beautiful to see the wheat and potato fields and the aid stations were manned by friendly townspeople, some of them with sprinklers!
I dropped cups of water on my head every chance I got and it seemed that every time the heat really started to bother me, there'd be a nice kid with a sprinkler ready to spray us off or an aid station with cups of water at hand. My husband drove by once just in time with a water bottle I poured on myself.
While at mile 18, I felt on top of the world and stronger than ever before, by mile 20, I began to feel the effects of the long run. I started to understand better why a couple of the runners wore shirts that said "A marathon is a 10K with a 20-mile warm-up." My legs felt like jello and I felt like I was moving through mud. I was slowing down -- I knew I was going pretty slow when a half-marathoner passed me while I was running, and she was walking! Still, I felt fabulous and on top of the world. In my mind, the race was already won and the miles between me and the finish were just details. I passed or was passed by a couple of people who had hit the wall and the discouragement on their faces was evident. I tried to cheer them up and remind them how close we were, or when that didn't work, distract them with conversation if they wanted to talk.
Every mile that brought me closer to the finish line felt wonderful and I cheered at every mile marker (earning me some smiles from my fellow runners). My knee and hip bothered me more and more, but so did every other part of my body. Still, it was awesome to move closer and closer to the finish line. Mile 21, with just five miles to go, was great. Mile 23 was even better, though by then the mile markers seemed to stretch further and further apart.
With three miles to go, I mentally ran my regular three mile training route in my head, trying to judge where I was by comparing the distances. "Just to the river path and the foot bridge will be another half mile. Then another half mile to the road, another half mile to the bridge, across the river and then I'm turned back heading for home!" I found that when I tried to estimate the miles this way, I underestimated how much distance I'd covered and mile 24 appeared out of nowhere.
Mile 25 took a lot longer to appear, and that last mile was the longest of the run. My hip was bothering me a lot, but I fell into place beside a half-marathoner who was using telephone poles to push herself -- run to one pole, then walk to the next. I figured I could handle that, and we enjoyed a brief conversation. With a quarter mile or so to go, I left my run-walk friend and tried to run as much as I could. There were many finishers walking along the main street by now, some of them enjoying their free huckleberry shakes. "The finish line is just around the corner," they called out, but I couldn't see the corner, nor even judge how far the finish line might be from it. It felt like it might never arrive. But the corner did finally appear, and I ran around it with a huge smile on my face.
I crossed the finish line feeling great. I wore my medal proudly and celebrated for a few moments with my husband (Joey was watching Katie at the hotel). They had fruit and pizza there, and I felt as though I could eat three or four full pizzas and still not be satisfied. I settled for three or four slices. My jacket was waiting for me, along with things the other runners had dropped at the aid stations (no buying throw-away clothes for this race -- we were spoiled!). After just a few minutes of standing around, it was torture to move again, but DH had walked the mile from our hotel and I knew it was good for my legs to walk that distance to prevent cramping.
It took me over six and a half hours to finish, but considering I'm slow to begin with, I'm 15 weeks pregnant, I'm still 25 lbs overweight (can't safely lose that until after the baby's born!), and that I was running injured, I'm so thrilled and proud. The best part is that I know that next time, it should be a piece of cake to beat that time, and there won't be any pressure.
And about that next marathon? I know many first-time marathoners have such a poor experience that they vow right after the race never to run again. I didn't feel any of that. I loved almost all of the race. The middle part, when I was convinced I'd be walking, was the worst. Being able to run and run and run after that point, from miles 13 to 17, were the best. And the last six miles, when I was so tired and my entire body begged me to stop, were the most rewarding. I'll certainly be back, and I hope that I get to run the Mesa Falls one again. The course was lovely, the volunteers were wonderful, the aid stations full of wonderful goodies, and I'm so grateful for farmers and their families for their sprinklers! It was a wonderful experience and I loved it.
I'm a marathoner now.
I'm going to savor that title for a little while.
I'm going to savor that title for a little while.