Monday, March 22, 2010

The Finish Line

When you train for your first marathon, veterans always say "don't worry about the time.  Your one and only goal should be to finish."

Which, of course, it should be.  But if you've been running for a long time, and you're super competitive (like me), you can't help but have a target time in mind.  And even worse, we all entertain visions of the Boston Marathon in our heads, even if we've never completed the full 26.2.

My initial marathon goal was fairly conversative.  Five hours seemed fair, since that's what most of my friends of similar fitness did their first time out.  But the more I ran, the faster and stronger I got, and the lower and lower my target goal became.  5:00 became 4:30 which morphed into 4:15, maybe even 4:10 and an outside chance of sub 4:00.

The mind is a dangerous thing.  Because the truth is, as much as you train--for the miles, the fuel, the pace, the course, the conditions--nothing prepares you for the actual feeling of the marathon.

I wasn't feeling very anxious going into the race, though I didn't get a chance to do my normal routine of light yoga and deep breathing.  I felt amazing at the start, which probably led me to commit the cardinal sin of marathoning--going out too fast.  No, 9:30 pace isn't THAT fast, but for me, the queen of 10:00+ first miles and negative splits, it was probably a little too fast (but of course, I had in the back of my mind that 9:30 splits=4:10 marathon.  Again, the mental part of this game is the hardest!).  I didn't feel anything until around mile nine or ten, when I noticed my breathing was more shallow than normal.  And where was my rescue inhaler?  Um, back in the gear bag.  Not my brightest move.

I made it to the half marathon point around 2:05, and my legs were still feeling great, but my breathing was becoming increasingly more difficult.  My friend Katie caught up to me around mile 14, which calmed me down, but I still could not get my breathing under control.  I tried stopping, deep breathing, yoga, walking, slow jogging, but nothing worked.  I couldn't find a medic, either.  So I kept going, but was becoming increasingly more anxious and started to panic.  Around Emory (mile 15, I believe), I saw a Team in Training coach.  She could tell I wasn't okay, and I said I needed an inhaler.  We jogged a bit, hoping to find a medic, but ended up in front of the CVS on North Decatur Road.  She suggested we buy an inhaler there, and luckily, I had a prescription.  The pharmacist was amazing.  She found a cheaper version of my prescription (Jessica, the coach, only had $20 in cash--lesson number 573, carry cash on the course!) and had us on our way in a few minutes.  I thought that would be the end of my struggles.

I was wrong.  About half a mile later, as I entered infamous Druid Hills, I started to get extremely nauseous.  And then I puked.  In the bushes of some two million dollar home on Lullwater Road.  I was hoping that was it and kept running.  And then I had to stop.  Every time I ran, I felt nauseous.  I couldn't eat any GU, and I could barely keep down water.  So, from mile 16 until 22, I repeated the torturous cycle of running for a few minutes, stopping to retch what little was left in my stomach, walking for a few minutes, trying to run again, repeat.  And the irony--my legs felt great!  They weren't even sore!

When I finally saw my husband at mile 22, I nearly cried.  He walked with me the last four miles, and I was so grateful to see many of my amazing friends--Angela, Erin, Sara, Lindsay, Mallory, among others--along the way. Right before the finish, I saw our head coach, Tommy Owens.  He gave me a hug, and I ran the rest of the way in.  I don't know how I managed to smile in the photo my friend Sarah took of me at the finish, because immediately upon stopping, I puked again and was escorted to the medical tent, where I spent the next hour hooked up to an IV for fluids and trying to figure out what--in the five hours, eight minutes and eighteen seconds I'd been on the course--caused everything to go so horribly wrong.

Because the truth is, I thought I was prepared for anything that could go wrong.  Blisters from the rain, my right hip seizing up like it had my last few runs, running out of fuel.  I'd done everything I could to prepare.  I'd run on the course four weekends in a row.  I knew every hill and every turn.  And I didn't alter my routine.  I had the same food the night before and that morning; the same hydration and fuel during the race; the same shoes, the same clothes.

But there's a reason less than one percent of the population completes a marathon.  It's gruelling, not just physically, but mentally.

But I made it to the finish line.  Why?  Not just sheer stubbornness, but because of the color I was wearing, because of the logo on my shirt, because of a cause I represent much larger than myself.  I'd never been prouder to be a part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program than I was yesterday.  Because five hours of a little physical pain is NOTHING compared to what cancer patients and their families go through day in and day out, without the medals or ceremony or fanfare.  You don't get a t-shirt for dealing with chemo.  Or a medal for being a survivor.  For them, the finish line is a moving target, uncertain and fleeting.

And until that finish line is certain and guaranteed, you can find me out on the streets.  Running.


  1. Way to go Laura - beautifully written and as insightful as ever. So very proud of you and in awe of your talents.

  2. Congratulations Laura! How inspiring! Brava Brava Brava!

  3. Laura -
    As a fellow member of Team In Training (running San Diego this summer), let me tell you how proud I am of you for finishing your first marathon -- especially given the harsdships you endured. You have my admiration and respect. Like those we run for, you faced adversity and refused to give up. I can think of no better testament or lesson for others to emulate. Again, congrats, I'll be following your progress as a marathoner. Best of luck on hitting that sub-4!

  4. This is amazing Laura.

    Your strength and courage to finish because of the cause you were running for is admirable. Finishing is great, finishing and not feeling defeated because of a few minor setbacks is amazing!

    I admire your courage and your strength! Go get 'em!

  5. Laura:

    This is an amazing story from an amazing woman. Thanks for your courage to face down the challenge.

  6. So proud of you my dear. You fought through it all and still pulled out a freakin amazing finish time. I love you dearly. And love how you put TNT into words.

  7. Thanks so much for your honesty in sharing your experience. Your story has so many lessons in it, but I am struck by your conclusion: mission makes all the difference when facing difficult (if not seemingly impossible). The "why" can make all the difference.

  8. Congrats to you. And I admire your courage!

  9. Well you brought tears to my eyes, Missy. What a tremendously deserved triumph on so many levels! While the mind might be a dangerous thing, as you said, it was obviously your heart, as well as the hearts of others, that got you through. I am just thrilled for you and truly impressed by your fighting and kind spirit.

    WAY TO GO, YOU DID IT!! Now go to The Highland Bakery, I hear their peanut butter chocolate cupcakes do wonders for muscle recovery.

  10. You are so awesome!!! Bravo for finishing, bravo for writing this, bravo for giving us readers a little perspective in your penultimate paragraph. Wow! ((((((((((Laura))))))))))) (That's a hug.)

  11. You said it, girl! Raw, perfect words to describe a hard earned finish. And the "why" behind doing what we do ~
    Lots of love, Jen

  12. Congrats on finishing your first marathon! Loved reading about it! You are amazing at putting your experiences into writing.

    I'm inspired to start training for a half marathon now!

  13. Excellent post! And you are right, it is so much more mental than physical on race day. Congratulations, marathoner!! Maybe once you are recovered and ready we can explore some things to do differently next time.

  14. WAY TO GO!! Whew, that story was rough. Good for you for signing up for another!!

  15. Oooooh, I got goosebumps reading your last paragraph. You're an inspiration. I'm so proud to call you my friend!


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