I am warning you that this will be long since it has been nearly a decade in coming. It has been almost exactly 8 years and 9 months since my last marathon (Honolulu) when I knew nothing about running and didn’t even own a watch! I didn’t mean to have that big of a gap, but here I am, plus three children and nine years and minus 10-13 pounds. Here my trusty Garmin is too, since I purchased it right after Honolulu for that marathon I knew I would be doing soon. Yes, I run with dinosaur technology.
It all started with a particularly bad running week, our first week in Colorado two months ago. I was tired, I didn’t know where to run, and I had not seen ANY runners. None at all. My long run was a pathetic 7 miles that Saturday and I pitifully thought: I will never run again. But then I had the chance to run with two women a few days later and one of them mentioned that she was running a marathon in just over seven weeks. High on endorphins and happy to know I was not the only runner in town, I told her that I wished I could do it. “Oh, do it! It will be beautiful! It will be fun!”
Always find out a person’s idea of “fun”. Always.
So I got home and joked about running a marathon and my dear husband told me I should do it. It would be no problem. The timing was perfect. I had to sign up. 26.2 miles? No worries at all. Now my husband, I am pretty sure, thinks I can fly. He is one of those people who believes I can do things that I am not sure about. It would never do to have too many of his type in my life because I would end up on a bridge flapping my arms or something strange like that. But one of him in my life is just about right for balancing out my sometimes-too-cautious nature. And here’s the thing, I wouldn’t have signed up if somewhere deep down I didn’t think I could do it. But I exercised caution, bumped my Saturday run to 14 miles, found a training plan, and decided that I would go for it. Maybe.
I followed my training plan and it felt like it would be okay. I also was feeling the need to do something just a little crazy. It was the same feeling I had when I moved to Michigan with a newborn and, 9 weeks after giving birth ran an inaugural half marathon nearby. This was an inaugural marathon in Estes Park so it would give me the chance to run in the mountains (7500 feet) in beautiful scenery while giving our family to see part of our new state. I checked out the elevation map and it didn’t look bad. I could just roll down if I got tired of running, right?
So I registered and trained and you would be amazed at how fast seven weeks of training goes! In some ways, it was the perfect amount of time for me and it fit nicely with the start of husband’s semester. I hit my peak training just as he began teaching. I got to taper as our schedule got tighter and it really worked out well!
So Saturday we loaded up the van and drove to Loveland. I had an entire suitcase devoted to running. Two pairs of shoes, three shirts, four sports bras… you never know which piece of equipment is going to malfunction!
Having only done this taper thing once, I have to say that I am zero fun the day before a marathon. I was careful of my eating, drank tons of water, didn’t want to do too much, tried to get lots of sleep, avoided too much caffeine. We didn’t see a whole lot of Estes Park, though what we saw was breathtaking. We were all asleep by 8:30 pm the night before. Life with a marathoner and three small children is BORING when it comes to night life and interesting food. My typical response to elevation has been headaches and slight dizziness so I did a preemptive strike with Tylenol. I felt great!
I got my race pack down in Loveland and then we made the drive to Estes. It was so lovely, except for the fact that I was seeing the course I would be running the next day and what the overall course map doesn’t show is that the last 6 miles are quite hilly. By the time we got up the mountain I was quite discouraged and upset that I’d chosen this run and dragged our family on a road trip. But we made it through the day and checked out the Stanley Hotel where the race began (not to be confused with checking into the hotel).
We got almost 8 hours of sleep. Well, I did. I got the fold out bed and Husband got the 2 boys who woke him up every hour and a king sized bed. I woke up at 4:30 am and went through the preparations I’d planned. Weather.com lied. I was promised 46 degrees at the start but we actually got 35. Brrrr!
Everyone was up and we were out the door at 5:22. There were under 200 runners in the marathon so it was not big at all. I mostly huddled in the van trying to stay warm until we moved towards the start. It was pitch dark at 6:00 and the race director was kind enough to let us stay at the start with the van. It was so cold! There was a lot of talking, none of which I caught, and we started late, probably after 6:10. Down the hill we ran followed promptly by a longish climb. I hit my first mile split in 8:29, a far cry from the 8:01 I was supposed to be keeping. I didn’t know what to expect from the course, but tried to let the terrain guide my running. And the terrain went down. It was about a 2500 foot drop in elevation from the start to the finish and I found myself settling into a fairly comfortable 7:37-7:55 pace. By the time I hit mile 20 I was about a minute under where I needed to be for a 3:30. I tend to be pretty consistent in my pacing and this was no exception.
There were water and Heed tables every few miles on the course and some very kind volunteers. There was no Gu passed out, which meant I had to figure out how to carry mine. Generally I stuff a couple in between my sports bras but going up to elevation made the packs puff up and… well… awkward. So I took a Gu at the beginning, one at mile 6, one at 12, and one at 18. I had an additional Gu but it got lost on the course somewhere. :-( Since we were running down the two lane road that takes you to Estes we were limited to the shoulder of the road. They had marked it off with cones and the police did a great job of helping out as well. Because there was no place for people there were hardly any spectators and not much cheering. There were two women in particular who drove down the mountain, stopping periodically and cheering for whoever passed by. They were awesome. There was quite a bit more traffic than I anticipated, but the drivers were all very good. This is Colorado, after all, so they are probably used to someone at all times skiing/running/biking/snowboarding down their mountains roads.
But there were a couple of issues. First, my Garmin (and many other runners said this as well) was registering 0.2 more than each mile marker. It is kind of hard knowing at mile 3 that you will not be done until 26.45 miles. Secondly, we were in the canyon until about mile 20 which offered nice shade, but then we were in the direct sun just as the hills began. And when I looked at the last 6.2 miles of the course (because by the end everyone, even the fast male runners, were complaining about how bad the hills were), here is what it looked like. So basically you trash your legs running downhill and then get sun and hills at the end.
But it was so beautiful! Not as amazing as I imagine trail running must be, but still, how often do you get the chance to run down a canyon in the Rocky Mountains beside the Big Thompson River? Leaving Estes Park I saw a lone Elk standing placidly on the other side of the road just watching us. And seeing the sun come up and the sky change from black to all shades of pastel over the tree lined mountains was just breathtaking. I wish I could have taken pictures of what it looked like to be running down hill and to see runners spread out along the road ahead of me. Clint got a picture of the sky outside the hotel.
Because of my disappointment after seeing the course the day before I was not quite sure how to run the race. Eventually I decided I would just aim for my 3:30 and see what transpired.
I was doing okay on pace and breathing and felt decent until about mile 21. Around that time there was a big hill and it was sunny and hot and I was feeling the results of running downhill. The hill was big enough that I actually walked for about 30 seconds while thinking: I don’t know that I really want to do this anymore. I made myself start running again, afraid that I might not want to if I kept walking. I walked through two aid stations after that, as well as 20 seconds up part of another hill. I just didn’t care. Those hills were in a nasty place and I was just tired. Mile 21 to the end was very much a mental game; I had to divide the miles into parts and then even smaller parts in order to finish.
And where was my Dear Husband during this time? He had the three darling children who had been awake since 4:50 am. They went back to the hotel, got dressed, ate, checked out of the hotel and headed down the mountain. They caught up to me just past the half marathon point. Clint would drive a bit, get out, cheer loudly, take pictures, hop back in the van and yell, I love you Babe! and repeat. He did that for 13 miles. It was so fun to see him show up and it was nice to have my own cheering squad. He made sure to stop on the last hill (Loooooong hill) around mile 25 which meant that he missed the finish because he had to carry and escort three small children across the parking lot, but he definitely made the right call.
I hit the 26 mile marker with 26.2 on my Garmin and then had to keep running what seemed like forever. I crossed the finish and then found that I did not want to move. My poor legs. I finished (gun time – there was no timing mat at the beginning) in 3:34.43, which qualified me for Boston and was way better than I thought I would do on that course. I was the 45th finisher and 14th female. I was 4th in my age group – let’s hear it for women in their 30’s! The first woman won in 3:12. This was not a course for breaking Colorado’s records at all! We stayed at the after party long enough for husband to eat the free meal (I was feeling sick) and for me to drink the free beer (not sick enough to pass up a beer) and for me to attempt to feed Liliana in a crowded bathroom. Fun family marathon times.
The marathon was put together to raise money for the flood victims from last year and I loved that they used so many local business (some of the food was local) and the medals were actually hand made by potters in the area. Pretty cool!
For the minimal training I did I feel pretty happy to have gotten by with some sore toes, and sore quads/calves/shins. Also, my right arm is killing me? I need to get some sort of strength training going before my next marathon because I do not like having sore arms from running! Speaking of the next marathon, I did not actually know that registration for Boston was opening the next day -that was completely a surprise! Am I the only one who feels like committing to another marathon while my body is still sore is akin to giving birth and then promptly planning to get pregnant?
It will not be almost a decade before my next marathon, I promise that!