The days leading up to the Columbus Marathon, I found myself in a complete sense of zen. Or denial. Either way, I refused to really think about the miles that lie ahead. I didn't want to obsess. I didn't want to stress. I just knew that to get through it that I needed to be present.
And so when race morning came, I just went through the motions. I woke up 5 minutes before the alarm and groggily wiped my eyes as I walked to the bathroom. I made myself a cup of coffee, drank some water, ate oatmeal I had brought from home and went to the bathroom. I kept an eye on the clock but only because I was meeting C and her daughter in the hotel lobby to walk to the start.
Mark and I wised up this race, and we stayed in the Hilton, which was fairly close to the start. The walk, though, seemed unbelievably long as C, K, Mark and I made our way down High Street to the bustling corrals. It was colder than originally forecast, and I did have a slight moment of panic as I had forgotten arm warmers and my throwaway at home. Thankfully, it wasn't too bad and Mark let me wear a sweater till I got into the corral.
Everyone waited with me as I made a quick bathroom stop and then we went our separate ways. C and K to their corrals and Mark to the starting line. I slipped into Corral D, and I tried to make my way to the middle of the pack. I immediately spotted the 4:15 pacer (a 9:44 pace) and decided that I would try to start with him and move accordingly.
At 7:30, the first round of fireworks went off and I anxiously waited for my chance to cross the starting line. Twelve minutes later, I did. The 4:15 pacer did, too, but he seemed to go out at a pretty aggressive pace, and I made the smart decision to let him go.
Miles 1-9The first mile, despite being on a wide stretch of Broad Street, was congested. The last thing I wanted to do was waste energy early on trying to find a good pace so I consciously tucked in and went with the flow. It started to thin out as we neared the 2-mile marker, where I saw the half marathon and marathon front-runners blaze past as they made their way past the 7-mile mark. I saw them making their way up the hill I was running down, and I made a mental note that I needed to hold back to stay strong for what challenges lied ahead.
The course wound through Bexley, a historic suburb with grand homes and tree-lined stretches. It reminded me a bit of an area I get to run solo at home, and I tried to really look at everything around me. Soak it in. The architecture. The manicured lawns. The polite claps of the "people who emerged from their mansions to cheer on the common folk," as one runner put it.
We made our way past Capital University and wound along a wooded area as we again neared the Franklin Park Conservatory. I remember being struck by three women running together, each wearing a matching tank top. One woman pushed what seemed to be a stroller as another flanked either side. I was a bit surprised - there weren't supposed to be strollers on the course. As I passed, though, I realized they were part of the wheelchair event, and it brought home how lucky I was to be moving and to be moving in what felt like such an effortless way.
It seemed like in a blink of an eye that I had been blazed by the elites and there I was - past that 7-mile mark and running through the streets of Old Towne, where spectators filled the sidelines three or four deep. Their cheers echoing through the air. I kept an eye out for Mark, who was going to maybe be at mile 9. I looked and looked but did not see him.
And it was OK. I felt good. I didn't need him there.
Miles 9-13As we headed toward German Village, I felt a familiar agitation in my right hip. My heart. It dropped. I felt like things had been going so well, on track for a 4:1X finish, that it would be so unfair for my stupid hip to mess it up.
I took a step forward and focused. Did I hurt? Was my form suffering? Did it feel different than it had three steps prior? I breathed deeply and pondered. My answer to each question was no. I pressed on, inhaling. Exhaling. Focusing. Distracting. And somewhere along the way, it all disappeared.
At mile 12, runners began a downhill that took the half-marathoners to the finish and the marathoners to the split. I knew that this was going to be the big moment for me, emotionally at least. Not only would I be distinguishing myself as a marathoner but mile 12 was the Angel Mile.
Nationwide Children's Hospital is the namesake of the Columbus Marathon, and this year each mile was dedicated to a patient who has received or is receiving care there. Each marker had a photo of the child and a support crew for him or her and often times the child was there. It was a huge thing for me to see those kids out there. Kids who were stronger and wiser beyond their years and who truly served as an inspiration to me.
Mile 12, though, was dedicated to the kids who didn't make it. Parents, family, friends held signs in memory of the little ones. Photos and words to commemorate, to honor. I looked at the signs. The love in their eyes. And I could feel the tears welling. I think it would be an emotional stretch for anyone but as a mom to a toddler, I never cease to be reminded I am to have such an energetic, healthy boy.
Miles 13-18I passed the split and just beyond it, I saw Mark standing on the sideline. His camera out to capture the magic. So I gave him some, sticking out my tongue and trying to give him the finger. Yeah, I'm classy.
From there, I began breaking the race down and my next goal was to make it to Ohio Stadium at mile 17.5 where I would again see Mark. We ran through the Short North neighborhood and albeit cute in parts, this section was part of a long climb that could - and would fatigue the legs and the mind.
Again, I focused on staying strong. Steady. Present. It was much harder this time around, though, and I started to feel antsy as I saw runners on their way toward the 18-mile marker as I headed down to Ohio Stadium.
The chance to run through Ohio Stadium was a big thing for the race but the only thing I looked at was the stands. I was trying to find Mark. For the first time during the race, I felt my stomach drop. He didn't make it. He wasn't going to give me the encouragement that I needed. Just as I was about to let the disappointment wash over me, we exited the stadium and I saw him standing there. I high-fived him. Blew him kisses. And I knew it was going to be OK.
But first, I had to pee. Like, really pee. Standing in the cold at the start line had given me the urge but I had been able to suppress it for a majority of the race. I had seen portable bathrooms just past mile 18 when I had started the trek to Ohio Stadium and was doing my best to make it there. I did, thankfully, without incident but felt a bit like Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own."
Miles 18-FinishI emerged from the bathroom and did a fartlek to regain some rhythm but my legs screamed. The two minutes I had stopped had given my hamstrings enough time to tighten up. I tried a few more fartleks to stretch but it did no good. The legs, they had hit the wall.
I tried to stay in it, mentally, as best I could. I set my sights on the 20-mile marker after which I would be in personal distance record territory and in the downhill section of the course. I had watched the course preview a million times, and the words of the race director echoed in my brain. "Many runners have their fastest 5 or 10k through Grandview Heights and through Victorian Village through the final miles."
I hit mile 20. I made a note that I was now running farther than ever. And I waited. Waited for the downhill.
Don't get me wrong - there were declines in the course - but the downhill is net, meaning there were still rollers. And with every step up, my legs screamed. My ass, it was on fire. My shoulders ached. My toes were bruising.
If there was ever a time to gut it out, this was the time. I abandoned the notion that I had to finish in a certain time because time ... it didn't matter. I was going to be proud to finish. In those final miles, I walked a few times. Took two cups of water at the stops. Fought the pain. I didn't give in. And, most importantly, I didn't beat myself up for any perceived lack of performance.
My goal had been to finish strong but I feared it impossible as I headed toward the finish. And then a girl passed me. A girl in pink socks.
I dug. I dug deep. I kicked it. And I made it. In 4:26:25.
I crossed the finish line, and I immediately heard C and K cheering me on. I went to the fence and hugged them the best I could through the fence. I nearly collapsed in tears. While I am not a particularly emotional person, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and relief and pride.
The theme of this year's race was "Inspire." And inspired I felt wearing that medal. By the kids, by friendship, by people who left it out on the course, by C (who PR'D!!!), by love, by dedication. By the things life gives us and the things we do with it.