I want to preface this race report with the following thoughts:
- I am grateful that my body stood up to a four-month training cycle without injury, even though I was less-than-disciplined about taking care of it properly.
- I am thankful that I did not get sick as I usually do, during my taper.
- I am thankful that I am brave enough to sign up for, and disciplined enough to train for, a 26.2 mile race.
- I am thankful that my people are as crazy as bats and think that running marathons is sort of a normal activity.
(Sit back and pour yourself a cup of coffee because you might be here a while. )
The groundwork for this race was laid back in 2009 when MFP suddenly, and without warning, became unemployed, because the company he was working for failed to get a refinancing loan. He was out of work for six months. Those months were dark and scary months, and they permanently altered my outlook on life.
Until you have experienced looking at your children, who depend on your for everything, and not being sure that you will be able to provide for them, you will never imagine what this feels like.
It is the ultimate feeling of insecurity, which unfortunately has not dissipated, even with re-employment. I continue to wake up in a cold sweat when I think of how soon we will have to send Oldest off to college.
For the most part, I can compartmentalize my fear of the future; generally I walk around day to day feeling somewhat happy-go-lucky. (Running helps.)
But when MFP has a stressful work week, I fall back into my dark place and start panicking again.
As luck would have it, we had such a week leading up to race day.
In addition, on Saturday before the race, MFP had to work. He was supposed to return home by 6 p.m., at which point I thought I might be able to relax and rest up for my race.
All day Saturday thoughts of gloom and doom twisted my stomach into knots; therefore, I did not eat. Frustrated, I stood at the kitchen counter around 5 p.m. the night before the race, coaching myself into getting some food in.
“You can at least eat a sandwich!”
This is par for the course for me. When I am feeling stressed, I cannot eat.
“You just need daddy to come home. Then you’ll feel better,” said Middle, who had overheard me talking to myself.
“You’re right. He’ll be here soon.”
I felt like if I could just interrogate him I could figure out whether or not I could relax and feel secure again.
Around 6:30 p.m. he sent me a text.
“The SIHTF over here. I won’t be home anytime soon.”
I tried to take a deep breath and shovel some pasta down my throat. Mind over matter. Mind over matter.
I sent the boys to bed around 9 p.m. and half-heartedly laid out my running clothes, forgetting both my sunglasses and hat, even though race day was predicted to be sunny and hot.
I got into bed around 10 p.m. and tossed and turned. I got up and read a book. I paced the floor.
Finally around midnight MFP arrived home.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“I’m just tired and hungry. I need to eat.”
Finally somewhere between 1 and 2 a.m. we both fell asleep.
At 3:45 a.m. my alarm went off, and despite only having had an hour or two of sleep and no food the previous day, I got up and marched over to my pile of running gear and suited up.
MFP heard me stirring and asked:
“What time do you want us to come down? Where should we meet you?” he asked, still half asleep.
“You need to sleep. And have some time at home after the week you’ve had. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be home by lunchtime,” I said.
So off I went down to Long Beach, to run 26.2 miles.
Parking was easy, as I had reserved a parking spot online the night before. I try to always park a half of a mile or more away from the start so that I can get some walking in both before and after the race.
I got caught up walking with a group of women who were running the half marathon, and who were complaining about silly things like how much time they had to spend at their chiropractor’s office the day before getting their legs race-ready.
I decided it was in my best interest to go to the other side of the street and walk alone.
The sunrise was spectacular, and I tried my best to let my worries go and embrace the moment.
I also tried to remember all of the sweet messages that people had sent me the day before on Twitter, Facebook and CM.
I checked my gear bag and got in line for the port-a-potties. Unfortunately, because I was in the first wave, I never made it to the bathroom. Tons of people who were in later waves were ahead of me, but I didn’t have the energy to negotiate with any of them.
Instead I jumped the corral fence, still hoping that the energy of the runners would help me overcome my worries.
Before the starter blew the horn, the sun was already bright in the sky, and the cloud cover that I was hoping for was gone.
I took off at a fairly good clip, reminding myself to stay conservative and not try to throw down any 6:30 miles in the first 5K.
My speed wildly vacillated between 7:00 and 8:30, though my body had no way of feeling whether or not I was going too fast or too slow. I have never had this happen before. I always know when I am going too fast.
And usually I am giddy on the first few miles, so happy to be there, so grateful, that I feel like I am flying.
Around mile two I stopped to use the restroom. I have never stopped to use the bathroom during a race before.
But I felt so much better after I did.
I kept thinking that the next mile would be the mile in which I would find my groove.
Just keep pushing. You’ll feel better soon.
Eventually, around mile 4 or so, I got into a rhythm of running bout a 7:45 pace, which felt about right. My plan was to run around 7:50 pace for the first half, and then start pushing after the second half.
But by mile 5 I was feeling hungry and lethargic, and I knew my empty stomach was catching up to me.
I took a gel at mile 7 and I knew this was the beginning of the end. I washed it down with a cup of a water and immediately felt the same excruciating cramps that I had on my last long run of the cycle.
The cramps make me want to bend forward for relief, so I had to really concentrate on running tall to remain upright.
Generally I start feeling bad in a marathon around mile 22 or 23. When I already felt bad at mile 7, I felt genuinely afraid.
I didn’t know if I could run 19 more miles with cramps.
I kept my head up, putting one foot in front of the other. Finally at mile 9 I felt a bit better, having run through the bulk of the digestion process.
But when the fuel ran out at around mile 11, I knew this race was going to be a bust. That’s because, out of desperation, emptiness, and fatigue, I took another gel and had some more water.
The process repeated itself. I ran through severe cramps every time I ate or drank. And then I felt better, but only until I felt empty and lethargic again. And then I took another gel. And so on.
From mile 7 to mile 26.2, that is how it played out.
But I knew I couldn’t give up. I might not have been in top form, but I had FIGHT in me on Sunday. I challenged myself to win the battle.
When I looked down and saw my pace faltering, I just prayed for the energy to put more speed back into my legs.
This worked for a long time.
Just go. Just go. Run tall. Just get to the next mile….
The unfortunate thing about the race, besides the disastrous stomach issues, was that I did not “find my group,” so to speak. I never struck up a conversation with anyone, and no one talked to me.
There were no, “What time are you going for?”’s or “Is this your first marathon?”’s.
I didn’t exchange so much as a smile with anyone I didn’t already know for the entire race.
The only women I saw were the five or six that past me on the final miles when my body was done fighting the battle and my pace had slowed to 12 minute pace. I know from the results that they were, in fact, there. But not running anywhere near me. Way ahead of me, perhaps. And behind me. But I was strangely stuck in no-woman’s land.
Generally male runners are really awesome and encouraging. But the men I ran with Sunday were the kind that surge when they see a woman getting too close.
I have to say, the Pasadena Marathon was awesome for camaraderie, and I think that was a huge factor in my PR that day. I talked to people in port-a-potty lines, along the course, on out and backs and on the last few miles. It really helped to calm my nerves and inject energy into my stride.
“Come on, let’s do this!” That’s what I heard from my fellow runners on the last few miles of Pasadena.
“We’re almost there! Come on!”
I didn’t appreciate it enough that day.
At Long Beach I only heard moans and footfalls. Especially after we broke off from the half-marathoners.
When I told a few of my friends that I was running the LB marathon, I got a lot of side-eye rolls.
“Yeah, that one can be kind of dicey.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the weather can be iffy, humid and hot, and the course is super boring.”
Three friends tried to warn me.
This is lesson number one that I took from this race: ask experienced runners about races before you sign up for them. They have already been through it. You can learn a lot from them.
What I learned about myself is that I am a fighter. Though perhaps it would have been smarter for me to have taken a knee.
But I thought about the boys when I wanted to quit.
Oldest showed me that running through cramps is possible, because he did it in his first cross country race this season.
Middle showed me what a patient and smart racer looks like when he ran a perfectly executed race on Saturday. I thought about him while I was formulating a plan in my head to endure my stomach cramps on Sunday.
Youngest showed me how to have spunk even when you don’t feel it. He lives and runs this way every single day of his life.
I stopped to adjust my shorts at around mile 21, and that was it for me. The last few miles my cramps were so bad that I had to really force myself to keep running.
But I thought if I could just keep going, it would be over sooner.
The last few miles of this race are a long, straight stretch. You do not turn right or left. You do not run through a patch of shade. You do not run up or down a hill. I felt like I was going a bit crazy, searching for the end on the horizon.
“You’re almost there! You’re almost there!”
But the end could not come soon enough.
Finally, we ran back into town and I saw the finishing chute. I turned the corner.
I heard the announcer, “Rebecca from La Crescenta is about to cross the finish line folks! Come on, Becky. Let’s see a smile!”
I tried to force one. It wasn’t easy.
As soon as I crossed the line I heard a lady ask, “Are you okay sweetie?”
I wasn’t. But as long as I was standing, and everything wasn’t going dark, I was going to at least pretend.
Official time: 3:44:14.
I walked back to my car after the race and had my first interaction with a fellow runner.
“How’d your race go?” he asked.
“I got a cramp,” I said.
“Yeah, me too.”
And because I must have been feeling delirious, I said, “It’s good to have a walk after a bad race. I’m just going to have a walk now.”
And because he must have also been delirious, he said, “Yes, it’s good to have a walk.”
I got into my car, unleashed the tears I had been holding back for 26 miles, and then I headed back up to higher ground.