Thursday, April 16, 2015


I did it!  I raced the GO! St. Louis Marathon on Sunday.  I am a marathoner!!  The weather was not exactly ideal but it was good enough.  The crowds were wonderful.  The volunteers were top-notch.  And the camaraderie among the runners was just as I'd hoped.  If you just want the Cliff Notes version, that's it.  If you love race day minutiae, however, read on.  I've got it for you in spades:

My dear BRF, who was not running due to injury, offered to drive me to the starting line, and I greatly appreciated her calming voice and peaceful spirit in the early morning hours.  I was sad that she wouldn't be by my side on the course, but I looked forward to seeing her, along with my family, at various points on the course as my dedicated cheering section.

Waiting around before the race, I felt more calm than I expected.  I chatted with a few folks, but I mostly sat quietly on a park bench waiting for the race to start.  I'd packed my pre-race fuel (I love to eat a peanut butter graham cracker and banana immediately before a long run) and ate it just before I entered the starting corral.  Again, in the corral, I felt calm.  I took in the sight of the huge field of runners, focused on my breath, and waited for my turn to go.

The view in my starting corral; my mantras for the day;
pre-race shoe selfie.

The wave start was a bit haphazard.  We neatly lined up in our corrals, but the officials did not put much distance between the corrals.  The elites took off on their own, and then the rest of us more or less went out in two massive herds.  Not at all the start I was expecting, but the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd kept me at an easy pace for the early miles, an essential part of my race strategy and one that I thought would be hard given race day excitement.

The crowd remained very thick throughout the early part of the race.  Our first mile took us through downtown St. Louis and then onto the first of two bridges.  The bridge trek was fun, though the running lanes on the first bridge were quite narrow, and my pace stayed lower than I expected.  We crossed over into East St. Louis, IL, and I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd support.  Many residents were out cheering, and the atmosphere was very upbeat.

The only thing dampening the Illinois crowd was the rain that began to fall.  Rain?!  It wasn't supposed to rain!  The forecast showed 0% chance of rain that morning.  Yet here I was, at mile 2.5 in a sprinkling rain.  Fortunately, the shower was very short-lived; it was done by the time we crossed the second bridge heading back to downtown St. Louis.

My incredible support crew on race day.  Not pictured are the photographers: my dad and older sister.
The Little Lady is also absent from the pictures but she was surely there
high fiving lots of runners along with her sister :)
Running on the second bridge, I learned the phenomenon of mechanical resonance.  I suddenly felt unsteady on my feet and momentarily worried that something was wrong with my electrolytes or hydration.  Then I realized that everyone else felt it too: the bridge was bouncing from the feet of so many runners.  Like the rain, the sensation did not last too long, but it was a bit unsettling.  The traffic on the second bridge seemed even thicker, and I worked hard to keep a lane so I could pass slower runners on the uphill section.

By mile 4, we were finishing up the second bridge and heading towards the north part of the city.  We heard a great live band at mile 5, and I saw my cheering section there, too!  I waved and blew kisses at them, feeling strong and happy.  My pace was right about where I wanted it, and though the field was still dense, I felt like I was in a good groove.

Elevation and pace chart for my race.
Clearly, I started taking more frequent (and slower!) walk breaks near the end,
but my running pace stayed remarkably consistent throughout.

Mile 7 took us back to the starting area with an absolutely bustling crowd!  High energy and wonderful enthusiasm.  By mile 8, I had finally found my way out of the thick group of runners.  I felt like I had some breathing room and could set my pace a bit more easily.  I saw my husband, kids, and other sister at mile 9 and collected some quick hugs before continuing towards the Anheuser Busch Brewery.

The fans near the brewery and in Soulard were spectacular, as always.  I saw a good friend at mile 10 and gave high fives to my kids at mile 11 as I headed back up Broadway towards downtown.  Miles 11 and 12 included lots of uphills, but I kept telling myself "kill the hill!" as I charged and passed people left and right.  In mile 12, I found myself next to a woman who was running her 100th (!!) marathon.  I stayed in her general area for almost 10 miles, and she and her posse were a wonderful boost to my spirits.

At mile 13, as the half marathoners were upping their efforts towards their finish line, I had to remind myself to stay focused.  I felt myself getting swept up in the energy of the finish line crowd, and I had to work hard to maintain a steady pace.  Once the half marathoners turned, the course became a ghost town.  We headed (uphill!) into a more industrial part of town, the fans were sparse, and the runners felt few and far between.  As I neared mile 15, my left knee started complaining, and I hit an unexpectedly hard mental period.  I saw my parents/sister/BRF right around 15 and told them that it was getting tough.  My sister reminded me that my only goal was to finish, a timely reminder that sharpened my focus.

Still churning out industrial-area miles, I saw my husband/kids/sister again around 17 and stopped for a moment to talk to them.  I knew I was close to Forest Park, so I felt mentally renewed as I ran away from them.  Entering Forest Park was like finding an oasis in a desert.  The crowds were energetic, music blasted, and I fell into step with a few more runners.  I cruised through familiar sections of the park for several miles feeling tired but content.  When I saw my parents/sister/BRF at mile 20, however, my commitment to the cause was flagging.  I paused to eat some banana and drink water and told them that I really just wanted to sit down.  They pushed me away, wisely saying that sitting was a terrible idea.

A summary of the day: running strong; crossing the finish line;
legs up the tree post-race; my crew in matching shirts.
My sister and BRF offered to run with me for a bit; I asked if we could walk instead.  We walked for almost half a mile, and though I can hardly recall what they said, their energetic and encouraging voices kept me going.  When they peeled off, I told myself that I'd start running again in 20 more steps.  Nearing the end of this walk break, a kind runner asked if I was ok.  "You look strong!" she told me.  "Pump your arms.  You can do this!"  Too tired to disagree, I followed her directions and resumed my running stride.

We remained in the park through mile 22, and I kept up a reasonable pace.  I stopped to walk at each water stop, with my walking pace becoming slower and slower each time, but I always returned to my run and told myself I only had to run until the next water table.  I saw my husband/kids/sister again at mile 23, and my husband ran and walked with me for about half a mile.  He kept trying to push the pace, but I assured him that I was moving as fast as possible.  He pointed out that I only had a measly 3 miles to go, the equivalent of a simple neighborhood loop that I've run hundreds of times.  I told him that I wasn't sure I cared to finish, but he called my bluff.  "Go get it!" he told me.  "You've got this!"

After parting ways, I headed back into the industrial stretch this time with tired legs and a headwind.  Mile 24 found me running uphill with the wind in my face.  Instead of feeling defeated, however, I pushed my pace on the hill and told myself that this is just how things happen for me.  I don't get the easy path; things don't just fall into my lap.  Instead, I work hard, fight through tough conditions, and get the job done.  I walked (slowly!) through the water stop at mile 25 and told myself that I had to push hard to the end.  No more walking until I crossed that finish line.

I felt mentally recharged in that final 1.2 miles.  My knee ached, my hamstrings were fatigued, my toes hurt, but I was going to finish strong!  I turned up the pace even higher at mile 26, not sure that I could maintain it.  I charged down the final straightaway, sensing rather than actually seeing the crowd, hearing their cheers but with eyes solely focused on the finish line.

This photo captures it all: joy, pride, exhaustion, and the unbelievable
feeling that I set out to do something hard and I did it!!

And then I crossed it!  Upright and smiling, just as I had hoped.  Under 5 hours, as I had dreamed.  Under 4:40, the goal I set for myself in mile 24 when I needed motivation to run rather than walk.  I crossed in a time of 4:38:33.  The feelings that flooded in that moment were unlike anything I could have expected.  Elation, fatigue, invincibility, strength, pride, amazement jumbled together in a crazy mishmash in my brain.

I saw my family a few minutes after I finished, and all I could say was "I f@#*ing did it!"  I apologized to my oh-so-innocent mother for the strong language, but nothing else could capture my thoughts.

I did it!  I f@#*ing did it.