Wednesday, February 20, 2008


If you haven't read my previous post yet, you should, if you have the time, because then this one will make more sense. In fact, if you back up a few more, to "The End is in Sight, you'll see that I was calling this "My Last Marathon" weeks before marathon day, and that is what I planned to entitle my race report even then.

And then there was "The Plague," which nearly meant that at my most-recent marathon, the Vermont City Marathon last May, I had unwittingly already run my last one.

OK, on to the show.


    Photo by Ellie Hamilton around Mile 24

I needn't have bothered setting the two alarms. I'm awake at 2:30a.m. Just awake, not deathly ill, although I still have a headache and a scratchy throat. I work on relaxing all my body parts and dozing for another 2 hours. At 4:30, my planned rising time, I get up and take my temperature. 98.9. Hmmm. At low-temp time of day. I don't feel well. I do not feel like doing this. I feel like going back to bed. It's not too late.
One Imodium on an empty stomach with just a swallow of water is my standard day-starter when I have a race or anything that starts early and lasts long. Since I had the runs a little yesterday, I take one more half an hour later for insurance. I force down a little bit of yogurt. I do not feel well. But you never know, and I still want very much to meet Skatemom. If I don't run, I can give her a good-luck hug and ask her to carry my thoughts with her.

I put on my race clothes and drink some water, but I don't want it. I take a couple Tylenol and wake Steve up. It's time to go. If we go. It's still not too late.

Journey sees me with my running shorts and Ironman hat on, and pricks her ears, raises her eyebrows, and lifts the back corners of her lips. "Aww, I'm sorry, you're staying home," I tell her. Down go the ears. Down go the eyebrows. Down go the lips. Down goes the dog to her cushion. Down goes the chin onto the paws. I really don't have to do this.... I can still bail.

In my hip pack I have, along with gels, salt tablets, X-Strength Excedrin, and Imodium. On a last-minute flash of practicality, I also stash my insurance card into my pocket and write on the back of my bib, along with all my medical info, "Insurance card in rear shorts pocket." I have never done this for a marathon before. Ironman, yes, but not for a marathon. Today I pack my insurance card.

And we leave. I keep pondering saying, "Let's just turn around and go home.... I'm sick, I don't have a marathon in me today."

I wrestle with this all the way to the race.

We park somewhere and walk a few blocks to the start. I have not researched exactly where the start is, but we follow groups of people dressed for running, and we find it. The PA is blaring: "If you have had vomiting or diarrhea in the last 24 hours, do not run today. There will be other races. If you do not feel well today, do not run." ~Sigh~ He hasn't said, "Do not line up, do not find your friends." I still don't have to run just because I'm here.

I find Skatemom amazingly easily, in the 4:30-finish area, where we'd agreed to meet. Skatemom was running around 10:20-10:30 miles in training, and although I trained for a 4:15, I've been thinking for several weeks that although I'm making the training paces, there's no way I can keep it up for a whole marathon, but I've thought that on a good day I could pull off a 4:30, so that's where we start, even though I am still not sure I'm going to start, and less sure I'm going to finish.

Skatemom is delightful!! If you get a chance to meet her, you gotta make sure you do. She's so cheerful and delighted with everything and just makes you feel better just being with her. While we chatter, I leanmy back against Steve's front just for something to lean against, since there's no place to sit down.

And then the cannon booms and the fireworks go off and after a 6-minute walk with 12,000 other bodies we cross the starting mat under the rockets' red glare and I start my watch and we start jogging.

Skatemom and I talk about a bunch of stuff, and jogging doesn't feel half bad, and we make the first mile marker in 11:30 and walk a little. This isn't bad. In fact I feel a little better. We jog some more and then I start feeling actually pretty good. We hit a hill and I find I don't need to slow down for it.... I've run worse ones back home in Western Maryland and this is the kind I call a "Power Surge." And amazingly I find I have the power. I seem to have made that miraculous recovery I didn't hope much for last night. Or this morning.

Skatemom and I had different run/plans and after about 3 miles she want to follow hers (run 10 minutes/walk 1) and I'm thinking I can probably do OK with mine (run 2 miles, walk 2 minutes) so at that point we each go on with our own race. I'm going to miss the company, I can feel it already.

Although we started in the 4:30 start area, the pace group that was there was the 4:45 group. I didn't see the 4:30 group anywyere close and was thinking, since I probably wasn't going to finish and still might not even start, I wouldn't bother finding them. But now, 3 or 4 miles into the race, I'm ahead of the 4:45 group and feeling miraculously good and I start thinking, If I can catch the 4:30 group, then when I reach them I'll be able to slow down to stay with them. Or if I don't catch them, I can still run 4:30 pace myself and come very close to that at the end. If I finish. So I start running pretty peppy, looking at my 4:30 pace band and finding that by 6 miles I'm within about 15 seconds of the target split, although I still don't see the group. It can't be long now. I've been getting closer and closer with every split. Even though I'm running 2 miles and walking 2 minutes.

I was scheduled for a gel and salt tablet at 4 miles but felt like I didn't want them. Ick. I really didn't want them, even though I felt well, I just thought.... nah, I can't put those in my mouth right now. So at my 6-mile walk break I take those and then start running again to try to find those 4:30 folks. My watch is showing 1:02:26 at 6 miles. This is not half bad, considering the conservative start and my walk breaks. I am gaining on them!

But at mile 7 I see I've lost about 15 seconds and am now about 30 seconds behind the target split, and at mile 8, even though it's been 2 miles since I walked, I'm off by close to a minute. I don't feel as though I'm slowing but I obviously am. I'm fading. Maybe I better walk a little longer this time, rest up a little try to get it back. I duck behind a bush and take a quick stand-up pit stop, just for insurance.

At mile 10 I'm at 1:44, not a bad 10-miler at all; in fact, one I'd be thrilled with in a race.

But I can tell I'm getting tired, and I'm doubtful I'll catch that group, but the 4:45 group is still somewhere behind me, and maybe I better walk a little longer, maybe 5 minutes, just to save myself. It's going to get easier from here because the half-marathoners split off onto a different course, and by the half we'll have more downhills than ups. I'm going to walk awhile to be ready.

Except, somehow, I now feel really tired when I start running again. At 11 miles I've lost more time and I think, "When am I supposed to walk? 11 miles or 12? How many miles has it been since I walked?" Like, duh, walk every 2 miles, that's the even-numbered ones, sugar. But I was losing it.

At 2 hours I'm hurting. Hips, quads, neck, shoulders. I pop 2 X-Strength Excedrin.

By 13 miles I'm thinking maybe I'll call Steve and tell him I've had enough. I really do not feel peppy at all anymore. It's just going to turn into a bad day.

14 miles and the walks have become random, more frequent, and longer. It's been an hour since the Excedrin and I pop another one. What-the-hell, might as well go for broke, and I pop a 4th one. This brings me to the equivalent of 2 X-strength aspirin and 2 X-strenghth Tylenol (Excedrin is not very strong, really.)

I'm thinking the 4:45 group is still behind me, though, until the 5:00 group catches up to me right before mile 15. I tell them they've got a new group member and they welcome me. Approaching the mile marker, they tell anyone who wants to, to go ahead, because they're in a competition to see which pace-group leaders can come the closest to hitting the splits right on the head, and they need to slow down a couple seconds to hit it. It feels very comfortable running with them. I'm happy.

Less than 5 minutes later they leave me in their dust.

Maybe I can make a 5:30.

But by mile 17, I'm done. This sucks. I want to bail. I don't feel sick, and thanks to all the Excedrin I don't hurt... I'm just flat-out done in, just t-i-r-e-d. I've gotten my nutrition all messed up skipping scheduled gels and salt -- I've taken some but not all I planned because my timing, running, walking, sweating,and exerting aren't as I planned, plus I've just been forgetting. I started too fast trying to catch my pace group, ending up running under the right pace, and I realize I've blown up and blown it. I'm at 3:31 at mile 17 and even if I walk the rest of the distance I'll still make the 7-hour cutoff.

So that's what I'm going to do. I've gone this far, I'm not quitting, but I'm not running. This is my last marathon and I'm going to make it last and have a blast.

And once I make that choice, the worry is over, the pressure is off, I'm happy again, the frustration vanishes, and I start having fun, remembering what fun it is to have fun in a marathon, petting dogs, hi-fiving kids, joking around with fellow sufferers about how bad we feel, laughing uproariously over a sign on a church that says "TORTURE IS WRONG," groaning over the ubiquitous "It's all downhill from here" line the spectators keep tossing us, and I am partying there in the back of the pack and I don't care how long it takes me to get there, just give me my final medal and finisher's shirt and let me go out in a blaze of glory.

Now and then I get inspired and run a little bit. I pick up with a girl who's run/walking about 20/20 (seconds) and that feels good for awhile but then I decide to go back to walking. Some gallant spectator has left their chair and I sit in it and take a break for a couple minutes, cheering and getting incredulous laughs from marathoners shuffling by when I tell them I'm taking a break.

I walk or briefly jog with lots of folks. A guy who's got blisters. A woman whose hips are killing her. She's running with a man who's training for IM France so I regale him with my IM Florida horror stories. Now and then I sing out or yell out, "I AM NOT DOING THIS EVER AGAIN!!!" and get either laughter, cheers, or silence from my neighbors, depending on whether they're in it with me or too miserable to acknowledge or just listening to their iPods. But this is definitely my last marathon, I've known that for weeks, and I am celebrating it, hallelujah, baby.

Slowly the miles tick by, in 15, 16, sometimes 17 minutes. The end is near. I started, I've kept going, I have not DNF'd, I no longer feel sick (I must have killed it), and I'm going after that medal and shirt, and somewhere in the last mile I start running again and cross that mat running and grinning from ear to ear.

5:45:09 on my watch. It's done!! My marathon career is over!! I am never going to do this ever again!!

They are out of finisher's shirts.

6,000-runner field limit, 7-hour cutoff time, and they are out of finisher's shirts before 6 hours. How can that happen????? But I do have a medal, and then the clothing-dropoff-pickup guy tells me they may have shirts several blocks down the street at the "Shirt Exchange," where you can exchange the shirt you got at the finish for one that fits; or, if you have a race bib and medal but no shirt, you can exchange your no-shirt for an actual shirt, if they have any left and you want to wait in a long line.

I waited in the long line. I toughed out the whole course, I wanted my d*mn shirt. The shirts ran HUGE and everyone was exchanging for smaller sizes, and supplies were running low here, too. Luckily, even though I'm still 15 or 20 pounds overweight, I'm essentially a very small female, and they have men's X-small which fit me fine. So I am finally in possession of a finisher's tech shirt for my efforts and my $110 entry fee.

And we're walking back to the truck and I'm very, very happy to have started this race, let alone finished, and I'm tired but not sick anymore, and my quads hurt but not very much, and I never, ever have to run another marathon.

Except.... I trained so hard and I know the things I did that made it go wrong (besides getting bronchitis a couple weeks out) and I know things I could do differently (like following my race plan) to make it go right. Maybe I will do another one.

Just not this year.


bunnygirl said...

Wow. Congrats, Ellie! I'm so impressed with you for even starting, let alone hanging in there like that! You're one tough chica! :-)

TxTriSkatemom said...

Wow!! I am so glad you took the turn for the right attitude and enjoyed the day. You could have been dismayed and sad and frustrated, but you took a bad situation and turned it around and had what sounds like a wonderful experience in the end. And who knows how many runners' spirits you lifted for just a moment, as they laughed with you as you rested in the chair, or as you just relished the moment. What a great report -- I am now even twice as glad that we finally met in person!!

TxTriSkatemom said...

and, um, yeah... you'll get that weight suit and do it again soon enough. Dollars to donuts on that one, babe!!

Jade Lady said...

Thank you for your great story - you're such a tough lady - you kept going and made it to the finish line! Good for you.

ShirleyPerly said...

What an incredible story! Ellie, I am just so amazed at how well you managed yourself before, during and after this race. It's truly shows how strong you are.

And your writing is outstanding. Really, I could not stop reading until I got to the end. CONGRATS on your well-deserved race medal and shirt. I hope our paths cross again something in the near future.

Polly said...

I love people who shout out random things - lol.
Knowing you, you should never say never..........

Jack said...

Been there, done that, said that, said it again, and again and still running marathons - number 17 coming up on March 9, but then never again ;-)

TriBoomer said...

Hey Ellie,

That's an inspring story. Way to go for gutting it out until the finish. No doubt you'll hold dear the meaning of your finisher's medal and shirt.

Too bad I didn't know you were running because I was there racing the half. Next time you're in Texas please give me a shout.

Stay tuned...

Cliff said...


tough girl. Too bad you don't have a finisher shirt. Most important is the experience.

I say you should do another marathon =D

From Here to There said...

Ellie, you are hard core!