I ran my first marathon in Portland in 2006. To be honest, I did not enjoy very much of it. It was more challenging than I ever imagined. In December of 2010, I ran my second marathon in Sacramento. Someone asked me why I was doing it a marathon if I did not like it the first time around. I said, “Because I want to try it again. I think it could go better the second time around.” And it did. At the time I had a five-year old, three-year old, and one year old and I needed a weekend alone. So a weekend in Sacramento running in the California International Marathon plus lots of alone time, reading, eating out, meeting fellow runners was a good thing.
Now I have to tell you that three times is a charm. Running in Seattle last weekend was even better!
Warning this post is very long! I want to share my whole experience. For those thinking about trying a marathon, please contact me if you have any questions. I am a high school track drop-out. I struggled to run a full mile when I took up running in 2000. I never believed I could do this. But I can. And you might love it as much I do.
We left Friday afternoon. We had to be at the Runner’s Expo no later than 7 PM so I could pick up my racing packet. I kept reading the lines on the Final Information directions, “You must pick it up by Friday. NO EXCEPTIONS.” If anyone has ever lived near a big city, you recall how unpredictable traffic can be. I recall the time it took Rob three hours to drive from Cellular Field in Chicago to my workplace in Gary, Indiana (the same amount of time it can take to drive from Chicago to Michigan on a normal day). We could not get on the road until 11:30 AM due to morning obligations, but thankfully we only hit traffic in Tacoma and then into Seattle–it was not the prolonged stand-still never-ending kind.
Of course it was cold, pouring rain. Does it ever NOT rain in Seattle? I was grateful I packed rain coats for all three kids. We had to pay ten bucks to park, but we found a spot. After parading around the expo, we took three hungry, thirsty, and somewhat exhausted kids to our motel about ten minutes from downtown.
We stayed fairly close to the University of Washington by a massive shopping mall with fun stores we don’t have here in Salem. But no time for shopping. We enjoyed a family dinner at the RAM Brewery. This was a highlight for me. As we were eating together, coloring kid’s menus, and glancing at the Track and Field Olympic trials on the TV, I realized how much easier it is going out to eat in a sit down restaurant versus a year ago. I recall visits to Red Robin or Applebeeswith kids constantly playing with everything on the table, crying, climbing on everything, and not wanting to sit for more than two minutes.
After dinner it was getting close to 8 PM. We had to get up at 5:15 AM. Rob told me I was in charge of setting the alarms. He said he would set six alarms. I had to laugh because anytime we have to catch an early flight, alarms keep going off every five minutes. I set three.
It took some stern warnings and lots of shushing before the kids settled down. Rob and I watched TV on his iPad in the motel bathroom…doesn’t get any more romantic than that. Even though I was in bed at 10, I probably woke up every hour. At 1:30 AM, the youngest was stirring. She is all the over bed when she sleeps. Plus the room was way too hot. I put the fan on cool and managed to get a few more hours of sleep. My mental alarm woke me up twenty minutes before the first alarm sounded.
Everyone was up by 5:15 AM. We managed to get everyone dressed in the car by 5:40 AM. I munched on a granola bar and downed a thing of Gatorade. Nerves were pretty intense by that point. We did not hit traffic until we hit the I-5 off ramp. Then we were in stand still traffic. I think we went a mere mile in twenty minutes. It was at that point the youngest started coughing and the gagging quickly turned into vomit. I hate throw up in the car–there is nothing worse. So I am grabbing baby wipes trying not to get any on me. Running 26.2 miles smelling like vomit? No way. Disgusting. Then I am freaking out to the point of tears. What if she has a stomach bug and what if I am getting it too? How can I run 26.2 miles if I have a stomach bug? My stomach hurts right now. But is it just nerves? I tend to be a little bit of a drama queen when it comes to stomach bugs and illness.
And we’re not getting any closer to the starting line. Roads are starting to block off. It’s 6:20 AM. I see droves of runners walking towards the Seattle Center. So I jump out of the van, grab an apple, and follow them. Rob takes the kids back to the hotel for breakfast and rest.
I get to the Seattle Center and there are thousands of people, but not a single sign directing runners. Where in the world is the gear check? I ask six people and the sixth person knows and says I can follow her. We make our way all the way to the complete other side of the Seattle Center and check in our gear. I make my way back checking the clock. It’s 6:45 AM. Fifteen minutes until start time. Do I have time to go to the bathroom? I HAVE TO go to the bathroom. I go into one of the buildings. The bathroom line is somewhat decent. I will take the flush toilet over the port a potty any day. I overhear someone say it’s a wave start for the race. You start with your group number. If you miss your group, you just join the next one. I’m in Group #20. That explains why some of these people are not in a hurry even though the gun is going off in less than fifteen minutes.
I make my way to my group. Originally I said I would finish the race around 4:15 hence why I am in this group, but I wanted to shoot for four hours. The 4:15 pace group is right in front of me. Do I want to try and catch up to the 4 hour group? Stick with the 4:15 group? Or ditch the pacers and run my own pace? In my previous marathon, I was having a difficult time keeping up with the 4:15 group. They were about seven minutes ahead of me. I have trained better this around and my pace is faster.
Waiting for my group to start was probably the worst of it. When I am nervous, I just need to talk to someone. Anyone. I found a group from Boise to talk to and then some American Cancer Society runners. We waited about twenty minutes before we could start, but it felt so much longer than that.
Then we finally got to start and were running through the streets of Seattle. I realized how eclectic the race crowd was–people in banana costumes, tutus, and brightly colored socks. Tons of charity runners from the American Cancer Society, Leukemia/Lymphoma Society, and a group running for fallen soldiers dominated the crowds. Bands lined the course and cheerleaders dressed in bright tie dye outfits.
By around mile five we were exiting out of the city and closer to Seward Park which was by far my favorite part of the race. It was a beautiful park along the bay with a beach waterfront. It was at this point I caught up to the 4:15 pacer. A few other women were running with her. She was a petite lady with a thick Australian accent. She was so peppy and upbeat. I discovered most of the pace runners were stay at home moms to young children. Most of them had run marathons before and continued the hobby like myself. We swapped marathon stories, talked about our kids, and the places we lived. We even had a great conversation about working with middle schoolers. Our pace leader is a middle school principal. These ladies really carried me through most of the race. I was grateful for them.
After the park, we were back on regular city streets and then up the ramp to the I 90 (which they close off–no way we’d run side by side with big semi trucks). By this point I was having “the runner dilemma” of whether to stop at the bathroom or keep treading along. I was impressed this marathon had a massive amount of port a potties along the course. Too often there are a few and the line is long. So I made a pit stop because there was no wait. I managed to increase my speed again and catch up to the 4:15 crowd about a half hour and approximately three miles later.
We were heading in the other direction now on the I 90 hitting the tunnels one by one. We would soon take the down ramp and run by Century Link field. It was about Mile #19. I was running slightly ahead of the 4:15 group. At one point I could not even see them behind me. Once I stopped at an aid station and walked very briefly, they always passed me until I caught up. By that point most of us were quiet focusing on the run. One step in front of the other. The next mile to the next and the next. You don’t really think about anything at that point–just keep moving. It is almost more difficult to stop and then start again than it is to keep running non-stop.
By the last mile one of the 4:15 girls took off and wished me luck. The pace leader encouraged me through the last mile. I told her my right knee was hurting and right thigh starting to ache, but there was no way I was stopping. I was going to keep going. Even up the killer hill a breath away from the finish line. Who puts a hill by the finish line!? We finished together side by side. Final time? 4:11:22! Not breaking four hours, but a personal PR. My time in Portland was 4:38:00 and Sacramento was 4:22:00.
When I finished my first marathon I was angry and frustrated. When I finished my second I was giddy and thrilled. When I finished my third I cried! Apparently my husband and the kids watched me finish. There was such a massive crowd and my mind was focused on pushing forward–I did not even see them.
After being handed water, Gatorade, bagels, smoothies, chocolate milk, and a space blanket, I meandered over to gear check. I grabbed my cell phone and celebrated with my family over the phone. Then I had to try and find them which turned into a game of cat and mouse. He put the kids in the van and was in bumper to bumper traffic. I can hardly walk faster than a turtle’s pace and I am trying to figure out how to get to Denny Way. I heard other runners on their phones saying, “I’m all turned around. I don’t know where I am.” It took some back and forth driving and walking, but we finally found one another. The only thing on our agenda was getting out of the city. Especially because the near perfect warm, sunnyish weather quickly turned into a downpour. I am so thankful the rain came after I had already finished.
There were just over 3,000 marathon runners and 14,000 half marathoners. It was a BIG event. I was grateful and blessed I could be a part of it. I realize I can do something not everyone can do. I do not take it for granted. It is a gift and opportunity God has blessed me with.
What’s next? I am walking all this week and getting into the pool a little as my body recooperates. Then we’ll see. Maybe some biking, weight training, and a little running again. Maybe another marathon in the future.
No pictures of the actual race yet. I have to surf through all the professional photos they took of us. It is very difficult for my husband to keep tabs on the kids and take pictures at the same time. I did see some runners taking their cameras with them on the race. I might have to do that next time.