Friday, June 10, 2011

Newport Marathon 2011 Race Report

The Newport Marathon is my absolute favorite marathon so I was really looking forward to doing the race for the third time.  I drove down to Newport with my friend Laura who was also running.  As always, hanging out with Laura was an adventure.  We grabbed some food and left just after lunch, trying to avoid Friday afternoon traffic.  I’ve never been on a road trip with Laura before and she took this opportunity to tell me that she has a hard time staying awake in the car.  Kind of a problem with her driving and all. 

We decided to stop for coffee and somehow not seeing a Starbucks anywhere (shocking I know) we stopped at a McDonald’s.  Funny how those are easy to find. But when we pulled up to the window to pick up our drinks the girl said the espresso machine was being cleaned and it was going to be 45 minutes til we could get coffee.  She said this like maybe we’d wait.  By now Laura’s lack of energy was getting critical.  She was singing Barney songs (“I love you, you love me”) to keep awake.  Fortunately we found another McDonald’s and enjoyed a diabetic coma-inducing caramel drink of some sort, no doubt 10,000 calories.

We arrived in Newport, hit the cute little packet pick-up and headed towards the beach to check out our kick-ass house.  So nice.  We spent a lovely afternoon on the deck enjoying the sun, relaxing and going through our SWAG bags.  Newport has the coolest SWAG ever: q-tips, fish oil tablets, 5-Hour Energy drink, taffy, coupons, toothbrush, sunscreen, and more.  I love it.  That’s in addition to the bag of cool stuff you get at the finish.  Yay Newport!  And it’s about half the price of other races.  Other marathons could learn a lot from Newport.

Friends Aleta & Esther joined us for a beer and our other housemates Seth, Teresa, Amber & Josh trickled in.  After a lovely pasta dinner and a restless night, it was time to hit the course.

This is the first year Newport has had an early start but I didn’t take it since the course was going to be open for 7 hours and I’d been told all early starters would be listed as walkers in the results. I lined up with all the runners and we headed off.  A funny thing happened though: apparently ALL the slower runners did early start because even though I did my first mile in 12:30 (fast for me) within 1-2 miles I was alone. Completely alone.  This has never happened to me at Newport.  I could not see another runner ahead of me or behind me and that would be true until mile 9 when I started seeing people on the out and back.

That was my first break-down that day.  Watching everyone run off and leave me in the proverbial dust, being all alone on the course as far as I could see, was emotionally very hard for me.  There’s a part of me I try to ignore, a voice that says: you’re too fat, you’re too slow, you walk too much, you don’t belong here, you’re not a real runner and every time I race I try to ignore that voice, tell it to shut up and leave me alone.  During Newport, all alone on the course, instead of shoving it aside I said to that voice, “Fine, hit me with your best shot” and I let all those feelings flow over me until I started to cry.  And cry, and cry.  I ran and cried. I walked and cried.  I wondered if the spectators were thinking “Jeez she’s crying after 2 miles, how is she going to get through the next 24?” and I cried even more. It was very therapeutic though to face those insecurities and feel the emotions and eventually those voices faded away all on their own.

I finally saw another person around mile 9 as the leader flew by me on the long out and back.  That cheered me up because I knew the other runners were coming behind him.  From miles 9-15 I saw all the other runners and walkers, fast and slow, friends and strangers, and many Maniacs.  At least 3 people recognized me from Maniacs or Daily Mile and said Hi to me, it was so cool!  I saw my friend Josh cruising along at a blisteringly fast pace on his first marathon.  Yay Joshie! Close behind I saw Seth and Laura.  Later I saw other friends like Aleta and Esther as well as several other Maniacs and Running Chicks I knew.  Mentally that was the best part of the race for me and that part of the race seemed to go the fastest.

Unfortunately I wasn’t going the fastest. While I’d lost a lot of time in the beginning dealing with my emotional stuff, I was now losing time for other reasons.  A knee injury was making my knee stiff and later it became swollen and painful.  My feet were blistering terribly.  I was having back spasms.  And most of all I was hot.  It was 85 degrees that day, hot for the Oregon Coast, really hot when it’s been in the 50s for the last 8 months and this is the first truly warm day.  I’ve never been a fan of the heat.  While I deal with heat a lot better than I used to after a 12-Hour race in 98 degree heat last summer, I still could feel myself getting slow and lethargic as the temperature rose.  I was cramming in fluids & electrolytes to keep myself going.   

I saw that the heat had affected many other runners.  Ambulances kept going by every few minutes and I saw many, many obviously super-fit runners walking and looking like zombies, making me glad that I knew what to do to keep myself safe in the heat. Newport really rose to the challenge though.  Volunteers and police officers were cruising the course checking on runners, offering water bottles between aid stations and handing out fruit.  They were all so great.

I’d had a discussion with Seth about not letting things that come up in a race be an excuse to give up and not try my best. I’d taken that very much to heart, and while I knew it was hot and I was in pain,  I continued on, focusing on doing what I could with the conditions I had that day.  No judgment, no whining in my head about how miserable I was (and God knows I was seriously miserable) just thinking to myself: “I can do this.  I can run to the pole. I can walk a little faster.  I can keep moving”.  And I did.

After the out and back turnaround at mile 15.5 I was pretty much alone again, other than the volunteers.  I cried a lot, sometimes from physical pain, sometimes from loneliness, sometimes just because I felt so emotionally raw from facing my demons earlier in the race. I passed 3 people, those were the only other racers I saw.  I was glad to see that despite the fact we were bringing up the rear, every aid station had volunteers, fluids, cups and gels when they were supposed to, no matter how slow we were going.  Again I say, a lot of races could learn from Newport. Portland Marathon?  Rock N Roll Marathon?  Are you listening?

I continued to try to run but by this point I was running 30-60 seconds for every 5 minutes I walked.  I just trudged along the best I could but between my back, my knee and my blisters I was in serious pain.  I knew if I could just get to the aid station at mile 24.5 I’d find Seth there and I’d have some company.

When I got close to that last aid station I saw Seth & Laura walking out to meet me.  I was so happy to see them that for about the 12th time that day I burst into tears.  They told me about their races while I stumbled along crying and when I felt the most miserable I begged Laura to tell me a story.  Here’s what I love about Laura: you say that to her and it’s like she’s a little wind-up toy, she talked and talked and took my mind off my pain a little bit and Seth gave me his strength and love and told me I was OK and I felt better.

The funny thing when you’re truly tired in these races is you feel like you’re going fast when you’re not.  Several times earlier in the race I’d felt like I was sprinting only to see I was running a 14-minute mile.  As we were walking that last little bit of the race Seth commented that he couldn’t believe how fast I was still walking.  I looked down and I was only doing a 17-minute mile. 

With Seth & Laura’s support and encouragement (and assistance when I started hyperventilating from crying) I somehow got through the last 1.5 miles.  We reached to top of the hill around mile 26 and I knew it was all downhill.  Literally. All I could think was the sooner I was done, the sooner I could get off my burning feet.  I don’t know where it came from but suddenly I took off running, possibly the fastest I’d gone all day, I’m not sure but it felt really fast. For the first and possibly last time in my life I even dropped Seth, although he was all stiff and nursing his own injury.  I charged down that hill as fast as my legs would carry me.  I could see my friends waiting: Teresa was doing a little dance on the side of the road,  Amber & Josh and their family were cheering me on, and finally I was done. 

Despite their fatigue from their own races my friends swarmed around me like a pit crew, helping me find a chair, taking my shoes off, getting me food, picking up my race shirt.  That’s how cool my friends are. There was also a volunteer at the finish line to spray you down with water and cool you off and there was still fluids & food at the finish line, that’s how cool the Newport people are.

In the end it was both a PW (personal worst) in that it was by far my slowest marathon ever (about an hour slower than I usually do on that course) and a PB (personal best) in that I really dug deep that day, faced some demons, and continued on through both emotional and physical pain.  And for that I’m grateful.

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