Monday, March 10, 2014
High fives from my nieces and nephew. A pat on the back from my dad and shouts of encouragement from my mom. My brother and sister shooting pictures and videos with their cellphones. A thank you from a complete stranger.
Soaked, tired and sore, I crossed the finish mat, and like David Ortiz crossing home plate, I kissed my fists, tapped my chest and pointed to the sky. My first, and most definitely not my last, marathon was complete.
I reached a huge milestone in my journey as a runner Sunday morning when I finished the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon in Hampton Beach, N.H.
Not too long ago, that was a week worth of running for me. Sunday, I did it all in one shot. Four hours, 47 minutes, 54 seconds. It's a trip I will never forget, no matter how many times I cover the distance. As soon as Sunday's race was finished, there was no question in my mind, I am going to do this again. And I'm going to do it much faster.
I approached Sunday's race with few, if any, expectations. My goals were to finish, have as much fun as possible running 26.2 miles (A marathon? Fun? Really?), and enjoy some time with my brother-in-law Jeff (who also completed the marathon), my sister Amy (who ran the half marathon) and my former co-worker Elizabeth (who also ran her first marathon Sunday). I had no time goal, though at the start of the race after talking to the group I was with, I determined under five hours was a good time to shoot for, but I promised myself not to let that dominate my thoughts.
So I lined up in a crowded corral with thousands of other runners (953 people finished the marathon, another, 3,825 finished the half marathon) nervous, a little tired (does anyone sleep the night before a race?) and cold. We were in that corral for nearly nine minutes after the starting gun went off, shuffling back and forth, finally walking, then ... hey wait a minute, we're running ... we crossed the start mat.
The first few miles of the race were a breeze. I tried to stick with Amy and Jeff, occasionally jogging ahead to chat with Elizabeth. We sheepishly chuckled at the runner, who less than three miles into the race had some "stomach issues" and did a sort of sprint/skip into the nearest bushes, grabbing whatever paper he could find on the way. I don't think he made it, poor guy.
Feeling pretty strong, I surged ahead of the group I was hanging with around mile 9, only to realize what I had done and slow down in hopes they would catch me. The last thing I wanted was to go too fast, and I really wanted to stick with them for as long as possible. If I could do anything to help Amy and Jeff set personal records, I wanted to do it.
But when Jeff caught up, he told me I should take off and run my own race. OK, I thought, I'll do that. Wait. No. What is "my own race?" I had no plan for myself. If I left him now, what kind of race would I run?
I was still feeling strong as we approached mile 10 and decided, what the heck, just run under 11 minute miles for as long as you can. See how it goes.
At mile 11 we made our way back toward the finish line and split off from the half marathoners. All of the sudden, the group of runners around us shrunk dramatically. Instead of having hundreds of people immediately in front of me, I had 20 or 30. As the miles stretched on, that number became smaller and smaller. At any time, I could see five, 10, maybe 15 people in my general vicinity. At about mile 13, as the course twisted and turned through neighborhoods, I looked around and realized, I was all alone. I couldn't see anyone in front of me and heard no one behind me. Just great. Only halfway done and I'm running by myself. This ought to be fun.
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