Marathon Day continued

The end of the “training run”

A few other things that happened before mile 20: the clock at mile 18 showed 3:18-ish, which was great as my fastest 18-miler in training was 3:22:22 (and chip time would be even a little better). Somewhere along the trails there was a particularly enthusiastic spectator, a boy about 12 in a slate-blue sweatshirt who yelled “Here comes Hilary! Go Hilary” or whatever & really made me feel good. Wearing my name on my shirt was the BEST–I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do that (I’d say no more than 15% of the runners wore their name). It is such a boost to have people call you by name. I smiled every time–in fact, I pretty much had a huge grin on my face for the whole race. When the photos are finally up they will all look identical!

Speaking of crowd support (which was excellent), there are tons of good things to say to a runner. “Looking good,” “You can do it,” “Way to go,” all great. But I did notice a few things NOT to say to a runner….

  • Please do not say “You’re almost there” before mile 14! In fact, don’t say that until mile 25. At least.
  • Similarly, “It’s all downhill from here” when it’s NOT is less than helpful.
  • Finally, please don’t clap your hands and say “Let’s go!” I am going, as you can plainly see, and you are standing still. I’m not going to break into a sprint and wreck my race plan just to satisfy your need for speed.

I planned on taking my first gel at mile 20 or when I hit the wall, whichever came first. But I remembered from the expo talk that the aid station was at mile 19 1/2, so when my Forerunner had beeped for what it thought was 19 1/2 I started looking. An EMT on a bike passed me (Steamtown is GREAT with safety, there were 30+ EMTs patrolling the course & 4 “sag wagons”) and I asked when the next aid station was. He immediately looked concerned & asked me what I needed, then said the water was right around the corner. I pulled out my tangerine PowerGel and started sucking it down–and boy, did it taste good. My body was more than ready to soak up the calories. On to mile 20 and my big change of strategy!

Miles 20-26.2

At the first high curb after the 20-mile sign (the signs were VERY visible and reassuring), I sat down to change my socks and fix my laces. Socks were definitely a production but the laces were even more so. I’d never used the little tab on the tongue which presumably is supposed to have the laces threaded through it to keep it in place, and this wasn’t the greatest time to start. The left shoe was OK but I misthreaded the laces every possible way on the right shoe. Argh! I couldn’t believe how long this was taking. People were streaming past me. Finally finally I was done–it must have taken about 4 minutes–and I got back up, fumbling with the moist towlette to wipe my face. That did feel good and I got underway. At first my feet didn’t feel any better, but quickly I was back in the groove and ready to start turning up the heat just a tiny bit. I felt good! Now to launch the next step of my strategy. I looked at my left wrist and saw G for Grit and imagined a storage tank in my left shoulder, full of stored energy from all of my training. I started thinking about “grit” and visualized little bits of granite. Pressure and friction breaks down what’s soft and the grit is left, impervious. It will not break down, it will not go away. That carried me through mile 20.

The next word was Perseverance and I thought about a stubborn bull, lowering its head and digging in its hooves and not yielding an inch. I saw it pressing its head against the obstacle and gaining just a fraction of an inch at a time, but not letting up. Not giving in. Zoom, mile 21 is gone. I feel great! I don’t even notice the stiffness and aches any more. The killer combination of gel (with double caffeine!), the ibuprofen kicking in, positive thoughts, and the finish line drawing closer is working like a charm. That’s when I started to notice that I was catching up to all the people who had passed me while I was changing my socks, and that no one was passing me. And boy did THAT feel good! Somewhere in here I saw the family with the boy in the blue sweatshirt again (they were driving from point to point to support someone), and he greeted me like a long-lost friend.

Mile 22, Endurance. (I quickly dropped the storage tank idea, just thinking about the noun was enough). Lasting it out, in it for the long haul. Letting ups and downs wash over me, sticking it out. It really helped to focus on the images because the surroundings were dull–we were running through industrial parks and closed-up warehouses.

The next-to-last aid stop was a little after mile 23 and I took my second gel. I offered my spare to the people around me and got a taker, a woman who said she hadn’t had breakfast. She looked pretty exhausted. Lots of people were walking. I got passed by a few people while I ate my gel and drank my water, but once I got going again I’m 99% sure I passed them all again. What was my word? Oh yeah, Determination. That means choosing my own course, controlling my destiny, picking a goal and heading for it no matter what. Keeping my eye on the target. My mind and heart in sync. Here was the first hill, only about a block, not too bad. I’m waiting for the big, awful, 3-block hill around mile 24.

And here it is, Electric St. Yeah, ok, it’s a steep hill, but it’s not really *that* bad. Crowd support is great here, it’s a nice residential neighborhood and everyone is having parties out on the lawn. There are signs and balloons. Very soon I recognize the spot I walked back to from the finish line last year when I was scoping out the race. Is this–this can’t be the top? I asked some guys and they said it was, but there was another hill coming up on Washington Ave. (which I knew). But that was it, that was the big hairy deal hill? Pshaw! And now we’re going down again. “Will” is the word for mile 24, and I visualize a steady flame. But I’m not spending too much time with the mental imagery any more because I’m ALMOST THERE! Once I was past the Electric St hill, I knew I would beat 5 hours, I knew I woudn’t have to walk, I could feel the reality of the finish line drawing me like a magnet. And whenever I thought about it I started to choke up a little bit. I hit the lap button when I passed the Mile 25 marker–10:04! I couldn’t believe it!

Up a gradual hill and around the corner (“This is the last turn” say the traffic volunteers, “straight on from here to the finish”) onto Washington Ave. I can see the crest of the last hill. Here’s the last water stop–I don’t need it, but I figure some Gatorade now might speed my recovery later, so I take one cup. Not too many people ahead of me. At the dip where it starts to slope upwards, there are two big burly guys, one in a kilt, and they simultaneously high-five me as I run between them. Here’s the last hill. I start seeing the beautiful buildings of downtown Scranton–the old high school which is now the junior college, and right across the street is the library. I pass Cooper’s, the goofy seafood restaurant that has a huge wrecked pirate ship and bigger-than-life octopus on the roof, and I know I’m past the steepest part. I cross Mulberry and there’s the finish line, 2 blocks away. I hear the announcer for the prizes (the awards started at 12:30–I thought they’d be long over by the time I got to the finish!) There’s blue-sweatshirt boy again–I dash over to the left and high-five him. Last block. The barricades are packed with people!

My brain knew Jonathan was going to be on the left, but there’s not much conscious thought going on at this point. I see my co-worker Shannon, her husband Charley, and their daughter Lauren on the right, waving and clapping and shouting, and I zoom over there and high-five the 3 of them. Then my legs bypassed my brain entirely and TOOK OFF in the sprint of my life. Part of me scanned the crowd on the left but I was heading towards the chute like a maniac (and why? for 5 seconds off 5 hours? but there is NOTHING like the adrenaline of the finish line. I have only felt it in the 3 previous races of my life, and it’s an amazing experience). My feet barely touched the ground and there I was, over the mat, wrapped in a mylar blanket, and realizing I had to take my hat off for the volunteer to put my medal over my head. Someone handed me a water bottle, I quickly grabbed some food, and headed out of the recovery area to find Jonathan. There he was, he hugged me and I burst into tears, incoherently gabbling “I did it and I feel great!”


I knew I’d cry, but it didn’t last long because I just felt so FANTASTIC! Shannon, Charley and Lauren joined me, I hugged them all and starting babbling about how great I felt and how amazed I was that I hadn’t hit the wall. I saw Geri and Al and hugged them, & then saw blue-sweatshirt-boy and mortified him by hugging him as well. I tried to focus on eating some pizza and drinking my water, and Jonathan reminded me a few times I had to turn in my chip. (“How could you forget to turn in your chip?” I had wondered before the race. Very, very easily!)

Eventually I went to pick up my bag–and ran into Chris the racewalker (he finished under 5 hours!) & had to hug him too (he would have rather shaken my hand but I was already committed to the hug by then!) I decided not to try and shower. Instead I went to the massage room. That was pretty cool–dozens of massage therapists and tables set up in the Federal Building, a lovely art-deco palace. I waited about 10 minutes, gobbling down a yogurt and realizing how amazing those mylar blankets are–they really keep you warm. Kelly was my massage person and she complimented me on how loose my muscles felt–“you must have really trained,” she said. She just lightly worked over my legs, but it felt good. On the way out I put on my T-shirt–yay!–and posed for an after-race photo. Then I walked a few blocks to the mall & met J in the foodcourt, and we headed to the car. On the way out of town we grabbed a bag of ice and I put it on my knees. We also stopped at Krispy Kreme!

It was a long ride home but I was just basking in the good feelings. One of the best things about the marathon, I was thinking, is that it’s DONE–it’s not like most other projects where there are further things to do, loose ends to tidy up, next steps to take, etc. I did it and it’s OVER and no-one can ever take it away from me! I am a marathoner!

OK, enough for today. Celebration, afterthoughts, statistics tomorrow. Thank you all for reading this interminable saga!

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