(As you’ll quickly see, this is very very very long. Unbearably dull to most normal folks, probably, but I’m writing for people like me who want to hear every detail!)
The alarm went off at 4:30 and I got right up. Not a great night’s sleep, but I did get some, and felt a little bleary but not too bad. I dawdled over go-juice (cold J coffee with lots of milk) and email–encouraging notes from my dad and brother, which felt great to read as a day-starter. I need some time for my eyes to unstick before I can put in my contacts, so dawdling was both calming and productive. No shower–to save time and because it would be pointless, I’m going to be dirty and sweaty by 8:30am. I Blister-Shielded *everything* (I keep writing BodyGlide when it’s Two Toms Blister Shield I’m using and am very pleased with), dressed carefully with lots of seam adjusting, slathered on sunscreen. Last-minute checks–SHOOT! I had this strategy worked out where in the last six miles I was going to imagine six untapped storage tanks in my body, full of things like “grit” and “determination.” I knew I needed a visual reminder, but I forgot to put it on my pacecard. First I tried writing on my palms, but they were greasy from sunscreen and I knew that would wear off. I ended up writing the initals on my wrists–G/E/W and P/D/C (more on that later). And I had wanted to carefully choose what music to listen to in the car; I quickly scanned my CDs and picked Elvis Costello Get Happy, The Damned Strawberries, and Simple Minds Sons and Fascination. Made a piece of toast with honey and peanut butter, and I was ready to go. J woke up enough to wish me luck and tell me I could do it.
A beautiful pre-dawn morning, with a crescent moon high in the sky and a very bright planet near it; lots of visible stars, including my favorite constellation, Orion. Get Happy was a great soundtrack. As I drove, faint light started to break in front of me. There was some mist in the lower areas, but nothing that slowed me down. I stopped in Lenox to use the Pump’n’Pantry bathroom; I didn’t bring any water with me because I was plenty hydrated & didn’t want to overdo it. My goal was not to have to make a bathroom stop for the entire race; I’d successfully balanced out hydration/sweat on all my long runs so it seemed feasible. (One of the questions at the race talk was how to avoid bathroom stops; Jon Sinclair had said to stop drinking about 2 hours before and to only eat lightly, but then the discussion went on to cover the hardcore guys who pee on the run & then toss a cup of water over themselves, and the lumber yard in Simpson whose owners have complained that runners urinate on the stacks of wood and make it warp & smell. Blech. No peeing on the run for me, thank you very much.) Get Happy finished and I put on Strawberries, singing along to “Generals” at the top of my lungs. It was a great drive.
At the start
There wasn’t any traffic in Forest City yet, but when I got to the high school it was bustling. As promised, teenagers greeted me, gave me a purple ribbon with the date of the marathon & offered a bottle of water. The halls and gym were full of runners stretching, chatting, relaxing, sorting gear. I did some stretches, got a garbage bag for the bag check, and tried to stay calm. On my way out to let my Forerunner catch some satellites, I saw Mary Garm, whom I’ve known as long as I’ve worked at the library (she’s now in charge of the Scranton area system) and who was in charge of the bag arrangements. She gave me a hug and wished me luck. It was great to see a familiar face!
I ran very slow laps in the parking lot to warm up. A radio station was set up and the Channel 16 helicopter was flying overhead. I used a port-a-potty one last time (NO LINES for the women’s, although the men were about 12 deep!), stowed my warm gear and put on my garbage bag, and brought my bag to check in. Another hug from an old friend, Donna Melvin, who used to work at the Forest City Library. Although one of the emails from the race committee had listed pace groups and the slowest was for an expected 4:30 finish, I was delighted to see kids holding up signs for 11 minute and 12 minute mile groups. I positioned myself between the two signs. The sun was up and you could feel the excitement building.
Near the 10 minute pace sign I saw Donald Teague, my elderly buddy who’d been at the “information booth” the day before. I’d asked him if he was going to run this year, and he’d said he was registered but hadn’t made up his mind yet, as he hadn’t trained very much. So I was thrilled to see him getting ready. He still didn’t seem very psyched but he said he’d give it a shot. I headed back to my spot & chatted with the person next to me. Her name was Emmy, she was another first-timer and had no idea what her time would be. I didn’t see her after the start–hope she did OK.
I couldn’t hear much of what was being said but the masses of people ahead started cheering and then there was the loud boom of the cannon. Gradually we started walking towards the start. I hit the button on my Forerunner as we crossed the mat–it wasn’t that long after the cannon, under 2 minutes certainly. Within a block it was clearing out enough to break into a slow jog. Bobbing heads filled the street as far as I could see, an amazing sight.
I passed 3 people in bright yellow shirts that said “THE ABOMINABLE SLOW MEN” on the back (one had “AND WOMEN” written in). We turned the corner onto Dundaff Street, the steepest downhill. It wasn’t that bad–the Montrose 5K has one that’s much steeper and longer, as do many of my training runs. We turned again onto Main St/Rt 171, where most of the spectators were lined up. I spotted a sweet-looking German Shepard and realized it was a dog I knew–it was the Juniors (Diana, the Forest City librarian, her husband Andy and Honey) and they cheered me on. (Well, Honey didn’t cheer.)
I kept telling myself to take it easy, but it wasn’t that hard–although there was plenty of start adrenaline, at the rear of the pack no one was jackrabbiting, and the magnitude of 26 miles helped me stay slow. I had read over this great article about the 3 phases of the marathon several times and told myself I had 7 miles to warm up. I heard my name and it was Andrea Demianovich, the assistant librarian from Forest City, in front of her house. Everyone was out on their lawns supporting us.
The second mile started slanting uphill. A guy in an orangey-brown windbreaker came up behind me, commented on my shirt & asked me who I was going to vote for. I said Kerry and he asked why, which started a political argument which continued for several blocks. I realized that I was having trouble breathing and talking at the same time, that he was running slightly too fast for me, and that he was the kind of guy who would just keep steamrolling and would be happy to argue for the whole run–a scene I wanted no part of. Besides, I needed postive focus and talking about politics was bringing me way down (it’s not a topic I enjoy at all). When I told him that I didn’t have the breath for the discussion, he said “You breathe and I’ll talk,” which was not what I had in mind at all! So I told myself “you have to assert yourself and cut this short, you are an adult and a marathoner and you can do it!” I cut him short and said “Is there anything I could say that would change any of your opinions?” and he said yes, if I had the facts. (He probably believes that’s true, although I have my doubts). So I got his email address & said we could continue via email (I’ll do that after finishing this entry), and he pulled ahead, saying I would probably pass him later. (I didn’t, but I almost caught back up to him–he finished less than 2 minutes before me.) Oh, and he didn’t realize my *name* was Hilary, he thought it was a reference to Hillary Clinton (nobody ever notices I have ONE L!) even though it was clearly a hand-drawn name–J had worried that that might happen because the lettering ended up looking a little like a Hillary Clinton bumper sticker which I’ve never seen, but I thought that was unlikely. So it was kind of a negative experience and almost made me regret not just putting my name on the back of the shirt–but I was proud of myself for asserting myself & handling it well, and it sure got my blood stirred up and through mile 2 without even noticing the hills.
After the second mile marker, someone said “Only 24 more!” and a woman next to me mimed putting her hands over her ears in shock. I said “Hey, it’s not *that* many!” and she said she had a strained calf muscle so it sounded like a lot to her. Her husband was ahead & she was just trying to finish. I told her about Kara & wished her luck. Turned out she’s from Wilmington, North Carolina, where my mother was born and my aunt still lives, so that was a neat coincidence.
My first splits were ahead of my optimistic pace, but I knew I wasn’t going too fast so that was OK. First aid station–I just took one cup of water since it was still very chilly and I wasn’t sweating much yet. I had thought that it would be quicker to drink from a cup than from the Camelbak, but it isn’t. I walked and drank as quickly as I could, but it still took me probably 30-60 seconds per stop. As we thinned out, I started to pick out the people running the same pace as me. There were a group of about 4 women who were together, with a leader who called out time for them to walk periodically, so they must have been doing some version of Gallowalking. They would drop behind when they walked but then catch up again. I was interested to see who pulled ahead in the long run, but I eventually lost track.
The foliage was gorgeous and there were lovely views of the hills at certain points. The ridge parallel to 171 has windmills on it now and they were beautiful against the sky. The inhabited sections were kind of dull, even ugly in parts, but it was nice to have people along the road cheering and playing their stereos.
The aid stations were not evenly spaced and I couldn’t remember exactly where Bill King had said they were–he was vague on some of them. I took water at the second, but soon thereafter my stomach was growling and I realized how hungry I was. I should have had more than one slice of toast! Where was that next station so I could get some Gatorade?
I think it was when we were entering Simpson that I recognized Mary Barna, a librarian from our district. It was cool to see so many librarians, and we also passed many library buildings.
I don’t remember now whether it was the 3rd or 4th station that was staffed by people in togas, but that was fun. Posters ahead of time advertised jello shots, which I later wished I had tried, but I was wary of untested food. I did take a banana chunk. The Gatorade helped and hunger didn’t bother me so much.
This section is a blur–I remember pieces but not necessarily the order in which they happened. I was in a good groove, booking along, not too fast, not too slow. All a training run until mile 20.
I had lost track of the Gallowalking group (we hadn’t talked to each other anyway), but I picked up some new acquaintances. I kept passing or being passed by Geri and Al, who seemed to be having a great day. Geri had orange shorts with yellow circles that were easy to pick out at a distance, and Al joked with all the volunteers and spectators. (They finished about 5 minutes ahead of me). Around mile 12 I first saw Chris, who was racewalking. I was amazed that a racewalker would be participating since the course closes in 6 hours. I asked what his expected time was & he said 5:15, but that he had gone out faster than that & hoped he wouldn’t regret it. He told me we were right at 11 minutes per mile (my Forerunner was consistently shorting me, beeping for the mile about a hundred yards before the mile markers, so I wasn’t sure exactly where I was at.) He said he was usually in a good mood until mile 18. A very nice guy, and we kept seeing each other also. A little while after that I met a very loud-voiced outgoing young guy (never caught his name) who was the second and only person to mention my shirt. He said he was a Republican but didn’t know who he would vote for; he said he must be one of the only Republicans in the national teacher’s union. “Make up your own mind and just make sure to vote!” I said. It was his first marathon also, and a slightly older guy who was sweating a lot and looked tired chimed in and said “he was a virgin too.” We didn’t stick together very long, though.
I could feel my joints stiffening up once we got into the double-digit miles, and the bottoms of my feet were getting hot. I realized I should have worn regular socks when I got up and changed into my blister powdered socks in the gym, because most of the blister powder had probably been worn away by the time we started. I was really glad I’d be changing socks at mile 20.
One thing I forgot to mention about the night before was my difficulty pinning on my bib number. I’m very shortwaisted, and since I’m small there’s just not a lot of room anywhere for a bib. Where it ended up not only looked dorky but also was making an awful noise rubbing against my waistpack and I was afraid it would drive me crazy. Luckily, folding up the tear-off portion seemed to help, so periodically during the race I would start hearing/feeling scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch and fold up the tab again.
Mile 13, and then the halfway mark! There was no mat, although we were supposed to get a split there, but there was a clock: about 2:22, so to get a negative split I’d have to finish in under 4:44. (Not that I was realistically aiming for a negative split with the course weighted towards down at the beginning and up at the end.) I was feeling pretty good despite stiffness & hurting feet. Soon after that we passed a tent with a band playing Sousa marches; they had a sign up and I wish I could remember the name–it was something like “The Merry Old Men” or “The Jolly Old Group.”
The course turned onto the Rails-to-Trails path near mile 15, and that was *great*. The path was crushed stone, very nice to run on, and the woods and stream were lovely. A photographer was set up along a little footbridge (there had been another one earlier, along an empty stretch of road)–they sure picked good backdrops. I can’t wait until the photos are posted! They’re supposed to be at runphotos.com within a week. There was an aid station in one of the residential neighborhoods the trail wound through, and I got an orange section to boost the carbs. (A nice family was handing out lemon slice candies earlier and I got one of those too.)
I planned to take ibuprofen at the first aid station after mile 16, but I missed it. It seemed like there was one table with water and there would be another with Gatorade a little further, but the whole station was very small and by the time I realized they must have had Gatorade too, I was past it. (I had asked a couple offering me water “Where’s Gatorade?” but they looked at me blankly–I don’t think they heard what I was saying). Note to self and others who might benefit: DON’T ASSUME! I should have slowed down enough to find out for sure. So I was a little worried, but it was OK–there was a family with water within another mile so I could take the ibuprofen, and another aid station not too far away where they had Fig Newtons too, so I made up for the lost carbs.
Right before mile 18 we made a loop through a little park, and there was the second mat–a good place for it, because it would be easy to cheat by cutting through the neck of the loop. (Bill King had said at the Expo that last year there was a cheater and so they wouldn’t tell us where the other mat was (after the one that was supposed to be at 13.1). He said “If you’re going to cheat, and you weigh over 300 pounds, don’t finish under 3 hours and look like you’re in good shape!” Apparently this guy got out of a car in front of Cooper’s, which is less than a mile from the finish…) There was a big stereo system set up and “Surfin’ USA” came on. That’s when I realized how good I still felt. I started singing along and felt that I was still full of energy and even my feet didn’t hurt as much as they had been. (Ibuprofen is a great thing!)
The one problem that cropped up towards the end of “the training run” was that the tongue of my left shoe kept creeping to one side and then the shoelace knot would dig into the top of my foot and hurt. I would stop and move it over and then it would creep back. If I can just hold on until I change my socks, I thought, I’ll fix it then.
The sun was gone at that point–there were dark clouds gathering over Scranton and a chilly wind was starting to blow. Bill King had said the day before that there would be a tailwind, but this was blowing the wrong direction for that. The wind was a little annoying but the weather was absolutely the perfect temperature and the lack of sunlight helped.
OK, I’ll have to put off the next part until tomorrow! It’s taking longer to write it than it did to run it…