The weeks leading up to the race were those directly after the Wasatch 100, where I ran 67 miles and had to quit because of stomach problems. My legs felt good after Wasatch: hardly even an ache. I was tired from being up for 30 hours and on the trail, but other than that my legs were in really good shape. I didn't do any specific training for St George.
I should have prepared myself better for the crowds. I'm used to running events with 200-300 people maximum. Wow, going to the expo (which was difficult to find information for on the mobile website) was initially hard to find, and then overwhelming with the amount of [slow-moving] people. I just wanted to get in and out and it seemed that there were several hundred people preventing me from accomplishing that goal. After what seemed like an eternity (10 minutes) I got my race packet and got out of the expo, after saying a quick hello to Golden Harper at the Altra booth.
I was nearly to my car when I looked in my race packet and realized there was no shirt in it. Great. I had to go back because the woman who checked me in hadn't told me to go to the end of the check-in area and pick up a shirt. Talk about a madhouse, and I had to go in again. I was nearly in tears, my anxiety of crowds rising. My chest was tight and I tried as best as I could to talk myself out of having a panic attack.
I got my shirt, went out a side door, and walked across the parking lot to my car. I tried calling my friend Ann, who was on her way down but got delayed by having to take her daughter to the Moran Eye Center for possible detached retina after an incident with a soccer ball (talk about stress!) and her phone went to voice mail. I really needed to "phone a friend" to get myself settled down. I called Andrea. Five minutes on the phone with Andrea (she was in St George for the marathon as well) and she got me settled down. Whew. I went back to the hotel to have some snacks and rest.
Ann made it to St George late, and she, Jamie (Ann's husband) and I hatched a plan to meet up in the morning to get to the start line. We met a little before 5am at my hotel and drove to the buses. Ann got checked in (she missed the expo the night before) in the rec center where there was no line (note to self for next year... skip the expo and check in at the rec center on race day to avoid panic attacks).
After a long wait in a line to board the buses, we rode for about a half hour north of town. I sat next to a really nice woman from California who had run several marathons (a dozen or so) and we laughed about how far we were driving, just to run back into town.
Ann, Jamie, and I had our warm clothing on, and we stood next to the bon-fires at the start to keep warm. I really wasn't nervous at all, now that race day was here. My stomach felt fine, I felt well-rested, and I was just a little apprehensive about where we would line up amongst all the people in that crowd. I really wanted to run 3:45 (for a Boston Qualifier or BQ) but realized that without any speed work in the last month, that probably wouldn't be likely. 4 hours would be great. Any thing under 4:30 would definitely be acceptable for my first road marathon.
It was pretty funny in the minutes leading up to the start: Ann and I found several of our ultra-running friends. Somehow like manages to find like, even in the midst of 7,000 people: Celeste, Brian & Kari, Ken (a Wasatch 100 finisher). We knew Turd'l was there somewhere too. And Andrea. We sung the national anthem and then we were off!
The first 3 or 4 miles was steep downhill. I felt really great. I looked at my watch and saw 7:45 pace, 8:25 pace... I was doing great. Man, if the whole thing had been like that, I definitely would have gotten my BQ. At about mile 5, my feet started to hurt a bit, and I wiggled my toes several times to relieve the pressure from the road. This surface was going to beat my feet up, I was certain about that. I stopped at most of the aid stations (about every 2 miles) to walk and get a drink for about 50 yards, but other than that I ran the whole thing. It was intense. Running under 10 minute miles, consistently for several hours was not something my body was used to doing. I was used to running, hiking, fast walking... lots of different paces when you are out on the trail. I did try to remember to look up and around at the scenery every once in a while and what I did see was beautiful.
At about mile 8, my left hip started to tighten up. My hip flexors were not happy with the fast pace. I saw my pace slipping... 8:45, 9:15, 9:25... but I was ok with it. The Veyo hill, which is about 3 miles long (uphill) loomed in front of me. Oh, yeah, that was going to hurt. People were walking up it. Spectators from the small town were lined up cheering for us on the side of the road. I was determined to run the whole thing, and despite my slow uphill pace of 10-11 min-mi, I did run that whole damn hill. I got to the top, hoping for a nice downhill for a rest, but realized that the course really just kind of "drifted" downhill, without much noticeable reprieve from the effort I had just put in.
My hip was really starting to bug me. I realized at the aid stations, they not only had drinks, fruit, and gels, but they also had people with rubber gloves on willing to lube runners up with vaseline and Ben Gay. Seriously? Every two miles? I couldn't believe my eyes. I went up to one guy and asked for some muscle rub (in my hand) to rub on my hip flexors. And guess what? It helped! Hey, these marathoners might know something!
That was at about mile 13, and I looked at my watch at the split and I was at 2 hours. I could do this. Halfway there, and right on pace for 4 hours. I realized my BQ was probably gone, but stayed hopeful. I stayed mentally strong and told myself I would not walk. I pressed on, averaging about a 9:35 min-mile pace each time I looked down at my watch.
At about mile 17 I heard clomping feet behind me. A group of runners that sounded like a herd of buffalo. Then I saw it: the 4 hour pace balloons. And there it went... swiftly past me... and was gone. I would not finish under 4 hours. Just around that time, Jim McGregor (another ultra-runner) passed me and said I was doing great. All I thought was, he's a good 25 or so years older than me and passed me like I was standing still! He's the one doing great! (He ended up beating me by 7 seconds!)
A little while later, a smaller group, with a perky 50-something woman holding another bunch of balloons. 4:15. And there she went. But I kept her in my sights for several more miles.
We crested another hill and with a sweeping right-hand turn, I knew we were on our way to the home-stretch and the finish line in town. The red-rock canyon was beautiful. It was starting to get warm, but not too warm as to diminish my pace. At the stop-light at the north end of town I heard a voice and saw a friendly face: my friend Carrie said, "Hey Missy!!! Do you need ice?" But I was 3 miles from the finish. "No, I'm fine. Almost done! Thanks, though." I know I did not look happy. I wasn't really happy... my feet were hurting, my hip was hurting, and my legs wanted to stop. But I pushed on.
Another woman said, "Misters are just around the corner!" Huh? Misters? What was she talking about? AAaahhh... cool water misters, set up on the side of the road spraying cold water on us as we passed. Soooo good and refreshing. Two and a half miles to go... two miles... I started saying it out loud. We were snaking our way through town and the streets were lined with cheering spectators. What a sight. I almost cried! A girl yelled out my name (our names were printed on our race numbers we wore), "Yeah, Missy! You've got this!"
And a couple: a really tall guy and a woman about my age, I kept passing them as they walked and then they would pass me again. Less than a mile to go. I would not let them beat me! I don't know why I chose them, but they helped to get me to that finish. Fast! A quarter mile to go... the crowds were getting thick now, and cheering. I saw the finish arch down the street. I was almost there! I kicked it in: 7:25 min-mile pace. My hip wanted to lock up. My feet were killing me. My leg almost collapsed under me. 4:19! I did it, I did it! I beat Oprah!
Haha, I walked through another set of water misters. Someone put a medal around my neck. I didn't stop for the finish line close-up photo. I was done. I wanted to lie down in the cool grass. I wanted... I don't know what I wanted. I wanted to take it all in. I had done my first road marathon, after thousands of miles in the mountains and hundreds of miles of trail ultra events, and this was one of the proudest moments I had ever experienced while running.
I found a patch of grass and someone handed me an ice cream cone to nosh on. It was heaven.
After getting my drop bag and not finding Jamie and Ann, I decided to head back to where we had parked the car. They were not there, but just as I was laying down in the grass to wait for them, they came along. I had just taken my shoes off to look at the damage. I couldn't believe my eyes. Huge blood blisters on the balls of both of my feet.
We got back to the hotel, and I took a shower and rested on the bed. I ate snacks and watched TV and waited for dinner. Dinner at the Cracker Barrel with Ann's family (her dad and brother had run the marathon as well) was so fun. What a lucky girl I am to get invited to this event with such a sweet family.
I drove back to SLC the next morning and picked up the dogs from the kennel in Bountiful. My legs were indescribably sore the next two days at work. Probably more sore than after a 50k or 50 mile, and maybe even just as sore as after 100 miles. It was actually kind of funny, and I laughed about it. I'm not sure if and when my next road marathon will be. I guess there is nothing like your first. I'm going to savor this finish for a very long time.