Tuesday, November 26, 2013

That time I ran a marathon

In honor of the fabulous Mama Laughlin’s first 26.2 over the weekend (which you can read about here), I thought I’d share my marathon story.

I’ve been a reluctant runner for the last three years, and after lots of stress and back-and-forths and self-doubt, I decided in March that 2013 would be the year I ran the big kahuna. A full marathon. I was already planning to donate my hair in the summer and figured I’d make 2013 the year of two huge bucket list cross offs.

New kicks for the start of training: Mizuno Wave Inspire 9

I’ve already written about my running journey (yeahhhh T-Swift), so this post is dedicated lovingly I mean PAINFULLY I mean PROUDLY to the Twin Cities Marathon on October 6, 2013. Also known as the day one of my dreams came true.

I trained my ass off for this race. Actually, I trained my knee off for this race. To the point that at 6 weeks before the race, I had 3 doctors visits in one week to try to figure out what the problem was. I would have no pain while running (because I’m not a moron, if I was in excruciating pain on every run, I would stop) and then almost immediately after, my right knee would swell up like a balloon. Joy. 

Ew. Just ew.

Long story short, after a $575 MRI came back inconclusive, I told my doctor (who is sports med and was running the same marathon) that in no uncertain terms, I WOULD be running the marathon on October 6, and asked her to help me get to the start line.

She tried to drain the fluid out of my knee (also unsuccessful for the most part) and ended up shooting me up with cortisone and sending me on my way.

Before I go any further, I feel that it is important to note that I am an anxious runner. I compare myself to others. I care about my time too much. I gauge my runs based on my time and time alone. I get pissed if I run anything slower than a 10:30 minute mile. I don’t walk. I don’t change my pace. These are all unfortunate running habits that I was forced to work on through my injury, and am continuing to work on now that running distance seems to be out of the question until the knee is figured out. So the idea of running the race I had been dreaming about for three years without hope of making my goal time (4:30, to beat Oprah when she ran the NYC Marathon in 1994) was devastating.

I tried to throw out a goal time. “Just run to finish,” I told myself. “You’ll still beat the 99% of people who have never finished a marathon.”

Yeah, so that mentality is really hard for me to get my head and my heart around. I was born to compete. I blame it on my mom—she slid into third base playing church league softball while she was pregnant with me. We are competitors, and we come to give it our all, knee or fetus be damned.

I needed to restructure. My longest run to that point had been 17, and I did AMAZING of that run. Felt great, minimal soreness after (beside balloon knee), and was very confident that 9 more would be possible in a few months. 

Post 17-miler while on vacay

I had to take my original schedule off my bedroom wall, and replace it with a running schedule that only included 3 runs a week, with the longest being 15. I was heartbroken.

Well, my knee seemed to get much better (thank you lord jesus to whoever invented cortisone shots, you are my hero) after the cortisone, and one beautiful Sunday morning, I banged out 21.5. I didn’t believe my watch. I went for 18, and just felt so good that I just kept running like Forrest frickin’ Gump. The rest of the training was so easy after that. I hit Taper Town and I knew I could do it. I would finish. It would likely take me over 5 hours, but I would finish.

Race day rolled around with all the nerves and excitement that I expected. A note about the Twin Cities Marathon course: I grew up on it. My parents live a block off the Mississippi River parkway, so I would say I had run before on about 20 miles of the course at least. There is a good 13-mile chunk in the middle that I trained on almost everyday because that’s near where I live. I know the course like the back of my hand. Every turn, hill, drinking fountain, port-a-potty, I could run the middle part of the TC Marathon in my sleep. I had people coming to watch me all along the second half of the course. It was home court advantage, which with my bum knee and anxiety level on high, I knew I needed.

It was supposed to be rainy and cold on race day, but I woke up to blue skies (actually, it was still dark out, but by the time I got to the start line, the sky was blue) and temps in the upper 40s. I couldn’t believe my luck. No rain! I can handle almost any condition weather-wise, but rain is my nemesis.  Give me -20 degrees. Give me snow. I’m a Minnesotan, give me sleet and ice for Christ’s sake. But with an unstable knee, the last thing I needed was to slip on a wet patch of pavement and eat shit and get trampled.

The start line

I started with my friend Sonja and her friend Mary. These ladies have a solid 15 years on me, and both have had 3 kids and they both kicked my ass. I knew I shouldn’t have started with them, but I wanted the camaraderie early on, since I had no spectators coming until later in the race. We ran our first few miles in 9:37 splits. WAY TOO FAST. Like 2 minutes per mile faster than I should have started. I normally run right around a 10-minute mile, so for the marathon, I should have started around an 11-minute mile. I stayed with them until mile 6 and then told them to leave me since I was going to slow down.

I honestly felt amazing for the first 10 or 11 miles. I got water at most of the water stops, didn’t stop to walk once, was loving the spectators (they say the TC Marathon is a 26 mile block party and it’s completely true), and enjoying the sunshine. By the time we got to Lake Nokomis, which is three miles around and the farther end marks the 13.1 halfway point, I was starting to feel a little tired. It was also clouding up.

Right at the halfway marker, I saw my first spectators. My cousins Ruth and Bart, who are the closest thing I have to older siblings, were there with their son Wesley. I didn’t even see them, but above the din of runners passing me and people cheering, I heard Ruth’s voice, “Car! Here she comes!” I still couldn’t see them, and then all of a sudden, they were in front of me and I could hear Wesley (age 2) yelling, “That one’s my Uncle Carlye!” (He switches back and forth between Auntie Carlye and Uncle Carlye). 

The top pretty much sums up me and Wesley's relationship...

I got a little teary, stopped for hugs and kisses, Bart snapped a bunch of pictures, I threw my running jacket at them, told Wesley that I loved him, and off I went. Seeing my family at that point was crucial. Ruthie screaming at me, “you can do it, you’re DOING it, Car,” made me so proud and motivated to keep going.

I didn’t have to wait long until I saw my #1 fan. Some of our family friends live on the parkway at mile 14, so I planned to run into their house to use the bathroom, run right back out onto the course, and keep on my way. I wasn’t expecting my dad to be there, but as I’m chugging towards the Johnsons house, I see the familiar green rain jacket and face hidden by a camera. “Dad!” I screamed and we hugged, I ran in to pee, got a HUGE glass of ice water from dear Amy, and kept on going.

Holy ass sweat, Batman. 

Mile 16 was when the rain started. It had been clouding up since I got to the lake, but at 16 it was a steady rain. Remember how I said I dreaded running in the rain? Well once it started, I started struggling mentally. Marathons are mostly mental, so when I saw my old roommate and her mom at mile 17, the first (and maybe only) thing I said to her was “Bec, I’m so tired. I’m so tired and wet. I’m wet, I hate this.” But a smiling face helped me get up to my parents house at mile 19, where I knew they were waiting for me with a bag I had packed the night before.

As I climbed the hill at 19, the hill I know best and dreaded worst, all I could think was “don’t cry when you see your mom. Don’t cry, dad will be taking pictures, don’t cry.” I was crying the second I saw them in the distance. My mom in her purple rain jacket and my dad in his green one. They have come to every race I have ever run, and it seems to rain for a lot of my races, so as soon as I see the jackets, I know I will get a boost emotionally.


I made it up to my parents and promptly cried saying, “Mom, I’m so tired, I want to be done. Mom, can we just go home now?” As I scarfed down a banana (I hadn’t really eaten anything until this point), my mom lit a fire within me, saying, “you can do this. Across the bridge, up the big hill, and you’re home. You’ve come this far, you’re not quitting now.” My dad told me he was proud of me. I cried. I hugged my parents, clinging a few seconds longer than normal, and with a look of determination ugly tear-stained mug on my face, I set off to conquer the rest of the race.

I wasn’t sure when or even if I would have any spectators until the end, so I was prepared for a 5 mile slog. See what happened there? I miscounted the miles left after mile 19 in my delirious state, and instead of 5 miles to go, I had 7. A rude awakening at the 20-mile marker, believe me. Once I crossed the Franklin Bridge, I could feel the “wall” creeping up on me. I saw one of my best friends from high school and her boyfriend standing in the rain on the St. Paul side of the bridge. I stopped to chat with them. We laughed about my mile counting snafu. Larry told me I had already run more miles than he would ever run in his life. I had a laugh and off I went.

Miles 20-23 were hard as hell.  I was cold, wet, and tired. Each step felt like I was moving cement blocks on my feet. I had plugged my music in around mile 12 (I think, I don’t really remember now) and I wasn’t feeling it. I was hitting a wall big time.

Around mile 22.5, I saw my roommate and my college friend. Bryan and Alana ran about half a mile with me, chatting, lifting my spirits, cracking jokes etc. It was clutch, since I was struggling so badly at that point. Standing in the rain at mile 23 were my nanny baby and her dad, with a homemade sign that said “SIENA SAYS GO CARLYE!”. Siena screamed when she saw me, “It’s my Carlye, it’s my Carlye, she’s running fast!” I got a little teary as I had to kiss her goodbye and keep running. I wanted to stop so badly, but I was in it for the long haul.

One hour after her plane landed, one of my best friends, Dana, came out to stand in the rain and wait for me at mile 24. I think all I said was, “Dana, I’m so tired, I’m fucking over this, I’m wet, I’m tired, I don’t know if I want to keep going.” Dana has known me long enough to know that what I needed at that point was a Jillian Michaels pep talk. And she let me have it. I choked back tears and nodded as she bobbed along next to me, telling me that I’m not a quitter, I’m brave, I’m hardcore etc. She ran with me for a few blocks and breathed air into my legs. She reminded me that I was less than 20 minutes from being done.

Mile 25 was awful. At this point, I was run-walking since I was tired, cold, and wet. But something clicked for me after Dana said 20 minutes left. I started thinking, “I have less than one episode of New Girl left in this race.” And I kicked it.

As I rounded the curve and could see the state capital, I started crying. I knew I was almost done. I knew I could do it. I knew I would feel proud for the rest of my life. I ran downhill with ease, and entered the final sprint. The people were a blur as I whizzed plodded past them. I searched for my parents. I couldn’t see the rain jackets. But it was then that I realized that the race wasn’t for them. It wasn’t about making my parents or friends or family proud of me, although it did and that feels damn good. It was about making ME proud of me. I then focused straight ahead and powered myself across the finish line. 

le finish line
Just as I was crossing, I heard my mom scream my name but didn’t turn my head to look. I don’t remember the announcer saying my name, I just remember saying to myself, “I can do this, I can do this, I JUST DID THIS!” I slowed to a walk, tears flowing freely, and bowed to the medal lady. She hung my medal around my neck and said congratulations. I think I stammered “thank you,” but I’m not sure I was even coherent at that point. Someone wrapped me in mylar, and I hugged that blanket close to my chest.

I walked through the corrals to get food and my coveted marathon shirt. After I had my shirt, my mind went into panic mode. There were so many people, how was I ever going to find my parents? I started to cry again, and was just wandering around calling out for them. Pathetic, huh?

Finally I saw them. They had their backs to me, and as I hobbled sloooooowly towards them, I called for them. They didn’t hear me, so I just kept limping and calling. Finally my dad saw me, and they both came running over. My dad scooped me up, mylar and all, and hugged me so tight. A few seconds later, my mom clawed me away from him and hugged me, tears streaming down her face and mine and kept whispering in my ear, “you did it. You did it. You’re a marathoner. You did it. My girl did it.” I could have stayed there forever, squished between my parents (they were basically holding me up at that point) tears and love and pride flowing from all of us. I cried because I missed my sister, and wished she could have been there for that moment. I get teary just thinking about that moment, with my parents, my #1 fans, who have been there for me every step of my life, physically lifting me up after I completed my biggest accomplishment to date.  

Then my mom said the worst thing you could say to someone who has just run 26 miles in the rain. “We had to park about a half mile away.” Before we left, I had my dad take my picture with the capital in the background. I look disgusting but it’s a memory I will cherish forever. I was able to skype with my sister on my phone in the car on the way home. I cried some more because I missed her. She made me laugh. I received over 15 different texts from people congratulating me and asking how it went. I took a long, hot shower, and promptly parked my ass down on my parents couch in my sweatpants for the rest of the day.

5:11:18 might not be a great time to some, and it is way slower than I wished for, but now I know that you can’t measure successful runs by time or your place in your age group/gender. You measure them by setting a goal, busting your ass, and completing your goal. I have never been more proud of myself in all my life. I did it. I was a marathoner. I am a marathoner. I have a brand spankin’ new 26.2 bumper sticker on my car and a lifetime membership to one of the most exclusive clubs. Only 1% of people will finish a marathon in their lifetime, and once you’ve done it, you get to be a member of the club forever.

Just like childbirth (so I hear), after you run a marathon, you kind of forget the pain of it all and want to sign up for another one. That’s where I’m at right now, but first I need to get this knee thing figured out. I’m looking to do a little destination running as well. Nashville? Disney? Napa-Sonoma?

Thinking about signing up for your first 26.2? DO IT.

From this sweet app, fo' free, holla motivation

all these quotes are from my pinterest

I’ll be back later in the week with some marathon tips for you guys geared specifically at first-timers. Anything you want to know about?