Thursday, November 04, 2010

Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.

October 24, 2010 dawned a bright, crisp sunny morning, with the sun poking through the buildings on Main Street as it rose. I'd worn an ugly yellow Running Room t-shirt over my long-sleeved running shirt and race bib, with the plan that I would peel it off at around halfway once the sun came out and it warmed up a little more. Moncton's Crowne Plaza hotel lobby was packed full of runners waiting to start, and one confused-looking family who obviously was not part of the race but was trying to navigate through the crowd of polyester and luon-clad athletes.

At around 10 minutes to 8, they called the marathoners to head out to the start line. We were a group of about 130, which was a nice cosy sort of feeling as we gathered by the start line. I ran a short 300-metre lap next to the start line to warm up, and then tried to figure out where to place myself in the pack. There were two 3:45 pace bunnies but no 4hr pace bunny, so I just kind of gauged where I thought I should go. Then they counted down the seconds and the starting gun went off. I felt a wave of nervous happiness wash over me, but tried to measure that feeling because I didn't want to make me start out too strong and then regret that later.

I started out the first kilometre pretty strong - I was running around 5:23, 5:30 for the first part and it felt easy, so I was encouraged, but I wanted to slow myself down because my plan had been to start the first two kilometres at about 10 seconds slower than my race pace. But after the first kilometre, I just couldn't pick it up any faster than 5:50, then 5:55. I'd started out strong, but then I started to get a little worried because after the second kilometre, I just couldn't pick up the pace. I figured at some point I would be able to get into my groove and pick up the pace again, so I didn't worry too much then.

At around 5k, my Achilles tendon seized up. Shit. I thought I would just run through it, but then my left foot fell asleep for about 4k or 5k. I didn't want to walk yet because my plan had been to walk every 45 minutes. And then it started to feel like I was running on a stump and I was pretty worried because I couldn't feel my foot but ironically it was painful. I didn't know if I should stop and get help, or if I should keep going. I was also concerned because the wind was pretty cold and I wasn't warming up - I thought that I'd perhaps under-dressed and I might get hypothermia if I continued feeling that cold for the rest of the run (can you tell my mind was playing games with me?). My goal was just to keep running from one cluster of volunteers to the next, because I figured if things got really bad I could just ask them to call me a taxi and take me back to the hotel room.

By around kilometre 10 or so my foot woke up again, but by then I had slowed to around 6:02 or even 6:15, and I was really struggling to make a decision about whether I was going to quit or just try and finish. I felt really overwhelmed with all of the  pressure I had put on myself to meet a certain goal, and upset that I wasn't falling into it as easily as I'd hoped. That's about when I made the decision to let go of my time goal as it didn't seem likely that I'd meet it, unless I really pushed myself, and I didn't know if I could sustain that for the rest of the run. My focus became to finish the distance and just run it as a Sunday run rather than a race. I really wanted to give up, but at the same time I thought of all the weeks of training I'd put in, and the fact that we'd driven all the way from Halifax, and I knew I'd be disappointed if I quit.

So, I told myself, let's see if I can make it to 21k, and if at that point, I feel truly crappy, I can quit. I also decided to walk at all water stations and start taking Gatorade (which hadn't been the plan - I'd worn my water belt because my initial plan had been to walk every 45 minutes and run through the stations). I also decided to walk every 10 or 20 minutes - it was really more of a mental break than a physical one...I was really feeling intimidated by this unknown distance, as well as the route, which was another complete unknown.

In addition to the mental strain I was under, I was also kind of wishing that I'd gone to a race with my run club ladies so I'd have them with me to encourage me and push me to pick up the pace. At the same time, although I was running alone I was also running with each of the friends and family who've encouraged me throughout this process.

I remember running through a path by the salt marshes, the cattails rattling in the breeze, and playing over one of the quotes Wendy had given us - it's a Chinese proverb, which basically says that a journey starts with a single step, but you must keep stepping. And so I looked down at the gravel path before me, and just thought of putting one foot in front of the other.

At 21k (which was the slowest 21 I've ever run, but I didn't care at that point because I knew that if I made too much of it I would despair), I peeled off my t-shirt and gave it to a volunteer, because it had warmed up quite a bit and the sun had now come up. They had said they'd give the discarded clothing to charity if it wasn't claimed, which I thought was pretty cool. Passing the 21k marker, I thought ok, let's see if I can make it to 32...I knew that I had run that distance before and I just started counting down the kilometres till I got there.

At kilometre 33, it was kind of cool because I realized "I've  now run farther than I've ever run before." From that point, it was just a matter of counting down the kilometres down from the 9.8 that were left. That's also the point of the course where there were a series of hills, which I forced myself to run up even though it was more of a shuffle. Most of the time they made sure to have volunteers at the top to cheer us on. They were wearing these bright orange t-shirts, which was great because you could see them from far away and just aim to run towards them - picking out each orange cluster as route markers as you ran along.

I have to say, the volunteers on the course were amazing - they were spaced out around every 500 metres or so, and they were really enthusiastic, even though I was in the back of the pack. Even at kilometre 37, the volunteers were there in the cold cheering me on, and that was really nice. As they and random people along the street cheered me on, calling "go girl," I felt pretty proud of what I was doing.

At the top of one hill, there was a woman holding up a neon green hand-written sign, with the words "Pain is temporary. Pride is forever." That really stuck with me for the last stage of the run, and I kept playing it in my head as I kept going.

At around 35 to 37 kilometres my pace picked up to about 6:02 again, maybe a little faster (I'll have to look at my Garmin records)...Before that I was struggling a little more - it was mainly mental exhaustion and I was battling to try and not feel defeated. I knew if I stopped, I would really regret it. And I kept telling myself how proud I would feel for completing, even if I had to stop and walk the rest of the way.

At around 37k, I will never forget it. The pack had really spread out by that time, so I was virtually running alone and I guess you couldn't tell it was a marathon if you weren't looking for it. There was a church and the congregation was starting to file out as I was passing. An elderly woman and her mother were at the edge of the sidewalk, along with their grandson, and they were looking to cross the street. They saw me approach, hesitated, then started to cross just as I was running by. I yelled "excuse me, I'm trying to finish a marathon here!" and they jumped back... I felt bad to destroy their post-service glow, but a little proud to be able to yell that out, too :)

I have to say looking back, I didn't really push myself too much - I spent a few minutes chasing after an ear bud when it fell off my earphones, twice (time to get new earphones I think :) ) and another time I actually ran back to put a cup in a garbage bag where some kids were volunteering - obviously I wasn't focusing on time too much (in fact I didn't even look at my pace or the time on my Garmin for most of the run - I was solely focused on ticking down the kilometres).

The last few kilometres were back through the salt marshes, which was neat because you could see the runners ahead as they made their progress along the route, along with the orange clusters of enthusiastic volunteers. There was this weird little jog off the trail and back for about 300 metres - I guess they thought the route was too short (although according to my Garmin it was 500 metres longer, which kept messing with my mind because I'd think "Ok I've done 38 k" and then 500 metres later the 38k marker would be there) and I dropped my Garmin and earbuds again - swearing under my breath as I tried to pick up the could really tell by that point that I didn't care about my time as I ran around trying to get the little white plastic bud off the road, lol...

Then there was a kilometre left, and I was back on the main street and I could see the Crowne Plaza. I knew my husband was waiting for me, and despite the fact that there were around 30 or so of us to finish, there were still people lined along the sidewalk cheering me on ("go girl!"), and a crowd of people at the finish.

With around 300 metres left to go, I saw my husband waiting for me on the sidelines - he'd been waiting in his shorts for about an hour in the cold weather, but I could see he was glowing with pride as he cheered me on. I yelled out for him and held out my hand, and we ran to the finish together. I could hear the crowd cheering for us - "I love it! Go with her," yelled one man. It was funny cause Steve was literally pulling me along because he could run faster than my legs felt they could go.

I'll never forget  the sound of the bag of chips I'd packed as a post-race snack, bouncing up and down in the backpack he was wearing. We had to run around a half marathon walker who was finishing at around the same time, who decided to pick up the pace just as we approached him - that was probably the slowest photo finish ever.

We crossed the finish line together and I got my finisher's medal, and then they offered Steve a medal because they weren't sure if he was a runner too  :) Then we stood there and he hugged me and told me how proud he was of me. I was quite frankly just happy to have finished the race but torn about not having run the race I'd hoped to run. But Steve kept telling me over and over how few people accomplish what I'd accomplished, and that my goal had been to finish, not the time. He was really great at trying to get me focused on the positive.

After that, we went back to the hotel and I could see what you meant about recognizing the post-marathon shuffle. There was a woman who shuffled towards the elevator at the same time as me. We looked at each other and chuckled as we recognized the pain we were both in.

That neon green handwritten sign at the top of that hill really will always stick with me - Pain is temporary. Pride is forever. And although I may not have run the fastest race, and this may not be the most eloquently written post, I do feel proud of what I've accomplished.

And I'm already looking forward to the next race :)

~ Ceebie

1 comment:

É.B. said...

Hey Sis,

Je n'avais pas pris le temps de lire cet article auparavant (faute d'être pris avec d'autre choses dans ma vie chaotique de parent, enseignant et performeur) mais je suis très ocntent de l'avoir enfin fait.

Ton récit m'a donner les larmes aux yeux; surtout lorsque je t'imaginais avec Steve, en train de compléter la marathon main dans la main. Ton expérience est très inpirant; Je n'étais pas conscient du degré de sérieux et de passion avec lesquels tu t'étais plongée dans ce sport/ce passe-temps.

Merci de ton honnêteté et de ta sincérité.

Nous pensons touts à toi ici à Ottawa.