Yep, through all my trials and tribulations, I earned this medal yesterday at the Wrightsville Beach Marathon. I have to stress, I earned this one, the hard way.
I’ve run eleven marathons now, all different and all unique. Some easier than others, well, no marathon is easy, but you know what I mean. Sometimes things just all seem to come together on race day, and other times they just don’t. Wrightsville Beach proved a challenge in many ways. I really think my biggest challenge yesterday was physical. It began several weeks ago, with pain and tightness in both of my hamstrings. I’ve been fighting between rest, and stretching to try to comfort and heal my legs. So, as this race got closer and closer, I mixed in a fair number of short runs, and rest. Because of my vacation this past week, I ended up only running one two mile training run in the days leading up to this race. Good for healing, not so good for feeling physically ready.
Next hindrance to the race were my trips to the doctor. It all began with just a regular and routine yearly physical. I expected nothing more than a normal appointment. Blood work, and other yearly tests. Well, without getting into all of the specifics, my EKG came back with abnormal findings, prompting my doctor to order an echocardiogram. The following week I had that test done, after fielding questions about if I have had or felt any chest pains, etc. Talk about stress. My blood pressure was also abnormally high, my blood work showed a vitamin D deficiency, and high in sugars. Wow! Falling apart. I was not expecting any of this. So, mentally, when it came to this race, I wasn’t sure that I would even be able to run it until I got the results from the echo test just five days before the race. I got the all clear. The fear of all the unknowns proved to be mentally challenging and I was filled with fear for my heart health. Hopefully everything is under control now. I am watching my sugar intake, taking a vitamin D supplement, and considering a gluten free diet. More on that later.
So, with five days until the race, I now had to start to focus on the mental part of my race. Getting to run it. The physical part of the race would really be an unknown until the start. I had plenty of rest, let’s see how it would go.
Since this was a new race to me, I drove parts of the course the day prior after attending the great expo. This event is so well organized. The race director, I hear, is an awesome runner himself, so I would expect nothing less than a first class event. It truly was. The volunteers, sponsors and spectators were all beyond wonderful. Aid stations were aplenty, the scenery beautiful and course itself was well marked. The weather was a bit threatening all morning, but it only sprinkled once for a few minutes.
My race –
I made it to the shuttle to the start about an hour and a half early. Shuttle ride uneventful and quick. I was at the start an hour prior to race starting time of 6:45am. With an early start, and daylight savings time last weekend, the start was pretty dark. Lots of runners everywhere, but never felt too crowded. I lined up with the 3:30 pace group, with a hope of maintaining that pace if the body cooperated. As the gun went off, we took off in Wrightsville Beach. The course was very crowded, and fairly dark, so I found it difficult staying with the 3:30 group without feeling like I would be tripped up. I decided to go a little faster to get out of the crowd. The first few miles were run down on a loop around the beach area before crossing the bridge back over to Wilmington. From there I made my way toward where the race would eventually finish, and on into a beautiful community called Landmark. My splits say it all, when it comes to how my legs held up right from the very start.
I was at a pace of 7:49 after 3.5 miles…. and slowly but surely got slower and slower and slower. I felt pretty good the first few miles, and slowly my running became more labored as I struggled with my hamstrings. Making my way through the landmark community, I was cheered on by a great community, who woke up early to help encourage runners. They were out in force. It really was great to see the community involvement. They made us feel that it was ok that we were intruding in their neighborhood. We would be back for a second loop through their neighborhood, but first we headed back toward the beach. As I crossed the timing mat at mile 11.3, and with the 3:30 pacer passing me when I stopped at the last aid station for water, I came in at a pace of 8:04. My lack of long training runs were catching up to me. The plentiful rest, was now hurting me. Another beautiful pass around the loop at the beach, I knew that my legs were not going to hold up. I was hurting. It was around the half way point in the race that I began to feel some burning sensations on the bottom of my right foot. Oh no, a blister was forming, I could tell.
During the rain at the Hilton Head marathon last month, I developed a blister. That blister was thick, and this past week I had to finally cut off the skin because it became extremely dry and was catching on my sock. There was not enough time before this race for the skin underneath to get tough. I was feeling the effects now. Ok, I can handle it, told myself not to think about it. I tried to enjoy all of the college themed aid stations, and keep hydrating. The temperature was about 50 degrees, but it was humid. I was sweating, but it wasn’t too warm. I pressed on. At mile 16 my pace had dropped to 8:23. I knew that I was fighting a losing battle, and had given up on my mile high hopes of qualifying for Boston. At this point, I really just started thinking about how lucky I was to be there. Just a week earlier I was stressed out about heart troubles, not even knowing if I would get the clearance from my doctor to run. I was now focused on finishing the best way I could, to enjoy every moment, and be thankful for my ability to run a marathon.
This really did help to lift my spirits. I let go of the my pace concerns, and took in every moment. I verbally or through a hand movement or wave, thanked the volunteers I passed, out there giving of their time to enhance my race experience. As I passed others, or others passed me, I gave encouragement. I was enjoying myself, and taking in the views. We headed back into the Landmark community for a final loop before heading to the finish. My spirits were high, but that darn blister was hurting more and more. I passed the timing mat at mile 24.1 in 8:41. I knew I could go sub 4, and I wanted to finish as strong as I could. As I passed folks that were walking, I vowed to myself not to walk at all. To push myself. To test my mental game through the finish. I never walked. I dealt with the pain in my legs and foot, and pushed it to the finish.
I came to the line in 3:51:08. Unofficial finish of 162 out of 477 overall. Pace of 8:50. I finished, the physical challenges I had were beaten.
Once I stopped running, I really began to feel just how much I was hurting. My foot was burning. My hamstrings aching terribly. I labored over to the tent for some refreshment and food. Pizza, a diet coke, perfect. I stopped to talk with a fellow blogger Kelly, from RunningBostonandBeyond. She had a great relay, and from what I see, finished third. Awesome! Best of luck to you Kelly on your Boston journey. Maybe our paths will cross again one day. Maybe Boston next year? I talked with a guy who looked ruined physically, but was smiling ear to ear because he had just run his first sub 4 marathon. He was hurting, but glowing.
I had a great time. Wrapped in my foil blanket, gnawing on pizza, I looked around me. I feel so much at home, surrounded by people that love and appreciate the sport of running. We are all out there, crazy or not, testing ourselves on the race course. I love it, and love the community I belong to.
Smiling, and limping due to the blister, I made my way to my car. I was getting cold, and needed to change into dry clothes for the drive home. The two hour drive home was pretty uneventful, except that I began to doze off at one point. I recognized the need to stop. I pulled off, and grabbed a Shamrock Shake from McDonald’s. I needed the sugar boost.
After getting home, and stiffening up because I was sitting in one place for two hours, I barely unpacked the car. Stairs are always a killer after a marathon, so I spent the evening downstairs on the couch in front of the TV. What a great experience I had in Wrightsville Beach. I hope to return to this race one day, and perform at my best.
Three marathons complete for 2014. All three happened to be at beach towns. Two in South Carolina, and now this one in my home state. As I continue to chase a time worthy of qualifying for Boston, I say my thanks for my health, and for crossing the finish line. Six marathons in less than six months. I love it, and appreciate my ability to be dedicated to the sport I love. Here is a look at my “Beach Marathon Series” medals. Next up, my Birthday marathon on April 13th.