Tuesday, November 4, 2008

27c Pounding Pavement - Finishing!

Bang! The gun goes off and we are running. I chucked my throw-away sweater and did the normal start and stop with the thousands of other people trying to get across the start line. Once I crossed the start line the crowd loosened up. There were well over a dozen bands along the route getting the Motown music flowing and pumping us up along the way. I reached the Ambassador bridge about 15mins into the race. Coming up to the bridge you could see the elites already crossing over. They were going almost twice as fast as I was and it was incredible to think of how much distance they had already covered.

Crossing the bridge, while the sun came up over Windsor was really impressive. I was RUNNING over the bridge! Can you imagine? How many people get to run over that bridge? As we crossed the centre I yelled out “Yeah CANADA!” to which I received a few snickers from some Americans who started harassing me in jest about our accent and customs. “You like hooocky, eh?” “Don’t you put vinegar on your fries?” To which I replied, “Yes, you have the accent down perfectly. And vinegar on fries is delicious. Have you ever heard of poutine? Gravy and cheese. Try that one!” Well that scared them a little! As soon as we were in Canada the Tim’s cups were abundant, warming the hands of dozens of spectators our in the cool morning air. Strangely this made me feel proud. I even ran past a woman with Timbits and asked her if she was handing them out. She laughed, but I was serious! ☺

We crossed back into Detroit through the tunnel, which was a cool experience in itself since it is the only underwater mile in any marathon in the world. As far as the eye could see there was a solid mass of runners bobbing along. As we came out on the incline of the tunnel it grew hard to breath. There was still exhaust in the air that hadn’t been blown out. As soon as we high fresh air I was coughing from the difference in air quality. But that also signified the end of the hilly portion of the race. It would be flat from here on out.

About a kilometer before I hit the tunnel I had noticed another female runner checking her watch and walking every now and then. I figured she was doing the same method of running that I was (the Galloway method of running ten minutes and walking one minute AKA 10 and 1s). As we went into the tunnel I struck up a conversation and we didn’t stop talking for the next 10 miles. I had been praying the night before that I would meet someone on the run that would help pass the time and give me that push that I needed to make it through and Courtney did just that. It was great.

The next best motivation was seeing my family at the 9.5 and 12.5mile marks. I was so happy to see Abby’s face cheering me on. Shane even brought her out on the road and we did a little fist bump. I think she was overwhelmed by it all though because she had a bit of a goofy look on her face. Seeing family was a wonderful extra boost to keep me going for the second half.

The first half went by so quickly I thought it was a joke when I saw the 13mile mark. How could I feel like I had only ran 2km and have actually ran 21k? At that point I didn’t care, I just wanted to keep my pace and finish strong.

I continued to drink at every fluid station, rotating water and Gatorade. Being an environmentally friendly person, I loved being able to through my empty cups off to the side, not worrying that they wouldn’t be cleaned up. In fact running through these fluid stations was like running through a mine field. You were constantly dodging flying cups (some half full) while running through literally hundreds of cups already on the ground. It was kind of exciting.

Fluid and food were very important during the run. I needed to be replacing all the salt I was sweating out and the carbs I was burning off. During the run I was going to burn about 2500 calories, so I needed all the food I could get in me. I grabbed every cup of candy that was passed to me, including M&M’s, jelly beans, Jolly Ranchers and pretzels. I also grabbed oranges and a full banana. I had brought some energy gels with me to eat, but at about mile 15 we hit a free gel station, so I just started grabbing them out of the volunteers hands and stuffing them in my sports bra (a very secure place to keep them, I might add!). This really was a 4-hour party in my mind, I got to eat and run. I must have looked silly holding a big pretzel in one hand and having a fist full of oranges in the other, but it was all so good I couldn’t resist! I was determined not to ‘bonk’ at the 20mile mark so I needed to be sure that I was taking in energy to get me to the end.

At the 17mile mark I lost Courtney, I was going too fast for her and she needed to conserve energy or she wouldn’t make it. I understood that and we didn’t say goodbye, we just eventually separated. My foot was starting to hurt at this point, but I was determined to push through. I could recover later.

It happened right about the time a runner in front of me ran over to join a mariachi band for a minute shaking a shaker like nobodies business. It was hilarious. Another memorable moment happened a couple miles earlier I had seen a woman handing out Vaseline for all those people who forgot to use their BodyGlide for chaffing. (You don’t even want to know all the places you can rub raw!) Shortly after I saw a guy on the side of the road with his shorts hiked way up applying Vaseline to his thigh. I did not stare...for more than a couple seconds. ☺ I would also later see another funny site as a man ran to a Port-A-John on the side of the road, only to open the door to reveal another runner doing his business inside. A little embarrassing? Yes. Funny? Absolutely!

At mile 20 I looked over to see a group of the Hanson Brooks Distance Training guys (with Brian Sell in the centre) cheering us on. How incredible is it to have an Olympic athlete cheering you on at their sport? It gave me another boost to keep going.

For the last ten miles I couldn’t get the smile off my face. I was having such a good time befriending other runners and encouraging those who were struggling. All first timers, including myself, wore green bib numbers. My friend Joe, who is the Start Line Director for Detroit, told me first timers were called Greenies. Volunteers and spectators knew to cheer us on even more when they saw the green and often you would hear people calling your name. “Go Dana! You can finish strong!” And I was strong…well at least stronger than the guy I saw at mile 24 laying on his back in the middle of the road, groaning in agony as a volunteer helped him stretch his legs…another casualty of the marathon.

As mile 25 I was greeted by a group of spectators handing out cups of beer and pieces of brownies and cookies. What the heck! It was close enough to the finish line, I felt like celebrating. Beer it was! I grabbed a cup and splashed some of it on my arm as I reached for a brownie. I missed the brownie but wasn’t about to stop and go back for it. A second later I heard a woman yell, “You missed your brownie!” She had actually run after me to make sure I got one! Detroit has the best spectators!

The hardest part came with one mile to go. As soon as my brain registered that I was almost done it started to shut down. Mind you, I didn’t struggle too bad, but I couldn’t go much faster than I was, so I upped my pace just a fraction as I came into the final turns…and more turns. This is the notorious point in a marathon where people on the side lines start cheering that you are almost done, just one more corner…but it usually means three more corners and 5 more minutes of running when all you want to see is that finish sign. I even started mumbling under my breath, “Where is that bloody finish sign!” The woman running beside me overheard and gave a laugh. We were close!

At this point I also started to choke up a bit. Leading up to this day I had expected that I would be a fountain of tears when I saw the finish line, knowing that even on some of my longest training runs I would get emotional after I finished. But for some reason I got a little verclempt but didn’t shed a tear. I started strong and that was how I was going to finish. Finally I saw the finish sign and knew that I was about to complete one of my lifetime goals: my first marathon. As I ran under the sign I jumped up and smacked it with my hand. It was over. I had did it! With my foot troubles I had hoped to finish in 4:15, but my final time ended up being 4:04:24. I had managed to surprise myself!

I was handed a medal and worked my way through the finishers chute to grab more water, food and a space blanket to keep me warm as my body cooled down and quickly adjusted to the temperature. As I worked my way out of the finisher’s area, passing the long line of people waiting for a free massage, I saw dad and then Breanne and Shane waiting for me on the other side of the fence. I squeezed out of the gates as fast as possible and was greeted by a big hug from Abby and then my parents. It felt great. We were all so happy at what had been accomplished. It was also great knowing that my parents were proud of me. They don’t always relate to the crazy things I do, but I know that they knew I had worked really hard for this and that it was such a great achievement for me.

From there we headed back to Windsor for lunch at Applebee’s and then I took the long drive back to London. Work the next day was extremely sore. I felt like my 87 year old grandfather who hobbles around with his cane. My toes were so sore that I couldn’t wear anything but sandals, afraid that any more pressure and I might lose a toenail or two to the blood blisters that were forming under some of my nails.

They say that marathon running is addicting, and leading up to Detroit, with such tough training (up to 7 or 8 hours a week or running) I didn’t think this was something that would ever become an addiction for me. Over the winter I had planned to cut back my running and take up swimming and cross-country skiing and indoor soccer. But now, having completed my first marathon and realizing that it was the happiest 4-hours in my life, there is no doubt I will do another one at some point. The question now is where? Rome? Hawaii? Big Sur? I can’t wait to see where my feet will take me next!

1 comment:

Brandon said...

Very nice story Dana. I'm glad you survived to tell about it. The bridge and tunnel portions must have been really cool.

Are there any other marathons that run across 2 different countries?

Congrats on your goal and then some!