Sunday, April 20, 2008

I am a marathoner

The roar of the crowd, and my best friend by my side as we sprint, hand in hand, toward the finish line with our goal time on the clock. This is what I have been visualizing for months-- what I believed would happen on April 19th, 2008 as I ran in my first marathon in my hometown of Salt Lake City. Recently I have had to make some adjustments to my vision, the biggest of which was the realization that I would have to run it alone; Kristi's injuries from a car accident were too severe for her to run with me. And, that was a hard adjustment to make.

The week before the race: I was taking it easy. I have been nursing a few injuries and didn't want to worsen anything before the race. I was eating a lot of pasta, and planning my day meticulously. I laid out everything, making sure it was all in place. I even went tanning so I would be sure not to blind the other runners-- you know, because I wouldn't want someone to blame a bad time on me because the glare was blocking their view to the finish line. I felt prepared, and confident.

All of that confidence went out the window the day before the race. I kept getting flits of butterflies and couldn't believe I was ready for the journey that was ahead. Seriously? I could run 26.2 miles, by myself? It was so hard for me to believe.

The night before, I went to the Marathon Mommies Pasta Party, and oh, how great it was to finally meet the sweet faces of wisdom and encouragement who leave little "you can do it" posts on our page. I feel like I already know all of you! Thank you for your kindness, it means so much to us here at WRFDJ!

That night I went to sleep, after checking my alarm clock, garmen charger, ipod charger, and cell phone charger approximately 5,000 times, filled with excitement, nerves, and anticipation. And so, here is my marathon day report:

2:02am: "Oh no!!!!!" I thought. "My alarm didn't go off! Didn't I check it?!?! I am going to be late!" I blindiy grabbed in the darkness for my clock, and through my squinted eyes could see it was still too early for me to get up. I checked the alarm, yet again, and tried to go back to sleep.

3:34am: Pretty much a repeat of the 2:02am experience, only with a little "if I keep waking up, I'm not going to be able to keep my energy up tomorrow!" panic thrown in.

4:37am: "Okay, it has got to be time to wake up now!" I thought, and it was pretty close, so I just turned off the alarm I had so carefully checked repeatedly. Didn't even need it. My body and mind were already alert to the fact it was race day. "Here I go," I thought.

I put on my carefully selected running clothes (my WRFDJ shirt, gray and blue running shorts, socks, and shoes) and put my hair in a pony. I braided my bangs so they would be sure not to distract me during my run. I knew I would have plenty of other distractions. I then checked my bag. Garmen, check. Powergel, check. Phone, check. Utility belt, check. Ibuprophen, check. Ipod, check. I was ready.

I made myself my usual runner's breakfast of wheat toast with peanut butter and bananas, and headed out the door. I turned onto Van Winkle and saw police officers in place, preparing to block the road, and a huge smile spread across my face. I would be running along this road in a few short hours, and these officers would be there to guide my way. I rolled down my window and shouted "I'm running the marathon today!!!!" The officer threw me a thumbs up, the first of thousands of thumbs that would be thrown up in my direction, and I am so grateful for every single one.

5:50am: I pulled into Gateway and parked my car. I went to meet Melissa and Tara for our ride on the train to the starting line. They looked so adorable and cheerful! We crammed onto the overcrowded car and started to chat with people around us. It was all abuzz with runners-- some chatting nervously, others praying, some sleeping like the man wearing a fake mustache. Some people think running a marathon is not enough, they have to throw in some sort of gimmick or distinguishment. I will share a story of one such man coming up, and this man I'm convinced is insane.

6:45am: We arrived at the starting line. A rush of excitement filled me as I heard the gospel choir, saw the mile long port-a-pottie lines, and the thousands of other runners just like me, and suddenly I was in awe. How could it be there were so many people who had been through the sacrifice, pain, and dedication that I had all to bring them to this very moment where they were so close to accomplishing a life-long goal? I was so humbled by the human spirit. We are so strong and driven!

6:59am: I heard Sky2, our station's helicopter, fly overhead and knew we were close. Suddenly the countdown began, and everyone was yelling, and then BOOM, the crackle of the gunshot, and we were moving. Kera and I started out together, running down toward Foothill, and around the corner, as Tara and Melissa fell behind. We were smiling, and so happy to be in this together! It was just as we were curving onto Foothill I first noticed the aforementioned crazy man with the gimmick to top all gimmicks: he was running barefoot. And he had a full marathon bib on. The man was going to run all 26.2, on asphalt, with no freaking shoes on. WHAT?!?!?! Kera and I shook our heads in disbelief.

I was trying very hard to pace myself, to go slow and resist the urge to keep up with the speedie-gonzales' as I call them. I had a long way to go, and I wanted to do everything I could to avoid "hitting the wall" somewhere along my course. And when I rounded the corner to 21st south and started going downhill, I was feeling and doing great!

Sugarhouse Park was in my sight, and I was so excited-- Kristi would be there waiting for me. I then ran into Jared, my friend from KUTV who had done some of his training with WRFDJ, and he was a welcomed running buddie! As we ran toward the park, I saw my sweet girl, Kristi, with a giant pink poster, screaming my name and jumping up and down. Next to her, was Kimmie, who I was so surprised to see, and I suddening started to well up with tears. These two girls had put in just as much time and dedication to this goal as I had, and because of injuries weren't able to run. But, as hard as it was for them, they had come to cheer me and the rest of our group on, and I was suddenly even more grateful for their friendship.

After a few quick hugs, I was off again, running through the park, and that's when I ran into a Marathon Mommy-- Annie Bananie! She was doing so great! We chatted for a minute and then she left me in the dust. I love those ladies! Way to go!

On the way out of the park, Kristi and Kimmie cheered me on again, and gave me a boost that would carry me until I saw them again.

Jared and I headed up 23rd east, and watched the lucky half marathoners head in the other direction. And then, slowly, he started to inch ahead of me. And I knew, I was once again on my own. I stopped my music for a moment, and was suddenly consumed by what I heard around me: the sounds of feet hitting the pavement, cowbells from patrons, claps and cheers from complete strangers-- and they were cheering for me! I pulled off my headphones, and everyone I passed was looking directly at me, saying "You are awesome! Way to go! You're doing great! I'm so proud of you! You can DO IT!" I am tearing up as I am typing, because I was so overwhelmed by their kindness and encouragement. They don't know me from Eve, but there they were, all over the course, cheering me on as if I were their sister/daughter/mother/friend.

I started to notice the signs, posted all over and carried by fans. There was a giant sign posted on a garage that read "Spandex is Happiness," one someone held that said "Go (insert your name here)!" And, one that said "You can and you WILL!" There was a mariachi band, a family who had set up a table with treats for runners, and a boom box with YMCA blaring for all of us to dance along to. I will never forget these kind souls who were there along the course where my family and friends weren't, for they really were happy for me, and I thanked each one of them I could as I passed.

I was on Keller Ave when a nice man ran up from behind me and said "You're at the front of the pack, aren't you?" "Huh?" was my response. "You have other friends with the same T-shirt on, and they all said you were up here so I've been looking for you, and here you are! Way to go!" So sweet. I also had a girl say "Are you Jen?!?!? I read your blog all the time! I love you guys!" What a nice surprise from a reader-- whose name is also Jen. Thanks for reading and for the support!

It was on 23rd east when I first noticed what would turn into the biggest problem of my day-- the wind. It picked up around mile 8, and I mean it picked up. The headwind was against us, and I felt as though I were running through water. I tried to fight through it, and just when I thought I was gaining some ground, a dust devil came swirling past me, blowing dirt into my eyes. I turned my head, and saw an older gentleman to my right, breaking down and starting to walk. He said "F*^$ing wind! It's ruining my race!!" And, that's when I realized this was a huge problem.

The wind was against me for nearly half the race, and I exuded so much energy pushing against it, I knew it was going to affect me in the end. But despite the wind, as I hit the half way mark, I was right on target to meet my goal time: I crossed 13.1 at 2 hours 4 minutes. I was so excited! And then, around mile 16 or so, I felt something most unexpected... a sharp digging pain in my foot, and knew I was in trouble.

You know those black toenails I have? Well it seems three of them decided to make their long awaited departure during the race. But rather than coming all the way off, they just lifted, and were hanging by a thread, and pushing back into my toes, causing a jabbing pain. I could feel the blood seeping through my socks, and a couple of miles later, two nails on my other foot were feeling left out and joined the going away party. I ran the rest of the race this way.

On Van Winkle, several things lifted my spirits. The row of kids with outstretched arms wanting to give me a high five. The two guys who ran up along side me and said "You sound like you're ready to play marbles!" It was my little tube of Ibuprophen in my utility belt jingling. I hadn't noticed it making all that noise! The Latin band complete with dancers and a drummer. And, another appearance from my Kristi, who ran along side me, and gave me another boost of encouragement. I love this girl.

As I reached 45th south, I knew it was just a couple of blocks to 5th East and I would have another moral boost. That's where my family would be waiting. I could see the corner in the distance, and saw my dad chasing my nephew, Noah. I suddenly started to run a little faster. I turned the corner, and there they were-- my own little cheering section. I yelled for them, and then I heard my aunt say "There's our Jen!" Then my nephews and cousins sprung into action, running toward me, giving me hugs and hi-fives, and chanting "Go Jen! Go Jen! Go Jen!" My little Noah didn't want to let go of my hand as I blew a kiss goodbye. They ran along side me and chanted their cheer as I headed toward Fitts Park, and my eyes full of tears again. I loved my little cheerleaders. I later learned they had been practicing for my arrival.

I passed the park, and was a bit behind schedule but still in pretty good shape. 5th East seemed to go forever. Just before Liberty Park, I could see the pink sign again and knew it was Kristi. She had travelled to yet another location to cheer me on. She said "Jen, you're so close! You're almost there! I wish I was running with you!" And, I wished for that too. It's so hard to do it by yourself. Jon and Phil were there too. They all gave me hugs, wished me luck and said they would see me at the finish line. And, I raced onto Liberty Park. And that's where I hit the wall.

I've never hit the wall before. In all my days of training, I've never had a moment where I thought I couldn't go on, but with 3 miles left, my body started to shut down. My hamstrings started to cramp and lock, my stomach felt as though a giant was grabbing and twising it like a wash cloth, and my feet-- oh, I could see the dark blood under my shoes. I could see the time starting to slip away. I looked around, and saw other running roadkill-- people who like me, didn't know what had hit them and that's when something hit me, and this time it wasn't a wall, it was my vision-- with me and Kristi running together, and suddenly I didn't feel like I was alone at all. I imagined her saying "Jen, we can do this-- we're almost there," and I felt like she was with me. I mustered up everything I had and started to run again.

Those last three miles were truly some of the most trying moments of my life. I wanted to burst into tears, and I had to run and walk off and on for the rest of the race, but I wasn't giving up. I had come too far.

I could see Gateway before me, and I started to cramp, and it was then when an angel appeared. I thought maybe I was hallucinating, but a man, who looked like he could have run a thousand marathons came running toward me. He had already completed the race and was coming to cheer me on. He grabbed my hand and with a huge smile said "What's your name?" "Jen," I breathlessly said. "Is this your first marathon?" he asked. "Yes, it is," I said. And then he did something I will never forget. He put his arm around me in my darkest moment, said "That is amazing! I am so proud of you! You are almost there, and you CAN do this! " He guided me around the corner and said, "two more blocks-- run for it!" And so, I did.

I ran down the center of Gateway saying out loud "two more blocks, two more blocks!" I turned to the runners next to me and yelled "We're almost there! Way to go!" As soon as I came into view, my friends and family started screaming for me, and I threw my hands up in victory! I gave them high-fives, and started to sprint toward the finish line. In my head I could hear Kristi saying, "finish strong,' and so I ran for my life. And, I crossed the finish line.

Immediately I was supported by a sweet girl who asked, "are you okay?" I wasn't. I felt as though I might pass out. She said "oh dear, keep walking, are you going to barf?" It was possible, and so she walked me over to get my medal, and then held me up until I was okay to stand. She too was genuinely happy for me, and gave me a hug.

I am proud to say I finished before the man wearing no shoes, but I did not have the time I had visualized of 4 hours. It's okay though, I am proud I was able to push through my pain, and complete this goal. And Kristi, just tell me when and where, and we will run a marathon together. My vision won't change. This is something we have to do together someday.

And to all of you wonderful patrons who cheered me on as if I were family, all the volunteers who, God bless you, gave me water and gatorade, and to my own family and friends, who flooded with me text messages, emails, phone calls, and race day support, you will never know how much your love and kindness means to me. I am truly amazed by how powerful something like running a marathon can be. Thank you.

Today, I feel as though I've been in the ring with a sumo wrestler, and I can't wear anything but flip flops, but I am a new woman. I am a marathoner.


M&M said...

Hi Jen,

You had me in tears again reading this. You made me feel as if I were running next to you through your experience. The last 3 miles were so tough for me also. Even with Suzie by my side I didn't know how I was going to make it. Kristi cheered for me also at a few spots and it was such a boost!! What a great friend she is. You are all adorable and inspiring!

Congrats on becoming a marathoner!

Erin said...

Jen, wow Congratulations! I am so excited for you! I looked for you but didn't see you, but I did pass see Kera right before see entered Gateway and it was fun to yell and cheer her on!

You reached your goal and you did it. I think you are a new woman...anything is possible!

tifferbob said...

I'm so proud of you! What an amazing journey. Thank you for sharing, I was crying before the race even started.

Shara Park said...

Congrats Jen! You made me tear up just reading about the race. I think it is amazing that you set this goal and accomplished it. What a great thing for any person to do. You inspire me.

Again, congrats and well done!

Anne said...

Welcome to the Marathoner's Club. We're an elite bunch! I too was crying as I read this post. I am amazed that you ran several miles with your crazy toenails. The things we do when we have our mind set on something eh?

I love that you had so much support there to cheer you on at every turn. I actually tried to convince my parents to go down and cheer (they live just a few blocks up from the mile 7 water station on 20th) but they couldn't do it. I was definitely thinking about you and all of your friends yesterday though and am glad to know that it went well (wind, black toenails and the infamous wall aside).

Congratulations!!! The real question is, will you do it again???

Bryan, Mary & Abigail said...

Yea Jen! Ya, I teared up reading this. Congratulations! This is huge. You're the best. Way to go. Much love, Mary

Anniebananie said...

WAY TO GO!!! I was so glad that I got to run into you and chat for a bit! I am SOOOO proud of you! I hope your toes are okay, OUCH. You have some great willpower and I think even if you didn't get the time you wanted, you have a great PR! It was so fun to meet you. Hope you get some good rest today. Man, I know I can barely walk down the stairs, but I also feel like I just woke up from a dream come true! Keep Moving Forward!

katie, dave, lucille said...

I am SO, SO proud of you. I've been following your experience via blog and I've loved it! Congratulations!!!

Street Fam said...

Way to go Jen! That is awesome! I can't believe you lost your've got to be kidding. Oh the pain!

Jen said...

Hey Jen,
Congrats! You're awesome! It was nice meeting you and I'm so glad you did so well. The wind was rough! Good luck with the toenails. I lost 4 with my first marathon. Two during training and two more from the marathon. Get on some prenatal pills and they'll grow back fast! I use Body Glide on my toes on all my long runs and haven't had problems since! Good luck, recover well and thanks for sharing!

Anne said...

I almost forgot. There is a guy who runs all of the DC races while juggling. He runs about the same pace as a friend of mine and my friend's only goal was to do was "beat the damn joggler."

workout mommy said...

what a great recap that also brought tears to my eyes! Congratulations, you are a marathoner!!!

I have to crack up at the comment above me because I am from the DC area and say the same thing whenever we run races. "Just beat the joggler"!! What a small world! :)

Ang said...


You did it! You are so awesome! I am crying right now reading your race report. I loved it. I TOTALLY get it. I'm so glad I got to meet you the night before.

I got to see Kera once during the race and kept looking for you too. (I even asked Kristi at mile 17 when I saw her how for ahead of me you were so I could know if I had any chance of seeing you.) I saw Melissa cheering for me at the finish line too. You WRFDJ girls are AWESOME!

If you are reading this, thank you so much!! It meant soooo much to me to see you cheering for me when I did. 500 East had been a LONG lonely painful road for me when I saw you. Thank you for running with me as I cried and for checking on me. You were an angel to me at that point in the race!

Congratulations Jen!!

Chelle said...

I'm all choked up reading this post. Oh, I love the marathon!

You are a marathoner! You have serious braggin' rights! Live it up, girlfriend!!! : )

It was great to meet you and I also was thrilled to see your beautiful faces at the starting line!

Three cheers for the Jeans Girls!!

Team Hanni said...

I'm crying............ I feel so sad I didn't get to meet you........ I did watch you on the news that night and I am just so dang proud of what you have done! I hope you will post your cute jeans now you've earned them. WAY TO GO!!!!!!!!!!!!

JP said...

Way to go, Girl! I'm so excited for you. What an amazing story you have...congrats!

Anonymous said...

I'm in tears and you have inspired me for the half marathon I'm running this weekend. You are great and should be proud.

Anne said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!! Isn't it the most amazing feeling ever crossing that finish line? I can totally relate to everything you felt! So amazing...
When are you ladies getting these jeans?

foxontherun said...

That was a great race report. Thanks for sharing with us your experience. You have captured what the marathon is. Congrats!

Suzie Petunia said...

Amazing! Truly an amazing experience... thanks for sharing it! I can't believe the pain you had to run through. I can't imagine losing toenails in the MIDDLE of a marathon! Ouch!

My favorite part has to be the man who put his arm around you a couple of blocks from the end. Where was he when I needed him?? :)

Jeff and Amy Barlow said...

I'm not sure how I came upon this blog (I think through Haley Young in Texas), but I'm so glad I found it! You had me in tears reading your inspiring post. Literally.

One of my greatest goals in life is to run a marathon. Now with two kids and the 3rd one (hopefully) on it's way soon (just trying at this point), I'm yearning for the days that child bearing will be over and done with and I can concentrate on my goal. Thank you so much for reminding me how wonderful I will feel once I've completed one. And, being from SLC myself (grew up in Sandy, Brighton) I'm thinking that the SLC Marathon should be my first! I'll shoot for 2010!

Anyway, I so appreciate your inspiring words. Keep up the great work! And congrats!

shan & andrew said...

YOU GO GIRL! I'm so proud of you Jen! You're such an inspiration! Great job!