First, it needs to be said: getting to the starting line of ANY race is essentially a miracle. It is SO hard to do. I don't care if you are running a 5K or a full marathon; the amount of courage it takes, even when things are working in your favor, is huge. It is just so, so scary. Looking down the barrel of any race - putting yourself out there, knowing how much pain is coming, knowing the mental fatigue, battling the "what-ifs" - it's huge. Daunting. Terrifying. It makes you want to skip it, sleep in, and eat pancakes with your family. Especially now in the world of social media and online results, there's no hiding. I kept thinking, "What if this isn't it? What if this results in another DNF? What if I don't qualify?...what if...what if?" I mean, how many races can I run and fail? How many more marathons do I have left in me? I felt an enormous amount of pressure to perform well, mainly by my own hand (or more appropriately, my mouth). Why can't I just shut up about this stuff? My god, this is all my fault. Next time I run a marathon, I'm not telling anyone.
(ha! If that happens, that would be the true miracle.)
When my alarm went off at 2:30 on Saturday morning, I couldn't believe race day had finally arrived. This was it. Do or die. That giant tiger that lives in my house was either going to be tamed or he was going to eat me alive. I didn't necessarily feel nervous, but I was just dying to know the outcome. In my heart of hearts, I knew I could do it - but I also knew there were a million uncontrollable variables out there too. There are no guarantees in the marathon. I had done everything in my power to manage what was in my control; now, it was just a question of the unknown. My mantras for this race were "run the mile you are in" as well as "adapt."
Interestingly, getting to the starting line - literally - was problematic. I picked up a sleepy Julie at 4am and we were on a bus by 4:30. Our driver, whose only job was to get us to the starting line in one piece, missed the turn-off for Kyle Canyon Road. If you are familiar with Highway 95, you'll know there are only two places to turn around for THIRTEEN miles. He missed the first (Pauite) so we were forced to go all the way to Lee Canyon. The guy on the bus who caught the mistake should really be awarded 5 min off his time, because he saved an entire busload of runners from making a spontaneous trip to Reno. While my anxiety spiked at the idea of being late, I realized quickly this is a total blessing. More time sitting down on a nice coach bus with bathrooms - not a bad thing. Everyone else was already on the top of the mountain, freezing, while we got the scenic tour. Julie and I closed our eyes, attempted to get in a bit more rest, and just let things unfold.
At the top, we met up with some friends and of course, the Mountain Man himself, Reinier. He makes me laugh more than anyone. He had the same trouble I did when filling out race registration - neither of us put our real names. Give us a bit of wine and all of sudden we are comics. So Buttercup and Sub-3 hung out at the port-a-potties for awhile, chatting about how little sleep he got the night before and why the hell we are standing on a mountain at dawn. If running has taught me anything, it's embrace the weirdness of life. Whether you are a Braveheart fan ("All men die; not all men really live") or a Shawshank Redemption guy ("Get busy livin' or get busy dying'"), I can officially say I'm doing both. Breath in that clean Mount Charleston air at 7600 ft and wrap your arms around the oddness of it all. YOLO, baby.
I'm going to slide into my grave smiling. I love it.
I'd also like to point out my amazing white jacket, shown in the picture above. For the second time in a row, the Goodwill by our house did not disappoint. For CIM, I found a fantastic black puffy jacket in the racks. Parting with that coat back was crushing; he would have been a perfect addition to my winter boot camp wardrobe. This time, I scored a white one. Being older and wiser, I was determined to try to keep the marshmallow jacket if possible. And I did! Even though stuffing it into my drop bag broke the tie closure, I managed to retain him. For the low low price of $3.99, I plan to wear him constantly in the colder months. I'm totally shopping there more often. Life is better when you look like a giant marshmallow.
The start of the race was about as calm as you could imagine. I've learned that we all have our favorite kind of races, and this hit all the high points for me. It was a smaller field, about 700 runners, in a beautiful, pine-scented forest. I pictured little animals asleep in their burrows as we toed the starting line. I wished Scotty had been there to collect some pine cones. You could feel the barometer dropping as the dark clouds rolled in, but it just made the mountains more gorgeous in the early morning hours. While big urban marathons like Chicago are full of excitement and adrenaline, the smaller and the prettier is definitely more my jam. I loved the rustic, small-town quality to this race. No spectators were allowed for the first 21 miles, which definitely took the pressure off. Just another training run...
And...we were off! I opted to not run with music, a first for me. I thought since Julie and I were going to stay together, the earbuds would simply get in the way of conversation. I also made a major decision to run with the hydration pack and 50oz of water. This is the first time since the ultra marathon I've carried my own water, and I really believe the weight of the pack was far less than hassle of getting to water stations. Plus, I mostly waterboard myself when drinking out of cups, taking in only 1-2 oz max. I think the lack of fluids has affected race performance in the past. With the pack, I could take long, luxurious pulls of water through a straw at my own convenience. I intended to drop the pack with Brian at mile 21 and run water-free to the finish.
For the first few miles, it was like running in a snow globe. Those clouds opened up and dropped heavy, wet snow on us. It stuck in our eyelids and hair. Without music, I could hear what everyone was saying and there was a lot of giggling. I really felt like I was running with everyone, not against them, which reminded me of that great quote from Born to Run. Here we were, a pack of 700 mostly-naked crazies, laughing our way down a mountain through the flurries. If that doesn't make your heart smile, you are probably dead inside.
Julie and Hollie took off right away, but I kept my pace. I kept them in eye sight for the first 5 miles, knowing they had a different time goal, 3:32 to my 3:36. Oh, those young 'uns. I really believed I would catch up with them in the later miles, so I didn't feel stressed. I heard two women talking behind me and realized they too were trying to qualify. They seemed super cool and pretty chill, so I asked to join their "pack." They agreed without hesitation. For miles 5-9, I hung with my two dark haired-friends. Two runners behind us asked if we were all training partners because we were all literally running in stride. We laughed and said we had met about 20 minutes earlier but were already best friends. This was shaping up to the be friendliest marathon I've ever run.
On mile 9, I looked down. Disaster.
My stupid shoe had come untied. I double knotted those suckers on the bus, making sure this wouldn't happen. And yet it did, right in the fastest part of the course, the best place to bank some serious time with minimal effort. Reluctantly, I dropped out of my friendly pack of dark-haired friends and stopped to retie.The same thing happened during a training run and I knew, nine miles in, my fingers were going to be the biggest challenge. Swollen and unbending and this time, shaking with nerves. I felt like Scotty learning how to tie his shoes. It felt like I was wearing giant mittens. C'mon, c'mon, you can do it...try again...bigger loop this time...I finally managed some semblance of a bow, double knotting again for good measure, and said a silent prayer to the running gods that this does not happen again. I don't know how much time I lost but it was in the vicinity of 90 seconds.
I took off like a bolt, determined to catch up with my new friends. I also began crafting a worst-case scenario plan if it happened again. I knew my friend Ruth was working the aid station at mile 11; I could ask her to retie. Ditto for Brian at mile 21, though I knew he would tie it so tightly he'd likely cut off circulation in my foot. He tends to overcompensate. I glanced down every few minutes, ready for the worst, but the shoe remained in good shape. Adapt on the fly...be flexible...run the mile you are in...
I ran by Ruthie without incident. I was going to ask her to retie it, but was so happy to see a friendly face, I completely forgot. She looked so happy passing out Gu's and Gatorade; what a much-needed pick-me-upper. I could still see my new friends in front of me by mile 12 when -
- holy left foot pain.
Maybe it was the severe downhill, the worst of it behind us now, or maybe it was the fact I was clocking 7:40 miles, way faster than my marathon pace which should have been 8:10 to 8:15. Maybe it was the camber of the road which was extremely uneven, but my left leg was not happy. The three littlest toes felt...crunched. Like someone had balled them up and then jammed sandpaper under the nails. Pain radiated up the left foot, particularly in the lower calf/Achilles tendon area. The strain was causing me to overcompensate by rolling my foot inward which changed my stride. I immediately flashed back to St. George, when that horrific lower abdomen pain forced a change in stride. No no no no no, this isn't happening, not this early in the race. I wasn't even halfway there! I should be flying through the first 20 miles, saving precious mental energy for the last 10K. The first 20 should be a cake walk. F******ck!
I realized I wasn't going to BQ; it was too much pain, too soon, with too far to go. I considered dropping out. My friends were gone, my leg was killing me, my toes were dying and I still had 14 agonizing miles to go. A DNF wouldn't kill anyone. The sun would still rise on Sunday. I'd be fine.
But I wouldn't.
Unbelievable, that little voice, the one that saved me when I cut my arms, decided to comment on the situation. My central governor, the voice that wants to protect and preserve my well-being, was being overthrown by a tiny but mighty coup: my newfound mental toughness. Instead of throwing in the towel and giving up, which was exactly what the Governor was advocating for, this voice said: keep going. You are actually doing great. Don't give in, it's not as bad as you think. It flashed to several recent examples when pain hurt but didn't last forever. And then, applying logic to the situation and appealing to my practicality, this voice reminded me that I'm still clocking sub-8 minute miles. Coming up to the halfway point, I could reasonably drop my pace to 8:30s and still come in under 3:36.
Fascinated by the argument going on in my head, I listened. A bid to logic is always compelling, so I kept running. I passed the halfway part at 1:43, exactly where I needed to be. Why was I freaking out? I was exactly on target. I decided to hang in there for the next three miles and readdress the calf pain on mile 16. Then, if I wanted to drop out, I would.
When I got to mile 16, I realized there was only 5 miles until I saw Brian and Scotty. I couldn't drop out now. So I kept going. My hydration pack was rubbing on my neck, but I could ditch it in five easy miles. As long as I kept my pace around 8:00, I was fine.
So I did. No freaking out, no panicking. Miles 11-16 were 8:07, 7:46, 8:04, 8:01, 8:05, and 8:11. Some serious legitimate numbers. Why did I want to quit? My mental toughness won. Not only did they overturn the Governor, they burned down his mansion. Viva la revolution!
Hitting mile 18 was huge. I had been running for 2 hours and 23 minutes at that point. I knew I had to be at mile 20 by 2:40 -- which I hit. Running this race one mile at a time was hugely helpful. I felt more and more accomplished as each mile passed. I could do this - was I doing this? Was I really? Was this really happening? Oh my gosh, I was...
Mile 20 passed in a blur. Mile 21 offered Scotty, Brian and Wes, Julie's husband. They were screaming like idiots, which I loved. I ripped off my pack and yelled at Brian to catch it. My little pokey Bear, one of the slowest on his baseball team, found his footing and matched me stride for stride. I actually looked over at him in awe - was this my kid? He kept up for a solid 400m, bringing tears to my eyes. How far have we come from that first marathon, when little Scotty was barely four years old. He cried a lot that night, begging for me to stop, saying me missed me and I was gone for too long. Now, my almost seven year old was pacing me, confident in his gait, grinning. He looked like a lanky string bean on that highway, one foot strike after another. My heart soared. Maybe all this running was getting to him?
Brian assured me Alex was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, but instead of my long-lost brother, I found Lulus with a cowbell. Jennifer and Heather and a friend cheered and jumped up and down and banged that cowbell. All that fatigue from the previous miles completely dissipated; I was all in now. Confidence blossomed. I glazed past, yelling "I have 40 minutes to BQ! See you at the finish!" Calf pain, broken toes be damned. I was doing this.
When he snapped at me to stop looking at my watch, I lost it. I had just asked him what 9 times 4 was (essentially giving me my finish time; sadly, I could not actually compute the math in my glycogen-deprived brain) and he told me to stop looking at my watch. I ignored the fact that he and Kat had just run a 5K in downtown Las Vegas twenty minutes earlier, drove 90 mph to get to the race, then ran another two miles to find me on the course. They were being the best running buddies a person could ask for, and I was being a totally spoiled brat.
"DRAFT FOR ME!" I screamed at him, desperate to get out of that horrible headwind.
He didn't leave me and he didn't yell back. Bless his heart. I deserved no friends left at mile 22, yet he stuck in there. A good guy.
I don't remember much about those last miles, other than I was flying by people. At this point, it hit home - I was actually going to do this. Like, I was really, really, really going to do this. Now it was just a question of by how much I was going to qualify. I had flipped my watch over to real time, with 10am being the 3:30 mark. Mile 26 was right around 10am, which meant a 3:33-3:35 finish. I was going to make that by a long shot. Alex was screaming, Kat was smiling - 800 meters to go. This was going by so fast yet so slowly. I wanted to be done running. I needed to be done. I was so tired. My left foot was completely numb, toes dead. My right quad finally shut up when it realized I wasn't stopping, and the central governor was hiding in a cave with only the clothes on his back, having fled the city when the riots broke out. My body was falling apart but my brain - my mental toughness - had taken the wheel.
The triumph of mind over body was complete.
When I finished that first marathon in 2013, three thoughts went through my mind. First: I am so happy it's over. Second: I am so thirsty. And finally: how in the hell do people qualify for Boston? That night I ran 4:44. It took every ounce of strength I had to cross that finish line in four hours and forty-four minutes. I thought I had done something incredibly significant that night. Now, I realize it was Reinier who did. By running withe me for all 26.2 agonizing miles, he gave me the blessing of a good race. By ensuring I had a good experience, he knew I would continue running. And I did, because it was so memorable. He taught me to embrace the struggle and celebrate the outcome.
Two and half year later, I was once again running to a finish line. It was surreal and blurry and overwhelming. Julie suddenly appeared on the sidelines, screaming my name. Kat and Alex disappeared into the crowd then reappeared. Brian cheered like a maniac. The announcer shouted "GO BUTTERCUP!" Then someone unleashed Scotty.
Once again, my little Bear was flying in front of me, carrying me through the last few meters. I had pictured this moment in my mind endless times, but never, ever did it involve Scotty running me in. We crossed the finish, me struggling to breathe while he glided in, smiling at his mama like only a little boy can. I watched as the race volunteers handed Scotty a medal. Aw, that's nice, I thought.
I completely lost it.
I didn't anticipate this. But those silly mother instincts kicked in and I pulled it together. I couldn't be a sobbing mess in front of my kid. I guided us through the crowd to Brian, who was waiting with a bouquet of yellow roses. Julie was on the sidelines, eating everything in sight. I couldn't help screaming, "WE ARE GOING TO BOSTON!" as I hugged her. I looked over for my official time and realized it was 3:33:33 -- a solid six and a half minutes under my qualifying time. Boston, indeed.
Wes, Julie's husband, actually did pinch me later that night after tequila shots. It hurt. It's real. This really happened. I did it. I qualified for the Boston Marathon. A 37-year old former therapist-turned-stay-at-home mom-turned-small-business-owner who started running as a way to cope with grief qualified for the most prestigious marathon in the United States. It took four year and seven marathons. No prior athletic accomplishments necessary. Thousands of miles, many failures, tons of doubts, two cut arms, one busted ovary, several ER visits, and enormous sacrifices by both her and her family -- she did it. Despite being too tall, too old, too fat, and with no genetic predisposition to long-distance running...she did it. I did it. I get to run Boston. I ran my first half marathon in 2011 in two hours and thirty-three minutes. Less than four years later, I finished a full marathon just one hour more. HELL YEAH.
I thought I would break down after the race, but I didn't. It was pure relief to done. I didn't cry until I got my mom's texts, which she had sent to me in real time. To paraphrase, there was a lot of "Kimmy! I'm praying for you! OMG don't flame out! This is a crazy pace! I'm praying more! OMG you did it! Now I can relax." I don't' know why that exchange brought out the sobs, but it did. Maybe it just got more real. Not only do I get to go to Boston, but so does my whole family. My mom loves American history and what better place to go than the birthplace of it. Bring it on, Boston! Tea parties, large sail boats, and the American Revolution. Brian and my mom are going to be so happy. I'll be stalking Scott Jurek at the expo while they are the museums.
Footnote: she also said she's planting buttercups in the garden this summer. She said they are hardy little plants that like the sun. I couldn't agree with her more.
The only thing better than having a great race is when your friends have great races. Julie ran an insane 3:24. Reinier came in sub-3, just like his bib predicted. Many boot campers/Power Hour 360'ers had shiny new PRs in the half marathon. Looks like we will be rolling into Boston next year with quite the squad. Wicked awesome.
No music. Paying close attention to my body was a blessing. Music, while helpful to disassociate on occasion, was not needed today. I tuned into my body and listened instead of trying to get lost in my thoughts or a song. It happened by accident, but it was very, very helpful
Extra water. That hydration pack paid off well. The extra weight was nothing compared to waterboarding one's self at aid stations. Plus, it carried my fuel bites and gel packs without incident. Dropping it at mile 21 was a fantastic boost. I do have a nasty scratch on my neck from the rubbing, but it will heal with time.
Run happy. This was, by far, my best training cycle. I felt completely at ease and relaxed through most of the process. You can't force yourself to run happy; it just happens. For that, I'm thankful.
The right tribe. I finally let down my defenses. Running with others is a good thing. Yes, you have to find the right tribe, but running with others is so much better than running alone. Again, I go back to one of Reinier's best quotes: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." I happen to stumble upon that magical fast AND far tribe that pulled me through this training cycle. Truly blessed, I am. Forever grateful, I will be. (Yoda, I am not).
What's next, you ask? Well, I'm planning to take the summer off. By that, I mean - dipping my toes into trail running. Running at night. Having fun and running like a kid. Not being wed to a training schedule, per say. I'd like to maintain my base and defend my title at the ET 10K in August (2nd female overall, ::cough cough::) I'm thinking attempting the Cedar City half in September as a ticket to get into the NYC marathon. Running a personal worst (PW) at the Blerch's half marathon in October. Cake at every aid station? Yes please!
Physically, how are things going? I think this photo sums it up nicely:
I don't know how I ended up with this amazing life, complete with a great and patient husband, an adorable kid, and wonderfully supportive and highly entertaining urban family, but I'll take it. Happy Kim, indeed.
Cheers to many happy miles ahead!