Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A LONG marathon story

(The actual "race" stuff is half-way-ish...if you're short attentioned, or just don't care!)

Three days post-marathon, and I don’t really “have time” to blog…and yet, here I am.  Why?  Because I don’t want to lose another little bit of the experience to memory lapse!

Dear friend, Sarah, and I flew to Southern California after work on Tuesday.  Having done the bulk of my training in winter-ish weather, I knew that the climate change was going to be one of my bigger issues…so I needed to acclimate.  (Or so, that’s the excuse I used to justify a week away from my family, soaking up the sun!)  I was not disappointed!  We had WONDERFUL weather!  Having a winter break away from the Northwest is always good for the soul!

Sarah and I enjoyed our first full day away from home at SeaWorld.  I was about 12-years-old the last time I was there, and the wonder and magic hadn’t changed a bit!  (Sarah, however, was a bit disappointed to learn that all whales down there are “Shamu.” J)

Thursday, we headed to the beach.  In all the years we’ve been doing Disney, never have we ventured to the beach!  It was everything I had imagined.  Beautiful weather, miles of sand, people of all ages on beach cruiser bikes with surf boards strapped on.  We parked at the Huntington Beach State Park and walked our way (1.5 miles each way) on the Pacific Coast Highway sidewalk to the famous Pier & walked out to Ruby’s Diner for lunch.  It was beautiful, and the food was good!  On the way we saw pelicans, fishermen, and surfers galore.  Afterward we walked back, this time on the beach multi-purpose trail.  It was so lovely!  We went to Downtown Disney that afternoon, so we didn’t “waste” park days shopping, and then drove to Glendale, California to see my cousin, Samantha for dinner.  It was a relaxing, though packed, day.

On Friday, we headed to Disney!  Sarah had never been there, so we were in for a real treat.  We’d decided just to do a one-day park-hopper ticket, as we didn’t want to have a full-packed time away.  I was most looking forward to the new Cars Land at California Adventure, so we headed there first.  (Cars is one of my all-time favorite movies & Mater is my favorite character.)

We started off on the “other” side of the park, with Soarin’, and proceeded around the Paradise Pier to the roller coaster.  Before we knew it, half the day was gone, and we hadn’t seen even half of what was open.  I told Sarah that I was sorry, but we had to upgrade our pass to two-days (returning Monday, after the race), and she agreed.  We were having so much fun just being leisurely…and we weren’t going to make it to Disneyland that day.

We finally made it to Cars Land, and I honestly cried upon seeing it!  Disney has outdone themselves…it’s just like walking into the movie!  Unfortunately, the “big” ride in Cars Land – Radiator Springs Racers – had terribly long lines, always over an hour, and the FastPasses were gone for the day.  So, we decided to make that our first stop on Monday.  The other rides in Cars Land were cute & fun, and on the way out, we were able to have our photos taken with Lightning McQueen.  That evening, we saw the water spectacle World of Color, which had changed since the first time I’d seen it, and ended our evening watching the Disneyland fireworks from the plaza in between the two parks.  It was a WONDERFUL day.

Saturday was the Surf City Race Expo, and we had decided to “pay it forward” by volunteering.  We were stationed at the Beach Cities Challenge (race series) booth, and got to visit with a lot of folks inquiring how to participate.  (It’s a three-event race series with half-pound medals – MAJOR BLING!)  It wasn’t really all that exciting – but we know that races depend on volunteer staff, so we made our contribution.  (In fact, Sarah was going to volunteer on Sunday, too – but they never contacted her with her assignment.)  I was able to pick up my own race packet, have some fun photos taken, and hook up with a couple of folks I knew who would be racing, too.  Cheryl – a friend from “Running Chicks in PDX” – flew down there to do the half-marathon with a friend of hers.  Lea – my rockstar coach – lives in the LA area, and was also doing the half, with her boyfriend and some other friends.  They both stopped by the Beach Cities booth to say “hello” and connect.  So fun to see folks you know in a crowd of 20,000+!!!  Yes - 20,000!  There were about 3,000 full-marathon participants, and 18,000 half-marathoners!  After our shift & a good dinner, we were headed off for an early bedtime.  I had to catch my shuttle bus at 5:30 AM…and eat before that!

Let me take you on a little side trip here…We had chosen to stay the whole week at one of the race-sponsored hotels, in Santa Ana.  It wasn’t one of the “high-priced” hotels on the Pacific Coast Highway, but it was less than 10 miles away, and a very nice hotel.  Our discounted rate included free parking and a nice breakfast (not just continental) every morning of our stay & a shuttle on race day.  Each morning, as Sarah & I went down, we felt out of place in our “vacation-wear”, as there were many business-folks eating – a very serious, suit & tie crowd.  Saturday morning, that all changed.  We walked into a bustling-with-energy, sneakered crowd – those who were admiring each other’s race t-shirts, etc. It was so much fun.  I was wearing my green “Irish I Was Faster” shirt…which was a hit.  People who saw me at the race expo would say, “That’s the gal from the hotel.”  What fun!

Back to your regularly scheduled report…Race morning, I had coffee & protein in our room, and grabbed some fruit from the breakfast set up for the race participants on the way to the bus.  Sarah was going to join us later – in the rental car – so I sat next to a gentleman in his 60’s who was doing his 64th marathon.  (He is a “50-stater” – he’s done one in every state!  There were lots of those folks on the course.)  He was very encouraging!  (His wife was doing the half, and would ride the later bus.)  Our race start time was 6:30-ish (I was in wave 3 – at 6:34AM), and we got there with about ½ hour to check in our gear bags & hit the bathroom.  It was perfect timing…not enough time to get nervous or cold.

All of a sudden, the National Anthem was being sung, and the first wave (elite – FAST – runners) was off.  They did some fun things with the crowd as they waited two minutes between each race.  Birthday folks, 50-staters, first-timers, costumes, etc.  And, we were OFF!

Lea’s boyfriend, Max, had encouraged me the day before to “run your own race” – don’t get caught up in the crowd, enjoy the moment, etc.  I tried – I really did – but it is hard with all of that energy in the crowd!  At ¼ mile in…there was this man dressed in a jester costume, encouraging the crowd with a sign that read “You are almost there – only 26.2 miles to go” – with the .2 crossed off.  Cute & fun!  I felt really strong & ran most of the first 5K (3 miles).  At mile one, I got hot & shed my long-sleeved shirt…running sleeveless the rest of the day.  (I was a good girl – and did REALLY well with my sunscreen!  NO BURN!)  There was a slight incline as we entered into the Bolsa Chica neighborhood & I was really planning to walk the uphills, but an older gentleman came up beside me & encouraged me to run with him – because there was a photographer! J  So, we ran.  At mile 5, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to keep that up if I was going to keep on, so I let him take off without me.  It was a nice, shady walk through the Huntington Beach Central Park, though the bathroom situation was FAR between.  (I was fine – but wasn’t sure I was going to be!)  I was pretty tuckered out, coming out of the park, and some stinker put a BIG HILL at mile 8!  I was starting to feel defeated & deflated, but at mile 8.5 we rejoined the course with the half-marathon folks, many of who were just starting.  I kept my eyes peeled for Lea, but didn’t think we’d really connect.

Another side trail…I have, on several occasions, solicited friends for playlist recommendations for my running.  I sometimes end up with music I wouldn’t have normally chosen – but find really works for me.  One of the songs Lea gave me (that always makes me think of her) came on my iPod about mile 10, and I thought, “Wouldn’t that be funny if I saw her now?”

As we rounded the corner out of the neighborhood, and back onto the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), there were FINALLY some porta-potties!  Just as I stepped in, I heard, “CHANDA!” It was Max & Lea passing, and they waved as they went on.  Her song was STILL PLAYING!  (You can’t make this stuff up!)  I was so energized by the timing (the song, Lea, and the bathroom stop!), that I was stoked to run again.

At mile 12.5, both the half & full courses turned and headed back on the PCH.  I was near mile 11 when I heard, “Chanda” again…and this time it was Vancouver Cheryl!  Just minutes later, I heard it again…and this time it was Lea & Max again.  It was so nice – in such a crowd, while running “alone” – to know there were people out there looking for me.  Even the “bus buddy” patted my shoulder as he passed me (earlier on).

I was remembering Max’s admonition…to be in the moment, and enjoy the things along the way.  It was easy to do early-on.  I was admiring the very large homes on PCH, wondering what folks do to afford them.  (Not envying…just wondering.)  Admiring the folks of all ages with their bikes & dogs & surf boards.  The sound of the ocean – being thankful for the breeze & scenery.  But, by the half-way mark, I knew I’d overdone my speed early on.  I was really tanking.   I knew my hydration and nutrition were good, it was just the speed & heat that were getting to me.

As I turned the corner to head back for my second jaunt up PCH (full-marathon only) at mile 16, I realized I was the last marathoner headed that way.  (It was hard to tell before, as there were still lots of half-ers on the road.)  I was really OK with being last, as my pace was still good, for me.  I was seeing other marathoners headed back (a second time), and didn’t feel alone.  I got smiles, words of encouragement, and felt part of the group.  That was until mile 18.  By mile 18, I had no gas left in my tank – just sheer determination to gut it out.  One of the last dozen or so folks turning the corner realized that I was one of them, and handed me a banana.  Now, I normally hate bananas on my run…but at that point, I was willing to try just about anything to give me a boost.  Several people would say “you’re almost there” – but they were lying, and I knew it!  I knew the last turn was a mile 20.5.  As I neared the 19 mile mark, people kept saying, “Look for the guy with the handlebar mustache.  He’s the support guy, and he’ll get you there.  He’s a hoot.”

Well, let me tell you…Mr. Handlebar was there.  He was the support crew.  And, maybe early on he was a hoot.  But, he was clearly not interested in waiting for me.  He said, “Oh, I thought the lady ahead of you was the last one.  I’ll have to call in.”  (She was quite a ways ahead of me.)  He asked me if I planned to finish the race!  I said, “Yes.  In fact, I already bought a “finisher jacket” so I have to!”  He laughed, but I really don’t think he believed me.  He went away and called in (while I proceed to the turnaround), and came back.  (It was 1:15 PM.)  He informed me that the race was officially over at 1:30 (I already knew that), and they would be calling him in soon…and did I really think I could do this without support? 

OH MISTER!  You are messing with the wrong pig-headed woman!  I explained that I had plenty of hydration on me, plenty of fuel, and it was a public path so even without the official “race” being on, I was going to finish.  He bid me adieu, and was gone.  THANK HEAVEN, or I might have handle-barred him right off his fancy little recumbent bike!  Don’t get me wrong.  I know he was a volunteer, and had only signed up for his allotted time.  I don’t begrudge him not “supporting” me…but he was just plain rude in his delivery.  There were PLENTY of live bodies on that public path, should I have had a medical crisis, or whatever.  (Off my soapbox.)

Anyway, I proceeded on.  I realized that there would be no “official” support, and after a good cry, I supported myself. I stopped when I needed a bathroom break, (REAL bathrooms on that path!), enjoyed the scenery when I passed little inlets.  Enjoyed the few volunteers who were still cleaning up the aid stations (mostly high school kids who always clapped and offered me whatever kind of aid stuff they still had left).  Non-race folks would see my bib, realize I was still “in it” and encourage me.  Another “official” race person found me somewhere in there, and made sure I was OK.  He was nice…and wanted me to know that, though the race was officially over, I needed to make sure to get to the check-in at the end, so they knew I was OK.  (And asked if I was OK!)  I’m thinking that was around mile 22.  I was exhausted, but truly wasn’t HURTING at that point.  However, my brain clearly was staring to melt.

At mile 23, I encountered my last official race person.  They were watching another guy who looked really bad off.  I, for some reason, failed to realize until later that he was part of the race.  He was clearly in pain, but moving forward.  (I realize this in hindsight.)  The race lady offered me some energy gel (no more, thank you!) and pretzels (yes, salt, please!), and encouragement…and I kept on – eventually passing the guy they were watching.  And, then “something” happened. 

I didn’t twist my ankle or fall off a curb or anything, but my left foot was in excruciating pain.  I realized I was just done in.  I took another bathroom break (icky bathroom!), and proceeded to start bawling uncontrollably once walking again.  I had myself a right-fine breakdown (all alone), and even tried walking barefoot for a short while…just to see if my shoes were the issue.  (They weren’t.)  I sat down on some steps (mile 24?) and tried to figure out what to do.  I thought of all the hours I have spent away from my family these past two years, and particularly the past four months.  I thought of the time I was spending away from them for this trip…and the money we could have used elsewhere.  I thought of the “finisher jacket” I had already bought – spending more on it than I should have.  And, I called Eric. 

He said, “You are strong.  You are capable.  I have been praying for you all day.  And you CAN do this.”  I put my shoes back on, and started hobbling toward “home.”  I called Lea and told her I hadn’t died, that I was in a lot of pain…but I would make it.  And, the tears dried up.

Mile 25…the beautiful pier was in sight.  And, all of a sudden, the jester was in sight, walking toward me!  He came to me and started walking with me.  His name is Ed, and it’s his mission to walk in the last racer at every event he participates in!  He was so encouraging to me!  Half a mile later, “my Lea” was there!  She walked with us!  At mile 26, Ed turned around his sign again…this time the “26” was crossed off and only the “.2” was left!  I could see what was left of the finish line…and my friends – Sarah & Cheryl!  (I had no idea Cheryl was tracking me & came back to welcome me home.)  My foot hurt like crazy – but I RAN across the finish line.  Sarah had my finisher’s medal – even though most of the staff was gone.  (There, surprisingly, was a timing gal there!)  And, surprisingly, I didn’t cry! J

We discussed the man I had passed – wondering if he was OK – and they told me he had dropped out.  I was OK with being last…I was glad to be done!  We gathered my belongings, hugged around, and went back to home-base.  On the way, I called those folks who had been tracking me, texting me, leaving me messages.  What a fan club!

(Oh…let’s talk about tracking, since I’ve mentioned it a few times.  The race had this great timing-company who tracked us on GPS (via Google Maps) – where people could “see” where I was online.  How fun is that?  My parents and several friends really thought it was fun.)

Sarah, being a nurse, knew just how to handle me! While I showered, she got my heating pad hot, my pillows stacked up, ice packs made and drugs & food next to the bed.  After seeing the swelling in my foot, she headed to CVS for an ace wrap & got me all bandaged up.  After all, we had to go see Mickey Mouse the next day!

It was a rough night…my foot hurt, my knees & hips were sore – but I was raring to go on Monday morning, and surprisingly was mobile, except for the foot.  (I am so amazed at how fast my body recovers these days…from “normal” aches & pains.  Again, the foot being the exception.)  Sarah & I decided, seeing the size & color of my foot, that I would use the electric wheelchair at Disney that day…a decision which saved me MUCH pain.  (Contrary to popular belief, it does NOT get you to the front of all the lines, as most are accessible these days.  It does offer shorter STANDING times, though.)

One thing which was new to ME this time was the “birthday” pin.  Sarah had insisted I get one, this being my 40th birthday trip, and all.  What fun it was to have many cast members tell me “Happy Birthday” as they noticed.  J 

Having missed Radiator Springs Racers on our Friday visit – priority #1 was to get a FastPass first thing.  Though we arrived only 45 minutes after park opening, they were handing out the LAST fast passes of the day!  We were SO FORTUNATE to get passes for late evening.  We could spend the day at Disneyland, and the evening at California Adventure.

We enjoyed the “old” rides at Disneyland as much as the “big” stuff elsewhere.  It was fun sharing this stuff with Sarah.  Though the park hours were short that day (it’s off-season), we had plenty of time to enjoy everything we wanted to.  Peter Pan, Space Mountain, Dumbo, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

We ventured back over to California Adventure to take in Cars Land in the twilight – and it was lit up like the old Route 66 – BEAUTIFUL!  The ride was EVERYTHING I hoped it would be…so worth the wait, and such a wonderful thing to do “last” on our trip.  And, guess what?  MATER was greeting folks on our way out.  He even “sang” Happy Birthday to me.  (Yes, Mater the tow-truck – it’s Disney Magic, after all!)  I truly didn’t think it could end more marvelous than that…but there was more!

On our way out of the park, I decided to try the new “Disney/Starbucks” coffee shop.  I doubted that anyone could make coffee the way our local Starbucks does…my sugar-free hazelnut soy latte.  I truly thought it would be just “drip” coffee.  But, NO…Disney does REAL Starbucks!  We grabbed our coffee, and headed back to Disneyland to end our trip with the parade.  We got seating at the end of the parade route, in the wheelchair section…and we were alone…just Sarah and I…in our spot.  As the cast made their way “out” of the parade…most of them looked our way and “mouthed” Happy Birthday to me!  Even the characters bowed & blew kisses.  It was a DREAM!  I felt like a forty-year-old princess!  (Oh wait, I am!)  On the way out of the park, we stopped at Downtown Disney Tortilla Joe’s for dinner…and I was presented with a birthday dessert & song there, too.  What an amazing ending.

So, yesterday we flew home.  I hobbled through the airport…knowing full-well I was not OK.  Eric picked us up at PDX, and took me straight to urgent care.  I explained what had transpired (even the Disneyland part), and the doctor was so fun – he agreed that he’d have handled it the same way…if the damage was done, it was done…why ruin my last day down there?  We had x-rays & nothing “big” showed…so diagnosis is “stress fracture that doesn’t show yet, or strained ligament.”  Treatment the same – walking cast for six weeks.  All in all…no big deal, just a BIG STORY!

And, get this.  I checked my time this morning (8:14)…and low and behold…the “dropped out” guy didn’t!  He came in an HOUR after me (9:10)!  He was as determined as me!  But, now I don’t get the last-place mantle…just the last female one J

Was it worth it?  Without any reservation – YES!  Will I be doing another marathon?  I’m really not sure.  How will this story end?  Dramatically, I’m sure….because I’m LIVING MY FIT DREAMS!