The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. I hit snooze twice, then tumbled out of bed around 4:45. When I took the dog out, the first thing I noticed was the temperature. It was cold, in the low 40s. I saw what looked like snow covering the pavement and driveway. Then I realized it was just the moonlight bathing everything in its gentle glow. I took a moment and looked at the stars, which I rarely am able to see here in the city. Beautiful.
After some Eggo blueberry waffles and a big glass of water, I broke out the Bodyglide and went to...um...town. I was careful to get all the spots I'd missed on previous long runs. I got dressed and affixed my timing chip to my left shoe. By 6, Angie and I were out the door and on our way to the starting area, which was at a place called Crown Center. We found a parking spot a couple blocks away. I noticed a few runners doing short jogs in a effort to stay warm and loose. I opted to save my warm-up for the first couple miles of the race. We met Topher inside Crown Center. Topher and I had been emailing about starting the race together, and I'm glad it happened that way.
I then noticed a huge cowboy hat bobbing through the crowd. My dad wore the hat so I'd notice him, and it sure worked. It was good to have him there to give me hug before the start, and I appreciated him coming. At about 6:50, we went outside so we could get our spot in the pack. We located the pacer we wanted to follow. Topher and I were both hoping to keep up with the 4:50 pace group, meaning we would hopefully finish the race in 4 hours and 50 minutes. We found the pace leader and kept her in our sight. I hugged Angie and Dad, and waved to them as they made their way to the sidewalk to see us off.
Before we knew it, the gun went off, then we just stood there. We shuffled forward a bit, then just stood there some more. With an estimated 8000 runners participating, it took roughly 3 minutes to reach the starting line. Finally, my shoes passed over the mat of the starting line, and we were off.
The strategy of our pace leader was to warm up at a conservative pace for the first couple of miles, then settle into a more consistent pace for the remainder of the race. Topher and I chatted as we ran. He's a funny guy, and he helped me keep a light, upbeat attitude. Thanks, Topher!
The first few miles took place in downtown Kansas City. We ran through the revitalized Power and Light District, then headed by Union Station, then up the huge hill behind Liberty Memorial, where Barack Obama would be holding a rally that very night. By mile 4 I was already winded, but I smiled for a photo when I saw my dad and uncle at an aid station.
We continued through midtown, then through the Westport area. At that time, Topher needed to make a pit stop in Quicktrip. He said he'd catch up to me in a bit. I was still keeping up with the pacer, but I was starting to get lonely without someone familiar by my side. When the course split, and the marathoners split from the half-marathoners, I really felt alone. After going through the aid station at mile 8, I heard my name being called from behind me. I looked back and there was Topher. I said something like "Boy, am I glad to see you," and we kept going. Now we were heading through the area known as The Plaza. It was strange and awesome to be running right down the middle of Ward Parkway Blvd., a normally busy road that's lined with huge houses and gorgeous trees.
Around mile 12, we encountered the dreaded Sunset Hill. I ran this thing in training, and let me tell you, it's a bee-otch. It goes up, then plateaus, then goes up some more. Every time you think you're done, you're wrong. I was huffing and puffing, as were many of the people around me. It felt pretty awful to be so winded even before the halfway point.
Then, I saw the familiar cowboy hat in the distance. I approached my dad and he started running with me. "Hey Dad" was all I could muster. He told me my mother was up ahead with the camera. Once again, I put on a smile. Here's a blurry photo I love:
We got to the halfway point, and my time was 2:26, almost 10 minutes more than my half-marathon time in Omaha a few weeks ago. I tried not to be discouraged by that fact.
That's the last time I remember seeing Topher. I was kind of out of it, and all I could think of was that I'd be seeing some friends and family at mile 16. The pacer was still in front of me, but with every mile that went by, I wondered whether I'd be able to keep up with her.
I was overjoyed to see familiar faces when I reached the southernmost point of the race. Here's a picture of my mom, Uncle Burr, Aunt Lucy, and Uncle Pat holding up a big sign for me:
Then, I saw a dude taking pictures of me. I didn't see his face because he was behind a huge camera. When he put the camera down, I realized it was a coworker friend of mine, Michael. He ran with me for a block or two and asked me how I was doing. I honestly can't remember what I told him, but I probably sugar-coated things so I wouldn't look too wimpy. Then, another coworker friend, Eric, rode in on his bike and said hi. I felt so lucky to have such a big support system out there.
Speaking of support systems, it was right then that I saw Mandy on the curb, ready to run the next 8 miles with me. I was so elated to see her that I gave her a one-armed hug as we ran.
We got to the next corner and saw Angie, my friend Noelle, and running buddies Pritha and Ellen, all cheering me on. Mandy asked me how I was doing, and I didn't feel the need to sugar-coat things for her. "Could be better," I said. She spent the next few miles talking to me without expecting me to talk back, which was very sweet. At that point, every word spoken was an effort, and I still had 10 miles to go.
A couple miles later, I saw my friends Mary and Bing holding up a big sign for me. The pace group leader (who I was still miraculously keeping up with) told me I had the best support on the course, and I believed her.
Running, running, and more running. At mile 19, I was in bad shape. I realized there was no way I'd be able to keep up with the 4:50 pacer and survive to tell the tale, so I bade her a silent goodbye and slowed down to a glorified trot. Better yet... a shuffle. The Wall had found me. I told Mandy I needed to walk for a minute, so we slowed down even more. She offered me the bottle of Gatorade she'd brought along. I wanted Gatorade, but didn't want it. I was hungry, but the idea of food sickened me. My brain was a mushy, pureed haze. This feeling would continue for the next 5 miles.
When mile 20 arrived, so did Pritha and Ellen. They were there to run me to the finish line. I wanted to hug them, but I could barely even talk, let alone lift my arms. They kept telling me how strong I was, and how well I was doing. They were trying to pick me up, out of my funk. It was a sweet and valiant effort, but I was still feeling awful. I could feel blisters forming on my feet, my hips were grinding, and my legs seemed to be made of lead. I was also having a hard time forming coherent sentences. It was as if I was drunk, and not in the "I'm slightly buzzed and having a great time" way. It was more like the "everything is spinning and I'm gonna hurl" way. By now, I'd pretty much kissed a sub-5 hour marathon goodbye. I was at peace with that fact. I knew I'd finish, and that was my primary goal.
Mile 22. Another big hill that never seemed to end. Slowing to a walk yet again, I saw my folks up ahead. "There are my parents. I'm gonna lose it, you guys," I told my friends. My dad walked down to my side and I started crying.
My mom wanted a picture of me with my "Running Girls," but she was having a hard time getting a shot while we were still moving. Finally, I just said "screw it, let's stop for a picture." This was the only time I stopped moving during those 26.2 miles. Here we have Mandy, me, Pritha, and Ellen:
More running, more running. I'd run for 5 or 10 minutes, then need to walk again. It seemed to go on like this forever. At some point, I glanced back and noticed there was still a pace group leader behind us. In a foggy stupor, I asked the girls if they knew what pace group that was. Pritha ran back to check, then came back and said it was the 5 hour group. Hearing her say that was the medicine that brought me back to life.
Although I still had to walk every now and then, I picked up the pace as much as I possibly could. I kept looking back to see how close behind me they were. "They're still behind you," the girls kept reassuring me. "You're going to make it."
Miles 24 and 25 clicked by relatively quickly, when compared to the previous 5. I distinctly remember Ellen saying "You're going to remember this for the rest of your life." They were going to drop out and let me run the last mile by myself, but I asked them to stay with me, because I still needed them. I asked that they remain with me until just before the finish line.
Mile 26. Only 0.2 miles to go, and for the first time that day, the words "I'm almost there" were true. I heard the echo of the finish line commentator's microphone. After rounding a corner, I saw the finish. I thanked my friends as they dropped behind me and onto the sideline area. Then the tears started flowing. I'm crying now, just writing about it. I saw the clock. 4:59:50. I took every little bit of strength I had left and kicked up my heels. As I crossed the mat at 4:59:58, I threw my hands up in happiness. I would later learn that my official chip-time was 4:56:50, because it took those 3 or so minutes to get to the starting line after the gun went off.
Through all my training , I'd looked forward to the moment of crossing that finish line and having a medal placed around my neck. When the moment occurred, however, I completely forgot about the medal. All I cared about was finding my family and friends. It's a blur, really, and I can't remember the order in which I located everyone. I found my friend Patty and her daughter, Sophia. Patty was in tears, which made me cry even more. I saw my parents and and hugged my dad. I was bawling at this point, and he was crying too. He kept saying "You did it!" over and over. My mom hugged me and said she was proud of me.
I went to the other side of the finish area and hugged Angie and Noelle.
Somewhere in there, a volunteer knelt down to cut the chip off my shoelaces. "You can lean on me, if you need to," he said. And I did. Another volunteer gave me water, and another gave me one of those space-age mylar blankets. Then, a nice woman hung the medal around my neck.
I found my running girls and hugged them all. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for what they did for me that day. Every step I took during miles 19-24 is dedicated to them.
I was ready to head home. We walked a couple of blocks to the car and I finally was able to sit down. On our way home, we stopped by my grandmother's nursing home so I could tell her I was okay and show her my medal. It wasn't one of her good days, but I could still tell she was excited and happy for me.
Then home, then a shower. I was having some stiffness and soreness, but nothing too bad. I went into our dining room and saw that Angie had put a giant "Congratulations" banner on the wall, and she bought me a beautiful "26.2" silver necklace. Isn't she sweet? She has been so patient and supportive during all of this. I'm extremely lucky to have such an amazing partner.
That evening, we threw a casual pizza party with 30 of my closest friends and family to celebrate. Everyone seemed amazed at how well I was getting around. I was pretty amazed, myself. Granted, I had a few beers, but I was limber and loose. I probably could have gone for a run if I'd wanted to. I didn't want to, though.
It was a perfect day. Everything happened just as I wanted it to, and nothing went wrong. Even my "bad miles" were part of the package. I expected to have a low point, so that doesn't count as a negative point for the day. After the festivities were over and we went to bed, I just stared at the ceiling and thought over the day. What an amazing experience.
When I woke up early this morning and tried to move my legs, there was much protest from my body. My entire lower half is its own entity, and it doesn't want to do much of anything. Getting into and out of chairs is a major event which requires much planning and strategy. When leaving a room, I make sure to think if there's anything else I need to grab, because who knows when I'll be able to walk in there again? The zombie walk that plagued me after my longer training runs is back with a vengeance. For fear of scaring small children, I haven't ventured out of the house much today.
Still, I'm on cloud nine. I did it. I ran a marathon. I never thought I'd say those words, but here I am saying them.