Continued from my previous post, Best Marathon I’ve Ever Run, Part One!
As the marathon course wound towards Big Flat Road, the scenery became more and more beautiful. The only other time I’d run that portion of the course was our miserably cold, wet training run, during which I’d had much more pressing concerns than the scenery.
By the time we turned onto Kona Ranch Road we were being passed by runners at very regular intervals. I found it increasingly enjoyable to cheer them on as they passed. A few ran on without seeming to hear us. Some folks are very focused that way. But most of them returned the cheers and encouragement. My pace group buddies and I found ourselves noticing their shoes, their form and sometimes their awesome outfits. We also noticed a few people who didn’t seem to be dressed for the weather, wearing long running tights or track pants. Hopefully they were fast enough to get through ahead of the heat.
As we started up the marathon’s one significant hill, we were mentally ready to tackle it. We knew that it was a deceptive hill that starts gently, goes up and flattens out for a while, and then provides a much steeper, but fairly short climb to the actual crest, before coming back down. I can’t speak for my pace group buddies, but the honest truth is, I was having so much fun chatting and cheering that I hardly noticed the hill.
Prior to the race I had compared my projected race time to that of a friend from the traditional running class and anticipated that he would pass me somewhere on the downward slope of the mountain. However, it turns out that he was going a bit faster than usual and passed me not long after we started up the hill. It was great to see him and chat for a second before watching him charge on up and out of sight.
As we moved along up the hill we saw quite a few spectators, including a gentleman on a horse dressed in full cowboy gear, and a wonderful woman playing her drum for us. This was also the time when we began to experience the heat, finally. Something happened that I hadn’t known to expect, though. All along the course, people put out their sprinklers for us. Some folks even stood along the course, holding their spray nozzles out, offering to wet us down as we passed.
After we came down the hill and joined up with the half marathon course, more and more spectators came out to cheer us on and more sprinklers appeared in our path. Some folks even set out coolers full of ice! How amazing is that? I had no idea that people along the course were so interested and kind. One lovely gentleman even sat playing a grand piano for us as we ran past!
Slowly we wound our way along the course and into town, running through sprinklers, cheering on runners and playing a kind of leapfrog with other run/walkers. When it comes right down to it, I probably could have picked up the pace and run a touch faster, but I was having a great time and feeling good at the pace I was going, so I’m actually glad I didn’t push it. By the time I was over the hill I’d finished two of my honey waters, so I made myself a fourth at a convenient aid station, topped off my plain water, and forged on.
Going through the tunnel under Reserve St, right around mile 20, was a mentally significant milestone to me. At that point I felt that I was “in town” and the end was near. The course through town winds quite a bit, but there were plenty of sprinklers and more than a few spectators to cheer us on. We plugged on, cheering on the other runners & run/walkers and enjoying every sprinkler we ran through.
Around mile 23, the crowd really started to thicken. This is also where the Cafe Dolce aid station is. In addition to water and sports drink, there were orange slices and gummy bears! Honestly, little things like this make me love this town.
After Cafe Dolce we started towards Bonner Park and the spot I call the Loop of Sadness. My sense of humor is such that making silly, dramatic names for things actually helps me stay positive about them, just to be clear. As we approached Bonner Park we passed another set of drummers, more sprinklers and even more people standing with their spray hoses out, happily spraying down anyone who wanted it. Bonner Park itself had quite a positive, party atmosphere, which almost made up for having to turn south, away from the finish line, to South Avenue, before finally turning onto the “home stretch” for the last (roughly) 3 miles.
I started to get really excited at this point, but I kept my pace slow and easy. I didn’t want to push myself too hard and putter out this close to the finish! I also wanted to stay with my pace group buddies. We’d come this far together after all.
I think I kept my composure pretty well, but my mind was racing on ahead, visualizing all the turns we had left and thinking about the bridge and the finish line. I am so glad we chose to run the full course on our 26 mile training run. Thanks to that run, I didn’t have any moments of disappointment that came from thinking I was closer to the finish than I actually was.
On we went, winding through those last few miles, through a part of town that is very familiar to me. The final aid station was on Gerald St. at Hellgate High School, which I graduated from 20 years ago. As we passed, I had a momentary connection with memories of my younger self. That girl never would have imagined running a marathon. It never would have occurred to her that it was something within her ability to do. I’m thrilled to have proven her wrong.
As we crossed 5th street we decided to take an extended walk break and prepare for our run across the bridge. I think a lot of run/walkers felt strongly about making sure they would run across that bridge and across the finish line. We turned off our timers and rounded the corner onto Fourth St. at a comfortable walking pace.
As we came to our final turn onto the bridge the volunteer stationed there informed us that we had 2 or 3 minutes to make it in under the 6 (he said 5, but was assuming we started at 6am) hour mark. That was all I needed to hear. I came around that corner and took off. I have no idea how many of the cheers of, “Yeah! Way to finish strong!” were meant for me, but I felt strong and happy and excited as I ran across that bridge and toward the big, blue arch at the finish. I did hear one friend call out my name, and hopefully I managed to acknowledge her adequately, but to be honest I was focused on that blue arch.
I ran across that pad as fast as my little legs were willing to carry me at that point, and slowed to a stop in front of a happy volunteer who put a medal around my neck. The next person I saw was none other than our super hero of a pace group leader, Kevin! He gave me a big hug and congratulations and took my timing chip off my shoe.
After that I wandered, in a bit of a daze until I found my pace group buddies and some other classmates and class leaders. Then I heard my name again, and my friend who had cheered me on earlier called me over to the fence for hugs, congratulations and chocolate milk! Best. Chocolate milk. EVAR.
There are more details and stories in my head that I’d like to share with you, but I think they’ll keep for now. My chip time was 5 hours, 58 minutes and 9 seconds. That’s a pretty darned slow time, but considering that it was not just my first marathon but my very first race, I’m perfectly happy with it. Besides, what I wanted more than anything was to have fun and finish healthy and strong, and I succeeded at that! I achieved my goal and I’m more than a little proud of myself.
I have no intention of stopping at this point, either. I’m going to keep running half marathons and marathons, though I’m likely to stick to the ones close to home for now. Maybe I’ll get faster. Maybe I won’t. As long as I keep having fun, I’m going to keep right on running before I walk.