This is not a race you run if you are looking to set a PR. According to the marathon website, the course includes 3,620 feet of elevation gain and 7,234 feet of total elevation change. That sounded plenty challenging. Three days before the race, organizers posted a fun little update on the race’s Facebook page stating: “Mother Nature is being a little mischievous…she raised the river levels and we’ve had to alter our course. The good news is that you just gained an additional 206′ of elevation change…yeehawwww.” Make that 7,440 feet of elevation change. Fun.
The week leading up to the the marathon was such a strange time. All week I’d wanted to say something about what happened at the Boston Marathon, but I’d been at a complete loss for words. I’d felt the need to do something, but didn’t know what I could possibly do.
The Boston Marathon bombing hit me really close to home. I am a marathon runner from Massachusetts. Like so many runners, I hope to one day qualify for Boston. I have stood on the sidelines at marathons and cheered for other runners, and it has never failed to choke me up. It’s emotional. Every runner has a reason for taking on such a monumental challenge. There are so many stories. And, standing on the sidelines, there are people cheering the runners on. There are people volunteering their time to offer encouragement and aid to each of these runners. They cheer for the winners, of course, but many of these people are still out there hours after the winners have finished, still cheering for the people in the very back.
A cold front had come through overnight and we awoke Saturday morning to temperatures in the low 40’s and wind chills in the 30’s. Cold, but for any other race it would have been fine. The only problem was, we were running up a mountain. In the first 7 miles, we were climbing from about 930 to over 2100 feet. I’d been up there before, and I knew it was going to be cold. It didn’t help that everybody around me seemed to be wearing tights and hats and coats. I was in a t-shirt and shorts. I did have my gloves, but I run in gloves until the temperature hits about 60.
We had to pass through a security check before we were allowed into the starting corral. I’ve never had to do that before, but I was grateful for the extra security. There was a Boston Marathon flag hanging over the starting line, and runners were jumping up and touching it as they crossed the line.
After a week of wanting to say or do something, but not saying or doing anything, I was ready to go out and run a marathon. I wanted to do it for all the people in Boston who couldn’t.
The first mile through town was gently rolling. Spring-green and purple trees lined the streets and the mass of brightly-clad runners against the crystal clear blue sky was breathtaking. I looked up and saw the Roanoke Star nestled on the top of Mill Mountain. We’d be up there at mile 13.
Enjoying mile one! Kurt and I are right behind the two guys in blue.
Mile two started the first climb up Mill Mountain.
We had run the first 15 miles of the course twice during training. Both times I’d had a pretty hard time, but today I was feeling great. It felt like I made it up to the Blue Ridge Parkway in no time at all.
The climb up to Roanoke Mountain is the steepest section of the entire course. Since it comes so early in the race, I had decided to walk the steepest parts. Most people were doing the same thing. My walk/run strategy must have worked pretty well, because I was feeling good and having fun! I had a huge smile on my face when I reached the top. A volunteer looked at me and said I made it look easy. As I turned the corner, I was treated to an amazing, clear mountain-top view.
Kurt snapped this picture from the top.
The road down from Roanoke Mountain was even steeper than the road up, but there were a few more spectacular views to enjoy. I continued to feel good as I ran back up to Mill Mountain. The wind was intense at the Roanoke Star, and I felt bad for the volunteers up there, who were bundled up and having trouble keeping their cups and signs from blowing away.
At the bottom of the mountain, my mood started to change. The runner’s high I’d felt on the mountain was gone. I was at mile 15, and I knew that I still had another big mountain to climb. Mile 26.2 felt really far away. I kept on plugging away, though.
I started the climb up Peakwood, and found myself walking a lot. More than I’d walked on Roanoke Mountain. More than I’d ever walked in a marathon before. I walked so much that I started wondering if I could call what I was doing “running a marathon”. Almost everybody else was walking, too, though. It was an interesting sight to look up and see everybody walking.
Peakwood had several false summits. It didn’t help that a little boy had told me that I was almost to the top when I was probably only a quarter of the way there. When I finally did get to what I thought was the top I vowed not to walk any more. Then I came to another steep hill. And another. And another. I ran as much as I could, but it was beginning to feel like I would never reach the top.
Eventually, I made it to the top, and was then treated to a fair amount of down hill, with one notable (evil!) exception.
Up until this point, I hadn’t been paying attention to my pace at all. At mile 20, I looked at my watch. I was hoping it would say I’d been running for less than 3 hours and 30 minutes. I couldn’t believe it when I saw 3:12. I was on pace to finish under 4:15. My goal had been 4:30.
At about mile 23, a lady in front of me fell just as I was running by. It didn’t look like she tripped, it looked more like she collapsed. I stopped and looked back to make sure she had gotten back up. She was trying, but seemed to be having trouble. I went back and helped her up. She said she was fine, but she didn’t look fine. She looked kind of out of it. I ran slowly and kept looking back and asking if she was OK. She said she was. At the next water stop, I saw one of the course officials who was on a bike. I told her that the lady in blue behind me had fallen, and that somebody might want to keep an eye on her. I wondered if I should have done more.
At mile 24 I got a side stitch. It got worse and worse until it felt like my entire stomach was seizing up. I started to wonder if I was having a heart attack or if something had happened to one of my internal organs. It was very painful. I was a little frustrated because I wanted to run faster and knew that I’d be able to if it just didn’t hurt so bad. Luckily, I had fewer than two miles to go. Pain is easier to run through than exhaustion is. Thankfully, the last mile was mostly down hill. I was not moving quickly but I kept moving.
I crossed the finish line and looked at my Garmin. 4:15.
A volunteer placed a medal around my neck. The pain in my stomach was making me a little shaky, but, for so very many reasons, I was incredibly happy.
I didn’t feel at all like eating anything. I got some water and walked around and stretched. I made my way back to the finish line and waited for Kurt. Suddenly I was worried. I hoped that his knee was holding up alright. I wanted him to cross the finish line soon and I wanted for him to be happy and I wanted to give him a big hug. A few minutes later I saw him. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw that he had two lei’s around his neck and a big smile on his face.
We went and found a spot on the grass. I laid down and closed my eyes, feeling the warm sun on my face. A mellow country band was playing on the stage nearby. The finish area was packed with runners talking about the race, people cheering for loved ones as they crossed the finish line, families with kids running around playing tag. And yes, more police and greater security, too. I was in awe of all of us. Less than a week earlier, this same setting (although, on a much bigger scale) had been the site of two bombings. And yet, here we all were.
Final time: 4:15:36
5th out of 24 in my age group
23rd out of 143 women
134th out of 424 finishers
I later read that a few people had to be treated by medical personnel, but nobody had to be transferred to the hospital. So the lady in blue must have been OK.