It was finally 7:45! The announcer wished us all luck and then the theme to Chariots of Fire started playing. I was waiting to hear an actual gun go off, but before I knew it, we had started up to a jog. I quickly got my watch to re-find the satellite signal, and then it was official, I passed under the starting banner, wet and shivering, but oh so ready to go! The crowd thinned rather quickly, I suppose because I was in the back of the pack, or because we had an entire highway to ourselves. No matter the reason, it was nice to not feel so claustrophobic. We were a few minutes in when I heard my first directive from Star..."SLOW DOWN!!!" I looked at my watch, 10:14 per mile. We were supposed to be holding 10:54. The adrenaline rush of the start and the pull of the crowd in front of us were hard to resist. We dialed it back and fell into a steady rhythm. The rain hadn't stopped, but it had slowed, or I just didn't notice it anymore since we were finally running. What I did notice though was the steady crinkle of all the trash bags moving around me. It was quite a sound. Some folks had made only head holes, some had also made arm holes. Some had their race belts on the outside of their bags, and one woman even had a Target bag on her head. This was the first time I was glad I did not have my poncho to deal with. Star kept us focused on the task at hand. She said that we all probably heard the course was "flat", but she wanted us to know that was not true. She said this course is "FAST, not FLAT". This came just as we reached our first rolling hill. We'd encounter several more of these rollers over the first 10 miles, thank goodness we had Star to keep us moving in the right direction. The 5K mark came up quickly. This was by no means a fast 5K, but I was surprised to know I had already run 3 miles and barely felt like I was working. The rain had let up almost completely at this point, but Star advised us against getting rid of our jackets or baggies just yet. I was anxious to get out of my soaking wet wind breaker, but my hands were still thawing, so I kept it zipped tight with my fists tucked inside the sleeves. I made small talk here and there with others in the 4:45 group, but I mostly just listened. It was fun to hear the other runners stories about how they got here. There was an 18 year old guy who promised his Grandpa he'd run a marathon for him, the 68-year old man who was running the 2nd marathon of his life, 40-years after he'd run his first. There was the woman who ran with Star at Grandma's last year and vowed that she was only going to run marathons that she was pacing from now on! Then there was Joey, who's family seemed to be at every single mile marker wildly cheering her on. We all decided that today Joey's family was going to be our family. She even told her squad to include a "Yay 4:45!" cheer for us each time we passed them :)
I had skipped water at the mile-3 aid station. I don't drink a lot on runs, so I didn't want to start too early and get bloated, or need to stop for a porta-potty so soon in the race. So I was glad to see the mile-5 balloon up ahead and our next aid station. I took my first energy gel here, and as I did, my stomach gave a great growl. I was SOOO hungry. I was really kicking myself for eating so early and passing over the bagels in the hospitality room that morning. We walked through the stop and I got a glass of water, thanked the volunteers and started back up. Shortly after this, I decided it was time to lose my jacket. I did wrap it around my waist, just in case, but I was plenty warm by now, and I figured if I ditched the jacket, I might actually get to dry off a bit too. It was about this time that Star told us she had a "lecture" to give us about the race. I was excited to glean any insight I could from her, so I listened intently. She said that it was always helpful to break the marathon into segments and that if we thought the half-way point of the marathon was 13.1 miles, were were wrong. She said the halfway point was mile-20 since those last 6.2 miles were going to hurt just as much as the first 20 did. However, we were going to break our race into three segments. The first 10 miles, the miles we run with our legs. The second 10 miles, the miles we run with our heads, and the last 6.2 miles, the miles we run with our hearts. She told us that the first 10 were easy. If we had trained right, we could turn out 10 miles in our sleep. We just needed to hold our pace, keep our fuel up, and run. She said this was not the time to dedicate our miles to a loved one, or to think about how lucky we are to be able to run when so many others can't....save those thoughts for later, because we'll really need them then. So I kept running with my legs. I felt great. The sun had come out, the fog had started to lift, and we could just catch a glimpse of Lake Superior on our left. We kept up our pace and intermittent conversations for the next five miles. I was excited to see so many people out on the course cheering us on. I'm sure most of them were families of the runners, but we also passed several campgrounds where the residents came out to support us, it was really great. I took some more energy gel at mile 9 and when we hit the 10 mile mark and I couldn't believe how good I felt. My breaths were coming easily, my legs felt strong and even though my right foot was a little sore, I really did feel like I could keep up this pace forever. I still hadn't dried off, so when the urge to pee hit me at mile 11, I did what any intense competitor would do, I peed in my pants. Just a little, just enough to make the urge go away. Besides, I was soaking wet anyway, who would notice? We were coming up now on the actual halfway mark. I ate another energy gel at mile 13 and saw all the porta-potties that were lined up for the start of the half marathon. I decided not to stop since my little let-go a couple miles earlier seemed to have releived my need to full on eliminate. Someone in our group exclaimed "We're halfway there!" To which Star quickly replied "NO...We are NOT halfway there....what IS the halfway point?" to which we all obligingly answered "20 miles". I could not contain my excitement though, 13.1 miles in the books, and I felt great...I could definitely do this again!
Things kept going well through mile 15. That is when I noticed my right hamstring and hip flexor starting to feel a little tight. I wasn't sure where this was coming from as I hadn't had issues with my hamstring for months, and my hip flexor had never felt like this before. Thankfully the mile-15 aid station had bananas and orange slices. I ran up to the first volunteer I saw and took both banana halves out of his hands, quickly thanked him and sucked them both out of the peel. Then I grabbed an orange slice and a glass of water and walked along savoring the calories filling up my empty belly. When we started running again, I felt better, guessing I just really needed some solid food in my body to keep me going. But, by the aid station at mile 17, the pains were back and I walked a bit slower than the group through the stop to try and stretch out a bit. I took my next energy gel before I heard Star give her count down to start running again. I wasn't really ready, but I didn't want to get behind. I started running again even though I was a few steps back from the pack, which was okay. I didn't feel a need to sprint up to catch them. I could still hear Star calling out her directives, and I felt good about the pace for now. I had Star and her balloons in my sights up to the mile-19 aid station, but when we stopped there for a quick water and walk break, I knew I wasn't going to be ready to start up with them again at their pace. So in my head, I said "good-bye" to Star and my plans to run a 4:45 marathon. For those of you who know how competitive I am, this was hard. But, I knew that I had run as smart as I could have for 19 miles and my body was just ready to slow down a bit. I was going to finish this race, that much I knew, a time goal was just going to have to wait for another day.
Even though there were several runners all around me, I felt alone for the first time that day. It was okay, I was running with my head per Star's advice and I started to visualize the rest of the race before me. I was finally running on London Road and the crowds had really picked up. I got to the marker at mile-20 and said to myself "halfway there!". There was a lot to take in on the course at this point. I tried to give a high-5 to everyone that had their hand out, told several college kids "no thanks" when they held out beer cups for me, turned down Jolly Ranchers being handed out by the Snow Monster from the Empire Strikes Back, and gave a HUGE grin to the guy holding up a sign that said "Smile if you peed a little". At mile 21 I had slowed quite a bit, but I had planned to dedicate that mile to my Dad (his birthday was May 21). I'm not the "praying" kind, but when I hit the mile marker there, I looked towards the sky and said "okay Dad, I could use a little strength here". I'm pretty sure where ever he is he looked down on me and said "Suck it up Buttercup!" I couldn't help but smile, and cry at the thought of how proud he would have been of me. I made it to the aid station at mile-22 and ate one more energy gel. Then I saw them...the trolls! Apparently the trolls are set up each year to help cheer runners up Lemon Drop Hill, a freeway overpass that marks mile 22, and the steepest climb of the race. I didn't want to stop, but I knew that I would regret not taking a picture of them. So I pulled out my phone and snapped one. The ladies sitting with trolls told me "Good job runner!" I said, "thanks", and that I probably shouldn't have stopped since it was likely I wasn't going to be able to go again. But they assured me that I could do it, and who was I to disappoint random strangers. So I started running again, on to Lemon Drop and it's dreaded hill!
|The trolls didn't let the rain diminish their cheer!|
We were now running straight down the middle of Superior Street in downtown Duluth. The crowd was still strong and I passed belly dancers, several folks with their medals on their necks, and a row of college kids who all high-fived me as I passed. Reading my shirt they shouted "Yeah, Badass Mother Nature!" Close enough...I figured they had been partying all day, I was happy they could read at all. I hit the 24 mile marker and took a quick walk break as I drank my last sips of water. I told myself, "This is it, you have 2.2 miles left, you have nothing to do after this but collapse at the finish line, someone will carry you to the medical tent, so just GO!" So I went, determined I was going to run as fast as I could until the end. I don't even remember passing the 25 mile mark, but I remember making a conscious effort to not think about the aid station. I didn't need to stop, and I didn't want to be tempted. I was dedicating this mile to Bill. He has been such an awesome support throughout training, always believing in me, I really wouldn't be here without him. We turned off Superior Street and had another small incline as we ran over the Freeway, which thankfully led to a blissful down hill section. The crowds were so great, still cheering for every runner even though we were four and half hours into the race. I passed by the Aquarium and knew the end was near. We turned again along the harbor and I passed by the slip bridge, so close. When I saw the William H. Irvin ore boat, I knew I was in the home stretch, one more turn and I'd be able to see the finish line. I passed the 26 mile marker and said "This is for you Kayley!" When I asked her which mile she wanted me to dedicate to her she said right away "26, because you'll be running so fast". I honestly could feel myself filling up with her energy. I approached the corner and a woman was standing there with her medal around her neck "You only have 90 seconds of running left." I had to laugh, I had never heard such a beautiful phrase in all my life! 90 seconds, I could survive anything for 90 seconds. I made the turn and could see it, the finish line. As I approached the bleachers I searched the faces for Bill. I thought I might burst into tears if I saw him, but I had managed to keep myself from crying for the last 2 miles, so was sure I could hold it together for .2 more. I didn't see him, but it was okay, I was there, at the finish. As I approached, I heard the announcer say "And here's Linda McKee from Shoreview!" I raised my arms up in triumph, never before has my name been announced at the finish line of a race, and here, at my first marathon I got the shout out of a lifetime. I took it as a good sign. I stopped my watch, and checked my time. 4:52:17, under five hours, not too shabby!
I was done, like literally, I was done, My legs stiffened up and I wasn't sure if I was going to keep going. I somehow managed to walk forward to the line of volunteers handing out the finishers medals. I chose the tall guy with a handle bar mustache wearing tan overalls...for all the interesting people I encountered that day, I needed to get my medal from someone I was going to remember. I started to tear up and put my hand over my mouth as I approached him. He smiled and said "It's my honor to present you with this medal" That was it, the water works started, I was so stinking proud of myself. I walked a little further and got into line for my finisher shirt. It was about this time that I started to realize how cold I was. I was still soaking wet and was now starting to shiver. Thankfully the stand with the Mylar blankets was next and a sweet little volunteer put one around my shoulders with words of congratulations. I followed the signs for bag check, wondering where in the heck the food was! I actually felt like I was going to barf and really needed to get something in my stomach stat! I found a stand that had strawberries and grapes, but I wanted something more substantial. I did grab a strawberry before I passed by the bag check, which helped a little. I decided to grab my bag since there was no line. After that I found yogurt, but the thought of that made my stomach turn even more...then I saw a woman with a bagel. "Where did you get that!?!" She pointed me in the right direction and I scarfed that thing down in two bites. I decided I needed to take my shoes off so I sat on the nearest curb. When I looked up I could see the family meeting area just outside our restricted section, and who was standing front and center but Bill McKee. I decided to call him since standing up wasn't really an option at that point. He answered and I told him that I was almost ready, then I managed to get myself to my feet and gave him a wave. We met up and walked slowly to the car. Thankfully he hadn't parked too far away. He seemed a little bit melancholy, and when I asked why, he said "I did something really stupid". He went on to explain that he was sitting in the bleachers waiting for me to finish, knowing I was trying for a 4:45. He got the alert when I passed mile 20 and calculated that I was going to finish right on time (not knowing how much of a struggle miles 20-24 were going to be). So, when he saw a woman in a blue shirt and white hat approaching the finish line at around 4:40, he started to cheer wildly and take a ton of pictures. He left the bleachers then to move to the family area to wait for me. When his phone went off about 10 minutes later he figured it was me calling to meet up with him, but when he looked at it he realized it was his alert that I had crossed the 25 mile marker. He looked at the camera to discover that he had enthusiastically welcomed some other woman across the finish line. He was pretty upset, but really, it was okay. I tried to tell him that I knew he was there in spirit, and that maybe his cheers were just what this random woman needed right then. It was all good.
We drove to UMD to collect my bags from the dorm and headed back up to Two Harbors to spend the night at the Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast. We were both looking forward to a relaxing, kid-free evening (thanks Grandma Joan!) I had booked the room with a hot tub in it, one of the best decisions I ever made. I poured my baggie full of Epsom salts in and soaked for an hour, it was glorious!
|I don't care that science says it's bunk...Epsom salts are a miracle recovery tool!|
|One of everything...yes please!|
|Okay, fine...I'll settle for one giant piece of this!|
After dinner we headed back to the B & B for some R & R. I was a marathoner, this crazy idea that seemed like a pipe dream was finally a reality. I am proof that you are never too old, too busy, too (fill in the blank) to go after a goal and reach it. I am also one of those annoying people with a 26.2 sticker on my car....and no one can take that away from me!