Is it bad that as I start to type this I already have tears in my eyes?
Thank you, Sarah, for covering the day-before details, as I already know this will be the longest post ever, and if I had to go through all of that, no one would ever stick around for the end. :) I apologize in advance for the length. I'm not sure if anyone else cares about all of the random details, but I never want to forget them as long as I live.
The day before the race was so much fun. I distinctly remember driving around the city going from the airport to the expo to dinner, etc. and feeling exactly like I did the morning of my wedding. To everyone else, I was just another person out and about on a Saturday morning. I wished I could roll down my window and shout "I'm running a MARATHON tomorrow!!!!" (I restrained). I slept pretty good that night...although much too short. It's almost impossible to get enough sleep when you have to wake up at 4:30 am. Before I knew it, Sunday morning had arrived. When the alarm went off, I rolled out of bed, took a quick shower, and headed downstairs for coffee and peanut butter toast with Sarah. We had a great time talking about how stupid we were and hearing Pat's pumped-up "pre-game" speech. :) We got our race clothes on, took some photos, gathered our gear and headed out.
I have such happy memories of that drive downtown, blasting our music in the dark, wondering if everyone else on the road was doing the same thing we were. "Tonight, tonight" by Hot Chelle Rae (a song I had never heard until the day before) had somehow become our theme song. Maybe because of the part that said "I don't know if I'll make it, but watch how good I'll fake it." :) We rocked out to the song with all of our early-morning might. We found parking easily downtown, took a potty break at Starbucks, prayed with Pat, and split off to our corral. That waiting time went really fast to me. It was all so surreal...I just couldn't believe this was it. Sarah and I prayed one more time before they started moving our herd toward the start line. We walked around a few blocks as we were led to the start, and when we turned a corner and saw those balloons, the butterflies were out of control. There were thousands of people in front of us and behind us, and when we got to that line there was nothing to do but run.
I had no idea what to expect from my leg/knee. I had run 2 miles the day before, and it had felt pretty good. I was supposed to jog for a few miles to loosen it up, so it worked out perfectly that we had planned to start slow to reserve our energy. Those first few miles were SO much fun. So many people on the streets, so many bands playing music, so much excitement in the air. I didn't even listen to my music...there was just so much else to hear and see, and I didn't want to miss a moment. At every mile marker we bit off a piece of candy from our candy bracelets (which we had prepped the night before so they would have 27 "charms"...one for each of the 26 miles and one for the final .2). We stayed right near the 5 hour pace marker, and beating that in the end became our ideal goal.
When we had previously imagined how long we might be able to stay together, we had said if we could make it an hour, we'd be overjoyed. Somewhere in mile 5 we realized that we had made it to that hour. We could hardly believe it. WE WERE DOING THIS!!!! We didn't want to get too excited, as we knew at any moment I could have to stop. Ironically, that moment came just minutes later. My knee started to tighten, and knowing I still had over 20 miles to go, I didn't feel like it was the time to push through. I looked at Sarah and she just knew the time had come. We stopped running and gave each other a huge hug. With tears in our eyes I told her to go get it...to leave it all on the pavement...that I loved her so much and that I would see her at the finish line. Then she was off. I watched her run ahead and continued to jog slowly behind. I watched her pink and yellow hair ribbons get further and further away. I was SO excited for her and SO SO SO proud. I had no idea what the next 4+ hours would hold, but I knew I could only take it one step at a time. Neither of us could have ever imagined the turns this race was about to take.
Somewhere a few minutes into mile 6, my knee started to loosen again. Actually, it started to feel good. Good as in normal! I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to jinx it, but I slowly started picking up the pace. I could still see Sarah's ribbons and just kept chasing after them. My pace got faster and faster, and it felt really, really good! Sarah was getting closer and closer, and just before mile 7, she pulled off to the side of the road to stretch. We were both shocked when I came up behind her! 10 minutes earlier we had this emotional goodbye moment, and here we were back together again. Who knew how long it would last, but for this moment, we were reunited! We stretched for a bit and got back in the race.
Miles 7-9 are down one side of a main street, and just before mile 9 you turn around and run back down the other side. This meant that while we were heading to that turn-around, all of those who had already been there were running right past us as they went further down the course. Like Sarah said, I had SO much fun during this leg. I couldn't shut up with the encouragement! I LOVED cheering on the people on the other side, high-fiving them as they ran by, reminding them to enjoy every minute! Every one of those 15,000 people were out there doing this thing. They all had a story, and this was a big deal for every single one of them. It was so cool to think about, and I couldn't help but get pumped up!!
As we zig-zagged through downtown, I knew my friends and/or Josh and the kids had to be near, as we were about to get into a long stretch of industrial area that was less than ideal for onlookers. Somewhere around mile 11 we turned a corner and I saw Jinger and Wendy holding their big pink sign. They were taking pictures and video and jumped in to join us for a few blocks. It was so much fun to see my dear friends!!! They were such a great source of encouragement and joy!
As Sarah said, it was shortly after this that we started having exactly the opposite experiences from what we had envisioned and planned for. Miraculously, I was feeling great. My knee didn't hurt at all...and this was almost halfway in! Just the thought that I had already done what both my chiropractor and orthopedic doctor said I probably wouldn't be able to do filled me with crazy adrenaline. But poor Sarah had started to have horrible, unbearable cramping in her upper hamstring. We frequently pulled off to the side of the road to stretch (which worked well for both of us). I wish everyone could have seen her run through these miles. She gave it her all. She ran every second she could. She channeled her inner-doula to remind herself that it might be hard but it would be worth every ounce of effort in the end. I so clearly remember looking over at her multiple times and seeing the determination and passion in her eyes. I could tell she was in great pain, but her eyes were fixed straight ahead, and I beamed with pride just looking at her.
As we approached the St. John bridge, I began to have some inner turmoil. I was feeling so much better than I was ever supposed to feel. I'm a tad bit goal oriented, and even though we couldn't see the 5 hour pacer anymore, I knew that we could still catch it if the rest of the run went great. I wasn't supposed to have a time goal. I was supposed to just want to finish and be proud that I did. But I couldn't shut off my brain from imagining the possibility of beating the odds. Here I was, on the Portland marathon course, crossing the St. John bridge, looking back at the foggy downtown skyline, running mile 17 with my best friend, and thoughts of chasing that goal were taking away the fun. Something had to change. I had to let this go.
I got what I wished for less than a mile later as we turned a corner and saw a significant uphill. That was completely slanted. The worst possible combination for an IT band injury. I tried to zig-zag up it to help with the slanted slope, but it was too late. The damage had been done. Sarah's leg was starting to feel great again, and mine was all downhill from here. Our roles had switched once again. From then on she held back for me, walked every time I needed to, stretched every time I wanted to, and encouraged me every step of the way.
Somewhere in mile 19 I realized I hadn't seen Josh or the kids at all yet. I was actually feeling really disappointed about this, knowing that we only had 6 or 7 miles to go. During one stretch of walking, I looked far up ahead and saw 2 girls holding a familiar pink sign. I saw a man (a really good-looking one at that) and the 2 most adorable children in the world. I consider all 5 of these people to be family, and they showed up at just the right time. I ran toward them and scooped Noah up into my arms. I couldn't stop hugging and kissing him or smiling at his sign that read "Go super mommy, GO!". Josh arrived by my side with Natalie and I did the same to her. They had never looked more beautiful to me in their lives.
We continued on, alternating walking and running when needed. I began to realize that my knee hurt the worst every time I moved from a walk back into a run. For the first 2 minutes I would wince in pain. It would then start to loosen up and I would feel OK for a little while until I would be forced to walk and the cycle would continue. Somewhere in the early 20's, Sarah's knee started to hurt as well. We were falling apart at the seams! :) And for the most part, our "treatment plans" were completely off course. She would need to walk just when my knee had started to loosen up from running. She would be ready to run just when I was hoping I'd never have to run through the pain again. These miles were tough.
Every time I had to stop, I felt horrible. I knew exactly how she was feeling earlier on when she was worried she was holding me back. And she knew exactly how I was feeling then too...that even if she could have gone ahead, she never in a million years would have. We were in this race together. Finishing the race was never going to be impossible for us. We both knew we would do it, in our own way, in our own time. Finishing the race together, side-by-side had seemed impossible, yet here we were, somewhere in mile 21 or 22, with less than an hour to go. We were together. We were doing the impossible. Sarah looked at me at one point with tears in her eyes and said "Do you realize what this means? That we might actually do this?" At first I thought she meant finish the race. I nodded with joy. But then I realized she meant so much more. She hadn't wanted to say it any earlier, but at this point, we had stood by each other through all the ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns of this race. We had cheered with the cheerleaders. Whooped to the worship band. High-fived our fellow runners. Laughed at the strangers' signs. We were just realizing the we were actually going to finish this thing...together. Just writing about that moment brings back the tears all over again.
Somewhere not long after this, things got really fun. The pressure of a time-goal was completely gone...and let me tell you, I needed that. Looking back now, Sarah and I have decided there are 2 options in marathon running. You are either running with your focus on time, or running with your focus on fun. I am so glad that when push came to shove, we chose the latter. :) Moments from these last few miles that I remember clearly include fantasizing about a gigantic burger, fries, and milkshake (I had never been more hungry in my entire life!), wanting to kiss the strangers handing out pretzels and peanut butter crackers, telling spectators "this is so stupid..." (but with a huge smile :), stopping at the gummy bear station around mile 23 and beaming with joy as I grabbed 7 (7!!) cups of gummy bears, and the look in Sarah's eyes when she smiled and said "These are the moments we'll remember. Now this is fun."
When we finally crossed over the Broadway Bridge back into downtown Portland, we were 2 miles from the finish line. We were still doing a walk-run combo (much thanks to my now pretty excruciating pain, especially on hills) but the excitement was almost uncontrollable. Somewhere in mile 25 a random guy stopped to cheer us on and said "You're almost there!!! You only have a quarter mile to go!!" This is when the totally surreal moments began. I found my theme song of the day on my iPod ("Tonight, tonight") and began to blast it. I was running down the street with both hands waving over my head, singing my heart out and putting every last ounce of energy I had into this final stretch. As we approached a turn, there stood the big sign reading "Mile 26." Tears immediately filled my eyes as I bit off a candy ring from my bracelet and turned the corner onto a street that was lined on both sides by strangers cheering us on. I saw my beautiful sister Jenny to the right, video taping the moment and giving me just the encouragement I needed to get to the end. We turned one last corner, and there, maybe 40 feet in front of us, was the long-awaited finish line.
Words really cannot describe these last 10 seconds. Everything around me became a blur. All I could do was look straight ahead. I didn't notice any people on the side of the road (including my husband and children!). All I could see was that which was directly in front of me...those cameras, that balloon arch, that finish line. I heard them call our names "Christie Wilson! Sarah Green!" We took our last strides over that line, stopped dead in our tracks, and just hugged each other, sobbing. I could hardly breathe. It's the weirdest feeling. It's like you know in your head that eventually you will get to the end, but after that many hours of moving and that many miles, it seems as though it will go on forever. Then suddenly, just like that, it's done. Your feet are no longer moving. People are handing you medals and space blankets and roses. It's over. And you take a mental picture and know it will be impressed on your mind and heart forever. I will never, ever, ever forget that moment. It was everything they said it would be. It was worth every second.
The most amazing part about it all was how opposite it was from what we had imagined. But it was so much better. I just keep thinking about how perfectly God orchestrated the whole thing. It was only a few days prior that we had the eye-opening realization that even though we felt like we had always done everything together, we really hadn't. We had just been there by each other's sides through it all. This race was such a perfect metaphor for life. For the most part, there was always one of us going through something challenging or painful, while the other stood by to support and encourage in any way needed. And there is no place the other would have rather been. The only time we both felt healthy and amazing was that final stretch of pavement. 5 hours and 41 minutes later, our feet crossed that line. And THAT experience we really, truly, and honestly had side-by-side. WE DID IT!!! And we did it TOGETHER! Incredible.
As I sit here and write, I am in so much pain. My IT band is really, really, really mad at me (for good reason). I was telling Josh I keep wanting to pat it like it's my race horse and say "Good job, girl." :) It held up way longer than it ever should have, and it deserves to be babied for a while. I'm icing and taking ibuprofen like it's going out of style, and I'm headed to the chiropractor tomorrow for what's bound to be a productive (read: painful) recovery session. It's possible that every now and then I slip phrases into my conversations with Josh that sound something like "You know, I am in the elite 1% of the world's population now..." and "You're sleeping next to a marathoner..." But hey, it's true. Just like birth, this is something that no one can ever take away from us. It's a gigantic check off my bucket list of life, and I am insanely proud.
Will I ever do this again? I can't even imagine the thought. Would I tell everyone to do it at some point in their life? Absolutely. Was it worth every ounce of training, energy, time, money, and pain? Without a doubt. It's the smartest stupid thing I've ever done. :) And I will cherish this experience for the rest of my life.
26.2 Miles: Check.