Monday, May 31, 2010
We arrived in Burlington the afternoon before the race (Saturday), went to the expo, checked into the hotel, and explored the city a little bit before meeting up with everyone for dinner. We ate lots of salad and pizza at American Flatbread, walked a few blocks to check out the starting line and the infamous hill at mile 15. Here is a shot of all the runners with their partners who came for support, except for Christine's husband Keith, in the bottom right corner, who also ran the marathon!
I tried to eat enough calories but could barely choke down one bagel with peanut butter and a banana.
At 6:30 I met the girls in the lobby and we went down to the start.
The course started in the middle of town and consisted of 4 loops that all met back in the same spot (picture a very confusing looking clover pattern). Therefore, it was extremely easy for our supporters to see us a lot on the course.
When the gun went off, they were blasting U2's "Where the streets have no name" and the crowds were so loud and inspiring. Yes, we cried, and started running.
Part 1, miles 0-3.5: A loop through a residential area of Burlington. We looked at this as our warm up and took it easy. At mile 1, I heard people screaming my name and looked to see my friends Nancy and Alan and their kids with signs for me. I had NO idea they were coming. They have family in VT, and decided to surprise me. Amazing. I was feeling fine. At the end of this loop, I was with Suzanne, Christine and Amy, and Jen and Susan were just ahead of us.
Part 2, miles 3.5-8: An out-and-back on a closed highway. I had heard this was the hardest part of the course because it was isolated from the crowds. It started out fine and it was great to see the pack leaders cruising past us. It was at this point that I started (yes, already) to feel like this day was going to be harder than I thought. I must have looked visibly hurting, because Suzanne and Christine surrounded me and wanted to know what was going on. They talked me over a hurdle by reminding me how the course was broken down. "You just need to run to the top of the next hill and then it's only 2 miles until Sam is waiting for you."
The second half (the "back: of the out-and-back") was a steady climb up hill back into town. I had started the race without my camelbak, because Sam was going to have it at mile 9 if I needed it. I really needed it. The water stops were not coming soon enough, the sun was beating down, and I was hot and thirsty. I had a few really low moments on this stretch (the other theme that runs throughout the whole day). I kept thinking that if I just pushed through it, I'd get better. And I would get better, and then a few minutes later, I'd dip back down. I basically went from feeling like I had no energy for 5 minutes to feeling okay for 5 minutes and back and forth like that for hours. I found Sam just past the mile 9 marker, put my camelbak on, and we started off for the next 6 miles together.
Part 3, miles 9-15: a loop through residential areas and along the lake.
Sam was a sight for sore eyes. As we started off, he said: "How are you doing?" I said: "not good." I made it pretty clear that I wasn't feeling like talking, but I wanted him to talk to me to distract me. He told me about his morning since I left him, told me some stories about Skyler and Reed, and was really encouraging. He handed me bites of banana and told me how proud he was and kept putting his hand on my back. He did everything right. He was exactly what I needed. Every mile marker we passed, he'd say: "See? 11 miles done." "12 miles. You got this!" "13! You're half way!"
This loop went through a really nice neighborhood and then onto the bike path along Lake Champlain that offered some much needed breeze and cool air. (It never got above 75, by the way, but I was still hot). I had my name on my shirt, and everyone was so friendly and encouraging. They were not just saying"Go Emilie," but "Emilie! You are looking GREAT! You are amazing!" It was the warmest, kindest group of marathon supporters ever, and it was like this the whole way. There were kids handing out water, families with hoses and sprinklers, supportive signs everywhere you looked.
At mile 14, we came off of the bike trail and back into town to the bottom of the Battery Street hill, a 6-block climb, and the biggest hill on the course. At the bottom of the hill was a huge group of Taiko drummers. This minute that I was going past them was the total highlight of my run. The drums were so loud and awesome that you could feel the beat in your chest. I had planned to walk up the hill, but I couldn't help but run for the first half with those drummers. My sister-in-law Lisa used to play in a Taiko drum group in Japan, so in my mind, she was there drumming me up that hill. Just past the drummers, I saw Nancy and Alan again with their signs for me, and I stopped to hug Nancy and sobbed a little. Half way up, Angela and Matt held up a sign that said: "EMILIE MANHART YOU CAN DO THIS!"
Sam and I walked the last 2 blocks to the top and then we were back at the center of town again. Sam told me later that at this point that he wasn't sure I was going to make it and he was nervous about leaving me. But I asked him to get my ipod all straightened out, plugged myself in and said: "I got this. I'm fine." I kissed him goodbye and ran on.
Part 4, miles 15-26.2: a loop through neighborhoods and then back to the bike path along the lake.
The first problem that I ran into here is that I thought I had passed mile 16 with Sam. So, I was running and running and waiting to see the 17 mile marker. Instead, I ran and ran and ran and then finally got the mile 16 mile marker. Ugh. The next thing I had to look forward to was seeing my friend Jeffrey, a friend from Michigan whose wife's family lived on the course. He had told me they'd be out front cheering. I knew they were somewhere between 17 and 18, and I finally got there to find them sitting on lawn chairs and yelling and cheering, with signs posted that said: "GO EMILIE and FRIENDS FROM MAINE." I waved and blew kisses and kept slowly trucking along. After about mile 19, things started to get pretty dicey. I would stop to walk through a water stop and I couldn't will myself to start running again. So, now with 7 miles to go, I was walking for about 1 minute at every stop. My goal time of 5 hours was flitting away, and I didn't care anymore. I knew there was a downhill turn onto the bike path at mile 21.5, and I made the mistake of thinking that once I was there, I was basically home free.
Wrong. I turned down that hill onto the bike path, and I basically wanted to die. I could not believe I had to run for 5 more miles. I stopped having any fun, I hated everything about running a marathon. I thought it was stupid and pointless to put myself through this. I felt so sorry for myself. Everything hurt. I could not drink water and gatorade fast enough, and my mouth was totally parched. My eyes were heavy that I knew if I sat down for a minute, I would fall right to sleep. I needed to eat something, but I couldn't stomach the thought of any food at all.
I started to bargain with myself: run for just a little bit and you can walk for a minute. Just run to that next tree. Just run to the place on the path where the shade begins. Just run to that acorn on the path. I thought to myself: if I just laid down here, I could rest, and I might not ever see my friends or family again, and I frankly didn't care. I have laughed about it since, but the fact is I would have done anything to stop running. Being alone on this bike path for the rest of my life was a price I was willing to pay.
I had written "DEFINE YOURSELF" on my arm. I thought it would inspire me when times got tough. HA! When I got to the mental place that I was in, nothing was doing it. I didn't care about my time. I couldn't make myself care about anything. I only fantasized about sitting in the car with Sam driving back to Maine. I kept looking at my arm, and once in a while I'd think: "Oh man, I'm supposed to be defining myself!" and I'd start to run. So all this time that I was so miserable, I somehow kept moving forward and eventually I came to mile 23. And right past the water stop, I saw Suzanne standing there. She should have been miles ahead of me, so I knew something was wrong. I touched her on the shoulder and when she saw me she dissolved into sobs.
She had totally been there for me in the early miles, and even though I was so sorry she was struggling, I was so glad to have a purpose again and to be able to help her out. I grabbed her hand and we started to walk. I told her I'd stay with her for the next 3 miles, and we'd make it together. She cried about what a hard run she was having, and I totally commiserated. I squeeze her hand and tried to distract her by telling her some stories. I also tried to tell her that my muscles in my calves were cramping up, but it came out: "My sisters are stuck." I acknowledged to myself that I had officially lost my mind, and kept moving on. Pretty soon, we were able to start running. And about half mile later I was once again ready to die. I told her to go on and I'd be right behind her. I told her I was going to walk the rest of the way.
Once I saw her run ahead of me, I of course changed my mind. I dug as deep as I could dig, and I started to run again. I made it to 24. I walked for about 2 minutes. I made it to 25. at 25 1/2, I could see the finish area and people were lined up along the fences cheering us in. I could feel the end, so I ran. Sam was standing right before the mile 26 marker, but I didn't see him. In the video of me running by, he yells: "GO EMILIE! ONLY 2.2 to go!" What he meant was .2 to go, and if I had heard him say 2.2, I either would have died right there or punched him in the face. I could see the finish line just ahead, so I really picked it up. What I thought was the finish line was somebody's idea of a cruel joke. It was a huge banner that said: "You're Almost Done!" I had to turn the corner and run some more. I saw Nancy and Alan, and then as I stepped over the last timing mat, the announcer said: "EMILIE MANHART FROM HAMPDEN, MAINE!!!" 5:19. I put up my arms in a little moment of victory/ utter relief, bent over to catch my breath, and then sobbed in Sam's arms. Suzanne was right there; she had finished 4 minutes ahead of me. Then Christine and Susan came over. Lots of hugs and crying. I got my medal. I cried some more. Amy and Keith were just a little bit behind me, and soon everyone had crossed the finish line.
I tried to stay up on my feet because I always get really dizzy and nauseous when I sit down after a long run. I got some food. Sam took off my shoes and put my flip-flops on my feet. I ate a few orange slices and drank some water, and then laid down on a stack of wooden tables in the food tent because my back was seizing up. I stayed there for about ten (???) minutes until I felt like I could re-join the world and my personality started to resurface. I didn't know what to think about what just happened and why it was so hard. I had nothing in particular to blame for it. There is no real reason why I didn't finish under 5 hours like I know I could have. It just wasn't in the stars for me to have a great race. Either that, or this: running 26.2 miles is right at the very edge of what is possible for me physically and mentally. The distance is humbling and overwhelming. I bow down to the marathon. I will never under-estimate it again.
Starting to feel human again.
The Marks family and all of their loving signage!
I hit the friend lottery with these girls. I'm so proud of everyone. All 3 first timers finished strong, and all 4 of us second timers got best times (Jen and Christine by A LOT).
Christine and Keith: the proud marathon couple!!
I can't say enough about how much Sam helped me out this weekend. He made sure that everything was about me and the marathon. He was supportive and proud and happy for me, and there for me at every single turn. And he might even have a marathon in him for next year.
After everyone started to disperse, I took a beautiful ice-bath in Lake Champlain, Sam went to get the car, and we started the drive home. I replayed the race in my head for all 6 hours through the mountains and back to Maine.
Today as I write all of this, I am both happy and very teary. I also look very hilarious walking up and down stairs. I'll be back soon with a little video that captures the whole experience and some more reflections after I let it all sink in.