Tuesday, January 18, 2011

First Marathon: Brooke's Story

There is something cathartic about writing the post-marathon blog post.  I have been through this twice before, so I knew that a part of letting the whole experience sink in is writing it out.  I laughed when I saw that Brooke sent me her post at 2:34 in the morning.  I get that.  You just have to get the whole story down before it feels real.

As I told you earlier, I was receiving texts on Sunday morning while Brooke was running her marathon.  It was so exciting, and I was cheering out loud when I saw how well she was doing and telling anyone around me who would listen about my friend Brooke.  When she crossed the finish line and I got that final text, it was freezing cold and snowy in Maine and my kids were hanging all over me, but in spirit, I was in that 70 degree Arizona sun cheering for my friend.

Grab your tissues!  Here is Brooke's amazing race report.

Brooke's Story:  PF Chang's Phoenix Rock n' Roll Marathon

This has been such an amazing journey, it will be hard to capture all my feelings about it in one post.  But here it goes.

On Saturday, the day before the marathon, I traveled 2 hours from my home in Prescott down to Phoenix with my family.  I was really starting to buzz and feel my nerves on the way down.  I received countless texts and phone calls from well-wishers which made it feel seriously real.  My sister Abby had flown in the night before from San Francisco and we were to meet her at the hotel.  Around 1:30pm we arrived at the hotel and I ran inside to check in.  While at the front desk Abby came up behind me and gave me a huge embrace.  There was someone behind her, too close to be a stranger.  Upon further inspection I recognized the person as my sister, Ashleigh, who had flown in from Denver to surprise me with her 6-month old, Gus!!!  My sunglasses went flying and I was in utter shock.  I forgot where I was.  It was pure elation.  I am told I pushed Abby out of the way and tackled Ashleigh for a hug.  To myself I mused that I would now have to finish this marathon since they flew in special.

Ashleigh is holding Emmy on the left and Abby is holding Gus on right
Once united we all went to Chili's for a late, light lunch.  I split a Cobb salad with Luke.  I had been a little nervous about going out to eat since I rarely do it and I did not want to have any weird stomach issues during the race.  After lunch we went back to the hotel, met up with my friend, Amy, and then joined the others for dinner at California Pizza Kitchen.  Amy and Antonella joined me in the marathon and Jodi would be running her first half.  Here we are post dinner:

Me, Antonella, Jodi and Amy

Dinner: I had 3 pieces of delicious CPK pizza.  It tasted so good!  It was a bit chaotic with all the kids and Abby discovered just how "energetic" Johanna is. Notice she is not in these group table shots because she is probably elsewhere in the restaurant rounding up Jo for the 20th time.

I could not have been there without the help of my sweet husband, Luke.

Happy sisters together.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and were in our rooms by 7:30pm.  Unfortunately, Johanna was completely wired so my big plans of an early and orderly bedtime were out the window.  Emmy went down around 8:30pm and we quietly talked with Amy in our room for a while.  I laid out my racing clothes and gear.  Then I tried it on and laid it out again.  I was the last one awake trying to make sure everything was ready for the early morning.  Besides having myself ready I had to make sure the girls had their clothes out, the breast milk was thawed and the room was mostly ready for check out.  I requested a 4:30am wake-up call and also set my phone alarm.  Wouldn't want to sleep in on marathon morning!  I finally laid down at 10pm.  Shockingly, I was falling asleep very easily and just about to drift off to dreamland when Emmy cried out at 10:17pm.  Ah well, this is the trouble with training for a marathon when your babies are still so small and needing you.  I was up a lot that night with her, but when I slept I slept deeply.  At 4:20am Emmy woke up to nurse and she was just about to fall back asleep when the stupid wake up call came in.  Dammit!  She cried while I showered and then I took her to Amy's room to eat breakfast.  I had one piece of toast, a banana slathered with peanut butter and I sipped on a water bottle of Accelerade until the start of the race.  Ashleigh and Abby came to the hotel to take over baby duties with Luke and to wish me luck.

We were so lucky to have Luke drop us off at the starting line instead of having to leave an hour earlier to catch the dreaded shuttle.  We still had to walk about 1/2 mile to the starting line, but that was good for the nerves and body.  We had to pee so we waited in the port-o-potty lines.  Luckily, I was able to go number 2 (sorry, but this is a marathon account, and all marathoners worry about this) at the hotel that morning.  But, I went again just for good measure.  Then we went to our corral and had about 35 minutes to wait.  We took pictures and were giddy and I fussed about my shoe laces obsessively for about 25 minutes straight.  It was cold, about 40 degrees, at the starting line.  The sun came up with about 5 minutes to go so we shed our warm layer and were ready.  We sang the national anthem and we were off!

We all ran together for the first 3 miles and we all stopped to pee together around mile 2.5.  It was so exciting with all the bands and all the people!  We went out slow and lots of people passed us, but we kept saying that was okay and we would pass them later.  Amy injured her knee about a month ago, but had already paid and was going to run with us as far as she could.  The last time she ran, two weeks ago, the farthest she could run was 6 miles.  She was already feeling pain.  Antonella went ahead around mile 3.  We saw a guy pass us and on the back of his T-shirt it read, "old guy pass with compassion."  You could interpret that both ways and we got a laugh out of it.

I was feeling great and then at mile 4 my Achilles started to hurt.  It was such a bummer to have it start to hurt so early on.  This was the one wildcard for me that I was fretting about.  I wasn't able to do my training long runs of 18 and 20 miles due to this injury.  The password for my email account even went from an uplifting "runpfin5" (Run PF In  5 Hours) to a somber "finishpf" because of the uncertainty of me healing.  But, I no longer had to save myself for anything.  This was it!  So I just tucked the pain away and at about mile 5.5 said aloud, "positive vibrations, mon" to myself and that was it.

At mile 5 I ate half a Lara Bar.  I stepped over the 10k mark at 1:07, about 3 minutes slower than goal pace.  When Amy slowed to a walk to take a gel I kept running.  I felt great and that feeling continued until mile 8.  My legs started to feel heavy and tired and that was crazy!  That never happened this early into a run.  I refused to resign myself to just having a bad running day so I pushed through.  Up until about mile 10 we were in downtown Phoenix, traveling through lots of neighborhoods and a there were cheerleaders almost every mile, along with a live band.  At mile 10 we ran on an overpass and it was the first time I contemplated putting my iPod on.  At mile 11 there was a lady who was saying over and over, "you should be so proud of yourselves".  That made me smile broadly.  A little while later I felt a little depleted so I ate the rest of my Lara Bar and put on my iPod.  The first song to come on was Blind Melon's "No Rain".  That made me feel euphoric and gave me a real boost for the next few miles.  I was so happy when I crossed over the half marathon mark at 2:21, I had caught up and was at goal pace.  Knowing that a few of my friends were receiving my updates was so motivating and I highly recommend it.

At around mile 14 someone came up from behind me and grabbed my arm.  It was Antonella and I could not figure out how I could have gotten in front of her.  Apparently she stopped to pee and text her husband at mile 10.  We ran together for a mile and then I stopped because I felt a pebble in my shoe and did not want to risk it.  So, I sat down and took off my shoe and there was nothing in it - so annoying!  Antonella was long gone.  The new shoes I decided to wear were working out fine, but this little snafu bothered me.  I was feeling in the dumps until mile 16.5 when the song "Visions of Johanna" came on my iPod and I melted into tears.  One of the main reasons I ever started this marathon goal was for my girls, to set a good example for them regarding the importance of fitness as a lifestyle.  I took a gel around this point and pulled myself together.

Miles 17-20 were hard.  My legs and hips were really hurting and I had to start making a point to lengthen my stride so my legs could feel a stretch while I ran.  I should say that during the entire marathon I took walking breaks and the second half I also took stop and stretch breaks, especially for my calves and Achilles.  I feel confident that it made a huge difference that I would have felt had I not taken the time.  I also walked through every aid station where I drank at least one cup of Cytomax (up until the last few miles) and one cup of water.  I ate a few gummies to try to give myself a kickstart, but it didn't seem to work.  Then I had a brainstorm.  All the spectators and cheer squads were burning out a bit, they had been cheering the whole time, trying to have the same enthusiasm for 3 hours!  Most of the runners ignored them at this point in the race.  I decided I would take advantage of their services so when I was feeling really low I made a dash to the far right lane and held my hand out for a high five.  There were about 30 cheerleaders in the row and every single one reciprocated my hand slap.  I was one giant smile and when I passed them I looked at my watch and I was at a 9:54 pace.  Amazing!  Human contact - it works!  I used this method several more times during the race with the same effect.

Mile 20 came and I was just barely off my pace, I still had a great chance to hit my goal time finish of 4:45 if I didn't make any stops.  At mile 21.5 I saw my friend's husband and I stopped to talk to him since I thought he might be with my family.  In hindsight this was my downfall.  I spent almost 4 minutes talking with him and it was at the point in the race where when I started running again I felt a little tightened up.  I was really pushing now.  My stomach started to cramp up and it felt like your typical gut rot, which is what I think it was.  By this point I had taken 3 gels, 1 bar, 4 Power Bar gummies and all that disgusting Cytomax.  That's when I decided I would only drink water from that point forward.  I would have eaten my other Lara bar, but I was just so wasted that chewing did not sound like a feasible option.  I will always recommend to people that they eat their bars first, and as long as they can, and rely on their gels last.  It was just too much sugar.  Running through the stomach pain was not fun and I felt nauseous for about a half mile.  Then an angel, talking on her cell phone, was standing on the side of the road holding out an open bag of pretzels.  I grabbed 4 and managed to eat 3.  It was heavenly and did the trick.

By now it was getting hot, maybe 72 degrees and the sun was relentless.  I felt my forehead and it was like sand paper to the touch from all the salt I was sweating out.  More and more people were walking now and it was just a test of mental will power to keep running myself.  I focused on a long stride and I had my arms going in a "wax on, wax off" motion.  It worked and I only allowed myself to walk through the aid stations - water only.  I dumped cups of water over my head and down my shirt.  I tried to pump myself up that I was almost there, the end is near.  I wondered at what point do you turn on the gas for the finish.  I still had some left in the tank, but I didn't want to screw myself.  At mile 24 I realized I was not going to make my goal finish time.  That was a blow, but guess what song was playing on my iPod at that exact moment?  Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want".  It was perfect and I was instantly okay with it.  But, I couldn't just give up because now I had to finish in under 5 hours.  I saw a lady on the side of the road holding up a sign that read, "Fast girls have good times!"  It was awesome and I told her so.

Mile 25 was my absolute lowest point in the marathon.  This came as a total shock to me since you are so close to the finish line.  I thought I'd be jamming for the last mile, but my pace was consistently 11+ minute miles and I felt worked.  So I just kept moving forward.  I kept saying to myself that this is just one moment in time.  This is a privilege and the time is now.  Just one moment in time.

Soon I could smell food and see the turn into the stadium.  When I saw the finish line's giant yellow arch I put my iPod and earphones in my sports bra and went into turbo mode, turbo being 10:15 pace or something like that.   The crowds were huge and the excitement was tangible.  I turned the curve and heard my name yelled out.  I looked to my left and saw Ashleigh, with Gus, taking pictures.  I jumped in the air and did a toe tap and gave her a huge smile.

It was so close.  I crossed the finish line and put my hands up and boom, it was over.  4:51.34.   I was elated.  A volunteer handed me a water and another one put a big, fat medal around my neck, and then I heard my name again from the left.  It was Luke and my sisters, I guess they moved down pretty fast.  When I saw Luke I immediately burst into tears and gave him a huge hug and kiss.  It was emotional and was akin to how I felt when I was holding onto him as I pushed Emmy out on the day of her birth.  So much love.

It was picture time with my medal and then I was guided through to the recovery area where I ate orange slices, an old banana and a fruit cup.  I grabbed some other food and headed out to meet my family.  You will be happy to know that nursing Emmy was not a concern.  She was happy as a clam with Abby, but my boobies were full and she was happy to oblige.  We sat on this curb for about 20 minutes just soaking it all in.

Before we moved onto the grass in the stadium I took off my shoes so I could put my flip flops on and discovered 2 huge blisters, 1 on each foot.  I had no idea they were there and they were like 6th toes!  I hobbled to the field and lanced them myself for some major relief.  My body really stiffened up after I stopped running and my knee joints hurt the most.  Overall, I was in pretty good shape.  We met up with Amy on the field and I gave her a big squeeze and cried some more.  I wondered at what point she had to get a lift to the finish line.  You know what?  That crazy girl finished!  She finished at a respectable 5:17.35!!  We hugged and cried again.  We had a nice hour or so sitting in the sun before we headed into Tempe for a bite to eat.  French fries and a Gyro never tasted so good.

On the way home that night I talked to Luke about all my epiphanies from the day and I think one stands out the most.  We as humans have the power to create these amazing experiences for ourselves.  It's within our power.  I've been sitting around for the better part of 10 years just waiting for things to fall in my lap, watching others reap the rewards that this type of challenge brings.  Of course I have a wonderful family with my husband and two girls, but I haven't spent enough time making things happen.  Endeavors to create a great experience are risky.  They may not always turn out 100% positive, but lessons will be gained and you as a person will flourish.  Being pushed up against a wall can teach you a lot about yourself.  Mental strength is supreme.  I feel that with this type of life training I will be better prepared to confront difficult times.  I have the power to give myself these opportunities for growth.  In my mind it would be such a waste not to take advantage of that privilege.

My sister-in-law, Clara, recently lost her grandmother.  Clara's dad wrote the funeral program and here are some of his words:

"Our dear mother kept a newspaper clipping in her desk drawer for many years regarding the nature of a successful life. She gave this Emerson quote of advice to her children, and she lived it herself.

Simply put: “To succeed is to achieve one’s goal.” However, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1881) said it best when he wrote:
To laugh often and love much;
to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children;
to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give of one’s self;
to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived
—this is to have succeeded."

Thank you, Brooke.  You are a warrior! 


rebekah said...

Yay Brooke! (I"m not sure I've ever commented here, but I've been reading along for a month or bit more.)

I just got the email announcement for our local fall marathon - registration begins Friday. I didn't delete the email. That says something. We have so much going on that it seems crazy to consider. I called my husband to ask his thoughts. He said, 'It's not not crazy.'

Brooke's account has got me fired up! She and I have at least two things in common. She named her daughter after Visions of Johanna, one of my favorite songs - I wanted to name my daughter after it too but she came with a name:) And two, that Emerson quote. That awesome awesome Emerson quote.

Thanks Brooke for sharing this all and giving me a shot in the arm! Congrats for kicking ass.

Amy G said...

I'm amazed she could do all the training while nursing and getting up at all hours of the night with a baby. When I was nursing my babies, I was exhausted. I think that makes it even a greater achievement! Brooke, you are truly inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Brooke I am so happy for you. You are such a bad ass. I agree with Amy G..how did you nurse all night and then run a marathon. You have got me thinking it might be time for me to run another one. Great job and how fun to have your sisters surprise you.

Anonymous said...

Brooke, did not mean to forget my name. Kathy Sullivan

Meredith said...

Congratulations Brooke! You did it!Marathon stories are so inspiring and yours was no exception. Way to go!

Michelle said...

Yay for Brooke!! I agree that you are Super Woman for doing all the training and prep with such a young baby. I love your story and am so proud of your accomplishment. You rock!!!

SNW said...

love the sister surprise.. and nursing with a marathon medal around your neck, that's a frameworthy photo. :)

Jodi said...

Brooke, this is a beautifully written recap and moved me to tears. I have been following your training journey and thought of you often on Sunday, wondering how it went! I am so happy to see those photos of you crossing the finish. what a feat! Here's to many more races!

Brooke said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments and support. The marathon trials seem so trivial in comparison to what Emilie, her mom and family are going through right now.

I neglected to mention, and haven't told Emilie on the phone yet (I will call you soon!) that she was my main inspiration to begin this journey in the first place. I know she has inspired us all. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so courageous, Emilie. That's you: Brave.

Kath said...

I am very inspired by Brooke's account!

Thank you so much for sharing !