The very word marathon is synonymous with perseverance, dedication, working hard for a long time. Two and a half months of training and 26.2 miles later, I understand why.
Yesterday I ran the LA Marathon and I have to say, it was a great experience.
I want to do it again. I ran faster than I thought I would, enjoyed it more than I thought I would and felt better than I thought I would – until about an hour after the race. But I’ll get to that later.
Jon, my marathon-training friend, the guy giving the thumbs up in the first picture, picked me up for the race about 5:30 a.m. I was happy to not have to worry about driving and parking downtown and it was nice to have someone to share the experience with.
I was more than thrilled with the running-perfect, cloudy grey weather. And even though I worried that I had not slept enough, trained enough, stretched enough; I was as ready as I was going to be.
A little after 7 a.m. we crammed into the crowd of runners filling Figueroa Street. We were in the middle with anxious bodies shoulder to shoulder as far as I could see. There was no room to stretch, barely enough to nervously recheck my running shoes. Unwanted sweatshirts were flying through the air, empty water bottles dropping to the pavement. The Marathon officials blasted a song about LA that sounded vaguely familiar and the mayor addressed the crowd. I have no idea what he said.
The start sounded and the crowd slowly inched forward. It took us 2 minutes to cross the starting line.
The first mile was characteristically slow and I resisted the urge to weave in front of all but the slowest walkers. I tried to relax and not think about running a marathon and simply enjoy the run. It wasn’t too difficult. It was a great running day with great energy among the runners and the spectators.
I turned on my MP3 player and after the first song (POD – Alive) I heard Kip’s voice. Apparently, after I went to bed Sunday night he stayed up late and recorded little sound bytes of encouragement. For the entire marathon, every few songs there was a little Kip PSA straight to me, “I love you and I am so proud of you!” as well as little jokes that weren’t really funny, but made me laugh anyway.
He read some of our favorite scriptures too, ones like Hebrews 12:1 (…….let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith …) He didn’t read the whole passage, but he didn’t need to. It’s one I have known since I was a kid, but understood better yesterday as I stared at that orange finish banner fluttering across the street. As I focused on it, rather than my weariness and discomfort, I knew I was going to finish.
Around mile 9 we saw Cindy, Jon’s wife, and their daughter standing along the road, cheering us on. That was fun. A few miles later we saw Kip, jumping up and down and waving ecstatically, stopping only to snap pictures. He was with my kids and my parents who had flown from Oklahoma to cheer me on.
I thought I would enjoy running through the diverse neighborhoods, seeing my town from outside the car. And I did, but it was different that I expected. The city was at its best, a Utopian novel where there is no traffic and strangers come out of their homes to offer weary travelers food and water.
By mile 17 I had to stop at the port-a-potty, and so Jon ran on, and I began to hit the harder part of the marathon. Just as I was beginning to feel really tired I heard someone yelling my name and saw my brother Tim and his girlfriend Heather standing on the side, cheering. I was so happy I started crying. I was not expecting them there and the sight of them was overwhelming. Tim even rode his bike up a few blocks to continue cheering.
Three miles later, as the marathon began to feel like a marathon, I was surprised to see Kip, the kids and my parents again.
Near Mile 20My dad caught this on video. The off-camera voice calling my name is my mom.
I kept running.
By mile 23 I was getting tired. My knees hurt and I felt a little out of breath, out of energy. I was used to a little joint pain on long runs, but not running out of steam. I had accidentally left my energy snacks in Jon’s car, so I began accepting the food people offered along side the road. I grabbed a couple orange pieces, a banana, even candy.
I decided to take more frequent walk breaks, but only for about 30 seconds at a time. I was afraid if I stopped to walk too long I wouldn’t be able to run again.
About this time I looked up and saw friends from church, Julie and Greg. They coach a Students Run LA club and were at the marathon to cheer their kids on. When they saw me they jumped into the street and ran along side me for a few seconds.
“How are you? You’re doing great! You’re almost there, just three miles! Look up! Do you see the city? That’s the finish. You can do it!”
There are no words to describe the power of that encouragement -- someone who has run the marathon before, who knows how it feels to reach mile 23, who can speak confidence into your life, and says “You are almost there. You can do it!”
I ran on.
As I approached mile 25 I was so tired I thought the banner said 26, but I knew it wasn’t. I kept running. When I got to the last mile it was obvious. An LA-sized crowd lined the street with barricades to keep them out of the final .2 mile run.
The last bit was uphill and as I ran I stared at the finish banner.
I’m going to make it. I’m going to run a marathon. I’m going to make it. I’m going to finish a marathon.
I turned off the MP3 player and decided to feel the moment.
An announcer perched above the crowd read names and numbers as runners closed in on the finish line. I heard my name as I crossed the line and sensed the computer register my time – 4:36 – so much better than I had dared to hope two months ago.
It felt like I was walking through a dream as the race volunteers crowded around me,
“Congratulations! Theresa! You did it!” My name was printed on my shirt, but it felt like they knew me. They loved me. They were smiling. They cared that I had finished. Physical exhaustion produces such sweet delirium. One of them hung a medal around my neck. I felt it there.
After the race I walked around in a stupor for about 20 minutes while my family waited for me at the reunion area. When I got there they hugged me, gave me flowers, checked out my medal. Jon and Cindy were there too. Jon had finished with a new PR too – 4:28.
I felt great, considering I had just finished a marathon, until we got in the car and started driving home. Suddenly I got an intense headache and thought I was going to vomit. Kip stopped at a 7-11 and got me another Gatorade. I drank half of it and by the time we got home was barely able to walk from the parking garage into the apartment. I felt the encroaching darkness of fainting and lay down on the living room floor.
The headache intensified and my dad, who is a doctor, began asking me how much water and Gatorade I had consumed during the marathon. We realized it was a lot. In fact, I had decided at the beginning of the race that I would walk through every water stop and drink at every mile. So I did, sometimes drinking two cups of water. I did the same most of the time non race people offered water in between the water stops. Apparently it was too much and I had developed hyponatremia – water intoxication.
I had heard about such danger, but after my brush with dehydration a couple months ago, I had worried more about not having enough water. By the way, I have since learned that the best way to avoid both dehydration and water intoxication is to only drink when thirsty.
I immediately stopped drinking the Gatorade and tried to eat a few chips that Kip threw salt on and gave to me, but I couldn’t really eat much. And after a little internet research we realized that salt wouldn’t help at this point. I just needed to wait it out until my kidneys could process the extra water. The headache was excruciating. I couldn’t move for hours.
By mid afternoon Kip and my parents were moving around me, getting the apartment ready for my brother’s birthday party. I felt helpless. I could hear them discussing whether or not we had any more toilet paper for the guest bathroom, and I simply didn’t have the energy to get up and find it for them.
Around 5 p.m. I slid into bed, with my running bib still pinned to my shirt, and tried to sleep. I couldn’t. I couldn’t eat anything either. I still felt nauseous.
My dad’s sister and her family arrived. They actually came into the bedroom to congratulate me on the run, admire the medal, pray for me. It was like being in the hospital.
By about 7 p.m. I got up for a little while to say Happy Birthday to Tim, and then went back to bed. Around 10 p.m. I got up and got a shower, washed away the marathon dirt. I ate a little bit of birthday cake. And went to bed. This time I slept and the headache was gone when I woke up this morning. In fact, other than sore legs, I felt pretty normal.
So would I do it again?
It was an amazing life experience to set a goal, train for it and actually run it.