Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Lucky #13. The Finale

I think this is the longest I’ve gone between running a race and writing my race report. Now y’all have it all built up in your heads that this going to be some incredible work of literature or some amazing story, and while I hope you enjoy the read, I’m sad to say that’s not why it’s taken so long to finish.

I mentioned before the race that I was distracted some, and that is still true. My father went into the hospital with acute kidney failure three days before the race, after being in so much pain that my mother had to call the ambulance in the middle of the night.  This is after 2 earlier falls in which she needed help to get him up off the floor. He is not in good health, hasn’t been in a long while.  The story here is complicated, as complicated as the dynamics of my relationship with him.  I ended up driving 8 hours to my parents to visit and help take care of things with him after the race, and it continues to weigh on my mind as he was moved to an assisted living facility when released from the hospital, where he remains, out of immediate danger but still not well. He has refused dialysis, rehabilitative therapy, and has specified he wants no heroic measures if the situation worsens, so his care is pretty much palliative at this point. There is a lot going on there still, and a lot to process. It has definitely contributed to my post-race funk this time around, as well as having the more relevant impact to you, the reader, as I haven’t had two seconds to rub together where I’m not emotionally exhausted and am anywhere near the mindset needed to write this report. 

But I want to write out the report.  I need to write out this report. Because this race, like the 12 that came before, has a story to it, with many characters and plots and twists and turns. And I want to remember them, years from now. I want to share the determination of my girls with you. I want you to understand why we even started that race and what it took for us to keep going, and I need you to know about that day. Because we had said that we were going to run our own races that day, and a couple of us were able to do that. Kris and Mel ran their own races, and they rocked that course, and their training paid off big-time.  Bojana had a ridiculous half-marathon time, especially since she had been laid up with a pulled muscle for weeks before the race and was just using it as a training run.

For me and Fiona and Marci, though, we did not run the races that we had envisioned.  And I blatantly disregarded our decision to run my own race, to see my girls at the finish and meet up with them at the end. Did I throw away my chance for sub-five when I made that decision? Hard to say. I was on pace then, but I don’t know if I would have been able to hold it. We will never know.  I tend to think not, just because of how things shook out between mile 22 and the end.  But it doesn’t matter. And I’m getting ahead of myself.
There is so much to say about Oklahoma City and that race weekend, and the adventures, trials, victories and disappointments of this day. We had a little bit of everything, that is for sure. The race is billed as "A Race to Remember" as the intent is to honor the victims of the Murrah Federal Building bombing in 1995, but also to celebrate life.  In fact, the back of the medal (a top three favorite, by the way) says "Honor, Celebrate, Reach, Unite." Little did we know when we left Fort Worth-Dallas and headed north of the Red River that we would truly do all four of those.

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah, it's raining.  And the gun goes off. I have the presence of mind to hit the start button the Garmin (Kris' watch, not mine, she was worried she would be obsessing over the splits, so she gave it to me to wear, assuming we would stick together for as long as possible) and note that we were about 4 minutes off the start when we crossed the mat. 

I am running with Kris and Fiona, but Marci and Mel both take off through the crowd. We wouldn't see Mel again until we got back to the hotel room. Her training plan was so solid and she hit all her paces throughout so we were not surprised by her awesome performance that day. (Go here to read about it. We'll wait. Not like you haven’t already waited 5 weeks on this report…) So in the first few miles, we're trying to warm up in our plastic bags, and trying to find a good solid pace in the throngs of people as we turn through downtown and head north onto the first few miles. As we ran through, I vividly remembered all the turns from last year and thought that my knowledge of the course would serve us well - that proved to be the case for sure in later miles.  Although it was early on when we passed under the first overpass (I think it was the only one), we did a primal scream; at this stage of the race it was more for fun than to get any true rage or frustration out.  The first big bridge was fun, a little challenging, but we were starting to get into a groove and find our comfortable pace, that we hoped would stay with us for the next five hours.  The rain had not let up, but it wasn’t terribly heavy at this point, and the temps were cool but nothing awful. I warmed enough after the first 5k or so to take off my bag and tuck it into my waistband, in case I needed it later.round that point, we found Marci again, and Fiona and Kris pulled out in front of us a bit. I could still see them, but they were definitely a few seconds faster than we were per mile right now. And that was OK. Remember, we’re running our own races now.  As we moved into the first 10K and started to hit Gorilla Hill, Marci and I are feeling good, and joking with some guys around us about bacon. I heard “MAMA C!” from behind me and here comes Felix, one of our Dallas friends, catching up to us and passing us, looking strong.  We are waving at the crowds, smiling for the cameras, generally just grooving along. We even felt good enough to dump our trash bags and poncho (Note to self: DO NOT TAKE OFF THE PONCHO. NEVER TAKE OFF THE DAMN PONCHO…). Right about here, though, is also where the first sign of trouble hit us. Marci pulled off behind me and stood at the side of the road, gagging for a bit. Her stomach was a bit upset so we tried to be really cognizant of making sure she had fluids & electrolytes and fuel.  

We’re still hitting our target paces, though, so once she shook that feeling, we kept on. At this point, the rain has picked up. It is starting to come down heavier, and the puddles that most runners had tried to avoid became impossible to move around, and our shoes were well soaked by then, so it made no sense to do anything but run straight through them. This was beginning to not be fun, though, not like a quick rain shower on a hot day, but a real snuggle-under-blankets-don’t-go-outside storm. The puddles were now streams across the street, ankle deep in some places, and the rain was not letting up.  Then on the long gradual uphill into the second relay exchange, we saw the lightning.  It was right in front of us, which meant it was still well east of the lake and we would be turning away from it soon, but still, it was very close. At that point, we started wondering how in the world do you pull 25,000 runners off the streets?  How do you close a marathon now? But we figured we would keep running until they told us to stop. So we did.

That long stretch had a couple of small rollers on it, which coupled with the rain really played havoc with us mentally. Here is one spot where my knowledge of the course paid off, because I was able to say that we were going to turn toward the lake soon, and as soon as we got to the lake, the wind would be at our back and we would be at the halfway point and just had to run it home.  But I think the damage had been done by then.  We had passed Fiona back at mile 10; she had already had to make a pit stop for her stomach but I knew that she had faced those issues before and could battle through them. But Marci was not having a good day; hard to say if it was nutrition or the cold or the rain or what, but she was having a hard time breathing regularly.  By mile 11, she was very much questioning her ability to finish this race at her intended pace. But we kept moving, despite the wind, which was picking up by then, and the rain, which had not subsided, and the temps, which felt like they were steadily dropping.

Right before mile 13, we got the tiniest respite from the rain, as for about half a mile, the sun came out!! We were like all the kids in that Ray Bradbury story, laughing and smiling and marveling at that big yellow ball in the sky!! Yay!! Well, yeah, that didn’t last long.  By the time we got to the actual lake, it had started again, but we got an extra dose of sunshine when we saw Kris motoring along ahead of us at the little dogleg out and back at the east end of the lake.  Along that stretch, before we saw Kris, Marci was having a hard time breathing again. She was in full-out panic attack mode by now and was heaving and gasping for air. She looked at me and told me that I needed to go on ahead.  She said I could still get sub-five, but I needed to leave her to do it. In a split second, my mind flashed back to the last six miles of Cowtown, and the bubble of love that I was surrounded by for that hard, hard stretch. And I knew in that second that I wasn’t going to leave her. I just couldn’t do it. She was struggling and she was doubting herself, but I knew that if I stuck with her and talked her down from the Bad Place in her head that she could finish this race. We might not make sub-five. But you know what? I hadn’t made sub-five in any of my previous races and it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. The people who love you don’t care what your marathon PR is. The only person you disappoint if you don’t hit your goal is the person that lives inside your own head.

Along the lake. It was cold and miserable. 
And just like that, I made up my mind. We had said we would run our own race. And I said “Eff that.” In that moment, my race was not about sub-five. My race was about making sure Marci didn’t have to run alone.  I have never felt alone on any of my runs since I met this amazing group of runners, and I damn sure wasn’t going to leave her out there on her own, physically alone, during one of the worst race-day conditions either of us had ever seen. I was going to help her finish the damn race. 

About a mile later, she stopped running. Dead in her tracks. Just stopped. And I looked at her and she kind of swooned. She wasn’t breathing properly because she was in full-blown panic attack. Several people stopped and asked if we needed gels or medical aid. She waved them off, and I got her to take deep breaths and stop the hyperventilating. Then she walked for a bit, and after a few seconds, she took off. The thing is, during the sections where she was running, I could barely keep up with her.  It took all I had to maintain a pace to keep within a few feet of her.  But then, she would slow down and walk and I could tell her breathing was off and she was in panic mode again. So I would grab her arm and talk her down and get her to imitate my breathing pattern, deep in, hold, deep out, rinse, repeat.  Then she’d feel better and take off again.  We repeated this pattern time and again all through the park, and I told her there was medical up ahead at 16, and when we got there I needed her to let them check her out. Check her pulse, check her heart rate, something.  I wanted to know that she was ok physically to keep going. That mile through the park was the longest ever until we got to the aid station. But when we got there, she said she just needed a bathroom and some gel. So we kept moving. But by then, we had found Fiona, so we became a threesome.  Fiona’s stomach was doing a big-time number on her, so she was glad for the company. 

After stopping for a bit at the Mile 16 aid station, the rain picked up again. This may have been where we first got hit with the hail, too. I know the rain was torrential as we headed up over the bridge past the park.  The next three miles were a slog fest. I don’t remember much at all except that the same pattern kept repeating itself, where Marci would run strong, then falter, Fiona and I would talk her down and get her breathing deeply again, and then she would take off again. She was relentless. The plan had been for Megan and Bojana to meet us somewhere about mile 17.  So as we went through the park, I kept telling Marci, “Just a little bit more and we’ll see the girls. Just a little more.”  By this time, she was visibly cold and shaking from the wind and rain that had kept pounding us since that little respite.  We had bought Megan a jacket the day before and I kept promising her that as soon as we saw them we would take her jacket from her and she could wear it and warm up.  But we couldn’t find them. Mile after mile went by and I kept scanning the crowd for them but couldn’t find them.  After a couple of more swoons, Fiona and I decided that we had to warm her up somehow. She was shivering by now and the rain was coming down harder and harder. Fiona had kept her jacket on the whole time and was going to share it with her.   Thankfully right at that point, we saw a clear garbage bag hanging over a pylon on the course. I told Fiona to grab it, and this is where Marci’s state of mind was made painfully clear to us, and when I knew we were in trouble.  She looked right at us and said, “I don’t want that. It’s wet.” Um, dear, we are ALL wet. So to placate her, I told her Fiona was going to wear it and she could wear Fiona’s jacket. She didn’t want to do that, but she had no choice. We had to keep her warm.

 I know we saw and heard lightning & thunder again as we turned on Claussen, because I remember thinking, “Oh, hell, no!  You are NOT pulling us off this course now, bastards!! NOT NOW!”   We had come too far to stop now.  Soon after we gave Marci the jacket, she took off again, and I had a hard time keeping her in my sights.  Up until this point, I had been more worried about keeping her moving and warm, and was not really paying attention to my own body.  Yes, I had been fueling and taking electrolytes and fluids, but I had ignored my legs and my ankle. For some reason, my knees were fine during this race, but my right ankle started to tweak about mile 21. During one of Marci’s walking spells, I pulled Fiona aside and told her I needed her to stay close to Marci, because I wasn’t sure that I could. I told her my ankle hurt and I was going to have to back off.  At that point I saw them both take off in front of me. I kept them close, about 500 feet or so, for a while, but soon I resigned myself that I was going to have to walk it in. And I knew I would get cold walking, so I started to look for something to keep me warm. There were tons of discarded garbage bags on the side of the street, where some of the speedier folks had been during the break in the weather, so I grabbed one and tied it around my shoulders. That was all I needed to keep some warmth in while I was walking.  I wasn’t exactly having fun at that point, because I was worried about Marci, but not too worried because she was still in front of me then, so I was confident she would be OK.  

Somewhere along Claussen. Not exactly miserable but making the most of it. 
Around mile 22 I stopped to at the aid station to get some ibuprofen and biofreeze – those quick remedies really helped me through the last 5k for sure. A few steps later, I saw Fiona and Marci in front of me, so I tried to speed up to catch them.

By the time I got there, Marci was in tears and all she did was turn around and look at me and tell me she was sorry. Bojana was in the back of a medical van, trying to get her to climb in. Fiona and Megan were trying to get her to go, but she didn’t want to. I told her to get in the van, that she had nothing to apologize for. Apparently, she had swooned again, right in front of the medical tent. Fiona caught her but the medical staff pulled her. She was hypothermic and pretty much out of it. Even then, she did not want to stop.  It was heartbreaking for all of us.  She wanted it so badly. We wanted it for her so much. Even at the pace we were going by then, she would have still had a PR.  Yes, I realize it’s stupid to talk about PRs and finishing when really she was in physical danger. But you have to understand that the determination and guts and sheer WILL that she demonstrated in keeping going for 12 miles after  she thought was done is just incredible to me.  I don’t think people who aren’t runners can grasp that.  Actually I know people who aren’t runners can’t grasp it, because I had dinner with friends a few weeks later. And they didn’t get it when I told the story. They didn’t understand why we even started the race when it was still storming. They didn’t know how I could keep her going when in retrospect, to a neutral party, it probably made sense to have stopped her the first time she swooned at 14. They don’t get it.

But after they took her to warm her up and check her out, I knew that we had to finish for her. Fiona and I stuck together from there to the finish. Megan came along and updated us on Mel and Bojana and what had happened earlier. It was a jog sometimes, a walk mostly, and again, things are blurred here. I do remember we got hit with the hail again, right around mile 25 or so. It was kind of humorous by then, except for not really.  It was just cold. And we just wanted to get done already.  Soon enough, we hit the turn into downtown and we could see the finish. Fiona wanted to run in, but I didn’t want to start the sprint and then sputter halfway down the chute, so we waited a little longer. I did have the presence of mind to strip off my trash bag, so at least my finisher photos show me in our great shirts instead of a hefty bag.  

Yes, it was raining that hard. The whole freakin' way...
Me with Fiona. She ran a hard race too, with never a complaint. Rock star. 
It's not a finish line pic if I'm not hookin' horns!
There was no time to celebrate, to enjoy the accomplishment. Fiona cut a good 30 minutes off her time (I think more, I can’t remember) and I had finished #13. We snapped a few photos in front of the finisher backdrop, grabbed our medals, shirts and Carl’s Jr burgers and started back to the hotel to try to find the rest of the crew and get an update on Marci. That was by far the coldest walk ever. Now that the adrenaline had worn off (and the garbage bag was gone), I was starting to get cold again. We got to the hotel, then realized none of us had a key. We banged on the door and Kris finally opened it up. She had finished in 5:07, slogged back to the hotel and demanded a key, so she was showered and somewhat warmed up by then. Mel arrived a couple of minutes later and tried to warm up after wandering around the finishers’ area after SMASHING her Chicago PR. I changed out of my wet clothes and jumped into the bed under the covers, shivering and shaking and feeling very much like I did after NYCM. But I was OK, I just knew I had to get warm.  Once we finally all got showered and changed and got an update from Bojana on Marci, it was time to head back to FW-D.

We couldn’t let the weekend end quite yet, though, so we did one last gathering (minus Fiona, who had to go retrieve the girls from her family) at IHOP to debrief and share war stories and just be together a little longer.  I think we all needed that, we all needed to come down off that experience.
We didn't all finish, but we all survived. 
I have thought long and hard about this race since that day. I have second-guessed myself and wondered if I did more harm to Marci by keeping her going than if I had let her back off and stop earlier, when we knew it wasn’t her day.  I have had guilt that she ended up in the medical tent for an hour. I have had guilt that I couldn’t stay with her longer, that I asked Fiona to watch her and stay with her when I couldn’t.  I feel awful that Mel had an incredible race and was alone for much of it, even though she kept hearing all of our voices in her head.  I love that Kris cut 40 minutes off her time but I hate that she was by herself at the finish, with nobody to celebrate with her and sing and dance with her.  I hate that Fiona’s stomach betrayed her yet again, and yet because of that we were able to catch up to her and have her with us during Marci’s toughest miles. There is so much that I wish could have been different about this day. I know none of it was in our control, really, and that we did the only thing we knew how to do, which was to toe the line and then Run It Out.

Could I have hit sub-five that day if things had gone differently?  I don’t know, and I guess we will never know. I’m taking a break for a bit, but will be back to tackle my first 50-miler in November and a couple of trail 50ks leading up to them. I do know that Marci is back at it again, training for Chicago, and Fiona and Mel have new PRs at  White Rock in their sights, and Kris is gunning for the same at Nike Womens’ in San Francisco. And next April, we all have a date. In Oklahoma City. See you then, y’all. 


Anonymous said...

I am so glad you blogged your race, Mama C. I loved all the detail!! Even though I was there, I missed so much of it, lol. When I think about the race now, I don't ever think I was alone. Not for a second... Love you muchly!

Running With Charlene said...

What an amazing person, friend and athlete you are!

Jill Will Run said...

You truly are inspirational... I think the feeling you must have from this is probably better than if you had hit sub-five. People are meant to help each other!

Lesley @ said...

Wow. I don't even know what to say here. I think this is just amazing. Really really harsh conditions, and you pulled through. Don't second guess yourself... I guarantee you that your presence was a help, not a hindrance. I agree... no time, no number, is worth leaving someone who really needs you by their side. Amazing.