It has taken me a month to recap this race on my blog, partly because I already wrote about it on my running group but mostly because I was waiting for my mixed feelings to resolve into something ultimately positive. I have a tendency toward self-flagellation after any athletic event or performance, regardless of outcome – I spend ages obsessing over how I could’ve done better. It’s a blessing and a curse, but it keeps me striving for bigger/better/faster/more, so I choose to embrace it.
This was my 1st full marathon and it was full of meaning. Dallas was my 1st half marathon in 2009 – I quit drinking while training for it, so this medal is my version of a 5 year chip. I trained for months, hitting all but one of my scheduled runs. My right knee wasn’t always thrilled, but I felt ready after record mileage, a half-marathon PR and an AG award for my last half before the marathon.
About a week out, I developed an ache in my left thigh/buttock that quickly went from uncomfortable to excruciating. I thought it might be a hamstring tear or piriformis syndrome, but a visit to my beloved chiropractor confirmed that it was sciatica due to a bulging and possibly herniated L4-L5. I’ve spent nearly 2 years rehabilitating the mess between my C2-C5, so this news was pretty demoralizing – I wasn’t ready for more traction/decompression.
The pain was slowing me down considerably & there was concern from family, friends & Dr. Cox about the distance, so I briefly considered switching from the full to the half. Then I received my crazy bib # – 999 – on what would’ve been my grandmother’s 99th birthday, so I took it as I sign that I had to try. Worst-case scenario? I would start but not be able to finish, which felt preferable to finishing the half & realizing I could’ve gone farther. I recalculated my goal pace based on my decreased ability and estimated my finish time at 5 hours. I was 2 days out & could barely sit or stand up without searing electric pain down my left leg. As long as I was in motion, though, it was tolerable.
The weather was overcast on race morning & heavy rain was forecasted for afternoon. I met up with my brother Kris, my sister-in-law Jen & a few of their friends, most of whom were running the half. Jen is my favorite running buddy & the races shared the same course for the first 9.5 miles, so the time with her flew by.
We hugged goodbye at the split & I was on my own, maintaining a slower pace than I’d planned but still in pretty good shape. The hills were starting to hurt a bit around mile 13, but the promise of seeing my awesome husband every 3ish miles (he found me 8 times on the course, carrying a backpack full of just-in-case) in his bright pink Wonder Woman shirt kept me in good spirits. He even ran a bit with me, even though he hates to run.
At mile 15, the intermittent rain became a torrential downpour. It would continue for the entirety of the next 11.2 miles. Good thing I had my custom-made poncho with me.
Despite the weather, the volunteers were all cheerful & the spectators were amazing. Great course support, even when the 25mph wind gusts made it impossible to keep water cups on the tables.
By mile 20, my back & leg were pretty wrecked but I was still enjoying myself. The rain made the potholed streets a bit harder to traverse and my knee was starting to lock up, so my pace slowed to a shuffle. I never hit the infamous wall and I never doubted that I could finish the distance, but I was starting to worry that the course would close before I could cross the line – the time limit was 6.5 hours & judging by my recalculations, I would be cutting it close.
By mile 21, I’d already decided to do another marathon (maybe Cowtown in March). My Garmin died around this time, so I quit caring altogether about pace & just looked for mile markers. The sag wagons were nowhere in sight, so that gave me hope.
Around mile 22 I passed the Doublewide, the bar where I used to get blackout drunk & make terrible decisions before I traded drinking for distance running. I flipped it the double bird and picked up my pace.
Downtown Dallas never looked so beautiful as I shambled toward the finish line. I was amazed by how many spectators were still there, despite the rain & the late hour.
I finished in 6:19:16, over an hour slower than I’d hoped. But I made it with a grin on my face & a profound sense of gratitude for the ability to run, even when it hurts.
I picked up my finisher medal & my Dallas Duo medal (for also running RnR Half in March) & I found my husband. Hugging him felt better than any medal or PR ever has, and that’s when I finally cried.
He had doughnuts & hot coffee waiting for me in the car. I may have run all day, but he was the one who worked his ass off to support me – I am so thankful to have him on my team.
I rode the finisher’s high into Tuesday, when my depleted endorphins & exhaustion finally caught up with me. I spent about 24 hours disgusted with myself for finishing nearly 80 minutes slower than I’d hoped, for not pushing myself harder, for walking part of the last 10K. I was a marathoner, yeah, but I still felt like I’d failed.
As with any failure (or half-assed success), I ultimately chose to use the disappointment as fuel for my fire. I registered for Cowtown & started my training cycle again. The upshot is, unless I fall asleep or into an open manhole, I’ll most likely PR my next marathon!
If you made it through this ramble, then I sincerely thank you. I needed to get it out there so I can finally shake off the disappointment & move forward. I still have severe sciatica, but I’m running through the pain & treating with a TENS unit and an inversion table. Eventually I’ll go get that MRI & schedule some traction/decompression sessions, but for now I’m just focusing on my training schedule. We’ll see how Cowtown goes!