"Nice finishing kick," I breathlessly exclaim to the sweaty guy next to me. He looks up at me with his hands on his knees and smiles modestly. I can't tell if he's secretly thrilled by his final push or if he's just satisfied the pain of the marathon is over.
Two minutes and two seconds separate me from my personal best. A feat that might leave another runner feeling empty and angry. But I am beaming. Ear-to-ear. I walk away from the finish line slowly at first and then, with purpose. This is the new normal. I feel healthy. I feel strong.
Cue the back-in-time music.
90 days prior, I ran a personal best marathon in Rehoboth Beach (3:20:12).
Back-to-back-to-back racing has been an exercise in testing how much my body can handle without getting injured. So far, so good.
Myrtle Beach (MB) was a race entry I won through a contest that the Marshall University Marathon (MUM) hosted. I wrote a handwritten letter that explained why MUM was so spectacular on the off-chance that not many others would enter the contest. I will never be sure if that's why I won, but a free within-driving-distance marathon was one better phone calls I got last year.
We decided everything very last minute and much like the race, just played the weekend by ear. The expo was on the way to the hotel and we stopped for packet pickup. I love races that do extras and was pretty excited about the fleece blanket in addition to the t-shirt AND free beer at the expo.
I needed to go put my fingers in the Atlantic and suggested to Adam that we go down to the beach before it got dark. We ended up strolling down to the pier at sunset, picking up seashells, and blissfully unaware of our charmed existence.
I put an old heatsheet around me and tied it above my knees so I could walk. I told Adam that he didn't need to get up with me--I just would look for him when I came by the hotel on the course at mile 12ish and at the finish line. I gave him a kiss and then headed out into the dark morning. I saw runners lined up for the race shuttle at a nearby hotel and contemplated joining them. But the air temperature seemed to be okay at the time and I thought the walk would be a nice little warm-up.
But it was cold. And windy. And my over-caffeinated coffee was having zero effect on me. I passed by the candy store and looked longingly into the window. Walking over a mile takes infinitely longer than running a mile. I could see the flashing police car lights and hear the music of the start line as I got closer. After what seemed like the longest mile ever, I made my way to the start line and sat on the curb watching other people warm up.
The half-marathoners and full-marathoners are divided by a median for the first quarter mile or so. I tuck in behind the 3:30 pace group so as not to go out too fast. I notice I feel really, really good from the beginning and so I start to ease my way past them as we near the first mile marker.
I just cruise along for the first few miles. I want to stay in the 7:35-7:40 range if I am going to PR. Since I am not pacing anyone and my running has been going well, I use this as my target.
The world is waking up with the sun as we run along Highway 17 heading south. A few spectators are nursing cups of coffee, but the sidelines are sparse. I am thankful for my blaring music to keep my preoccupied. I avoid the first water stop, but grab water around mile 4.
A guy asks me our pace around mile 4 explaining he is run GPS-free. There aren't any time clocks on the course and I get from the small pieces of our conversation that he is trying to help a friend get to a sub 1:40 in the half. I run near them for the next few miles and provide updates with smatterings of runner chat as we pass mile markers. The course takes us around a retail area at mile 6 and we can see the leaders in this section. I love watching the grit and determination on their faces as we go by in the other direction.
I cross the 10K mark 46:44 and then start to make my own journey to Ocean Boulevard. The southern section of the strip is still crowded with half marathoners and the sidewalks become a little more interesting as people crowd around just outside their hotels. I feel the cold wind blowing south and my hands are freezing. I am wishing I had gloves instead of arm warmers. But the sun feels good in between the hotels and I am still feeling strong.
I begin to look for Adam as I near the hotel and scan the crowds for his blue hat. Unfortunately, I found out later on that he wasn't expecting me to be quite as quick and hadn't come downstairs yet.
I crossed over the 13.1 mark at 1:39:27 which was perfect for a PR if I could stay on pace the second half. The miles were clicking off despite the cold headwind and I was hoping that an amazing tailwind would be the reward once we turned around. I was staying in the 7:3x through mile 16 and felt good.
But all that work started to catch up to me as we neared the turnaround and I allowed myself to back off the pace as I felt like I was working way too hard with 10 miles left. I didn't want a bonk situation. Runner math told me I could run 9 minute miles and still BQ by this point.
I watch my pace drift to 7:42 in mile 16, 7:46 in mile 17, and 7:54 in mile 18. I hit 18.3 at 2:19:46 and kept on running with respect to what I had left. With close to 8 miles left, I want to just stay comfortably hard. I had been drinking water at all the hydration stops, but no Powerade. Thinking the electrolytes might help give me a bit of boost, I grabbed Powerade at mile 20 and it turned out to be the blue kind. I like the blue kind, but not while racing. I got the red kind at mile 22 and my gut was not happy. There was a 20 second period that I honestly thought I was going to be a puking runner. Fortunately, the feeling went away just as quickly as it came and I just concentrated on getting to the next mile marker.
I knew that I would have to have some crazy kick the last few miles to PR at this point and while I wasn't willing to give up the fight, I also allowed myself to feel really good about feeling pretty darn comfortable running a 3:2X marathon. There were some tough parts (it is a marathon after all!), but I felt really great mentally about handling them. As I headed into the last 2 miles, I zenned out a bit. Just allowing myself to enjoy a gorgeous day of running and following the bobbing heads ahead of me. Watching as some people experienced a late-race surge of energy and others as they slowed to walk or stretch.
We start to walk towards the hotel and then I decide on a whim to go get my official results printed out. When I do, I am astonished to see that I am first in my age group?! 30-34 usually is a tough crowd to beat and I know that this course has seen some really fast times. I stupidly ask the guy in the awards tent standing next to the sign that says "Awards at 10:30" what time the awards will be handed out.
Adam and I sit for a few minutes and he sees them post the printout of the division winners. I tell him I still don't believe I was 1st in my AG (especially because the printout showed me as 20th female) and ask him to go look to make sure. Then he makes me go look for myself.