The closest race I could find that looked interesting to me was the Queen City Marathon in Cumberland MD. I'm in NJ. MD does not seem that far. Ok, so it looked like maybe 4-5 hours of driving without traffic. The race hotel was located at the starting line and still had rooms. Packet pick up was in the hotel at 6:45 am and the race would start at 8am. Registration was still open. In about 20 minutes I had a room and was registered to run.
I had to go to work on Friday, but hoped to be out early enough to get to the race location before 11pm. It turns out that there was not a lot of work for me to do, so I was able to leave earlier than I expected. I was on the road by 5:00 pm.
I used to just jump in the car and drive to races up to 10 hours away regularly. There was a period in my life when I was extremely phobic of driving. It corresponded with the time I lived in NYC. Once I moved back to NJ and needed to drive to survive, this fear was something that took some work to overcome. It wasn't until I got my first Subaru and learned to drive a stick that I finally like I was a competent driver. Now, many years later, when I jump in my car and drive hours and hours from home to do something I love, I feel fortunate and liberated. I feel proud of overcoming an irrational fear that held me back from experiencing my world.
As I drove to Cumberland MD, I left the congested urban chaos and found myself amongst cows and silos with gorgeous mountain-scape backdrops. The sun was setting, very slowly, as I drove west. The rain came down hard, washing the giant bug splatter from my windshield. I sang badly on the top of my lungs to the new Of Monster and Men CD Sid left in my car.
|Hotel at start of the course.|
However, before I took one single step, I knew today was not my day. The long drive, the hotel bed, the crappy dinner in the car the night before, all had me feeling stiff and sore and uncomfortable. Thank goodness this wasn't a goal race.
I met Bruce at the starting line when I was still trying to be hopeful that I could have a good day. After all, sometimes aches and pains go away once we start to move. We talked a bit and then it was time to run.
|Map from Queen City Website|
I was truly hoping to run 8:15s I ran 8:30s at Two Rivers last weekend and I felt great for the most part. I was hoping to have a similar experience. My BQ is 3:45. I ran a 3:43 last weekend, but really I will not feel confident that I have my BQ secured until I run a 3:40 or better. I wanted to try to do that here.
However, several strides off the line and I already knew my back was tight. By the end of the first mile I could feel my back getting aggravated. Bruce caught me and we started talking. Our pace settled and I found a speed that hurt but did not get worse. It was about 9:00-9:30 pace.
I contemplated whether or not I needed to stop at the 6 mile mat. It would break my heart to make a 10 HOUR round trip for a 6 mile run! However, when my back is spasming it is not as if I have much of a choice. This is not about being strong or tough or wanting it bad enough. I am strong. I am tough. I do want it bad enough. But when my spine is on fire, the only option I have is to stop moving.
However, the pace was sustainable. Bruce allowed me to talk for most of the run, which was the best thing I could do if I wanted to forget I was hurting. In the back of my mind I convinced myself that really I really just had 10 miles more to run because once we turn around it should feel "easier" to run downhill.
As we hit the incline to the turn around Bruce reminded me that this race also has a Metric Marathon and if I was hurting I could turn back sooner. That was an option and it helped to know I could really just turn back whenever I needed to.
The trail was lovely. It was just dirt and trees with mountain views in the background when the landscape opened. It was quiet. There are not many spectators on the towpath. However, the volunteers at the aid stations were phenomenal. The aid stations were stocked with snacks, like cookies and fruit. I felt like I was running an ultra! There was no gatorade but Nuun was provided. I am not able to drink Nuun, so ended up just drinking water. I had two gels in my pocket, so the water would be ok.
|Photo found online - but I am not sure who took it.|
|Brush Tunnel, Photo by Deborah Lazerson, posted on Queen City Marathon website|
From Mile 7 through this point in the race, Bruce and I walked about 30 seconds at each mile mark. I am sure that this walk break really helped me to keep moving. As we ran toward the 16 mile turn around my back was feeling better.
As soon as we hit the turn around Bruce was ready to go. He said goodbye and took off like a gazelle! He was smooth and fluid and I realize he generous he was to keep me company for 2:40 minutes of his race knowing he could easily run so much faster without me.
I tried to pick up my pace too, but after about 4 miles of constant downhill running, the part I was actually looking forward too, I just could not do it. I had to walk. I had to walk a lot. The uphill helped me, but downhill rattled me so much I wanted to quit.
I made it to Mile 20. My legs were toast, my back was on fire, and then it occurred to me that I had not taken in any calories at all since I started. Only water and a two sips of Nuun when I thought it was Gatorade. I had forgotten about my gels. I was bonking and it was bad!
I took a gel and walked. I mostly walked for 2 miles. As I walked, mobile race volunteers road bikes up and down the trail offering aid they carried in their packs. When asked if I needed anything, I asked for the bike.
I was caught by Kendra from the tunnel (who looked a millions times better) and another woman named Carol, who had really great energy. I picked up with them and we pulled each other along.
At Mile 24, my gel kicked in and the terrain leveled out. I had been running for 2 miles and decided I wanted to try to pick up my pace a little. I felt good. I wanted to hurry up before my back hurt again. I said goodbye and pulled off. I felt better than an hour ago and was so glad when I saw that finish line.
Right as I finished a volunteer was proud to offer me a mylar blanket, sharing that last year they had not had them and this year they corrected that problem. I was directed to a tent with food that included hummus wraps, chicken salad wraps, hearty chicken soup, chocolate milk, and more.
I sat with Carol and we talked. She shared that only Friday she decided she needed to run this race! She had never driven this far (4 hours for her) or stayed overnight on her own for a race before. But at the last minute she decided she needed to run this and she did it. :) It is amazing to be in a position to be able to just do this. To just decide you want to run a marathon and the just go do it. We are fortunate.
I grabbed a few things to eat and walked to the hotel where my car was parked. I jumped in and drove home. I had kept my room until 1pm, planning to shower before my drive, but I was too late for that. I could have stopped at the local YMCA that allowed runners to shower after the race, but I really didn't feel the need. I just wanted to get home before dark, which I managed to do.
The Queens City Marathon RD had race result posted in a day with a link to photos provided by a Volunteer on the course. Awards that were not picked up were going to be mailed out. I had gotten my medal at the finish line so I was good.
The next day I received an email from Bruce, wishing me well, thanking me for the company, and apologizing for taking off. Bruce broke 4 hours!! He ran an amazing last 10 miles. I replied to say that I was happy to see him pick up the pace and thanked him tremendously for helping me through.
One day later I get an email from the RD asking me if I had requested my age group award. Carol had asked her to reach out to me. Carol was third in our age group and wanted to make sure I knew I was second.
Small races are the way to go. This race may be one my smallest events and possibly my slowest marathon, but I feel very proud of this run. I wanted to stop from mile 1. I found a way to manage the pain and not just mindlessly ignore it. I found away to run at a pace that was sustainable. I did not do any more damage to myself. I walked when I needed to. I ran when I could. I finished what I started without making my situation any worse. I connected with people. I made friends that I know I will be happy to see again at the next marathon. I ran a race where the RD and the volunteers took great pride in taking care of their runners. I ran a course that was peaceful and scenic and challenging it is own way.
I have run a lot of marathons. My experience running this one was truly one of my best. I look forward to next year!