It’s Wednesday and I am still waddling like a duck; this must mean it was Miami Marathon weekend. I know this because for the past two years my husband Joe ran the marathon and he looked something like this:
As I wrote here, I was trained to finish the Miami Marathon at a comfortable pace, but not to kill it. All I wanted was to come in before the five hour mark; that magic number would somehow allow me to consider myself a marathoner without the need to come back to prove something to myself.
Yet, what was special about this weekend was that it wasn’t all about me. It started on Saturday, when the Florida Dairy Farmers gave my family entries to race the Tropical 5k. I am already sponsored by Got Chocolate Milk, am part of Team #REFUEL, my kids drink milk constantly so taking the entries to promote them was a no brainer.
The Tropical 5k turned out to be a great race. This was our fifth family 5k so we have our strategy down: I take Fearless, Joe runs with Dreamer, and we each have different run/walk intervals. The race began at the Children’s Museum and ran down the MacArthur Causeway onto Miami Beach. For those of you not from Miami, running that route without the fear of being run over by a car is a joy. It was stunning to run next to the cruise-lined Port of Miami to your right, and manicured lawns of celebrity mansions to your left. Even Fearless at six years old was enjoying the view.
I told him he was so lucky. Other kids were stuck at home since it was too cold to play outside. And him? He gets to be running somewhere he is not usually allowed. All because he chose to get up early, lace up his shoes and race. I talk up healthy habits to the boys; I make these occasions special.
And each race with my kids is special indeed.
Obviously, we all refueled with chocolate milk, and so I was ready for my big Sunday. I couldn’t tell you who was playing the super bowl that night, but I can tell you the weather report for Miami: hot and humid. I considered this my first “real” marathon, one that wasn’t proceeded by a long swim and extra long bike ride.
I had done the first 13.1 miles of the Miami Marathon three times already, and hadn’t heard great reviews about the back nine. Runners told me those miles were lonely: you didn’t see many people, there wasn’t a lot of cheering, and the energy level died off completely. And so I prepared myself for a monotonous run …. it’s not like I haven’t had hundreds of those anyways.
I trained for a negative split where I run the last 13.1 miles faster than the first 13.1. But even in training, that didn’t always work out. It’s usually the opposite: I start faster than I should, and eventually slow down as I get tired. My fear was that if I started with the negative split intention, I would run the first half slower than I felt I could so that I could pick up the pace as we hit the second half. But what if I got tired, or hot, and missed my time because I couldn’t pick up the pace enough? At the last minute I changed my mind.
I decided to go out a bit faster and run a reasonably comfortable but faster pace for as long as possible. If I had to run an 11:11 minutes/mile to make it under five hours, I began running at 10:18. I can go at that pace for quite a while … I just wasn’t sure I could keep it up for 26.2 miles. This way I would have a “time deficit” and be able to slow down and walk if needed towards the end of the race when it got hot.
I started the race with Mark, the 4:30 marathon pacer to whom I stuck like glue for about four miles until I needed to grab water and lost him. It was a shame because it was nice to run without having to think about my pace and just enjoy daybreak over the same stretch of causeway I had run with Fearless the previous morning.
At mile four, I met up with Josh Liberman who was running his 100th marathon. Yep. You read it right: 100. Crazy. I also met up with other friends who had just finished the Disney Dopey Challenge. One took videos and pictures as we chatted. They were going to take their time with this marathon, and though I loved the company I said goodbye and pushed ahead.
The rest of the first 13 miles went by quickly. I saw some purple hearts for Brianna, I was calm, confident, I kept my pace and the miles passed rather quickly. My only concern was a pulled muscle on my groin which was bothering me. Thankfully there was Bio Freeze at each water station approximately one mile apart. I got a handful at every other station and without shame stuck my hand down my shorts and rubbed the cream on my groin and thighs; even if only psychologically, it seemed to help.
When we hit downtown Miami again, the race split: marathoners stayed to the right and ran towards Coconut Grove, while half marathoners turned left to head towards the finish line. I was warned this was a trouble spot as most people run the half marathon and by that point were cheering each other with “almost done” and “push to the end;” both lies to the marathoner. But I wasn’t bothered. To keep me from giving up, I did the marathon to raise funds for Brianna, a little girl in Dreamer’s second grade class who needs a life saving heart transplant. I was concerned about my time, but not about gutting out the next 13.1 miles. I had good reason to move forward.
I stayed to the right and put on my headphones. I never run with music but thought I could use it to get a little boost. WOW! I went into lalaland. I enjoyed running worry free with music. I could run right through the craziest of Miami intersections knowing a police officer was stopping traffic while I shuffled by. On the other side of the intersection, I could see marathoners who were already on their way back and about six miles from the finish. They were being handed cold, wet, chocolate milk towels (!) because it was so hot. I had seen several people on the sidelines, and medical personnel here and there. The heat was getting the best of some runners. Fortunately for me though, it began to drizzle. I had to put my phone away so it wouldn’t get damaged by the water. There went my music, but the drizzle felt refreshing.
I didn’t understand why people complained so much about the second half of the marathon. Sure, there were no bands, but it felt peaceful to me, not dull. We ran past restaurants where people having brunch cheered us on, that was all I needed.
All of a sudden, I found myself at mile 19, and apart from my groin bothering me between Bio Freeze applications, I was still going at a 10:30 pace that would get me in well before my limit of five hours.
That wouldn’t last.
By mile twenty, new things began to hurt: my feet, ankles and lower back. What the heck? That had never happened before.
And just as the drizzle stopped, I left the shady part of the Miami Marathon and headed to the Rickenbacker Causeway where the sun became unforgiving. I took my last gel and headed to the next water station. I knew I only had four miles to go but it seemed like I wasn’t going to make it. I was thirsty; I mean really thirsty. I looked at my Garmin and my average pace was 10:50. I was getting too close for comfort to my time limit at an 11:11 minute/mile pace. I had to make it so that I wouldn’t have the need for revenge on the course.
Except my legs wouldn’t move and my pace continued to slip. 11:00 minute/mile. I thought I was running, but my Garmin told me differently. I turned the corner and things began to change. Under a shady overpass I saw my friend Tonya who was waiting for her brother who also running. He had suffered a stroke and used this marathon as part of his therapy. She gave me a huge bottle of water which I immediately guzzled down. Soon after, my swim coach Lilly and friend Gabi rode their bikes next to me. I wanted to desperately stop but they wouldn’t let me.
And then, about a mile before the finish I checked my pace and it was 11:02. I was going to make it, I could take a little walking break. Things hurt more than they ever hurt at the Ironman and no amount of Bio Freeze was making it stop. That is when my Wolfpack teammate Brenda saw me and decided to run me to the finish.
I disliked her intensely at that moment. I was going to walk.
“Not under my watch you are not.” Brenda said. Her slow pace is my tempo pace so she was talking up a storm. “You are an Ironman, you can do this, it’s so close to the end.”
I answered in expletives.
I knew exactly where I was because I waited there for Joe to finish his marathons. I did to him what Brenda was doing to me. I loved her and hated her all at once. She helped me pick up the pace, and dropped me off at the finish chute since she couldn’t come in with me.
I couldn’t sprint down the finish line but when I got there I held back my tears. That was hard. The Miami Marathon beat me down. I was elated when I finished Ironman Florida: nothing hurt; I had raced at a comfortable pace the whole way. But the marathon pushed me harder, and when it was finally done I felt relief more than anything else.
I checked my Garmin and it was back to 11:00 minute miles after running with Brenda. I finished in 4:51. I know this is not record breaking, and a joke for some of my speedier friends. But you know what? It was a victory for me.
I got my medal, recovered with my ice cold chocolate milk and felt empowered. I met my goal, am a marathoner, and helped raise funds for Hope For Brianna. It was painful but it was a great experience. I just don’t know if I ever want to waddle like this again!
How about you? Have you done a road race before? Did you race the Miami Marathon, 1/2 Marathon, or Tropical 5k? What did you think?