Today was the Frederick BC/BS marathon in Frederick MD. I ran this race last year in an effort to a) get in tight with the GEICO pace team and b) redeem myself after a less-than-perfect Boston race two weeks prior to the race. This year I ran the race because a) I was IN with the pace team and on the 4 hour group and b) I wanted to redeem myself after a less than perfect Boston race two weeks ago. Seeing a trend?
What wasn’t a trend was the weather. Last year it rained. A lot. And was very cold. In fact, I shivered the entire ride home even in dry clothing. I won an age group award. It wasn’t bad. This year was the complete opposite. And it didn’t end with a cute little plaque.
I knew going in the weather was going to be a factor. In fact, I was less concerned about weather than I was my knee. For whatever reason, my *good* knee was acting wonky and just didn’t feel right all week so I laid off it, hoping that I would not have to back out last minute. Then yesterday when I was at the expo, I realized that the knee was the least of my worries. Frederick was not only forecasted to be hot, but it has hills, all of which come at the end of the race. So I was concerned that my knee might start aching partway through and I’d still be faced with hills AND heat. Lucky for me, my body cooperated and the knee was fine. I think.
I say this because the start time of 6:30 was met with 74 degree temps. Keep in mind at 6:30 am there is no sun yet. The humidity was such that many runners were sweating just standing around waiting for the start – never a good sign. So we took our obligatory team photo, did our final preps (which included more water and ibuprofen) and were off at 6:30 am, with Marcy leading the team and Dave as my wingman. In the GEICO team, there are 3-5 pacers with one team lead. Marcy has been pacing for them longer than I have therefore, she earns title as team lead. I was originally bothered by this, last fall at Baltimore, but I realized very quickly that team lead is not a position that one wants to have during a time of crisis.
Surprisingly enough, I held out until about 20. I worked my way up to Marcy because by this time, I was lagging behind, barely catching up by the time we’d hit a water stop, then quickly lagging back again as she and Dave took off and left me using every bit of strength to transition from a walk to a trot. So I said "one more mile". And at 21 I said "one more mile". And at 22 I said… “I’m done” The hills are from 16 until 21 with one final big one at 23 and I knew I would never make it to the top of the 23rd mile hill because it was on the side of a major road in the direct sunlight. So I stopped at the water station and inhaled gatorade until my stomach sloshed. I then determined that I had to make it back, after all it was only 4 miles or so left and I wasn’t going to NOT finish. I just wasn’t going to finish on pace. I turned the corner to see a familiar sight – a 4:15 pacer on the median standing. There’s a switchback and rather than log the 2 miles, he was “hopping” the median to wait it out until what little was left of his team, rounded the same corner I had just travelled. We chatted and much to my surprise (and selfish happiness) more pacers had dropped than had made it. The 3:10 pacers dropped. The 3:20 had one left, the 3:30 had one left. Suddenly I realized that this was OK. We all have limits and mine had been hit and I responded in the safest fashion I could. I went on my way and focused on the big hill ahead of me. I love the miles from 23-26 – they’re my magical miles. I’m tired and worn out but I’m renewed. I know the end is a 5k (a race I’ve never attempted) and that I can run this distance any day of the week (and often do before boot camp starts up) So I faced the hill and began the trek up.
And then the Frederick marathon angel paid me a visit and brought a nice, middle aged woman cussing up a storm, also trekking up this hill at the same rate. I came up next to her and politely asked “would you like a personal pacer?” By this time, I had removed my pace shirt (as per the rules of when you drop your pace duties) and was left in a little black sports bra and soaked black skirt. She smiled and said yes – she had been on my team earlier but had fallen off. I laughed and said “me too!” For the next 50 minutes, I transformed myself into her biggest fan. With a slightly slower pace (about 11 minutes per mile) and a mere 5k to go, I knew that it was time to turn on the “Emily Pace Show”
We rounded the corner and approached the stadium amidst loud cheers and her two children, a 14 year old daughter and a 19 year old son, along with her parents. She was 44 years old and divorced and decided that she wanted to do this, for her. Her life was good but she liked challenges. Running today was definitely a challenge and one that I hope she will never forget. We hugged at the end, her promising to try another (she was only a few minutes of her Boston qualifying time, even in that heat!) and me feeling that I had redeemed myself. I’ve been in a lot of tough situations but today was hell. However, as with all bad things, hell comes to an end and we quickly forget how tough it was. My final time was 4:11, definitely not one for the records but sometimes you have to have failure in order to recall how wonderful success can be.