Thursday, August 5, 2010

First Marathon

Sharlene, left and me, circa 1977 or so.
Happy Birthday Sharlene!  Today would have been my sister's 44th birthday.  She passed away in October of 2001 after a 3 year battle with cancer from a brain tumor. 

My First Marathon:  Portland Marathon, October, 2001.

My husband, Jeff, and I set out to run our first marathon.  We had been entering local road races, having fun and I would win an occasional age group award.  The thought of finishing a marathon was intoxicating.  And then...the training runs.  The idea may have been intoxicating, but training was excrutiating!   My body screamed at me to stop moving forward! 

Our plan was to get up to 21 miles for our longest run.  Galloway had the longest run over the marathon distance, but I didn't start my training early enough to get to that distance.  Each week the long run would increase a little, and I was certain I could never run further than that run.  EVER.  But then we'd go out again the next week and whine and cry about how much we hated this (okay...that may have been just me).

I religiously followed Jeff Galloway's "Marathon, You Can Do It!" book, reading it cover to cover and back again.  The binding eventually fell apart as I repeated the mantras he'd written:  You body is designed to run, each step is making me stronger, you earned this!  Jeff Galloway endorses walk breaks and that's one of the reasons I decided to go with his training program.  I couldn't imagine running so many miles without walking at all. 

The other Jeff aka my husband, absolutely HATED the walk break.  Loathed, despised, you get the picture.  We somehow worked it out as I would walk a minute once every five minutes during training, and he would just slow down a little and then I would eventually catch back up to him. 

Race morning:  weather is predicted to be warm and sunny.  I opted to wear shorts and a sports bra since it would be fairly warm.  Should I carry my Walkman (it's 2001, mind you), I want to experience the marathon without background noise.

Jeff and I are at the start, freaking out amid the crowds of runners.  This is real!  Water bottles and clothing are being tossed to the side, runners are jumping up and down like they're on invisible pogo sticks, I see watches being examined and shoelaces being retied as the National Anthem is sung and the countdown begins. 

I squeeze Jeff's hand and wish him good luck...we decided to run our own race and find each other at the finish.  I'm inwardly hoping for a four hour finish but as I hear, "3, 2, 1..." I decided that just finishing is a pretty amazing feat!

Not even a half mile into the race and I HAVE to use a port-a-potty.  Rounding a corner, I see people running off course to the side of a building...waves of men facing the wall...what?  Okay, this is my first race and I have a lot to learn about race "etiquette".  Up ahead, I see the porta-potty and wait in line with mostly women.  Finally it's my turn, hold my breath, and hurry out before I suffocate. 

Following Galloway's plan, I would walk one minute after each mile.  I'm wishing I had worn compression shorts because I am beginning to have that hot rashy aid station ahead is handing out little sticks with Vaseline and I greedily grab two.  Looking at Runner's World covers for months, I anticipated my legs would somehow transform into toned, non-thigh-rubbing running machines.  I did gain muscle but they were still drumstick-shaped and my thighs scratched together like boy scouts rubbing sticks together to make a fire.

I see Jeff ahead on the out and back section!  He's with the 3:15 pace group...amazing!  About 15 miles, I witness my first bare butt sighting as a woman squats down in front of a Charlie Brown tree.  I promise myself I will never do that.

Heading up to the bridge I definitely feel on the edge of my limits.  I walk up to the top and am finally able to coax myself into running again as I cross the threshhold onto the bridge.  Up ahead, I see a woman wearing a t-shirt from a race near my hometown.  I'm intent on catching up with her so I can divert my mind to something other than running.

Coming along side her, I comment, "I've never run that race..." referring to her shirt, "but it's close to my home and was thinking I might run it next year."  She smiles at me and says it's a really fun race and I should run it. 
"Do you live in that town?" and she says, "No, I live in a small town across the water."
"Me, too!" and as it turns out, we live in the same small is a small world.  And it's about to become microscopic.
She asks me if I work..."No, I stay at home and homeschool my kids...and you?"
She says she works at a convalescent home. 
We're crossing the bridge together when she tells me that she works as a nurse at the same convalescent home my sister lives in because of her brain tumor.
I mention this and she says, "Your sister is Sharlene?" and I'm having a hard time running.  She continues, "I work nights and take care of her!"
We both are amazed at this meeting.  I thank her for caring for my sister, especially now when things are getting even more difficult for Sharlene.
We continue together for a little while longer and she needs to slow down and I continue on my way.
For me, that moment of meeting someone who is taking care of my sister as we cross the bridge on my first marathon was a God designed moment.  You may call it coincidence, that's fine.  But I know He had a hand in arranging that meeting. 
I manage to get through the rest of the marathon, mile by mile, knowing that yes, this is hard, but it's nothing compared to what my sister is going through.  I finally see the finish line, 4:21 and Jeff is waiting for me.  He finished in 3:49 due to a tragic espresso gel in the eye incident.  That's his story and he's sticking to it.

Tears are running down my cheek, as they will at the finish of most of my marathons.  It's a mixture of immense happiness at the accomplishment and sadness that the journey is over.  I think that's why I continue to sign up for more races...I always have another journey to start.

I was able to show my sister the finisher's medal on one of my last visits with her.  She was really happy for Jeff and I.  The following visit was much more difficult as she wanted me to introduce her to my husband, whom she had known for 12 years.  She passed away November 10, 2001. 

Sharlene, I know this is true for you, even if you never lined up at the start of a road race.
2 Timothy 4:7

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Me, Jeff Galloway and my husband, Jeff at the awards ceremony.