For us marathoners, we all have that first marathon story. They’re generally pretty epic, in one respect or other. Add type-1 diabetes to the mix, and epic doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.
This is the story of my first marathon.
It was early, not yet even 6:30.
The small, three-by-three, blue port-a-potty was nearly pitch black on the inside.
Bib #6764 could see a flash of light seeping through the crack that linked her port-a-potty with the port-a-potty next door. She swivelled her head around to see if there was a light switch, but couldn’t see one.
Dammit, she thought, why didn’t I bring my headlight?
As she pulled her running shorts up, careful not to touch a thing around her, the advertisement for Method anti-bacterial, all-natural cleaner, posted to the inside door, seemed to mock her. And yet, aside from being one of the dirtiest places on earth, the port-a-potty felt almost like a safe haven for her, saving her from the cold rain pounding down outside, and from the hordes of excited and nervous people filling up the 4:15 corral.
She could stay there all day, she thought.
Surely no one would notice, she thought.
Her family and friends waiting on the sidelines to cheer her on would just think she gave up, maybe stopped in at one of the many Portland pubs for an authentic Pacific Northwest beer, and would head back to the hotel and wait for her there, yep, that’s exactly what they would do, she thought.
But then, a deep thud, followed by a billowing splash, jolted 6764 back to reality. Her face burned with a sickening anxiety.
She flung her arm to the back of her waistband, making sure her insulin pump was still attached.
Phew, it was there.
Her relief, however, was short lived.
Her hand reached up to the fuel belt cinched just above her waist.
One of her bottles filled with the orange Ultima electrolyte drink was missing. She looked behind her, but couldn’t see a thing. The growing pit in her stomach told her exactly where it was, long lost down in that deep, nasty, port-a-potty abyss.
She walked out into the rain, and tried to calm herself with every step, but memories of the first 32 km run she had ever done about a month and a half earlier filled her head.
She didn’t drink enough of the electrolytes that day and for a good 15 km, she had felt like she was gonna hurl – she did not want to experience that again.
If she had been at home, she would have had her cell phone, and would have been able to call her husband for help, but because they were in the States, he had her phone and was organizing the meet-up on the sidelines for her friends and parents.
Luckily, she thought, the course would be serving Ultima along the route, just not the same flavour she was used to, but it was better than nothing, she kept telling herself.
She huddled in an alcove with about 50 or so other runners. Some were wearing full-on tights, some were wearing jackets, some were wearing garbage bags, one was wearing a cowboy hat, pigtails, and a bright pink, shimmering tutu.
A few were stretching, some were lamenting about the rain, others were comparing notes about past marathon experiences.
6764 tried warming up herself, but the nervous anxiety proved to be too much for her to concentrate. She pulled out her glucometre and tested her blood sugars: 9.1, almost perfect for the start of a run.
She could hear loud cheers off in the distance. She looked at her watch, it was just past 7, the first wave must have just started their race. Eleven minutes later, it was her turn. The horn sounded, she slowly started plodding behind the other runners.
This is your race, she silently chanted, do your pace, do your walk breaks, do your race.
It wasn’t long before the runners in front of her came to a sharp stop, causing 6764 to nearly crash right into them. They started to spread on both sides, until finally she could see what the obstruction was: a puddle.
Are you kidding me? We’re in the Pacific Northwest, it’s raining cats and dogs, we’re already soaked to the bone, and you’re trying to dodge a bloody puddle? Really?
She splashed through that puddle in protest, smiling the entire time.
6764 purposely kept her ipod off for as long as she could, wanting to take in as much of the race as she could bear.
She ran past the police drum corps, high school cheerleaders, a pipe band, and bagpipers. At about 3 km, she came to her first hill.
It was time for her ipod to work its magic.
Sheryl Crow’s All I Wanna Do blared through her earphones, the perfect song to a race she so desperately wanted to have fun on.
She was feeling good, keeping her pace between 5:26 and 5:47 minutes per km, keeping her within both the 4 hour and 4:15 pace groups.
As she neared seven km, and had just downed her first gel of the day, she started to crane her head over the other runners, keeping an eye out for her husband. When she saw a man wearing an orange jacket with a big camera aimed in her direction, she knew it was him.
She started waving excitedly, and then heard the cheers from her friends standing next to him, “There’s she is!” they shouted. “Go! Go! Go!”
She kept running, and smiled as the camera clicked.
When 6764 crossed over the first red and blue timing platform at 10 km into the race, she looked down at her Garmin: 102:21.
She knew she could have run it faster, but didn’t want to overdo it. She was feeling good and confident. She had no pains, none of the knee or hip issues that had plagued her for the two weeks prior to the race.
She kept going.
But at 13 km, she felt her first twinge of pain.
It came from the top of her right foot, and felt as though her shoelaces were tied too tight. She tried to shift her foot to alleviate the friction, but it didn’t work. She ran off to the side to loosen and re-lace, an act she had to do two more times before it felt somewhat comfortable again.
At 15 km, pressure built up in her right knee.
It started on the right side of the knee, and moved over to the front, then the left, then the back. It wasn’t even the knee that had given her grief leading up to the race. She thought about the tensor bandage in her husband’s backpack, but wasn’t sure if she’d be seeing him again until the end of the race. She kept running, trying not to think about the ever-increasing pain.
At 16 km, her left knee took on the pain of her right.
She started freaking out.
She had trusted her training, everything in it told her she could do this, but not once in the 16 weeks of training did she feel the pain she was feeling now.
She fought back the tears, cursed the thought of them. She didn’t want to drop out, she wanted to finish the race, she had to. She knew there was a great support of friends, family, and fellow runners who were all tracking her progress online, and cheering for her success. She also knew there would be a sweet finisher’s shirt waiting for her at the finish line. There was no way she was losing out on that.
Her stubbornness pushed her forward.
At 17 km, Eminem blared through the ipod; it was the beat-filled, angry music she needed to take control.
Her eyes glazed over, her feet rounded like pedals on a bike. She could hear the cheers, she could see the people, she could do this.
As much as she wanted to finish with a respectable 4 hour or 4:15 time, her goal, first and foremost, was to finish.
She slowed down her pace to 6:30 min/km, and once again started to take in the scene around her.
She saw a man repeatedly picking at the underwear creeping up his bum and was thankful for selecting the most comfortable runner’s underwear ever.
She heard Eye Of The Tiger blaring from a house on the route, where the residents were enthusiastically cheering her on from under an awning.
She saw a man who looked like he had been taken straight out of a page from the 80s, wearing Daisy Duke see-through orange running shorts, no shirt, and a red Duke Boys bandana tied around his shaggy white hair.
She saw a line of guys holding out beer samples; the smell of which almost made her puke.
She saw a kid, maybe 10 or 11, running with his mom and thought if he could do it, she could too.
She saw a woman running in all white with a veil atop her head flowing in the wind behind her; she would later learn that same woman got married at the halfway point to the man in all black running next to her.
From 21 km to 32 km, she kept thinking about her run to Chilliwack. You’re almost there, she said, you’re almost at Janet’s, where a nice, sloppy, greasy, grilled cheesed sandwich will be waiting for you if you just keep going, you can do this.
The hill at 26 km, though, shook her confidence.
6764 had always been a hill girl, loved them, loved how she could motor up them with no problem, leaving those fast straight stretch runners in her dust. But at 26 km, this hill, which was no pansy ass mole hill, but more like a Mt. Ventoux mountainous hill, seemed to be laughing at her.
Are you kidding me? What cruel race organizer would put a hill with an elevation of 66 metres at 26 km into a bloody 42.2 km race? That’s just mean!
She slowly plodded up. She tried going for as long as she could, but all the people walking next to her, clouded her head. Peer pressure’s a bitch, she grumbled, slowing her own pace to a walk.
With just 10 km remaining, and 6764 entering an unknown territory, a wave of nausea hit her like a ton of bricks.
She had feared this moment right from the beginning and had thought she had taken all necessary precautions by stopping at the water and Ultima stations and filling up her bottles as was needed.
She took a bite of her pancake, but could barely swallow it without feeling like it would creep back up her esophagus.
Her one minute walk breaks turned into two and three minutes, her legs were starting to feel as though they were dragging a grand piano behind them.
She pulled out her glucometre and test strips, all of which were soaked. She stuck the test strip in the machine, only to be faced with Error, try again.
She asked a volunteer if she could dry it on her shirt; it didn’t work. She didn’t know if her blood sugars were high or low, but to be on the safe side she downed a couple of sugar tablets and Sharkies before continuing to run.
Every stride she made was pained by the nausea, negative thoughts filled her head, she kept trying to reason with the little red devil on her shoulder, telling him that she could do these kilometres in her sleep, so buzz off already. Bon Jovi came through the airwaves, and she lightly sang out loud,
“We’re halfway there, wo-oh, living on a prayer…”
She heard her name, a woman was cheering her on, she didn’t know this woman, and this woman had no idea who she was either, but she could see her name on her bib.
“Go 6764 Go!” she shouted.
Another spectator shouted, “6764 you’re doing awesome!”
A kid shouted “Yay 6764!”
A man shouted, “You’re almost there, 6764, keep going, right foot, left, right foot, left!”
Hearing her name pulled her out from the negativity, even if only for a moment, it pulled her out long enough to smile and give her reason to push forward a few more strides. She was thankful for putting her name on her bib.
With just two kilometres to go, she saw her dad cheering her on. She almost missed him, only caught him on a glance back after hearing his familiar voice.
The negativity was gone.
The sharp shearing jolts of pain searing through her right knee couldn’t even stop her.
One kilometre left, she saw her “famiglia” of friends shouting out her name, one of whom congratulated her on her “great form.”
She yelled back “Never Again!” much to the amusement of the two men running next to her.
She couldn’t see her husband, there were orange jackets everywhere, but she knew he was there, knew he was cheering her on, documenting her experience, she tried to smile as she heard her name billowing over the intercom and crossed the finish line at 4:54:42, relief flooding through her fatigued body.
She did it!
RACE DAY DETAILS:
- 6:45 a.m. BG before: 9.1
- Temp basal: -50 per cent
- Distance: 42.2 km
- Average pace: 6:56 min/km
- Average heart rate: 178 bpm
- Time: 4:54:42
This post was first published just shy of 10 years ago on Oct. 12, 2010.
What’s your marathon story?