I DID IT --- How? (Part 2 of The Detroit Free Press Marathon)

I get up early Sunday morning to meet Michelle so we can leave at 6:00am. Surprisingly, I’m not all that nervous now. I dress, put on the yellow lanyard bracelet Alexis made for me (I told her I would kiss it when I got tired and I did.) head to the Ren Cen to wait for her in the hotel lobby of the Marriott. We happily give each other big hugs and it’s like old times again.

As we make our way to our place amongst the thousands of others waiting to start the race I pepper Michelle with questions about all of the little things that would help a novice like me. Such things as, the best time and how to efficiently use the gross port-a-johns, how to keep out of the serious runners’ way, marathon etiquette, the normal signs of fatigue and symptoms that signal it’s time for me to stop. She’s a wealth of information that aids in keeping me calm.

The co-worker, the one who wasn’t sure I’d actually show up , found me and soon after we’re off as Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” was playing on the loud speakers. It was a chilly morning as Michelle and I began at a nice, slow pace (it was my co-worker’s first marathon as well, but she’s a little burst of energy and was gone in a flash). I was actually feeling really good as we approached the Ambassador Bridge to head over to Canada. I was also proud that right there, at the 3-mile mark, I’d finished my first 5K!

Mind you, we’re not trying to break any speed records. Michelle, just off that full marathon and not 100% healed up from the experience, has an even better reason to keep it slow. So we’re hovering at pretty much the back of everyone. Michelle has her fancy GPS watch calculated to show our pace and that our 17 to 18-minute miles will be good enough for a decent 4-hour finish. However, our calculation differed a bit from our pacer’s. A pacer is there to indicate the time you’re currently running/walking. There are several throughout the race with signs to show who they are and to keep at that steady pace throughout so you’ll know how many minutes you’re taking for each mile.

There’s a problem though due to the way the organizers changed the race start. This year they start everyone in “waves” to keep down congestion at any one point on the course. The fastest persons are in the first wave and somehow they didn’t calculate that the slower persons in the last wave actually started a half-hour later. What does this mean for us bringing up the rear? Well, the bridge and tunnel were closed to traffic only until 9:30am, and while the first and faster wave of runners/walkers were probably already back to Detroit well before that time, we’re now behind. We have to get up that bridge and through the tunnel or else be forced on the Last Chance Bus I spoke about in the previous entry. This matter of minutes is really a huge difference as we start our ascent. The slower people have to move quickly while going up a steady incline!!!!

Our Last Chance Pacer Jim, needs to make sure his people make it through the tunnel and into Detroit by 9:30am and he’s doing his job, I tell you. “Ladies, we need to pick up the pace or you’ll have to board the bus!”, he keeps yelling. I know I’m not as prepared as I should be, but I don’t want to get on the bus just yet. We try a little jogging to put some distance between Freddy…I mean Last Chance Pacer Jim and us. The incline is still inclining, in fact in my mind it never stops inclining, it just keeps right on up to the heavens! Did I mention how fearful I am of bridges? Hate driving them and never imagined I’d be walking one over such a large body of water, but as we’re being chased by Pacer Jim and that darn bus I couldn’t care less. I’m jogging and walking and inclining and this is the only time I thought to myself, “Self, you aren’t gonna make it!” I’m out of breath and my legs burn from the exertion. I do a mental check though to see if I feel in a danger zone as far as my health…nope, just darn tired!

After what seems to be an eternity the incline turns into a gentle decline and we make it off the bridge (But I keep asking Michelle to see how far LCPJ is from us. I was too scared to turn back for my own look, lol.) Thankfully, we put some more distance between us and him and start to relax a bit but now I feel like an ocean is in my bladder and I have to go..badly. Oh, I really have to, but I don’t because he’s still behind us. I hold it as we decline into the tunnel, where I swear I keep hearing the motor of The Bus tailing us (it was another vehicle altogether, but it sounded ominous), and incline (!!!!) back into Detroit, home free and able to use it (not as disgusting as one would think when you have to go….badly) and resume our slow pace. Come to find out, Last Chance Pacer Jim happened to be pretty nice. He came up to us and chatted a bit, gaving us his well wishes he then vanished from the road in a puff of smoke. Lol, he actually just trotted off ahead of us to finish the race having completed his job (since we were last, obviously we weren’t really concerned with our minute/per mile time).

Once we slowed down we were able to enjoy the course more. The weather was a perfect autumn day with no humidity, warm and not too hot. We walked along the Detroit River’s shore on the Canadian side, through some quaint little neighborhoods in the heart of the city I’d never seen in my four decades of living here, parts of Corktown where people were sitting on their lawns cheering us on. As much as Detroit has it’s well-documented blight, you forget that there’s still beauty here. Beauty found even in some of the vacant buildings like our famous and empty, Michigan Central Depot.

Michelle and I caught up about our lives, comfortable just like we were walking through the halls of our high school back in the day and we just laughed the whole time. Sometimes there would be a band playing on the corner, or a group of volunteers with water and Gatorade (which I partook of at each stop) or just random people with signs cheering you on. “Good job!”, “You’re almost there!”, “Keep going!”, were words of encouragement we heard often. We got a treat when Michelle’s husband and three adorable children met us at mile eight. The other racers were just as supportive, smiling and chatting with us. It was amazing to see that marathoners come in so many sizes and ages. You have the seriously fit runners to the walkers that are a bit rounder, like myself, old, young and in-between. It was very encouraging to see.

And we all kept on walking.

We walked and one hour turned into two. The Detroit Marathon isn’t a fun walk, so even once you’ve made it back to Detroit you’re expected to finish within a reasonable time or else you could still be required to get off the course. But at mile 9 I told Michelle, “It would take the police to get me off this course after I’ve walked this far and if they decided to come for me they’d have to catch me through the side streets!!!”

Nine miles turned into ten…I’d walked ten miles straight!!! There were other smaller inclines that I cursed and I kept walking. I was surprised that with my exercised-induced asthma I wasn’t really winded,, it was my legs and thighs that were so fatigued they felt like lead. Surprisingly the shoes, with the $25 insoles the shoe guy talked me into, were amazingly comfortable and my feet were pretty OK. At one point I told Michelle, “Once we get to mile 11, I’ll be joyful and get a push of adrenaline”. The sign for mile 11 came and I wasn’t really as happy as I’d thought I’d be and adrenaline, not so much. At mile 12 we weren’t the very last in the race, but darn close. Even that far in, my body was screaming for me to stop with my mind yelling, “Shut up!!! We only have one mile!!!” They started reopening a few of the streets, we saw runners going back to their hotels or stopping at the coney island. I didn’t care I was ONE mile away from walking a half marathon!!!!

We turn the corner we see the finish line!!!!! Are you kidding me? Did I really finish what I’d set out to do hours ago? Then the mile 13 sign. Hey! Aren’t we done yet? I’d forgotten about the .1 mile left to cross, to accomplish this feat of pure determination.

At 4:29:48 I DID IT!!!! My total time was 4:04:57. I crossed the finish line with my hands in the air and it is surreal. A very heavy and beautifully decorated medal put around my neck with cheers and fanfare all around me. I don’t cry when I’m happy, I smile and I had a smile to rival sunshine at that moment. Then I heard someone scream my name from the crowd. It was the co-worker who inspired me to consider undertaking the marathon in the first place, Lovica. She’s a short little spitfire prone to language that would make a sailor blush but when she cheerily commented on how proud she was of me, it warmed my heart. Renee hugged me with tears in her eyes, just as happy as I to finish her first.

We moved along toward the celebration event where you could eat, get goody bags, massages, etc. I took a goody bag, ravished the banana, string cheese and other contents in it and we moved to find Michelle’s family since she had to check out of the hotel pronto.

Eventually we find our way back, half walking, taking the People Mover the other half. Giving each other sweaty good-byes we promised to not allow another decade to pass before we see each other again (the next marathon perhaps?).

I head to my car to go home and something beyond tired, exhausted or fatigue is the word. The bad thing is I realize in my morning excitement I couldn’t remember which parking structure I’m in!!! I know that there are at least two at the Ren Cen, where I’d parked to be close to Michelle, but which and what floor? I wander and wander some more, too exhausted to be mad or sad, for about fifteen additional minutes when somehow some repressed memory guided my directionally challenged body to the right spot.

After I got home to my empty house I ate the huge fast food meal I’d purchased on the way back, took a warm bath in Epsom salts and lounged around. Now the adrenaline was apparent. I couldn’t go to sleep! I didn’t even take my nap and I love naps. My family came home with kisses and congratulations and I watched television, knit a bit, ate some more but didn’t go to sleep.

What an experience, one that I will always cherish. And now I have the marathon bug! I plan on entering into several smaller 5K races and a couple of half marathons (still walking though) in 2011. I’ve learned how important a positive and determined mental frame of mind (and some prayer) is in an endurance race, that’s what got me a good portion of the way. I also learned about my body. I can’t believe my body, this body needing some work and weight loss, carried me 13.1 miles in a few hours. That I have health and physical potential I never knew I had. That’s not bragging, but due to a previous bad experience with a gym employee I was convinced, until a few years ago, that I wasn’t even healthy enough to join a gym or exercise at all, much less that I could ever finishing a half marathon even walking!!! So with this one under my belt, I will not ever attempt another race without decent preparation….I did it this time, but I’m not going to push it. Along with this training I’m going to make changes to my overall health and diet which should give me the weight loss I need and am looking for as well.

I’ll be posting pictures and linking video later.

I DID IT --- Why? (Part 1 of the Detroit Free Press Marathon)

I want to start with a disclaimer. On 10/17/10 I finished the Detroit Free Press Half-Marathon (walking, people!!!!!) without proper training. If you want to start any exercise program you should consult your physician first (I did and was given the OK to train) and if you want to participate in a half-marathon you need to prepare adequately. If you continue reading you’ll see that I made sure that at NO TIME was I in any physical danger.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way here’s my tale…..

Back in May I posted of my plan to walk the Detroit Free Press Half-Marathon. Yes 13.1 miles, more than I’d ever walked at one time in my entire life. I did lots of research, printed out the perfect training plans, found this great running store to buy custom fitted shoes, etc. and so on. Then I took that information, put it neatly in a folder and let it sit for a few months while the only practicing I did was my regular routine of procrastination.

Right in the beginning I told a high school best buddy my plan. She’d already run about 8 or 9 full marathons and was going to attempt her 10th, the Chicago Marathon on 10-10-10 (which she accomplished…look at that date!). We hadn’t seen each other in over a decade and she’d always wanted to participate in the only marathon that crosses international borders. Plus she thought it would be a fun way to see each other and catch up, so she decided to join me in walking.

By now everyone is excited, my co-workers, my high school chum is filling out her passport application (needed since we’re crossing to Canada). Fun times lay ahead.

So the summer rolls around, school lets out, life happens, am I exercising? Randomly, I put in thirty minutes at the gym, a walk during lunch, or one after work with the little one and even that tapers off closer to race day. Soon I’m a month away and getting nervous. All of the plans I’d checked advised to allow a minimum of twelve weeks to properly get ready and now I have four. I have a doctor’s appointment at this time where I’m sure when I mention that I’d be trying to prepare for such an event in such a short period of time he would save me, tell me I wasn’t healthy enough to train in a few weeks. Nope! I get his full support to give it a go. I have no doctor’s note to present to all of these people I’d hyped myself to - that I’d be ready with bells on for this race.

Now it’s crunch time and I actually start getting sick…migraines one weekend, a cold another, lazyboneitis the other and I’m getting seriously worried. As the weeks before the race turn into days I express my doubts to my co-workers and my friend. It goes something like this:

“I’ve been getting headaches lately.”
“I was sick this weekend.”
“I don’t know…..”
“I feel exhausted.”
“My training sucks/is almost nonexistent.”

Michelle, the expert, assured me that I’d be fine since, although she’s a marathon running vet, when she walks, she walks very slowly. My co-workers just aren’t hearing my nonsense at all, they are confident that I have the physical ability to participate and finish.

Now I’m lamenting in being weaksauce, chastising myself severely. Instead of trying to get some cardio, walking, doing any kind of last-minute preparation, I spend the final week curled up in a fetal position whining about all of the wasted days I let pass by, trying to figure if I should fall down the steps or have someone hit me across the back with a two-by-four so I can have a legitimate way out. (Not seriously, but I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind.) The Friday before the event I’m in full blown anxiety attack. Was I really going to be lame and be a no show? It was only because of me that my friend signed up and even got a passport!!! She’d be bringing her husband and kids driving 5 hours from Chicago, staying in a hotel just for this event!!!

The last thing one of my co-workers, Renee, said to me before she left work on Friday was, “You’d better show up!”

At that very moment I made a choice. This quote came to mind: “A loser is someone who’s so afraid of not winning that they don’t even try.” The fact is I’d neglected my training program and I couldn’t change the past, but I was reasonably sure that I could complete at least 3 or 4 miles of this race (which I’d done at the gym before). I’d attempt more miles and if my body gave me any symptoms that it was overly taxed: lightheadedness, wheezing, pains around the chest area of any kind, I would bow out and take the “Bus of Shame” back to the start, actually called the Last Chance Bus. Not that it’s shameful to get on the bus, which takes participants to the end of the marathon if they can’t finish from either not feeling well, or not keeping up, but I knew I’d be getting on it because me being trifling and my ridiculous procrastination.

So I get my head together determined that, if I wasn’t physically strong enough, I’d at least have a bit of mental toughness. Saturday I spent the day loading up on the carbs needed to keep up my energy throughout the race. I went down to Cobo Hall, picked up my race packet and then went on to buy race gear. You’re not supposed to try out new things before a race. Everything, from pants, to what you’ll snack on while you walk, is supposed to be tested prior so there won’t be any surprises and you can make adjustments if necessary. Obviously I hadn’t done this. Everything I purchased was brand spanking new, the shirt, hat, pouch, pants were bought that day. Even the most important piece….the shoes, the day before a 13.1 mile walk I’d be walking in new shoes, shoes not broken in…who does this? Me.

I took my rest that night, excited and nervous about what was to come on Sunday and very happy to be seeing my old friend, Michelle. There was no turning back now!