Monday, April 30, 2018

Living "Eugene Marathon"

I'm not even sure where to begin.  I've been chasing a dream that I once thought was impossible for several years now. My original marathon goal of a sub 4:30 turned into a sub 4:00.  After doing that, I deeply desired to get a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time.  

I won't bore you with the details of training, racing, failing, training again and so on and so forth. There have been lots and lots of tears, setbacks and heartbreaks in the last three years of trying to get that BQ. There were many times of ugly self pity and feeling like this would just never happen.  One thing I'm sure of is I never lost that deep deep "what if" desire to keep moving forward no matter what setback came my way. 

This last January I was ready, physically and mentally to start into marathon training again.  Winter training is my favorite as I am more of a cold weather runner.  Training went excellent and I was able to run some really good races leading up to Eugene Marathon. With all the hard work, my weak ankle decided to give me some issues.  It all stems back from an injury years ago.  This really set me back for some important training runs the last six weeks.  I also was able to hang on, and still get in some quality work on days my ankle wasn't flared up. As marathon day got near, I prayed and hoped for the best on April 29th at 7:00am.  

Sunday April 29th came and I woke up feeling better than I had in weeks.  I taped up my ankle and walked around.  I felt my foot was at a really good 90% but wouldn't know for sure until I started racing.  My legs were relaxed and hungry to race.  We stepped outside and the air felt perfect.  I was calm and focused.  I knew in the back of my mind it was going to be a good day. 

The whole morning went very smooth. As we (Jerry, our friend AJ and I) made our way to the starting line, we had to separate into three different corrals.  I  was now with 100's of people, yet all alone.  It was a good feeling. I looked around at all the people and tried to take in the moment but was eager to get started. 

Image may contain: Jerry Mullins and Julie Mullins, people smiling, people standing
My husband who ran a smoking Marathon PR!
I was in the second wave of starting runners. The official start time was 7:00am but I started about 7:05. I felt boxed in and stayed to the right, trying not to trip.  It didn't take long for the runners to stretch out and have more room.  I still stayed to the right.  It just seemed more comfortable there.  I felt pretty calm but it was early! I needed to keep calm so I tried to preoccupy my brain.  I watched different runners around me...what I liked and disliked about people's outfits.  Guessing who's going out too fast, checking for a friendly face because it would be nice to make a friend for a few miles. Anything to make the miles go my smoothly.   

The first few miles were simple, holding back and taking it all in.  "Free miles" is what I like to call them, unless I run too fast...then it's leads to a massive crash landing later on (sadly, I'm an expert on this). 

I don't remember what mile it was, but I found myself running alongside a friendly face pretty early on.  A college kid about my daughters age.  I asked him a few questions and quickly decided he was my friend and let Andrew know he was my friend. That didn't scare him off so we ran together for several miles.  When we talked about where we were from, and I said, "I'm from Dallas" a lady turned around and said, "Dallas?"  She's from the area too.  Rose became our new friend.  Matt was soon added to our group along with Elisa from my Hood to Coast team who we just happen to bump into.  We all took turns running with each other.  At times, one would go ahead or cut back, but then we would all find each other again.  One of my favorite moments of the race was on a paved trail in the park.  Maybe around mile 15 or 16 ish.  All of us running side by side, owning the path.  We were in unison, feeling powerful together.  Of course, I told them all how much I loved them and how awesome we were together.  I'm sure they thought I was loony but I didn't care.  This unison didn't last too long because we all had strong miles and weak miles. That's how it goes.

Sometime around mile 17 or 18 we all broke our marathon friendship and had to run the rest of the race alone. The thing about a marathon, mile 17-20 things can get really ugly.  People get grumpy and very self absorbed.  I've had friends try to pace me at this point and I'm not very nice (I know, hard to believe).  Anyway, there was a water station just before mile 20.  I slowed down to take a drink of water and take some salt tabs.  The sun had come out, it was warmer and this marathon just got real!  This is the part of the race I trained for and I was scared out of my mind.  

As I try and remember what was going on in my head at this time...what stands out is, I kept thinking I'm ok, I can do this. Also, times of, this is really hard, I want to walk.  I can't walk, yes I I can't.  It gets a little ridiculous out there. I looked back over my splits and I know I ran this part hard as I could at this point.  I had a few really decent miles and a few miles that I was slightly disappointed in. 

Mile 24, I slowed down for my last drink of water before running the last 2.2 miles of this race.  I drank and then dropped my cup with half the water still in it.  I put my hands over my salty sweaty face and almost starting bawling.  I had a choice to make.  I had to ask myself this question, "are you going to quit now Julie?  You can walk it in, does it really matter, you ran such a good 24 miles?" or are you going to face your biggest running fear"Actually going into complete race mode and running the last part of the marathon and doing what you came to do today?"  I knew if I walked at all, I wouldn't make my goal time.  If I ran, I had a chance.  This is a really hard thing to explain, and I don't expect anyone to get it, but I was scared!  Scared of failing, scared of puking, scared of the pain.  

I put my hands down to my side and I started running.  My feet started to hurt now.  I'm actually really lucky.  Usually my feet will hurt before mile 24.  I was in a fight with my own legs.  Begging them to cooperate with me for 17 or 18 more minutes. Is that too much to ask?  Mile 24 and 25 was a good fight.  I didn't cry, I kept going.  I was pleased with my effort, yet upset I couldn't move faster.  People around me were having their own battles.  I saw runners off to the side rubbing their legs out, I saw lots of people now walking and others running it out, like I chose to do.  As soon as I hit mile 26 I started to turn and go into Hayward Field.  I had been dreaming of this very moment for a solid four months.  I stepped onto that beautiful track and raced it in with everything I had in me.  I rounded the back end of that track and started to dry heave, but I kept going.  I had just over 100 meters left to go.  I dry heaved again but couldn't stop.  I got onto the straight away and don't remember anything else until I stepped over the finish line, looking over to the right and seeing my husband, then my legs gave out.  I went down.  I didn't black out, my legs were just in shock or something.  It was totally unexpected.  Jerry (my husband) and some other person grabbed me under my sweaty armpits as someone handed me my finishers medal.  I was able to stand and walk over to the side and double over to take in the moment.  I knew I ran my very best today.  That's a good honest feeling!

Image may contain: 3 people, including Kristi Clack, people smiling, people standing
My Kristi!  She broke her foot, next time
we will be running together! 
I stood there as if I was in a dream.  I knew I had gotten a BQ but didn't know how to handle it at the moment.  I really needed a drink of water and the first thing they offered me was chocolate milk (some of you know my story about chocolate milk!)  I got to see a friend come in and then was handed some good old water and a goodie bag.  I stumbled over to the nearest fence and plopped down onto the ground.  I found food in my bag but the bagel grew in my dry mouth and I felt like I was going to choke.  I love a good bagel, but it just wasn't working for me.  I offered it to my friend Kristi, but she refused to take it from my sweaty hand.   I just sat, and then sat a little longer and enjoyed the moment looking through a mass of runners legs spread out over the finishers field. It was a good moment to realize I wasn't dreaming, I was living! 

I am so thankful for the many many messages I received Saturday night and all day Sunday.  I really mean it when I say, "I am blessed with the best of friends."  No message was overlooked.  I read each and every one of them.