Eugene Marathon: Best race with the worst two miles

It looked like I was getting invisibly punched in the face. My eyes were tightly closed and my mouth was open, gasping for air. My arms were flailing every which way. Please don’t take my finish line race photo as any indiction for how my marathon actually went, or how I felt overall. (Photo has been burned).

The Eugene Marathon, on Mother’s Day, was my seventh full marathon and the best I felt overall in a marathon.

The beginning

It started out like any other race morning. I woke up before 5 a.m. very nervous. I couldn’t stomach my English muffin. I could only manage to eat half of it. When Shannon and I arrived to the start area, I was worried that my body wouldn’t last 26.2 miles since I hardly ate. I had a bite of her banana and drank more water. We pretty much hung out in front of the portapotties the entire 45 minutes we had before the race start.

Soon it became time to say good-bye to Shannon as she went to Corral B and I went to C. I decided to start behind the 4-hour pacers. My goal for this race was to break 4 hours and I didn’t want to start ahead of them in the chance that the group passed me later on — I knew this would be horrible for my mental well-being. I didn’t like the idea of staying with the pace group either since that didn’t go well in Portland last year.

Sorry, gotta’ run!

As soon as my Corral C was off and running, I felt good. My legs weren’t too tight. The start weather was perfect, cool but not too cold for a tank top and shorts. Then within about one mile in, I had that feeling. You know, that feeling that I had to pee.

“I can’t believe this!”

I was irritated since I had literally used the portapotty three times before the race. The feeling didn’t go away. It started turning into a stomach cramp. I saw Bryce and my parents around mile 3 and smiled but was uncomfortable. When I came up to the mile 3 water station and portapotties, I told myself to just do it. I had to stop myself from racing and relieve my poor bladder. But, I couldn’t. There were about five runners waiting in line to use three portapotties. “I am not going to wait for other people to poop while my race time clicks away!” I angrily thought.

I picked up the pace and kept running — because I really had to go. I passed the 4-hour pacers. I quickly ran up a hill without even thinking about it being a hill. The beginning of the course took us through residential neighborhoods and more than once I thought about asking a few spectators if the house they were standing in front of belonged to them. But, I figured the time to ask these strangers if I could use their bathroom would also eat away at my race time — and what if they denied me or didn’t live there? Finally around mile 4.5, I came across a row of portapotties with no line! I took care of business in less than 30-40 seconds and off I went. I was still ahead of the 4-hour pace group but now that I felt “normal” again I continued at a bit of a faster pace.

Run happy

Happy marathoner!

Happy marathoner!

Now I felt great! A renewed energy came over me and I continued on. Now I paid attention to the witty spectator signs people were holding. I thanked strangers for cheering for me. When I saw my parents and Bryce again at mile 6, this time I waved and smiled big!

Some time after this, my Oiselle teammate, Marilyn, spotted me and we ran together for several miles. I knew that she was doing this race as well but it’s always a pleasant surprise when you actually “run into” someone you know during a race. I honestly can’t remember how many miles we ran together, but they were good miles. Several times we ran by Molly, another one of our teammates, who was out cheering for everyone. I actually had never met Molly in real life but it was awesome to have another person out screaming my name and rooting for me.

Birds of a feather, flock together!

Birds of a feather, flock together!

Around mile 11 or 12, my family cheer squad spotted me again. This time my friend, Mo, was also with them. She hopped in the race and started running with me. We chatted for a bit and I started to notice that we were passing a lot of other runners. I felt good but was worried that we were picking up the pace too much. (We were not. My body was just starting to get a bit tired).

I told Mo that my IT band was starting to get a little aggravated. I tried not to think about it though. I was in Eugene running a marathon! It was a beautiful day! My friends and family were here with me! I asked Mo to do some simple math for me to figure out if I was still on track to break 4 hours. I had a pretty good cushion at this point since I was running in the 9:00-9:05 minute/mile range and 9:09 pace would get me exactly at 4 hours.

By myself — but feeling good

With the 4-hour pace group still behind me, I also knew that I had a physical visual for whether or not I would be breaking 4 hours. Mo’s family and husband were cheering around mile 16 and this is where she “dropped me off.” Her husband, Nano, quickly filled up my water bottle and they all wished me luck as I ran on.

I’ll be honest. I was really scared to run by myself after Mo left. I was worried I would significantly slow down now that I didn’t have anyone running with me. I did not. I did the opposite. That first mile without her was done in 8:50! Knowing that I was still in a position to push myself, I kept at it. I had another sub-9 minute mile after this one and kept clipping away. My IT band was still aching but I told myself that I wasn’t going to let it slow me down. “You ran a marathon with a full-on IT band injury in Chicago two years ago! You can do this one with a little aggravation,” I told myself. [Note to runners: I would not recommend running a marathon with an injury but had already paid for the plane tickets and am stubborn like that.]

Even while running by myself, I continued to feel strong enough to pass runners up ahead. One by one I passed more and more. Not many others were passing me.

At mile 18, I found my parents and Bryce cheering for me (and post-race they told me I looked strong here). I felt pretty good  — as far as running marathons go!

I feel so good that it looks like I am sleeping!

I feel so good that it looks like I am sleeping!

The struggle is real

I tried focusing on the music I was listening to. But, at about mile 22/23, the only song that was really “inspiring” me was Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What.” (I know, I know, who am I??) That was when I had a glimmer of hope. I was running along a winding path in a park and up ahead I spotted a girl in a yellow singlet. I immediately knew it was Shannon.

A part of me wanted to sprint to catch her so that we could end our misery together. At the same time, a part of me wanted to maintain my what-was-now-dropping to 9:15/20 pace. If she saw me, would that make her feel worse? (Since her goal time would have had her easily finishing a good 25 or more minutes before me). I eventually caught up to her with maybe one to two miles left of the race.

“Let’s finish this, Shannon,” I said to her.

We ran together. I felt better now. I looked down at my watch and assured myself that I was still able to break 4 hours.

That did not happen.

I couldn’t keep up with Shannon. My body decided it didn’t feel like running any longer. The last two miles were just under 10-minute pace for me! My whole right side of my body was hurting; I felt like I was paralyzed while attempting to run.

I continued with this slow shuffle-movement. Shannon got smaller and smaller until I couldn’t make her out any more. Shortly after I lost sight of her, “the worst” occurred. I heard a group of pounding footsteps get louder. It was the 4-hour pace group. As soon as they passed me, I knew not all was lost. I did start behind the group, so there was a small fraction of a chance that I could still meet my goal, perhaps.

But, I couldn’t keep up with them at all. With just about a mile left, I couldn’t dig any deeper. As soon as I was out of the park/trail area and onto a main road, I knew I was close to the finish. The street was lined with spectators cheering runners into Hayward Field.

I wanted to walk. A woman next to me started walking. She was in tears and her husband kept yelling that he loved her but that he needed her to run. Meanwhile, I was “running” at about the same pace they were walking. Now I really wanted to walk.

It would all be over once I got onto the track.

The finish: Getting back on track

As soon as my feet hit the track, I thought maybe I would magically start sprinting running at a faster pace. Nope. I jogged around the curve of the track; I felt defeated. I figured that this last mile was taking me at least 15 minutes and that now I not only wouldn’t break 4 hours, but that I would not PR.

At the end of the curve behind a fence stood Martha, Shannon’s friend. “Go, Kristin!” she yelled. I made eye contact and I knew that in a few short 40?60? meters, I would be done.

I gave everything I had left in me and sprinted to the finish line. People were yelling, including my family, which I didn’t see. I passed one man and immediately heard a sound that I cannot recreate in words but was something like, “ARGHHHHHHHHHHH!” in a deep angry-sounding tone.

The finish line was literally 20 steps in front of me. “Is this guy mad that a girl is about to beat him and is now trying to catch me?” I frantically thought while in mid-sprint.

I felt the runner getting closer to me and I wasn’t going to let him beat me. I tore off my hat as I sprinted my final steps into the finish. I closed my eyes and it was over.

It really makes no sense as to why I took off my hat. Bryce said he thought I was going to chuck it onto the track. In my “blacked-out” moment of thinking, I assumed that not wearing the hat would make me fast enough to beat this guy.

It did not. But, for the record, the yelling-rage-mode runner was not the man I originally passed on the track. My mom took a video and after watching it, I discovered that another man came up right behind me and the other guy and squeezed in right between the two of us. It was this new guy who beat me by one or two seconds.

Man on left is laughing because the other man's full-out warrior yelling was so alarming!

Man on left is laughing because the other man’s full-out warrior yelling was so alarming!

Shannon was right at the finish to support my body, that was having trouble balancing on its own.

“I need water,” I said to her as I still held my water bottle. Clearly one cannot think properly after running 26.2 miles.

Our families and friends were gathered right outside the finish line. I just looked at them. I had no words. I didn’t cry. I didn’t know what to think or how to feel. I was just glad to be done with the race. Our cheerleaders just smiled and kept on telling us we did a good job.

Then Mo told me I PR’d. I stood there kneeling over a fence and was in disbelief. Nano had my race time pulled up on his phone.

I couldn’t believe it.

After a horrid last two miles, I earned myself a four-minute PR!

Hungry for more

It was definitely hard-earned. I’m so thankful for my friends, family, Bryce and teammates who were there to help me get to that finish line Sunday morning.

Shannon and I sitting after the race. Lots of sitting happened post-race!

Shannon and I sitting after the race. Lots of sitting happened post-race!

Yes, it’s very disappointing to have not reached my goal of sub-4 since I trained so hard for the past 17 weeks. (And, the fact that this has been a serious running goal of mine for more than a year now!) But, if I can run a marathon in 4:01:18 with a pitstop, there’s no telling how well I will do without a bathroom break.

The biggest victory is also that I felt so strong for a majority of this race. That hasn’t been the case for many of my past marathons.

And, my IT band race pain may have been mostly or all in my head because it did not hurt at all after the race or even a few days later! Plus, this was the first marathon I did not get any blisters on my feet!

TrackTown, USA, you did not disappoint.

I won’t stop running after my dream of sub-4. I’ve never been more confident than I am now in reaching this goal.

The only question is: What should my next race be?

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12 thoughts on “Eugene Marathon: Best race with the worst two miles

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