Monday, December 17, 2012

Twenty Six Point Two.....One Mile At A Time

"A marathoner is a marathoner regardless of time. Virtually everyone who tries the marathon has put in training over months, and it is that exercise and that commitment, physical and mental, that gives meaning to the medal, not just the day’s effort, be it fast or slow. It's all in conquering the challenge."
---Mary R. Wittenberg

Arriving at the Start Line of the Rocket City Marathon last Saturday to me was like the final award ceremony for the many miles I had put in over the last few months. I had run all of those training miles alone...except for the cows and the neighborhood dogs, and was so ridiculously pumped about running the actual race. Now, let's be clear.....I wasn't expecting to participate in the real award ceremony. That would be reserved for the Kenyans and the athletic phenomenons.
I had a personal race goal of running the marathon in less than 4 hrs and 30 minutes, but I was hoping to stay closer to a 4:15 pace. During my training runs, I had maintained that pace for months, so I completely expected to cross the finish line within my goal time. I even wore a "Pace Tattoo" on my left forearm that would help me check my pace at each mile marker. I felt phsyically and mentally strong and ready for the race.

The gun fired.....

I was off. I shuffled along mixed up in the crowd of 1600 or so runners during the first stretch of road. I spotted my family and friends right across the start line and they all gave me an enthusiastic wave and smile as I began my journey. I flashed a wide grin and waved to my group.
The first mile clicked by in what felt like only seconds. I had adrenaline coursing through my veins as I ran along in the crowd of runners. The first mile marker clicked by and I was grinning from ear to ear.
The second mile marker also seemed to appear instantly. The joy of the moment made the first 18 minutes pass by quickly. I was feeling so fresh and strong. I was still surrounded by a pack of other runners, as everyone was trying to even out their pace and find space to get into a running rhythm. I spotted my whole group of race supporters at mile two! My hubby was there with my 3 little boys, my Mom and Dad, and a couple of my great friends. I was suprised and so happy to see them so quickly! I threw my arms up to give them a wave as they cheered for me and kept trucking along.
Miles three and four passed by almost effortlessly. During these miles, my prayer band reminded me to pray for my family. I ran and prayed with such a thankful heart for my perfect little lovebugs and my hubby. I prayed during those first few miles with such gratitude. I was literally filled with joy. I was feeling beyond grateful for the ability to accomplish such a difficult physical feat and felt wrapped in a blanket of love because of my supporters who were there to cheer me on. I had a permanent smile across my face as my feelings of joy oozed out as I ran.
I trucked along through miles five and six. I could see my little guys standing with their signs they had made as I approached them. I had to make a super quick detour over to the sidewalk where they were standing to give each of them a quick smooch on the forehead.
I had stayed near the 4:15 pace group until mile six, where I had to make a quick stop at the portapotty. I did such a fantastic job "pre-hydrating", that I had to make a stop. Since someone else was making a pit stop, too....I had to wait a minute on my turn to go. During my stop, the 4:25 pace group passed by me. I wasn't too worried about that because I knew that I was still very close to my pace time and I thought I could probably catch back up to them.
I fell into a comfortable running rhythm during miles seven to ten. I saw my supporters a couple more times, and became quite amazed that Bradley and the boys seemed to be around every corner. They were very efficient as a marathon support group! Each time I saw them, I was greeted with new signs and more cheers.

I hit mile 11 and everything changed.
I was running along happily, until something went wrong in my left knee.
I had not had any knee problems during my training runs, so it seemed to come out of nowhere. It was instant and it was intense. Something felt crooked or out of place or wacky in some sort of painful way. The pain was back behind my knee cap. I stopped and bent over, touching my toes to try to stretch out my hamstring. I did some knee lifts to try to make the pain subside. Then, I tried to run again.
Oh, boy. This was not good.
I decided to walk a bit and see if maybe just "shaking it off" would work. Walking didn't hurt it at all. So, I kept walking for a bit. I walked for a quarter of a mile or so. I decided to give it another go and try to run again. Owww!

Oh, dear. Not good. Not good. Not good.
I had to walk again until mile 12.

I had been running with my cell phone, just in case my boys wanted to text me some sort of message of support and I was using the clock on the phone as a pacing tool.
I texted Bradley for help.
I sent....
"Something is wrong with my knee. The next time I see you, have some ibuprofen ready with a drink."
He was near the route of the runners, so he pulled up next to me in the truck and Tucker held his hand out the window. In the palm of his hand were 3 ibuprofen. I took them from him as I walked alongside the truck. I took the styrofoam Jack's cup from him to have something to wash the pills down with as they drove off looking at me with concern.
I was humbled to walking for the next two miles. I tried to run over and over, but my knee just would not cooperate. I prayed that the ibuprofen would start to take effect so that I could pick up my running pace again.
I walked to mile 13.
I walked to mile 14.

I watched as the pace groups kept running past me. As I saw the slowest pace group, the 4:45 group run past, tears came to my eyes.
I knew that I wouldn't be able to finish my race within my goal time frame, and I began to worry that I wouldn't even make the course time limit of 6 hours. If I had to continue to walk, I would never make it. I would be crushed if I didn't make the 6 hour cut off, or worse if I had to just drop out.

I stretched some more.
I decided that I would try again to run. It had been long enough that maybe the ibuprofen would be helping.
I gave it a go. Ow. It hurt, but less so. A slow jog might be possible.
I kind of shuffled along at a slower pace. Hoping my knee would kind of get in the game and cooperate. I was running again.....slowly....but it was better than walking.
I was clenching my teeth together as I ran, but I was determined to hobble along and finish this race. I made it to Mile 15.
I was thrilled that I was jogging again when I spotted my gang of supporters. I wanted to be able to erase some of the concern that I had seen on the boys faces earlier. They were as excited about coming to cheer at this race as I was to run in it. I didn't want to ruin the day with a bum knee.
I wanted to finish this race!
I was determined. I continued to pray and run. Pray and run. Pray and run. I prayed at each mile marker for whatever was on my prayer band, and then I would pray some more for the strength to finish.
I continued over the next few miles jogging as much as I could, until it hurt too bad, and then I would walk for a while. I made it to mile 16 and mile 17. Slowly clicking the miles off.
I checked the time on my phone to see how far off pace I was. I checked my pace tattoo.....which was originally applied to my arm to keep me on became a constant reminder of how far off my goal pace I was.
I made it to the water stop at mile 18. I felt a little embarrassed at how slow I was. I know, I know...the feelings were irrational and unwarranted. I was running a marathon for heaven sake! It's not that I wasn't proud of that. But, I was just disappointed in the way the run had turned out. I didnt expect to be just surviving the race. I wanted to relish in it. I found myself surrounded by runners in their 60's and 70's. Women who were vomitting. People who were just slow. I have always held the utmost respect for runners of ALL speeds. It has never mattered to me if someone ran fast or slow, as long as they were running. But somehow, it made a difference when I was the one running slow.
My little guys must have known that I needed some encouragement, because at about this time...they held up these signs....
"We believe in you."
I kept moving.
Run, walk. Run, walk. Run, walk.
Mile 19 done.
Mile 20 passed through some sort of a park. As I ran through it, the boys gave me a banana to eat. I crammed three bites into my mouth and kept running....chewing as I jogged off. It was seriously the best banana I had ever eaten.
But stopping, even for that short, short time caused my knee to start to hurt so badly again.
I gritted my teeth and hobbled off. I only had 6 miles to go. 6 miles is nothing.
I kept telling myself....6 miles...that's only 2 5K's. It's nothing.
I just wanted to keep moving.
Walk, run. Walk, run. Walk, run.
Mile 21.
At around mile 22, the runners were suppose to run through a pedestrian tunnel. When the boys saw this tunnel the day before the race as we were coming into town, they thought it was the neatest thing ever! As I appraoched the tunnel on race day, I saw three little boys standing at the entrance of it, waiting to run through it with me.
As we ran, they asked..."How is your knee? How are you feeling?" and said, "We are proud of you, Mom. You're doing good!"
I was still jogging. Still moving toward that finish line.
Only 3 miles to go.
My whole crew....Mom and Dad, the boys, Bradley, my friends...they were all there at mile 23. They shouted..."See you at the finish line!"
The finish line.
I was going to make it. I was going to finish.
At this point, all of my gratitude started to come back again. Although my knee was still being uncooperative and my legs and feet were beginning to ache all over, I knew I would be able to finish the last 3 miles.
Mile 24.
Mile 25.
Everyone around me was struggling.
Several were vomitting.
Almost everyone was walking more than they were jogging.
The runners all started encouraging each other.
"We're almost there."
"We got this!"
"Keep moving forward!"
The spectators that were scattered sparsely over the last mile were especially compassionate and encouraging. Screaming....
"Go! You're almost there!!"
"You did it!"
"You're there!"
"Right around the corner!"
Mile 26.
I could see the finish line.
It was just down the hill.
I heard my friends calling to me from the sidewalk...
"There she is! You did it. You are there!"

I could hear the announcer call my name over the cheers....
"Runner #1584 - Jennifer Heptinstall from Blountsville"

I did it.
I made it!
I crossed the finish line.
I jogged into the arms of the race officials as they wrapped me into a blanket and placed my medal around my neck.

I finished a full hour over my goal pace time, but I did it.
I ran a marathon.
I clutched onto my medal and loved the way it felt heavy hanging around my neck.
I ran straight over to my family who were waiting to congratulate me.

Everyone was so encouraging and supportive. They ALL knew I was disappointed with my finish time, but no one else seemed to care about the time it took to finish.
Shortly after I crossed the line, one of my friends asked....
"Well, will you do another one?"
I shouted...
"No. Never! I am not doing that again."
But, the gang laughed and said, "We will ask you again next week. I bet you will change your mind."
Over the past week, as the knee has stopped hurting, and the blisters have gone away, and the muscles have regained their strength, and the joints are less achy....I have started to consider trying it again. Although I completed my goal of finishing a marathon, I didn't even come close to my goal finishing time.
Doing another one is now certainly a possibility.
To boast of a performance which I cannot beat is merely stupid vanity. And if I can beat it, that means there is nothing special about it. What has passed is already finished with.
What I find more interesting is what is still to come.
----Emil Zatopek


  1. Man, this post made me cry, and I never cry over blog posts. It brought back all of my memories of struggle from that same day.

    You should be so proud to have stuck that out until the finish! It's so disheartening and demoralizing to see all of the pacers pass you and to know you have so much further to go with no way of getting there faster. And to know all of that and still finish, you've got guts! So are you going to do another one?!

  2. GREAT JOB! And how wonderful of your family to be such amazing spectators. I also love how quickly you considered doing another one :) It took me five years after my first to try again!

    I thought I'd share my race report with you since I read yours!

  3. I am so glad I saw that Yo Momma Runs cried too so I wasn't alone.

    This is the best ever for you and do not ever forget how strong and determined you were. Yes, you didn't make the time you wanted and I do know how that feels BUT YOU DID IT! That is forever more important as you overcame a huge hurdle. To me, that makes you one of the greatest!

    Congrats on not giving up, for walking when you needed to, for continuing to cherish your family, and for not letting go of the power of prayer.

  4. Congrats on that finish. It was a tough marathon with your back of your knee hurt. Your on strong women. Your amazing you found the strength to keep pushing forward to finish and not call it quits. Love all the family support you had. So cool when you boys and hubby ran with you. You should be so proud of you finish girl. You did GREAT.

  5. Congratulations on finishing strong! Your family and friends sound like they are expert marathon spectators. I'm sure that was so motivating to see them so often on the course and to be able to run through the tunnel with the boys. I'm sorry you didn't run the time you had hoped for. You are quite fast compared to me!