At 5:15am I was wide awake and ready to get up for CIM. After my traditional pre-race breakfast of coffee & oatmeal, we (myself and my two supporters) headed out to the start of the race. The drop off point was supposed to be about a mile away from the start line where I expected to have to walk/jog to the start. Thankfully they had buses there to actually shuttle runners from the drop off point to the start of the race, bonus! So, I got in line and onto a bus, Dan and Nicole saw me off and on my way, I looked forward to seeing them very soon along the route. So the bus takes off towards the start of the race, makes a couple turns and then all of a sudden stops in the middle of the road. It seems she missed a turn! Oh great, I thought! I'm going to miss my chance to hit the bathrooms again before the start of the race, or even worse, miss the start! It took several minutes to get the bus turned around and heading back in the right direction. By the time I got off the bus I had 10 minutes before the start. No time for a warm up, I headed straight for the bathrooms! First I stood in line near the front and was starting to worry I would never get to use it before the race started. Then someone yelled that there were no lines down the road, so I trotted down and got right in! After I was finished there I jogged towards the starting line (finally got my warm-up in!), with only a few minutes to spare. By the time I found my spot in behind the 3:30 pace group, the gun went off. Whew, I made it!
The first mile starts off on a decline, I was very careful to watch my pace so that I didn't take off too fast. Not too much after the first mile I came to the rolling hills. These rolling hills terrified me because they seemed like they were much larger than what I had trained on. I tried not to think much about it, but made sure I wasn't pushing too fast up the hills, attempting to keep my heart rate in check as much as possible, and then speed up slightly on the downhill. Around mile 6 Dan and Nicole were there to cheer me on, it was great to have Dan there, he ran beside me for about 30 seconds just checking in on me. I was still feeling really good at this point and it was nice to see them both.
Shortly after that I was looking forward to running through the little town with all the chickens running loose, but I am sad to report that I didn't see any of them! When we drove the route the week before they were all over the place, but I didn't see a single one when I ran through there, what a bummer! :) A couple more miles and now I'm at mile 11, I've just climbed the steepest hill on the route and see Dan just up ahead. When I meet up with him, he runs with me again as we head to Nicole who has my first bottle exchange. I remember asking Dan something about "where's the big hill, was that it?" haha, he said it was and I was so relieved that it didn't feel like a big hill at all, we laughed about it and then I was on my own again. Immediately after this exchange I found myself in front of another hill, which looked to be twice the size of the previous one, and it surely felt like it too. Whew, that was a tough hill to get up! Even looking at the elevation chart it doesn't look like a big hill, but it felt that way and took me a while to recover from it.
The next few miles were relatively uneventful, maybe even slightly boring. I can't think of anything specific that happened, my pace seemed to be in check, there were still some rolling hills to battle, etc. I was surprised around mile 15 to see Dan and Nicole again, such a great surprise too, I needed it even though I seemed to be doing ok. Next time I would see them would be at mile 22 for my second and final bottle exchange. For the next couple miles I found myself in a zone and what I thought was moving along quite well, until I started to hear a large group catching up to me. Occasionally I would hear a man's voice giving some suggestions and encouragement to a group of runners. I didn't want to look behind me to see what was going on, but I started to think maybe it was a pace group, I was thinking oh, maybe it's the 3:40 pace group, which would mean I'm still on target, great! Then, another mile or so later I heard some people cheering on the side of the road, "way to go 3:45 pace group". My heart sank. 3:45 pace group? That can't be! If they are catching up to me then I'm going to miss my goal of 3:42!! It was then that I realized I needed to speed up and that my pacing must be off. This happened somewhere between mile 18 and 19... my pace for mile 18 was 8:30 and then mile 19 was 8:24. Thereafter I kept pushing myself as much as I could, within reason, to get away from that guy's voice and the 3:45 pace group!
Soon I came up to the infamous bridge that everyone says is really tough, right around the 22 mile marker. I was SO happy to see that bridge because I knew that Dan and Nicole would be just around the corner from it. I started talking to myself, "it's the bridge, it's the bridge!" I got my feet into a rhythm and charged up that bridge like I owned it, I really needed to see Dan and Nicole at that point. Then, there they were! There was Nicole, with my bottle and ready to jump in next to me. She hadn't decided whether she might run with me or not, but I was so thankful that she at least started to run with me. Then, in that instant, she apparently decided to run the rest of the race with me. I confessed that I was getting tired and then she started peeling off clothes and throwing them at Dan. He was so confused, he asked her what she was doing, she's like "I'm running!"... he said "all the way?" and she said "yes!" and I was so happy I could have cried! I really needed her support and was so thankful to get it.
For the next 4.2 miles, Nicole was my rock. She held my water bottle for me and passed it over when I needed it. When I started to falter or slow down she would give me words of encouragement. Even when I wasn't slowing down she kept saying how awesome I was doing. At one point I said something about getting tired or falling apart. She told me to "F@#$" the pain, it was all in my head, I could do it, etc. She was truly amazing. We hit the mile marker 25 and for some reason I thought it was 26, Nicole said "less than 10 minutes to go" and I was like "how long?!" and she repeated herself, then I realized I was off by a mile. Must have been wishful thinking. I didn't let her know I thought I was only .2 away though, I played it off like I just didn't hear her, haha!
The last stretch I was really hurting, I was worried I wasn't even going to maintain my 8:29 goal pace and I was right, the last mile was 8:31, but really that wasn't all that bad considering how I felt. For the last .2 after we rounded the corner and I knew the finish line was coming I gave it everything I had. I did the best sprint I could, grunting the whole way. My calves were about to seize up but I just kept going until I crossed the finish line. Yes, I made it! I stumbled towards the volunteers who gave me my medal, wrapped me in the heat blanket and gave me a bottle of water. As I received one of those items I tried to take a step, lost my balance and almost fell over. Nicole was there to catch me and proceeded to walk me around, arms around and supporting me. She really was my rock and I will forever remember how she got me through that race.
My official time was 3:41:42, 18 seconds under my 3:42 goal and a 14 minute PR from my first marathon earlier this year. And to top it off, I negative split! All thanks to the 3:45 pace leader creeping up on me and forcing me to push forward to reach my goal.
I've not decided whether or not I'll do this marathon again, but it truly was an amazing experience. Regardless of the next race location, rest assured I WILL qualify for Boston!