Over the years I have learned that registering for a race is the most effective method to staying in or getting back into shape. So last June, about a month before I delivered my beautiful baby boy I signed myself up for the Charlottesville International Marathon. Following his birth I waited the required six weeks to start a regular exercise program and resisted the urge to jump in with both feet the minute I was given the go ahead. I had exercised throughout my pregnancy so I had maintained a degree of fitness but as I had not been able to run after the first couple of months I had to start slowly with my running regime. Fortunately it came back quickly and by the time January rolled around I was ready for a proper marathon training program. I had run a triathlon in Charlottesville prior to getting pregnant so I knew to expect hills and lots of them. I pulled out an old marathon program my husband had printed out years ago that included a long run, a tempo run, a hill run and some track work and got serious. Though finding the time and having the energy to run while getting up three times a night with Zane was a challenge it was helpful to have the date on the calendar staring me down.
A little over a month before the race I decided to use the B&A Trail Marathon as a training run. I live close to the trail so I thought I would start the race and run the half marathon event and then run down the trail and home giving me a long, slow eighteen. As I ran that day though, with no pressure of an expected finishing time I felt great. I called my husband and asked him to meet me at mile twenty two with our daughter Megan so she could finish the marathon with me. As he is the husband of a marathoner he was not at all surprised. As, my friend Ron Bowman says, “You know you are a runner, when you go out for a long run and come home with a finisher’s medal.”
For the next month I was terrified that I had messed up. That I had pushed myself too hard and ruined the marathon I had trained for. I began to think everything was an omend. I had written the marathon down as April 22 when I registered and discovered the Monday before the race that it was actually the 21st, a Saturday. Who schedules a marathon for a Saturday? To make matters worse, when I told my husband, he was not able to get Friday off so we would have to wait to leave after he got off that evening. Luckily the race directors were having a packet pickup on race morning for those of us who wouldn’t make it the evening before. I still hoped if we left by six we would arrive in Charlottesville before they closed at 9:30. And after a late dinner I thought we might have the chance to drive the course and map out the hills. No such luck. Any one who has ever driven in Northern Virginia at rush hour is probably still laughing at me for such optimism. As my last marathon was close to home it took no real prep time for race morning. I had gone to my pantry and fridge for everything I needed and not given it a second thought. Unfortunately I had not given it a second thought for this marathon either so we drove all over Charlottesville after our midnight arrival looking for an open grocery store to get some cereal and berries (my race morning breakfast) to no avail. Luckily, the bar was still open in the hotel and provided a couple of very ripe apples and very green bananas.
I had checked out the weather before we left the house and knew to expect highs in the eighties. Unfortunately I hadn’t looked at the lows. It was in the low forties as I stepped out of my car and made my way to the packet pickup in one of the best specialty running stores I have every been in. Definitely a store worth visiting when in Charlottesville. Apparently half of the field had been stuck in the same traffic the evening before because everybody seemed to be there to pick up there packet. Five minutes before the gun went off I was finally convinced that I was right. This race was doomed. There was no way I was going to have a good race. Too much had gone wrong.
For the first eight miles I was sure I was right. The hills start before you even leave town and are best described as continuous rolling hills, there was no gently in there. They simply rolled over and over and over again. It was beautiful without a doubt but I couldn’t foresee anyway possible I would actually finish this race. I had planned on running the first thirteen and then walking a minute of every mile after that. Sometimes plans are meant to be altered. I started the minutes earlier, thinking to myself that I could change it to two minutes every mile if this kept being so hard. Almost immediately things changed. First of all we turned off of the asphalt road onto a beautiful dirt and gravel drive that went for miles past family farms. It was the beauty I had hoped for from this race and it was well worth the previous eight miles. I also noticed something else. I had taken a gel just as I reached eight miles and suddenly I felt it kick in and to make things even better I passed somebody (by the way I should say the person I passed was a nice gentleman from Arlington who had also run the B&A Trail Marathon the month before.) And then I passed another and another. The hills were still there and seemed to be getting steep because as I was running up them I was passing more and more people. They were all grumbling about the hills and the heat and I was feeling great. I started to realize that all the training I had done was done with a jog stroller containing eighteen pounds of kid. I had done all of them, the long run, the tempo runs, and the hill repeats with resistance. That is what made the difference. It was like losing eighteen pounds without the dieting. I loved just the thought of it.
There were a lot of favorite moments in this race but there were two that stick out for me. I was running along feeling pretty good when I started to pass this young man. He was clearly feeling miserable so to make him feel better I told him we only had ten miles to go. Just as I said it I looked down and saw how I was wrong. We had just passed the eighteen mile marker. What a wonderful surprise. But that was not the best surprise of the race. At mile marker twenty-two I began my one minute walk and looked ahead to what had to be the biggest hill I have ever seen in my life. Oh man, how was I ever going to make it up that thing? Though I am willing to change my plans for a race I don’t like to walk except on the schedule minute. It is psychological and has become important to me. Just as I was beginning to panic about making it up that hill without walking I took a breath and tried to notice all of the other things around me besides the hill. The beautiful house across the grassy field, the cars parked on the side of the road, the people at the corner. The sign with the arrow pointing to the right… Yes, right. I didn’t have to run up that hill. The course turned. That was the best bit. Maybe my favorite moment of any race ever. I actually raised my arms in the air and started cheering. I was ecstatic.
The next four miles did not get easier. The hills kept coming and they were just as steep. We didn’t run back on the road we ran in on so we didn’t get the downhill I had been expecting for the last twenty six miles. As a matter of fact one of the biggest hills of the race was at mile twenty five. The race directors for this race do seem to have a sick since of humor.
All in all, I had done it. I had completed what turned out to be my tenth marathon on one of the hardest courses I had ever run and I had done it just nine months after giving birth to my beautiful baby boy. Originally published in The Streak – an Annapolis Strider’s publication and Irongirl.com’s eNewsletter