May 7, 2013

Tacoma City Marathon - A Race to Remember

A couple days later and I'm still in awe of Sunday's Tacoma City Marathon.  I have so many thoughts and emotions about it and wanted to capture them somewhere, so I thought "what better place than my blog".

Where to begin? about the beginning?

As 2012 was coming to an end, I was trying to plan my running goals for 2013.  I knew I wanted to set a PR (personal record), but I couldn't decide which race I would aim to do that. Initially, I wanted to PR my Captial City Marathon.  When I ran the race in 2012, I was having knee issues but still managed to muster up a PR and to date, that was my best marathon.  I loved the scenic route, the support, the size...I loved everything about it.  But, there was Tacoma City Marathon in the back of my mind because one of my running buddies said she absolutely loved that race, so I was torn.  After lots of discussion, research, and strategy sessions with myself, I decided to aim for the Tacoma City Marathon and still run the Capital City for fun (yes, I know.  I'm nuts).

I posted my new goal (PR at the Tacoma City Marathon) on facebook and asked who was willing to train with me.  I had a few people interested and we had a New Years Training Kick off party on January 1.  The group slowly grew to about 14 active runners.  We had some veteran marathoners (even from Germany), some new marathoners, and some who just loved to run.  Everyone had their own reasons for doing it, but what joined us was our mission to serve as a living memorial for the service and sacrifice of our military.  There were weekends we all ran our long runs together and there were times we each fit it in when we could.  The goal was to never run alone and I'm happy to say that we all were able to run with someone and rarely, if ever, had to run our long runs solo.

Marathon day was approaching and the weather was a bit frightening.  We were seeing the temps reaching the 80s and with clear skies...which if you know Washington State, you know that's a rare thing.  Especially in April/May.  We didn't let that dampen our spirits.  We were excited to have clear skies and just made sure we were prepared for the heat.

The day before, we all met up at my house and had a Carb Party.  It was a beautiful day and a time where we could all be together in a relaxed environment, eat, drink (Water & gatorade) and just enjoy each other's company...without being covered in sweat.  We had tons of laughs and was glad to have those moments with the runners and their families.

When everyone left to go get their rest, I quickly cleaned up and went to rest myself.  I got all my stuff ready and put it all in one spot so I wouldn't forget anything.  Set my alarm clock for a 3:45 wake up time and went to get some zzzzz's.

I guess I quickly fell alseep because the next thing I remember is my phone ringing and someone on the other line saying "where are you?"  I jumped up and said "omg, I overslept".  I was suppose to pick up 3 other runners at 5am and it was 4:50am.  I literally shoved my pile of stuff into my bag, got dressed, pulled back my hair, grabbed a banana & avocado, and left.  I had us in Tacoma and parked by 5:35am.  Now, that's impressive.  My Jersey driving skills came into play.

We saw some fellow runners and waited for the shuttle bus to head to the start.  I had my banana, met a new runner, and chatted away (of course, about running).  When we pulled into the Tacoma Narrows Airport (our start), we saw Kim and her hubby who decided to start with the early crowd at 6am. It was awesome to get to see her at the early stages of her race.  We headed to the starting area and quickly noticed a ginormal the porta potties, so we did the logical thing; we got in line.  We were sure by the time we got there, we would need to "go".

After some photos, we gathered at 6:45 to have our circle of remembrance.  We took some moments to focus and honor those for whom we were running for...our fallen heroes.  I ran for SPC Thomas Duncan and in honor of my husband, Sgt Felipe very own personal hero.  And then...we were off.

The day was sunny and clear and the run over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was amazing.  I was running along side Jamie.  A runner I recently met when training with the wear blue group for Seattle Rock n Roll.  She is such an awesome person and I was happy to have this time to get to know her better.  We had so much support from our wear blue: run to remember family out on the course.  It was great to see those familiar faces and remember why we were there...remember our mission...what gives us purpose to run.

Right after the half point, there was a couple (Denny and Cori) that I absolutely love, waiting to cheer us on and Denny was holding a small American flag.  He ran a few yards with me and asked if I wanted to run with the flag.  I quickly said yes, and that simple gesture...that simple flag meant the world to my running experience.  I can't tell you how many times I would look at the flag and just want to kiss it.  I would think of all our fallen heroes and all those out there now serving our country.  I would think about how much I love this country and what it stands for.  The flag represented the American spirit to me.  One that does not accept defeat, but pushes on until the mission is complete.  I would think about my husband that is going through 3 weeks of hell to conquer his dream and defend this nation the only way he knows an elite soldier.  Every time I would think of him, I would put my hand over my heart and say to myself "you are not here, but I can feel you".  And I meant it.  I could feel my husband.  I could feel his love, his support, and his belief that I could achieve my goal.  I just knew that the pain and the heavy legs I was feeling was nothing compared to what he was feeling and I could and would push on until I cross that finish line.

Approaching Ruston Way, along the Sound, was hot.  I just knew that last stretch was not going to be easy.  We had no shade and it definitely was at least in the upper 70s.  (when you are use to running in 40-50 degree weather, that is like running in a sauna).  I decided to break it up into a run/walk and would track my progress to make sure I was within my goal of finishing in 4 hours and 30 minutes.

As I was heading towards the end of Ruston Way and heading through the over passes to head back into the city, I saw Kim and her hubby.  Tears came to my eyes because she had injured herself and decided to do what she needed to do to get through this.  Eventually, I caught up to them.  She looked so strong and I was so proud and happy to hear she wasn't experiencing pain (well, at least not beyond what's normal for a marathon). 

Where was Jamie through all of this??? She was somewhere ahead of me.  I had a little strategy going, so Jamie and I tag teamed the lead for the first half.  We were sticking with the 4:25 pacer, but around mile 18 I had to make a pit stop.  I told myself " you have 5 minutes if you want to make your goal at least".  That pit stop is a whole story I will not get into here, but after that I lost Jamie.  Towards the end of the race I was able to spot her.  I tried my best to catch up, but was happy just having her in sight; not just to push me, but also to watch her finish!

I could see the 26 mile the top of yet another hill.  At that point I decided that once I reached that sign there was no walking.  I would run to the finish.  I would run strong and it didn't matter how much it hurt.  I took one last walk break, ran to the 26 mile sign, turned the corner and was pleasantly surprised with a downhill finish!!!  I took my flag, held it high filled with pride, picked up my pace and took off.  As I got closer to the finish I look to the right and see a ton of my wear blue family waiting.  Waiting for us, but waiting for me.  I can't tell you how special that was.  My husband was away, my parents are far away, and my girls couldn't come.  But, I was not alone.  Words can't describe the gratefulness I have for all of them.  Some waited after their half marathon and some just came to cheer us on...some with their kids in the hot sun.  It was just amazing.  I have lived here for almost 2 years and I have met amazing people...made amazing friends.  Running has changed my life...running has introduced me to beautiful people.  People who make my life better.  So thank you.  Thank you to everyone who was there and who couldn't, but wished they could be there.  My hubby wasn't there, but you made sure I wasn't alone.

So, let's get back to the race.  I crossed that finish line, grabbed a bottle of water, and noticed my watch tell me I finished in 4:32.  I missed my goal by 2 minutes, but I still did hit a PR by 10 minutes, which is still great.  I was beyond happy because I knew I gave my all out there.  I knew that if it wasn't so hot and I didn't take that pit stop, I could have made my goal and probably even exceeded it.

I headed towards the wear blue peeps to cheer in the other runners.  All my runners were out there giving it their all and I wanted to be there to see it.  As we waited, I looked out and saw a cluster of wear blue runners coming into the finish line.  I thought "who are they?" Well, "they" were Blake's group.  Blake is an amazing 5 year old who's daddy is one our brave fallen heroes.  Blake.. yep... he's a runner.  He registered to run the kids marathon and he had his own support crew running with him.  He came in sprinting to the finish.  An amazing kid with an amazing mom.

Soon after I see Kim and Travis yet again.  Looking strong Travis and Kim head to the finish and I knew that Kim left it all out on that course.  A woman with a fractured heel who was determined to run the marathon and not only did she run it, she finished it.

Then, I see Jenni coming with Neil and Conrad.  This was Jenni's first marathon.  Her "sweat" sister Cathy flew in from Germany just to run the race with her.  All that traveling must have weekend Cathy's immune system because that girl got sick a couple times since she got to the states for the race, but she was a trooper and ran that race. She didn't care how she felt or what ailments she had.  She ran with determination.  Well, I see Jenni coming and Cathy is not along side her so at first I got a bit nervous, but was too focused watching Jenni finish.  This girls looked strong.  She sprinted to the finish with her hands in the air and just looked like a champion.  Neil, is also a cyclist who is riding a 100 mile bike race next weekend to raise money for diabetes.  Neil, Jenni, and Cathy always use to run together and he has been training along side us the entire time even though he wasn't going to run the marathon.  He joined Jenni & Cathy at mile 13 and finished the race with her.  Conrad, ran the half and started walk/running the course backwards to meet up with them to run the last leg. See...amazing people.

I turn my head back to the course and I see a huge American flag...and it's Cathy holding it.  Ugh, my heart was happy.  This girl was invincible.  A true athlete. Simply amazing.  And yet again, another strong finish.  Soon after Rita made her way to the finish.  Rita ran a marathon on Saturday and ran Tacoma City Marathon as well.  A double marathon she ran to honor her friend who was fighting cancer.  She was part of a relay group that was running in support of her friend and who Rita had the honor and pleasure of finishing the race with.  See...another case of amazing people.

There were still runners out there, but I wanted to go see everyone who had just finished.  I headed to the end of the finish line chute and gave all the runners a huge hug.  It was now time for me to get my slice of pizza to munch on until the other runners came in, but nature stepped in again.  There I was in the porta pottie when I hear them should out Chery's name.  I smiled for her and cheered for her while I was in there lol.  The life of a runner is hilarious, let me tell ya.  Eventually I gave Cheryl and Josh their celebratory and congratulatory hug.  They did amazing!

Soon after Ann and Kai made their way to the finish line.  Finishing strong with smiles on their faces...probably planning their next tennis match.  At that point it was time to head home.  I looked over to figure out how to get to my car and it was not a pleasant sight.  Stairs... a lot of stairs!  and it was the only way.  So I opened my bag of chips and headed up those stairs.  One agonizing step after another.

The race was over and it was now time to go home...and here I am now 48 hours later still experiencing a runners high ... itching for the Captial City Marathon in less than 2 weeks.  And the question remains..."What is wrong with me?"  I'm a runner!  I'm proud to be crazy!  I'm proud to be a runner!

This is my Tacoma City Marathon story.  One that might bore you, but it doesn't bore me because there is life behind every word.  Each minute spent in training and on the race course was memorable...and memories I never want to forget.

Here is a link to my facebook photo album.

P.S.  This is my story, but the runners will also be sharing their story with you soon.  Wait for it...