So let me start from the beginning. I had months of training with all my consistent running friends to prepare myself for this day. I had one small nagging injury that I was a little concerned about, but I was hoping that a sore heel wouldn't keep me from realizing my dream of completing the entire 26.2 miles, and that I would be able to do it in a time between 5 and 5 1/2 hours.
The day before the race I picked up my bib at the expo, scoped out the start of the race, and then headed home to relax and rest for the next day's experience. When I arrived at the house, Emily was there with a bright green shirt that she and my entire team had contributed to to inspire me. Each person had written a quote to remind me that no matter what my brain tried to tell me, I was ready for this race. My thoughtful daughter Siobhan also painted a 26.2 mile logo on my toes so that my feet would remember that they were in it for the long haul.
Early on race day morning, my friends Emily and Stephanie met me before 4 am to drive me down to the start line of my first full marathon. I cannot tell you how calm I was knowing that I didn't have to worry about parking, about finding the race start, or about wearing some warm weather gear at the start of my race. I knew I had these two here to make my race as comfortable as 26.2 miles can be.
Hours before the race we stopped to get one last cup of coffee, and we hit the last traditional bathroom I would see until well after the race. Any runner can tell you what a treasure it is to not have to clear everything out in one of those port-o-potties. I know, too much information, but true nonetheless. I was able to sip my coffee and mentally prepare for what was to come.
At about 5:45 we headed toward the start line so I could find my training buddy Joe who was going to run the first few miles with me. Joe is a little faster than I am, and I really credit him with improving my running speeds over the last few months, so I knew I needed to start with him. We had some trouble locating Joe, but in the process we ran into Ed Ettinghausen. Ed is a fixture among the racing community. When I ran the San Diego Half last year, it was Ed that ran the very last runner, who I believe was blind, across the finish line. So I was so incredibly happy to see him before the race. You can usually find Ed at mile .2 holding a sign that reads, "Only 26 more miles to go," and near the finish line his sign reminds everyone that they are almost there. This morning Ed was also carrying a sign tauting the fact that, "It never rains in Southern California." I really think that his sign kept all raindrops away from that entire race, because even though it was pouring on the ride down from Murrieta, the rain never appeared during the course of 26.2 miles. Ed runs the entire race carrying his signs, ringing a cow bell, and wearing his distinctive jester costume. All the while he is cheering for and pushing on any runners who he sees might need his encouragement--and I really needed to see Ed on Sunday.
About 15 minutes before race time I finally found Joe, and then I knew that I was really ready to roll. At 6:15 am the race started and all 2000 runners were off. I kind of knew the lay of the land because my dad had not only looked up my race number so he could follow me on the live feed, but told me how I could divide the race in thirds and take the race one piece at a time. Because of him I knew ahead of time where I was going to need to push it, and where I would be able to make up time--thanks dad! In the first three miles, I was able to keep pace with Joe until one of us had to take a potty stop (not me). I continued on until I ran into two women, Heather and Susan, at about mile 5. I noticed that we had been chasing each other since the beginning of the race, so I figured that they would be perfect pacers for me. I was able to really push through miles 5-17 because we talked and encouraged each other that whole way. I think I could have continued the whole race with them, but the dreaded heel pain kicked in at Mile 17, and I had to slow down just a little.
Miles 17-23 were the most difficult for me. My left heel was hurting, my thighs started cramping up a little, and I did more walking in this stretch than I had the entire race. So many runners and bystanders saw, because of my shirt, that I was a first time runner that they made sure to give me encouraging words so I would continue on. At about mile 20 I ran into Jorge Ruiz, but I didn't know at the time that he was my friend Nadia's dad. He was carrying the 4:45 pacer sign, and when he saw me walking he grabbed me and told me I could do it, and that I just needed to stay with his group. Now, Nadia's dad does not know me--he just saw a first timer hurting on the course and he knew he could help. I was able to stay with his group for the next two miles, and I ran that whole way even though my legs were starting to give up on me. I am so thankful that Mr. Ruiz took that time to help me--I really needed the encouragement at exactly the moment his group reached me.
At just before mile 23, I once again met up with my support crew. As I ran up the hill, I could see Emily's taco hat on the horizon, and I knew I was going to get another boost of energy from my friends. Both Em and Steph were there to cheer me on and tell me how proud of me they were. It was just what I needed--that and a handful of pretzels Stephanie handed me. I think that snack helped the cramping and gave me just enough energy to make it in those final miles.
As I headed past mile 25, I heard a live band in the distance. I think because of the threat of rain, many musicians had stayed home. There were many spots along the route where you could tell they had made space for a band, and no one was there. I am big on music, I almost can't run without my iPod playlist, so I was very thankful for this band braving the predicted bad weather. I rounded the corner and I heard the lead singer say, "Is that you Mrs. McCarthy?" In my marathon induced haze, I honestly thought that maybe the singer was one of my former students and that she had recognized me as I was running by. She then said, "I heard you are doing an Ironman in July." At that point I was very confused--how would one of my former students know that? It was then that I looked down and saw my Ironman training friend Karrie right by the band waiting for me to pass by. Finally it all made sense. Karrie then jumped on the course and started running the last mile with me. As we rounded the corner I heard the lead singer shout, "Good luck on Vineman!" At this point I realized I was actually going to finish this thing.
Karrie and I pushed on for the next half-mile together before we ran into my final marathon gift--Ed Ettinghausen. He was there to run the final half-mile with me so that Karrie could actually see me finish. He waved his sign, he rang his bell, and he told me that I had this in the bag. He ran that whole distance with me before he handed me off to Stephanie who was there to actually run me down the chute to the finish line. I was shooting to finish before five and a half hours, and I completed my marathon in a respectable 4:51:14. And as I crossed that finish line, I was happy to get the medal, but it was so much more than that.
I said at the beginning of this blog that this was one of the best experiences, but it wasn't just because I finished a marathon and received my marathon bling. It was the entire experience. It was the people who took time out of their busy schedules to cheer for me, support me, and make me feel special. It was the racers themselves who took focus from their races to give me hints and suggestions, and like Sef and Joy who stopped to hug me and take my picture. It was the spectators on the road who cheered on perfect strangers, and it was the volunteers, and the race staff. It was also the friends and family following me on the live tracker to make sure I was moving along toward my goal of completing my first full marathon. I honestly feel like this race was a team effort--I could not have done it without my entire team behind me!
So thanks to everyone, I am now a full marathon virgin no more. I have recovered beautifully with only a couple days of real soreness, and a few days of fatigue that had me having trouble keeping my eyes open at work. I have proved to myself that I can finish at least one leg of my Ironman--Vineman, here I come!