The Day I Finished 26.2 in Paradise

The date was September 2, 2012.  We got up at 3:30am! I had my traditional pre long run Shakeology and a GU.  Elizabeth had fruit and coffee.  She was so freaking excited about doing nothing but running for 26.2 miles, like a kid about to get free reign of a toy store.  Contrariwise, I was scared, nervous and even hoping I could get out of the marathon because I wanted to live and felt like I was about to die!  No really, I WAS GOING TO DIE!!!   After all, I finished 20 miles three weeks prior and those awfully painful 20 miles were on the streets of Chicago.  The biggest hill I had to climb was an unusually high curb.  Funny, now, I remember none of the pain of those 20 miles.

The Kauai Marathon begins at around 6am island time.  It was still dark outside.  The organizers do some talking, singing and some praying and torches are lit, a very Hawaiian experience, but, I mostly remember feeling terrified.  You see, I had very little information about the course until the day before.  On Saturday at the expo, expert runner Bart Yasso, tells me I am insane for running this as my first marathon.  I jokingly/nervously replied with “Maybe I’ll take the left with you!” as he was only running the half marathon.  He also tells me that the first six miles are uphill and that I will climb 1,100 feet (note to self, next time, drive the course so nothing is surprise).  Anyways, back to Sunday, moronathon day.  The gun goes off (I’m not even sure there was real gun) and off we go.

It’s a fairly large crowd as both marathoners and halfers start together.  The first turn we make takes us past a fruit stand, and a woman with a machete.  The sun makes its way up and exposes dozens of squashed frogs all over the road.  Totally disgusting and not something I ever thought I would see in paradise.   At mile 4, it down poured, we might as well have just jumped into the ocean and then started running.  My shoes squished for what seemed like an eternity.  They either dried up or I stopped hearing them by the time we reached the 101 year old tree tunnel around mile 6.  Elizabeth stopped to do three handstands; the first two pictures weren’t good enough for my tastes.   Also, I had the only GU I would have during the race right after this astonishing tunnel.  That GU gave me a good burst of energy and the wind I needed to get over the “this sucks I’m wet, hot and miserable but still have 20+ miles to go” attitude I had been harboring since the rain stopped.

Once we emerged from the tree tunnel, we ran through the only ‘flat’ terrain we would see the rest of the day.  Those 4-5 miles took us through some neighborhoods were we high fived spectators and Elizabeth stopped to pet the fluffiest dog ever, smell the flowers and helped a runner in distress.  I couldn’t stop because if I stopped I might not keep going.  She caught up to me.  The conditions were much tougher than I had trained in; it was so hot, humid and hilly. However, it was also very beautiful, we saw bananas, avocados, and lemons growing; heard Roosters and some other strange animal noises and felt the Aloha spirit with every step.   This was the easiest part of the race.

Around mile 10.5, the half marathoners and full marathoners split.  The half crazy people were symbolized by the male rooster and were instructed to turn left.  The completely crazy people were symbolized by the female hen and we were instructed to turn right.  I think it’s symbolic that the female species represents Marathoners.  NO, women are not crazy, but that we can endure A LOT more than men.   Perhaps, Betty White was right when she said “Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive.  If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”  Any whoosle, I seriously thought about taking the left because I knew I could finish 13.1 miles.

Thoroughly exhausted with another 16ish to go, I started to think I would earn a DNF (did not finish) after my name.  My hamstrings and quads were so sore and tight that I thought they could snap like a rubber band.   My previously injured right Achilles was swollen and making itself known, LOUDLY.  I was in pain and I felt bad that Elizabeth was stuck with me, the turtle runner.  Don’t get me wrong, I am eternally grateful that she didn’t leave till about mile 13 because I might have quit on that patch of hot, burning sun.  She kept me going and I couldn’t believe it but my pace matched my Chicago Rock-n-Roll half finish on July 22, 2012*.  Why was I excited about matching my pace and not improving it?  Well, did I mention that the island of Kauai has hills, rather mountains?  They were obviously spawned by the devil who thought it would be fun to watch runners climb them in agony!

Mile 13, it was at this time that I passed Dean Karnazes, ultra marathon man himself.  He was at mile 23 though, finishing the loop and coming down the home stretch.  I had another half marathon to go and unknown to me then, I still had the toughest obstacles left!  This was a busy stretch, lots of locals’ out and about cheering and playing music.  There were a lot of kids, or maybe I was seeing double, but I wonder, will any of them run this marathon?  Slapping hands with them made me a little emotional.  I really don’t remember too much after the guy with the huge stereo set up.  I should have had another GU or something to eat at about mile 13 but I didn’t.  Every aid station just had warm water and Heed.  No calories anywhere.  Who organized this thing? (Note to self, bring my own stuff next time)

Finally, food!  At mile 16 the nice guy at that station asked “what do you need?” and I said “Food” he gave me a protein bar from his own personal stash and apologized for not having anything else.  It gave me the energy to run again and not just swing my arms back and forth.  Sadly, the running didn’t last too long because all of a sudden I was going up a steep hill.  Again, my Achilles screamed in torture.  Each step made me think about quitting.  In fact, I laid out a plan in my head of how I would quit and that it would be at the next aid station.  I was completely justified in quitting because I was injured and unprepared for the terrain.  Completely alone and in the midst of bamboo trees, chickens, goats, vibrant flowers and the greenest greens, I was brought to tears.  In a valley, both literally and metaphorically, my forward progress had almost ceased.  If I had the energy, I would have screamed; “Enough of the pain already!!!”  Only a couple more miles of putting one foot in front of the other; one foot, two foot, three foot, four foot and repeat.

This next mile, 17-18 may have been the most important mile of my life or at least of the race because an amazing thing happened.  I can remember the exact moment this happened and wish I had taken a picture of my surroundings.  I stopped obsessing over the pain I was feeling and started to think about people.  First, I thought about all the people that supported me, had faith in me and told me I could finish.  How I could ever show my face to them if I proved them wrong?  You know who you are, thank you.  I cried even harder.  Then, I started to think about all of the haters, rather, the people close to me, friends and family, that always doubted me, questioned me and said things like “you’re slow” or “I could walk a mile in 10 minutes, your pace isn’t running”.  How could I ever show my face to them if I proved them right?  You know who you are, thank you!  I dried my tears and picked up the pace.

All these things were on my mind in the midst of the most beautiful place on earth!  I’m not even kidding when I say THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE ON EARTH.  How lucky am I?  Then, Elizabeth texted me, “What mile are you on?” and I replied “18”.  I laugh about it now but I remember thinking, “F@ck her if she’s finished already???” and then she wrote “How are you feeling?” and I replied “Like shit”.  She’s the inspiration for this self-torture I was inflicting on myself.  Then it started to rain again.  Good thing I was under the cover of a canopy of trees.  Finally, I got out of the jungle and hit the mile 20 aid station.

“That was the last hill” screamed one of the aid workers.  Another guy asked “How was the 20 mile warm up for your 10k race?”  I was half dead but I laughed and gave them the hang loose sign.  The race official on the Vespa came rolling through.  He was the guy I was set on announcing my defeat to.  Instead, I said “I’m good.”  That was a lie because I was in horrific pain and I was dehydrated (I never peed during the entire race).  He passed by and I heard the aid station people say something, I looked behind me and there he was, proof that I wasn’t last, another runner, probably about a half mile or so behind me.  I was not about to be passed up!  I dug deep and pushed harder than I thought I ever could and ran again, like an actual run!

Around mile 21 a family with a pet goat gave me a banana and I concluded the loop.  The aid station workers at mile 20, bunch of liars!  As I came to the top of a hill, you know, the one after the last hill, I was in the bright, hot sun, and thought I saw a mirage or a lost runner.  She’s running in the wrong direction.  Someone is worse off than I am!  HOORAY!  As we got closer I recognized the pink skirt and turquoise Vibrams.  It was Elizabeth.  She had come back to get me.  She probably has no idea but I was elated and relieved to see her, I didn’t have to endeavor this on my own any longer.  She recently mentioned that the last 4 miles of the race were silent; they were because all I could do was think of putting one foot in front of the other.  It’s so awesome to have a friend like her.  There is no one else in the whole wide world that would run 24 miles and then turn around to find me just so she could finish with me!

At this point, I was reduced to a walk (I’m sure the arms were swinging back and forth).  We got a bottle of water and the police opened up traffic.  (Kauai has one main road).  Mile 25, Mile 26, went by in bright sun.  I was speechless, yes, a rarity I know.   We ran the last 0.2 hands above our heads and crossed the finish line together.  I tried to ball like a baby but had no tears.  The woman who put the medal around my neck said “Your life will never be the same.”  I am still barely grasping that concept today, over a month later.  My day to day life is the same, but I am forever changed, somehow.

Oh the marathon!  Perhaps, Hal Higdon described it best: “The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”   A marathon is so difficult to articulate.  It may be harder to articulate than to actually do it.  None of the aspects are clear:  Not why did I do it?  Not what did it do to me?  Not how I finished or how it changed me?  In fact, the only thing that is clear to me is that I can do anything I set my mind to.  Literally anything.  I finished 26.2 in paradise and I lived to tell the story J

What is the biggest, baddest obstacle you have overcome and would you do it again?

Elizabeth (on the left) and I just after we crossed the finish line.

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