Despite having completed last Sunday’s Madison Marathon, I’m not listed in the results as an official finisher. I had forgotten my race chip at home on race morning and and was unable to go back to retrieve it since I had conveniently locked myself out my apartment. Still, I held out hope for a replacement chip, but was told there were none available. Alas, I’m not an official finisher of the marathon. But I assure you, I did actually complete the race.
Things didn’t go smoothly leading up to the race. I was sick as a dog for a week beforehand. I contemplated not racing—it certainly seemed like the smart thing to do. But I was excited to run, and also felt a sense of duty having volunteered months in advance to lead the 3:40 pace group. That sense of responsibility became more evident as I lined up for the start. While holding a 3:40 pace sign, runners crowded around me to introduce themselves and pepper me with questions about the course and my experience as a pacer and marathon runner. I felt completely unworthy. I’d never before paced a marathon. I couldn’t even answer basic questions about the course. The pressure continued to mount as one woman let me know she was relying on me to get her to a Boston qualifying time. Gulp.
But I felt better knowing I had a co-pacer who could lead the charge if all else failed on my end. His name was Brad. Despite the fact that Brad had never run a 3:40 marathon, he seemed confident he could get the job done. We set our Garmins for an 8:23 per minute pace and were off. We also agreed to switch off holding the clunky 3:40 pace sign every mile. I couldn’t even bring myself to turn around and look at the big crowd of runners behind us—I knew it would only make me more nervous. But I could sense the group was large.
I really enjoyed being a pacer—conversing with the runners in my group, answering questions, and providing encouragement. I was proud and happy to pass along the knowledge and experience I had gained over several years of marathon running. I felt like I truly knew what it was like to be in their shoes. It was rewarding to return the favor that had so many times been given to me.
The morning was very humid and foggy, but luckily overcast. I felt good for the first half of the race, except I had trouble breathing out of my nose. Thus the frequent snot rockets (watch out!). My nutrition was notably light, but it worked—I alternated between Gatorade and water at each aid station and took down maybe three gels. My stomach was amazingly settled the whole race, which doesn’t happen often.
The big liming factor was my sore legs. They were dead shortly after the half. I’m not sure which was more to blame—eight hours in heels at a wedding the day before, or lingering soreness from the 50 mile train run I had completed two weeks beforehand. Either way, my legs were stiff, sore, and tired. It felt like I was trying to run after having just completed a two hour wall sit.
I could tell everyone around me was tired, too. We were slowing down—what had once been one minute in the bank had quickly eroded to twenty seconds. That’s also when my co-pacer started dropping back. I knew I needed to forge on, and that I was likely going to have to do it alone. If it weren’t for the pace group, I probably would have slowed down drastically. But I was prepared to do anything and everything to get my group to the finish line in three hours and forty minutes.
The rest of the race is a blur. I know I was in pain. I gritted my teeth and watched the pace on my Garmin obsessively. Our once powerful pace group had dwindled down to a handful of runners who were hanging on my a thread. It was motivating to finally see the capitol dome and know we were closing in on the finish. Light rain began to fall during the last two miles. That’s when I felt my body begin to seize up with cramps (all too familiar from Ironman racing)—I quickly popped two salt tablets, slowed the pace a bit, and hoped I could hold on. Climbing the final hill to the capitol finish was pure torture. But I finished. The clock read 3:41. I was so relieved. A few runners came up afterward to thank me. Which of course meant the world to me. It was such a tough race, but I would volunteer again to be a pacer in a heartbeat.