It's a day after wrapping up the Marine Corps Marathon, and I'm feeling mostly good - a little tentative on stairs and sore in the quads, bandaided on one toe on my left foot, but largely okay.
I say that with a little bit of surprise because things did not start off well in the marathon department. The first moment I knew that my body might be a little bit off was Saturday morning, as I leaned over to put on my shoes. A sharp shooting pain rocketed through my lower back. "I better stretch a lot. I'm feeling tender." I realized that I had known that when I woke up and spent some time trying to work the stiffness out of my legs, and I knew that when I felt a little tentative walking down the stairs from a party the night before. But in that moment, I started to worry that I might be in for a little pain.
I was right. Maybe 10 minutes later, as we prepared to haul our stuff down the winding five story fire escape off the back of my friend Stephanie's cousin's rocking warehouse condo, I found myself frozen in place, hunched over my stuff not able to get up without Steph's help. It hurt. It hurt a lot. In fact, in my charmed, relatively pain-free life, I have never hurt so much - ever. We managed to get me down on the floor where I laid on my back, ate ibuprophen, and tried to stretch and not panic. Eventually we wound our way down those death defying stairs to my car, where my back promptly did the same thing, where I cursed, cried just a little, and thought that I might have to be left as a permanent fixture in the back alley of a gentrifying DC neighborhood.
I wondered if I should go to the hospital before I found myself incapable of even getting back to West Chester. I contemplated whether I needed a masseuse. I took more ibuprophen, and as I lowered myself into my car, now being driven by my friend, I wondered how on earth I was going to run 26.2 miles in less than a day..
I wracked my brain to figure out what I had done to myself and remembered a similar, but far less dramatic situation about a year ago with my IT band. As I ran my thumbs down the outside edge of my right leg, I almost leapt out of the car window. Yep, that was it.
|Me with Schaap Freeman, and|
Stephanie Hankins - the world's best
running partners and friends.
Stephanie and I started brainstorming a 18 hour recovery plan, which involved a lengthy hot bath in some strangers tub, lots of stretching, hopefully finding a masseuse at the Expo, and some tough love on the ol' IT. We met up with our friend Schaap at the Expo and after about a million years (or 2 hours) of winding through lines, we finally had our stuff and were on the hunt for someone to fix me. You couldn't ask for two better friends when you're feeling a little puny; they picked up everything I put anywhere close to the ground. We were too scared for me to bend over again.
No free massages to be found. But there were some people demonstrating this body buffer. Imagine a car buffer with a fleecy fur cover. The woman there should be knighted, or given angel wings or crown, bedazzled with ruby, Red Cross, plus signs. She was an angel of mercy who spent way more time with me than she needed and offered to let me come back for a tune up. I could feel that little gizmo warming up my IT band and some of the tension start to release. When I said, "Would it be weird if I asked you to use this thing on my outer right butt cheek?" She said no, and informed me that that spot was my piriformis, which sounds less pervy than getting a public butt massage. (I had on jeans, people; don't worry.) But we still gave the Expo attendees quite a show. When I left their booth, I seriously contemplated buying the super deluxe Belle Body buffer, but being in full-on adoption savings mode, that just didn't seem responsible. (If any of you want to buy it and invite me over to use it, I'm on my way.)
Lengthy bath. Painful rolling out of my IT band and piriformis. (Didn't that sound fancy?) Stretching, stretching, and more stretching. By 7 PM, I was pretty certain that a trip to the emergency room was not in order, and I knew I was going to give this marathon a shot. But frankly I was afraid. And more frankly, if I hadn't been running with two of my bestest friends in the world, who were going to have 26.2 miles of fun without me, and if a lot of people hadn't given of their hard earned resources to support my run and my adoption, I might not have made it out the door on Sunday morning.
I slept with a heating pad so I could wake up and stretch without having to spend a lot of time warming up. 5 AM came early, and after one very traumatizing stop at the port-a-potties, we were in line ready to run. Besides the fact that I couldn't pick up my own gear from the grass, I didn't really have time to think about my back. Thank goodness.
The race itself was about as good as could be. I'm not a particularly patriotic person. I am grateful to live in a country where I am safe, where I have clean water, good roads, and I do not fear putting my head down on the pillow. But I am a pacificist (one who recognizes that my privilege to be able to believe in peace and non-violence comes from the sacrifice of others, but a pacifist none-the-less). In many ways, running this race with all its American flags and military-clad race support was out of character for me. But it was a joy, an unexpected, twenty-plus-mile, inspiring joy.
All the young officers (and they were young - break-your-heart young) were so polite and funny and encouraging. They cheered, and handed out water, and shouted things like "You got this. You got this. Only 75 miles to go." And "I can tell you can keep running. Keep running." They hung medals over sweaty, weary necks, helped us hobble down shuttle steps and represented the Marines with the utmost class. I am grateful for this snippet of time that will ever impact my sense of who the young men and women are who put themselves on the line for my right to believe in peace.
|Andie Vaughn gets a sweaty hug as I pass mile 18.|
As far as the race, I felt good for a pretty solid chunk of it. The first two miles were up hill. That was the biggest climb of the entire run, and it made for a nice downhill slide for many, many miles. I thought about my sister Kathryn from the time I crossed the starting line until I crossed the 2 mile marker. I had planned to dedicate the first mile to her, but the reality is that I had more than a miles worth of thanks, so she got the biggest hills and a whole lot of murmurings to God about God's great insight to make us a family, make her my sister, make her an awesome mom, and make her so utterly different than me that when she was barely 20 and already knew she wanted to be a mother that she thought I should be working on that too.
The next miles ticked away pretty easily. We had decided to try to do the first half at about a 12 minute/mile pace. If I could maintain that the whole way, that would be a PR for me, and Schaap and Steph could step on the gas after the half and still have some fuel in the tank. We were quicker than that, minus a 10 minute bathroom stop, at mile 9 or so.
Mostly, I couldn't believe how good I felt. My body felt strong and capable. The Aleve (which I know you're not supposed to take when you run, but I just felt like I needed more oomph than good ol' Tylenol) was working its magic. Schaap and Steph were usually about 50 yards ahead of me, easily spotted in their pink argyle arm-bands and hot pink socks. And at every water stop, they would stretch a bit and make sure I was okay. Did I mention they were the best? They were the best.
At mile 16, I dropped my water bottle and leaned down to pick it up, and things kind of went downhill from there. As soon as I leaned over, I knew I shouldn't have. My back clenched up. I could hardly get up, and then I heard my bottle drop out of the holder, once more. If I hadn't been afraid someone would trip on it, I wouldn't have leaned down again, but I did. $#!+. Double $#!+. This was not good.
Still, I managed to keep moving at a pretty decent clip. One of my former youth, and a long time family friend, Andie Vaughn, all grown up and awesome, waited for me between mile 18 and 19. It was so incredibly fun to see her, and hug her pristine, super-stylish self with my sweaty, disgusting self. What a special burst of joy just 8 miles from the end. I waved goodbye. She took a picture of my rear end pulling away, and I was off to "beat the bridge."
There's a time limit for hitting the 20 mile mark. You have to "beat the bridge" (which is basically a 14 minute/mile pace) to keep running. I knew we weren't going to have any trouble with that, but I wanted to beat 4 hours, which would mean that I had kept a 12 minute/mile pace for 20 miles. (Quicker people may not get that, but it was a pretty awesome hurdle for me.) Done!
But then I started to hurt - really hurt. I don't know if was the change in surface. We had mostly been on asphalt, but a big chunk of the last miles was concrete bridge. Every foot strike sent a jolt from the back of my right knee, through my back, into my right shoulder blade. The 21 mile marker was a few feet ahead, and I shouted to my friends that I needed to walk. Actually, I said, "You go ahead. I know I can finish, but I'm going to have to walk."
Schaap looked at me, and said, "No, you aren't." And when my eyes welled up, she asked what was wrong and then offered to massage my piriformis. So a few feet from 21 miles, I leaned over a bridge railing, looking out on the Potomac, and one of my dearest friends rubbed out my piriformis, which let's face it is just another word for butt. (I told you: my friends are the best!) That got me another half or a mile, and then Stephanie and Schaap pulled ahead and I walked for about two miles. It was super frustrating, because I could tell my body still had get-up-and-go. But the difference between the pain when striking at a run verses a walk was pretty extreme. At mile 23, I cried - not the boo-hoo, sobbing kind of crying, just tears running silently down my face. I stepped down, at one point, and my whole body just froze in place like I had grabbed a high voltage electric fence. I could tell that my over correcting for my back was causing other things to hurt, my left ankle, the interior of my right knee - places that don't normally bother me. Never at any point, did I feel like I couldn't finish. I hurt, but outside of the pain, I also felt pretty darn good.
Mile 24 brought Dunkin' Doughnuts, and a kick in the pants. And for the last 2 miles I was able to alternately run and walk, knowing that I would finish.
At mile 25, I remembered by friends John and Laurie. I had promised the last mile to them. They hadn't asked for it, or anything. They have just been a constant encouragement, source of laughter and venting, and familial inspiration, especially for the three years since we have been Pennsylvania neighbors. I was about to step onto an off ramp that looped from the highway down to the last mile straight-away, and I thought, "I am so grateful for my friends." And I started to cry again. (I am not usually such a blubbery baby, but I couldn't help myself.)
I cried out of gratitude for the beautiful, inspiring people in my life. I cried for John and Laurie and Kathryn, and for every single name that I lifted up over the 25 miles before, of people who came out of the woodwork to support me in my adoption plans. I cried because on November 18th I should have my home study finished and be ready for a baby to come home to the Latham castle any day after that. I cried because I am blessed. I'm sure people thought I was crying out of pain (that happens, for sure), but I was crying out of immense thanksgiving for the life I have been dealt.
At that point, I couldn't breathe and thought I had developed sudden on-set asthma and that I might require an artificial lung. And then I realized that a throat closed up in gratitude is hard to push air through, so I saved the blubbering until I hugged the necks of my friends at the end.
The stretch to the finish is one long piece of highway, smooth and straight with the finish-line arch tucked up a curve just out of sight. I had this. I totally had this. I could run that last mile, the wide blue sky above me, the buzz of the crowd already in my ears. I could run it, despite the fact that 24 hours before I thought I might need to be in traction. But strangely I didn't want to. I jogged ahead, holding back when I knew there was more in me, not quite ready for it to be over. Maybe you've had one of those moments, when you almost get something, and you know it's coming but you're not quite ready for the anticipation, the peeling off of the wrapping paper, the drive towards the goal to be behind you. I did run that last stretch, and I managed to throw my hands up over my head as I crossed the finish where my dear sweet friends had charmed a loveable Marine into letting them wait for me. And then I cried again, in gratitude. Geez, get it together Latham.
When I started this race, I thought this would be my last marathon. My body's not really designed for the mileage, and the time commitment is brutal, and my whole life is about to change. But when I finished I thought, "Well . . . maybe I'll just do Chicago, and then I'll really be done." Truth is, with those two friends on the track, I'd go just about anywhere.
5 hours and 40 minutes. That's not my clock time. I stopped my watch for the 10 minute bathroom stop and the tush massage, and I'm not even inclined to know how long we wasted with those (my guess is about 15 minutes). Even with the less than ideal bodily circumstances, I only added 5 minutes to my New York Marathon time. For Chicago, I'll try to break 5:30. I'm pretty sure I can.
Thank you for following my journey and for giving me reasons to turn into a wheezing, blithering mess at mile 25. If I could still be there on that flat concrete stretch, blue sky for miles, finish line just around the bend, counting my blessings, I would be. Nah, who am I kidding; I'd be really hungry. And besides the journey isn't over when you hit the finish line.