Today, it’s in the 30s and there is snow on the ground. Unfortunately, marathon Sunday a couple weeks ago was not so nice. (I started writing this last week, ya’ll).
As I was driving to the convention center Marathon Sunday morning at 6 a.m., the thermometer on my dash rose from 68 to 72 degrees. The humidity was around 89 percent and the winds were a lovely 15-25 mph out of the south. All season long I had professed, If it’s hot and windy again, I am not running this marathon. But who was I kidding? I had hired a coach and worked for months. The show would go on, despite Mother Nature’s impending slaughter of my ambitions.
The cruelest component of the atmospheric prank was that ideal marathon temps were slated to roll in, oh, at about 1 p.m., not long after most of us had finished.
My friend Heather and I considered starting the race at 11 and running by chip time — a genius idea had organizers not closed the start at 8:45 a.m.
OK — so here we go. My goal time in my head (which I never really shared out loud), based on data collected during the season, my high mileage training, and my half-marathon time, a month earlier, of 1:29 was something under 3:10 in perfect conditions. Because I know all too well how heat impacts my running, I started with the 3:15 group.
The humidity was so dense that the ground was wet, as if it had rained, but it hadn’t.
A few miles in, the leader of that 3:15 group was drenched in sweat and I had little confidence he would run a 3:15 (I know some of the group did, but not many, and he decidedly did not).
Miles 5-10 ish were all mildly uphill. During this stretch, I figured my best bet was to let the 3:15-ers go and simply try to pace myself for a personal best, which meant anything under a 3:30. I stayed within close range of the 3:15 group through the uphill and through the subsequent 4-ish miles on downhill.
My friend Danny Hardeman, easily in 3:10 shape (he was supposed to run New “hurricane Sandy” York), was in front of me at the halfway, but I could tell by his body language that this weather was killing him already.
Then we hit White Rock Lake, where the winds were gusting and the runners, by the dozens, were stopping to walk. Looking around at all these people (thinking of myself too) who I knew had worked for months for this day, and seeing how the weather was sapping us of the enthusiasm you should feel halfway through a goal race, made me melancholy.
This is where I slowed significantly. I felt horrible here. Atop the downward mental spiral, heat does bad things to me. As you may recall from my El Scorcho attempt, it makes me puke.
Thus, around mile 14 I stopped taking any gels or Gatorade. I sipped, very lightly, water occasionally. That was the most I could stomach.
Without any carbs or electrolytes, I soon met the wall. Mile 20, which is where we encounter the biggest hill of the race, took more than 9 minutes. I was DEAD. I was demoralized. I was depressed. I considered stopping. I saw several people stop. It was generally a bad day for running a marathon.
At this point I saw a bunch of my friends out cheering. At the front of my mind, I wanted to tell them to shut the ^&* up. I was jealous that for some reason or another they had run a different marathon this season. One in better weather. Of course, a couple of them were injured and couldn’t run at all. Was I mad at them? No. Was I glad somewhere in my misery to not be them? Yes. And deep down, I knew I’d have to face all of them after the race. They made me want to keep trying. You jerks!
After 20, I let myself look at my watch. I figured out that if I could run the last 10k at an 8-minute mile I could still run a personal best. If I can beat my personal best in this shit weather, I thought, I can still call this a success, even if it is a far cry from the goal. Now, in most cases an 8-minute mile for a girl who’s trained six months or so at a 7:00-7:15 marathon pace would be extremely doable, but after 20 miles in heat and wind and no ability to fuel due to nausea, it was iffy. Extreme iff.
A few things saved me.
One: downhill. Most of the last six miles were slightly downhill or at least flat. This made me feel much better. Not great, but I felt like I could run again.
Two: creepy guy. A fellow marathoner in the early miles ran alongside me, struck up a conversation and casually mentioned that he thought I had a nice rack. “Not just your boobs,” he says. “You are all-around attractive, but especially your boobs,” he rambled. It was sort of amusing and I asked him was it just running a marathon that caused this or did he never have a filter. I was glad when he ran ahead, but at mile 22 or so, here he was again. This time I was in no mood. So when he started talking, I started sprinting (OK, sprinting is probably overstating, but I maintained until I was comfortably solo again). So, thanks, guy.
Three: another great friend. At about mile 23 I saw my dear friend and her beautiful toddler sitting on a curb outside Deep Ellum holding a sign that read, “Christina you are our hero!” OK. That was god*mn awesome. I can do this.
The final stretch through Downtown Dallas was a m-f-ing wind tunnel. But the wind at least was a bit cooler than it had been at the lake. I couldn’t see the clock until the last turn just feet from the finish line. As I turned I knew I would have a personal best, which was nice. Nicer still was that I was done with one more miserable marathon. (My first two marathons, White Rock/Dallas in 2008 and Oklahoma City in 2009 were both run in hot, humid windy conditions.)
The race director, Marcus Grunewald, approached me at the finish and it was everything I could do not to barf on him. He and his lovely wife who also was working the finish line wanted to know what I thought of the course. The course was a fantastic showcasing of our fair burg. But the weather took a dump on it.
I will always, despite this city’s sociopathic weather, participate in the Dallas Marathon because I so believe that the organizers genuinely care about the runners, the community of non-runners affected by the event, and the beneficiary of the race, The Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. The years I didn’t run it because I ran out-of-town fall marathons, I always felt so empty on Dallas’ Marathon Sunday.
One of the most important things I learned this season was to NOT make the “goal race” or end-of-season race the end-all and be-all of your season, because so many things can go wrong when you put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket. I stayed enthusiastic and had fun all training season because I trained for a 5k and for a 10k and for a half, and I learned a lot about the science-y stuff of running, thanks to Eric, my coach.
Prior to the marathon I ran a 10k best of 41:49. Then I ran a five-minute-plus personal best of 1:29 in the half marathon. My marathon time was 3:26 which was still a personal best. Looking at stats made me feel a little better about that. I was the 23 overall female out of close to 2,000 of us. I was also the fastest of 14 Christinas! I passed 56 people in the last 10k (5 passed me). These graphic results are very cool. I was even ahead of 94 percent of male runners! OK – my arm is starting to ache from patting myself on the back so much.
Oh, before I stop, I almost forgot: There was another failure this season to break 20 minutes in a 5k. That was a big thing I’ve always wanted to do, but things just have never clicked for me in a 5k. I tried two between summer and the marathon and always fell short by 15-20 seconds.
Less than a week after the marathon, a bunch of my running club buds were doing the Jog’r Egg Nogg’r at — where else — White Rock Lake. At the last minute I registered, guessing I’d just stretch my legs a bit, wear my retro jogging outfit, and take it easy. I placed third overall female (chip time) with a 19:32:20. It was a fast course — lots of downhill. I don’t think my legs could have handled an ounce of hill that close to the marathon.
But it felt great to finally break through that barrier.
One last thing. Anyone who ran the marathon in the heat and humidity and wind of Dallas or anywhere else, keep in mind that the weather plays a tremendous role in distance running. These tough races only make us stronger (and fuel our rage for a later day).