“The race belongs not only to those who finish first but also to those who, in refusing to give up, finish the race.”-(?)
This is a story about a “warrior spirit” and the absolute pure will to finish.
Today I ran the Erie Marathon. I went out with the goal of doing my best to run a strong race; one that I could be proud of and, hopefully, earn a PR in. My life has been busy and, as a result, training has been “messy”. My longest long run was 16 miles and I tanked on several weeks of speed workouts. I made up for it the best I could by running double long days amidst a busy work schedule. I did my best and made up my mind that, no matter what, I was going to run this race. I am not the kind of person that does not follow through on personal commitments; especially those of the running kind. My new running/training group has helped me tremendously with difficult runs and the overall confidence needed to simply believe in myself. So I was really looking forward to this weekend and surrounding myself with these friends from all over who have truely become my “family”. One friend, in particular (Laura), I had not yet met in person and I was looking forward to finally meeting her. She had been training so hard for so long and running multiple marathons this year in an attempt to qualify for Boston. I simply had this feeling that THIS would be her time to shine. THIS was THE RACE where all of her hard work would pay off; and there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to watch it unfold. The shadows of doubt, the miles of training, and the 11 prior attempts to BQ were beginning to weigh her down. Her most recent words to me included the statement that “Qualifying for Boston just might require more than I am able-(& maybe even willing)-to give.” My heart sank. I KNEW she could do this. I did not allow her to dwell on or entertain that thought. And, while I did not want to pressure her, I could not help but prepare her to make this one final attempt this summer, as the Erie Marathon is the last chance to qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon. I packed my 2nd set of “Boston Strong” and “Wicked Strong” bracelets, as well as, a Lokai bracelet like the one that I wear everyday, and traveled to Erie with my crew.
We were all able to meet up for dinner after picking up our bibs and it was one of the best nights of my entire life! All of my friends, despite just meeting for the first time, talked, laughed, joked, exchanged stories and experiences as if they had all known each other for years. I laughed so hard my face hurt and I can not remember the last time I did that! I felt like I was “home” and these characters were my “family”. (A feeling that means more to me than anything, as many of you may know my background.)
I was a little concerned about the gap in pace groups for myself; 4:00, 4:10, 4:25…I had my heart set on the 4:15 or 4:20 group. I worried that if I went out with the 4:25’s that the extra pounding of the slower pace was going to hurt me later in the race. I opted to tag along with the 4:10’s; despite the risk of burning out and hitting an early “wall”, resulting in a swift and rapid fade away from my goal. I quickly discovered that this particular pacer, although very nice, was in this role for the very first time. I ran beside him for 12+miles and multiple times called out to him “Hey 8:40 pace…the 9:30 peeps are back here!” He would quickly apologize and reign it back in stating, “I can feel you all running so close and I don’t want to slow you down.” I had to remind him not to “burn” us and that several of those people were counting on him to help them qualify for Boston. At that time, he admitted that his watch currently calculated us at a 4:04 finish time. I made the decision to let him go and run the 2nd half on my own terms, so when I came upon my husband cheering for me at mile 12, I stopped for a quick hug and kiss before grabbing a cup of water from the aid station and continuing on.
I crossed the 13.10 mile mark with a time of 2:04:26. I saw my friend, Anne, just after the half and stopped for a quick hug and a photo. Seeing her rejuvenated my resolve to finish strong. (She is an incredible runner of all distances; well into the ultras!)
I began to get my “groove” back and told myself not to pay any attention to mile markers, but rather, water stations; which were strategically placed every mile. Fueling has always been an issue for me in the back half of long runs and I wanted to make certain today was not a problem. So I ran water stop to water stop and would walk through each of them, taking small sips and using my gels as planned. I was still pulling off mile paces that would bring me in at the 4:13-4:15 mark so it was definitely working for me. Until I approached a woman around mile 17 that appeared to be fighting a serious battle. I was behind her for at least a quarter mile; as I watched her staggering and zig zagging the width of the course. She appeared uncoordinated and fatigued. (Picture a severely intoxicated person attempting to run through a carnival fun house vortex tunnel!) As I closed the gap between us, I saw her bumping off the bodies of other runners and they would attempt to steady her and ask if she was ok; yet still, she ran. Until she ran right off the roadway and stumbled into a grassy area near the woods. A runner beside her assisted her back to the course as I caught her beneath the arm and helped to steady her, running along the edge of the road to keep her from falling off of it again. She was conscious but delerious. I fed her my last gel and the male runner, David, gave her his water. We took turns supporting her to keep her on the paved roadway and running as steadily as possible. She continued to fight for a few miles but obviously needed help. Several runners offered gels and chews and the aid stations provided water, Gu-Brew, and pretzels. Still her struggle worsened. Medical approached us and offered to transport her but she refused and lunged forward to run away from them. At mile 20, she tripped and stumbled forward. Down we went; her first onto the pavement and me second, catapulting overtop of her to avoid crushing her. She suffered a large abrasion/laceration on her left elbow and a scrape to her hand. She broke down and cried, apologizing profusely. At this time, I began to wonder if maybe this was the reason that I, uncharacteristically, had chosen my RED tank to wear; as I used it multiple times to control the bleeding on her arm, yet never saw much stain because the colors matched perfectly. Medical approached again, on bicycle and UTV, offering her aid and transport, yet still, she refused and began to run away again. We had to force her to take walk breaks as we coached her breathing and continually reassessed her mental status and pulse. Turns out she is a stroke survivor, which made me feel a little less concerned about the difficulty and slurring of her speech and the slight, but obvious, deficit of her right side. She is, also, a very well known runner who lives just outside of Pittsburgh, and has not only run, but paced, many races and distances as high as the 100 milers! This particular race was her 388th marathon! She has been featured in magazines and had her picture on a wheaties box! She started running at the age of 30 and qualified for her very first Boston Marathon when she was 40. She is now in her 60’s, still running and pacing others to their own PR’s and Boston Qualifiers! I was honored to support this incredible woman in her time of need.
Read her incredible story here:
The man running with us was a tremendous support, as well, calling ahead to his girlfriend at the finish line to ensure the availability of medical help upon our arrival and repetitively coaching her to ease up, keep her breathing under control, and to stand up straight/not to lean so far forward, as it was not only risking another fall for her but also for us as we were now a 3 person team; held together at hands, arms, and shoulders. We stockpiled food and fluids for her and kept her taking in electrolytes throughout the final miles. I could no longer feel a radial pulse on her and was growing increasingly concerned as I watched her stop sweating and her skin became so cold to the touch. Still, she refused to stop. She would continually look ahead and pick the next cone, or crack in the road, or tree, or road sign and push off to run for it. And when I say run, I mean RUN! Short bursts but very fast ones. Her breathing would become so ragged and her gait so unsteady. She began to have an increasingly difficult time speaking, forming sentences, and finally, even basic thought processes…all she could focus on was FINISHING THIS RACE! She held my hand the entire way and promised to not leave me behind; we were finishing this thing together: Me, Marie, and David.
Little did I know, that my own friends and family were becoming increasingly concerned about my delay to the finish line. Several of them began to walk back the course, looking for me. While the others notified medical that I had not yet arrived. With 2 miles left in the race, I saw Joe, Laura, and Tope along the course. They could see what was going on and were able to get word back to my husband and friends. At 24.50 miles, Marie became increasingly emotional and distressed as to why we had not come upon the 25th mile marker. We refocused her and were able to divert her attention with jokes, small dance moves, and one particular course volunteer in a camouflage army uniform who began to shout, chant, and run in reverse in front of us calling out to Marie to “Look at ME! Focus on ME! You’re doing great! Don’t you ever give up! You’ve got this- FINISH IT!”. Marie began to surge again, increasing the frequency of her running spurts, but her breathing became more ragged. David slowed her and coached her breathing, as I reasoned with her to save the best for last and focused her on the finish line. Finally, it came into view and as we approached the finisher’s chute, Marie found one last burst to run with, never letting go of my hand. The three of us crossed that line and Marie collapsed into us for hugs. We passed her off to medical, but still she REFUSED! She came stumbling back to the two of us and assured everyone that she would be ok. She indulged in all the food at the finish line and began to look for her friend who had accompanied her to today’s race. We called her emergency contact and, a few minutes later, knew that she was in good hands. We got our photo taken together and went our seperate ways. I have never, in my entire life, met someone with such a warrior spirit and strong resolve to finish her race, even if it kills her. Later today, I discovered that this woman is, also, a member of Steel City Road Runners (S.C.R.R.). Truely the epitome of the term “RUNNER OF STEEL”!!!
So while I was feeling good, running strong, and now know that I was fully capable of a marathon PR to the tune of 12-20 minutes today, I could not be more proud of my 4:57:47 finish time and the unbelievably inspiring SPIRIT OF THE MARATHON that I witnessed today and was honored to be a part of. Runners will always do whatever it takes to take care of our own…we run together, therefore, we are FAMILY!
At this time, I also heard the news that my friend, Laura, had succeeded in qualifying for Boston!!! (And with 4 minutes to spare; which should ensure that she is able to get accpeted and invited to run Boston 2018 in April!)
She had to leave to go check out of her hotel and my heart sank…until I called her to congratulate her and was happy to hear that we could still meet up for lunch to celebrate. So, again, my “family” (almost all of us) met up and exchanged stories and laughter so great that my face hurt all over again.
The time came for all of us to part ways…but this is a weekend that I will not soon forget. And although I do still wish I had a new marathon PR to report, I know that my time will come again. Today, I was needed in a different role and wether it was simply the “Runner” in me or the “Paramedic” that I have always been, I am thankful that I was able to rise to this occasion, set my own goals aside, and help this incredibly strong and inspiring woman in her time of need.
When it comes to the marathon, no runner shall ever be left behind! #ErieMarathon2017