I’m unpacking my suitcase, one soggy item at a time. My favorite sports bra, twisted and damp. Clammy shorts, turned inside out, a nearly-empty Gu wrapper stuck inside the right pocket. A sweaty shirt. A crumpled bib. Wet socks. Snot-encrusted mittens.
As I drop each piece into the hamper, it hits me again.
I did not run that damn marathon.
I dropped out at mile 13, a decision I never dreamed I’d have to make.
I’d arrived at the start line with a joyful heart. 2019 had been a rough year—a surprise cancer diagnosis, followed by surgery and radiation, then a raft of challenges affecting people I love—my dad, my brother, my son, a close friend. Sometime during the summer shitstorm, my daughter sent me a short text:
I’m signing up for CIM. Interested?
My immediate response: Nope. This is the not the year for me to run a marathon. But have fun.
It took about 5 seconds to change my mind.
Ignore that last text, honey. This is the PERFECT year to run a marathon. I’m in.
Training went well for both of us. I’d had a tough time getting my energy back after radiation, but once I had a simple plan in front of me, I managed to reclaim my mojo. Running felt fun again. Less struggle, more magic. Lauren hired a coach and worked her tail off. Week after week of quality runs, all done in the dark before long days at the office. So much determination.
Race weekend arrived and we were both more than ready. With husbands in tow, we connected at the Sacramento airport, made a quick trip to packet pickup, stopped at Whole Foods where we could each choose a perfect pre-race dinner, then found our Air BnB. No nerves (for me at least) because my only goals were to celebrate my return to normal and enjoy what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience with my girl.
Race morning went smoothly too. The rain had stopped, the busses were warm, and the porta potty lines were (relatively) short. We parted a few minutes before the elite took off, then 10 minutes later, I was on my way.
I’m still trying to figure out why so many people do so well at CIM. Yes, it’s net downhill, but the rollers start in mile 1 and seem to go on forever. I was enjoying them though–floating up, cruising down—so damn grateful to be alive and on the move.
The first hour flew by, but sometime in mile 8, I felt this weird sensation under my feet. It was like there was a hydraulic lift under the road, shifting the left side up and the right side down. At first, it was almost imperceptible, but as I continued, the slope increased. To keep from falling, I had to pick up each foot and place it back down on the ground very deliberately, like I was marching or doing high-steps. I slowed the pace, drank more water, slurped on Gu, took more walk breaks, swore at myself, focused on my friend with Stage 4 cancer, visualized the finish line—every trick in the book, but nothing worked. By mile 12, I was pretty sure I was going to fall off the side of the world. That’s when I knew it was time to call my husband.
He and my son-in-law found me at mile 13, listing to the right as I tried to run. They pushed me to get medical help, but I refused. I know it was probably stupid, but I was afraid that if we all got caught up in the medical system, they would miss my daughter’s finish. I promised to stay in the car for the rest of the race and get help later if I still felt strange.
They made it to the finish line in time to see Lauren go sub-4 with a 13-minute PR and a beautiful 23-second negative split. She says she didn’t actually feel on top of her game, but her coach had told her repeatedly, “I’m not training you to have a great race. I’m training you to run well, even if you’re having a bad race.”
So … we’re about two weeks out now. The soggy clothes have been laundered and put away, and I’ve done a few easy workouts. I haven’t had any more vertigo, but I’ve met two people that had it while exercising, one during a 10-mile race, another while cycling. I’m getting a physical before the end of the year, so will talk to the doctor about it then.
Haven’t decided how to redeem myself for this one. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I am trying hard to be grateful for what I gained, instead of focusing on what I didn’t accomplish.
The training really did help put the cancer behind me. And the opportunity to share a marathon experience with my first-born—the girl who was running with me before she even entered the world—well, that’s the best gift of all.