The day after I ran VCM, I was Facebook chatting with a friend and he asked me, “So, what is the next challenge for you?” To which I responded, “Getting my bike up my stairs without screaming.”
Going downstairs, getting into a car, and even sitting down to pee were my new adventures. Each one required careful and masterful planning. Click here for a funny video of the experience.
[Many thanks to OGE’s Will McNutty for this share within his “Run Like A Local” Facebook Group]
My relay-running friends also started group texting about what race they might run next, the day after VCM. I responded with something along the lines of “I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth,” and/or “You are all a bunch of sociopaths.” Needless to say, I was in no condition to write a post-first-marathon-experience reflection.
This past Saturday marked the first day I was pain free. I went for a leisurely bike-ride around Lake Dunmore with the same texting sociopaths and they could sense it was a better time to ask, “So, Kiersten, do you think you will run another marathon?”
One Week before the Lake Dunmore Bike Ride:
The night before Race Day, I was out to dinner at the Daily Planet with my parents and a couple I affectionately refer to as “My Burlington Parents.” They were the perfect dinner companions because they chatted away and allowed me to silently go a little mad at the end of the table. Finally, as the waitress was offering to bring dessert menus, one of them turned to me and said, “Kiersten, you are being awfully quiet. How are you doing over there? How are you feeling?”
My eyes grew large; panic was written across my face. “I don’t just want to finish tomorrow… I… I… I want to do well!” My eighteen-week training plan was riddled with conscious (ok – and a ton of unconscious) stupid decisions and rebellious behavior. This entire time, I’ve been telling myself I wasn’t going to take it too seriously. I never saw myself as Sporty Spice, and I wanted to prove that I could do it without inherently changing who I was. I knew I had put in the miles; I had done the full training plan. Suddenly I knew finishing was a very real outcome. Concurrently, I realized it was simply not in my nature to just finish. I wanted a solid finishing time.
Getting to sleep was nearly IMPOSSIBLE the night before. I climbed into bed at 9pm, read until 10, and then tossed and turned until 11pm, and then 12am, and then 1am. I could not get my heart to stop racing. I tried reading, meditating, doing yogic breathing, and even dusting off a sleep-aid hypnosis session I recorded with my counselor a few months ago.
Sam Davis, RunVermont running connoisseur, advised me to leave my Camelbak at home, drop the two pounds, and take advantage of the superfluous water stops made available during the race; this was like telling Linus to leave his blanket at home. I found myself pulling up the Vermont City Marathon app and watching Jess Cover give a tutorial on how to use a water station. I probably watched the video three times.
A kind neighbor knocked on my door to let me know my parents’ headlights were on in my driveway. When I called them the first time, I started crying, “Please answer your phone.” I had waking nightmares of droves of friendly neighbors coming to tell me my headlights were on all through the night.
Needless to say, I wore my Rookie status on my sleeves that evening, readers. I was a silly little mess the night before my first marathon.
The following morning, however, I was full of uncontainable energy. I took Poki for a walk to get a coffee, and greeted the volunteers who were setting up the water stations on Church Street. The air was charged with energy and excitement – a calm before an awesome storm.
At the start, I was bouncing on my toes to the music, high-fiving friends and strangers tears and anxiety a fading memory. I placed myself between the 4:15 and 4:00 pacers. Sam Davis, told me one of the biggest rookie mistakes was going to hard in the first half and not having enough steam in the last, so I decided I would stay between the two and only push myself past the 4:00 in the last half if I was still feeling strong.
The crowd was amazing. I highly recommend reading the blog posts plastered across RunVermont and Vermont City Marathon’s Facebook pages – seasoned runners are bringing a great experienced perspective to what makes VCM particularly exceptional (I especially recommend Kate’s Running Wild blog).
The energy and positivity just flowed into me. I felt so good that first half; it was like I was gliding through my home city. Staying behind that four-hour pacer was actually comfortable when I had never taken on a long run in under 9:30. I felt friggin’ awesome.
Water stations were intimidating initially – my first cup of water half went in my mouth and the rest up my nose, the second went all in my mouth and half down the wrong pipe leaving me coughing and spattering all over fellow runners; much to my fellow racers’ relief, I had it mastered by the fourth station – two-thirds in the mouth, last third on my head.
Water stations were not my only point of frustration. On my way out to the end of the belt line stretch, I began glaring at that “4:00” sign. I wasn’t accustomed to knowing my exact pace, and there it was just staring back at me!
So, what was my logical solution to this minor irritation? Pass the pacer, of course!
Readers, you know I never score points for brilliance, but I do tend to get the job done. I placed myself just ahead of the pacer so I didn’t have to look at him. Sure he was right behind me, and every time he announced an upcoming water station or some words of encouragement to his group, I thought, “GAH, he’s right there!” and picked up the pace a little bit. I made it a little game – a game of run from the pacer-guy. It sounds stupid, but at one point I admitted it to a fellow runner, and said how maybe they should wear scary masks next year; the pacer heard me and told me to come find him after the race – that I clearly hadn’t had a good look at his face. We were all laughing, joking, and running a sweltering 26.2 miles together (Note: I am aware 70*F is NOT truly sweltering, but most of us hadn’t run a training run in temperatures above 50*F).
Throughout my training, Battery Hill loomed in my future like Mount Doom. Yet, this turned out to be the best part of the race. The crowds and the drums were like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. I am going to assume everyone reaches the top and sways – all not realizing we took our bodies beyond healthy limits… I stumbled slightly and felt the urge to puke as I curled around Battery Park. I literally said out loud, “Well, that happened, and probably wasn’t very smart” (Is that my new motto? God, I hope not). I imagine it’s comparable to five year-old on a sugar-high, but instead of facing nap-time, I had 12 more miles to run.
I really knew I pulled a “Classic Rookie” when I hit mile 16. A friend of mine ran up next to me to say hello, and I smiled and confessed, “I went too hard in the first half. Everyone said I needed to be careful, hold back, and I still just pumped along” (clearly I was being a little over-dramatic because I was still able to talk).
The heat was rising and I could feel it like a wet, hot, blanket. My body was heavy, I was sweating in places I didn’t know could sweat, and my head was starting to pound even though I was taking advantage of every water station. At mile 16, my dear readers, I seriously felt like crap. I think it is what they call “hitting the wall” except I was told it usually happens at 18, and there I was – bracing myself against it – and I was only at mile 16.
That’s when I told myself all that all I had left was a 10-mile run with a hangover, which as some of my loyal readers know I did at least a handful of times during my training.
Those last ten miles were carried on the back of my shear god-awful stubbornness. I vaguely remember hoses and beer offerings (I did take advantage of the hoses; I promise I gagged and gave the beers a wide girth).
I was only able to eat half of my last gel because I was becoming nauseous. Miles 22 to the finish were the toughest. While I am a “back to the barn” runner and assumed I would coast along the waterfront, each mile felt like four. All I kept thinking was “Stay ahead of the 4:00 pacer. If you don’t finish in under four-hours, but within minutes of that goal, you might actually have to do this again.”
As I approached the finish line, I glanced to my left and my parents were sitting on the bleachers screaming and waving their sign. I made eye contact with my dad – I grew up watching him run marathons and no matter how much the race beat him down, he always surprised us at the end – I turned and sprinted the last 100 yards to the finish in true Hallquist fashion.
Three medical volunteers were there to greet me, “Are you ok?” They asked. To which I responded, “Yes, but if you do not let me keep moving, I might throw up on you.” They wisely parted and I strolled toward my medal. I finished 26.2 miles in 3:58, my head was swimming, and my legs never felt so strange in my entire life. I placed one hand on the shoulder of a volunteer as she gently lowered a marathon medal over my slimy, smelly, thick skull. “Where. Is. The chocolate milk?” I gasped.
My friends ask, “So, Kiersten, do you think you will run another marathon?”
I’ve gone from, “Hell no.” to “Maybe, if it was a destination marathon, in September or October (you know – guaranteed cooler temperatures), flat, and has a medal” in a single week. Yes, I am thrilled with my finishing time, but I am not what I call a “Runner-Runner”: I will not break any course records, place in my age group for any races, or qualify for Boston. I am pleased I completed a full marathon with two ACL replacements and my snarky, beer and cake-loving self still intact.
I believe I have arrived at my final answer: “I will happily run a marathon to support a friend.”
While I was running, I bumped into two UVM COM Marathon Team members. One had run a marathon before, but was running with a Rookie friend. What they didn’t know was that during the race they both kept me company. Every time I found myself next to them, I felt this sort of renewed joy and kinship; I was not alone in this sea of strangers. They kept me going, kept me aware of the human element of the race – a quiet corner in the chaos.
What truly won me over during this training experience is discovering running camaraderie. It’s not all Gu, Vaseline, black toe and blisters, and an battle of you versus yourself. Running is shared aches and pains during a runner’s yoga class, discussions about eating experiments (successful, failed, and failed but totally worth it), epic race adventures/war stories, what we’ve overcome in order to run, high-fives and hand-holding, and a whole lot of sarcasm. Running Culture is a tangible experience. I took a tour, liked it, and I would be thrilled to be someone else’s travel buddy.
Also, I can’t seem to stop eating like I’m training for a marathon, so I imagine the only alternative is to just start training again.
Thank you for following these past 17 weeks! It has been real – maybe even a little too real sometimes.