I have never been much of a runner. There were several times in my life that I tried to be. In High School I was required to run, but always got out of it because my knees hurt (growing pains). I half-heartedly tried in college, and after getting married, and after my first two kids. I ran a few 5ks, but nothing really stuck, mostly because I was running for the wrong reasons. I ran mostly thinking that if I did I could still eat whatever I wanted and loose the baby weight. There was never any joy in it, just a means to an end that never came, so I gave it up.
Then came 2015… I had three kids age 6 and under, and was pregnant with the fourth. I was trying to care for my kids, my marriage, my house, and myself and I was struck with a completely surprising and completely debilitating bout of Antepartum Depression. I had never even heard of it, let alone been through it, and it wreaked me. Those nine months of pregnancy were the worst I have ever been through, and it was a kind of darkness I never want to face again.
When I was nearing the end of it, I knew I needed to be proactive after the birth so I wouldn’t slip into any sort of postpartum depression. I hadn’t had it in the past, but this pregnancy was nothing like I had experienced, and I wasn’t taking anything for granted. I picked up the book “The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer” and started reading. There was very much the feeling of if I can survive this pregnancy, then I can do anything, so why not run a marathon.
Hannah was born at the end of September, and 6 weeks later, I started running. It was slow, painful, and full of walking, but I stuck with it and slowly started to get better. I was amazed at how good it felt to run! I had been so trapped in my own body during that pregnancy that finally being able to move and run gave me an almost instant flood of endorphins. Alan decided to join me a few weeks in, and we took turns running in the wee hours of the morning before getting kids off to school. It was difficult getting up those early mornings after feeding a baby however many times during the night. It was especially hard having to get up extra early and pump milk before squeezing into a sports bra. The winter came and we bought cold weather running gear. Slowly my stamina increased to where I was running a 5k every morning without even thinking about it.
At the beginning of January I officially started the training program and picked out a marathon. I signed up for Mainly Marathon’s Heartland Series – Day 6, Wisconsin. It is a series that runs 7 marathons in 7 days in 7 different states. It had some unique things that I liked about it. It was a looped course, which meant one big fully stocked aid station, easy access to any drop bag that I wanted to bring, and I always knew where the next bathroom would be. They also prided themselves on leaving no runner behind, which meant that there were no time limits and they stayed until the last runner finished.
There were many early mornings running in the dark and snow. Aside from one hiccup in March, training went fairly seamlessly, until the end of April. I suddenly had to pack up a few of my kids to fly with me to be with my Mom. I managed to go on a few short runs and one 16 miler while I was there, but mostly running was put on hold for more important things. When I got back there was only a few weeks left until the marathon. I pulled out a 20 miler in training before the miles went down for my taper. The 20 miler was hard, but it gave me confidence that I had the guts to finish the marathon.
My sister Becky flew out with her daughter Lucy to watch our four kids while Alan and I ran ourselves silly. The marathon was two hours north of us, so we packed up the night before and booked a cheap motel right by the race. I had to pump and dump before bed, and then again at 3:30am when I woke up to get ready. I put on all my tried and true running gear and slathered up with Body Glide. We headed over to the race and got signed in and picked up our numbers. I felt a little silly wearing my hydration vest when there was an aid station at the end of every mile, but I knew my running strategy, and I always felt better taking little sips every few minutes rather than chugging a whole cupful once every mile.
It was a 5am start time, and I was a bundle of nerves and freaked out energy. It was a small group, only 84 runners between the full and the half. The head guy gave a few announcements about how the course worked, and singled out a few people who were hitting running milestones. Alan and I were announced as running our very first marathon, and were met with lots of cheers. The course was set up as a perfect mile loop with two down and back sections. The chit chat finally stopped, and I honestly can’t remember if there was an air horn or whistle or a "ready, set, go", but suddenly I was off and running. I was finally running my marathon.
We started running the opposite way first to get the .2 out the way before looping 26 times. Alan and I split up almost immediately. We had different paces, and we each had to run our own race. But because of the way it was set up, we saw each other almost every loop at some point and could give encouragement as needed. My name was printed on my number, and I heard “Way to go, Sarah!” “Good job, Sarah!” and “You’re doing great, Sarah!” constantly through the course from the other runners. It was very much a community of runners that just wanted to lift each other up and help everyone be the best they can.
At the end of every loop I got a rubber band. After 5 loops, I traded in for an orange rubber band, and so on. I had Amy Poehler’s “Yes, Please!” on audio book pumping though my earbud. A few times while running I burst out laughing, and other runners gave me a funny look. I just told them “Sorry, Amy Poehler”, which probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I was doing really good and feeling really good. I didn’t even have to make a bathroom stop until lap 5. I was slowly making my way through the marathon.
Around lap 10 I hit my first little rough patch. Part of the mental preparation in the “Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer” was to make a mental movie of yourself finishing the marathon. Picture how it will look, who will be there, what it will feel like. When a run gets tough, I was supposed to play my mental movie to help get me through it. My problem was that my mental movie had changed several times throughout my training. At first my parents were supposed to be there with the kids, but then it was unknown if they would be there for so long, and then it was a little up in the air about what would happen. Finally it was settled on my sister coming out, but she wasn’t going to be hanging around the race sight for who knows how many hours while tending five kids age 8 and under. At lap 10, Amy said something about “If you have parents that are still living, call them right now and ask them about the day you were born.” That got me thinking about my Mom, and having already run 10 miles, my emotions were getting close to the surface, and I thought about a lot of things that I wasn’t ready to think about yet. I finally decided my mental movie ending to my marathon: I was going to finish, then collapse in the grass and call my Mom. Once I decided it, it was easier to get a handle on my emotions and keep moving.
I finished lap 13 with a big cheer of “Halfway!!” I was still feeling really good at that point. I was hydrating well, I switched up my fuel and was getting more protein and glucose, and I’d passed by Alan I don’t know how many times and gotten a high five or a kiss from him. I think I hit halfway around the 3:30 mark, which was a pretty good pace for me and about what I expected. I sent a fairly garbled message to my sister, and luckily she could understand it and started sending me pictures of my babies to keep me going for the second half. And then it got hot…
I think the high of the day was 93 degrees. The course was fairly well shaded, but there were some hot open stretches of trail that got difficult to cross, and with every hour the sun got higher and chased away what shade I had. Around mile 16 I had to take a break and use my stick to roll out my calves and thighs. My mouth started feeling funny, so I switched to ice water in my hydration vest instead of my Bai drinks, and focused on getting electrolytes and salt every time I passed the aid station. I felt myself slowing down with every loop, but I knew I had to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. A lot of runners had already finished by that point, and the parking lot kept getting emptier as they left. I had one sock that had started slipping down. I pulled it up once, and then had Alan pull it up another time, and I knew I saw blood but had to just not think about it and keep moving. I had some wicked chaffing going on right below my bra with all the extra sweat and salt from the heat, but again, I had to put it out of my mind and keep going. I just kept telling myself the only way to make it better was just to finish.
The race staff did a good job of trying to keep everyone cool. They had a couple of dunk buckets full of ice water with towels to cool off with. I used them for several laps, squeezing the water out on my neck and down my shirt until it made the chaffing too unbearable. They set up a table with water half way around the course with more ice, and I saw several people running with bags of ice on their necks or in their hands. One time I stopped and asked them to put a couple of ice cubes down the back of my shirt.
Alan finished around my 20th lap, and he was at the bag drop watching me finish my last handful of laps. I was so sweaty and crusted with salt at that point, but I just kept drinking and drinking as much as I could. The aid station had a sign that said “Drink so you Pee!!”, and that’s what I tried to do. It got to where I had to make a pit stop every two laps to fill up my squeeze pouches and empty my bladder. Every time I had to stop at the porta potty and try to get my pants back up over my swollen, sweaty body I thought about male runners and how much easier they have it.
Amy finished reading her book around mile 22, and I was left to finish my last few loops with nothing but my own thoughts. The aid station helpers kept asking what they could get for me, or what I needed, and most of the time I just answered “more rubber bands”. I spent the last few laps thinking about the people I love. I spent a lap thinking about each of the kids, what they were like as babies, how they looked and smelled, and who they have turned into since. I spent a lap thinking about Alan and all of the various ins and outs of our marriage. I spent lap 25 thinking about my Dad, how my relationship with him was going to change, how his life would be different, and what that meant for me and my family. Finally, lap 26, the last lap, I saved for Mom.
I was exhausted, chaffed raw, layered with grime and salt, and hurting everywhere. I finally let myself think about all of the things I had been pushing down. I thought about what life was going be like when she was gone. I thought about my kids growing up without her, and how I was going to keep her memory alive in our home. I let myself feel all of the deep aches and pains of the whole situation that I had been trying not to feel for so long. The course was deserted at that point, it was just me, the trail, and my Mother.
Alan met me at the last turn and hobbled to the finish with me. He told me “alright, big sprint to the end!” and I turned to him and said flatly, “this IS me sprinting!!” I made it to the table and they recorded my time and presented me with my medal and the official Caboose Award.
I was the last one to finish with a time of 8:43:10. I hobbled over to the nearest patch of shade and laid down and called my Mom. She answered on the first ring, and I don’t remember our conversation exactly, but it went something like this:
Me: “I did it, Mom. I finished it!” (Breaks down into sobs)
Mom: “You are so crazy!! I’m so proud of you!! I don’t know why you had to do this, but I’m so proud that you did!! I’ve been so worried about you all day and have been pacing the house! That was insane to run a marathon, but you did it!! You finished it!!"
There was a lot more crying and laughing and everything in between. I was sad that she wasn’t there waiting for me to see me finish, but I was so happy that she was still there, and that I could call her.
The last of the race crew packed up and drove away to the next race site in Minnesota. There were a few calls of “see you tomorrow!” that I just laughed at. Alan and I finally gathered ourselves and our things and started the two hour drive home. I ended up with some massive chaffing on my torso, about 5 or so blisters in various spots on my left foot, and only one or two on my right. I managed to keep all of my toenails, which I'll admit I was more than a little worried about. The shower I took that evening hurt almost as bad as running the marathon. It took a few days for the soreness and stiffness of my muscles to ease. It took a week until I could stop wearing bandages with rash cream on my chaffing. As of ten days out, I still have yet to try to run, but I am starting to get antsy to get back out there.
Will I run a marathon again? It’s hard to say. I am currently signed up to run a half marathon in Utah at the end of July (a half seems so short and easy now!), and a 5k Warrior Dash in August. Setting aside so much training time for a full was the hardest part, especially with my busy household of 4 young kids. But I feel like running has finally become a part of my life. When the timing is right (and maybe the kids are a little older and more self-sufficient), I could possibly see myself trying this all again.