~ Las Vegas: Part III ~
As soon as this post gets published, I’ll be sharing something that I haven’t yet told a single soul. On December 5th, 2010 at the Las Vegas marathon, I cried between miles 22 and 25, actually no, I absolutely broke down.
My lips quivered, my eyes went red, and salty tears stained my already salty face. I was in the desert, alone, and running to the beat of “just, keep, running. Just, keep, running.”
I woke up the morning of the marathon to Ben’s frantic voice over the phone, “do you have my race bib?” What? No, who is this? Let me sleep. But he insisted I look for it, so I stumbled out of bed and looked, but to no avail. I told him he could use my bib # and race chip as I assured him they could change the linked name (truth be told, I had no idea if this was possible). As I spoke to him, part of me sighed a breath of relief. That meant I wouldn’t have to run today. It would be the perfect excuse. I’d be a good friend. Nobody would judge me, and I could stand on the sidelines, and cheer on the other runners.
But just as my official alarm sounded 15 minutes later, so did my phone. He had found his race bib and that meant that I was running.
I’ll be the first to admit I have an extraordinary ability to block things out. If something happens, I can actually shut that part of my brain down, and not spend a second thinking about it. For the last 17 hours, I had been blocking out the concept of running a full marathon.
But as I tied my hair into a pony tail, attached my time chip, and pinned my bib on, I was forced to consciously realize what was happening.
And then, all alone in my room, I started to freak out.
What was I thinking? WHAT WAS I THINKING? Who did I think I was, that I, Liz, could cheat a marathon? Why the hell did I do this? This is the worst idea of my life. Fuck.
But I boarded the shuttle, and went through the morning race rituals of bag check, porta-potty (eeeewww), and then lined up in my corral waiting to be shuffled across the start line.
I knew the cut off for the Las Vegas marathon was 5 and a half hours (usually marathons are 6 hours) so I had decided that 5 and a half hours was my only goal: to not get kicked off the course.
To survive the next 5+ hours I would have to have a plan, and so I chose the ever-so brilliant, slow and steady method. I simply broke the marathon down into two halves and four 10ks. That seemed a lot more doable than 26.2 miles (42.2k) straight.
I should also note that, as I shuffled towards the starting line, for the first time in my life I spoke out loud to myself. I boldly (and loudly) said, “I can do this,” and then breathed a sigh of relief, because I believed it.
The gun went off, and I was running. Unlike every other run (ever), I didn’t hate the first 5 - 8k. There was so much going on as I headed down the Las Vegas strip and, dare I say it? I quite enjoyed it.
I ran past all the grand hotels, slabs of marble, and thousands of bulbs that had shone bright only hours before. I passed the on-route wedding chapel and saw two runners getting married, I passed the Bellagio where I was staying, and at mile 4, I saw Carolyn cheering me on . Now that? that was awesome!
I watched the leaders coming back up the strip, and occasionally glanced at my Garmin watch, I just had to make it to 13.1 miles within 2 hours 45 to make sure I was on track to finish. And then before I knew it? I was there: “Half marathoners to the left, full to the right.”
I didn’t think, I just went right, and kept running. If I had thought about it, I don’t know what would have happened… but luckily I was feeling really good so I rounded the right angle, and headed out to the desert.
And so, I just kept running. At mile 14, I saw Ben (he was at his mile 19), and then suddenly (after a washroom break, a few photos, and a stop to get Vaseline for my chub-rub) I was at mile 22. Up until this point, I had felt good. My legs were loose, my breathing was even, and I was walking for 1 minute every 10 minutes (as we do in Canada), but then mile 22 hit, and everything changed. Everything.
I had a wave of utter exhaustion fall upon my body. I stopped to stretch and watched as both my legs visibly quivered. Suddenly there was an intense, sharp pain in my left ankle, and the spot where my butt meets my thighs tingled (and not in the good way). It was awful especially as I was now heading into the sun. I closed my eyes for a few moments and ran in the dark, but I knew that if I did that I’d literally fall asleep running.
I saw a medical tent, and stumbled towards it, but at the last second decided against it, and plodded on. I managed to form a slow jog, but what I couldn’t manage was to hold off the tears. I fought my lip trembles for a good 15 minutes before I couldn’t fight any longer, and then the water works came.
I’m not sure it’s possible to describe why I was crying. I’m sure it was a combination of factors all mixed together. I was still physically tired from missing Friday night’s sleep, I was processing the fact I was running a marathon, I was physically in pain, and I was over joyed that somehow I might actually pull this marathon off.
I tasted the salt of my tears, and blew my nose into my hand. I was exhausted, but at the same time elated. I kept thinking about how this wasn’t the person I am, how I loved food, sitting, and all things sleep related, but there I was, alone in the Nevada desert, now at mile 24 of my second full marathon.
I was alone, with myself, and forced to deal with who I was, and who I want to be going forward, and I think the tears also poured down my cheeks because it was the first time in my life that I loved and supported the person I was.
I really, really did. And so I kept running to the beat of, “just, keep, running. Just, keep, running.”
I finally headed over the bridge, and got to the end of mile 25 where I could see lots of people lining the road up ahead. And so I picked up my pace, and smiled, a huge, wide smile. And through that smile, I refound my legs and my heart, and trudged forward.
Running up the chute was epic. I knew I was right on the border of 5 and a half hours, and was so ready for it to all be over. I didn’t care about my time, but I cared about finishing (and I had seen they had started kicking people off the course). About 50 meters from the finish line, I heard my name and saw Ben, Jed and Pa waving at me to which, they can attest, I did a little jig of joy, and then (somehow) sprinted (sprinted!) to the finish line.
It was over. I was done. I had just run my second marathon, somehow taken 14 minutes off my previous time, and suddenly I was on top of the world, and all my physical pain disappeared.
Running the Las Vegas marathon was one of the hardest and most challenging things of my life, but also one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. At mile 22, the marathon broke me down to my core, and then it built me back up. Since I stepped across its finishing line, my motivation and drive to be a better person, health wise, has been amazing. I have set (omygosh I’m going public with this) a goal to bring home a sub 5 hour marathon next spring, and to continue to push myself places I never thought possible.
I smile just thinking about the whole spontaneous marathon experience. It’s certainly something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. Me running a marathon at all, let alone on a whim? Who’d ever have thought? Not me, that’s for sure.
[I’m sorry this is so long, I never read things this long, but I found it hard to shorten]