Marathon Girl

They say that time passing faster than it ever has is a sign that you’re getting older. If that’s the case, then I guess my youth is long gone, because I just can’t seem to slow down the hands of father clock over here.The marathon has come and gone. It may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever participated in, but the verdict is still out on that. I thought that even though I missed so many critical steps and posts along the way, I would still share my experience with you guys.

I’ll bring you up to speed on the training weeks leading up to the marathon with three quick bullet points that basically tell the story:
– Treadmills
– Gatorade
– Bathroom Crisis

Enough said.

The week leading up to our trip to San Diego was a whirlwind of paperwork, last minute details, emotional outbursts and stress. I received about 25 different emails from the race and from Team in Training with last minute details about where I needed to be, what I needed to bring, different locations and venues, dress codes, tips and tricks….you name it. It got to be so overwhelming that I just started printing every email I received and putting it neatly into a big fat file folder that I promised myself I would go through with a clear head one evening (never happened, who am I really kidding?).

I learned from my Team in Training coach that I was actually the number one fundraiser in all of Canada for this race! My heart just swells with pride thinking of all of the good that the funds we have raised together will do. My final funds raised came in at just under $10,500, and another $500 is coming from my company who provides a $500 fundraising matching grant after the event is completed, bringing the GRAND, grand total up to $11,000.

Wowza.

I remember when I first started out how terrified I was that I wasn’t even going to hit $1,000! I don’t have any words to express my gratitude to my friends and family, to the perfect strangers who supported me, or my colleagues at work that I’ve only spoken 10 words to in my life, or friends of friends who heard our story and wanted to help. This thing really spidered out and touched a lot of people, and I just can’t thank everyone enough.

Because I was the top fundraiser from Canada, we found out that Matt and I were invited to a couple of special events in San Diego for the “VIP Team in Training” group 😉 Matt nearly fell off his chair when I told him that one of the events was a brunch and a pre-race “shakeout” run with 2014 Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi on the Saturday before the race! Because I don’t believe in running the day before a race (okay, okay fine, I’m just not fit enough to blow a bunch of energy running 5km the day before I have to run 42 ;)), Matt was more than happy to take my spot in the run!

There was a bit of a disaster early in the week because as of Thursday morning, I still hadn’t received my Team in Training tank top in the mail (you know, the one that I was supposed to run the marathon in). There had been a mix-up when they had sent me my shirt the week before (they sent me an XS t-shirt instead of a Medium tank-top), and the replacement shirt had not yet arrived. I was freaking out totally about never having had the chance to run in the shirt before the race and by Thursday morning, wasn’t sure that I was even going to be willing to wear the Team in Training shirt for fear that it would irritate me somehow during the marathon. After all of the months of fundraising and learning about the LLS and Team in Training, I was so disappointed to not have that shirt in my hands. I was an emotional basket case.

My whole family shuttled over to the airport like a herd of cattle on Thursday night. We were there early and grabbed a bite to eat at the airport. I realized right away the challenges that Matt has faced for the last year or so with traveling to run destination marathons.

It is really, really damn hard to control what food you eat, how much you drink and how much you are on your feet when you’re traveling to run a destination marathon.

I mean, I always KNEW that, but Matt is so easy going that I never really KNEW, KNEW how hard it was. I ordered chicken strips at the airport, and with every bite wondered if it was something that I “should” really be eating, or if I was going to screw up my marathon by eating something deep fried. I thought about ordering the strongest cocktail I could find on the menu (to help with my nerves – I LOATHE flying), but decided against it, again fearing that the alcohol would somehow mess something up for Sundays race.

The flight was a 5 hour ordeal of nerves and terror, complete with an involuntary SCREAM from yours truly during a particularly bad bout of turbulence. (Yes, I actually screamed out loud on an airplane). Seriously, flying is right there up on my list of things I loathe right alongside spiders, blisters, and the gluten-free phenomena.

Anyways, we arrived in San Diego about 9pm California time, grabbed our rental minivan and made our way to the Westin Gaslamp Quarter where we were staying for the weekend. We ordered room service, and I was so exhausted that I fell asleep literally stretched out like a starfish flat on the floor of the hotel room (no pillow, no nothin’). I woke up just long enough to devour an enormous bowl of pasta, and then went straight to bed. It’s a rough life, I tell you.
The next morning we were up by 8am (still a bit stuck on Toronto time), and ready to head out to the race expo for when it opened at 11am. We went down to the hotel lobby for breakfast, and instantly I grabbed Matt’s arm in a death grip because right away I noticed a table of 4 runners wearing matching Nike track suits and sipping coffee. They were super intense, and we knew right away that they had to be elite runners of some sort. We spent the rest of our breakfast trying to stare at them without getting caught (Matt did, twice).

By the time we finished up, our elite friends were gone, and we made our way outside to pick up our van and head over to the expo. The California weather was absolutely out of this world, 23 degrees and sunny with zero humidity, every single day. I was basking in the sun like a tortoise when the van arrived and we hopped in to set off. Just as my dad was pulling out of the hotel valet zone, I caught a flash of “Skechers GO MEB” on the front of a man’s t-shirt as he was getting out of his cab. Another runner! As my eyes drifted further up his body, I realized that it wasn’t just another runner…..IT WAS MEB HIMSELF! I (again) grabbed Matt’s arm in a death grip and spluttered out something resembling “IT’S MEB!!!” just as my dad pulled past him. Meb was staying in our hotel for the weekend!!

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We got to the San Diego Convention Centre (my brother Andrew freaking out the entire time because it’s the convention centre where ComiCon is hosted every year….) a few minutes early and joined a long line to enter the expo when the doors opened at 11.

We went in through the expo doors just after 11, and I realized right away that there was no way that I was going to run in the race without my Team in Training shirt. Their presence was everywhere, huge purple banners and streamers and inspirational posters were everywhere, it gave me goosebumps to see. I knew from the moment I stepped foot in the expo that even though they had put me in a bit of an awkward position with having to run the race in a brand new shirt, it was worth it to me to suck it up and wear it anyways.

I got my race kit quickly and easily (along with a Team in Training VIP lanyard ;)) and we made our way through the expo. My family has never been to a race expo before, and I think they were pleasantly surprised, although my poor dad (whose idea of exercise is walking out to the BBQ with a heavy tray of steaks in his hands) did comment “Sara…..these are not my people!” My brother Ramsey (who has been doing amazingly well health-wise by the way) rode on a mechanical bull that was decorated like a running shoe, and everyone seemed to find something that interested them at least somewhat. I chatted with some folks from Team in Training (they were the first booth you came across after the Brooks official marathon merchandise) and got super inspired and excited to be a part of the team.

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We finished up at the expo, and made our way over to the USS Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier docked at the San Diego Harbour just across the water from the live naval base! It was so freaking cool, I have to say! We toured around the massive boat, Matt, my dad and brothers all did this flight simulation thing where you turn upside down in this little dome that’s supposed to simulate a fighter jet pilot chasing down enemy planes. My mom and I both passed, we’re prone to motion sickness and that would not have ended well.

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Andrew's Face....perfect.
Andrew’s Face….perfect.

After we had toured around the rest of the ship and eaten some barbeque at the restaurant where they shot the “Great Balls of Fire!” bar piano scene from Top Gun (I kid you not), we headed back to the hotel so that Matt and I could a) take a dip in the hot tub/pool and b) get ready to go to the reception for the top fundraisers.

In the car on the way back to the hotel, I noticed a bit of a stinging feeling in the side of my left foot (the same one with the massive blister on it from the Chilly Half Marathon). I didn’t think too much about it, but knew that I needed to get my flat walking shoes off ASAP.

When we got back to the room and I took my shoes off, I was horrified to see that it wasn’t just irritation from my shoes; I had actually taken the skin off a tiny little patch of skin right at the base of my toe bone on the outside.
I totally freaked out.

How could I have done this? How could I possibly have been so idiotic? What was I thinking wearing flat Michael Kors shoes while I’m out sightseeing two days before my first marathon? How could I have been wearing anything on my feet except for my running shoes?

The top fundraisers reception was a fancy event, and I had no choice but to wear my flip flops with my dress because every single pair of shoes I had brought rubbed uncomfortably against the spot on my toe, including my running shoes. I could have just killed myself, I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been and the position I had put myself in. I was going to be standing at the start line in pain from a blister.

Somehow, someway, I managed to put that aside for at least a little while and we made it over to the reception (which was in the most gorgeous outdoor courtyard I’ve ever seen in my life by the way) right on time. We were actually some of the first people to arrive, and definitely the youngest people there.

I’ve always really sucked at the whole “networking” thing. I know it’s been bad for me in my career too, because I tend to avoid those events like the plague, even though I know other new grads are there schmoozing and putting in a good word for themselves with the higher ups that decide our fate in the company. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I love to make small talk with my class members at the gym, I do it all the time, every single day with perfect strangers, and I absolutely love it. But for some reason, take me out of my running shoes and Lululemon and put me in any sort of a fancy or professional setting and I truly loathe it. This event seemed to be a bit of a networking event, and right away my hackles were up, and I said to Matt that I didn’t want to stay long.

Matt and I kept mostly to ourselves chatting about whether or not we thought that we could vault over the hedges in the courtyard like a steeplechaser or if we could make it with a two foot jump (dead serious discussion), when the man of the hour arrived. Meb himself.

We had no idea that Meb was going to show up at the event, but he did, and he brought friends with him! At the time we didn’t know who the guy beside him was, but we later learned that it was his brother (who also happens to be his agent). Along with him was American record holder in the mile Alan Webb, and later on American running star Ryan Hall as well! Our conversation immediately turned from steeplechasing hedges to how we were going to get closer to them and maybe even get a picture with them. We didn’t have to wait long for our opportunity.

Within about 10 minutes of Meb arriving at the reception, one of the professional photographers grabbed him and asked him to pose in front of a big backboard that they had set up with the marathon logos. I think that this was really just supposed to be one individual photo-op but we fans jumped on the opportunity and people started getting in line to take pictures with the poor guy! He ended up standing there for over a half hour taking pictures! Matt and I got this one (check out the flip flops…so embarrassing….):

Meb - Reception

After we had gotten our picture with Meb, we hung around for a few more minutes hoping that someone would stand up and make a speech of some sort or give us any direction at all really, but it seemed that it really was just a mix and mingle, and so shortly after, we called it a night and left.

Dinner was a long story, and not one that I really feel like getting into much, but suffice to say that we ended up eating at TGI Fridays and were quite happy about that. I was totally exhausted by the end of the day, and my feet were killing me. I went to bed feeling stressed out and totally bogged down, wondering how on earth I was going to get through the weekend in one piece.

Saturday morning, Matt and I were up semi-early (okay, 8am) to head over to our brunch and shakeout run with Meb! Brunch was conveniently being held at the San Diego Hall of Champions inside beautiful Balboa Park in San Diego (which also houses the San Diego Zoo!). We got there early, and it turned out to be a good thing that we did because our “private” brunch with Meb had somehow exploded into a line of 160 people waiting to get their bibs and head inside to meet him. Turns out that the marathon had opened up the opportunity for people to pay $75 for if they wanted to meet Meb and get a chance to run with him. We got the opportunity for free, which was kind of a nice benefit! We also each got a free pair of CEP Compression Socks (the same ones that Meb won the Boston Marathon wearing and swears by for all of his runs!).

There were a few small speeches and a quick overview of the morning. It turned out that Meb wasn’t the only elite runner in attendance at this event! Alan Webb, Andy Whacker, Alan Culpepper and one other guy from Boulder, Colorado whose name I can’t remember were also introduced to us (I could feel Matt’s excitement building next to me ;)) and then the crew set off to go for their 5K run. I was enormously glad that I had decided not to run with the group, because man did they ever take off. Even though the race director (Alan Culpepper) assured us all that the pace was going to be a nice easy one, it was still faster then I run, and I would have a) felt like a fat slob and b) probably stressed out my still-sore feet and muscles trying my best to keep up with the pack.

I hung out outside the hall of champions under a palm tree for a bit and waiting for them to return. It didn’t take them long, and about 25 minutes later, the first runner came tearing down the hill, followed closely by the rest of the pack, Matt and Meb himself. Matt was right at Meb’s shoulder when they finished! I took a couple of pictures and we headed back inside. Matt told me that a couple of people made the comment on the run that it was the fastest they had ever run 5km in their life. The day before a race?! Some people are made of tougher stuff then I am, I tell you….

Matt - post run with MebMatt - post run with Meb 2

I was quite happy to skip the run and go straight for the buffet breakfast which included these cute little breakfast wraps, fruit, cereal and some mini muffins. While we ate, they did a bit of a Q&A session with each of the elite runners.
It was pretty cool to hear what these runners had to say. They inspired me a lot because they do what they do, even though it certainly isn’t the easiest, most conventional or best beaten path. Andy Whacker told us that he works 4 jobs to make ends meet (including as a cashier at Whole Foods!), and another one of the runners told us that he is a PHD student who works 8 – 4 every day and does his 2 a day workouts before and after work.

I’ve been feeling really restless in my career lately (well, for a long time actually) and struggling with what it is that I even want to do with my life. It sure isn’t what I’m doing right now, that’s for damn sure. I’ve always been reassured that following the beaten path, going to school, getting a degree and starting a full-time 9-5 job is just “what people do” and is really the only path to success. It was refreshing for me to see these guys take such a huge risk, toss aside the perception that you have to work in an office and wear a suit every day to be successful and build the lifestyle that they want, whatever it takes.

My favourite speaker was the race director Alan Culpepper because he was very well-spoken and had some good advice for us novice runners. He admitted that the marathon course was “challenging” (that’s marathoner speak for “mother effing miserable” by the way) and that the hill at mile 22 was a big one. He reassured us that after the hill, the rest of the race was downhill, and that we would all be fine.

Meb & Alan - Brunch

We waited in a massive line to get our picture taken with Meb and get his autograph on some paraphernalia (Matt got his Boston Marathon bib signed which was incredible!) and cleared out of the hall shortly after noon. Matt and I hung out under a palm tree until my family came and picked us up to go over to the zoo for the afternoon.

Matt & Meb - NomadsSara & Meb

It was hot and sunny at the peak of the day when we got to the zoo and we quickly decided that it wasn’t a good idea to be walking out in the sun around the massive multi-acre park. We decided instead to take a shaded bus tour of the zoo, which worked out really well.

When the bus tour wrapped up, we stopped at one of the restaurants in the zoo for lunch and I had real trouble picking what I should eat. The cheeseburgers looked amazing (I have such a weakness for cheeseburgers….if I were on death row; my final meal would for sure be the biggest cheeseburger I could order, no hesitation) but I was just so freaked out about putting anything bad in my body this close to the race. I instead got a chicken wrap which was mediocre to be polite, and I was still hungry when it was done. Around this time, something didn’t feel quite right. I was feeling EXHAUSTED to the point of dizziness and could hardly keep my eyes open. I figured it was the early start to the day, combined with all of the activity from the last couple of hours.

We walked around the zoo a tiny bit more before I really was just too exhausted and starting to feel a bit light headed. I asked my family if we could go back to the hotel so that I could take a nap. The walk back to the car felt like it was 26 miles itself. I felt horrendous, totally nauseous, dizzy, light headed….sitting down seemed to help a bit, but not completely. I fell asleep in the car on the way back to the hotel and woke up just long enough to stagger up to our room where I fell asleep with cold cloths draped all over my head and neck.

We were supposed to attend an Inspiration Dinner hosted by Team in Training on the Saturday night before the race. I felt so sick that we had to miss it, which I am so disappointed about because it would have been an amazing night, I’m sure. After about an hour nap and a bunch more Gatorade and water, I felt a little bit better, and we went to the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner.

I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. First my shirt, then my feet, now the rest of my body?! Everything was just falling apart?! I couldn’t fathom how on earth I was going to make it through the next morning. My head was going a mile a minute, trying to reassure myself in any way I could think of that I would be okay, but nothing really helped. My brother Ramsey made a comment that I had probably just stressed myself the heck out and that was what was causing everything. He may have been right, I know what stress can do to you physically and it ain’t pretty.

Back at the hotel after dinner, I somehow made the decision to forget everything that was wrong with me and just focus on getting my race gear ready to go. Matt had actually smuggled a George Foreman grill, pancake mix (in a Ziploc bag which had an uncanny resemblance to a massive bag of cocaine) and maple syrup over to San Diego just so that he could make pancakes for me in the hotel room before the race and he was busily setting up his cooking station in the bathroom of our hotel room.

With mostly everything set out and ready to go, I hit the hay shortly after 10pm. I don’t remember it taking long for me to fall asleep, and the next thing I knew, the alarm was going off at 4am and I woke up to the smell of pancakes wafting from the bathroom. It was race day, or “go time” as Matt likes to say. The time for excuses and talking was done. It was time to start doing.

Sara pre-race

 To Be Continued…..

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