I can’t believe how little I knew before I ran my first marathon. I had been training all alone and somehow thought that if I ran some long runs on the weekends, I would be able to make the 26.2 miles on race day. I ran a fair amount in training, but didn’t really have a strategy to my training. This was going to be the big day for me. If I could run a full marathon after being injured so badly I could definitely say, “I am back!”
I didn’t know how to dress for the race, didn’t know what to eat or what to take on as food and drink during the race. I didn’t know how to pace myself and I had no real mental strategy. I had not seen the course before I ran.
I stayed at my parents’ house in North Seattle the night before and my dad drove me out to the race, which started at Marymoor Park in Redmond. The race was to circle around the North End of Lake Washington and end at the University of Washington. Sounded scenic to me. I was wearing a lucky t-shirt and baseball hat. I didn’t know how to warm up for the race either. I told my dad to meet me at mile 16 with a mocha as that was my favorite caffeinated beverage at the time. The race began easily enough and it was a chilly morning in Seattle. It was November of 1997. November is a cold, wet month in Seattle. I should have known better.
It started to drizzle a little. I had given zero thought to what being wet and cold for three to four hours might do to me. A t-shirt is not a great thing in the rain. After a few miles I couldn’t believe how good I felt (first mistake), so I picked up the pace. The thing about marathons is that they are long. You must pace yourself perfectly to run a good race. If you go too fast early, you will suffer logarithmically in the last miles and slow down tremendously. Ideally your first half of the race will take the same amount of time as the last part.
The rain became heavier and soon not only my clothes were soaked, but my shoes were squirting out water with every step. I was freezing cold. Shivering while running and not hardly half way into the race. My Dad appeared about midway in the race. Amazing what a friendly face will do for you. Later, I was looking for my dad, but could not find him. I was so disappointed. I kept looking for him, but no sign. I was devastated. Finally somewhere around mile 20 or so I think he found me.
I was so out of it that I could barely communicate with him. I believe he handed me something to drink. He looked very concerned. The cold and the miles had taken a toll on me. I wasn’t the only one. I saw several people in agony at the side of the trail. Then someone was handing out the GU squeeze gel that distance runners sometimes consume. I took it and knew it was a mistake immediately. I felt sick to my stomach. My stomach was one of my weak spots in running marathons. You have to know what your body can tolerate. Somehow I kept on.
When we reached the University of Washington, I thought we had to continue on a bit and then all of a sudden I saw the finish line, which was a short uphill run over some gravel. I ran as fast as I could and finished in three hours and 49 minutes, which was quite slow, but I had finished. I was taken immediately into the underground garage as I was clearly not well. My body temperature was around 92 degrees if I remember correctly. 98 is about normal. I was frozen. They wrapped me in heavy wool blankets on a bed and I believe gave me some fluids. I laid there for a long time. I recall that I kept thinking the blankets had fallen off because it felt like a cold breeze was blowing over my legs. I was mildly hypothermic.
In talking with my father today, he reminded me that they had trouble locating the finish area and when they did they couldn’t find me because I was on a stretcher in the underground garage. He figured I would never run a marathon again. My daughter who was two was able to encourage me while I was wrapped in the blankets. So sweet. It was tough on my father to watch. I wore the medal for a couple of days and could not wait for the next race!