I’m feeling suspiciously patriotic, except not about America per se. I know that doesn’t make sense, but I can’t think of what it would be called if I was patriotic about my city. Metriotic? I don’t know. Anyway, this weekend I was incredibly proud to be a resident of Columbia, South Carolina. Even though I live in Elgin. Close enough.
This weekend was the inaugural Columbia Marathon, which I have to say I was entirely underwhelmed about. Columbia doesn’t have the best history of putting on races, and to say I wasn’t expecting greatness would be an understatement. Combine that with the fact that I have had such bad heart problems the past two races, and quite frankly, I just didn’t want to do it.
Before I get to the expo and the race, let me soothe your fears. After having such a bad day in Little Rock, I made another appointment with my cardiologist. I’m sure Lauren, Fawn, and T-Rex Mom all think they bullied me into doing so, but I swear I would have done it on my own. Hell, even Chuck threatened to run the race with me if I didn’t figure out what was going on (very kind of you, btw). As luck would have it, my doctor finally put all the pieces together on Thursday and figured out my heart problems. Basically, the electrical impulses that drive the pumping action in my heart are all jacked up. My heart beats too fast, skips beats, and generally does whatever the hell it wants. My heart is exactly like me. Pimpin’ ain’t easy, but it’s necessary, as they say.
So anyway, my cardiologist figured it all out and gave me some medicine to fix the problem. So now my heart beats much slower and I also have basically no blood pressure. You know that feeling when you are taking Benadryl and you kind of feel weightless and like you couldn’t pick up a glass off the counter if you tried? That’s how I feel all the time now, but I’m very glad I know what the problem is and that I’m probably not going to die. Obviously you are all glad too.
Friday was a really weird day because Kristen and I went to the expo…on our lunch break from work. I’m used to spending most of the day traveling to get to the race, trying desperately to find the expo, etc. Not this time. It was about 2 whole minutes away from our office, so we went there before going to get Moe’s, the ideal pre-race food. The expo was nothing spectacular, aside from, oh, you know, Dick Beardsley being there.
We also cajoled various strangers into taking other requisite expo pics, due to a general lack of better things to do.
AJ came over on Friday night because he was coming to watch me run on Saturday, since a) he’s wonderful like that and b) he obviously needed to update T-Rex Mom on my progress via text. I made a pre-race pasta dinner…at home. I went to sleep…in my own bed. The whole thing was really kind of bizarre. It just didn’t feel like I was running a marathon the next day. Even though I woke up in my usual panic somewhere around 2:45 am thinking that I had missed the race, by the time my alarm went off at 5:30, I just really didn’t feel like running. I wanted to stay in bed. I did not want to get up and test out my new heart medicine. But alas, Amanda was waiting for me and I had promised to pace her to her first sub-5 hours marathon. Sigh. Oh, the things we do for our friends.
I put on all the Maniacs gear I have, which is actually getting to be quite a lot. T-Rex Mom sent me a Maniacs visor that arrived just in time. There were supposed to be something like 33 Maniacs at the race, and while I did try my best to make the pre-race picture, I missed it by about 3 minutes. Total marathons since becoming a Maniac: 8. Total pre-race Maniacs pictures made: 1.
I lined up at the start near the 5 hour pace group, looking for Amanda everywhere. I knew she was running late, but with 3 minutes to the start, I still couldn’t find her and I was starting to panic. All of a sudden, with literally about a minute to start time, I found her and we were able to start together. Initially the plan had been to run with the 5 hour pace group, but we ended up sticking right between the 4:45 and 5 hour pacers the entire time.
The course was incredibly, relentlessly hilly. I would probably say it is the hardest course I’ve ever done. It had few, if any, flat portions and many steep hills. Fortunately, our pace was slower than I typically start out, so I felt ok aside from the fact that I also kind of felt like I was going to pass out. We ended up seeing AJ at around mile 4, which was a very welcome surprise. The course followed a lot of different portions of various training runs that I did with Team in Training, but it often did them backwards to make them harder.
The aid stations were absolutely AMAZING! They had water, four flavors of Gatorade, different flavors of Gu gels, and bananas at every single station. That in itself is incredible – I didn’t have to use any of my own gels! In addition to that, though, the volunteers were awesome. They were incredibly enthusiastic and cheered for every runner. Around mile 7, I seriously considered telling Amanda I wasn’t up for doing the full and that I was just going to do the half instead. I felt so weak, even though my heart was doing much better. The hills weren’t killing me, but I definitely noticed them. We were running an extremely steady pace – about 10:30 miles, with short walks at the water stations. I generally like double loop courses, but the one part that always kind of sucks about them is when you have to run past the finish of the half marathon and keep going for the full. In some races, the half marathoners take a turn so the marathoners don’t have to literally stare at the finish line, but in this one, we did. Cruel, but we DID get to see how impressive the finish line was, and we also saw one of my coworkers, Scott, who had been cheering at multiple stops.
AJ ran to catch up to us shortly after the second loop began, and we quickly dumped off arm warmers, all the gels we had accumulated, Amanda’s jacket, and whatever other random crap we had onto him. He’s such a good boyfriend. The second loop did sort of immediately seem harder than the first, even though we knew what to expect. None of the hills really jumped out at me, and surprisingly, my body wasn’t in pain. I could tell that my heart was beginning to struggle a bit, but it was definitely doing better. Around mile 18, we met a girl named Paige and ran with her for awhile. It was her first marathon, and she works at a weight-loss boarding school, which I thought sounded like a pretty cool job.
Somewhere around mile 19, Amanda started to need motivation. Fortunately, if I am not in a snarky mood, I am pretty good at stuff like that. You run enough marathons, especially tough ones, and you develop tricks of your own to get through them. I also am an avid reader, so I spend a lot of time learning from the legends of the sport, even though I’ll never be fast like one. I also briefly dated a
horrible person fellow marathoner who happened to give me the best race advice I’ve ever heard, inadvertently providing me with the one good thing I will take away from that experience. He said “At some point, it hurts just as much to walk as it does to run, so you might as well run.” It doesn’t sound very profound, but remind yourself of that in your next marathon and I bet you’ll notice a difference. I was proud of Amanda because even though she doesn’t log a ton of miles, she stuck it out. We walked only at the water stops and held our steady pace the entire time. Somewhere around this point, I mentioned something to Amanda within earshot of Paige that we would be crossing the finish line holding hands since we had started the race together. Paige stopped running with us not 2 minutes after I said that. Coincidence? You be the judge.
The last big hill was at mile 25, and there was AJ, standing at the top of it! Kristen was running the 10k, which ran part of the marathon course, so he snapped a picture of her as she came up a few minutes before us.
After the big hill on Gervais, it was pretty much downhill from there. We still kept our steady pace until the finish, which was a downhill shot – we went a little bit faster there and heard Kristen yelling for us! We crossed the finish line holding hands, because those who start the race together finish the race together…holding hands. At least that’s my rule anyway.
We ended up running almost perfectly even splits, meaning our times for the first and second loops of the race were almost exactly the same. This means I’m a good pacer! Even better – our second loop was slightly faster, meaning we ran the ever-coveted NEGATIVE split. Hooray! Our final time was right at 4:53 – crushing Amanda’s previous PR and her goal of a sub-5 marathon!!
We found AJ and Kristen quickly after the race and took some more pictures. I actually felt really, really great…aside from the slight dizziness. My body didn’t really hurt at all. I was a bit stiff, but not sore and definitely not in pain. I credit the hills, which help your body to recruit lots of different muscle groups so the same ones don’t get fatigued. Maybe the course wasn’t so bad after all.
All in all, I couldn’t have been prouder to be a Columbia resident during this race. The course was beautiful, the volunteers were amazing, and the organization was outstanding. The shirts were cool (please see above where Kristen is wearing it TO the race, ugh), and the medal surprised me as being one of my favorites. Overall, this was a great event. If Dan (the race director) and the rest of the committee can keep up this type of top notch event year after year, I’ll be back for as long as I can keep running. I’m looking forward to being one of those people who has run in every single race for the past 10, 20, 30, etc years. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they bring it back! I can’t say enough good things about it. When was the last time that happened? Not never.