Goal #1: Finish
Goal #2: Finish not last
Goal #3: Finish with a PR (sub-2:45:00: 6:18 pace)
Goal #4: Finish top 50
Goal #5: Finish sub-2:40 (6:05 pace)
Actual: 2:41:05 (6:08 pace)
49th place out of 152 finishers
Results; Mile by Mile Splits
Splits (that I remember): 10k @38:00; 10 mile @61:10; 20k @1:15:55; 13 @1:19:30
Slowest mile: 6:23
Fastest mile: 5:58
Goals Achieved: 1-4
My alarm went off at 5:15, but it was unnecessary. I'd been thinking of this morning, dreaming of it, consciously and subconsciously, for almost a year. I looked over at Jordan, who was also wide awake, and we both wordlessly swung our legs over the side of the hotel bed and stood to our feet. It was time.
An hour later, our backpacks filled with various race-day miscellany, we slowly trotted down the darkened early morning streets of downtown Houston. Leaving the Residence Inn behind, my destination was the Hilton, then Caitlin's room, then the George R. Brown Convention Center, and then my destiny. Not listed in order of importance. As Caitlin and I filed into the elite athlete holding area, flanked by Jordan and Garrett, the incomprehensible reality that we were actually doing this became ineluctable. My entire body tingled with nervous energy, though on the surface I remained quiet and calm. Caitlin, Megan Hovis and I situated ourselves along a side wall, soon to be joined by my friend Allison. Almost one year ago Allison and I roomed together at the 2011 Houston Marathon, both of us walking (hobbling) away from that event feeling more discouraged than triumphant. This year, this time, we were determined to work together with Caitlin for our vindication. With 30 minutes to go we were herded down the escalator and outside to the elite athlete staging area, and you could almost feel the collective sharp intake of breath as we were thrust into the cold, wind-blown shade of the downtown skyline. After a few minutes of jogging, a stride or two, a bathroom trip or four and a hasty discarding of clothing into the bag drop, I found myself being led to the starting line.
How to describe the feeling? Surreal, yes. Overwhelmed, for sure. Nervous, excited, anticipatory; all accurate. But as I queued up behind the starting line, the starter's commands nearly drowned out by the noise of the crowd, my peripheral vision a blur of broad stripes and bright stars, everything else was superseded by an almost eery sense of calm. Caitlin and I turned to each other and grinned, our faces mirroring the same understanding: this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it was time to make the most if it. Less than a minute later, we were off into the early morning sunshine.
As Caitlin described in her own fantastic race recap, the first 10 miles passed almost imperceptibly. I don't remember any physical effort being expended, although I'm sure it was. After completing a flat 2.2 mile loop of the downtown area, we circled back through the start (and finish) area before heading out on an 8-mile loop that we would cover three times before finishing our journey exactly where it began. (Is there symbolism there? Maybe. Who has the time to uncover it all.) During these early miles, Caitlin and I worked diligently to cultivate a pack of like-minded runners, to varying degrees of success. Allison was invested, and though her words were minimal, her consistent stride and quiet confidence spoke volumes. At one point our group would swell to almost 10 women, but the entire first half of the race found Caitlin and I bearing the brunt of the leadership responsibilities. Every so often another woman would join or another would drop back, but by midway through the second loop our formidable cadre had whittled down to four, the original three plus Laura Farley. Laura and I had never met before, and may never again, but for the next hour I would swear she was one of the best friends I'd ever known. That's part of what the marathon does to you, of course. It breaks you down physically, scrambles you emotionally, blunts your powers of reasoning and perception--sometimes all at once.
And we ran.
We passed together under the finishing clock after the second loop, a mere eight miles separating us from the sweet relief of no longer pushing our bodies past the point of sensible resistance. My feet had long since relinquished any protest, instead succumbing to the cruel concrete and myriad turns that the criterium course had forced upon them. To say that I had developed a few blisters would be equal parts completely accurate and wildly insufficient. I could sense that Caitlin was faltering along with the fragile equilibrium of our group. I turned back once, then twice, beckoning her to follow, but from that point onward it was eyes straight ahead. I wasn't feeling so chipper myself, and as the 20-mile marker came and went so did my contact with Laura and Allison. I asked, begged, pleaded with my body to stay in contact, but it had other plans. As the two of them slowly slipped away, so did my hopes at sub-2:40. My foggy brain couldn't do the math, but it didn't have to. Somewhere deep inside, with the inner metronome finely honed over miles and trials too numerous to count, I knew. And so I trudged along in the grim resignation of no-man's land, fervently willing myself to stay positive even when innate, primitive self-preservation instincts screamed at me to STOP.
I didn't stop. Each step was a renewal of will. I focused on one runner ahead, then the next. A few minutes later I realized I was approaching my friend and one-time training partner Megan Skeels. As I pulled up alongside, I could tell that she was foundering. "Tuck in with me," I implored. "We can still break 2:40." It was a lie; we couldn't. But part of me was still trying to convince myself, to reaffirm why I was still pushing and pushing and forcing every muscle in my body to endure this assault. Megan shook her head; the movement was slight, but it said enough. I pulled ahead, turned and motioned her to follow, then continued on in my single solitary provision of hell.
I've often heard it said that the marathon is a war of attrition, and never has that truth been more evident than in these final miles. As terrible as I felt, as certain as I was that the next step could be my last (did I mention exaggerated suffering? another unfortunate side effect), I was still passing people. And not just people. People I had absolutely no business finishing before. Names I knew, faces I recognized from running magazines and articles and training groups and the actual profession of running. I was dying, but then again I suppose it's all relative.
With two miles to go, I saw Jordan. This was the second or third time I'd spotted him, though he swore he had shouted at me almost 10 times. It was entirely probable, just like it was probable that my mom had screamed my name as I passed at mile 8, just like Rebecca Thomason and my high school coach and Matt Jaskot and my dad's running partner and my former teacher and a dozen other people had stood less than an arm's length from me at some point during the morning, pouring their energy and enthusiasm into me. No, seriously. I mean, don't get me wrong, I heard plenty of generic cheering. I also heard lots of voices shouting my last name, which was splayed across my chest via my bib number. (And, astonishingly, although every customer service representative and solicitor under the sun seems to bumble their way through the pronunciation of "Nedlo" as though it were written in Farsi even though it's perfectly phonetical, I didn't hear a single inaccurate rendering.) But I was overwhelmed, amazed and utterly humbled by the number of people who called me by my first name. It is highly unlikely that I will ever run another race in any venue or capacity for which I can say the same. Utterly, completely blown away by the support of the crowd.
But I digress. I saw Jordan, and I heard him say, "You can still do it!" I knew he meant that I could still break 2:40, and just as surely I knew that he was wrong. But shortly thereafter, I heard the voice of someone else: "You're in 54th place!" First of all, I had no idea if they were right. I had no idea if they knew how to count, or if they'd been paying attention, or if they even comprehended how significant their words would be. What I did know is that although my goal of sub-2:40 was gone, I could still finish out the final 10 minutes of this run, the most important run of my life up to this point, with purpose. With determination. With a resolve to pour everything of myself into each step. With gratitude for the opportunity I was given--no, for the opportunity I worked my ass off for--and the single-minded focus of simply putting one foot in front of the other, as fast as I could, for as long as I could, for as long as it took until I crossed the finish line.
And then, unceremoniously, I did. There was no fanfare, no announcement, nothing but the full-bodied release and wearied relief that any competitor, at any level, feels when they encounter the intersection of weariness and satisfaction. I wasn't at the front of the pack, not even close, nor was I within miles of contention for the coveted Olympic spots for which this race exists in the first place. But I was, emphatically, finished.
I waited for Caitlin. She came soon after. And we hugged, and high-fived, and probably would've cried had either of us spared the energy. When she could barely walk, I propped her up. When we didn't know where to go, my parents magically appeared to guide us to the escalators back to the elite holding room. We'd been there only hours before, but as different people. I came here as the 152nd qualifier of over 200 women. I started the race today as seed number 140 based on those who actually toed the line. Just over two and a half hours later, I finished as one of the top 50 female marathoners in the country. There has been plenty of talk about how the women's qualifying time needs to be lowered, and while that could comprise a separate post unto itself, I categorically agree with the sentiment. And to the same people, I say: make the standard whatever the hell you want. I will run it. I'm just getting started as a marathoner, and I will be at the 2016 Trials. No matter what.
But today's effort isn't about 2016. It's about right now, today, the ability and capacity that I had to give during this moment. Though I'm not completely satisfied with my time, I can honestly say I gave every part of myself at every part of the race. That may not be enough to earn an Olympic berth, but it unquestionably embodies the Olympic spirit, and I sincerely believe the same can be said for every single woman who toed the line today. We didn't all run together, not literally, but in some sense we did. We are all Olympic Trials Qualifiers. We all ran the Olympic Trials.
We all ran. We all run.
We all have a memory to last a lifetime.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Goal #1: Finish