My taper ended up coinciding with an outage at work. For those unfamiliar with the term, an outage is when a plant (power, chemical, refinery, etc.) shuts down for maintenance and repairs. It usually means I end up working 12 or more hours per day and sometimes staying out of town. Outages are great for my wallet but terrible for my running because it always parallels peak racing seasons.
I left for South Carolina directly from work on Thursday. I planned to drive a little over halfway and then stop for the night but I ended up making the trip straight through. Sean still had to work Friday so I occupied myself with picking up our packets, shopping for our pre-race breakfast, and laying out my outfit. By the time he came home I was going a little stir crazy and he'd had a rough day. So we did what all the best runners do... went to the bar. After a few drinks and some wings we finally called it a night.
Our alarms went off at 5:00am Saturday morning and we dressed quickly. Breakfast consisted of Clif bars and bananas in the car. I really missed my coffee but there wasn't anywhere to stop along the route. We arrived right at 6:30 and parked in the infield of the Darlington Raceway. There was some hilarity to our self-induced predicament. Under trained for a marathon that runs around a NASCAR track and is sponsored by a fried chicken chain.... pure 'Murica.
Pano shot of the raceway from the infield
We visited the restrooms, ditched our long sleeves in the car, and lined up on the track with the half and full runners. There were some announcements and then the National Anthem was sung. Pretty soon it was time to get started and we went out around a 9:30 pace just to get off the steeply banked track. We decided to run 2 miles and walk 1 minute for the first 10 miles and then reevaluate.
Mile 1-5: 9:36, 9:43, 9:46, 9:35, 9:51
The first few miles flew by as we found our rhythm and joked around. There was a group of very LOUD women directly behind us. We would speed up to get away from their chatter but it was like they were chasing us. Finally we took a restroom and walk break in mile 6 and got behind them enough that we didn't have to listen to them anymore. One of the nice things about a small marathon is being able to enjoy a conversation and your surroundings in relative peace. And we finally got our chance on the remainder of this loop.
Mile 6 - 10: 10:51, 9:58, 9:50, 10:19, 9:57
Giving a guy who's 6' 4" bunny ears is tough
But his reaction when he catches you is priceless!
We continued to goof off and just generally have fun for the remainder of the first loop. We went to a run 1 mile, walk 1 minute interval towards the end of the loop which brought our average pace down some but we tried not to focus on anything but staying comfortable. Any time I picked up the pace Sean would gently (or not so much) remind me to slow the eff down! We passed the half by looping through the pit road of the raceway and back onto the streets of Darlington. The course was not closed to traffic and there were a few times I saw cars blow past the police and volunteers trying to direct them away from the runners. Thankfully there were no close calls that I saw.
Miles 11-15: 11:41, 11:22, 10:54, 10:22, 10:31
Yeah, I was ahead of Sean here ;)
As we got into the late morning heat of South Carolina the humidity rose and my breathing was worrying Sean. His knee was also beginning to give him some aches. I thought it was because he was going slow to stay with me so I told him to go ahead but he refused to leave my side. The chatty girls had slowed down and were quieter now. I began to contemplate that they just might be in my age group and that passing them might mean a medal for me. Sean had to keep pulling me back from trying to pass them too quickly. We slowly gained on them until they walked on a gentle uphill (to a girl from Pennsylvania) and then we overtook them for good.
Mile 16-20: 10:33, 11:42, 10:42, 11:40, 10:49
Somewhere in the first half
Around mile 19 Sean's knee decided it had had enough. We tried taking longer and more frequent walk breaks but it wasn't helping. We then tried to just push through but he could no longer bend his knee without feeling like it was going to give out. I promised to stay with him no matter what but he made me promise that I would beat the chatty girls even if it meant leaving him behind. I continued to walk with him and encourage him to try to run for awhile longer but by mile 24 I was cramping up from all the walking. My body felt much better when I was running and the women I had worked so hard to pass were back in view behind us.
Miles 21-24: 11:26, 11:47, 12:56, 12:38
Sean encouraged me to go ahead and I finally did. I felt really weird running the last 2 miles alone but I also felt really strong thanks to Sean's restraint on our earlier miles. I tackled the last long uphill grade passing many, many limping and puking marathoners. At one point I glanced at my Garmin, saw an 8:xx pace, and thought, "Wow! I have never felt this good this late in the game!" I turned into the raceway for the last 1+ miles on the track. I tore down the pit road, rounded the first sharply banked turn, and then cramped up! Less than half a mile from the finish line and I hit the wall. I was a little upset with myself but I took a deep breath, walked to the next turn, and then pushed every last shred of muscle in my legs to carry me into a run for the finish.
Mile 25-26: 10:02, 12:18
My legs cooperated and I crossed the finish in 4:47:46. Not a PR but right in line with most of my marathon times. My legs instantly locked up as soon as I stopped to get my medal. I almost went down and an official grabbed me and started to drag me towards the golf cart waiting to take runners to the med tent. I didn't want to miss Sean's finish so I assured him I was fine, grabbed a water, and began to walk around until my legs quit fighting me.
I must have just missed Sean coming into the pit road as I fought to remain upright and in the finish area. Almost as soon as I was recovered I saw him come around the final turn and fight to run the home stretch. I asked the woman handing out medals if I could give Sean his and she handed me one. As soon as he crossed the line I grabbed him for a kiss and draped the medal around his neck. He hugged me tight and I knew that I was forgiven for leaving him at the last minute.
Sean crossing the line
Once Sean had some water and recovered his ability to walk we posed for pictures and then made our way to the celebration area and results tent. We typed in our bib numbers and were both shocked to learn we'd gotten second in our age groups. We walked over to the awards table and had to wait for our placement to be verified but it was correct after all! We proudly took our medals over to the food table before we made our way back to the car.
We celebrated my 8th marathon and his 2nd by picking up some Ibuprofen and BBQ on the way home. After a shower and lots of food (maybe some beer) we both felt good enough to continue the celebration with Sean's good friend that you may remember from the CrossFit competition in August. Good food, good friends, and some good alcohol made the night amazing. It's amazing what a difference sharing our accomplishment made on our views of the day. I wouldn't have been so happy if I hadn't shared it with an amazing man.
After a good night of sleep we decided that breakfast should be a good, greasy, southern-style affair. We headed to Bubba's diner and, once again, the running community never ceases to amaze me. Sean and I were seated next to a familiar face and I had to check FaceBook just to make sure I wasn't seeing things. I was seated next to the amazing Bruce and his wife, Brandi. Bruce helped me immensely at North Coast 24 Hour last year and I thought I would never get a chance to properly thank him since he is from Florida and I'm from Pennsylvania. But here we were, reuniting in rural South Carolina. They were even kind enough to invite Sean and I to visit for the Jacksonville Marathon for my birthday weekend. We chatted all through breakfast and caught up like we hadn't been mostly out of touch for over a year. It was the perfect ending to our marathon weekend.
Super happy to see Bruce and company at Bubba's Diner!
Honestly, I don't know how I can even explain how incredible the whole weekend was. I've made an effort to surround myself with only the best people and in return I have developed the most amazing relationship, built true friendships, and accomplished things I wouldn't have done on my own. I'm not sure that I would actually recommend Darlington Marathon on its own merit but if you have the right support any race can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I feel like the luckiest woman on earth and I'm not sure how we're going to top this. I just know that we will!