It's hard to know where to start with this recap, because there were heavy variables leading up to the race, and I was unsure of toeing the line. When I was admitted to grad school in Arizona late spring, I knew I had a short window in the summer to race a marathon in the Northwest because we all know Arizona is nothing short of hell in the summer months for running, and come fall, I would be under water in school. I love the distance of the marathon but haven't had the chance to give a hard effort for such a length, so I knew I had to go for it. We were frequently out of town and Justin had a couple races I needed to crew for so I had only a couple local options. Vancouver was the weekend before Western States and gave me enough time to endure a solid training block so I impulsively signed up with great excitement.
I made this decision just short of two months before race day, and the next day Justin and I set out for a 3 1/2 hour run in the mountains at Pratt Lake. It was a great start to training and I continued to maintain long runs with road workouts mid week and bi-weekly strength training. I had two shorter races planned before the big 26.2, and life was nothing but smooth sailing.
But what is a training block without something going wrong? We all deal with trials that we must troubleshoot during training, but this particular curve ball that was about to hit me in the face was different. Half way through my training block my father started having life-threatening complications with his Lymphoma Cancer. He has lived relatively well with this disease the last 13 years, finishing countless Ironman triathlons, a handful of marathons and a couple trail ultras so I can't say that I was never complacent about his disease. He was always unbreakable in my eyes, because he could do anything. One of his Ironman triathlons was even completed in the middle of a chemo session where he skipped the medication for that single day and commenced the morning after. He is simply bulletproof in so many ways I hope to be when I'm faced with the worst.
Things went downhill fast and my family began to panic. We couldn't figure out why someone like my dad, the bionic superhero of our family, was fading. About a month ago we were told by the doctor that he had weeks to months to live. Priorities shifted dramatically, and Justin and I both quit our jobs to be with my dad and my family. Life was debilitating in many ways. I needed running as a piece of escape, but every time I set out the door I was overwhelmed with anxiety and my chest would tighten and my legs would seize. I was so battered emotionally that running was painful. I decided that it wasn't the right time to put my body through more of a war zone than it could handle, so I set my ambitions aside.
The doctor offered my dad palliative care so he could be comfortable the last days of his life, but my dad refused. He said if he was going down, he would go down fighting. The doctor said if my dad opted for the chemo, barring a small miracle, he wouldn't live past the first week. We stood by my dad's wishes and supported his decision and geared up for what we anticipated to be the most devastating week of our lives. My family made a little pow-wow in his hospital room and spent every waking hour with my dad, watching and waiting, and removing ourselves from the reality at hand.
But a funny thing happened. Each day went by, and my dad got a little bit stronger. Justin and I would often arrive at the hospital in the morning and my dad would be dragging his chemo IV around the cancer ward, "logging miles" in circles and recording his run log. He had counted the steps of the top floor and dubbed it around 200 meters. By the end of the week my dad got up to 4 hours of walking and said he felt better than before the chemo had started. He was still in a tremendous amount of pain, but he was fighting. The doctor was befuddled by my dad's attitude and perseverance and called his survival through the first round of chemo a "remarkable recovery."
My attitude was heavily influenced by witnessing my dad's strength and I thought to myself, what excuse do I have for not running this marathon? In fact, it would almost be pathetic to sit this one out.
We packed our bags and hit the road. I had so much uncertainty with this race, I was blind in many ways. Surprisingly, this calmed my nerves. I was under-trained, but I tried to block this from my reality. I just sat back and treated it like another long run.
When I showed up at the starting line I was pleasantly surprised to see my former teammate pacing. I jumped in with her group and cruised out of the starting chute. It was pretty sweet being with a group after training solo for so many months. The miles clicked by as I chatted with my teammate and the others surrounding us. We averaged about 7:15 per mile, which felt comfortable. My teammate warned me a few times of the hills in the second half but I really thought nothing of it since I have a trail running background.
We went through the half in about 1:34 and I felt like I might be able to turn it on in a few miles. Then we hit the first hill; I kept my same effort, not feeling horrible, but it definitely slapped me harder than it should have. After cresting the hill, Justin was waiting for me and hopped in to complete the remainder of the race at my side. He was also carrying water, which was life saving because at this point the sun was out in full force with little shade. I knew the day was projected around mid-80s and it was slowly killing my pace. Things went downhill from here and I remember looking at my watch around mile 17 thinking shit, why do I feel like this when there is still so much race left?! Preceded by Wow, Justin is running 100 miles next weekend. I feel horrible, I NEVER want to run 100 miles!
Around mile 21 I felt my knee explode into fiery pain. I almost stuttered to a walk when Justin glanced over his shoulder and he looked fearful by seeing the state I was in. He gently said to me "Keep moving Claire." That's when I knew I needed to get my game face on and gut it out to the finish. I kept thinking about how much pain my dad was in, and I would be a pansy to throw in the towel. I ignored my watch the rest of the way, tried to manage my nausea with water, and put my head down to grind through the last miles. The course was rolling and the hills made for agony. Justin kept giving me words of encouragement, but I was in my own little world of hell.
The picture above was one of the few shaded areas. After cresting this hill it was very exposed, as you can see from the picture below. My stomach was very queasy at this point and I couldn't take any nutrition. It was apparent once I crossed the finish line that I was very dehydrated. I should have taken more electrolytes, but it was an important lesson learned for the future.
With a quarter mile to go there was another woman on my heels so I stuck it out to the finish and was able to sprint in with about a 10 second lead on her. I was announced as 6th female, but I later looked at the results and was confused to see myself listed as 7th. That's when I noticed that the woman behind me crossed the timing belt 10 seconds after the gun went off at the start. Global standards go by gun time, which is important under my circumstance since we were duking it out to the finish. I was notified of this by one of my Seattle Running Club teammates who was considerate to contact the race director. We will see what comes of it, but for now I am happy to be done and resting before my crew duties commence at Western States 100 this weekend!
One of the best decisions I made for this race was wearing the Brooks Versatile Lite Tank. That tank weighs next to nothing and was incredibly breathable - perfect under hot conditions. I decided to wear the Brooks Launch which is a lightweight trainer. Wearing a distance racing flat would have been a mistake in my condition since I was not fully trained. Next time I will be geared up to go and ready to face the distance in full force.
Thanks to Seattle Running Club for the support, and to Brooks Running for supplying me with the necessities on race day. Endless thanks to my main support and husband, Justin, who makes the pain fun. I'll be back after the weekend to write about Western States!
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.