The mornings for my marathons usually go as planned, but the nerves are always unpredictable the night before. Sometimes it’s an odd dream: I’ve dreamt anywhere from running the marathon already or missing it completely. It’s always a restless night. However, since my partner-in-crime has been so great I feel confident in our “double alarm and setting the GPS the night before” routine.
The drive from York to Kennebunkport was dark. We anticipated 45 minutes would get us there on time since there were less than 20 of us to check in before cut-off and prep for marathon start at 7 am. At first, the back roads had us questioning the location of the race but when we saw the road signs and got ushered into the parking lot by the race director, I relaxed. Now, would the sunrise occur by 7 am?
Jack, the race director, was super friendly and assured us that the route was marked well. He reminded us that we could have drop bags if we wanted. From his email a few days prior, I had read that we’d be carrying our own nutrition if we needed. I guess I’d be running with my Camelbak. That morning I was indecisive about whether or not I should carry it. In the end, I’m happy that I had. After all, I’d be using it for my 50-miler anyway.
We took off on time running on a gravel path to the road and into the woods a mile out. Initially, I thought most of us were going much too fast but I rest-assured realizing that I was maintaining effort for what I’d need to do for the 26 miles. It wasn’t until 2 miles in that I grew worried. My legs were on fire! I had experienced that a few days ago on my shakeout run. What was going on? Is my running career over—I seriously don’t have a tendency to over exaggerate.
“Ok, these compression socks are coming off!” I proclaimed to no one around me. I couldn’t see the runners ahead of the pack anymore. I had needed them so I didn’t get lost so I hoped that I would have been able to find all the markers on my own. A woman came up and asked whether I was ok. I assured her that I was and continued to get the other sock off. After she went on, another guy passed me who didn’t seem as friendly. I told him “Great Work,” as he grunted.
As soon as the sock were off, I started jogging again. My legs felt a bit better but I kept tuning into them to decide whether I should end the race. I took a Gu just in case my body was reacting to lack of fuel. I hadn’t raced long in a while and that bagel with peanut butter and jelly that I had at 4 am probably wasn’t enough? I don’t know. They felt much better. Yay, a stomach of steel! I took my Camelbak off and placed the socks in a pocket. I’d never ran without socks before, I really hope my feet were going to be recognizable at the end of this.
I turned my Facebook live on for a bit realizing that my phone had dialed 911 twice. Oof and they had called me back. Uhhhh, does the universe think I’ll need an emergency? I debated whether I should text Mike but knew his race would start soon (half marathoners started 1.5 hours later) and I actually didn’t want to worry him. My Facebook Live was shortlived because I didn’t get a signal.
It took me awhile but I finally started seeing signs of life at mile 5 after giving up on the idea that I would run into anyone. There had been no one gaining ground on me so I imagined that I’d have to pay very close attention to the direction arrows. I saw a woman, she was the one who had asked whether I was ok.
“I thought I wouldn’t catch up to anyone,” I proclaimed. We started talking. We spoke for the duration. She was a local and her name was Michelle. She was 52 and she told me about her husband and two daughters. Her job was pretty cool also. It was a manufacturing job that produced waterproof walls for buildings. She had an Ironman tattoo that I asked her about. She explained that she signed up for one without even knowing how to swim initially. She had done 100 mile runs as well. I was excited to mention that one of the ultra runners I met when I first started was called Michelle who also did 100 miles+. We agreed on how supportive the ultra community can be. I felt happy that she had that assessment.
As we ran I was happy that we kept my goal of 5 miles per hour. We somehow passed a couple along the way who had been running together. I was sure that they would have completed the entire first lap already. It wasn’t long before I realized that the roots that were protruding from the ground were going to be an issue. It reminded me of the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K that I ran as my 2nd ultramarathon.
That could’ve been why this couple stopped. If this was going to influence my goal race, I would have reassessed my run also. On our way to the 2nd lap (around mile 9), I almost face-planted when I got distracted. We ran into some runners who were doing the half marathon so they got a little startled and asked me if I was ok. I had fallen on my hands and scratched my knee. Ugh! I really hope I didn’t break anything. Now I had discomfort from the lack of socks, pulses from my knee—it’s like this race wasn’t meant to happen. I didn’t want a DNF (did not finish). I figured I’d assess everything, I still had a 6.5-hour cut-off if anything. As we continued on, I twisted my ankle for the 3rd time. I yelped and for the last time, I focused on the path completely. No more zoned out runner’s high!
It wasn’t long before I realized that Michelle and I ran much differently. I don’t mingle at stops so at the aid station I realized I had to beckon her to keep going. She was also super careful with the roots. I decided to follow her the entire time to set the pace so I noticed the close calls despite her having run the course before. I didn’t want to leave her at all but after we checked in at the 2nd lap together, somewhere around mile 15 it started to rain. I felt a little concerned that I wouldn’t keep running maintaining the effort of training I had set for myself. She assured me I could leave her if necessary. I led for awhile jogging on the flats, speed-walking on the uphills and being careful along the wooden bridges and large rocks just in case they were slippery from the torrential pours. I kept talking and after I heard no response, I turned around and saw no one. I lost her! I decided to just keep going, I was cutting it close to my 5 miles for that hour. The course wasn’t going to get any easier with me slowing down.
In the end, you have to run your own race I assured myself. I started talking.
While I don’t get the “wall” that marathoners have any more, I do get spouts where I need pep. “Thank you trees for welcoming us, runners. Dear acorns, please don’t drop on my head. I’ll be long gone after a few more miles and I appreciate witnessing your beauty.” The acorns had been pelting throughout the morning and it sounded like large boulders plummeting on the ground while I ran. I didn’t want them to hit me in the head. I knew it would hurt.
My mind wandered more as I ran and I finalized an idea for a children’s book I’m writing. Great! Productivity at its best! I didn’t even realize the rain started subsiding.
At the final aid station, I came upon a mother and daughter team (wasn’t sure if they were related) who were leading way ahead of the pack. Michelle and I had seen them on the route where they double backed and were probably over a mile ahead of us so I was curious about why they had still been there.
“Hi ladies!” I greeted and asked if everything was ok. The younger woman seemed like she was struggling a bit. It was probably her first marathon (I learned later that she was 19! She did great and placed 3rd female!) So I decided everything was ok and her mother, I presumed, was just helping her through. They both looked strong.
The aid station was just off the paved road that I would be running on the very last time. I decided to just get it over with. “I’m Kenyan today!” I proclaimed to no one as cars passed me the opposite direction. I’m in Maine, I saw less than 10 black people and I’m running with a Camelbak and a race number pinned to my shorts. Yep, visiting Kenyan. I totally observed that I was the only person of color during the race which I don’t mind. When I started doing this running stuff it was because I realized how much representation would be required. Then, I fell in love with it. I’m one of the few Caribbean-born runners who do ultramarathons. Fine by me, I hope we’ll have other generations who will continue.
Halfway through the stretch of paved road, I realized the older woman was gaining on me. WHOA! She fast! I was also shocked because now mentally I realized what was going on. The younger woman was no longer with her.
How many people were in this race? Less than 20.
How many females? 7.
How many were still ahead? Well, we passed 1 who was ahead (the couple), and she and the younger woman was the only other women ahead of us at the time. SHIT! She’s racing me! Oh well, lady, I’m doing my own race and I’m on target. 5mph, gun it if you need to. She passed me when I was off the gravel and back on the trail paths. I felt elated knowing that I would be 1st or 2nd female. I know weeks before that the results had seemed slower than regular marathons I had done and I knew why now. Mike had convinced me that the race course was a bridle path. It was advertised that way. I couldn’t have even run my slowest marathon time on there. I knew weeks before that the results had seemed slower than regular marathons I had done and I knew why now. The course wasn’t easy so a strong person unfamiliar with the route getting through it in 6 hours is pretty amazing.
“This race is longer than 26 miles,” she said a bit breathless. I assume she was trying to be pleasant.
“No, it seems accurate only less than 2 miles to go!” I responded cheerfully. I walked now that I was back on trails. I have nothing to prove and I was hitting my target. It also seemed like I would actually be under the time I allowed for an ETA 5 hours 10 minutes. When I felt up for running again, I kept following the woman whose name I learned later was Rodica Ursu. I quickly speculated that she probably grew up racing. There’s something about runners who grew up doing competitive running that I notice almost immediately these days. Somehow I kept gaining on her when I assumed she would have taken off. Then I saw my boyfriend in the distance at the finish where we’d loop once more. He called out to ask how I felt. I told him quickly that I was running with no socks and my feet felt a bit raw and the soles felt uneven from the moisture but only less than 1.5 miles to go. I told him that I felt great otherwise. Wow, I’m really feeling great and it’s almost a marathon distance! I didn’t see Rodica again. She had kept pushing.
I came across the final bridge and the volunteer pointed toward where we had checked in for the 2nd lap. I was happy to see Arthur there. He had given me the heads up in the beginning of the race. He told me that the trails had lots of roots and rolling terrain. I was happy that he had because I mentally prepared for it. He said, “You’re almost there!”
I said, “Wow this is the first time that I haven’t minded someone saying that!”
He was right, I saw the finish ahead of me. I pushed a bit to take me to the end. Rodica must have certainly made it. I couldn’t wait to share that story of being raced at my comfortable pace to Mike.
He pointed me to the end where they were printing the results!
7th overall and 2nd female—5:01:44. Oh whoa, would’ve been nice to be sub 5. Haha, I’m such a perfectionist. I was happy! Stories to tell my children.
I went up to get warm and grab a couple beers. The first beer is always the best-tasting! I couldn’t convince Mike to have any because he started showing signs of getting sick. We still don’t know what causes this and I really hope we figure it out soon. He gets sick within an hour or 2 of running longer than half marathons. He did so well too! He was 6th overall and 3rd in his age group. He used this run as a training run and since he never risks running on trails like that I was super impressed with his results.
I stood outside to watch other runners finish the race. I waved at Michelle! She was finishing up! She came in 5 hours 18. Not long after she had initially predicted for herself. She was such a pleasant woman and I thanked her so much for keeping me company. I’m forever going to remember her cheerfulness. She placed in her age group during the award ceremony.
Thanks so much Jack for a race well organized. I hope to revisit this series again soon.