LIFE Runners Marathon, Part 2: Race So As to … Finish

You can read Part 1 of my marathon story, “High Five!” here.

St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians (9:24) that all runners in a race run, but only one receives the prize, and we should run for the prize.

In running a marathon or a half-marathon, all finishers receive a medal, so perhaps the prize becomes “to finish.”  In fact, each person running a race will have a unique goal or “prize.”

For instance, a few of the LIFE Runners racing in St. Louis had ambitious goals, such as qualifying for the Boston Marathon. This is very difficult: you can see the time cut-offs for this year

When I had the chance to visit with some of my fellow runners at the pre-race banquet, I found a multitude of goals: having fun, going for a specific time; running “not just for myself” (a LIFE Runner from Massachusetts told me this goal); finishing my first half-marathon; finishing my first marathon; being a witness to life.

I think all the LIFE Runners were excited to be there as part of the largest charity group running the St. Louis marathon and half.  I know I was; this was my first time being part of a charity group for a run (I’m normally in the category of “run for myself”!), and it was terrific.

My personal overall goal (in addition to my LIFE Runners participation) for the marathon was not a time goal, but rather a positive experience.

The marathon I ran last year was difficult.  I loved the course; it was a trail marathon, not at all technical and very beautiful; and the race series was well-organized and small.  On purpose, I chose my first marathon with a super-long time limit, to ensure that I would finish (there was also a 50-mile race at the same time, so I had 12 hours to finish!)   But I struggled mightily the last nine miles, and that’s a long time to be struggling.

I was determined to have a more positive experience this time, and improve my time if I could.  I could write many paragraphs about this, but suffice to say that I trained much more this year, and tried to be careful about everything from nutrition to strength training.  As in the past, I’ve used a book called Marathoning for Mortals by John Bingham and Jenny Hatfield, but I was much more “by the book” this time, especially for my taper–the last several weeks of reduced mileage and training before the actual race.

But I also tried to do “more. “  For instance, last year I did only one 20-mile long run in training, and this year I ran that distance twice (the second time was actually 21 miles, as I had misjudged mileage that day).

Even with all my training, my times this year were a lot slower for pretty much every run, whether long or short, from the same time last year.  So before the marathon I was pretty sure a better time might not be achievable.  So the “better experience” was top of the list.

Race day was beautiful–nice and cool to start.  I walked over from our hotel, about a mile away from the start, with several runners who had run many Rock’n’Roll events, so I got a lot of good stories from them and encouragement for doing the full marathon.

After a bit of looking around, I found the LIFE Runners group for the pre-race prayer service.  LIFE Runner leader Rob Rysavy gave a reflection concluding with “No one runs alone today… You are all LIFE Runners.”   He encouraged us to pray for life and those affected by abortion while we ran.  I wish I had taken better notes, but the pre-race jitters were beginning to build.

Then we all prayed the LIFE Runners Creed.  It was very powerful to pray it out loud with such a large group.  If it’s hard to read it in this photo, read it on the LIFE Runners website.  It’s a powerful prayer, one I’m convinced was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Then I got a photo with a new friend, fellow LIFE Runner, Amy G, (who incidentally went on to run a very strong half-marathon).  At the banquet the night before, I kept thinking, “I know her!”  So after the program, I went up to introduce myself.  It turns out she and her (now) husband went to Bradley University in central IL  She had also babysat for some local families that I know a little, so we may have encountered each other during her Peoria days.

At the race start, there was a nice sunrise behind the Arch.

Both half and full marathon runners started at the same time, but in “waves,” (several hundred runners starting a minute apart) so I had plenty of time to wait and visit with many other runners.  I loved this couple (who were actually married 2 weeks before, and were running the half together that day):

The race officially started at 7 a.m., but they delayed the start to 7:05, and since I was in a later corral for my “wave” I didn’t start running until about 7:30.

True confession:  in the days before the race,  I had a moment or two of nervousness about wearing the LIFE Runners t-shirt; what if there might be abortion supporters who would say or do mean things as I ran?  I didn’t seriously think something violent would happen, but also didn’t relish the idea of having to argue with people.  In reality, and on race day, I had nothing but positive feedback from fellow runners, especially the many LIFE Runners that I encountered along the run, but so many others.

Once I started running, however, I had a growing concern about any post-abortion women who somehow felt judged by the t-shirt saying “Remember the Unborn” on the back.  Part of me thought as I ran, that I should have tacked on a note with “Healing After Abortion” and a web address to Project Rachel.

There were several women LIFE Runners I met Saturday night who have had abortions (and who wore their t-shirts in the race Sunday morning), and I wish I would have thought ahead to talk to them about it, and find out their thoughts.   As it was, I made a special effort to pray for any women (or men) running who had been involved with abortion in any way, and for healing for them.

The half-marathon portion of the race was great–there were more than 11,000 runners in that part, so I was always surrounded by people, and here and there a few LIFE Runners, and some other people who wanted to chat.  A Rock’n’Roll race has bands about every mile or two, and most were really great and helped you pick up the pace.  There were plenty of water, gatorade, and porta-potty stops.  All fantastic.  The course had more hills than I realized ahead of time, and I hate hills.  But the beauty of the course helped to make up for it.  Here we ran past the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Then I got the part where the half-marathoners went to their finish, and a smaller group continued on with the marathon.

I don’t know if you can see in this “fork in the road” photo, but the black sign says, “half stay straight” and the green sign says, “marathon turn left.”  You might be able to see that there are a lot more people on the right than the left.

This is where things got to feel a little lonesome.  There were about 11,000 runners who did the half, and only about 1,700 who did the full marathon.  There were still bands every mile or so, and even a “mile of music” with speakers blaring along the route towards Forest Park, but there were very few people around me.  As I passed a few of the bands, especially a really great one at about mile 23, I felt guilty being one of only two or three people passing by!  It was like a little private concert, and that felt strange.

Because I was in the back of the marathon pack, and the course overlapped, I had a chance to pass by (going the opposite direction) some of the faster marathoners in while they were around miles 20-24, and I was around mile 14-17.  That was fun, and I got a photo and high-fives (really) from fellow LIFE Runners.

Here is Bishop Paprocki (in the middle of this photo).  He finished in 4:22.  Amazing!

Before this, I had passed Pat Castle and Jeff Pauls (one of the LIFE Runners who qualified for Boston at this race), but didn’t get a photo.  It was great to see fellow LIFE Runners, but also a little daunting realizing how far I would have to go yet, and how much faster they were than me.  But I needed to keep in mind my goal.  I’m not going for a BQ (Boston qualifying finish); I’m going for a good experience.

Another LIFE Runner, probably an hour or more ahead of me, and looking great!

As I described above, during my first marathon, the final nine miles or so were difficult, both mentally and physically.  I kept saying to myself, “I still have nine more miles to go!” and then eight, and so on.  It was brutal.

This year, I was determined to think more positively.  With advice in advance from fellow runners, I repeated the following phrases to myself:  “trust your training,” “you only have single digits to go”  and “this is like a short training run” (which 9 miles, or anything shorter, is for a marathon).  Strangely, I did not tell myself “high five!” but I’m sure that would have worked as well.

The result?  It helped so much.  Even though this course was harder than last year’s marathon, and I was probably just as physically drained, the mental focus helped me feel better.

Now, here, as promised, is the part of the marathon story that relates directly to books, to prove definitively that books and authors are super important to me.

As I approached the finish, there was a man I had seen the day before at the expo.  At the expo, there was  a small stage at the end of the vendor section where Olympians and others would share encouraging words and talk about racing to pump up runners.

Our family got to hear the end of a talk by Olympian Frank Shorter, and I thought the person holding the microphone for him and kind of “emceeing” looked like John Bingham, co-author of Marathoning for Mortals, the training book I used.  I asked the man seated next to me if it were him, and he said,“No, Bingham spoke earlier.”  Now at this point all the members of our family (including me!) were super hungry, so I didn’t stick around to verify that, in fact, it wasn’t Bingham.  (Note to self for future big-city races: enjoy the expo and check out the speakers in advance).

But here was this man again about 100 yards before the finish. Keep in mind, there are only a few people running around the same time as me, so it’s not like I was holding up the race, I asked, “Are you John Bingham?” and of course he was!

So I had to stop then and there and get a photo.  Fortunately, my family was nearby, and my nine-year-old snapped some photos of us.  I was so excited to get to meet Bingham, and so I visited with him for a couple of minutes.  (Clearly, I was not interested in my time).  I was delighted to tell him how much his book helped me train for numerous half-marathons and for both marathons.  I told him how encouraging the book is to new and slower runners, and how inspiring and practical his book is.

Then I happily ran across the finish line.  Here I am with the family just after the race.

They had been keeping busy having breakfast,  going to the Arch and walking around downtown during my six-plus hours (!) of running.

I feel the need to report here that my husband Joseph is much cuter and far more photogenic than this photo attests, but perhaps it was his morning corralling kids in a big city. 😉  Again, high five! to Joseph and our kids for all their support and love this weekend.

My husband said later that it looks like I strolled a mile rather than ran 26.2, since I looked so fresh and happy.  That was sweet!  But I have to say that my smiles were all about relief, because I did work very hard. I was so happy to have finished and not to be running any more.

There is also something very cathartic about long-distance running that shows in the faces of those who finish, and I’ll write more about that next.