Throwback Thursday: That Time I Won a Marathon

After I wrote this post and this post, I started to wonder if my readers (both of you) would think that I’m a bit of an idiot. And while that may be true, that’s not the impression that I generally try  to give off, so I decided to change it up and write about something I did that wasn’t stupid. (And, full disclosure here, I wrote this story as an example of a personal narrative for my freshmen last year. It required minimal work to go from “freshman example” to “blog post,” and I’m tired tonight). Don’t worry, I plan to tell you another stupid story next week.

All the photos in this post are from the Estes Park Marathon’s website

Marathon training takes at least eighteen weeks — eighteen weeks of hard workouts, conscientious nutrition, and careful scheduling.The spring of 2012 was the fourth time I had gone through this training cycle, but this time was different. This time, I wasn’t gunning for a personal best or even an age group placement. This time, though I didn’t admit it to anyone but myself, I wanted to win. I had checked the results of 2011’s Estes Park Marathon, and the winning woman had run a 3:30 –seventeen minutes slower than my personal best. I knew that Estes ran ten to twenty minutes longer than the average marathon, so  I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could win.

Training for the June marathon started in February. I despise training in the early spring. I hate the wind, I hate the cold, and I really hate the short days that force me onto the treadmill for long training runs. All that treadmill time had an advantage, though: If I didn’t have access to a treadmill in flat Fort Morgan, preparing for the six-mile climb that starts the Estes Park Marathon, as well as all the smaller-but-steeper hills later in the race, would be close to impossible.

It looks friendlier than it is.

So I trained on the treadmill, and I trained through the bad weather. When I lined up on race day, butterflies fluttered in my stomach, but I hoped I was prepared for victory.

The starting line crowd at Estes was tiny, compared to most other marathons. Not wanting to be too cocky, I eased up near the front of the crowd but avoided toeing the line. As we anxiously waited for race to start, I made small talk with some of the runners around me, bounced up and down, and easily stretched a few times to stay loose.

I am not in this picture, but this is how the starting line looked.

Finally, the gun went off. Every race, no matter how small, starts in a bit of a cluster, but by the time I made it down the first tiny incline and started that six-mile climb, I had managed to find my groove and stick with it. A long string of runners stretched ahead of me, but I didn’t worry yet. I still had 26 miles to make my move. As I climbed that first big hill, I noticed a young woman on a bike ahead of me.  I thought little of it until right around mile three, when a spectator shouted, “You’re the first woman! First woman!”

Holy crap, I thought. That’s the escort cyclist! Not wanting to get over-confident, I smiled at the spectator and said, “There’s still a lot of race to run!”  — as much to remind myself of that as her. But I determined then that no woman would pass me over the next 23 miles.

As we topped that first hill, a hard, hot wind blasted me. I didn’t know it yet, but that wind – sometimes gusting up to 30 miles per hour – would be my constant companion for the rest of the race. I thanked my lucky stars that it was a headwind now, when six miles of downhill stretched ahead of me, so I wasn’t fighting wind and running uphill. The next few miles passed uneventfully. I held my pace steady, enjoyed the stunning scenery, and occasionally chatted with the escort cyclist, smiling to myself every mile when I heard her report on her radio: “Lead female, mile 8.”

Just after the halfway point, as I ran around blissfully flat Lake Estes, I spotted my parents and husband. Jordan brings a cowbell and a poster to every race, but my parents had never spectated before, so their signs surprised me. My dad’s, a bright-colored iteration of an old inside joke (“Use your head!”), made me smile. My mom’s  sign, a joke about porta-potties, made me roll my eyes, as my miniature bladder has long been the butt of family jokes.

As it turned  away from the lake, the course started another substantial climb. By this time, the sun was bearing down, and that hot wind still gusted. At every water stop, I gulped water and dumped a cup or two on my head. Unfortunately, my listening skills started failing around mile 15, and though the volunteer clearly shouted, “Gatorade!,” I grabbed her cup and dumped in on my head. Now exhausted, thirsty, and sticky– but at least slightly cooler– I chugged up the hill.

Oh, I've used this picture before? Right. Credit still goes to the Estes Park Trail Gazette.
Oh, I’ve used this picture before? Right. Credit still goes to the Estes Park Trail Gazette.

By the time I topped that last big hill, my legs constantly screamed at me, and the heat started making me lightheaded. I learned early in the race that I couldn’t stomach gels in the heat, and I’m sure the lack of fuel wasn’t helping anything. I glanced over my shoulder several times to see if another woman was bearing down on me, but the winding mountain roads made seeing far impossible.

I kept plugging away. I feared leading  for 20 miles and then ending up second – or lower.  Despite my determination, though, my pace continued to slow. The hills and heat were taking their toll, and the wind only blew harder. I continued drinking at every aid station, filling my bottle so I could drink between, and dumping water (definitely water) on my head. I started setting little goals for myself – just run to that tree, just back down to the lake.

Finally, I spotted Estes Park High School in the distance, and I knew that the finish line was near. As I approached the school, I wondered how the small incline I ran down at the start of the race had grown into a substantial mountain. As my aching legs stumbled up the incline, I glimpsed the lights of the football field, where the finish line waited.

“How….much….farther?” I gasped to a volunteer, my legs stumbling and begging to walk.

“Just around this corner, then half a lap!” she shouted.

As we turned onto the track, the escort cyclist pulled over. “You’re there! Just finish this lap! Great job!” she screamed. I spotted my family, screaming, jumping, cheering, and I dug deep for a kick, albeit a paltry one on wasted legs.  As I crossed the finish line, I heard the announcer shout, “Women’s marathon winner!” (I also heard him shout, “You gotta run across the mat so I know your name!”)

Entirely spent but grinning, I stumbled over to the grass and collapsed. My husband brought me some Gatorade (I drank it this time), and my family surrounded me, repeatedly congratulating me. I sat there in shock: I had just won a marathon.

In the weeks and months following the race, my husband loved to brag about my win, and I always blushed and blew it off. “It was a really, really small race,” I said, over and over. And it’s true – Estes Park is the smallest marathon I’ve ever run. But then, I decided to stop blowing it off. I trained hard. I fought hard. And I won.  Although Estes was small, and although I’ll never win a major marathon, I did win this one. And there’s nothing wrong with being proud of it.

What’s an accomplishment you’re proud of?

Do you ever have trouble owning your successes?

Would you run this race? You should. It’s amazing.

24 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: That Time I Won a Marathon”

  1. Holy crap! You are so inspiring! This was an amazing read. And for the record, I don’t think you’re an idiot. But this is coming from the girl who slammed a barbell into her nose yesterday while doing push presses.

  2. Um, wow. Remember how I was like “we should run together at SLoan’s Lake next time you are in town?” yeah, I take that back. A walk will be sufficient! Seriously impressive. I think placing third in my age group during my last SMALL marathon was a huge accomplishment for me, as I NEVER ever place in anything. And that was a SMALL race. Who places with a time way over 4 hours? It still makes me giggle, but it makes me feel amazing that I pushed through and came in third with no idea.

  3. Loved reading this! You’re incredible! Winning is winning, no matter how small. Congrats speedy 🙂

  4. You are an amazing woman. I love reading your blog and even thigh I never post you should know there is a silent fan out here who wants to begin a run a race but too chicken at this old age to try. But I have two bro-in-law older than me who have started. Maybe this year??

  5. Loved reading every bit of this! How exciting!! This sounds like something I would do secretly… haha.. But I probably would have a different ending. I couldn’t run sticky with gatorade! 😀 Not sure how you did that..
    Anyway, it was a great read. I bet your students enjoy having your charisma in the classroom.

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