C.R.A.M.P.S. = Cheung Runs A Marathon Painfully & Slowly (or Positively Splitting)
This pretty much sums up the last eight miles of my marathon on Sunday.
Marathon day was beautiful - sunny, temperatures in the 50s, slight breeze. Pre-race logistics went smoothly -- bathroom, breakfast, drive, pumped, banana, bathroom, shed layers, national anthem. I found the 3:10 pace balloons in the Maroon corral right away and lined up near them. I was neither nervous nor cold. I felt ready.
Instead of the gun, there was a countdown. When we started running, the pace felt like my last few marathon pace runs. It felt smooth and easy. I was relieved. I was almost giddy to be running through Center City on this brilliant day, with the view of a sea of bobbing heads in front of me. I felt so alive and so lucky to be part of what feels like a giant parade. Chestnut Street was Philadelphia Marathon's version of First Avenue of the NYC Marathon. It was lined with spectators screaming their lungs out. Awesome!
As we made our way up 34th Street, I looked at my watch. It read 50 some minutes at around 7 miles. I was right on time. Noah met up and ran a little bit with me shortly after, and when he peeled off, his friends Elaine and Roger were there with an Occupy Philly Marathon sign to cheer me on. I waved to them.
I kept this steady stride through Fairmount Park and West River Drive, staying on the fringe of the pace group and enjoying the scenery. The half was over in 1:34. I performed a mental check-up. How are the legs? Good, a little tired, not tight. Lungs? Good, still breathing through nose. Stomach? Fine, maybe thirsty, but that's fixable.
I knew that the Kelly Drive portion would be the toughest. On my last long run, I actually rehearsed my self-talk in this portion of the race. Noah joined me just past the boat houses. I don't even remember what we talked about. All I remember was constantly wondering if I shouldn't have got ahead of the pace group and if I should slow down a little. Looking at the splits after the race, I might have upped the pace from 7:15 to 7:00 when I hit Kelly Drive. But I decided to keep going because I felt fine.
Then, around mile 17, I got a cramp breeze. Cramps are my crutch in every marathon and I had made a point in my training design to prevent them. So, I knew it won't be "just a breeze." I backed off a little and the pace group caught up to me. At mile 18.5, I got my first Charlie Horse. I ran with it, dragging the cramped up leg with the other until the cramp subsided. At the Wanderers water stop, I grabbed a cup of Gatorade from Bob. It was useless.
For the remainder of the race, I got cramps on the calves, shins, feet, and toes of both sides. Serial cramps. Increasing in duration, frequency, and intensity. They reminded me of labor pains. Some of the cramps caused me to limp. In between cramps, I tried to run my normal pace and stride. On Main Street, I started to lose the pace group. I looked for Melissa and Ezra at the turnaround but missed them. They saw me and took the picture below. (Check out the forced stride.)
I felt like I was dying publicly. My legs and lungs were still strong, I was ready to race tired, but the cramps took over completely. All I could do is continue to put one foot in front of the other.
I passed the Wanderers water stop at mile 21 on the way back. I waved hello to people and tried to look normal. Then, I looked for Noah, who would run with me most of the rest of the way. He was tremendous - making up stories to tell me, reminding me to breathe, helping me stay up during the most severe cramps.
I thought about what Betty told me the night before, "Expect something to go wrong. Then you don't have to worry about it." I thought about my mom, who in addition to being a supermom, is also a super grandmom. And Zonker, who I've missed every Tuesday night when I did my long run. I thought about what a privilege it was to be able to run a marathon. The people in my life let me get away with having a full-time job, an adorable son, and time to run.
Those 5 miles took a while, but eventually, I got within sight of the finish line. People were cheering wildly and I kept hearing my name (thank you, Kelly). But there was no sprint finish. I merely dragged my sorry legs across the timing mats. The time on the clock read 3:15:59. My net time was 3:15:32. The cramps cost me a PR, but you know what? It's done! I'm a marathon momster! Just like having a kid, it was hard and painful and totally worth it.