Eight days ago, I was climbing the final hill into Füssen.
It was so quiet, I could hear nothing but my footsteps and my own raspy breathing. I wondered how long I had been running in need of my inhaler. On the steep cobblestone, I slowed to a walk and swung my pack around so I could grab the inhaler. Two quick puffs, and I was packed up and running the final 200 meters.
It was at that same spot a year prior, an angel in guise of an old man on a bicycle called to me, “Nur Zwei Hundert Meters!”
Only 200 meters?
By that point on my first marathon, the pain in my knee was so excruciating, I trudged along, barely getting my feet off the ground until the end of the marathon, where upon finishing, I leaned on the shoulder of my oldest child because I couldn’t really walk. I finished my first marathon, but it wasn’t exactly glorious.
This year was entirely different.
To begin with the end…
I felt a surge of adrenaline as I crested the hill. Before I knew it, I was running through the tunnel, which isn’t a tunnel, but high rocky cliffs that swallow up the road and lead to the final decent into Füssen—and to the finish line. I felt so good, so strong in contrast with the year prior, I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.
A smile spread over my face. And when I smiled, the bystanders smiled too—it was contagious. Then I started “woo-hooing” and pumping my fist and crying out “Yes!”
I was bursting. I could feel the goodwill of the people watching, and when I saw my kids at the bottom of the hill, waiting to bring me to the finish, I ran with an energy and emotion I can hardly describe.
Joy is uncontainable when it is layered over recent sorrow.
Running through my head…
I thought about a lot of things as I ran this year. And one of those things was the loss of my aunt to cancer. Last year, I wrote her a long, rambling email telling her about my first marathon. This year, all I could do was take comfort that she was with God, and that maybe He would give her a glimpse of one of the little victories in my life.
I miss her at the strangest times. And I will never watch the end of Mary Poppins again without sobbing. When Jane and Michael beg her to stay, but she gently tells them “spit-spot,” because her job was accomplished; or when she raises her umbrella and floats up into the clouds, away from the mortals, I have to find a place where I can cry without the kids hearing.
If God did pull back the veil on the 24th, so Aunt Kathy could watch the race, I’m sure she was smiling—knowing that while her job was done, her influence was still felt here on earth.
The beginning in the middle…
It was in the upper 40s and raining at 6:00 am when Mike dropped me off at the event tent. A few runners were jogging around the parking lot, the side streets, and through the downtown. Even the bright colors of the jerseys couldn’t overpower the immense grayness outside. My thoughts were completely focused on the first portion of the marathon, which I KNEW was going to be a pain.
I was filled with dread, which was not remedied by the weather.
The first seven miles or so of the marathon consists of running around a very flat, dull lake and through some pasture. You make a loop around the lake, so at the very beginning of the loop, you can see where you end up an hour later, which makes it seem like you’re making all this effort for nothing—literally going nowhere.
Now, if I’d had a better attitude, I could have breezed through the initial part. But in my mind, I didn’t LIKE starting off in the cold rain with runners at each elbow. I didn’t LIKE seeing the end of the trail right at the beginning. And BLAST IT! My Garmin went completely BLANK at mile three–how could I keep track of the miles when everything is posted in KILOMETERS? Was I supposed to do MATH now? I didn’t even have my watch to stare at, and the lake was SO BORING!
I always tell the kids “Boring is in your mind. It means you aren’t using your imagination.”
No matter how much I scolded myself for being unimaginative, I STILL thought the lake was boring.
The path consisted of small wet rocks punctuated with puddles you had to jump over. Fortunately this year, there weren’t any places where you were up to your ankles in lake water. Still, all I could think about was getting through it so the ‘fun’ could begin.
If I could have broken through the dullness in my mind, I am convinced I would have made better time. In my first marathon, the excitement of it carried me through the first half in two hours. When I reached the mid-way point this year, I was bummed to discover I was at 2:06. My mind had cost me six entire minutes.
I had some catching up to do.
The middle at the end…
Once I was through the Slough of Despond, my running really took off. I was relaxed, not in any pain at all, and my muscles didn’t tighten up (as they had during some of my training runs). I felt so good, I could hardly believe it.
Soon, I was picking off runners one by one. Sure, they were mostly old guys. And one guy I felt badly for. I would pass him, and he would pass me at the water stations (where I walked through). We went like this until the last 5 miles, when I zipped by him, and left him breathing hard along the River Lech. I wanted to call to him “Auf Gehts!” or “You can do it!” but I didn’t—I regret it, and hope I get another chance.
What is the point of running if I don’t encourage other people along the way?
My biggest ‘victory’ happened along one of the lakes (not the ‘boring’ lake…but the one we didn’t have to circumnavigate). I had just downed my first Mountain Dew (which I had sent ahead) and was running along when I caught up to a guy with dark curly hair.
I followed for a while, reading the back of his shirt—Münchener Fussballer, something or other. After following him for a little while, he began to slow down. Shoulder to shoulder with him, he looked over, smiled and said something. I’m not exactly sure what it was because it’s hard for me to translate while running (and after 15 miles or so, my thinking isn’t quite sharp), but I think he was complaining about the drizzle, which I no longer noticed because I was drenched with sweat anyway.
I smiled and then ran ahead of him. He tried keeping up for a while, which made me go faster, until soon, I was around the next bend. I didn’t see him again during the race.
I’ve said this before, but marathoning is a strange business. A 38 year-old housewife who only began running 3 years ago can outrun a 20 something Fussballer out of München, and a 60 something lady with jello triceps can leave us both in the dust.
It is an incredible sport. You don’t have to be agile, or particularly fast, but you MUST have physical and mental endurance, which is what levels the playing field for amateurs.
Yes, I love it. And I want to be the 60 or 80 or 99 year-old lady (with slightly firmer triceps) breezing by the young kids someday.
Last year I was sucking down goo packs every 30 minutes, which I discovered actually made my knee condition worse. The sodium makes me swell up like a balloon, and so this year, I wanted to do things a little more ‘naturally.’ (Go ahead and laugh about the Mt. Dew…I said ‘a little’ more naturally, and admittedly, Mt. Dew is NOT a natural substance).
I had made some gluten free energy brownies, but during the marathon, I felt like I couldn’t eat anything other than apple slices or bananas—and that was okay.
The biggest breakthrough is thanks to my brother and the Tarahumara runners depicted in the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall.
My brother is a big proponent of the benefits of chia, and the Tarahumara…well…you have to read the book.
Make fun if you will and sing that horrible As-Seen-On-TV jingle, but ch-ch-ch-chia is absolutely the best if you can’t have the goo.
I added a heaping tablespoon of ground chia with a quarter cup (or less) of multi-fit juice, put it in a snack-pack ziplock baggie, and voila! I had my own goo pack.
While chia may not give you the instant high of the goo packs (hence the Dew), it does give you energy and helps your endurance. I brought 5 chia packs with me for the marathon and only used 4 (mainly because I couldn’t find the other one, as it had hidden itself in the bottom of the backpack).
Once again, I brought along my Nathan Hydration pack. I can’t say enough good things about it. This year, I was wise and only filled it about halfway because the Konigschlosser Romantik Marathon does a great job of keeping you fed and hydrated. Last year I finished with nearly a full water pack.
I mainly carried the hydration pack so I could keep my inhaler and chia goo in it. I hate having a marathon ‘belt’ or fanny pack, because they tend to flop around. For me, the backpack is much better. The Nathan is great because it is made of a soft mesh fabric and is very lightweight compared to the camelbak. This year it came in handy because I could stuff my rain jacket in it when I got too hot, as I was sopping wet from the inside out, so the jacket became slightly ridiculous.
I know I said I wanted to do things more naturally this year, and yet I imbibed cans of Mountain Dew along the trail. At first, I felt like I was putting poison into my body (as I detest high fructose corn syrup). But during the marathon, the jolt of caffeine and even the sickeningly sweet taste was good for instant refreshment. Sports drinks just aren’t good for my system, so some old-fashioned, American motivation in a can was helpful.
I’ll experiment and see what alternatives are out there, but it worked this time. And for the record—Mountain Dew and chia is disgusting (I tried).
The biggest lesson…attitude is everything.
When my mind thinks I am trudging along, then my time suffers. When I pretend I’m flying, my feet lift off the ground.
The people who ran the best (aside from the elite athletes) were the people in pairs or groups. While running, at its core, is a solitary sport, it seems like having a team makes it more enjoyable. Hopefully I will have the chance to run with friends more in the future!
Run with style…
‘Minimalist’ or ‘barefoot’ or ‘chi’ running has been on my mind a lot. During the race, I actually did run with a forefoot style, and it is a much more economical—you can go faster while conserving energy. I’m determined to really give this new style a go and see if it makes a difference in my running and how I feel afterwards. My new trainers are already in the mail.
During this marathon, I wore straps under my knees to keep my kneecaps aligned. Last year, I couldn’t go three miles without my knees hurting. This year, I can go longer without them, but I wasn’t quite ready to go without the bands for the race. 26.2 miles is a long way.
Someday, my goal is to be able to run without the bands. It will require a lot of hard work, but that’s okay. Worthy goals often take a long time to reach.
“Number Funf, Ein und Neunzig…Keri Wellman…die Mama!”
That’s how I was announced, crossing the finish line, hand in hand with my kids.
That’s me. I’m the mama—the Marathon Mama—and I am SO happy both things can joyfully coexist.
I truly believe that running makes me a better Mama.
With a medal dangling from my neck, I changed my clothes while Mike ordered a steak and a carafe of red wine for me. I kept my medal on over my civilian duds, because I couldn’t quite part with it just yet. Not only were Mike & the kids there to celebrate with me, but some friends had come down to join us. The best compliment was when my friend Carolin said, “You don’t look like you just ran a marathon!”
Last year, I was hobbling to the massage table. This year, I was dining on steak. I walked stiffly around town afterwards, but overall, I felt incredible.
As we strolled through town, I would occasionally glimpse another person with a medal, and whenever we made eye contact, we exchanged a nod and a smile. There are feelings & emotions & words that are so intertwined, they can’t be pulled apart and articulated.
I think only the other people with medals dangling from their necks could really rekindle and recall that feeling inside. Words scarcely do it justice: It is pride and humility and joy and pain and love and dread all rolled up into one package.
My two goals had been met in this second marathon: #1 to run faster and #2 to have no injuries. Going into this marathon, I was ten pounds lighter, had MUCH better muscle tone, and had done 95 percent of my training on the actual road (as opposed to the treadmill, which is no real substitute).
After the marathon and the eating binge, we drove back to our hotel in Austria, where I spent over an hour in the hotel whirlpool. Later, after putting the kids to bed, Mike & I went out for yet another steak dinner, and we clinked our glasses of the local Blaue Zwiegelt and talked about marathons and kids and life at a candlelit table as the sun set behind the Tirolean Alps (one of my favorite places in the world).
When we got home to Franconia the next day, I didn’t have to walk down the stairs backwards (because of trashed quads) like I did last year; and I actually went running a few days after the race. I’ve been running this week, and I want to keep up with it, so I don’t lose any progress I’ve made.
I have many aspirations, and while not all of them have to do with running, running has everything to do with them.
It is only because of marathon running and the strength and imagination God gives me that I have the desire to dream big and the determination to see things through.
God willing, I’ll overtake these dreams along the trail, and pluck them off one by one, until I reach that final finish line, where I will finally hear my aunt’s voice again and feel her arms around me.
But for now, I’m only 38.
There are many races ahead of me.