My Secret Marathon

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I ran a marathon on Sunday.

Noah, Libby & I at the starting line

This wouldn’t be too interesting, except for the fact that I had just run a marathon eight weeks ago, and this time around, I kept it a secret.

When I finished the Königsschlösser Romantik Marathon in July, with my knees and foot hurting and at a disappointing 4:40 finish, I knew I made a LOT of mistakes.

Because I already had months of training behind me, why not run a second marathon this year?

The doctor who told me to cut back my mileage might’ve given me a few reasons not to run again, but because it was a ‘secret’ marathon, I didn’t feel obligated to divulge my diabolical plot.

I signed up for the Fränkisches Seenland Marathon a few days after getting home from Füssen.

Not only did I want to correct the mistakes I had made at Füssen, but I also wanted to run a marathon for the pure joy of it.

Joy and marathons are NOT paradoxical ideals.

In my view, if I didn’t broadcast the marathon, then I would avoid the trap of pride (which constantly plagues me) and it would allow me to run without any kind of pressure or expectations (which are always self-imposed but made stronger when I think people are watching).

How’d it go?

I ended up not only with a Personal Record on a course that blatantly states you should not expect a PR (because of some elevation), but  I also came away with the best marathon experience thus far.

Why?

The people were insanely friendly. Maybe it was the fine weather (sunny and temps ranging from a brisk 50 in the am to low 70s by noon) or maybe because this was a small, family-oriented marathon, but whatever the reasons, everywhere I went, I was met with jovial attitudes and kindness.

One example of this was the pacemaker. I had not planned on following a pacemaker, but I happened to fall in with her pack after about the first three miles. At first, all I could see of her was two french braids bobbing between a group of brightly-colored t-shirts, but as more of the pack fell away, I moved up a little. Her pace (4:30) felt comfortable, so I kept with her.

I didn’t say much at first because my German is terrible–especially when running. Sadly, at the halfway point I lost sight of the pacemaker and her little group after my detour to the bathroom.

But in my mind, it was okay, because (as I reminded myself) this race was for fun–not for numbers.

As I crossed the dam on the far side of the lake, I became lost in the crowd of half-marathoners, who had just caught up to us, and I felt that I would never see the self-proclaimed Pippi Langstrumpf pacemaker again (she DID tell me that is what the guys call her).

So, I relaxed, focused on my form, enjoyed the sight of the sailboats on the lake, and before we reached the end of the dam, I suddenly came upon the 4:30 group.

Normally the sight of a pacemaker makes me feel pressured, but this time it made me happy–like seeing old friends in a crowd of strangers.

At the 23 kilometer water station, one of the old German guys announced (for all to hear) that I should win the prize for the schönste hübsche Kleidung,(or something like that–I’m sure I just got that wrong!) But it did made me laugh (thank you, Athleta…you should give me a commission or at least some of your beautiful sportswear for free!)

After that, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with the pacemaker, and I began to speak in my mangled German. But she was so gracious and friendly, I found that I could understand most of what she said and could reply decently, as long as she didn’t ask me questions that required in-depth answers.

Around km 25, people started dropping back. The pacemaker’s husband had caught up to us at this point, and he would go back with those who had fallen behind to run with them, and to make sure they were doing okay. I had never seen such genuine concern for other runners, and I knew at that point, that as long as I stayed with her, she would get me through the marathon.

I ran well, and I ran strong, thankfully without any knee pain (though I brought BOTH knee braces) and with no foot pain (after the first mile). It was miraculous.

I did not feel the marathon really began until we emerged from the woods around km 34, and the sun shone fully on us.

I felt like I was starting to wear down. All I could think about was stopping at km 36 to refuel. But at km 36, the pacemaker kept going, while I poured more coconut water into my handheld hydration pack as fast as I could, and then I ran to catch up with her. I knew that if I left her, I would not finish well.

The hotter the sun got, the harder it was for me. I wanted to stop and call the kids at km 40, but there was no stopping. As long as we stayed at that pace, she assured me, we would finish in a perfect 4:30.

Now you are going to remind me of my point that this marathon was not about the numbers, which is true. But the fact of the matter was that I knew the last portion of the marathon was going to be hard, no matter how fast or slow I went, and I felt that because I wasn’t in any pain, my ‘idea’ of stopping was simply in my mind–that physically I COULD see this through as long as I stuck to the pacemaker.

When the wind kicked up, she and her husband ran in front of me, and he said he was my ‘wind stopper.’ Then the pacemaker warned me that there was one last hill before the long descent to the finish.

That hill nearly killed me. I slowed, and nearly stopped to walk. But the pacemaker and her husband were ascending without missing a beat, while calling to me “You can do it, Keri!” “Come with us!” and (to my chagrin) “Auf Geht’s!”

Somehow, I dug in and gave every ounce that I had for that last hill.

Soon, I had made it to the top, and was flying downhill with the pacemaker.

Somewhere along the way, I also managed to hit ‘send’ on the pre-typed text message, to alert my husband and kids. Of course, technology struck again, and while my text message DID get through, my iPod began to play Mozart for everyone to enjoy during the last mile.

It was absolutely glorious, running through the cool woods, with pines soaring overhead, knowing that soon I would be at the finish line, in the arms of my family.

I finished at 4:30–perfect timing, and my best marathon thus far, in more ways than just the numbers.

The kids and I at the finish, with the pacemaker on the left

But wait, it gets better!

As I was receiving my medal, I heard the pacemaker’s voice over the loudspeaker, and I heard “Keri Wellman, from Alaska.” (Yes, I still consider Alaska my ‘home’ state).

Before I knew what was happening, this extremely jovial guy stuck a microphone in my face. After hours of thinking and speaking in German, and that little thing called ‘running a marathon,’ my brain had turned to mush, and I had no idea what he was saying.

My disastrous yet humorous interview

I told everyone in the crowd, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand you” or something like that, and then I began to laugh. Fortunately, he was laughing too, and asked me a couple questions. And it was such a blur, I can’t remember if we were speaking English or German or that lovely brand of “Germlisch” I so often slip into.

My husband said that even after I had walked away, the guy was talking about “Keri Wellman, aus Alaska.” Fortunately my poor German skills keep me humble.

What did I learn?

Marathons can be fun, and addictive. I want to run more of them, and I really want to run mountain marathons. Being in nature gives me a sense of peacefulness that I simply cannot put into words.

I learned that a marathon truly is a mental challenge. The race is made or broken, depending on your state of mind. My marathon didn’t begin until km 34, and it was only because of the fabulous pacemaker that I kept going.

I also learned that while running is a solo event (for the most part) it is all about people. From the spectators to the volunteers at the water stand, to the pacemakers and the other runners, for me, it is about being a good and decent person, regardless of how fast or slow I am. For me, the goal of a marathon should not be about myself, but about how I can encourage others along the way.

My Pippi Laungstrumpf pacemaker was a great example of this.

When asked (over the loudspeaker) if I would run this marathon again, my answer was an immediate ‘Ja!’ And when asked if I could describe the marathon, I said it was awesome, because it really was, and I nearly cried.

I hope that someday I will be at such a great level of fitness that I could be a pacemaker and encourage others in their quests to achieve their goals, like my Pippi Langstrumpf, who, in her mid-forties, still has braids to go with her incredible stamina.

What’s next?

It’s obvious to me that I need a running buddy–someone who can challenge me, but who also loves running in the outdoors, regardless of speed.

Mountain marathons are also in my brain, but you’ll have to wait and see about that one.

I may or may not let you know;)

Happy running, friends!

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