Pittsburgh Part 3 of 3: Finishing is Forever

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Pain is temporary, Finishing is forever.”

Maybe it was the delirium (I really felt like I was out of body at times), but after Mt. Washington, things started to get very emotional for me. I remember thinking, as Amy and I picked up the pace on even terrain again, there was no way I should be this tired only half way through a marathon. What was wrong with me? I also couldn’t help thinking that I was hungry. Really hungry. If I had food, I knew I would start to feel better. I needed more than GU. My mind began to wonder. My mom had originally planned to be at the halfway point with a banana – a traditional she started on my first 18 mile run which I ran successfully alone. My mom found me on the trails at Mile 15 that day and delivered a banana to me. It was pre-peeled, completely giant and the best banana I ever ate in my life. It caused no stomach issues so I was hooked!

My husband was supposed to meet me halfway to give me a banana (my dad made sure he had like 12, just in case), but I didn’t know exactly where I would find him. I couldn’t help thinking maybe I would see my Mom instead. Maybe she would tell me how she just had to go away for a little while, but she was back just in time because she wouldn’t miss the banana exchange for the world. Where were you, Michael?

Then, out of nowhere, I saw him on the course. He had the camera out and was snapping photos like a madman. He was smiling and said, “I have your banana! I have it!” Amy said make sure I was running for the camera. I think I was – I would run anywhere for a banana at that point. I ate one and Michael said, “That’s it?” and looked at the remaining 11. I think I nodded and laughed. Amy declined a banana. I told him I was tired and the hill sucked. He said, “I know, I just walked up it looking for you.” Why?! I thought. He videotaped us for a minute, asked me some questions about how I was feeling, gave me some water and watched us until we turned the bend into what I’m sure was another hill. At least Mt. Washington was over.

As we came down the hill, I saw we were nearing the next [unofficial] relay point. My eyes scanned the area with excitement – who was next?! I was not disappointed when I saw it was LeDawn. 

The Exchange between Amy, LeDawn and Me.

She was serious, ready to run. The hand-off of Diane’s bib went smoothly. I remember LeDawn asking how I was doing; Amy said something I couldn’t hear. “Oh God,” I thought, “I must be bad.” LeDawn nodded and assumed the position by my side. She asked me how I was doing; I don’t remember what I said. I heard Amy yell, “Do not let her quit. Don’t let her stop.” Yes, don’t. It was hurting.   

And we were off – slowly. I was mostly walking by now. I was trying to keep it quick, to maintain some sort of a decent pace, but my quads were screaming. My foot hurt – the heel, which was something I had never felt before. Mostly, though, my quads were done. They protested for the remainder of the race. I tried to ignore their screaming. It didn’t work.

I didn’t talk very much at first on my leg with LeDawn. She told me about scheming for Operation Pittsburgh and about the ones who couldn’t be there, but were cheering me on from home. She told me she hadn’t slept all night. On top of that, all of these women just finished the Cap City Half Marathon – I didn’t know LeDawn would be with me for the next six miles. She had to be hurting too.

I don’t remember when it happened exactly, but I know I was jogging when I suddenly slowed to a walk (again) and burst into tears. LeDawn looked back at me in horror and said, “What’s wrong?! What happened?!” I wailed, “I miss her so much!!” LeDawn came to my side and hugged me. I think she was crying too and she said, “I know. We all do.” I cried for the next mile or two, it felt like. I couldn’t help thinking how my mom was supposed to be there. Supposed to be in Pittsburgh to watch me run – supposed to be there to cheer my across the Finish Line of what was to be the biggest accomplishment of my life. She never doubted I cold do it. And either did LeDawn. She told me it was okay to let it all out, don’t try to keep it inside. The pain was real and I didn’t have to suffer alone. I told her I know, that’s why I kept whining about my quads. She said, “I was talking about the grief.” It wasn’t until later that I realized what she meant. It wasn’t until later that I realized that was the whole point – everyone was there in Pittsburgh because of me. Because I in fact was not alone.

My mind drifted back and forth between thinking about my mother and worrying about whether or not I would finish the race before the course closed. I was off pace, I knew it and I was running out of what little steam I had left. Don’t. Stop. Miss. Mom. Why? Why are you doing this? Why? Did she have to go? Why? Finish? Why? Does it matter? Now? You have to finish. You don’t have to finish. She would understand. LeDawn understands. Dad does too. You don’t. Faster. Faster. Slow down. That hurts too much. You’re going to loose. Who thought you would win? Mom did. LeDawn does. Keep running. You’re a failure. Run faster.

Eventually, the worry about finishing in time invaded my mind and became first and foremost in my thoughts. It consumed me. I kept asking LeDawn if I was going to finish. She recounts it well, “I loved answering her doubts on my 6 mile trek with her. YES you will finish. YES you can do this. YES you are a MARATHON-GIRL. This is your race – your day! These are things she tells US every week when she coaches our runs together. It was our turn to tell her!” I tried my hardest to believe her. My mom would have. 

I kept moving. I never stopped. It was Mile 20-something when my quads pushed their way into the front of my head. I started asking LeDawn if she thought I had enough time to finish the race. She reassured me again and again and again. WHY couldn’t I believe her?!

From behind us, we hear emergency vehicles and the sound of vehicles. I looked behind me and saw an ambulance, a couple of police cars, a race vehicle and a few other runners. Uh-oh. Cry now or later? LeDawn said, without turning around, “what is that?” I said, “I think it’s the end of the race.” Really? “No, it can’t be,” she said, “You have seven hours.” LeDawn turned around and then looked me dead in the eyes.

“Start running,” she said.

Run?! Somehow I did. LeDawn said the worst that would happen is they would catch us – which they would, eventually – but we would keep running.

They caught up to us. We knew they would. I didn’t find that much energy. The race crew told me I could keep going, finish the race, but the streets were opening and we would have to move to the sidewalks. I was ecstatic. LeDawn looked worried. Keep running, she told me. I tried. On the sidewalks nonetheless. My quads hated every single crack I plodded over. God. This sucks.

Run-walk-walk-walk-jog a little and walk some more. LeDawn and I counted down the miles. She told me I was doing great. She told me I would make it – even if they closed the whole thing down; we were going until Garmin said 26.2. No doubts.  

The next thing I remember we came upon Amy and Mandy and Deb – they were holding signs and cheering me on wildly. My heart soared. It was time for the last exchange. Deb started running with me again. I told her I was worried about finishing. She told me my sister Mollie was supposed to run the last leg with me, but they couldn’t find her. I was happy just knowing she would do that for me after dealing with her own IT Band injuries. It really didn’t occur to me that I might want to worry since they said they couldn’t find her in a very large, very strange city!

Mile 23? Maybe 24? We started coming down the hill and I saw Mollie waiting in the middle of the road. She was dressed to run – a far cry from the jeans and sweatshirt she was wearing the last time I saw her on the way to the start line.  Plus, last I heard after her big finish at Cap City, she was planning never to run again!

Me and Mollie before the race.

The final exchange took place. Mollie asked me how I was doing and I think I gave her an evil stare. We were jogging downhill now – I remember how badly I just wanted to be done. I told Mollie I was never doing this again. She said, “Oh, okay, what about the Goofy?” I don’t think I answered.

My nerves overwhelmed me completely for the first time since the start line, I was worried about finishing. The streets were opening and people resumed normal, Pittsburgh early Sunday afternoon life. We had to stop for traffic and crosswalks and wait for the lights to change, move out of the way of street vendors, and share the sidewalks with pedestrians. My sister said the Finish Line was still up and she knew where to go. She walked the course backwards looking for me. Somehow, I don’t think I believed her that the Finish Line was still up. I looked behind me and saw a few runners trailing behind us. We talked to a woman right behind me who said her husband had already finished the run – she had been talking to him on her cell phone. She was in tears and said she could not finish because it hurt too much. I told her to keep going, we were going to finish and we were all going to make it to that line. She kept up with us for a long time until we started running again. I kept looking back to check on her and she never let us out of her site.

I knew we were coming into the home stretch, even though I could actually see the finish line. I also knew there was a big yellow school bus with “Pittsburgh Marathon” imprinted on the side tailing eerily close to me and my sister. It tried to pull up next to us, but I ran some more. “They are going to make me get on the bus now,” I told Mollie. She said, “What are they going to do? Tell you that you can’t be on the sidewalks?” I tried to laugh.

The bus pulled up in front of us, blocking our path and causing me to come to a complete stop – the first time I did during the whole race. The doors opened and a man jumped out and walked up to us with his arms outstretched in a “Stop” gesture. My sister, standing between me and the man in protest, said before he could even open his mouth, “She’s not getting on that bus.” He said something we couldn’t hear. My sister said again, “Okay, but we’re not getting on that bus.”

I couldn’t hear what the man was saying and for all their screaming to stop, my quads were now begging me to start moving again. The man said this was the last bus. We could keep going, but we were on our own. No more buses. What? We were already on out own. No one would come get us? I didn’t expect them to. I looked at the faces of the other people sitting in the seats and they didn’t look happy at all. They were all staring at me and my sister as the man explained what was happening. “You can keep going, but this is officially the last bus, ladies.” My sister gave him an evil look and said, “Thanks, but we’ll pass on the bus.” He threw his hands in the air and said he was just a volunteer before climbing back on board. The bus lumbered down the street ahead of us. I looked behind me and saw the woman who was following us. She asked if we should have gotten on the bus. I said no and we started moving gain. The three of us hung together for some time – my sister flawlessly navigating the crowded sidewalks and streets. I would have never of found the Finish Line without her. It didn’t even look like there had been a race course.

Runners who had already finished the race passed us going the opposite direction. They were wearing medals and swapping stories with their friends. When they saw we were still racing, they moved to the side – some of them even cheered and clapped and said I wasn’t far. I told someone I had been hearing that for the last 6 miles or so. He said, “Yes! The last six! You’ve got this!”

Another runner zoomed past us – clearly finished, but still running. Geesh, I thought, that must be nice. I heard him talking to the woman behind me. It was her husband. She was crying and saying it hurt – a lot. I could relate. He held her hand and started pulling her along with the help of another guy. “You’re almost there,” I heard him say. She yelled to me, “This is him! My husband! I found him!” I asked him if he thought we would make it and he said, “You bet you will, you all will!” She as clinging to him and we all kept moving. I wondered, “Where was Michael?”

Right in front of me. He came around a corner and fell into stride with Mollie and I. ‘I was getting worried,” he said, “They were closing the streets.” He had my dad on the phone – also worried. Michael said, “Your dad wants you to know, you don’t have to finish. We’re proud of you no matter what.” I think I gave him an evil stare. “I will finish if I have to crawl there.” He told my dad and no one said anything else about not finishing. I screamed to the lady – still behind me – “this is my husband too!” Michael told me I was almost there. This time I was, I could feel it. “They’re waiting for you,” he said, “Medals and all.” A volunteer came right up next to me pointed, “They’re waiting for you – just right there! You can see it now!”

I came down the street and saw the Lucky 13’s right away. They were screaming wildly! I don’t know how they got there before me – I think I was moving really slow.

I started to run. I think I crossed the Finish Line running. The Race Director was there, he gave me a medal and I burst into tears. He got food and water and told me to eat because I needed it. I remember my Dad and Michael and everyone hugging me. Including a guy I didn’t know who said he was there alone, had gotten lost on the course, and was following us since the last few miles. “I wouldn’t have finished without you ahead of me,” he said. The lady finished too. I hugged her and her husband.

There were pictures and people handing me pretzels and bananas and water. 

LeDawn, Deb, Mandy, Duane, Mollie, Me and Amy at the Finish Line.

 

Me at the Finish Line!

Duane told me I did not look like I just ran 26.2 miles. I assured him that I did:

I may or may not have been complaining in this photo. 

I had 917 million different emotions when I crossed the line. And I couldn’t help thinking that I couldn’t believe I just finished a Marathon. No really, a Marathon?

I went up to the race director – who was still ushering some runners in and thanked him for keeping the line open for us. I told him about my mom and showed him my back bib. He gave me a hug and said he would leave the course open all day, if the city would let him. I said I was sorry I took so long.

He looked at me in what I believe was horror (I couldn’t exactly tell through his sunglasses) and said, “Honey, I coach a high school Cross Country team when I am not doing this and let me tell you something – If I onlynot have a team.” worried about my fastest runners, the ones who come in first, I would

I looked at the Lucky 13’s and my family and said, “This is my team.”

I knew my Mom was smiling down from Heaven then. My heart ached to hear her voice, to feel her arms wrapped around me in a bear-hug. “You did it,” she would have said, “I always knew you would.”

I did it, Mom. 26.2 in 2011. Just like you said I would.

Me and my Mom after my first Half Marathon, August 30, 2009

Until the next mile marker, 

Comments

  1. you are truly amazing. your strength, courage and perseverance are beyond inspirational. Never stop running! And please do not ever stop telling your story…I am inspired by you on a daily basis.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your journey with me.

  2. I am SO proud of you. You are such an inspiration. You ARE a marathoner! The support of your family and friends is VERY special. I know your Mom is smiling from her very special place in heaven.

  3. Awesome, AWESOME! You are truly an inspiration!!

  4. I loved being a part of every step with you, Sara! You did it and I’m so proud of you!
    Amy

  5. So proud of you! Also, welling up in Starbucks.

  6. You have made me cry in these marathon report posts! I wanted to read them all and then comment. You are amazing and you completed your first Marathon! I know the feeling of crossing that finish line. I know that your Mom is so incredibly proud of you and I admire you SO much (more than I could ever say in words) for still doing the marathon with what you’ve went through so soon before it! Most people would have not done it and would have pushed that dream back (and that’s okay for them to do that), but so amazing you decided to go for it. I’m sure your Mom is glad that is the decision you made! Keep running out there!!!

  7. Well worth the wait Sara. I’m so proud of you. I can’t wait to run many more miles with you in the near future! 😀

  8. My kids are up here asking me what’s wrong with me… I freakin’ LOVE this… seriously, one of the best marathon stories E.V.E.R. I would take this marathon story over an easy glide to a BQ anyday. This takes guts. You spent more time on your feet than most elites will ever spend on their feet during a single training session. That is amazing. It is hard. It takes a mental attitude that isn’t easy to come by. Congratulations Sara. Your mom is definitely proud!!!

  9. Rebecca says:

    I am bawling my eyes out. I wish I knew I could have run with you on a relay!!! I miss you.

  10. Oh wow – you’re amazing and inspirational and I can’t take how much I loved reading about your journey. I will think of you for most of my own marathon and pull out your story of determination at every tough moment.

  11. Sara – I seriously teared up reading this. I am SO PROUD of you for not getting on that bus. I can only imagine how hard that was. What a wonderful feeling knowing that not only did you finish, you helped other people finish!! You are amazing. I’m sure your mom thinks so too. CONGRATULATIONS, you are a MARATHONER!!!

  12. Sara – I seriously teared up reading this. I am SO PROUD of you for not getting on that bus. I can only imagine how hard that was. What a wonderful feeling knowing that not only did you finish, you helped other people finish!! You are amazing. I’m sure your mom thinks so too. CONGRATULATIONS, you are a MARATHONER!!!

  13. My kids are up here asking me what’s wrong with me… I freakin’ LOVE this… seriously, one of the best marathon stories E.V.E.R. I would take this marathon story over an easy glide to a BQ anyday. This takes guts. You spent more time on your feet than most elites will ever spend on their feet during a single training session. That is amazing. It is hard. It takes a mental attitude that isn’t easy to come by. Congratulations Sara. Your mom is definitely proud!!!

  14. Awesome, AWESOME! You are truly an inspiration!!

  15. I am SO proud of you. You are such an inspiration. You ARE a marathoner! The support of your family and friends is VERY special. I know your Mom is smiling from her very special place in heaven.

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