Jo had been wanting to run a marathon for a long time and I really wanted to help her make that happen. However, being a typical married couple, she wasn't really interested in having me tell her how to do ANYTHING. This is the same woman that has cheered for me at dozens of marathons and ultra marathons. She's seen me finish some gnarly 100 mile races. She's seen me finish top 5 and top 10 in some rocky, root, nasty ultras...but she wants to go her own way with this marathon training thingy!
I took Jo out to our favorite bar in Manayunk for a healthy and sensible pre race meal. This is something I feel like I know a lot about, so she was actually willing to follow my lead on this.
This is our dinner from Lucky's Last Chance, located on Main Street. The best food ever...I swear!
Her burger is topped with mounds of Mac-N-Cheese. Mine with bacon, egg, and cheese. And of course, a huge mound of greasy fries covered in cheese sauce. And several cold beers to wash it all down!!!
Carbs...fat...protein...yeah, it's all there!
Fast forward to race morning...
Jo says, "I'm pretty nervous because I really slacked off during my training. I hope I finish."
I agreed to pace Jo for the entire race. We were in this together. The good, the bad, and the painful.
Pre Race Pic!
After waking up at 2:00 AM and driving to Carderock, MD, we found ourselves at the start line of Jo's marathon. I was equipped with a HUGE waste pack that housed 2 water bottles, about 300 pounds of gels, chapstick, gum, and of course...the camera. I looked like a Japanese tourist packing all that shit around.
The race started promptly at 6:30. The entire race is run on the C&O Canal Towpath along the Potomac River. This is a FREAKING DOUBLE OUT AND BACK!!!! Meaning, we run approximately 6.5 miles out, turn around and go back to the start. Then turn around and do the same thing over again. Not my favorite race format, but it does break the race up a bit mentally.
Jo, right before we were OFF!
As we crossed the start line, Jo was running a pretty aggressive pace. I suggested we slow up a bit....
I explained a pacing strategy that I had in mind.
She had her own plan.
I was eager to listen and be sensitive, while trying to get her to comply with my will. If all else fails, she's getting pushed in the river.
In the early miles, I floated around, dropping back to chat with other runners, then running ahead to take pictures of Jo while she still looked fresh.
The early miles...somewhere around mile 2. All smiles and optimism. GO JO!
As we kept running, I was watching her splits closely. She was clocking splits at a pretty aggressive pace still. I was a bit worried, but didn't want to be pushy. I just kept her fueled and hydrated.
I would tell her exactly when to take a gel, often running up ahead, tearing it open and handing it to her right before an aid station. I told her what to drink and how much.
As fatigue set in, she was less willing to disagree to anything. I was winning through physical depletion. A few more miles and she would be putty in my hands!
My plan is similar to when parents wear their kids out so they'll shut up and go to bed. This tactic even works with adults!
Aid station on the first leg of the race. She's still feeling pretty spunky in this picture.
We made it to the turnaround much sooner than I expected. Shortly after we started heading back, Jo was complaining of stomach issues. SERIOUS stomach issues. I could see she was in distress and I really began to worry. I tried to assess how fatal this might be, but kept encouraging her.
Eventually, this tummy problem began to threaten her race. I began telling her about all the horrific and painful crap that I've dealt with while running. This didn't comfort her.
At mile 12, she mentioned dropping from the race when we got back to the start line. At first I told her it was a good idea. I was hoping to frustrate and embarrass her, but my plan backfired. She agreed to drop and said she would wait while I finished.
I nearly shit myself! I had to change my tactic. What I wanted to say was "You're finishing this race no matter what! If I have to drag your dead body for the next 13 miles, you WILL cross the finish line. I'll bury you with your finishers medal!!!" But what I said was this...."Let's make the turn, go to the restroom, let you get fueled, rehydrated, use the bathroom, and see how we feel then. OK?" I said this with my best Mr. Rogers smile.
She agreed. Thank God!
When we reached the half marathon mark, I pointed out to Jo that she had just set a new half marathon PR!!! During her marathon! That's pretty bad ass! This lifted her spirits some. And I was impressed!
This is the last of THREE major potty breaks during the race.
After a while, she began to feel much better and came back to life. She was more comfortable, but the miles were starting to wear on her in a big way.
Feeling better and looking good!
I can barely keep up!
After making the turn at the 20 mile mark, Jo was pretty beat up. I had to start getting her to focus on little things to give her goals. Reminding her that distance running is like eating an elephant...you have to do it one piece at a time. I started giving her poles, trees, or aid stations to focus on, encouraging her to just worry about running to THAT spot. And she did.
This picture below, I'm encouraging Jo to pass a couple of old ladies out for their morning jog. Everything was fair game!
In the last 5 miles, I began ramping up my encouragement by pulling out some of my favorite lines from my pacer handbook. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Jo! You're making this race your BITCH! Good job!
2. Damn woman! You're stomping the hell out of this course! Leave some for all the slow people behind you!
3. That's right Jo! Grab this race course by the throat and tell it who the boss is!!
4. Jo...1. Race...0.
5. Damn baby...I almost feel sorry for this race. You're making it look stupid!
6. WOW! Looks like somebody washed down a gel with a can of WHOOP ASS!
We hit a pretty rough patch around mile 23, and I realized my cheerleading had pretty well run it's course. We needed to buckle down and focus on the finish.
Jo was getting some pain in her side and it was slowing her down more than ever. I had already calculated her finish time in my head and I knew where we would be within a minute or two. I wasn't the least bit worried. But she was REALLY wanting to get to the finish.
As we got within a mile of the end, Jo came back to life. She was headed to the barn! This one was in the books and nothing could stop her from finishing her first marathon. She came back to life.
This is my wife at the 25.5 mile mark. She looks fresh, strong, and beautiful!
We rounded the last corner and could see the finish line. Jo dug deep and finished strong. We crossed the finish line, holding hands!!! She finished her first marathon in 4:55:10!!! I was so damn proud!
The aftermath...Jo was chafed, battered and blistered. But she survived. I'll coach her through recovery just like I did coaching her to the finish line. And she'll listen about as well...she's already ignored most of what I recommended. But I can't argue with "HER WAY" either, because she did it!
Jo's MONSTER blister!
Jo surpassed my wildest expectations today. The longest run she's done all year is 13 miles. She probably ran 20 miles a week at THE MOST. She had never run more than 15 miles in her life. If she hadn't had to stop for the restroom so many times, she would have pulled a 4:40 with no problem. As far as I'm concerned, she KILLED it today!
With serious training, she would be unstoppable.
Jo ran nearly every step of this race. She was tough and endured several difficult low points. She killed her half marathon PR, set a new marathon PR (which will fall soon enough) and she stuck with the lows and rode out the oncoming highs. She ran like a true veteran of the sport. She amazed me.
I enjoy working with runners and helping others. But it really is hard when it's your spouse. She lives with an ultra runner and has access to a lot of helpful information, yet we don't really discuss it often. We both just do our own thing.
I've run a lot of really cool races and I've had my fair share of epic moments. But my race with Jo will forever be one of the proudest moments in my life. And I can't thank her enough for sharing it with me.
We're leaving on Wednesday, headed to Utah for the Zion 100. And it will be Jo's turn to take care of me. She's better at it than I am anyway.