"You can do this," Steve said. "You just need to run 3 miles there, then another 3 miles back. You can do 3 miles in your sleep. You'll be done before you know it."
Is he a great runner husband or what? You can really tell he's been listening and knows how to make the crazy sound completely reasonable.
The course went along side the river in Moline, a place where I have run many, many times. It was out and back, so I was able to see other runners headed towards the finish line when I was headed out and vice versa. I actually liked that a lot - it made the last 10K seem less lonely than it did when I ran in Des Moines. I saw my brother, then Kent, both of whom gave me high fives.
Still, you guys, I was tired. When the 22 mile marker was in sight, I tried an experiment in which I picked up the pace big time and headed towards it. Sweet Yoda, did my knees scream at me for that one. Lesson learned: slow and steady with walk breaks as needed.
A bit later, a guy in a hat came up next to me and started chatting with me. We agreed that my 4:30 goal wasn't going to happen, but talked positive - that most people in the world could not do what we were doing at that very moment, and that we were setting a positive example for our friends and family. I thought about Jack, his beaming pride at racing a fine quarter mile, and the way he says, "That lady is running like Mommy" every time he sees a runner. He and I stuck pretty close together for several miles. In the book The Non-Runner's Marathon Guide, they talk about a "running angel," someone who appears when you most need a boost. Maybe it's a spectator ringing a cowbell, or a volunteer with an orange slice when you desperately need it. In my case, the guy in the hat was my running angel. He helped me keep my mind off of how much I was hurting and helped me focus on why I was running.
On we ran, all the way through Moline, then basically did a toe touch in East Moline. There, the UTHS cheerleaders had built a giant wall for us to run through, which was pretty darned cool.
I struggled on, thinking, "Okay, I can do this," which I must have unwittingly said out loud, since another runner looked at me and said, "Yes, you can." I tried my best to focus on how hard I'd worked, how far I've come, and all of the reasons I'm a runner. I thought about other things that I've done in my life that have been physically difficult that I got through. And I looked at the runners headed in the other direction and thought how they'd change places with me if they could, to be as close to the finish as I was. I knew that 4:30 was no longer a possibility, but I knew that even if I ran slowly, I could still get 4:45 or better, which would still be a PR.
With one mile to go, I focused on runners ahead of me and did my best to pass them, catching two. My mom, Doug, and Andy were near the finish line, cheering for me. Andy looked tired and very happy to not be running. I picked up my pace, with the finish line in sight... and strained my eyes for the yellow windbreaker I'd been looking for all day. Steve and Jack went crazy cheering for me, but you can really see the struggle on my face at that point.
The announcer called, "And coming in to the finish line, Betsy Wasser of Moline!" I put my arms up in celebration, then heard, "Congratulations, Mom. Looks like you've got a little one helping you out." I looked down, and sure enough, Jack was running me in to the finish. Crossing the finish line of a marathon is a peak experience; having Jack by my side made that peak experience even stronger.
My finishing time? 4:38:23. I didn't make my 4:30 goal, but considering what a hard time I had at the end, I am very proud of the fact that I came so close. Even more importantly, I beat my previous time by almost 20 minutes.
After a rest, it was time to head home - but first, I spotted my running angel, the guy in the hat. I told everyone to wait and rushed (okay, shuffled at a slightly elevated pace) over to talk to him. I told him how much he helped me, how much easier finishing the race was because of him. I told him that on that day, he was my running angel. He smiled and said that getting a finisher's medal is a great feeling, but that knowing he'd helped a fellow runner was even better. We hugged, and I headed home. I hope one day to be able to do the same for someone else.
The rest of the day was spent dozing in bed, watching movies with Jack. We went out for a celebratory dinner, and Steve and Jack presented me with a new charm bracelet to congratulate me on a great race. I can't wait to add more charms to it as I finish more races.
"We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon."