I made a plan for this marathon, but I learned later it was not a good one. When I heard the limit was six hours, I assumed I would have six hours of a planned route, safety, hydration, cheer... and I packed my Camelback with 1.5 L of Nuun in case I couldn't finish in six hours and had to do the rest on my own. I was ok with that. My plan was to run at 13:10 the first three miles and then use the porta-potty at mile three, since I have to use it at every race and it would be a few miles until the next ones. Then I would walk-run miles 4-6 to save my legs, because that was the hilliest part of the course. Then I would run the rest of the way to drop my pace to 13:45 so I could finish in six hours. This is something I improved a lot in this marathon's training. I used to run 2:1 intervals, but with hard work and an awesome coach (thank you, Steve!), I was able to cut intervals off completely. I thought my plan was good and it was working in the beginning. Everything was exactly according to plan until I was at almost six miles. By then, a police car approached me and a few other people and said that we were very behind and we had to go run on the sidewalk from that moment on. I thought, "No problem, I'll catch up just fine," (my pace was 14:15 at that point, after the porta-potty and walking the hills, which was better than I thought). The cop told me that in order to stay in the race I had to be in front of his car, and I told him that I could do it in a couple miles the most. I started running faster and was dropping time fast, getting close to 13:45, but I couldn't see the police car anymore anywhere and that worried me, because I could see a couple miles ahead ( I learned later that the pace car started counting time when the first runner crossed the start line, and since I only crossed it after 4-5 minutes, I never really had a chance). I decided to not stop at hydration stations anymore to not waste time and drank my Nuun. Then a big intersection came, the first of eight that I had to cross by myself. Although there were 3-4 police officers there, they made no effort to help me and the other runners. They were rude. I thanked them anyway. We waited three minutes for a chance to cross. My time got worse again and I thought to myself I would run faster and try to catch up, but every time I was getting closer, another intersection came and I had to wait for the pedestrian light to come on to cross. It was getting exhausting. To try to make up for the lights, I'd run at a 10:30 pace sometimes, which was my speed work pace. I knew this was no bueno. Running on the sidewalk was challenging. There was lots of gravel (Arizona is all desert landscape with gravel everywhere) and clothing dropped off by other runners all throughout the race, since there were four different start lines in that race and it was cold in the start and hot later. I went back to the street to run on the bike lane, but was quickly reminded by a cop, "go back to the sidewalk, you're no longer supported by the marathon." I heard that same phrase three other times, which tells me those officers were trained to say that. I cried.
Mile nine came and it was a breath of fresh air. There was a cheer and hydration station with the sweetest volunteers, I got lots of high-fives, smiles and I loved seeing about a mile of cheer signs. It was amazing!! Every orange cone on the street had a sign. That lifted my spirits. I was ready to fight again. But mile 10 came and it was the beginning of a very hard journey. I had to cross seven other intersections by myself, and I quickly ran out of my Nuun as there were no more hydration stations. I saw a car taking the cones out and one of the volunteers told me, "run faster!". Ouch, like I wasn't trying. I cried again.
I saw the half marathon time mats as they were tearing them apart. One of them was off already, but the other was still there. The guy taking them down told me it would still work. I crossed it and if my car was near it, I would probably have quit then. At around mile 15, I was very thirsty, but had no more to drink. I passed two places that looked like were hydration stations before I got there. I could tell by the cups, GU and eaten orange slices on the floor. I would have loved an orange slice and some water.
At mile 17-18 I was really ready to quit. I was feeling super dehydrated and didn't know what to do. I had been looking for a gas station or anywhere I could buy some water since mile 15, but nothing to be found. I said a prayer and asked God to please help me keep going, but if something didn't come up soon, I was going to call an Uber to take me back to my car and call it quits. I thought about all the people tracking me online and my family and I knew they were praying and cheering for me from afar. I didn't want to have my kids think of me as a quitter either. I found strength to keep going. For the first time I noticed the beautiful citrus orchards on my right. I passed two of them. I would not have noticed them if I was running on the street. The orange trees were filled and many ripe oranges were on the ground ready to be picked!! It was like a gift from God. I decided not to get one though. It would take too much time to peel it and I didn't have time. But I knew it was a symbol that God loved me and that was a comfort. At mile 18 something, I saw a place called the Soda Shop. Halleluiah!! I ran in there and waited for the only girl in the shop to finish helping a customer in the drive-thru area. She saw my teary-eyed face and told me she would help me for free. Another girl came in and both filled my Camelbak with the coldest most delicious water I've ever tasted. They were so compassionate and sweet!! I wanted to pay, but they didn't take my money.
Left the store and came to another big intersection. Saw Larry, an elderly runner that I had met a couple miles earlier. He too was struggling, especially by the cops comments. After crossing the intersection, it was confusing on where to go. I ran straight following a couple runners, hoping it was the right way. Then I came to a "T"intersection that still had orange cones, but they were both going to the right and the left. I think this was around mile 21, not sure. I asked the cop standing there where I should go if I was running the full marathon (there was a 5K and a 10K starting in different places that day). He pointed to the left, so I went that way. When I got down that street, there were a lot more runners all of a sudden. Kept running with them and to my surprise, I saw a hydration station. People were cheerful and saying I was doing a good job. What? That was nice. Then at one point, a lady cop said, "you're doing great! You're almost there! Only 1.2 miles to go!" That was the first time I realized I must have taken a wrong turn because my watch said I had four miles left or something like that. The officer at the "T" intersection told me to go the wrong way!! That was his only job!! Grrrrr. I was super confused on what to do. I decided to keep running until I got close to the finish line to check how much I had to make up, because when there were still mile markers left for me to see in the first half of the race, my watch said I was half a mile ahead of all of them, probably from running on the sidewalk. So I ran until the 26 mile marker and at that spot, my watch said 23.49 miles and the time was around 5:46. I'm a very honest person and I'd not finish that race knowing I didn't do the whole distance. So I turned around and ran for 1.25 miles the wrong way, some of it uphill before I turned back again. The other runners finishing the race were very confused looking at me go the wrong way and many asked me why.
When I went back to the mile 26 sign, this time my watch said 26, so my last 0.2 was so close!! I crossed the round about that was open for cars already and heard car honks cheering me on. The finish line was in sight. They were tearing it apart, but the timing mats were still there and so was the clock. No photographers, no cheer, just Holly Rice, my best friend waiting for me after being done with her own marathon more than an hour before I finished mine. She had a medal for me and took my pictures, even though I was crying and didn't want any. I'm so glad she did, because I have a memory now that although I had a very disappointing race, I finished.
My official race time is 6:33:54. My Garmin watch's time is 6:34:00 for 26.3. My Garmin automatically uploads to Strava, but my time in Strava is only 6:25:54 for 26.2. I wonder if Strava's app took off the time I spent inside the Soda Shop.
So here's my story. I was sad about the race when I finished it. But I realize I was focusing on all that went wrong. Now I just feel proud I finished it. My legs were strong, my mind even stronger. I'm healthy and able to run. I received more cheering than criticism, I had breathtaking views of the desert, moon, stars and sunrise. My friend was there for me. I only have to be grateful. I'll keep running because I love it, but this was my last marathon, at least until my kids are all grown.