Yesterday, around 1:30 in the afternoon, I became a marathoner. The dream I had been working towards for nearly 10 months was achieved. Physically, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to accomplish. I absolutely could not have done it without such an amazing supportive team of friends and family either. Oh and my absolutely stubborn personality helped a little too. Like the movie, one might say I have true grit.
We drove up to Denver the day before the race to go to the expo and pick up our race packets. I was extremely nervous on Saturday, but I tend to work myself up over things. Going to the expo, however, got me in a great mood and pumped up for the race. I met one of my running idols, elite marathoner Kara Goucher, who was so friendly and encouraging. I also got to meet two stars from the Biggest Loser, a show I watch religiously. The expo had a lot of great energy and it was an awesome way to kick off the race weekend.
After the expo, I went out and had the obligatory big pasta dinner. I tried to go to bed early, but I was so nervous and anxious about the race, I hardly slept at all. The alarm went off at 4:30am, and I was ready to go out and conquer this thing.
Race morning, we walked the four blocks from our hotel to the starting line. I was in corral 15, aka the slowpoke corral, the last corral to start because we were going to take the longest. There was great music blasting and lots of good energy. I was so nervous, I felt like throwing up, but at the same I was getting really, really excited. This was actually going to happen. I was going to run a marathon. It still seemed unbelievable, even as I was waiting in line.
My awesome, awesome friends Greg, Doug, Lara and Vicki drove in from out of town to come and cheer me on and surprised me with posters they were going to wave around the course. The person I met the day of the half marathon, Marilyn, and her husband David were going to run the race with me and help pace me since my friend Rachel ran at a faster pace and would be further ahead. I was so incredibly grateful to Marilyn and David for being willing to take on this horrendous challenge just to help me out. I always said that on the day of my half marathon that Marilyn was my guardian angel for helping me out, but on race day, I now I had two guardian angels.
The race started and eventually we were off as corral 15 was the last to go about 30 minutes later. As soon as we started running, I was feeling much better in terms of my nerves. I had my music on, and I was able to keep up some conversation with David and Marilyn. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and perfect—it was around 50 and sunny with a cool breeze, ideal running weather. We pounded through the pavement enjoying the beauty of downtown Denver and the fantastic rock and roll bands at nearly ever mile. I have to say, the rock and roll series is a blast and I highly recommend it. They organize it extremely well and the rock bands and cheer squads they hire are phenomenal!
Along the route, we met some amazingly inspiring people. I had a shirt made for the race that said:
• 11.16.07 Reconstructive foot surgery following a car accident. Doctor says I will never run again.
• 08.02.10 Took first painful steps as a runner. Completed 0.8 mi / 10 min
• 10.09.11 Proving my doctor wrong for 26.2 miles
Several people stopped me to say my shirt was inspiring and congratulations, but then it turned out that they had just as inspiring stories to share. One gentleman had a shirt on that said “Marathon Finisher in all 50 states.” He said he liked my shirt and I said I liked his. Well, it turned out, he was 81 years old. Years ago, after he had run 11 marathons, his doctor told him to stop because it was bad for him. 55 marathons later he was in Denver running and his doctor, who was 10 years younger than him, is living in a nursing home. So we had a good chuckle about proving our docs wrong and off he went.
I saw my family and friends at mile 10 and started to cry. It felt so good to see them, it was like water in a desert. My bad foot had started to ache a few miles earlier, and seeing them was exactly what I needed.
Things were starting to get tough around mile 11. My foot was aching horribly. It always starts to hurt around mile 8, and I normally push through without a problem, but this was so much worse. I think the tension and the pressure of the day plus the pace I was pushing myself at were definite factors in why the pain had escalated. Marilyn and David were fantastic cheerleaders in pushing me ahead and helping me keep pace. They worked so hard with me to keep me going. The sag wagon, aka the van that picks up slowpokes who can’t keep the minimum pace, was right on our tail, but we kept going.
Finally, a little past mile 14, my foot just stopped. Marilyn and David tried so hard to keep me going, but my foot was beyond done. I couldn’t take one more step. I told them I had to get on the van, that I just couldn’t go anymore. Crying, I climbed into the van feeling like a complete and utter failure. Everything I had worked so hard for was done. The race officials who were driving the van, were so nice. They comforted me and told me that I was not done. That if I felt like I could go on after a short break, I could still finish the race and was still an official completer of the marathon.
I drank some water and sat in the van for about 2 miles. Then I decided, I am absolutely not a quitter. I may not be a good runner, but I had worked so hard for 10 months, not to mention overcoming so many other obstacles in my life like clinical depression and obesity, this was NOT going to win. I was going to finish this race. I knew that I wouldn’t do another full marathon, that half marathons are more my speed, but damnit, I was going to finish and prove my doctor wrong once and for all.
I hobbled out of the van after roughly two miles and got back on the course. I was alone as Marilyn and David had gone on, but there were other runners on the course. I was in a beautiful park and the weather was great. I turned up my music and shuffled on. My pace was painfully slow, but I was out there doing it and determined.
At mile 19, I saw my family. They were so surprised I was still going as they had run into Marilyn and David who had told them what had happened. I was crying and told them I wasn’t going to quit no matter what. They told me that they were proud of me and if I was in severe pain, it was okay to quit, but I said nope, I was finishing. So they all joined me at that mile and helped push me through. It was the most amazing thing to have them all with me and helping.
At mile 20, everyone except my friend Greg got back into the car and they were going to meet up with us at mile 22. Greg walked alongside me while I did my shuffle run/jog/cripple walk. :) He told me funny stories and kept me going. Finally, we were at mile 22 and the rest of my family plus Vicki, Lara and Doug were there. They all got out and walked with me. My parents even ran alongside me for a little bit! It was so inspiring. I couldn’t feel my foot anymore the pain was so excruciating and my IT bands were acting up big time. The lactic acid build-up in my legs was super intense, but I kept plodding along, mostly walking at this point.
Every time someone on the streets cheered, my friends and family pointed to me and said “it’s all her, she’s doing this and we’re proud of her.” It was the most amazing experience ever to have such dedicated friends and family help me through this horrible battle with the 26.2 mile monster.
They stayed with me through the rest of the entire race helping me along with each painful, painful step. They sang songs and made up cheers and helped me up hills. They danced in the streets to the rock bands to cheer me up and distract me from the immense pain I was in. By the way, the worst hill on the entire course was at mile 25 and it was nearly straight up. Whoever designed that course was kind of mean to do that.
Finally, I saw the sign for mile 26. The finish line was only 385 yards away. I was about to finish a marathon. I hadn’t given up when it got tough. I saw it through. Everything I had gone through since my car accident was about to get final closure. I had done it.
When I turned the corner, I saw the finish line. I turned up my iPod to blast my finish line song “Sing” by My Chemical Romance. Suddenly, I had a burst of adrenaline and I took off running at top speed. I held my arms up high and the announcer told the crowd, “Crossing the finish line is Noel Dolan from Colorado Springs.” I sprinted through, crossing the finish line with my fists pumping and tears streaming down my face.
My friends and family as well as Rachel and her family were all waiting and hugging me. I was crying so hard I couldn’t even breathe. But they were such happy, happy tears. I couldn’t believe it. The former fat-assed cripple (as I called my former self) had become a marathoner.
I finished the Denver Rock and Roll Marathon with an official time of 6:01:01, something I am so unbelievably proud of and will cherish forever. I realized my body told me that I am not made for this kind of brutality, so I am going to stick to half marathons and try out a triathlon. 13.1 miles nothing to sneeze at, but it doesn’t break down my body the way the marathon does. I just needed to do this once for a sense of closure and to know I accomplished something my doctor said would be impossible.
I had fought the 26.2 mile monster and with the extreme help and dedication of my friends, family and Marilyn and David, I had won.