When we moved to Florida 10 years ago, I began walking, then increasing the walk to run ratio until I was running 30 minutes solid. It took a year of training on my own before I had enough guts to show up at a running club training run. I ran alone (and still do) on trails and ideal, flat surfaces like this.
I did my first marathon in 2010 at 57. I was the 5th oldest female to finish. 6 months ago, I placed 7th in my age group in the 1500 meters at the National Senior Games. I’d trained for a year before that. It wasn’t until I sprint-trained that I understood why, try as I might, I could never run a 5K faster than 27 minutes. I would learn that we all get a predominance of fast-twitch genes, responsible for explosive fast-twitch sprinting muscles or slow-twitch genes, responsible for the ability to do more endurance running. We have a combination, but one or the other usually rules. All of a sudden, I felt free of wondering why I couldn’t significantly improve my 5K times. Though almost every race I did the year of the 2010 marathon, was a PR (personal record). I didn’t beat myself up for not doing better than the gals with legs up to my neck. Fast twitch ruled and I was much more accepting once I understood that.
At 61, I didn’t think I would do another marathon. With 63 age group awards in 5K races or longer, why another marathon? Simply, I like the way my “marathon body” looks and feels. It just seems like that’s how nature intended us to look…lean, green, running machines. The infectious enthusiasm of our running club to train for a half and full marathon together caught on. The entry fee for inaugural marathon in Celebration, FL was $60, about twice that of a 5K. Such a bargain! wink I trained mainly with another club member. Several weeks before the marathon, she told me that she was dropping the full to do the half. But we still ran together on Sundays when we both had time on the lovely soft surfaces at Robinson Preserve in Bradenton.
My biggest struggle was as it often is for every flat-footed female, orthotics. Too soon to the event, about 3 weeks out, I decided my over-the-counter orthotics just weren’t enough support for my aching knees. My previous hard orthotics were too painful on my feet for longer runs, even though my knees felt great with them. So on to a new comfortable prescription pair. They were very comfortable on my feet, but I realized it was too close to the event to get the body to totally adapt. I would do the marathon in the over-the-counter orthotics. They worked fine for the first half. But the second half was like running in shoes with no orthotics. I stopped 3 times to apply Bio-Freeze to my knees and the bottom of my feet. Same thing I’d done at the first marathon, except I only had to do it once then.
The mantra I heard at the National Senior Games from women much faster and older than me was, “Get off the hard surfaces to save your joints. Find a soccer field or similar surface.” As mileage training for the marathon increased, I decided to listen to my body and leave the group training opting for running on the beach or nearby fields.
One of the challenges of marathons is the expense. I asked one of our members, Kali McGregor, if she would like to share my room. I had made the room reservation early because I wanted to be at a hotel that was near the start line. Kali is just a hoot. I first met her as a physical therapist. When she quit to work at a children’s hospital, I was sad for her local patients but glad for her. She is awesome with kids. As we age, it is so important to build a network of physical therapists and doctors who “get” the whole running thing. In the rare event that I need a doctor, I try to search out ones who run.
As a roommate, Kali generously shared with me her answers and wisdom on everything I asked. “How do you get to be so fast?” I begged. “Pick your parents well,” she joked. We did yoga stretches in the room the night before the race and the morning of. “What do you drink before the race?” She shared her trade secrets:
We goofed around in the lobby like teenagers. No really, we were well-behaved and respectful. She did not put her shoes on the furniture.
I had strained a back muscle moving book boxes the day before the race. It was in painful spasm the night before the race, to the point where I asked Kali, “Should I even be doing the race?” She could feel the muscle in spasm and just happened to have some magic tape in her suitcase. She patched my back and that was and still is one of the few places I am not feeling any pain. She helped me apply a “Pace Tat” that was given out for free. Each mile tells you what your pace should be.
Unfortunately, the Garmin GPS watch I brought malfunctioned. I just got off the phone, and in their usual excellent customer service, apologized for the failure the morning of the marathon and are replacing the 3 month-old device for free. But if you heard anyone yelling out at every mile, “What time is it?” that was me. I got a laugh from the volunteers who were telling me the time of day. “No, the race time, I meant,” I would breathlessly try to explain as they scrambled to find someone who had the race time. Often, big races will have electronic clocks at every mile mark. But hey…it all costs money. Here’s our fearless running club carb loading at Carrabba’s Italian Restaurant the night before.
The marathon, especially for a first year, was awesome. The signs along the route were gut-busters. My favorite (and don’t quote me exactly because I was in marathon stupor), “You had better ideas when you were drunk.” Others: “You’re part of the 1%.” Although if you Google “What percent of the population has done a marathon?” it says, .5%, just for the record. wink The sign probably meant to include the half-marathoners. “Humpty Dumpty had wall issues too,” “Maybe the Hokie Pokie is what it’s all about?”
If you go on the Celebration Marathon Facebook page, you’ll see comments that describe the race accurately: Awesome course, great volunteers, lots of water/fluids/Gu at stops (probably would not have finished without that Double Expresso passed out at Mile 19, even though I’d already downed 3 Chocolate Outrages). Many comments said food ran out after the half which was run simultaneously. The only thing available to eat when I finished was 5 deep-fried egg/mystery meat rolls. Some said there wasn’t much or any monitoring of getting the promised restaurant, or any kind of food like the typical race-finish bananas etc. to finishers. But I always take my own stash of food to races, just because you never know what to expect. From having been a volunteer at many races, I know how excruciating hard they can be to plan.
A video on the race website showed the course. That’s why many others and I signed up. But it didn’t do the course justice. The boardwalks through the dense forests of palm trees were truly breathtaking. Although I wasn’t the last in my age group to finish, by hour 5, the course was even more breathtakingly desolate as I came through the forest with squirrels lined up on the fence railing looking like they were going to jump me. Familiar with how aggressive human-fed squirrels can be, I had to stare down a few.
Most fun was Kali, who could have easily left to drive the 90 minutes back home when she finished 2 hours ahead of me. Instead, in her usual unselfish exuberance, she cheered me on at the finish line. She took this photo. I started crying as many of us do, crossing the finish. I thought of all the friends and relatives who never enjoyed any kind of good health to be able to do such a thing. I collapsed into a chair and Kali obviously said something outrageously funny as she always does.
And that thing sticking out of my stomach was arguably the world’s thickest race bib. It had warnings all over the back not to bend or fold it. But as you can see for us short-waisted people, that was impossible.
A final word about my hubby, Clarence. Our sailing club, decided at the last minute to change the date of the annual meeting. Turns out it was the night before the marathon. Clarence was being installed as an officer. I insisted he not miss the dinner. He drove over the next morning in time to see me finish and because he thought I might be too sore to drive home. He tripped over something and had to get both his knees bandaged in the medical tent. So I ended up driving home anyway. But he definitely gets husband of the year.
The goal for me, as always, is to finish without injury. And do this until 100. Or so. “Just” on plants. Gotta run!