Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Indescribable – Sabrina

Because I am a geek, I got up this morning and calculated my splits from the BAA site. Here they are:

5k 11:53 pace (dusted by just about everyone, including a hamburger and French fries)
10k 12:06 pace (bathroom stop!)
15k 11:54 pace (and another bathroom stop!)
20k 12:15 pace (kissed a boy at Wellesley College)
Half Marathon 12:15 pace (just fifteen seconds behind goal!)
25k 12:25 pace (walked for 1-2 minutes so I could appear "fresh" at Newton-Wellesley)
30k 12:37 pace (starting up Heartbreak Hill, downshifting)
35k 12:53 pace (what a frakkin' hill! difficult recovery on downhill)
40k 12:58 pace (hurting but keeping the pace)
26.2 13:00 overall marathon pace (I did it!)

My marathon journey began on about January 27 when I found out I had won a number for the Boston Marathon at work. I ran five miles that day on my treadmill at a 10:22 pace. Up till then I had run a total of nine miles in 2010; and had only run a handful of times since ski season started. My "real" running days ended in 2002 when I fractured my spine while carrying firewood down some steps after a frigid January evening run. I just never got back into it after that, but always maintained a level of fitness such that I could go out for a five mile jog comfortably, generally jogging 10 to 20 miles a week as cross training for hiking/skiing/cycling.

I picked a Hal Higdon Intermediate Marathon training plan and stuck to it religiously until I got to week eight, then I really couldn't keep up with the weekly mileage entirely and maxed out at a 42-mile week. I had what turns out was/is a piriformis pull in my left glute, and that inflamed my sciatic nerve. I started feeling the pain around week four to five, when I was kicking out some fast miles on the treadmill -- at that time I was thinking (ha ha) that I could run a 4.5 hour marathon and I was doing sprints on my treadmill in the 9-9.5 minute mile range, and running tempo runs at the 10:00 mile pace. The pain just didn't go away, and at mile 14 of the Eastern States 20, my left leg felt damp and dead and my left foot felt like it was just slapping along. The Boston was now three weeks away. I decided to rest a bit the following week and go see a physical therapist.

I was now in my taper, and was given the green light to run the marathon so long as I rested. My physical therapist told me that I had the physical and mental conditioning to run the marathon even if I didn't run at all until the day. A spinal adjustment put things back into their proper place and I felt immediately better. I gave myself five days more of rest, and then ran two times a week in the two weeks leading up to the marathon. I was very worried that my leg would not hold out. I don't know what was more difficult, running or not running. It was a struggle but the rest did me a lot of good and the Friday before the marathon, my piriformis felt practically healed, with just a small patch of palpable scar tissue under the surface and no pain. I also had a minor pull in my right quad (the result of compensation) and I had a deep tissue massage to work on that and to get me in general all over wellness for the big day.

The big day came and Michael dropped me off at the bus. My friend, Sandy, met me in Hopkinton and got me to the starting line. It was a very fun morning but I tried to contain my excitement and save energy for the marathon. My goal was to run an easy 12:00/mile pace and just stay steady and have a good time. I was able to maintain that overall to the half marathon, despite a few trips to the bathroom! My stomach was pretty nervous for the first ten miles. I could always see the "mob" about two minutes ahead of me! It was amazing to see a completely packed roadway of runners stretching out as far as the eye could see!

The towns seemed to fly past. In Ashland there was a bluegrass band, at the Framingham Harley-Davidson dealer they were cranking the Allman Brothers, Natick was a conservative scene with lots of spectators, the Wellesley College Girls lived up to their reputation and I have never heard such enthusiastic cheering! I could hear them for at least a half mile away! In Wellesley, I saw two Aussies and thought of Terra, it was bittersweet but their smiling Aussie faces really cheered me onward. I took my only walking break at mile 16, up the hill before Newton-Wellesley Hospital, because I wanted to look fresh and strong for Michael and my coworkers. Cresting the hill then coasting down to Newton-Wellesley I saw three of my coworkers jumping up and down with a big sign! I wanted to stop but my legs just wanted to keep their pace, so I thanked them and kept going. I saw Michael where we said we'd meet and he was soooooo happy! He took several pictures, handed me two more Gu packets, a pack of pain patches, and a bite of a hotdog -- at my request he had gotten one from the Newton-Wellesley BBQ and put it in a Ziploc to keep it fresh. I just wanted one bite -- just a salty taste of something other than Gu. I gave him a hug and ran off, passing another NWH employee group calling out my name.

I had planned to walk Heartbreak Hill. I had run it before during training and was concerned it would inflame my piriformis, but I ended up just downshifting to a slower pace and jogging the whole thing!!! What a rush when I crested that bad boy! Coming down Heartbreak Hill and through Brighton to Brookline was the toughest part of the marathon for me. I knew at that time that I would complete the marathon, but I also knew that I would never regain my 12:00 pace that I had held so steadily before the Hill. They say there are two parts to the Boston Marathon, everything up to Heart Break Hill and everything beyond it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The down hills were killer and my ITB attachment area on my left knee felt strained and I felt less stable. At the base of the hill, as we turned the corner and began our run on Beacon St through Brookline, I heard my name and there was my coworker, Nancy S. I was so surprised to see her and it came at the lowest point of my run and I have to say that Nancy was my marathon angel at that point! I gave her a hug and mumbled something pretty incoherent, and I realized I was pretty mentally zonked at that point, and ran on. With about 3.5 miles now to go, I knew I would make it!! It was all about getting there.

The crowds in Boston are amazing. Even when you feel like a loser, there is someone calling out "You can do it!", "We believe in you!", "Look where you are! You are running Boston!", or "You have got this thing!" It’s truly inspiring and the crowds carried me in spirit for so much of the way. And smiling really does make you feel better.
When I saw the Citgo sign at Kenmore, I just can't describe it. I had one mile to go in this famous marathon. I tried calling Michael as I jogged along, but got his voice mail. I turned onto Hereford St and I could hear cheering. I was told this was a tough little hill but I cruised up it, my heart full of pride! I turned the corner onto Boylston Street and I heard a booming yell, "Sabrina!" I turned my head in the direction of the sound and there was Michael, big smile, taking pictures, I ran with my head turned back to him smiling and holding a peace sign, and I have to say it goes on record as one of the greatest moments of my life!

I looked down the last hundred yards and saw the enormous structure of the finish line, of the 114th Boston Marathon. Here I was, with an official number, running down Boylston Street, like so many others have done before me. The feeling was indescribable. I raised my arms into double peace signs and crossed the finish line as the announcer said on the loudspeaker, "Runner 26266, Sabrina La Fave, of Waltham, Massachusetts". Pretty exhilarating!

Someone put a Mylar sheet on me, another person put a finisher's medal on my neck, another handed me water and a bag of snacks, and everyone congratulated me. I was sooo happy. Still am. A big thanks to Newton-Wellesley for giving me this opportunity to run this amazing marathon!

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