The ending was supposed to take place on the track behind the high school while the public address announcer read my name as I came down the home stretch. Allison, Lucy and Paige would be there, cheering, and I'd probably start crying. Then, the kids would fight over who got to wear my medal as I basked in the post-marathon glow.
Instead, my race ended when I slogged through thorny blackberry bushes and an unforeseen deep, wet swamp to climb from the race trail to the divided highway. Beaten, defeated and hardly able to move, I waited for our Mazda5 to pick me up where Highways 47 and 26 intersect, which was about 3 miles from the finish line. There was no cheering. There was no medal. There was just a quiet car and confused looks on the girls' faces.
Of course, the race didn't start as expected, which didn't help my cause. After getting to the town of Banks nice and early, hitting the restrooms (you marathoners know how many times we need a restroom before a race, it varies between "several" and "obsessive") and picking up my number, I got into a line for a bus. This was a point-to-point race so we parked at the finish and were to be bussed to the start. I eagerly jumped in line at 7:50 and waited. And waited. And waited. The late arrivers started forming a different line and when a bus finally showed up, guess who it picked up first? Of course, the other people.
By the time I got on a bus, it was 8:53. The race was scheduled to start at 9:30. We had a 40-minute bus ride ahead of us. And, after standing in line for an hour, I clearly needed to find a bathroom at the starting line. Plus, I had the joy of sitting 3-across on a freaking school bus seat due needing to fit as many people as possible on the long yellow chariot. I wanted to use the bus time to do final prep (applying sunblock and getting ready mentally), and instead spent the trip trying to breathe without bumping into the person next to me and playing a mean game of "who's going to blink first" with my bladder.
The bus issues forced the race starting time to be delayed, meaning the race was pushed deeper into the day's warmth. While everyone in Oregon has been waiting for sunny and 75 degrees, I feared it all week. I trained in 40-degree temps all winter. Rain. Cold. Wind. That's where I'm strong. 75 was going to be too hot. All sun would make it worse. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky as I looked up after executing the fastest pee/check bag/briskly jog to the start possible.
The race started and I tried to put all the early-day issues behind me. As usual, the first few miles sailed by but my splits were all over the place. I typically run every single mile within 5 to 10 seconds of each other, so this was the first sign something was wrong.
The next sign was my stomach distress by Mile 10. For those of you not quick with the math, that means I was staring down 16 more miles of stomach cramps. This also kept me from eating and drinking properly on the go, which in turn led to dehydration and exhaustion later in the race. I've never experienced stomach cramps during any training run. But, yup, it would happen early on race day.
By the mid-way point, I knew this wasn't going to be my day. I was doing mental math about how I could slow my per-mile pace and still hit my "C" goal of breaking four hours.
By Mile 18, things were coming apart. My only hope was I knew the trailhead where Allison, Paige and Lucy were waiting was coming up. More than an hour after the time I told them I expected to be there, I slowly jogged down the path and heard their screaming voices. Paige was proud to give me a bottle of water. Lucy was disappointed I had zero interest in the banana she was holding. Allison looked concerned when I mentioned not being sure if I'd finish.
By Mile 22, I was staggering. I couldn't run or walk in a straight line. I looked like Clark Griswold in "Vacation" as he roamed the desert in search of help when the family truckster broke down. We weren't in the forest anymore, so the sun was beating down. I convinced myself I could run about half a mile, then walk, then try to run again. Just before Mile 23, my calf seized, I stopped in my tracks and mentally checked out. There would be no "A", "B" or "C" goal. There would be no finish on the track. There would be no medal. My body locked up and I couldn't shuffle, couldn't walk. It was over.
A lady not affiliated with the race was riding her bike on the path. She looked at me and said, "I saw that guy up ahead struggling, but then I saw you looking worse, so I wanted to help." She sat with me, gave me sunblock (by this point I crisping up like a rotisserie chicken on the exposed path) and waited until I got through to Allison. I wish I could remember her name. I barely knew my own at this point.
The part that kills me is running is my thing. I spend most days like every other parent - making breakfast (and eating mine last), getting the kids ready for school, making lunches, figuring out dinner, refereeing endless fights between the girls, coaching their sports, putting all their needs first and on and on. I get it - that's your job as a parent and I seriously wouldn't change it for anything. But, running is that one "thing" I have. I don't play golf. I don't go out with the guys for beers after work. I don't play softball in the evenings. I don't play video games. I run. That's it.
And, somehow, running let me down yesterday - four months of training gone. Four months of the most training I've ever done in preparation for a marathon. Gone. I've now started five and finished four marathons, and the way I feel today I believe those will be my lifetime stats in the category.
My concern is the kids saw me not finish what I started. Lucy said, "Well, you missed it by 3 miles" (she is quick with the math). Paige could tell I was hurting and just wanted to keep hugging me. They've seen me limping around the house since and know something went wrong yesterday.
I take solace they can't get into my head, because not finishing what you started is way worse there than any physical ailment.