OLYMPIC TRIALS MARATHON PART 2: AFTER THE STARTING LINE

It’s book two of the little-acclaimed series, Mac Runs the Olympic Trials 2016! To read book one “Before the Starting Line” click here.

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Our Uber driver got as close to the start as she could. Caitlin and I got out and headed for the elite holding area. The entrance was mobbed! It was wild. The crowds were parted just enough for runners to get in and out of the fence entrance. As we showed our numbers to get in, the crowd was pulsing and craning their necks to see if we were “anybody”.  I heard a few people yell out, "Mac!". It was the closest to rock star status as I will ever be.

Once in the holding area we found folding chairs and sat. I tried to stay out of the sun, but it was impossible. I dug around in my bag for my headphones, but I’d forgotten them. So I zoned and listened to conversation flit in and out. Oiselle teammates began to filter in. They chatted to see when people were warming up and this and that. I saw Galen Rupp waiting for a porta-potty. Stars, they’re just like us.

Okay actually … I had to make a phone call to Sprinkles to reroute some cupcakes for my friend Meghan’s birthday. I’d sent them to her Airbnb but she had to abandon that reservation because of a cockroach problem! I got the reroute paid up and then I zoned.  Pretty sure I was the only runner dealing with cupcake delivery minutes before the Olympic Trials, but I do NOT f*ck around with cake or my favorite people’s birthdays. Priorities.

I warmed up alone. I squeezed out of the crowd tunnel to the open street. The air was hazy and everything felt magnified, larger than life. I started jogging toward the giant Owen Wilson mural that Shal and were laughing about the day before. Saying how much we'd hate his smug mug by the fourth lap. Inaccurate BTW. My legs felt heavy, which doesn’t really mean anything so I pushed that out of my head. I heard a few shouts “go Mac!” and “go Oiselle!” as I jogged out and back. 

  It was warm. I knew I didn’t need to shake out very long. I found some shade back by the start and started my drills… right next to Shalane and Amy. I was like play it cool. Play it cool. I don’t have a warm up routine. I usually dink around doing this and that, whatever feels right. They were like machines. I took a sneaky Snapchat before hustling back to the holding area to take my inhaler and change my shoes. 

Photo credit: @kevmofoto

I dumped water all over myself, soaking and resoaking my hat and hair as the coordinator ushered us into the start staging area. We stood there, shaking out our legs and sipping water, nervous excitement charged the air. The coordinator announced that the water sponges we were promised had been bought with soap in them and they were trying to figure out an alternative, but that at the very least the first lap would have no sponges. There was nervous laughter. 


Right before we were brought to the start we got the update that they had found an alternative sponge solution and even the first lap miiiight have sponges. More nervous laughter.

We were corralled to the start. It felt so informal. I was just rows back from the women who will go the Olympics. I think there was a countdown and then some kind of horn. We were off. 

  I started in the back. I could see a pack of Oiselle gals ahead. I was with Shal and Trisha. My plan was to go out in 6:20s and assess how much the heat was affecting me at the 10k. My Garmin was spazing, so I settled in and waited for the mile marker to clock a split. 6:24.

Photo credit: @kevmofoto
After the first loop we came back through the start finish and it was crazy! People were screaming and cheering. I couldn’t hide the huge smile on my face! I guess Shal and Trisha couldn’t help theirs either because the announcer yelled out, “There’s Oiselle having a great time out here!” And we were! We had just run two shady miles and life was great!

We turned right and the crowds kept coming. We were starting our first of four six mile loops. The Oiselle crowd appeared on our left and they were insane! I looked over and laughed … and may have yelled out “Holy Shit!!” I couldn’t believe I was there. 

The road stretched hot and hazy ahead, a slight uphill slant. The crowds thinned. We ran under a double overpass, the only shade we would see, and headed to the campus where we twisted and turned through the campus and past the Olympic Stadium then spit down onto the straight-away back to LA.

  I felt good, and was cautiously optimistic. I thought maybe I will surprise some people. The heat wasn’t doing much damage, and I was taking sips from my bottles and tossing them aside. Spoiler alert: I would regret that.

I passed my family cheer crowd and was so excited to see them! My dad was further up, and had climbed up the base of a street light pole to yell. He’s a rogue cheerer. During high school cross country that man would bust out of the woods in the most unexpected places yelling like a warrior. 

Because of the loop, which was mostly and an out and back, there was lots of support. My family was in a clutch spot, right where things got lonely. It carried me when things took a turn later, knowing I would see them there. Oiselle was in the thick of things and right by a sponge (or t-shirt scrap) stop and then my friends Dave, Allie and Josh were on the far side of the start/finish by the hairpin turn. I had people carrying my spirit. I can’t tell you how essential they were. 


Perry and my brother - casual cowbell crew
Team MAC
O, Trent and Bree - 253 represent
 I was feeling great at mile 8. People were coming back to me. I was passing people. I felt smooth and relaxed. My miles were ticking by 6:15, 6:17, 6:13… faster than race plan, but I felt good. The men’s press truck came up behind me when I was winding through the campus the second time. It was thrilling. Every time I saw my teammates ahead of me across the street I cheered. When I saw Kara I crossed to get closer to cheer. I wanted her to be there. God, I had such a good feeling about her race. 

Photo credit: Jeff Strand
I felt great, until I didn’t. Suddenly, around mile 16 my stomach muscles began to cramp without warning. It wasn’t like anything I’d experienced. It wasn’t really my gut, it was more the armor of my core. It just locked down with burning pain. I couldn’t breath and Gatorade started coming up. I swallowed it down. I told myself to relax, that this could change again in a second … or a minute… or a mile. But it got worse. 


My stomach was cramping and I was so thirsty. I was humiliated remembering the earlier bottles I had just taken small sips of and thrown to the side. I was so sure I wasn’t being cocky, that I was respecting the heat, but I wasn’t. I started drinking whatever water I could get from the t-shirt rags. I remember running past a woman sitting in the shade drinking a 1.5 liter Aquafina. I was shaking just thinking of how badly I wanted a sip. 

PJ enjoying a nearly full bottle I tossed near my family. Face. Palm.
It got worse and I started to have a panic attack. I wasn’t sure my body was going to let me finish this race. I needed to finish this race. I felt like I was breathing through a straw. My stomach muscles were locked down, my legs were cramping, my feet were cramping.  I was so thirsty. I felt so foolish, so embarrassed.

I could see the water stop ahead, I was running away from the city, and my table was 20. It felt like an entire lifetime to get from table 1 to table 20. I told myself the unthinkable, I could walk when I got my bottle.  Then right before my table there was my dad, up another phone poll or something. And he yelled out, “better people are having worse days.” I took my bottle and walked. I almost cried, but didn’t, and I yelled out to my dad that I was sorry. But he was alongside me on the curb. Talking me off the cliff… “Do not give up. Better people are having worse days, pup.” 

Just in case you thought I smiled all 26.2 miles. Pain cave. | Photo credit: @kevmofoto
It woke me up. And I drank my bottle down. I took the neutral water bottle,  conveniently (read the sarcasm), one table down from my bottle table and dumped it over my head. And whispered the word “calm”. And started running. Or jogging. It didn’t matter. I was going to finish this. And I was going to do it the only way I knew how … with gratitude.

I made a deal with myself. If I could make it to that 4th lap, it would be a victory lap. No matter how hard, I would make it a run, jog, walk, or crawl of gratitude. I would stop and say hi to my baby, I would high five the entire Oiselle crowd, and my friends who had flown and traveled from near and far to cheer me on. I would send silent thank you’s to all the believers in my life. And I would try my hardest not to run embarrassed, but to run with a big thankful heart. 


I crawled through the campus, I passed my family again and my dad as I headed back to the city. I saw Kara as she headed out for her final lap and I felt so raw for her, for this frying pan day that I could only scream out, “I LOVE YOU KARA!!” in this completely deranged voice. And I did. I f*cking loved her! I passed Oiselle, then Dave and Ali and Josh, the start and finish and out for the 4th lap. It felt like a battlefield, people dropping out, walking. I was passing men. 


That last lap was the longest six miles of my life. Every step was hard earned. I was working harder than I ever had before … 7:00, 7:19, 6:58, 7:07…I stopped looking. I had to. I fought my panic and embarrassment over and over. 

I noticed my teammate Heather next to me, on the same sufferbus. And I just looked at her and said something poignant like, "fuuuuuck". And we laughed, we had to. It was this awful feeling of being in such great shape, my breathing so easy and even my mind slightly alert, but my body grinding to a halt. Like the tinman without oil. A girl near us was running, walking, running, walking around me. Buzz, buzz, buzz. We were praying for water stops. Heather would be next to me, then behind, then ahead. I was in a dark tunnel. Waiting to turn back to the city, to know I could make it.

Finally on the stretch home, LA ahead, the haze dropping like a curtain. I knew my family would be there on my right. I saw them and I focused on PJ. I focused on her in the heat, in her tutu, out there for hours. My heart was full of her. I slowed in front of her and told her I loved her so much. And she recognized me for the first time that race and said mama. I left her to fight my final miles before I melted into tears.



I ran to Oiselle and thanked them, crying, and high fived every hand I could reach. I saw Dave and Josh and Allie and thanked them. As I turned right to the finish area I put my hands in prayer for the huge crowd that had carried me through each lap. 






I turned left and there was the finish. To my right the top three women stood, being announced as our Olympic Team and the finish area was hushed. All eyes on them. And my heart hurt that it wasn’t Kara up there. I found one hand in the crowd to high five and I threw my hands above my head as I crossed the line. Alone in the quiet. At 2:54.

My body was hot with pain, my back in spasms as usual. I hobbled to the Powerade table and tried not to open mouth kiss the woman who handed me as many as I wanted. I stood and drank and drank and drank.

Suddenly my dad was there. He’d taken my one athlete support badge I’d left at their place. I was so glad he was the one who took and who was there. He was the only one that would understand me at that moment. At most moments, but that one especially. We didn’t need to talk, and he didn’t ask me questions. He just helped me pack myself in ice and got my bag while I lay on the ground. And he handed me much needed Advil for my back.

I couldn’t find my trainers and finally a volunteer confessed she threw them away because they looked so beat up. I just laughed. Absurd. I walked out of the elite area barefoot and without fanfare. That was that. It was over. I felt grey melancholy settle on me.

But then I saw PJ! And Owen! My mom, sister and brother, Dave and Trent and Bree, Josh and Allie. Everyone who loved me was around me and the melancholy lifted. I picked PJ up, her tired little diaper drooping under her red tutu. She gave me a tight hug around my neck and wouldn’t let go. I buried my face in her little neck and drank her in. It was over and it was good. And it was time to change my kid’s diaper and kiss my husband and get a burger with my friends. 


Glad her plaything is done running.
(almost) the whole crew - the best!

THANK YOU TO
My family who believed in me since my first lap around the track in 3rd grade. Who have cheered me on in life and running no matter what. Who made me mix tapes after knee surgeries and drove me to countless PT appointments. Who felt my highs and lows like you were me. I did it for you.

My friends who bought their plane tickets to LA barely hours after I crossed the line at CIM. Who sent their love, support, wonderful and hilarious photos from every corner of the country. And who put me up in the diva suite on race eve. I love you!



Oiselle for supporting women runners. For flying us out, and putting us up the most amazing digs in LA, and making every Oiselle runner feel like a celebrated star. For the best post race celebration a runner could ask for (as usual). And for the sisterhood. You turned it out.



Kristin Metcalf for being the ultimate team leader. For being there for every question and celebrating every runner. And for being a true friend. 

My teammates for inspiring me. 

Cowbell corner block thank you! Thank you for cheering all those hot hours, you never lost steam! And especially thank you to the people cheering who raced the next day. I don't know how you did it!
Photo credit: Kevmofoto

Steph Bruce for dreaming with me. Asking why not you? For being an amazing coach and friend.  

Kara Goucher for showing me what it looks like to love the sport and open your heart to it no matter the outcome. For being raw and real and beautiful straight through. 

Stance Socks for the only socks I'll ever race in.

Nuun for the bottles and hydration love. 

The blazing hot city of LA! Every volunteer out there. Thanks for supporting the event and getting swept up in the sport. 

The USATF.

And most of all to PJ and Owen for being my team. I couldn't have done it without you. I hope I made you proud.


Comments

  1. I don't even know you, but this made me cry. Way to fight, mama.

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  2. I'm with Karen ^. This choked me up at my office. Way to go, girl, and way to chase those big dreams with such a big heart.

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  3. Love love love. You looked so beautiful , turning that last corner, your hands praying a thank you. It was incredible to watch! Well done, and amazing post, thank you for writing it all out. Never too late!

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  4. Love love love. You looked so beautiful , turning that last corner, your hands praying a thank you. It was incredible to watch! Well done, and amazing post, thank you for writing it all out. Never too late!

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  5. + 1. There are tears. Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to see what else you can do. <3

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  6. I was doing okay until you wrote about seeing PJ and then.... all the tears. Wonderful job lady, truly. Thank you for making it so easy to connect with you! You freak'n did it. And I am so excited to see what you do next!

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  7. I am crying over here. You're my hero. Keep running love. Theres more for you. Xo

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  8. I am crying over here. You're my hero. Keep running love. Theres more for you. Xo

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  9. Oh wow! I loved every word of this. My 10 year old daughter and I volunteered at the trials, and we were so thrilled whenever we saw you run past with a huge smile on your face! We loved every minute of it.
    It is amazing that the marathon, regardless of your pace, is a humbling race. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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  10. You are truly an inspiration Sara and I cannot even imagine how hard you fought. It's amazing to me how hard you worked for this opportunity and how hard you worked while at the trials.

    I'm extremely close with my dad as well so seeing how he kept you going gave me all of the feels.

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  11. Thank you for writing this...giving us a glimpse... I felt like I was there (I was in Volee spririt!)
    So looking forward to meeting you at bird camp!!!

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  12. All the tears. All of them. I may need to close my office door.
    This is exactly why I am SO EFFING PROUD to run for Oiselle. I'll never run a sub-3 marathon, but I'm surrounded by amazingly strong women who have and it humbles me.

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  13. I also do not know you but I'm crying anyway. You're my mother runner amazing person inspiration. So in awe of you.

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  14. You are amazing!!! It was so fun cheering you and the rest of our teammates on. This recap perfectly sums up the hope, fear, pain, joy and satisfaction that the marathon brings out in us all.

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  15. Can I repeat many people who have commented before me? Your words brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing your story, it is a solid reminder to never give up, not ever, not ever, not ever.

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  16. This. Just wow! Congrats to you, I love your passion!

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  17. This inspired me. You're a rock star, and you made ME proud - and I don't even know you.

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  18. Awesome recap! You did it! And, I agree with the others who commented...you brought tears to my eyes (and I'm at work)! Thank you for sharing!

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  19. What a wonderful recap! I was totally crying by the end. You're inspiring :)

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  20. Aww. I finally read your beautiful, heartfelt words, and it just confirmed why you are one of my favorite people! Your hard work, dedication and love of the sport, is to be admired. I am so glad I got to cheer you on at the CIM!! love ya. xox

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