I'll never forget the summer and fall leading up to the January marathon, my first. I would rise in the dark pre-dawn hours and drive to Houston's Memorial Park. Each Saturday I ran further than I'd ever run before. I specifically remember the 11-miler, which brought my first emergency trip to the Port-o-John, and the 20-miler, which we did in four five-or-so mile loops and were later told was more like 22 miles. I remember drinking water out of gas station hoses, and I remember the pea-soup thick humidity soaking my cotton shirts by the end of each run. I remember running into Eric, who I'd gone to college with, and how he became my first running partner since my days running with Dad. We'd meet up mid-week to do the "hill" workout (such as it was in hill-free Houston). On Saturdays he was with a faster group than I was, but we always hung out together afterward to stretch.
Marathon Day itself dawned chilly and rainy, the 24-degree temperature unusual for Houston even in January. I wore a garbage bag for the first half of the race, and lined up some friends to meet me with dry shoes and socks at around mile 16. My dad was there too. I was already pretty tired, and I remember my friend with the shoes saying, "Just hold onto your dad. We'll get your shoes and socks on you." The last six miles were a sodden slog, but I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 26 seconds. I had no clothing to change into, so it didn't take long for me to start shivering violently. Some friends drove me home and got me into a hot shower. For a week I had to go downstairs backwards. The next year, I helped pace Eric at the end of his second marathon, but I didn't run another one myself for 8 and a half years.
I didn't stop running, though. Running carried me through many other adventures. I moved to New York and, after an unhappy breakup and weight gain, joined the New York Road Runners and ran a race every month. I met my husband by asking him on the dance floor at a wedding if he was a runner. I joined the Peace Corps and ran in Far East Russia. I moved back to the states, this time to Colorado, got married to the runner from the dance floor, got used to running in the altitude slowly and decided to try the marathon again. I entered the lottery for the NYC Marathon, which I had watched but never ran while I lived there, and surprisingly was chosen. The resulting training season was even more memorable than my first. I used a Jeff Galloway run/walk plan. Galloway calls for *very* long slow runs on alternate weekends, so I actually entered and ran one marathon to train for the goal marathon (and despite run/walking, I beat my Houston time by 12 minutes in that training race). Two weeks later I ran three legs totaling 20 miles for a team in a 24-hour mountain relay. The Galloway plan also calls for lots of 5Ks as speed tests. As my training progressed, I began to place in my age group in some of them.
The weather for my day in New York--the 2005 running of the race--was the opposite of that in Houston. It was warm, in the 70s, and slightly muggy. I knew I wouldn't be able to make my goal of finishing under four hours. I joined the 4 hour 15 minute pace group and finished in 4 hours 14 minutes, a 40-minute PR. After we crossed the finish line, the pace group leader, a steady woman whose rhythm never faltered, asked me what my next goal was. I told her we now planned to have a baby. Though already I was thinking of Boston, I didn't tell her that.
Five months later, I was pregnant with twins.