Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Flying Pig Marathon...or How I Learned to Love the Marathon

If you follow me on Twitter, then you already know my big news:

That is 2 minutes and 45 seconds under 4 hours. It’s also 10 minutes and 49 seconds faster than my last marathon.

I’ve had so much to say about this last weekend that I’ve put off writing this blog post in hopes that it would just write itself, but it’s not gonna happen like that and I don’t want to forget anything. I finally just wrote down an outline and now I’m going to get to it on my lunch break.

The Trip to Cincinnati
I have the incredible fortune of being part of the Ragnar family. I have a network of teammates who are basically as nuts as I am. When I posted on Facebook that I was considering doing Flying Pig, four of my teammates were immediately registered and on board. We picked up some other Ragnarians and were suddenly 7 on our way to Cincinnati.

We rented a Ragnar van (that I can’t park very well)
Ragnar Van

And made the 10 hour trip to Cincinnati. We talked, laughed, played apples to apples, slept, ate, stopped to pee and I felt like I'd known these people all my life. There was a lot of flying tulle since we were also all making our tutus. We got into Erlanger, Kentucky at some god awful hour in the night after some pro rain-driving by Renee.

Our hotel was basically between Cincinnati and the place that God forgot. Don't get me wrong, the people in Erlanger are wonderfully hospitable, but there is precisely 1 gas station, 2 motels, a biker bar called Peecox and a Waffle House.

The Expo
On Saturday, after a butter filled breakfast at Waffle House (thank God I had a little exercise planned for the weekend), we headed out to Cincinnati (about 20 minutes away) to pick up our packets.

Ragnar Ambassadors!

I have to congratulate the Flying Pig on their organization. We found parking easily and popped in. I didn't wait in line for a single thing. We picked up packets, took pictures with pig statues:

We walked through a lot of great vendors. My haul included:
- Flying Pig Pearl Izumi Cycling Jersey
- Flying Pig "Piglitically Correct" mug
- Flying Pig pint glass
- Flying Pig T-Shirt
- "Multi-Talented Swim Bike Run" bamboo shirt
- Pocket bra (for those hours on the bike trainer when I want a place for my phone)
- Gus, Body Glide, and a blister kit (this will be a big mistake)
- MORE sweaty bands (seriously, it's an addiction, y'all)

At the end of the expo, you pick up your tech shirt, the duffle bag, and a marathon poster - great race swag.

Pre-Race Day
At this point, we were all hungry and tired and needed to get off our feet, put food in our mouths and get back to resting. So Cheesecake Factory and back to the hotel for beers and sitting outside while I finished my tutu. 

Not my tutu - but Renee's prototype is pretty awesome

At this point, I was starting to get nervous. Like I said prior to the marathon, I felt like I hadn't worried enough for there to be a marathon just around the corner. I kept telling myself that in 24 hours, I'd be in a van driving back home, this awesome weekend would be coming to a close and that all I had to do was run for 4 hours. Everyone else went for dinner at the Peecox, but I moved into my solo hotel room, organized for the morning and went out for a walk.

I found myself in a little glen. The Super Moon was out, the silence was only disturbed by the quiet hush of the highway and evening bird calls, and the light was just finishing fading.

I stood there for a good 15 minutes. I prayed aloud. I walked in circles. I did little jogs back and forth. I stood in silence and this is what came to me:

I am blessed to be able to run. I am blessed to be in Cincinnati with good friends. This weekend has been an amazing break from reality and all too soon, it will be over. The training is over and the race is here and at this point, all I can do is run. That was Chadd's advice to me before my first marathon and I've held on to it since: it's just running.

I tucked into bed and thought about writing a blog post, but eventually decided it wasn't worth the time. No use spending time worry about what is already done. In a marathon, the race is never about the actual race - it's all about the training. 

Race Day
Race morning came and we piled into the van around 5:30. We got there with plenty of time to spare. We all dawned our tutus, body glided, and went to the bathroom a couple million times. I felt an amazing sense of calm through the morning. It didn't hurt that I was with multi-marathoners who were calm and collected. My friends had been right - not having a race crew is sometimes a great thing. I wasn't worried about where someone needed to be or how they were feeling or if I'd see them along the course. Instead, I was focused on how amazingly short the portapotty lines were (again, nice going Flying Pig).

Justin and Jason
Matchy Matchy

Justin, Me, Ayla, Amanda, Renee, and Jason (sans Jerry)

Ayla and I jumped into the "Pen" and waited for the gun. When we lurched forward, I ran through all the things my coach and I had talked about:

The Race
The first 9 miles I was to stay behind the 4 hour pace group. If they came out too fast, I should let them go, but keep them as a beacon. I stayed about 30-50 seconds behind the pink balloons. Every time I edged up to them, I forced myself back. I'm certainly glad I did because FPM is not a course to plan to bank time. The course is gorgeous - you go over a bridge into Kentucky, then back into Cincinnati over another bridge. Incredibly soon, there you are at the 6 mile point, where every runner feels that sickness in the pit of their stomach. The hill.

At the turn to 6, there was a "Squealer Party Zone" where volunteers and other supporters are stationed, screaming and cheering. Everyone loved my tutu. I mean, how can you not? Everyone started chanting "PINK TU-TU! PINK TU-TU!" So, naturally, I started blowing kisses. I was kind of a ham (har har har, see what I did there.)

At this point, I was supposed to be at 1:00. I was at 0:57. Uhhhoh. comes that hill. I figured I'd worry about those 3 minutes after I climbed.

I was shocked at how easy the 3 mile climb was. First, the idea that it's a 3 mile climb straight is false. You climb, you level off, you climb, you level off, then suddenly, you're almost to 9 and it's over. Somewhere in there, a retirement home was blasting No Sleep Till Brooklyn:


Yeah, you tell me that doesn't make you want to run faster. 

After the climb, you find yourself at the top of the hill and you can see out into a vista. It's breathtaking, really. The river, the hills, all sprawling before you. 100% worth the climb. It's almost like an easter egg the race director planted out there. If you make it through this hill, you'll see something so beautiful it'll take your breath away...if the hill hasn't already done that.

My next check-in was at the half point. By this time, the half marathoners had veered off (just around 9) and I realized I was in sub 9s. I looked up to check in with the 4 hour pace group and couldn't see them anywhere. I checked my watch. I should have been at 1:59:00, instead, I was closer to 1:57:30. Not too shabby. I kept trying to look ahead of me around a curve. Where the hell was the four hour pace group, where was my beacon?

Then I turned around. They were behind me. Coach had said at the half point, if I found the 4 hour group to be annoying, crowded or the wrong pace, I could ditch them.

So I did.

My next check point came in at mile 18. These 5 miles were actually great - there's a small township where you do a loop of some description. The crowds are raucous (holy crap, the Lulu Lemon girls were nuts!), the sport was amazing, the bands between songs cheered out "NICE TUTU!" I felt like a freaking champion and I was loving my run.

18 came around and I was supposed to be at 2:43:00. Instead, I was somewhere in the late 2:30s. With the next check point being 22, this is the hardest point in the race for me, mentally. I have to give mad props to the cheer section at 18 - the parrotheads were great. This section of the race featured a long highway. I said to myself over and over again, "It's just 4 miles" (Thanks for the mantra, coach!) My borrowed gps watch was telling me I was holding an average 8:47. I started saying aloud, "I've got this. I feel good. I feel so good. This is going to be amazing." In reality, I was fighting the "You're going to hit a wall. You've only trained to 18.5. You don't know what's going to happen."

Then 22 appeared. 4.2 miles to go. This was my check point. I was supposed to be at 3:20, I was closer to 3:15. The negativity shut off. Hyper drive kicked in. I will do this. I am going to do this. I am doing this. Tuesday's Runner's World quote reminded me precisely of the clarity I felt in that moment:

It's an odd thing, when your body says no and your mind and your spirit say yes. It's frightening and empowering and clarifying and beautiful all at once. It was the past year of my life, shortened into a span of 26.2 arduous miles. It was the culmination of experiences, the knowledge that my body can be pushed past its breaking point, just like my heart. 

Around 23, I saw a guy who was struggling. Pain was all over his face and his form was in pieces. I slowed down beside him to walk. I talked to him for a bit, learned it was his first marathon and remembered just how badly I hurt at the 3 miles to go point. I cheesed out on him, but when you're at this point in a marathon, it was all I had. I asked him if I could tell him what got me through my marathons and he said please.

"When I don't think I can do it anymore and when my body hurts so badly, I have to remember that eventually, I won't be able to do this anymore. This pain is a good thing. So, even though we don't WANT to do this today, there will come a day when we can't do this anymore. And that isn't today."

It's the bastardized version of my favorite mantra: "There will come a day when I cannot do this. Today is not that day."

I patted his back and went on ahead. There is such a community and connection among runners at this point in a race. The love and hope and fear you all feel is tangible. And it sounds corny to say, but I have never felt more connected to people in my life than I do in those last miles. Delusion? Probably.

Mile 24 crested ahead of me. 2.2 miles. I had 20 minutes left and I was still running 8:48s. 

Mile 25. Hail Marys are literally pouring out of my mouth. The crowds were getting thick and marathoners who had finished were walking back to cheer on friends. "You can do it. You are almost there, it's just over the hill." 

I so appreciated that FPM had a "1 mile to go sign" at 25.2. Forgive the language, but when I hit that sign, I ran like a mother fucker. 

My last mile was an 8:51.

When the finish line came into site, I had over 5 minutes to kill. By the time I got to the 26 mile marker, tears were streaming down my face. I was either entirely deaf to the crowds or deafened by them. I think the best comparison is like hearing while being under water. 

The race director stands in the middle of the road, giving out high fives and congratulations as your cross the first timing mat. The announcer calls out every runner's name. I heard "Amelia Rommel!" and I looked at my watch: 3:57:33.

I stopped, hands on my knees and totally lost my shit.

A friend on twitter recently wrote, 
Saying "I did this great thing because I am great" is different from saying "I'm proud I was able to do this thing I found difficult." - Paul
And that is honestly how I feel. I finished in sub 4, not because I am awesome or any more special than anyone else, but because I worked through something difficult. I trained in the cold, the rain, and the snow. I went to track practice when I'd rather have been drinking beer. I laced up my shoes and met my team at the asscrack of dawn on the weekends to run hills. 

I called Chadd, my parents, my coach, crying and snotty. I went and found my teammates who had done the half and had beer and lounged in the sun.

Still standing!

Lounging and BEER

As we piled into the car and headed home, I realized that for the first time immediately after a marathon, I wanted to do another one. 

So maybe the third time is a charm. The first marathon, you don't remember, the second, you're miserable, and the third you fall in love.

Congratulations to all my fellow runners at the FPM and thanks to FPM for a great race!

Anyone want to do Richmond?


  1. The nice neighborhood at 18 is Mariemont. If you visit cinci again the best wrstern there is actually very cute and nice. The stretch along the high, columbia pike (32) sucks but is over quickly. great work Mia.

  2. Love the blog post!! And of course, I LOVE road tripping with you. You were amazing! When I was running my race (as someone said, only 13.1 miles) I had a mantra that got me through the tough parts:

    "I'm not this body, I'm not this mind/I'm not this body, I'm not this mind/I'm not this body, I'm not this mind/Om, om, om, om."

    Looking forward to our next race! Biscuit!