Long Version: It was a grim race morning. From a soaking shower at the start to serious humidity and pollen, few would claim that last Sunday was the day they were hoping for. I tolerate heat well after years of running in Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and North Carolina. Still, I was anxious about my group members, many of whom were doing their first marathon.
Howard and I stood in the middle of Park Street, signs lifted skyward as we gathered our sheep. We had lots of first timers, but a few veterans as well. Once the gun went off, it took us almost two minutes to cross the line. The first mile was very slow and we had to do a lot of weaving. In fact, we were part of a huge group for most of the race (just ask the aid stations we repeatedly overwhelmed). Much to everyone's surprise, I behaved and didn't pull us through any miles too fast.
As we headed South, I started to check in with people, making sure that they were still feeling comfortable, that they were paying attention to their hydration and fueling needs. This was the first time that the face of the group shifted considerably. We were still a big group, but we'd dropped quite a few and picked up an equal number through the South Cove neighborhood. As we worked North towards Battery, it was time for tough love. I reminded them that it was one hill, that we had plenty of time left after the hill and that if all else failed, we were only 10 miles from beer (which, sadly, would be shut down when we got there. More on that later.)
12: 9:10 **Pee break for me, had to catch up.
Once we topped Battery, the sun decided to come out from behind the clouds and we all started to suffer. I started to slow down through aid stations to make sure that people were drinking and assessed my own hydration level. I felt good, but not great. Howard, however, was sheet white and I was starting to get anxious about him and a few others in our group. Working north, we encouraged everyone to take advantage of any and every sprinkler stop. The neighborhoods in these miles provided incredible support in the form of water, food, and sprinklers. Around Leddy, Howard let me know that he was going to stop because of the heat. This was an excellent message for some of the runners in the group, who were pushing too hard and needed to know that it was a day to listen to your body, not your goals. We rolled on through Leddy, across some muddy boards and up towards the final turn towards home. A friend of mine was running and joined up with us for a few miles as an unofficial pacer (Thanks Hillary!). She's run VCM a number of times and is a Girls on the Run coach, so her energy was hugely welcome.
Watching other people hit the wall was intensely emotional. I didn't know whether it was more helpful to be silent and let them work through it, to address it honestly or to try to distract. I chose a combination of the three. I pointed out milestones. I told them everyone was feeling the same way and that they were doing an amazing job. I talked about my own experience with the wall in Vegas, when I was convinced I was going to wither in the Las Vegas desert. We all breathed a sigh of relief, however, when we turned onto the bike path. It was cooler and shaded, a welcome break from the sun beating down on us. We also picked Howard back up around 22, an enormous mental boost for me. My feet had started to scream and I was struggling to stay upbeat. Together, we rolled home. The most devastating moment was at 25, when we found out that the beer table (which I had been promising for 25 miles, thankssomuch Officer Buzzkill) had been ticketed and shut down. As we recovered from that blow and passed by the skate park, I sent my group ahead to finish their marathons.
.2 (or .42): 4:01
Over the last 6 miles, we passed 196 people. 5 people passed us. I carried a sign for 26 miles. I only dropped it once. All in all, it was an amazing experience. I don't know if I'll pace next year as I have thoughts of making VCM my next big goal race. However, for anyone looking for an entirely different kind of challenge that doesn't require you to run 100 miles or jump over obstacles, pacing comes highly recommended from me.