Monday, November 12, 2012

The First 138,336. My Sister's first marathon.

(As promised. Stride for stride for 26.2 miles. From start to finish. 138,336 feet)

In June of this past year my sister Elisa joined a marathon training team in Richmond, VA. Her goal, after several years of running 5ks and 10ks, was to complete the Richmond Marathon. Yes, a marathon. The dream distance for many runners, my sister included.

Five months later I joined my sister and her marathon training team for a 20 mile training run, which happened to be the longest of their program. We finished the run in about 3:40 with a total running time of 3:21. It was just under a ten minute mile pace, and my sister said she felt like she had a lot in the tank at the finish. A few months before she had mentioned wanting to finish in under 5 hours, and ultimately started knocking her time goals down to possibly a 4:30 on a really good day. However, after her strong showing on the 20 miler, I suggested that my sister might actually be able to run a ten minute mile for the entire marathon, which would bring her to a time of 4:22. Moreso, I believed she had held back a little to run with her training team, and thus I secretly believed she could break 4:20.

So it began. On the brisk 36 degree morning of November 10, 2012, myself, my sister, and 6,000 other runners cluttered the interesection of 8th and Broad St in downtown Richmond. The song Gangdamstyle blaired from the speakers, breaking a little pre-race tension in the process, and soon we were following the masses and running the first feet of my sister's first marathon. The primary goal for the day was to simply finish the marathon, then break 4:30, and then shoot for the "elite" goal of breaking 4:20....if possible.

The early miles went just as planned, and though the pace was a bit faster than the ten minute miles my sister had been training at, we were moving smooth. We cruised the early flat sections at a 9:30 pace, and eventually dropped down to a 9:15 aided by the downhills leading to the James River. We hit the 10k mark in 57:49. My sister and I were also joined by the pleasant company of my friend and running veteran Carter Wiecking. Her presence definitely helped keep our pace efficient, as well as providing some much needed conversation. The river front was gorgeous and before we knew it we were passing through the 10 mile point, and then through the half in 2:02:23. My sister had just run about six minutes faster than planned for the first half of the marathon, and I was a little worried that we went out too fast. Carter, however, continued to run well, so we let her go so she could pursue breaking her marathon PR of 4:14. Carter went on to crush it, and finished with a huge personal best in a time of 4:01.

Meanwhile, as in most marathons, my sister started feeling the punishing effects of the miles during the scenic Lee bridge crossing. This is around mile 17 of the marathon, and where the race really begins. Many runners were already showing visible signs of fatigue. I told my sister that "This is where you prove you are stronger than everyone else. If you see someone walking, you keep running. You trained harder, and you can keep going." The encouragement/coaching had fleeting effects, but ultimately she would need short walks breaks. Although her marathon training program was very good, my sister had become acustomed to being allowed to stop and walk at their food/aid checkpoints every 4 to 5 miles. In the marathon, the clock keeps running, and so you must as well.

We arrived at mile 20 in 3:12:37. This was nine minutes faster than her 20 mile training run three weeks earlier, and without pausing the clock at aid stations. The following miles would prove to be the crux of the race. Every step Elisa took after mile 20 would be the farthest she has ever run. Cary St to the Richmond Diamond were peppered with short walk breaks and stretching. I kept reminding her that this is all part of the marathon experience and it is what everyone goes through. Elisa did not want to think about the runnning, and asked me to talk about something. Anything. So, I mentioned how pretty the leaves were through the city, and I even stopped at mile 22 to chug two cups of ice cold beer. Still, my sister remained in a bit of low spot, so I said "It's not about how well you can run when you feel good. It's about how fast you can keep moving when you want to quit." The last four miles of the Richmond marathon are fairly flat, so I encouraged my sister to keep going and that the finish would be there soon. I knew from miles 22 to 26 that Elisa was putting everything she had into it, and she even said "I have nothing left right now. I just want to be done". I replied "Good. It means you are giving it your all."

As we made several of the final turns down to the finish I reminded my sister "You are about to become a marathoner! You will be a marathoner for the rest of your life from this point forward. You got here on your own. I'm so proud of you." Though I'm sure it seemed like forever from Elisa's point of view we finally made it to the last turn down to Browns Island. We could see and hear the thousands of spectators eagerly awaiting the runners, and it was quite a sight. About a hundred feet from the finish, by chance, I glanced over to the right and wouldn't you know it? Of the thousands of people lining the street, I spotted our mom and dad who were able to watch Elisa and I finish together. I nudged my sister and said "Look! It's mom and dad. We're all here." With that final note we sprinted the final downhill and through the finish chute.

She did it! My sister Elisa freaking did it! She was sore, tired, and hurting, but she kept moving forward. My sister was now a marathoner and the newest member of the rare society of long distance runners.

Oh, and her finish time? Remember that "elite" goal of breaking 4:20. Yeah, she finished in 4:19:57. Three seconds under. Bad ass. What a red letter day for the Bailey and Seldon family. Hello world. Let me introduce you to Elisa Bailey Seldon. The MARATHONER!

(Proud brother with inspiring little sister)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

November 10, 2012. The Journey Begins

(My sister Elisa on the right in green. Photo courtesy of MTT training)

A few years years ago I told my sister that if she ever decided to run a marathon that I would run the entire thing with her. Step for step. That time has come.

It's been 15 years since my sister and I last ran together. Our last run, which might have been our only run together ever, was simply a few laps around our quarter mile neighborhood loop. After a few minutes, I realized I could not keep up, and I soon stopped while she kept running lap after lap. In less than 48 hours, we will be running again, but on a much bigger stage.

There's never been much sibling rivalry between my sister and I. We both had similar grades in school, both played sports, and both graduated from the same university. Elisa was three years younger, and always seemed to fall in the category of being "Michael's little sister", or "Oh, I think I know your brother". However, as time has passed we've grown up and created our own identities as young adults. I became a long distance runner in my free time, and my sister went off to MCV to continue her education. I started to be known as the crazy runner in the family, but that all changed a few years ago when my sister started completing a handful of races. Still, even my own sister's sentiment was that her 5k's and 10k's didn't stack up, especially when her brother was out running these 100 mile races. Regardless, the Bailey family suddenly had two runners, but little did we know that we would soon have two marathon runners in the mix.

On Saturday November 10th, 2012, my little sister will be checking off one of her bucket list items. Elisa will be running her first marathon at the Richmond marathon. It's a fitting location, since Richmond is the city we both grew up near, and it will be a familiar backdrop for this big occasion. Elisa has been running with a marathon training group, and now has a 20+ mile run added to her resume of longest runs ever. In two days, she will run six miles farther than she has ever run before. The Richmond marathon will be my 80th marathon, or longer running event. However, don't be fooled. In all honesty, I never expected that the day would come that I would be running a marathon with my sister, let alone this soon. I always suspected we may run a 5k, or even a half marathon together. The idea of running a marathon with my sister was really only ever a fleeting thought. Other than finishing my first marathon/ultra, this is the run I am most excited to finish, because the finish in not for me. It's higher on my list than even Western States, or my first 100 mile finish. In other words, it's a big freaking deal.

Elisa has been training for a while, and her hard work has paid off. To be honest, she is superhuman. She's the only person I know who can train for a marathon while going to pharmacy grad school, work rotations, and also get married in the middle of it all. It was only a few months ago when her only goal was to finish, or possibly finish under 5 hours. As of today we are hoping to break 4:20. Wish us luck!