Thankfully, my brothers and I had enough training to get us through, although it was tougher than usual. Jon has battled injuries that have knocked him out of training off and on, and he travels a lot with his work. Jim also has dealt with injuries, and had to choose to use his spare time to train or work on his Doctorate. He chose the latter. I was the lucky one who only had one 3-week hiatus because of an injury. I still had time to do a number of races (including another marathon and several marathon distance training runs), and somehow avoided burnout with the increased training. (Side note: I've been taking Hammer Nutrition Race Caps Supreme, and I'm convinced they've been the cause of my boost in energy.) Don, my brother in the wheelchair, was patient enough to let us go as fast or slow as we needed. When I say "we" I mean the whole team of us - Don, Jim, Jon, me. I love running with my brothers. It's a totally different race than running on my own. We run or stop according to each other's needs, without worrying about race time - only worrying about each other making it in. I love it.
Anyway, dear old Dad once again rallied to not only get all of Don's things ready (the racing chair, the pillows, the coat, gloves, hat, etc), but to also wake up after four hours of sleep, get Don up and going at 3:30, and get us all into the car and on our way at 4am. Dad drove us to the race start at the top of the canyon - Hardware Ranch - where it was dark and cold. We got there just before the first buses arrived, bringing runner after runner. I think there were 2000 runners, not sure if they were all marathoners.
We got Don in his race chair, Dad took a picture, then we waved goodbye to Dad as he drove back down the canyon. It was 5:30. He had to be out of the canyon, which was going to close at 5:45. Since we were the earliest runners there, we went right into the warming tents without any problem. But it wasn't long before the tents were packed, bursting really, with people. Don had all his winter clothes on and was roasting, especially with the extra warmth of hundreds of people. By now we were trapped in the tent, and the trouble was convincing people to move aside. It was dark, and people weren't expecting a racing chair - they were looking at eye level, not chair level - but once they realized what was going on, they crowded against each other to make a path for Don to leave. We breathed real, fresh, but very cold air in relief when we got outside.
Don was comfortable now. We huddled close, shivering in the cold night air, waiting for the clock to tick to race start. Finally, it was about 7am, time for the wheelchair racers to line up. We shuffled to the race start, taking our place behind three other racers in wheelchairs - but these guys were going to propel themselves down the canyon to the finish, finishing hours before any other racer. Still, it was nice to start early (5 minutes before the runners) so we could clear out of their way. A wheelchair can cause runners a lot of trouble if they're trying to pass us in a crowd without tripping on the wheels, so races really do need to let the chairs go first.
This was the second time all four of us have run the Top of Utah marathon together, and it was the third time for Jon and me. So we knew what we were getting into. We knew we'd have about 1 1/2 miles before the first elite runners would catch us. The three wheelchair racers were long gone. We had a few minutes of solitude, a few minutes where I was the leading female runner and my brothers were the leading men. It was kind of fun to have a 5 minute head start, but we knew it wouldn't last. Sure enough, the leading runners passed us in a furious battle of three to be the finisher. Two of them were Kenyans. It was amazing to watch them run so lightly, so quickly, obviously pushing themselves but not straining with over-exertion. The next runners were a good tenth of a mile or more behind them. Then it was a few passing us at a time, then it was groups, then it was the whole crowd. We were passed by hundreds and hundreds of runners. They were so nice as they passed us, giving us a thumbs up, clapping for us, cheering, occasionally chatting, and lots and lots of smiles. It was fun to be so encouraged.
The canyon was beautiful. The steep sides were lined with trees and bushes sporting their autumn colors. The day began to warm up, we got into our stride, and the run to the mouth was perfectly comfortable and enjoyable. Like our previous races, we switched off every two miles. That, plus talking with each other, made the miles go quickly. Dad, bless his heart, was waiting with the crowd at the mouth of the canyon to check on us. We pulled over, handed him our jackets, and waved goodbye again as we began mile 14. It flattened out somewhat, but we still had a good pace. The energy gels and caps we took hopefully helped my brothers. (I know they helped me - I can tell when they kick in. I become a little chipmunk chatting away and bouncing around. I'm sure it annoys my brothers, but that's what sisters are supposed to do, right?) We kept going really well, but around mile 18 it got tough, we were tired, and there was still a long way to go. We slowed, but pushed through. The volunteers at the 25th mile aid station were the best! A group of high school girls, lined up to hand out drinks, cheering on runners. But when they saw Don, their cheers turned to full heart-felt screams of encouragement. It was like they couldn't cheer loud enough! They clapped and jumped up and down, and yelled, and we all grinned. That gave us a boost to keep us going up a hill, round a corner, and keep going. A little walking also rested our legs so that by the time we rounded another corner and saw mile 26, we were running our fast pace again. One more corner, and the finish line was in sight. At the last corner, Mom and Jon's family were waiting and cheering and taking pictures. Jon's daughter Kaylee was so cute, yelling in her 7-year-old voice, "YOU GUYS ROCK!" I had to laugh.
Finally, the finish. The last stretch we all grabbed on to Don's chair and ran it in together, passing the people lining the sides of the road, waving to thank them for their cheers, and not stopping or slowing until we ran through the finish line. We'd done it. I think it took us 4:49, but I'm not sure. It was one of our slower marathons together (we've done 4), but it was just as wonderful as all of them. Because it's not our race time, as I said already, but our time together that matters.
I had taken plenty of energy gels and had run a comfy pace, so I wasn't feeling spent. My brothers and parents were gracious enough to let me go run some more. I wanted to get my first Ultra distance, so I ran the race course backwards to about mile 23 1/2 (2 3/4 mile, starting from mile 26.2), then turned back and ran almost to the finish (I wasn't about to cross the finish line twice and confuse the race officials). So I got about 31.2-ish. I wanted 31, since that's a 50K, an official Ultra distance. My last 5+ miles took me 42 minutes. It was fun to run about 8 minute miles after having run a marathon. By the time I got back to my brothers & parents, I was tired. I swallowed some ibuprofen to prevent muscle soreness, changed into some clothes for the ride home, and said goodbye to the Top of Utah marathon. It was fun. Of course, that's really easy to say once it's over, but honestly it was fun. We had a lot of laughs and helped each other finish a marathon. Fun. And satisfying.
Thanks, Don, Jim & Jon - are we going to do another one? (Oooh, now is NOT the time to ask that! :) Wait until the memory of the pain has eased...) And super thanks, Dad - you make this possible, and you never complain. It is, you know, your fault that we became runners in the first place. :) Thanks also to Mom for coming along and helping out, and to you & Jon's family for being there to cheer us on. And a special HUGE thanks to my husband (I came home to a clean house and an amazing dinner!) & kids for letting me do this. I know they think it's crazy, but sometimes you have to find something - like (for me) endurance running - to keep from going crazy.