It’s been two weeks and a day…and I still can’t describe my marathon experience. I have been on cloud nine for two weeks. Well, cloud nine tempered with a limp, some blisters, an aching body, and a tired mind. Perhaps there should be a new category: cloud 11? Eleven being my favorite number. If you knock back that perfect feeling, my 11, with a little body pain, you’d make it back to cloud nine.

Why was I on cloud 11? To cover that all would be a very long blog post. A post from the beginnings of my training back in November when I could barely run three miles with J at Thanksgiving to the exhilarating triumph of turning left on Boylston, hearing the crowds roar, and seeing the dazzling finish line ahead. It would be probably five pages of thank you’s and appreciation to all of the incredible people who have supported me along the way. To keep it some-what concise, I’m going to limit this blog to marathon weekend. It may still be a novel. I hope you enjoy.

The kick-off

Marathon celebrating began at Pathfinder. My amazing  coworkers surprised me with an unbelievable array of carb-loading Friday afternoon. Pies, cookies, fruits (with my favorite pineapple!), Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches, and more were spread out in one of our conference rooms. There was a card as well as balloons that even two weeks later still have helium! They were clearly meant to weather 26.2 miles!

Real Texans Arrive

Aunt and Uncle at Lexington and Concord

What Patriot's Day isn't complete without meeting a Patriot? My aunt and uncle visited Lexington and Concord on Sunday with my dad.

That night, my aunt and uncle kicked off marathon weekend with a spectacular Bean-town celebration of all things seafood at the Barking Crab. Life-long Texans, this was their first time to Boston, and they were living it up. When I met them Friday night it was wonderful to hear about their adventures around Boston, learning about the history of the city. It was also equally fantastic to have an injection of home. Their charm, smiles, support, Texan accents, and love made me feel incredibly special and very lucky to have them in my life.

Saturday and the Marathon Expo

Saturday dawned with the beginning hint of nerves. I began running through lists I hadn’t done. Did I have Gu? Would my shoes hold out? When would I go to the Expo? How many Google Maps could I print to show my family what exact location they would be on the course? Jon began to sense my over-planning–my inherent reaction to tension/anticipation is to plan, plan, plan away!

Cafenation crepes, coffee and tea

Cafenation crepes, coffee and tea with the ladies (thanks Cait for the pic!)

Beyond planning, there was also a need for girl-time and crepes. My girls and Cafenation crepes can help spread sunshine on any rainy, or stressful, day. Saturday morning I trekked to Brighton Center on a pilgrimage ala crepe and MicCait. The tea, as always, was stellar, the crepes fantabulous, and the ladies, lovely. (I also love the peeps at Cafenation who generously contributed to my fundraising efforts.)

Later that day, while my aunt and uncle were out on the town seeing the sights, Jon and I ventured downtown to the marathon expo, a wonderland of people, running clothes, free samples, and just about every vendor who has any relation to running–or hopes to have any relation to running. I secured my bib number: 26632 after a bit of wrangling and then started my mission to find cool clothing. No, not cool as in ‘hey, good lookin.’ Cool as in, ‘oh my gosh, it’s-going-to-be-55-degrees-and-I-haven’t-trained-in-anything-above-32-in-four-months-so-how-will-my-body-possibly-respond’ kind of cool. I was a on a mission to find wicking material for my arms and a white, wicking visor for my head. After a few elbows in the crowd, some free sample scouring, and some ‘when are we leaving’ questions from Jon, I had everything I needed and we were off to the next adventure: the Tedy’s Team dinner.

The Tedy’s Team Dinner

Jon and I picked my dad up at Logan on our way to the Tedy’s Team Pasta Dinner. My dad scheduled his flight to arrive just in time for us to pop across the harbor and into downtown Boston. Although sad that my mom could not be at the marathon–since I was running for her afterall–I was thrilled to see my dad. His bear-hug assuaged my rapidly rising fears about Monday’s race and his ready jokes kept my mind off the 26.2 miles ahead.

Tedy's Team Marathon Morning

Tedy's Team Marathon Morning (thanks to Candida Ruscito for the photo!)

At the dinner, Jon, my Dad and I chatted with other Tedy’s Team runners (all of whom have amazingly inspirational stories about why they are running for stroke) and were inspired by Tedy’s Team leader, Tedy Bruschi. Tedy and his wife, Heidi, are among some of the nicest people I have had the pleasure of meeting. Their commitment to raising awareness and funds for stroke is inspiring. And being a part of their efforts makes you feel like you really are making a difference. Particularly when they announced how much the team had raised: more than $300,000!!! With just 45 runners, Tedy’s Team hit a new milestone–the most raised in the past five years of its existence. (And here I should add if you’d still like to give, you can. You can make a secure, online donation here: http://tedysteam2010.kintera.org/boston/fowler)

I can’t quite explain the feeling in the room as the 45 of us prepared for what was to come Monday…or shared stories about what had brought us to the marathon in the first place: stroke survivors and heroes who were parents, partners, children, or even themselves. It was truly one of the most moving nights of my life. I left with energy, excitement, and enthusiasm for what was to come…and a full belly of pasta 🙂

Sunday, The Countdown Begins

There is one thing that gets me through tough runs. When the mileage starts creeping up and my body starts to resist my mind’s pressures to keep going, a solitary image glimmers at the finish line every Saturday or Sunday morning: pancakes. And not just any pancakes, Deluxe Town Diner chocolate chip pancakes. Many a time have I sat in the diner booth, sweat still seeping through my running layers, eagerly awaiting the perfect pancake. Sunday morning, I arrived with family entourage in tow, sans sweat, but with a hearty appetite ready for carb-loading. We celebrated all things diner with so many plates of food, the waitress was forced to put some of it on the shelf next to us. It was delicious.

The rest of Sunday was a blur of touring the Boston suburbs:

  • a trip to the Pathfinder office to show off my work digs
  • a jaunt down the marathon course (via car)
  • a tour of Babson, my brother’s alma mater, via car for my aunt and uncle
  • and the all important trip to Whole Foods to stock up on pre-marathon dinner supplies

The Last Supper

Sunday night, my aunt, uncle, dad, and Jon helped prepare a sumptuous feast of my favorite pre-run delectables. We downed pasta with tomato sauce and chicken sausage, sautéed summer squash, spinach salad with goat cheese, and yummy Whole Foods bread warmed with butter. I fretted over the details of the race. I may have zoned out during the dinner conversation. I had trouble concentrating on what needed to be where, when. And I obsessively kept checking the bed laid out with all of my marathon gear. But my family was amazing. My aunt, uncle, Jon and dad were a wonder of support. Jon and my aunt lovingly attached my bib number and running accoutrements with safety pins. My mom called in via speakerphone from California to send well-wishes. It was amazing.

Then came the time for sleep…and that wasn’t amazing.

I sat in front of the computer pouring over maps, a blog for work, and other random marathon sites. I rearranged my breakfast supplies on the counter. I set the DVR. I fiddled with my marathon bag, all delaying the onslaught of sleep. With sleep came the reality that the marathon was indeed the next morning–terrifying. But of course once I laid down to sleep, I couldn’t. I tossed, turned, sprawled, harumphed and muddled my way through six or seven hours in bed before jumping up pre-alarm and shouting to Jon at 6am, ‘it’s here! Marathon daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!’

The Boston Marathon

The big day with my stroke heroes sign pinned on

A look from the back in the Tedy's Team staging house (thanks to Candida Ruscito for the photo).

A lot happened that morning…from oatmeal and tea preparation to meeting up with Caitlin (and seeing her lovely parents) and Anna for transport out to the starting line. Anna’s dad graciously drove four nervous runners with a blasting inspirational soundtrack to the Hopkinton State Park. We met the buses and were on our way to the beginning of our 26.2 mile journey.

In Hopkinton I said farewell to my favorite lady runners and headed to meet Tedy’s Team at a house near the start (generously offered by some Tedy’s Team supporters). There, the 45 of us gathered to await the countdown. Tedy was in full support mode–camera ready to take photos while also fielding media coverage of Tedy’s Team (see clips here on WBZ and NESN). We stretched, chatted, put on sunscreen (lesson learned from two years ago!) and quietly took in the moment.

Then it was time.

The announcer called out for runners in the second wave and we headed to the pens. Falling in with a sea of runners–thousands of jitters and anxious deep breaths. I was at the very back of the second wave. So far back I couldn’t even see the starting line. The announcer called the start but I stood rock still, the bodies around me wanting to surge forward, but having nowhere to go. So we waited. Two minutes, three minutes, four minutes. It seemed like an eternity. The marathon had started and all I wanted to go was GO! But where was the starting line? I stood on my tiptoes trying to see above the crowd. I shuffled forward slowly. Finally, nearly fifteen minutes after the gun, I was able to start a slow jog and began to see the beginning ahead of me. I also saw Tedy, Heidi and other Tedy’s Team supporters in the starting line stands. Another TT runner and I waved excitedly. This was IT!

And we were off.

The first few miles were slow. I wanted to find a pace, but the crowds, the varying runner speeds around me and my self-talk to slow down on the beginning downhill slopes kept me feeling like I was wading through glue. I was excited, and thrilled. I felt good, just slow.

Excitement in Wellesley

Excitement in Wellesley upon seeing Linda (thanks to Linda Suttenfield for the photo!)

After the first time station (I think the 5 or 10k) I obsessively texted and called Jon and my dad trying to figure out my time–was I too fast? Was I too slow? What was my pace? No text alert had appeared on their phone–despite signing up for updates–which threw me into a tailspin of self-doubt. Was my chip not registering? Was I going to run this whole thing and not have a valid time?!?!

I made myself breathe. I thought of my mile dedications. I thought of my mom. I relaxed. I smiled. I saw Santa Claus–no really he was on the sidelines. I passed a marathoner who was part of the Century Club (and was also running his 25th straight Boston). I came near tears passing a blind, diabetic runner powering through his race with the assistance of a sighted runner. I found hope in another runner propelling his wheelchair forward, his back to the finish line, with only one leg. I considered kissing a Wellesley girl at the half way point but enjoyed high fives and the cheer wall much better from the center lane. I screamed with excitement when I saw Linda in Wellesley center. I eagerly anticipated seeing my family just past mile 17. I ate GU. I ate more GU. I started to feel blisters. I started to wonder where the finish line was.

Catching me in action

Catching me in action, my dad snaps a camera-phone shot as I run by.

I had been on eager countdown to reach 17.5 miles, the point where I would see my family. It was the beacon of hope and I thought ‘I’m doing great! I’ll have tons of energy left for the last six miles!’ That may have been a slight overstatement. Whereas I had screamed in excitement seeing Linda just a few miles earlier, I was silently huffing when I approached my family. The hills had started to take their toll. I was hungry. I was a little tired (a few hours of running can do that to you) and most of all, I was ready to cross the finish and celebrate! But it was still 8 miles away…que the ‘ra, row’ sound.

I was thrilled to see my aunt, uncle, dad, Jon, Ed (Jon’s dad who arrived that morning after I’d departed for the start) and Jeff. Seeing their smiles, signs and encouragement was great. Jon jumped in to run a bit with me and I was feeling good. But tired. And hungry.

I began to smell the sausage vendors, crave the oranges on offer from the kids lining the route, and feel a deep, disconcerted grumble in my tummy. It was already after 2pm and my last real food had been breakfast around 8am. My muscles started to scream out against moving further and was forced to slow down to a fast walk up Heartbreak Hill. The 20 mile marker, once the point I thought I would celebrate being home-free–became a source of anger. Why were people yelling so loud? Why were there so many drunk people surging so close to the runners I could barely run straight?

I tried to smile but the stage-7 anger began to creep in…where was the f%#*ing finish?!?!?! And why wasn’t closer?!?!?!

Another ray of hope, Nancy, appeared at the mile 22 water stop. She was volunteering and her smile, cup of water, and encouraging words brought me out of my anger. Ok, four miles left. I rounded Coolidge Corner and things began to blur. How far was it again? Where was I on the course? Were there supposed to be people here that I knew? Or at the finish? And where was the finish anyway?

A blurry montage of Boston landmarks seemed to pass like glaciers. Why was it taking so long to get to the end? I grabbed at water stops like Will Ferrell in Old School when he’s been hit with a tranquilizer dart. I saw the Citgo sign indicating I was close, but then why did the Prudential Center seem so far away? How far was the finish line anyway?

I heard screams, chants, and in some cases, taunting, so loud that I couldn’t find my own voice, my own pace. I tried to center. I adjusted my iPod louder. I needed to find a zone and just get into it. Finish it. Power through.

Suddenly I was on Hereford Street, the last turn to the straight-away ahead of me. The agonizing last eight miles faded. I knew the finish line approached. I kicked it up. I wanted to finish. I craved the finish line. And almost as overwhelmingly, craved a burger.

Boston Marathon finish line

Crossing the Boston Marathon finish line!!!!

And then it was there.  No longer a mirage, but reality. The finish line spread out, the crowd cheering. I could see The Lenox Hotel, where Tedy’s Team was holding post-marathon court, and I knew I had done it. A smile broke out. I felt good. I had done it. I ran 26.2 miles. My body and mind survived. I had finished months of training dedicated to raising awareness and funds for stroke. I had raised more than $8,700 for stroke. And I had done a small part to help my family, and others, affected by this debilitating, deadly, attacker.

I crossed the finish line, ecstatic. Simultaneously at a loss for words and overflowing with too many.

And two weeks and one day later I’m still ecstatic. Still in disbelief. Still in awe of everyone who was a part of Tedy’s Team and the marathon. Still overwhelmed by the outpouring of emails, texts, calls, letters, donations, and more showing the unbelievable network of friends, family, coworkers, colleagues, and loved ones I am so fortunate to have. And still hoping I can come up with some words to say thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Interested in donating? You still can! Visit: http://tedysteam2010.kintera.org/boston/fowler

UPDATE: For those interested, forgot to mention that my time was 4:21! 🙂

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