These were the words from the League of Their Own that Aleksandar had for me as I poured my heart out over the phone to him about all my misfortunes during the Olympic marathon. Here is a quick re-cap:
Last night my stomach was upset, but I figured it was just nerves. I took some Pepto-Bismol and went to sleep, hoping it will sort itself out. In the morning I woke up at 4:30 and went over my pre-race routine. I caught a shuttle and got to the start at 6:30. All the great runners were there: Dena Kastor, Paula Radcliff, Catherine Ndereba, and I had a chance to say hello to Maria Portilla, who ran the Salt Lake City marathon, and Liza Hunter-Gullivan from New Zealand, whom I had met at a race in Minnesota earlier this year. The start was magical, though there were no spectators. The first kilometer I stayed with the group because, surprisingly, they ran slower than the pace I wanted to run, which was about 3:50 per kilometer. Then I ended up holding back as the group started moving faster. I ran side by side with a woman from Costa Rica—we had agreed to take turns running into the wind.
At 10k I saw Aleksandar and his dad, which was great. With the tight security in place, I did not think I was going to be able to hear or see them. The pace started to feel too slow—I was only running about 3:52s with the runner from Costa Rica—so I tried to push harder and pulled away from her. My stomach started feeling upset and I had to stop in the bushes—thanks to Sasha for the great "pit stop" tips!—at 18k and then in a road side portable toilet at 22k. I lost time and had to make up the distance on all the runners I had passed before I had to stop, which was about two minutes. However, I was feeling strong and found myself picking up the pace with each kilometer. At kilometer 29, about 18-19 miles, my calves started to cramp up. I was surprised because I drank at every station and had two gels. I remembered I had two ADVILS taped to my bottle at the 30k mark so I took them with water and gel. I was able to continue running at a good pace till the 35k mark. The walking coach, Juraj Bencik gave me my last bottle, yelling out I was in the 59th place. I focused on the runner ahead of me and told myself I had to get to her by 36k and then to the runner ahead of her by kilometer 37. I did.
At kilometer 38 I started feeling my legs, especially my hamstrings, which were getting really tense. I was not sure what was going on. I did not feel like I ran out of glycogen or anything like that since I was really, really good about my drinks. Like my friend Carre in the trials, I hang on to my bottle longer than anyone else. Suddenly, at kilometer 39, my hamstring just seized up in the worst cramp I had in my whole life. I screamed and stopped and kept on screaming, holding on to a huge lump in the middle of my muscle. I thought I tore it; it was the most excruciating pain I had ever experienced. I thought my Olympics were over for sure, but at that time I almost did not care. My whole being was just trying to figure out what was happening. Within a few seconds the medics were there. I was so lucky that they were not far from me. One of them was holding me, the other was massaging my leg, and the third stretching my foot. After about two minutes I was able to start walking and shortly after that I started running again. The crowds cheered and I remember telling myself, “Okay, the worst is over, you have three kilometers to go, you can do this. You can finish. You don't have to fail.”
I was able to get back to an okay pace—no more running 3:45 pace. Though I think I was just too scared that the hamstring would seize up again, I was running at least a 4 minute pace. My breathing was easy and I wanted to go faster, but I just kept telling myself that the goal was only to finish at that point. Now, at 40.5 kilometers, with not even a mile to go to the finish line, the cramp came back. I went down immediately. I grabbed the big knot that I knew all too well by now. The hamstring was seizing up and cramping and I was trying to massage it out with both of my hands. Tears of pain came to my eyes, but I knew what I had to do. I just needed to massage it out. Just do what the medics did a mile ago.
So there I was, completely pathetic, massaging my hamstring, looking jealously at the runners I had worked so hard to pass now zoom by me. They were paying back the words of encouragement I had for them when I had passed them, but it did not make me feel any better. I looked to the stadium. It was right there. I was next to it. I saw the Olympic flame, only I did not know if I was going to make it inside the stadium. I pushed back the tears and thought to myself, “If I have to sit here for half an hour until I massage this knot out, I will.” After about three minutes, I tried to get up and... SUCCESS! I was able to walk, wait… and to run again! I even tried to catch up with the last of the girls that passed me, but, within half a mile, my muscles, especially the left hamstring, was acting out again, so I just let go of everything and everyone and just let the crowd in the stadium carry me to the finish line. At least that's how it felt.
I challenge anyone to provide a less flattering picture of themselves. Not exactly the typical finish line photo that media love. But I guess that's what cramps do to you.... I do hope I will have at least one other, less painful-looking photo from the race to keep…
At the finish line, I went down again with pain. But medics were available again to help me one last time. And then, I walked off the race of my life. The day was perfect. The course was perfect. My race strategy was perfect. My body gave up on me, but, upset as I am right now, I think that I will, with time, look back at this experience as perfect, too. I have never had to overcome obstacles like this before. The time might not have reflected my fitness and capability, but it is an official Olympic experience and my name will not be mentioned in the Olympic statistics with a “DQ” next to it.
Thank you all for sitting by your TV screens, watching me, cheering on me, praying for me, wishing me success. I thought of you at different times throughout the race—okay, not between 11-22k when all I thought about was finding a toilet. J I cannot believe how lucky I am to have so many good people behind me. Thank you!
Now, I’m off to have some rest and I will write after Aleksandar and my evening at the track and field events tomorrow.
Note 1:Official results: http://results.beijing2008.cn/WRM/ENG/INF/AT/C73K/ATW099101.shtml
P.S.: Novinari zo sportu spravu celkom dobre zhrnuli v Slovencine: