I started to tire between miles 18 and 20. I was still pretty sure I was on track, but was no longer dropping the 8:15s and had begun to walk the aid stations. This aid station walking led to a shocking 9-ish-minute mile for 19, which caused a mild panic, which was assuaged only slightly by an absolute angel of a man handing out gummy bears. I also glanced my race number around this time, which proudly greeted my with the 'Hi' Ronnie had entered into the space on my race number where you were supposed to put your name (so other people could cheer for you) or whatever nickname or word you chose to inspire you or those around you. This brought a smile to my face and briefly moved me to forget that I had just run my first extremely subpar mile, which might be indicative of the ever present specter most runners call 'the wall.' But only briefly. Mile 20 was a solid reminder of my gradual slide into paralyzing exhaustion. I still had a few minutes to play with, so I wasn't fully panicked yet, but I did pick up the pace between aid stations, which, in retrospect, probably made the problem worse.
I saw Katie again at mile 20.5, which was fun, but then the wheels fully fell off. I can't say exactly what was wrong (and believe me - I tried to figure it out - almost every step from mile 22-25). Nothing really hurt, I didn't feel terrible - I just couldn't run anything faster than about 8:50. I began composing an awesomely cynical newsletter article/blog post about yet another failed adventure and tried to console myself that I was still pretty much a shoe-in for a PR. The consolation attempt failed miserably when the 3:40 group came trotting by just past mile 24, looking strong and happy. My soul melted out into a puddle by the side of the bike path around that time. My newsletter article stopped being fit for publication and became more of an adolescent diary rant. I trudged miserably along, vaguely trying to keep the little yellow pacer sign from getting any farther away, but not really believing I was capable of doing so.
As I crested the last little hill on the course and the 25-mile marker came into sight, I began to analyze the situation a little more rationally. The internal dialog went something like this:
"Well, we said this was going to be a practice so I could go into my next marathon a bit better informed about pacing and what kind of shape I was in..."
"I guess we'll have to sign up for Thunder Road when we get back to NC and use Shut-in as a good, hard long run in my marathon re-prep)"
As the aforementioned 25 crept by, I glanced at my watch and saw that I had ~10 minutes to cover 1.2 miles (didn't know the difference between my watch time and chip time/clock time).
About this time, I also had the revelation that I was, in fact, NOT having fun and did NOT want to do this again in 2 mos in Charlotte (and yes, I am well aware of the irony of the fact that all this was so I CAN do this again in April in Boston). The next conversation with myself went something like this:
"You are going to get under the 3:40:59 mark or die trying" (my inner football coach was awakened)
(a seeming eternity passes)
whiny me: "I'm really tired and this hurts... I want to take a break..."
football coach me: "Shut up, you pansy - we're not there yet! Get there under 3:40:59 or die trying!"
whiny me: "It's windy and this is hard!" (the wind had, in actuality picked up around this time - 6 mph sustained, 10-15 mph gusts)
football coach me: "KEEP PUSHING!!! YOU ARE NOT THERE YET!!!"
logical me: "Okay - see that construction sign? We get to turn there" (I had no idea where we got to turn, but I figured it would be at the sign at worst - that way if we got to turn before then, added bonus)
football coach me: "GO GO GO!!"
(we got to turn about a block before the construction sign)
logical me: "alright - that was probably about a mile - just 385 yards left"
whiny me: "okay FINE! I'll shut up."
(approximately 200 yards later)
all three mes: "WHAT THE H&## DO YOU MEAN, MILE 26????" (apparently logical me was wrong 200 yards before)
football coach me: "You'll just have to suck it up then!"
(200 more yards)
logical me: "watch out - there are some railroad tracks - you know your track record with minor obstacles..."
(break stride to essentially tiptoe across railroad tracks)
observant me: "what the heck is that noise? Is there some annoying wheezy heavy breather nearby?"
logical me: "um... that's me. I sure hope that goes away after we're done. How embarrassing."
hopeful me (seeing the clock): "OHMYFRICKINGGODTHECLOCKSAYS3:40:40ANDI'MONLY50YARDSAWAY!" (give or take)
all mes: Oh thank God. whew.
(3:40:51 on the clock...I think...)
So yes. I made it. ...and yes, the wheezy breathing subsided almost immediately after I finished.
...and finally, yes, I managed to register for Boston...from my phone...during our layover in Milwaukee...as the flight attendant was telling us to turn off all electronic devices.