Marathon!

Reprinted with permission of The Daily Astorian
Friday, April 30, 2004

Merrill goes the distance in her first marathon

Forever Fit
By RICHARD FENCSAK
For The Daily Astorian

Kate Merrill grabs some water at the finish lineCompetitive distance running is no longer just about putting one foot in front of the other as quickly as possible. Manufacturers such as

Adidas-Salomon (can Nike be far behind?) are dreaming up “smart” shoes outfitted with sensors, tiny motors and a microprocessor with the memory and power of the first desktop computers.

Information gathered automatically adjusts the cushioning of the shoes while the runner is in mid-stride.

Still – thankfully – some folks like Dr. Kate Merrill just want to go out and run, with or without high-tech footwear. Profiled on the April 30 front page of The Daily Astorian, the popular Astoria physician recently participated in her first marathon, Avenue of the Giants in Northern California.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, particularly,” said Merrill, a California native who completed the 26.2-mile event in four hours, 10 minutes and 31 seconds, right on her goal pace. “I had mid-race aspirations of finishing in four hours” (her halfway “split” time was two hours). Warm weather – the temperature reached 82 degrees – and a course that turned out to be more challenging than advertised took their toll. Thankfully, the many trees lining the course provided ample shade, although Merrill says some stretches were exposed to direct sunlight.

“The gently rolling hills seemed a tad more difficult than I imagined, too. Miles 13 through 20 were essentially all uphill, and the six-mile return trip downhill just didn’t seem to make up for it,” Merrill, who’s 41, said.

Still, this svelte family practice physician, who was out of shape and 60 pounds heavier a year ago, ran the whole way. And if you’re thinking, well yeah, isn’t that the idea of “running” a marathon. Just consider taxing your body in excess of four hours at or near your aerobic threshold without a respite. In hot weather, to boot.

Even seasoned marathoners can “hit the wall,” usually around the 20-mile mark, when their bodies run out of energy (or glycogen stores, as runners like to call their fuel source). Surprisingly, neophyte marathoner Merrill had the opposite experience.

At about 23 miles, she says, “I was really ready to be done. I felt like I was crawling, and I knew I had to really kick it or I wouldn’t make my goal.” So she upped her pace, a formidable late-race calibration requiring a healthy dose of mental toughness and a willingness to suffer – just ask any competitive long-distance runner.

“There was this woman who had been passing me off and on for most of the last half of the marathon, and she looked to be about 200 yards ahead,” Merrill said. “I made it my mission to catch her.”

Sure enough, the determined Merrill reeled in the woman during the race’s final three miles and passed her with a half-mile to go. “I ran as hard as I could that last bit,” said Merrill. “I was gasping for air.” She crossed the finish line to what she remembers were wild cheers from, among others, her husband Rodney, who ran the accompanying 10-Kilometer (6.2-mile) race.

“Those last 100 yards were so hard and people lining the course were so encouraging,” Merrill said as she recalled the thrill, the relief and the joy of completing her first marathon. The woman she chased down before the finish came over and congratulated her.

Merrill says she is far from disappointed with her performance. “I’m sailing on the biggest runner’s high that you can imagine, even if my legs are crippled. And you should just see the blisters.”

Afterward, Rodney and her sister Karen treated her like a queen. “I happily basked in my race T-shirt and with my medal.” she said.

Will Merrill run another marathon? “You bet!” she said enthusiastically. “Just not for a few days.”

finish line

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