It’s official!!!! After talking/writing about it for months, the day finally came and Lina and I ran our first marathon. With us for the weekend were my good friend, Abbe, and Lina’s boyfriend, Nick, who were fantastic cheerleaders and supporters. The weekend overall was really great. I have so much to say that I plan to do two posts about this weekend. Since this is a running blog, this first one will be a detailed account of the race itself. I have all the details in my head and no pictures (it was raining when we started and neither Lina nor I wanted to ruin our phones), so I have to get it all down before I forget. Nick took lots of pictures of everything else on his fancy camera, so I’ll talk about the rest of the weekend and my afterthoughts in the next post. So here we go.
I want to mention immediately that Lina ran her marathon in 3:52:46, so she 100% met her goals and ROCKED the race! She even managed to not experience a considerable wall (just your expected long distance pain…only magnified, of course!), which the results from her Garmin can back up. I am SO proud. Lina had surgery to fix a torn ACL, and in under two years, she managed to run her first marathon in less than 4 hours. She’s an inspiration in general, but today especially showcased her survivor spirit. Not only did she go through the expected mental and physical difficulty of completing 26.2 miles, but she also faced the unexpected challenge of running the hardest, last miles alone. And she stepped up. She badass :). Please read her post that documents her experience!
As for my race, I chose to title this post ‘Expectations’ because 2/3 through today’s race, I had to drastically alter mine. My race did not go according plan; my body rebelled. As mentioned in previous posts, my goal (like Lina’s) was to run sub-4 hours. Each and every training run for the past four months has indicated that this was a reasonable goal, and the fact that Lina beat that goal by 8 minutes only supports our line of thinking. I ended up finishing in 4:43:25 (10:49 min/mile average pace), which puts about 50% of today’s marathon runners between us. That is a huge difference, and while I could definitely dwell on failing to meet my goal, I cannot express how thankful I am for even finishing. I also learned some beautiful lessons as a result of my race-gone-wrong. Here’s the scoop.
The race started out perfectly. We hit our miles really consistently and were able to talk easily until the half-way point. (We were, however, oddly quiet! I guess we were just taking it all in.) There were more hills than we expected – long, gradual, taxing-but-not-so-taxing-as-to-make-you-want-to-slow-down hills – but even still, we were maintaining our breath and feeling like we had trained well.
Around mile 14, I started feeling a little off. My hips were starting to hurt along with the bottoms of my feet. My hips are very tight and have often ached at the end of long runs so this wasn’t too alarming, although it seemed a little early to be feeling that way considering that no such pains occurred that early in the 20 mile training run. The pain in the bottoms of my feet was unusual though, because this wasn’t the pain that I’ve written about before that felt like a pulled muscle; this was pain in both feet from pounding the ground, making the pads of my feet extraordinarly tender. But, training had taught me nothing if not the fact that it is entirely possible to have one awful mile, and then feel great the next. So I pressed on, trying to relish in the fact that we were already more than half way done. By the way, my official half marathon split was 1:57:20. Not too shabby!
For the next few miles, it felt like long hill after long hill, and my pains weren’t getting better at all. I started getting angry at all the hills, too, because lifting my right leg higher to accommodate hill running was aggravating my IT band (side note, the brace I bought seriously saved my life). And yes, I said angry at the hills because, you know, that’s reasonable (not). I was also getting more and more nauseated with each step, and since this literally never happens to me when I run, I started to worry that what I was experiencing was not going to magically go away. Lina was, as usual, extremely encouraging and offered to walk with me or slow the pace if I needed to. But I just couldn’t take her up on that. I didn’t know what was happening to me and I was absolutely frustrated, but I’d be damned if I let my problems interfere with a possibly great race for Lina. That would feel worse than anything I was feeling at the moment, which, I’ll be honest, says a lot.
Around mile 17 we saw Abbe and Nick, and I was excited to seem them, but I was in so much pain that I didn’t express it. Abbe took a few pictures and a video of us, and she, Lina, and Nick are all yelling and smiling and happy, but it was taking everything it me to just keep going. It suffices to say that I do not look cheerful in that video, and afterward Abbe admitted to being a little scared by my stone face since it was so uncharacteristic. I apologized and told her and Nick that I loved seeing them, so hopefully they remember that whenever they look at those pictures and that video in the future!
Shortly after our seeing our cheerleaders, I took a walk break and immediately knew I had to get Lina to leave me. I knew she was going to resist, so I made up my mind to be as mean as necessary to convince her to go ahead without me. Luckily, I didn’t have to resort to my (unpracticed) drill sergeant impression, and only had to reassure her about 5 times that I really, truly needed her to leave me. In that moment, I was excited for her because I knew she was on pace; I was sad because I knew be both had been looking forward to the moment we crossed the finish line together, and now it wasn’t going to happen; and, admittedly, I was relieved because I had to slow down and could now stop worrying about holding Lina back.
Once she left my sight, I was torn between thinking about my legs and feet, and being ashamed for walking so early. I know it doesn’t sound like walking after 17 miles is ‘too early,’ but if you’ve been training to run a sub-4 hour marathon for 4 months, it really, really is. At that point, no one else was walking so I felt like I was in the way. This was one of the most humbling moments of my life, and I will never forget the lesson that it taught me.
When I’ve run races in the past, I’ve been mildly annoyed when I was running along and all of a sudden a walker made me change my path to go around them. I’ve always been aware of the fact that people are walking in races because they don’t feel great, but having never before experienced a moment when walking was the best I could do, I didn’t have the correct amount of compassion for them. I may have yelled out encouraging words because it seemed the right thing to do, but I didn’t realize that saying something nice and looking a struggling runner in the eye could have a profound impact on their will to continue. The spectators also did an amazing thing, which was to cheer me on and call me ‘runner,’ even when I was barely walking. Remembering this brings tears to my eyes as I type. The kind runners and spectators today taught me how to encourage the racers that need it the most: the walkers. I will never judge a walker again. Instead, I will use that energy instead to help turn the walkers into runners again.
I eventually passed the 18 mile point, and managed to alternate between walking, jogging, and vomiting (yep, it happened) until the 20 mile marker/aid station. There, an emergency trailer was set up and I hobbled over, not knowing whether I should keep going or take a DNF (did not finish). The EMT’s got me a small bottle of gatorade and let me sit down, which was what I needed more than anything. After a minute or two, I decided to keep going. I could barely walk because the entire backs of my legs were cramping, but something in me managed to convince me to see if I could make it to mile 21. I threw up again half a mile later, and stopped, turned around to go back to the emergency trailer, and walked about 50 feet. I stopped again, and turned back around, and kept going. I would walk about 50 meters and then shuffle/jog 50 meters. Finally, somehow, I made it to the 21st mile marker.
At this point, a complete stranger yelled my name, and then my number, and then my name again; I was confused because I didn’t recognize her, but when I got closer she told me that my friends went to the finish line and were waiting for me and cheering for me. I still didn’t know if I could make it to the finish line, but I was touched by the fact that this woman had spoken with Nick and Abbe, and had taken her mission to find me and cheer me on so seriously. It was the first time I had felt happy in hours. It absolutely made me want to keep going.
Mile 22 went on forever, with more of the same shuffling and walking on my part. When I saw mile 23, I knew I could make it to the end, even if I had to walk the entire rest of the way. I kept getting discouraged by the thought that the remaining 3.2 miles could, quite possibly, take over an hour to complete. I was just in so much pain. I saw a man up ahead of me that I noticed had been walking as much as I had, and I decided to catch up with him and see if we could keep each other company. He was very friendly (and headphone-less! score!), and I think he appreciated having someone distract him from his own pain. This was his second marathon and a similar thing was happening to him that was happening to me. He broke his foot in his first marathon, so he said that he was probably done with this distance. Gary showed me kindness by allowing me to connect with him, but he also did something so completely selfless that again, I can only hope to return the favor someday.
I had to stop twice to throw up while we were talking, and both times, he immediately offered me some of his own gatorade and water from his water belt. In fact, a lady passing by me the second time did the same! I keep saying that I was touched by this and that, but how could I not be? These complete strangers were willing to give me hydration from their own stashes, knowing full and well that they might need that water or gatorade for themselves any minute. Compassion is so powerful.
I ended up parting ways with Gary around mile 24.5 when I finally felt like I could jog the rest of the way. I managed to jog almost the entire rest of the way, with the exception of yet another vomit-y pit stop. I ended up ralphing on my right shoe, and the lesson here is that like peeing in the forest, one should never throw up down wind. I’m going to be perfectly honest here and just admit that these (unwanted) details about throwing up are included because they make me feel hardcore. I walked so much of the last 8 miles that I feel far from strong or hardcore in that regard, so I’m flaunting these gross details since they’re all I have. Forgive me?
The last mile or half mile was a blur, but I was so so so happy when I saw the finish line and my friends to the side of it. It was really emotional to cross the line, and even still I get choked up thinking about it. Lina came running over to me and we hugged; both of us were a mess. Tears everywhere. I couldn’t believe I finished, and was so thankful it was over that I just had to cry. I was also dying to hear how Lina did, and cried even more when I heard her time. I was, and still am, so proud.
And just like that, it was done.