Marathon

Full disclosure: I think I’m a little emotionally unstable right now.

I hate it when I start posts by saying “Words cannot describe”, even if that’s the way it feels. Sometimes I feel like I’m grasping at the air trying to figure out just what to say, just how to describe a situation that is indescribable. But that’s how I feel like my marathon was. I guess it’s better to say, “I just don’t know where to begin.”

I think marathons are the type of thing that you don’t understand until you do one. I can say I definitely had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had done the long runs and fueled properly and was wearing all the right things and thought I knew exactly what it was going to be like. And then I was there and it was unlike anything I’d experienced before.

I feel the need to start by saying that Victoria (where the race took place) is incredibly gorgeous. I hope to go back there sometime soon and do more than run a whole lot, eat, and nap. The city is the perfect blend of Europe and America. I cannot wait to explore (while moving slower than five miles an hour on foot).

And there was a lot of pre-race activities that the Team did. We all stayed in the same hotel. The people that could get Friday off of work took the Clipper up there together, and returned Monday. We decorated our shirts together and explored together and ate together. And there was the Inspiration Dinner, which took place the night before. I was the last newbie to enter, and everyone was cheering for me – it was an incredible feeling. I had made it so far. I had reached my fundraising goal. I was now going to run a marathon. The dinner was also the opportunity for us to thank our coaches and captains as well as learn more about LLS and see how the money we raised was going to be used. We heard from people whose lives we had touched. It was really nice, and a great celebration of all that we were going to accomplish and all that we had so far.

I chose to do the early start because I had enough sense to foresee that my first marathon wasn’t going to go as smoothly as I hoped it would. I had planned to do the whole thing by sticking to my run-walk intervals, which (in theory) would have gotten me there around the 5:30 normal start cutoff time. And it worked – until mile 17 or so, when everyone started getting more tired and the runs turned into walks, with us using everything we had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But anyway! I’ll get there when I get there.

So early start! As in, the team met at 5:30am in the hotel lobby to head to the course. So I got up at 4:45am. I slept really well (considering my first marathon was a few short hours away) and leaped out of bed when my alarm clock went off. I put on my running outfit, which I’d laid out the night before, and made myself my typical pre-run meal of peanut butter and toast (yes, I packed my toaster, bread, and peanut butter – I didn’t want to take any chances!).

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Then I Body-Glided up, put my shoes on, kissed my sleeping husband goodbye, and headed downstairs.

It was still very dark when we headed over to the starting line. Luckily, it wasn’t raining – there had been quite a downpour the day before, but the skies were clear and everyone was chatting eagerly. When we got there, there were only maybe 150 others around (which is nothing for a typical race!). It was awesome seeing all of the different people – first-timers, experienced runners, even a man in a wheelchair who was going to do the whole thing with his arms (so inspiring). I was wearing a trash bag to keep warm (runner pro-tip) when Davis showed up to give me a kiss and proper send-off. We lined up just before the start, and promptly at 6:30, we were off!

People say that the first seven or eight miles of a marathon fly by – I totally concur. We ran through the dark, the sound of feet pounding on the sidewalk and stretchy material swishing keeping us company. I had decided to run with the team captains (Melissa and Sandy) weeks before the event, and both were okay (and excited) about my decision to run with them. I have a tendency to run too fast at the beginning and burn myself out later (a habit that earned me the nickname “Seabiscuit” during the race) but the run-walk intervals we all decided to use really kept me from doing that. Another woman (Carolyn) thought this sounded like a good plan to her – this was her first marathon too, so she also stuck with us.

The sun was coming up just as we were running through this gorgeous park and peaked over the horizon as we rounded a corner and saw the ocean for the first time. Saying it was stunning doesn’t even begin to cover it. It was truly a breathtaking moment – and not because we were running too fast! I fully felt how blessed I was to be able to run, to run there, to be surrounded by others who also love something so simple but so profound.

One great thing about doing the event with Team In Training is the support we got from our coaches. I mean, they were all fantastic during the season, but the support they gave us on race day was unprecedented. Jay ran with us after the park and along the ocean for a ways, keeping us calm and encouraging us, then as we got closer to the turnaround point. We laughed a lot and talked about all of the food we were going to eat after the event (and during – he’d found a packet of peanut butter that he was looking forward to!). We met up with Lisa on the way back, just when it was starting to get hard for me, and she pulled us through. I cannot thank them enough for the love and support they gave us – they are an outstanding group of people and a huge reason I want to participate with TNT again next year. (Also shout-out to our teammate Renee who came up to cheer us on and ran with us for some of the beginning miles! Coach in training, I think!)

By the time we reached the turnaround point, the normal race start had already occurred, and we were all pretty convinced that we’d be passed soon by the head runners. We made it maybe a mile back when the first one came flying by (proceeded by a bicycle and police escort, as well as a car that drove in front of him with his time). A few more speed demons came after him a few minutes later, then the first female – a woman from Russia. They. were. so fast. I hope to improve my times, but I’m never going to get there. I’m kind of okay with that, though. I do it more for the challenge to myself and the camaraderie than for the speed. They were really inspiring too though and kept us pressing on.

Like I mentioned before, running seemed to get really hard around mile 16 or 17. At that point my inner ankles and IT bands were really sore, and I tried to stretch during our walk breaks. Our runs became shorter and our walks were prolonged, but we kept going, never stopping.

One part I remember distinctly during this hard bit was running through a small village part of the city called Oak Bay. When we first went through it was still pretty early, so it was quiet and nothing really seemed to be happening. But on our return through the town, people were awake and lining the streets, cheering for us as we went by. With all of the fall colors, it felt like Stars Hollow, like I was running a small-town race.

The race just kept getting harder – I’d be lying if I said it ever let up. I never wanted to give up though. I knew I was going to make it to the end.

I had heard that marathons were emotional events – that runners will occasionally break down when they get into the later miles, and while I wasn’t counting on it happening, I wasn’t surprised when those emotions caught up to me. Melissa and I were around mile 23 when we came upon a water stop. I filled up my bottle and went to look for Melissa when I saw her standing next to Davis. To say I was elated to see him would be an understatement. I gave him a huge grin and hobbled into his arms. “I’m so proud of you,” he said, giving me a kiss. “You’re doing this!” Then he said the thing that really hit me: “I’ll see you at the finish line.” The finish line – just three miles away! We were almost there – I was actually going to finish the marathon! He gave me a kiss, and we continued on. Both Melissa and I had tears streaming down our faces. A song by P!nk was playing – “Try”, it’s called – and while it isn’t completely applicable, there are some lyrics that are. The refrain kept playing and I thought it was really appropriate: “Just because it burns doesn’t mean you’re gonna die / You gotta get up and try, try, try”. I was trying – and I was going to do it. Suddenly I wanted to run again. And suddenly it didn’t hurt anymore. (I’ve been listening to that song on repeat today, by the way. It still brings tears to my eyes.)

So we ran for the next five minutes or so (a real accomplishment at that point!) then continued walking and running til we made it closer to the end. We saw some people wipe out really close to the finish – they didn’t hydrate or fuel properly, Melissa said. I proceeded to eat more Shot Bloks and drink lots of water, just to make sure it didn’t happen to me. I was so close, I wanted to make sure I got there!

Then we passed the “One Mile Left” sign, and they started counting down the meters to the end. Eight hundred, seven hundred, six hundred – then the last turn until we could see the finishing chute. And right around the five hundred meter mark, there was a girl holding a sign: “You are no longer a runner. You’re a marathoner.” And we lost it again. I was going to finish! Melissa grabbed my hand and we raced to the line, and that was it – I was a marathoner.

(Yep, emotions. Definitely started crying while writing that.)

I was greeted with smiles and a white jacket to keep me warm, then got awarded my medal. Now, I have to be honest – before the race, I wasn’t particularly jazzed about getting that medal. I mean, I didn’t really care – finishing was accomplishment enough for me. But since getting it, I haven’t wanted to take it off! I wore it to work on Monday, then again tonight. I am so excited to have it.

I found Davis and gave him a huge hug, ate all the snacks I could get my hands on, caught up with a friend that I ran into in the finishers’ area, then went back to the hotel, took an ice bath and a hot shower, ate a big meal, and took a nap. All too soon we had to return home and to real life.

I just, I couldn’t believe it was over. I still can’t, actually. I already miss my TNT friends, my running buddies. We’re going to run together afterward anyway, which I’m really looking forward to. And just, I miss running in general. My muscles have been pretty sore the past few days, but more than anything I want to lace up my shoes and get back out there. This experience has been completely surreal and I can’t wait to do it again.

I couldn’t wait so much that I actually signed up for my next half yesterday – I’m going to be doing the Seattle Half right after Thanksgiving, and a lot of my friends will be doing it too! And I know it’s smart to give my body a good break before I pursue another full marathon. But I saw my time and immediately thought, “6:20?!? I can do wayyyy better than that!” So I’m going to.

And I’ve been a bit of an emotional mess since the race. I’ve heard that’s kind of normal too, but man – it’s completely nuts. Just reliving it now was a bit of a (wonderful) roller coaster. (Also, I’ve been eating like crazy over the past few days – I’ve polished off a box and a half of frozen Girl Scout cookies, and had ice cream for dinner last night – I can’t remember the last time I did that!)

So yes. That was my marathon experience. I really cannot wait to do it again, and it’s something that I want to encourage everyone to try. Putting that much effort and energy into training is incredibly beneficial – it’s time that you give to yourself. The sense of accomplishment is something I hadn’t experienced before – probably because it was something I never thought I could actually do. And you make so many friends along the way!

A quote I saw once read something like this: “I dare you to train for a marathon and not have it change your life.” And I was skeptical – it’s just another activity, right? But really, it’s true. So now I challenge you: think about training for a marathon. It really will change your life.

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One response to “Marathon

  1. Yeah, there’s nothing quite like that first one. Even five years removed from my first marathon, I still remember that day as if it were a few weeks ago. Every step, every sip of water, every single holler from the sidelines was electrifying. So much time, effort and completely new experiences had been sunk into this one effort, and there I was, making it happen. Like you said, it’s completely unlike anything you’ve ever experienced — even life’s biggest milestones, like first love, graduation, even marriage. It’s up there with all of those, but apart, as its own event.

    The second marathon is also amazing – trust me. Each one after that has its own unique journey and your relationship with it will definitely change over time. But you’ll never get another shot at the first. Glad yours was as fulfilling as you expected. Congratulations!

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