This weekend I finally crossed the finish line after 26.2 miles. Now, a few hearty meals, long naps, and a flight home later, I’m ready to recap my first marathon.
I signed up for this particular race literally the day after Savannah was cut short, because I wasn’t about to let a setback outside of my control keep me from finishing my first 26.2.
Plane ticket and hotel booked, I nervously counted down the days, crossing my fingers that the flu or an injury wouldn’t strike again. Thankfully I felt great the whole time!
On Friday Dear Boyfriend and I checked into our hotel and made our way to the expo. The expo was pretty quiet and laid back compared to some I’ve been to. Bib in hand, I perused the aisles of the convention center, grabbed a free banana, and studied the giant race map they had plastered on the wall. Dear Boyfriend and I agreed that he would meet me at mile 25 for a quick good luck kiss before that last mile.
After the expo we headed to Dick’s Sporting Goods to pick up the Mini M.U.L.E. Camelbak hydration pack. It holds 1.5L of fluid and has ample pockets, plus the price was right ($50, as opposed to the others I had been looking at online, which were mostly around $85). I just Googled it and apparently it’s cheaper because it’s meant for kids. Oops! It fit me just fine, and it held enough Gatorade, and I always love saving money.
That evening we ate at an Italian restaurant, where quite a few other runners were carbo-loading as well. After dinner we took a stroll through a local mall and grabbed gingerbread men cookies. They suffered a mysterious disappearance before I could snap a picture for the blog… 😉
Back at the hotel I showered, French braided my wet hair so that it would be ready to go the next day, and relaxed with a New York Times crossword puzzle while Dear Boyfriend watched an NBA game. Normally on the night before a big race I get the kid-on-Christmas-Eve jitters and can barely keep my eyes shut, let alone sleep. But I was exhausted from all the travelling and dozed right off.
After a good seven hours’ sleep — a new record for me the night before anything longer than a 5k! — I popped out of bed and donned my race gear. I got up early enough to enjoy my typical race day breakfast — a bagel with all natural peanut butter and a banana, with black coffee — and do a bit of blogging. Finally I hopped up on the bed and woke up Dear Boyfriend like a kid waking up Mom and Dad on Christmas morning. Beaming from ear to ear with a fresh coat of my lucky pink lipstick on, I announced to him that it was time to go!
He helped me fill the Camelbak bladder with Gatorade, and off we went! Dear Boyfriend dropped me off at the start line, while he headed back to the hotel for the free breakfast smorgasbord and more sleep.
The start line was gorgeous. There was a lake (river? not sure…) nearby lined all the way around with what had to be at least 100 Christmas trees.
It was very nice that the start and finish line were at the same convention center where the expo was held, and they had the center open for runners starting very early. Most folks were camped out inside stretching and taking advantage of the indoor plumbing that we’d be soon be without.
Around 6:40 I headed to my corral, where a lady smiled at me and remarked how bright I looked. I … think that’s a complement? Sure. Lol.
The emcee cracked jokes as he thanked all the volunteers and warned us to be careful in the unseasonable heat. This “heat” was nothing compared to what I train in during the summer, or to how Savannah was. So I felt fine, especially with 1.5L of Gatorade on my back at the ready.
After we raised our hands to our hearts to join in singing the National Anthem, the pistol went off! (Side note: It’s cool to still see an actual pistol used at a start line. Nowadays I feel like I only see air horns.)
There was a teeny bit of congestion until about the first mile marker, but I think that’s to be expected in virtually any race. Besides, I was mentally forcing myself to hold back for at least the first half marathon, to avoid bonking and to feel the thrill of a good negative split.
The course was very flat, not that I’m complaining! Maybe I’m a masochist, or just someone who trains on a lot of hills, but on the rare occasions I’d approach a hill I got excited. The race was USATF sanctioned and forbade any kind of headphones or ear pieces. I generally train without music anyway, for mental clarity, but even so, I was a bit nervous of the boredom and loneliness that might set in with 26.2 silent miles. Surprisingly there were a number of bands, cheerleaders, support groups, and DJs along the course — all local volunteers doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.
My absolute favorite was around mile 10. We were passing a beautiful old red brick church near downtown, and in the tiny little church courtyard was a jazz band. As I passed them, they were playing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is my absolute all time favorite Christmas song. It’s one of those sweet, nostalgic tunes that can just as easily make me smile as it can make me tear up — both of which I did as I passed the jazz band playing my tune in a cozy lilt.
The course was roughly a figure eight, which mentally helped break things up. I started off thinking solely about the goal of reaching the first end of the figure eight, roughly 6.55 miles. After that I focused solely on the halfway mark back at the start/finish area. I did Galloway-style intervals the whole time as well, which also helped break things up mentally.
I had feared that between the 13.1 mark and mile 20 would be the hardest mentally, but it went by in a blur. There was just so much crowd support — locals handing out orange slices and pretzels, Boy Scouts handing out GU, university drumlines cheering us on.
Around mile 17, however, I felt my blood sugar plummet, and I got lightheaded. I quickly gulped down a GU and started walking for a bit. This was really the only moment during the race where a bit of panic set in.
What if I faint?! I can’t faint!! I just can’t! I’ve come this far and I have to finish!!!
I’m not sure how much of it was the GU and how much was a quick prayer, but I soon felt all better and was back to a decent clip. By the time I saw the Mile 20 marker, it truly began to sink in that this was real and this was within reach.
Miles 20 through 24 felt like an eternity, though!! Probably because my longest training runs have been 20 miles, yet I still had that 10K to go. I just kept chanting in my head the number of miles until I got to see Dear Boyfriend. The course had mile 25.2 marked with a special flag, and shortly thereafter I saw Dear Boyfriend in the horizon.
By this point I had been steadily increasing my pace each mile, so by the time I saw I very nearly actually ran into him as I veered off the road for a kiss.
Breathless, heart pounding, I kissed him and said, “I love you! And I’m going to beat my goal time!!”
With that, I hustled back onto the course and sprinted the remainder. At that time, I finally understood what marathoners say about the last 10K being fueled by adrenaline. I’m not even sure if I could feel my legs, but all the aches and fatigue disappeared as I ran that last mile.
Seeing that finish line was a moment I’ve dreamed and daydreamed of for years now. And you know what? It felt just as special and beautiful as I always imagined it would. What they say is true, you never forget your first. Not that I won’t rejoice every time I finish a marathon, but that first finish line felt so glorious that I know that magic can’t quite be replicated.
If racing under the “FINISH” banner felt like shooting stars and fireworks and never-ending endorphins, then the traffic jam of runners right after that felt like a knock back down to reality. Mostly because there was literally no space to cool down and ease down to a jog or walk, so both my legs immediately surged with cramping pain. I was happy, sure, but I was shaking and sore and in a daze.
The traffic jam was caused by them taking professional photos of us with our new medals in front of a fancy backdrop, and there was only one photographer and lots of runners. I didn’t really care, though. Mylar blanket wrapped around my shivering frame, I took my photo and hobbled my way through the ample food line — full of bananas, water, chicken noodle soup, PB&J, bagels, ice cream sandwiches, cookies, and more.
Inside the expo center I met up with Dear Boyfriend and hugged him mightily. And by hug of course I mean nearly collapsed from fatigue in his arms. The car was parked a good mile and a half away, but at that point the walking felt nice.
We gorged ourselves on ridiculously unbalanced meals at lunch, and after an afternoon nap we took to another local mall where WE MET SANTA!!!!
That night we had reservations at our favorite fancy pants restaurant in this particular city, where we toasted with Champagne and indulged in wine and cheese and a chocolate soufflé.
The next day I woke up super stiff and sore, but nothing as bad as I imagined it might feel like. We ate ravenously at the hotel breakfast bar and were shortly off to the airport. The next morning at work was a little rough on me, but it was all worth it!
Now, to decide on which marathon to do next! Please leave suggestions in the comments if you have any favorites! 🙂