As they prepare for the Wineglass Marathon on October 4 using the AMR #FindYourStrong Marathon Challenge, Heather and Marianne, two long-distance BRFs taking on their first marathon, are sharing their experiences--and miles--weekly. Find all their posts here.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, my Strava pace graph tells my marathon story fairly well. Things went well until they didn’t and then I got it back on track at the end and #FoundMyStrong. Inspired by the (let’s be honest, a bit ridiculous) velour painting in the Airbnb that we had rented for the weekend, I’ve come to think of my race as 85% matador, 15% bull. And for a first marathon, I think that is quite a victory.
Also pictured above is Danielle the 5-hour pacer. She was terrific. She learned lots of names and checked in on folks periodically. I liked that she walked through water stops because it made it easier not to choke. The group had a few other inspirational runners, including a man who started running at age 62 and his wife, who joined him in the sport (though not marathons) at 70. We also had a woman who was recovering from major brain surgery and Angie, who was running her first by herself and then driving home later, with whom I ran most of the first half.
The specifics of the race itself: the first few miles felt long like always. I stuck to my fueling plans of GU every 3 miles or a ½ honey stinger waffle every 2 miles. I alternated water and Gatorade and skipped no tables. When Danielle the pacer asked how I was at the half, I responded that I felt “annoyingly great." After a few more miles, I had lost Angie, who wasn’t feeling as great, and my own enthusiasm began to wane. Somewhere around 16, Danielle said we would soon hit the people who look distressed to realize the 5-hour group had caught them. She was right.
And then at 19, for reasons I am still not exactly able to remember or pinpoint, things got really hard. I fell behind the group at a water stop and became uninterested in catching up. Only then did it occur to me to try to listen to some music but I hadn’t really prepared for this so had pretty limited options if I didn’t want to risk killing my phone battery. At mile 20 I let myself try a walk break outside of a water stop. At mile 21, I texted Gina and Heather, as shown in the picture above. Here were some of my other thoughts between miles 20 and 24:
- It’s already taking a long time, might as well just walk to the end.
- Why again did you want to do this?
- Would anyone know if I drank some of this PBR at an unofficial stop? (I had sworn off alcohol in 2015 until after the marathon.)
- Is it inappropriate to call someone and talk for the next few miles?
- When am I supposed to eat again?
Eventually I checked my phone again to see this modified picture of myself that Gina had sent. It helped me to start running again. I realized that same brain that was selling reasons not to try so hard for the last few miles was still hiding some fire. I hit 24 and started digging deep. I told myself that I could do 2 miles. That I had to work really hard to run even two miles when I first started 12 years ago. I repeated those words from Gina’s text: “I can. I will. I can. I will.” I repeated what a friend holds on a sign when she spectates, “This is happening.” I repeated my PhD adviser’s words from her first marathon “Patience and determination.” I repeated those of my department chair “Focus. Finish.”
At 25 and a bit, I took out the headphones. I rounded a corner and a beautiful orange butterfly stayed with me for probably 50 steps. I sped up.
I hit the final stretch and found new speed. The body that had gone between 11:05 and 15:31 per mile for the last 5+ hours hit a 9:20 pace for the final .2 stretch. I caught cheers from my friends. I felt like I was flying as I crossed the line. I felt confused for how it could have been so hard not long ago. I felt triumphant.
What I wish were different
- I should have had something besides others to occupy my attention whether that was more music or podcasts.
- I think in a bigger field crowds would have pushed me so perhaps I’ll try a larger race when I am ready to test these marathon waters again.
- I didn’t do much mental prep because I assumed that running at a slower than usual pace meant everything would be fine and that staying with the pacer wouldn’t be an issue. This was a faulty assumption.
- Around mile 22 or 23 I took out my last waffle and it fell to the ground. I spun around to eat it anyways but then switched for GU. I wish I would’ve just eaten it both because real food sounded better and because then I could say I run marathons so hard I eat food from the ground.
- I did not realize that I would have liked my family to be there until they weren't. I know I need just to have asked and they would have made it happen so this falls squarely in the "I do not like asking for help" personality trait that does not always serve my best interests.
What I wouldn’t change
- Being able to finish strong enough to scream “HAPPY BIRTHDAY’ to Heather’s dad a few blocks from the finish
- Having extra fuel. I ran for the first half with a lovely woman who hadn’t brought enough and I gave her a pair of my GUs before there were race provided options on the course.
- Calling my husband and child at mile 14 when I still felt pretty great and hearing that adorable 4 year old voice say “Good job Mommy!”
- The weather and my outfit. Chilly at the start but fine for my SHU shirt and beloved Saucony Bullet Capris, which housed 3 waffles, 1 pair throwaway gloves, and 2 GU in the pockets plus cash, a credit card, and a tiny hand sanitizer in the back zipper pocket.
- The course. It was absolutely beautiful.
So what’s next?
- Two 5ks, one next weekend and one in mid-December that I am eyeing to pr.
- The Binghamton double bridge challenge with a friend with whom I ran my first half marathon and perhaps also the Superhero half in NJ
- Getting back to Body By Struggle for HIIT and fitting in more yoga classes
And finally, I want to give my thanks for all the support I found here while writing about this experience. A tremendous journey was made all the more special because of you.