first marathon

It looks fun—and it was—but it was also HARD.

[BAMR PAMR made it to race day and—spoiler alert—through 26.2 miles! Check out how she trained for her first marathon.]

So, running a marathon is HARD, guys. Really freaking hard. I knew going in that running a marathon would be challenging in the same way that I knew having children would be challenging.

It’s one thing to know intellectually; it’s a far different thing to experience.

I woke up to the sound of my 4:00 a.m. alarm, the waves crashing outside my hotel room, and rain. I blearily donned my BAM-R tank, shorts, and myriad accessories, tucking caffeinated GU gels into the left side of my Flip Belt and non-caffeinated gels into the right. My husband dutifully popped an English muffin in the toaster and poured me a small glass of cold brew. I consumed those, plus some peanut butter and water, and we hit the road a little after 5:00.

The rain continued.

first marathon

Decatur Moms Run This Town represent!

By the time we arrived at the water-logged start area, I’d woken up enough to feel petrified yet calm: there was nothing more I could do to prepare. I met up with fellow BAMRbassador Katie O., who had driven down from Illinois to run the Florida Marathon with me.

Not only had Katie come to support me, but so had three of my Decatur Moms Run This Town BRF’s, Meridith, Katy, and Alexis; my parents, who live in North Carolina; my in-laws, who had driven across the state from Tampa; my childhood friend and fellow BAMR Mary Catherine, also now living in Tampa; plus my husband and two daughters (Amelie, 4, and Bea, 2).

In addition to the small army of in-person support, I received scores of encouraging messages from my Atlanta running community, the AMR tribe, family members, and friends. The depth and the breadth of the love and support enfolding me and holding me up is incredibly humbling and overwhelming. There is no way I could have failed.

As suggested in my TLAM Club week 17 email, I had set A, B, and C goals for myself. My A goal– a stretch but also possible should all the stars align–was 4:30. My B goal–realistic on a good day–was 4:45. My C goal–realistic barring unforeseen circumstances–was sub-5:00. The C goal was significant not just because I really wanted that 4 preceding my finish time, but because my husband Erik ran his first marathon last spring in 5:00:06.

As a rule, he is faster than I am, but the longer the race distance, the smaller the gap between our PR’s. I wanted to beat his time.

The 90+ humidity in the air, the lingering end of the taper cold going on inside me, and the road-trip-with-two-small-children lack of sleep ensured my A goal was out of reach on Sunday. Totally fine; I can control what I can control, and I can’t lower the humidity or speed up a cold.

first marathon

Best.race.signs.ever, although not entirely sure what they say.

Once Whitney Houston finished singing the national anthem at 6:00 a.m., the horn went off, and all of a sudden, I was running a marathon with about 200 of my closest friends. Katie and I quickly settled into an 11:00ish minute pace, trailing the 4:45 pacer. I wanted to panic because I could not get my mind in close contact with my body. It was all just too much.

Because I couldn’t tune in automatically like I usually would, I relied on a combination of objective and subjective measurements—my heart rate, my breathing, my muscles—to keep my effort in line.

Katie and I ran side by side, occasionally exchanging a line or two of conversation, but mostly just being. I lucked out in a BIG way with Katie as a marathon buddy. We both prefer to run our own races in the solitude of our own heads, but her very presence carried me through.

The race felt hard sooner than I expected. The humidity was a big factor, of course, as was my mental state. I kept thinking I couldn’t really be here doing this and that I probably wasn’t actually capable of running a marathon. After all, we were only a few miles away from the elementary school where I couldn’t even run the entire mile of the annual Presidential Physical Fitness Exam. I answered those doubts by assuring myself that clearly, I COULD be running a marathon, because here I am, running a marathon. That conversation evolved into the mantra that helped me through the first loop: I CAN because I AM.

We ran by my parents around mile three, and the evident pride on their faces gave me a burst of energy that lasted until we were heading east and halfway up the first bridge with the wind and rain blowing straight into our faces and bodies. I kept it slower even than I felt like I needed to because this was the first of four steep bridge crossings, and we were not quite halfway through the first of two loops.

The headwind made the downhill less easy than I’d wished, but it was still a relief after the climb. We turned to the south shortly after the bridge, and BAMR PAMR cheering station two came into view: my parents again; my mother-, father-, brother-, and two sisters-in-law; and, most importantly, my daughters. Katie and I stopped for hugs and a photo op and ran forward, renewed. The southbound miles passed uneventfully, and somewhere around mile 12, I turned to Katie and said, “You know, for the first time in the race, I believe I can actually do this!”

first marathon

The crew that helped me at the bitter end.

The second bridge crossing, steeper but shorter, and assisted by a tailwind, felt significantly easier. The most challenging portion of that bridge, in fact, was dealing with my Chocolate Outrage GU, which exploded like a fat Capri Sun with a straw stuck in it too fast. I washed the sticky chocolate off my fingers in a puddle. My friend Mary Catherine waited for us with a sign, a hug, and some words of encouragement, at the bottom of the bridge.

I ran the remaining westbound miles of the first loop and the northbound miles of the second loop high as a kite. We picked up the pace a bit because I felt so good. The 4:45 pacer had long since dropped us, and although we were behind the 5:00 pacer, I knew that was because she wasn’t running on pace. My C goal remained within my grasp.

I knew from experience that the third bridge crossing would be one of the hardest points of the race–the beauty of a two-loop course is that you knew exactly what’s coming–and it did not disappoint. We had passed my parents again a few miles back, and I knew my girls would be waiting for me around the corner. That knowledge, along with Katie’s rock-solid companionship and support, carried me to my cheering station. I got some more hugs from my girls and ran into the suffer-fest that was waiting in the form of the long southbound straightaway.

I remember that I wanted to lie down right there on the road and go to sleep. I remember telling Katie that I couldn’t talk because I was too busy trying not to die. I remember the hour-long miles tick away in surprisingly regular intervals, all within seconds of the 11:00- minute mark.

And just when I thought I would collapse right there in the pain cave, I saw the most beautiful visions: one of my BRF’s, Katy, running toward me, wearing a hot pink PAM-PACK tank top. She had finished the half marathon and run back over the bridge to join us in our final miles. Katy said another BRF, Meridith, was right ahead, and Mer joined us–in sandals, no less–for a few minutes before sending us on our way.

The three of us ran up the bridge. I’m pretty sure Katie O. had an invisible tether attached to my shirt because she pulled me all the way up to the top. We crested the bridge about thirty miles later, and I saw that beautiful 26-mile marker waiting at the bottom. We picked up speed as we ran downhill, and maintained it, much to my disbelief, right up to where we rounded the last corner that led the final 0.1 miles into the finishing chute. I found I had just enough gas in the tank to drop the hammer and run that last bit at a full-out sprint with a huge grin across my face.

And, just like that, I’m a marathoner.

first marathonI finished in 4:55:45, well within my C goal. Katie and I ran a smart, solid race. On reflection, there is nothing I would or could have done differently. I ran the best possible race I could have run in this body on that day in those circumstances.

It was humid and warm and rainy, but I still crushed my goals. I couldn’t have raced so well without Katie as my solid rock through every single step, and the overwhelming support of family and my tribe–plus a hell of a lot of hard work!

Oh, and those shin splints plaguing me for the final weeks of training? They didn’t bother me at all. A great day indeed.

If you’ve run a marathon, can you relate to this race report? Surprisingly hard and surprisingly great at the same time?