As I mentioned on Tuesday this post was actually really difficult to write. It actually started out as a bunch of random thoughts spewed onto computer screen, and I attempted to string them together into some sort of cohesive story. I think I was mostly successful with the whole cohesive story thing, but be warned, this post is super long. All of my race pictures are posted on my Facebook page. And we’re off…
I’m pretty sure my experience is pretty much as good as it gets as far as first time marathons go. I’m not going to say my marathon was easy, because it wasn’t. It was hard. It was a challenge. But (almost) everything went smoothly.
Just training for the marathon was an incredible time commitment: having to set aside an hour or more on a weeknight for a mid-week run and anywhere from 2 – 5 hours on a Saturday or Sunday. Luckily Nik was very supportive of my running schedule and would “hassle” me for not prioritizing my runs. This made it a lot easier to accomplish all those hours of running. I never felt like I was abandoning him or something. Plus all of my friends were hugely supportive asking me how training was going and giving me props on Facebook when I posted me run stats. Overall I’m pretty happy with my training, and I truly believe it was the number 1 factor in my marathon success (number 2 factor being the support of my friends, family, and of course, Nik.) Sure, I didn’t maintain the cross training schedule I started with or in the way I had hoped too. And yes, I got burnt out and started slacking near the end. However, I had a very strong baseline heading into marathon training, and I do feel like I really made the most of my marathon training.
There are definitely moments from my training that I won’t forget anytime soon (and some I definitely don’t want to repeat!): the first time I had to stop and pee on the side of a trail I felt like I had been initiated into some sort of secret runners club, realizing too late that I miscalculated the distance of my run and that my longest run ever was going to become an even longer, longest run ever; my brush with death by coyote (or that time a single coyote stopped on the trail and looked at me..ya know, for those not interested in melodramatics), or my first ice bath.
I was surprisingly unemotional about the whole event. In the few days leading up to my first half marathon I was a wreck. I was nervous and even downright scared. I didn’t think I would be able to finish. I cried on my way to the expo. I know I was much more well prepared for the marathon than I was for my first half, and I’ve experienced tremendous personal growth since then. However, I was really expecting to feel more overwhelmed , or something, the night before the race. Really though my first break down didn’t come until I was standing in line for the port-a-potties before the race. I’m 99% sure this was a direct result of the fact that we were late getting to the race site. I think that breakdown probably would have been avoided had Nik and I not been stuck in traffic which left Kira and I running for the port-a-potties and the race starting while we were in line to pee. But that’s life. Kira gave me a hug and some reassurance, and I got it out of my system pretty quick.
I ran the first 5.5 miles or so with Kira. My main goal for the first 5 – 7 miles was to keep my pace under control and slow. I know I tend to start out fast and slow down near the end, and in race environments it’s even easier to take off too fast. I knew I had 26.2 miles to run, and I didn’t want to burn myself out early on.
Shortly after mile 13, I was in tears for the second time that day. As you might guess this was the “OMG, WTF was I thinking, why didn’t I just drop down and do the half marathon like a ‘sane’ person” break down. This was the point where I really (finally?) started to question myself and my ability to run a full 26.2 miles. Thankfully I talked myself down pretty quickly since crying makes running substantially harder to do.
I had two big issues I had with the Wisconsin marathon. The first issue was it seemed like the majority of participants ran the half marathon. This meant that runners were few and far between once I made it past the half marathon turn around point.
The other issue is the second half of the course isn’t nearly as awesome as the first half. The course is an out-and-back, and the race starts near the lakefront. The first half of the course runs through downtown and residential Kenosha, and runs north along the lakefront and the back. I loved the first half of the course so much last year that it was a deciding factor in doing the full in Kenosha this year. The second half of the course runs back south through downtown and residential Kenosha, along the lakefront and pretty much out into the middle of nowhere. The further south the course went, the more remote it felt. On top of that the terrain changed from pavement to packed gravel several times, and the course was barely adequately marked for the second half.
So now I’m now pretty much running by myself, in the middle of nowhere on a course that’s just barely adequately marked for some of the most difficult miles of the race. Somewhere between mile 14 and 15, I reached a fork in the road with a lady a few feet in front of me. I followed her and caught up with her asking if we were still even on the course. Neither one of us was really 100% sure. Thankfully my parents and Nik appeared shortly thereafter and confirmed we were, in fact, still on the course.
One thing I will say for the marathon course was that since it was on wide open streets and other runners were few and far between, it made it really easy for my parents and Nik to ride along with me in support. They were able to ride along with me for most of miles 7 – 10 and large portions of the southern end of the course. It was incredibly awesome to have my own support system with my along the way – especially since this isn’t a race with tons of crowds out cheering you on.
The last 5 miles I really started to feel emotional. I actually sent everyone ahead shortly after mile 23 because I needed to be alone. I was getting emotional, starting to struggle a little, and I really just needed to focus on my music and zone out. I cried a little more thinking about the fact that I was actually doing it, and I was actually going to finish in a reasonable time. I cried because I was on the verge of being mentally finished. And let’s be honest, I cried because my entire lower body was sore and tired and hurting.
Mile 24 and 25 were probably the hardest. I was tired. I was sore. I wanted nothing more than the finish line and a cheeseburger. I actually felt really good coming off the mile 23 marker, but after I hit mile 24 the wind got very nasty. I ran through most of mile 24, but it took everything I had out of me. I ended up walking through most of mile 25. I tried to pick it up and start running again since moving quicker actually hurt LESS (go figure), but I truly didn’t have the physical or mental energy to do it. I picked it up to run the last .2 miles, and Kira met me at the mile 26 marker and fan with me up to the finish line.
Despite all the struggles in the last few miles, I crossed the finish line 5 hours, 51 minutes later running with a smile on my face. I got my medal (which the awesome little kid volunteer put around my neck making me feel like a total bad ass), my bag of post-race snacks, my thermal blanket thing, and sat down on a curb and cried (again). I was so exhausted at that point that I just sat on the curb and let Nik feed me my bagel and cheese. Once I collected myself, I stretched out and ate my banana before heading over to the tent to claim my free beer and brat and bask in the glory of finishing a full 26.2.
One thing people keep asking me is if I’m going to do another one. Doing another one isn’t totally out of the question for me, but I don’t see myself becoming a regular marathoner. Honestly, I would repeat the marathon experience in a heartbeat. Despite any physical and mental pain and struggles along the way, I had a wonderful first marathon experience. I enjoyed myself during the majority of the run, and I finished strong. What I’m not particularly interested in repeating is the training. Overall, I trained smart and well, but to train properly takes time I’m not willing to commit again and discipline I don’t really think I have. Thinking about the burn out I felt toward the end of training only confirms this. Under the right circumstances, I might be willing to do it again, but I don’t want my life to revolve around my training schedule.
So there you have it. I finished my first marathon and lived to tell about it, but now it’s time for new adventures!
If you want to see all the pictures from the race Like me on Facebook and check them out there!