This video is so funny and so true.
My first marathon was definitely an experience. As a race, the Donna was incredible. It was well organized, well staffed, had great crowd energy along a beautiful course and there was never water or electrolytes far from where you needed it. My personal experience was a little less rose-colored. I definitely started out too fast (even though I was advised by many experienced marathoners not to) and suffered for it a lot in the end. Let me start from the beginning…
Jerritt and I arrived in Jacksonville Saturday night, picked up my race packet from a fun-looking expo (I’m just not one for shopping or crowds…) and met Dawn and Chris for some incredible seafood at the Fish Co. (and a HUGE brownie sundae). I had a self-enforced early bedtime and fell asleep sometime around 9pm after setting 2 alarms for 4:30am. I almost only set one because the night before a race, I usually don’t sleep much and am awake waiting for the alarm to sound in the wee hours anyway. Thankfully, I had the mind to doubt myself because I awoke to my phone alarm after apparently having turned off the one on my watch before returning to sleepyland.
We ate a quick breakfast, headed out the door about 5:15 and arrived at the University of North Florida at 5:45. This is where we were to park and take a city bus to the start of the race. We got in a very long line and waited in the very cold morning for the buses to come and carry us away. The line moved quickly at first with buses coming every few minutes and the line getting shorter and shorter. Then the buses stopped coming. I worried and I fretted and tried not to think about not even getting to start the race on time. Finally, we got a bus around 6:30-6:45 and arrived to the Mayo Clinic with about 20 minutes to spare before the gun. I sprinted to the port-o-potty for a quick pit stop and weaved into my corral to get as close as I could get to the Galloway Pace Setter for a 3:40 finish (this was an awesome perk to the Donna. There were experienced runners leading pace groups for different goal finish times. They were using the Galloway run/walk method and carried little flags with the finish time printed on them).
My battle plan was to stay close to my Pacer (whose name I think was Sara and who I am going to call Sara from here on out), continue running when they started to walk, stay ahead of them and if I struggled at the end, just fall in with them and coast in the pack all the way to the finish. I was still pretty far back from Sara in the corral, but didn’t fret too much. Once the race officially began, I made myself start out slow, just keeping the little flag in sight. I think around mile 2 or 3, I caught up with them and passed Sara. Then I passed the 3:30 Pacer. Uh oh. That means I’m going WAY too fast. I had doubts that I could make 3:40, if I’m at a 3:30 pace, then I will definitely run out of steam. I try and slow down but it’s so hard! I’m feeling really good and in spite of myself, I see myself crossing the finish at 3:28 (because I had a dream earlier in the week that I came in at 3 hours and 28 minutes…could that have been been prophetic or maybe my subconscious telling me that I can run that fast for that long?). I begin building these pictures in my head of me finishing in less time than I previously felt possible and qualifying for Boston. And though I am trying to slow down after each too-fast-mile passes, I’m feeling great and not really pushing myself yet, so what can the harm be? I chat with one guy for a few minutes about trying to qualify and he’s really nice, tells me that Boston is a great time and then goes on ahead. Then, I chat with another guy for a few minutes about the same things and he’s not so nice. He tells me that I shouldn’t have started out so fast and that I’ll be lucky to register for Boston even if I do qualify because it fills up so fast. Whatever, I let that roll off because, mostly, mean people just don’t bother me. I have a nice time running along the beach and the sun starts really coming up and it gets nicely warm, but not hot.
Then mile 13 hits. I’ve been actively trying to keep my pace up for a couple of miles now. It hasn’t been as easy as it was in the beginning, but nothing too strenuous yet. Still, I’m starting to look for Dawn, Chris and Jerritt because I can use a little cheering. I’m hitting every mile marker 3-5 minutes ahead of my schedule and am happy with my effort so far. I see my cheering squad at the turnaround just after 14 miles. Yay! This makes me happy and though I’m pretty tired at this point, I can’t give up on my goal.
16 hits and I’m running into empty pretty fast. I’m telling myself just to stay ahead of Sara but have to stop and walk for a while after getting water at a station. In training runs, I drink about every 5-6 miles. For here on out, I’m drinking at every single mile. I somehow convince myself to start running again and though my pace is slowing significantly, I still have a chance to make Boston. I begin using my mental tricks. I start with Aron and tell myself that he got out of that canyon with a bloody stump and I try and imagine what that felt like and feel pretty good in my current situation by comparison. I make it to mile 19 and have to walk again. What? This doesn’t happen to me. I just couldn’t continue running. I start to doubt my ability to finish even under 4 hours. I’m able to get myself running again, but it’s much, much slower. The 3:30 Pacer passes me. Sara passes me. I try for 2 minutes to keep up with her. She’s down to 2 people that I can see. I can’t do it. I’m lucky at this point to just be running, I can’t keep up with her 8 minute 13 second miles. I haven’t even been running for 3 hours yet. I have a long way to go. 8 miles never seemed so long. 8 miles seems impossible at this point. Can I really do the Death Race? I can’t even run for 3 hours without feeling this bad? The Death Race is over 24 hours!! I decide not to worry about the Death Race. When Boston became an option, this marathon turned into a training run for the Death Race anyway. I wanted to see how fast I could push myself and if I could mentally handle the walls that I knew I would face. And I did hit that wall. Sometime between 18-21 (they start to blur at this point) I just wanted to freaking walk. All these other people were walking. It seemed like such a sensible idea. The marathoners had rejoined the half marathoners and they outnumbered us greatly. After seriously considering it, I asked myself if I was going to let a wall keep me from running. The answer was no. Thankfully, I knew ahead of time that I WAS going to hit a wall and was looking out for it. When my motivation disappeared, I was able to recognize it for what it was instead of beating myself up for giving up. From 19-23, I just told myself to make it to the next mile marker. Once I got there, I was allowed to walk just long enough to drink something and throw my cup in the trash. Once the cup was gone, I had better start running, or else. Man, am I a tough coach 😉
Those 4 miles, I used every weapon at my disposal to keep myself moving forward. I thought about the cancer survivors, the Death Race, I thought about all those people who have done incredible survival feats, I reminded myself to stay in the moment and focus on what I am able to do right now to keep my mind off the miles still left to go, I tried convincing myself that I’m just out for a short 5 mile run on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, telling myself that I want this and this is why I’m here, asking myself just to give it all for 1 more hour, reminding myself that I only have this one day and these few hours to show what I can do in my first marathon, remembering that your muscles cry wolf and can go for much longer than they tell you they can. I ran through them all. And I made it to mile 23.
I truly thought that once I got to mile 23, I would be cruising into the finish. 3 miles is child’s play. I can do 3 miles in my sleep. Or after no sleep. 3 miles is nothing. Oh, how wrong I can be. I never knew that something could be so hard. Of course I’ve been in more pain before. I broke 4 fingers in my left hand once. But this is a different kind of pain. It is a sustained pain that you’re putting yourself through. Why do people do this again? For 3 excruciating, agony-filled miles, I did not allow myself to stop at water tables. I knew if I stopped, I would be walking across the finish line. I had slowed to 10 minute miles. My hands were tingling. My whole body was tingling. I was dizzy. My vision blurred. I thought I was going to pass out. I told my body at water stations that if I needed to pass out, this was the place to do it so at least there would be ice and help. My legs did not want to move and every inch felt fought for. I repeated a variation of the same sentence in my head over and over: you can slow down but don’t stop, slow down but don’t stop, slow down but don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop.
Even when I could see the finish, I wasn’t happy. It looked so far away. Even when it was feet away, it looked miles away. I had gone from smiling and thanking all the volunteers to grimacing with every step, trying to keep my head up so I wouldn’t trip on my own feet. It was bad. Dawn and Chris and Jerritt were there to cheer me across. I perked up a little, but when I saw Jerritt over the barrier in the finisher’s area, all I could manage was to tell him that I was dying. He told me to meet him in the reunion area. I almost detoured to the medical tent. In fact, that last mile, I’m pretty sure that I was just running towards that medical tent.
I couldn’t walk in a straight line, my legs ceased being able to bend and I told Jerritt that I never wanted to do that again. I never wanted to run a marathon. Ever. I told him I didn’t want to do an Ironman because there would be a marathon waiting for me at the end. Just waiting to chew me up and spit me out. What a stupid idea! Now, keep in mind that I LOVE to run. Running is my favorite part of the triathlon. I’ll pick running over any other workout there is. I’d rather run for 3 hours than do gym stuff for 30 minutes. This was serious. But after some ice, some massaging, a little stretching, 2 Aleve and some very greasy and very sugary french toast, all the pain began to fade from my mind and I was able to bask in the glow of having run a freaking marathon! And Boston? Well, although I finished a disappointing 6 minutes too slow for qualifying, I had decided around mile 16 that I was going to do what I could. And I can really say that I did. I did everything I could. I gave all that I had. For 3 hours and 46 minutes, I left every part of myself on that course. So Boston wanted 6 more minutes from me? I’ll give it to them next time. For now, I think that’s an awesome finish for a first timer.
Here are my splits (watch the disintegration):
Mile 1 – 8.45
Miles 2 and 3 – 7.30
Mile 4 – 7.45
Mile 5 – 7.24
Mile 6 – 8.50 (I think this marker was on the beach and a little off…)
Mile 7 – 7.48
Mile 8 – 8.08
Mile 9 – 7.56
Mile 10 – 7.46
Miles 11, 12 and 13 – 8.07
Mile 14 – 7.45
Mile 15 – 8.21
Mile 16 – 8.58
Mile 17 – 9.20
Mile 18 – 9.01
Mile 19 – 9.36
Mile 20 – 9.55
Mile 21 – 8.40
Mile 22 – 9.00
Mile 23 – 9.25
Mile 24 – 10.09
Mile 25 – 9.54
Mile 26 to finish (1.2 miles) – 13.36