I wanted to write yesterday while this was fresh in my mind, but I just had nothing more to give.
I ran my first marathon. I’d love to say that I nailed the time I was hoping for. I’d love to say I was pain-free. But neither would be the truth. But I will do my best to describe the entire experience as best as I can recall.
I went to bed before 10pm, knowing it was at least an hour too late, but also knowing I’d lie in bed staring at the ceiling most of the night. My husband said by the time he came to bed, I didn’t stir. It was definitely after 11pm and I remember hearing him but I tried to keep my eyes closed. 4am would come quick.
When the alarm went off, for once, I got up without thinking about being painfully tired, like I did every single Saturday during training. I had everything out and ready the night before and the hour I needed before heading out the door, flew in the blink of an eye. I got to my sister’s house a few minutes late, thinking she’d kill me, but she seemed completely calm. This was her third marathon. I was a nervous wreck.
We drove downtown but probably should have left sooner because we got caught in traffic due to blocked roads. It started feeling stressful. Turn by turn, we’d try a new route to find parking, and it would be blocked. With the race starting at 7am and it was 6:20, we started to feel panicked. Eventually we found our way to an open lot, but there wasn’t enough time to find the training group to see familiar faces that we trained with for the last five months. It was the kind of calming thing I needed, being a newbie, but it wasn’t meant to be.
My sister and I parted ways to our respective corrals. Even though I was surrounded by thousands of people, I suddenly felt alone. Thankfully, I eventually connected with my training buddy who lined up with me. This was the first time I decided to wear a “throw-away” shirt so I could be warm at the start. It was one of my long-sleeve race t-shirts. My friend watched me take it off and set it on a railing. I told her it happened to be the shirt from my 5k PR, so I guess it was sort of a rite of passage letting it go.
In the minutes before the start of the race, I thought about all sorts of things. Did I have enough songs? Should I have carefully constructed a playlist, or is the shuffle method I decided on, the way to go? Did I eat enough? Did I eat the right things on the right days? Did I drink enough fluids? Did I pack enough fuel? Can I do this? I can’t believe I’m here for a marathon. A FULL freaking marathon! I remember hearing my friend tell me how she likes to approach the race (this was her 4th), but I don’t really remember the words. I felt like I was in the ozone.
And then we were off. The first two miles feel like you’re doing nothing but dodging people to get what feels like a somewhat normal stride. It takes a while. My pace was slowish. Sometimes I’d find a clearing and lose my friend, sometimes she’d find an opening and I was bottle-necked. But we both knew that we wouldn’t always be side by side and that was fine. I thought it was nice that she was sort of looking out for me when she could.
The next two miles were quicker. Maybe too quick. I started thinking maybe it was too fast, so by mile 5, I slowed. But in the sixth mile, I must have sped up again, wanting a good 10k time. Miles 9 and 10 were fast and by miles 11 and 12, I felt some tweakiness with my knee. That familiar ache from my IT band was starting to flare. I thought maybe I’d stop and readjust my knee band. I was getting closer and closer to the halfway point so I waited. I wanted a good half time and ended up with my average time from my half-marathon experiences. Probably not a good idea for a first time full.
And then it happened.
My knee went out. Like completely gave out. I hobbled over to the side and eventually lost my running buddy. I don’t think she even realized and I’d never ask her to hang back anyway. I did some IT stretches. I cursed. I wanted to cry. Then I set out again, could run for a minute or two, and then spaghetti knee. I’d hobble to the side and repeat. I couldn’t believe this. I couldn’t believe all this training. All these people who were so proud, waiting for me, had no idea I was about to fail. I begged and pleaded with God to let me have this. Let me finish.
For the next two miles, I hobbled along, with a few nice runners stopping to ask if I was alright and if I wanted them to jog along with me. I wanted to cry because I thought that was so nice of them. Complete strangers wanting to help. This is why I love runners. Just before mile marker 15, there was an aid station so I stopped to see them. The physical therapist was an absolute godsend. She kept digging her thumbs in, using ice and working the tight areas where the IT band was messing with my knee. It hurt like a bitch but I said do what it takes to fix it and asked if she could find the magic spot to reapply my knee strap. At this point I sent a text to my husband, telling him what was going on and how defeated I felt. And I threw a status update on FB, expressing my defeat. The physical therapy team all asked if I wanted to continue the race, while asking me to fill out a form. I turned and saw two young runners, both with ice strapped to their knees and was told they dropped out. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t quit. They marked my bib with what I call a “boo-boo report” noting MM15 and sent me on my way.
I prayed. I started praying Our Fathers and Hail Marys. Mumbling to myself. Sometimes I’d finish a prayer and other times I’d be distracted and have to start over. I found moments where I was calm again. When I’d feel a tweak, I’d pray. Miles 15, 16 and 17 were slow. I’d lost a lot of time at the aid station and was nervous about pushing it, plus it was a hilly stretch. Miles 18, 19, and 20 got better. It was a nice part of the course, very residential, with tons of people out on their lawns cheering the runners. It was here that I started to get a boost. A little girl holding a sign, read my name off my bib, telling me to “go!” I started to cry. At that same moment, a perfectly timed song from my shuffle playlist came up. The emotions finally hit me. I was going to do this.
The spectators were amazing. Especially through that residential area. They camped out with fresh sliced fruit and bowls of grapes for the runners. Pushing us on with signs that had the most inspirational quotes I’ve ever seen. I could barely hold back the tears. At some point during mile 20, another one of the best songs from my random playlist came on, right when I needed it. It literally took my breath away.
Earlier in the week, my husband’s grandfather passed away. I had asked my husband to pick a mile to dedicate to him. He selected 21 after the 21-gun salute they had at the funeral. I was there, about to start mile 21, the furthest I’d ever gone, so I sent him a quick text, which was the first he’d heard back from me after learning I was hurt. He started informing everyone I was still in the race. From that point on, it was like he was right there with me, “talking” me through via texts. After I finished mile 21, I told him 22 would be for my grandpa. Then he suggested mile 23 for his dad and 24 for mine. It really helped to dedicate miles to family members – some still with us, some not.
I kept praying, especially when I felt the pain creeping in again. Or when I started feeling fatigue from the temps that kept creeping up and up the longer I was out on the course. Mile 25 I found myself thinking it’s only two more miles, but I was so drained. I walked. Walked a little bit more. As I was getting closer to finishing, I can recall people talking to me from the side of the road. Encouraging me. Using my name. Strangers cheering for me. Again, I sort of heard them, and all I could do was nod my head. Then I’d run some more and nod. Mile 26 put me right near the stadium finish. I could hear the music and the crowds. I knew my family was there still waiting, well over an hour after my sister’s finish. She had sent me a text saying the weather SUCKED for running but “you got this!”
I prayed some more. Out loud. Didn’t care who heard me. Our Father, who art in heaven. Hail Mary, full of grace. Over and over until I rounded the last corner before the opening to the stadium. Then I started saying out loud to myself, “oh my God. Oh my God. I’m here.” It took my breath away to see the final stretch, lined with flags blowing in the breeze. I finally felt like air. I ran the final stretch and crossed the finish line. It was unbelievable. I just finished a MARATHON.
I honestly don’t know how I did it, as hurt and defeated as I was. I really don’t.
I’m not fast. I wanted to finish in 5 hours, but I finished in 5:35 and some change. While I wish it was better, I still did it. I really did it.
Later that day, I decided to post how I really felt. Not just about the day, but something that would sum up the journey I’ve been through, especially with ttc – when running was the only thing that got me through. If I wouldn’t be successful in pregnancy, I wanted to complete a marathon of a different kind. Running gives you a lot of time to think, so when I posted a pic of my medal, I left it with this:
I’ve learned that there are some pretty amazing things in life I can control. For the things I can’t, I chose to not let them break me. That’s all I wanted to prove today.