Caution: Lost post ahead… I had months to reflect, and now I am going to share all the feelings….
My last post sounded a big negative when it came to my description of training. Yes, it was exhausting… Yes, it was stressful… But it was also a really exciting few months. Every week I was accomplishing something I had never done before. That’s the really cool part about training for a distance you have never run before… every week was a mini victory, celebrating my first 14 mile run, 16 mile run, 18 mile run, and so forth. It was an amazing feeling to meet these weekly milestones and I had an incredible support system putting up with my excessive phone calls and ramblings about the art of marathon training. I remember telling my mother-in-law one night that training for the marathon was one of the biggest things I had ever done in my life; I had devoted so much time, energy, and strength into it, and I was so proud of how far I had come.
As race weekend kicked off, I was extremely blessed to have a huge part of that support system right by my side. Ross, my parents, and Ross’s parents all traveled to Richmond with me, along with several friends who were also racing either the half or full marathons. I knew I would have so much love and support on race day, which added to the excitement and pre-race jitters.
We took off of work on Friday, and left for Richmond around mid-day. It was only about a 2.5 to 3 hour drive, but I wanted to be there in plenty of time to get settled in with as little stress as possible. The race expo was held at a convention center, and also served as the meeting place for my fan group (the aforementioned two sets of parents, which from here on out will be referred to as The Parents to eliminate the need to specifically list the four different people in attendance). Because I was already uber emotionally charged, the race expo was a bit of a sensory overload for me. Everyone wanted to walk around and look at all the cool gear for sale, but once I had my bib and race t-shirt, I was ready to fight my way out of the crowds and zone out. We went our separate ways from The Parents, and met up with our friends Doug and Katharine who we were sharing an AirBnB with (Richmond was Katharine’s first ever half marathon). We had a fairly relaxing and uneventful evening and we turned in early for bed.
The next morning proved to be exactly as forecasted. Bright sunshine with a side of Arctic Blast. Yes it was sunny and gorgeous, at least from the inside of your warm bedroom, because outside it was a frigid 18 degrees. I layered up in my predetermined race outfit (compression shorts, tall compression socks, and my favorite wicking t-shirt), then smothered myself in extras including an odd combination of old yoga clothing, warm winter accessories, and a heavy winter jacket.
The house we were renting was only a few miles from the race start and we made it to the start line area right on schedule. We found a parking spot fairly easy, and it was there that I ran into my training partner Laura. We had decided weeks earlier that it would probably be impossible to find each other in the literally tens of thousands of people on race morning, but as fate would have it, we parked in the same lot, at the same time, and were able to spend the morning nervously laughing and talking together. I remember thinking how perfectly the morning was going, and that everything was exactly following my plan.
And this is where things started to fall apart.
The half marathon had a tapered start, with the first waive at 7:30a.m. and the last at 8:00a.m.. The full marathon, as it had the smaller number of participants of the two distances, was an all-at-once start, starting at 7:50a.m.. A little bit after 7:00, Laura and I walked over to watch the first few waives of the half take off. I thought it was weird that the full race started before the half-ers were fully “off and running”, but the thought quickly left my mind. Call it pre-race absentmindedness. At that point, I should have realized, hey, you should probably go find your starting coral, but for some reason I was pretty zen about the whole thing, just watching the half waives take off. After what I thought had only been a few minutes of watching, I casually asked Laura what time it was. 7:47a.m.
Our race started at 7:50a.m.
I was no where close to my starting coral.
I didn’t even know where my coral was.
Our eyes met, both reflecting terror and panic, and we both took off running, tearing through the crowds towards the start line. I had originally planned to give Ross my extra layers of clothing at the start (they weren’t my favorite pieces of clothing, but I hadn’t intended for them to be “throw away” clothes either), but at this point I was literally stripping as I ran, tossing fleece pullovers, extra gloves, pants, and ear warmers as I made my way through the crowd. At some point in the chaos I lost Laura.
I found my way into the starting group right as the gun went off. Then I realized I had never set the GPS on my watch. I looked all around me, saw a guy with a pacer shirt on, and asked him his pace time. 3 hours, 35 minutes. Now 3:35 was my stretch-strech-stretch goal time, so I figured if I just started off with him while my watch loaded, I would be ok. Then we crossed the starting line, and we were off.
The first three miles were a wild blur. There were so. many. people. and I felt like I was constantly struggling to find my rhythm. Without my watch I had absolutely no idea of my pace, so I held back more than I thought I needed to in order to avoid bolting out of the gate at an overly ambitious pace. I listened as other nice folks around me chatted up with each other, but constantly looked at my left wrist, pleading for my watch to pick up. At around 3.4 miles, she finally kicked in.
For those of you who do not actively train with a GPS watch, you may not understand why it was “such a big deal” that my watch didn’t load. In the most simple way, let me explain it this way. I ran every single mile of my 5 months of training with that watch telling me my pace, distance, and total time. Was I overly dependent on it? You betcha. Did that come back to bite me in the butt when it didn’t load properly on race day? You better believe it. Would I train differently without the watch in the future? Absolutely not. I am Type A after all!
Once my watch was tracking properly I was able to settle into a more normal pace. With a few miles behind us, people started to warm up, stagger out, and find the group they would be spending the next few hours running beside. I met a couple of very nice people, including one man who ran dozens of marathons a year, not to mention the multiple ultra-marathons and triathlons he had under his belt. Needless to say, he was quite a bit more calm, cool, and collected about the Richmond Marathon than I was.
Because I had obsessively studied the course elevation map, I knew mile 7 would be my fastest mile of the race. It was still early enough that I was riding the “start of the race wave” and it had a significant downhill, with the first fan Party Zone at the bottom. The Richmond course was set up around 4 distinct “Party Zones” with music, signs, and tons of spectators to hype you up along the way. I knew The Parents planned to be at the first two Party Zones at Mile 7 and Mile 13, Ross was planning to meet me somewhere around mile 16, and then everyone would be at the finish.
Mile 7 was as expected, very fast compared to my overall pace (7:20 as I recall), and The Parents were jumping up and down, screaming for me at the Party Zone. Mom had even created a fabulous sign with my face on it (note, never send your mom selfies if you don’t want to see them blown up on a poster). I was all smiles for the next mile. (I later found out Mom had friends, family, and tons of supporters from my home town write me encouraging messages on the back of the poster. Thank you to each of you for your kindness!)
Most races I fall into a rhythm repeating a little mantra over and over as the miles pass. Sometimes I find myself counting to 8 repeatedly on training runs (I spy a little OCD), but usually during races some sort of motivational sentence pops into my head. It isn’t predetermined or thought through… it just happens. For the Bull City Race Fest it was “you’ve found your pace, now run your race”, which was my mind’s was of telling my body to keep up my speedy pace for a fast time. But thankfully in Richmond my mind provided a mantra that was a bit more encouraging: “You’re doing it, you’re running a marathon” was on repeat for a significant amount of time for miles 8 – 18, and every once in a while I would find myself smiling a dopey little smile at the thought that I really was running a marathon.
Captain of the Fan Club: Mama Bear. Always ready to give a thumbs up.
Perhaps now is a good time to interrupt and mention my goals for the race. First and foremost, my main goal was to “just finish.” This was my first full marathon after all, and although I had put in fairly extensive training and I was definitely prepared, weird things can happen during a marathon and I wasn’t entirely sure how my body would respond. Goal 2, was to finish in under 4 hours. All of my half marathon times were under 2 hours, so I felt like 4 hours was a totally attainable goal (note: to find your marathon goal pace, you do not simply multiple your half time by two. It would be insane to try to keep up your half marathon pace for 26.2 miles). Goal 3 was 3:45. This was the goal that I really, really wanted; the time I had trained towards for months, but I knew it would be incredibly challenging. And as mentioned earlier, my way-far-out-there, if-miracles-rain-down goal was 3:35 (the Boston Marathon qualifying time for my age group), but I was only half-way entertaining that thought as a possibility.
So the halfway point came and went. Passing through the second Party Zone, I knew this was my last chance to see The Parents, so I yelled out exactly what I thought my mom needed to hear “I feel great! See you at the end!” And at that point, I did feel really great. I was still on a wave of excitement, my body felt strong, and my watch was finally working. I don’t recall my half way split but it was somewhere in the high 1:40s so I knew I was on track to for my pace goals.
Miles 13 – 17 were quiet; beautiful scenery and gentle rolling hills. It was in this quiet that my mind started wandering. I call it “assuming the worst case scenario” and I tend to gravitate towards this way of thinking any time I feel panicky. I think of what would be the worst case scenario, then I convince myself how I would deal with it, so that if anything less than the worst happens, it won’t seem like a big deal. (Hello, my name is Negative Nancy, nice to meet you.)
So around mile 15 I convinced myself that my bib number wasn’t tracking. Because, with my GPS watch also over 3 miles behind, that would be the worst case timing scenario. I remember them telling us in passing at the race expo to be sure that our bib was on the very outer layer of clothing or else our bib wouldn’t track. I knew I lifted up my outer shirt crossing the start, but did I get it high enough to uncover the full bib?
At mile 16 I was in full out panic mode over the fact that I was not going to have an official time for my first marathon. (Which in my mind was proof that I did the marathon.) So when I saw Ross at mile 16, waiting for me on the bridge with a flat tire on his bike, the first thing I said was “are you getting text updates from my bib number?” No. “Is mom getting text updates?” No. So my bib in fact wasn’t working. The worst was happening. Ross did a great job cooling my panic fuse and sent me on my way to finish the last 10 miles.
Running across the Lee Bridge, fighting a pretty strong headwind
Around mile 18 my stomach started feeling weird (energy food combined with anxiety). I had a mental stern-talking-to with my body, that “NO. I was NOT allowed to fall apart now. I would not panic. I would NOT freak out. And I WOULD keep running my very first marathon.”
Mile 19, the 3:35 pace group finally caught me (I had held them off until then), and I felt myself getting engulfed by their pack. I held with them for the next mile, and explained to the lead pacer that it was my first marathon, my watch wasn’t working, I felt like I was panicking, and I just wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He gave me some encouraging words, but at that stage, it wasn’t helping. But then we crested the top of a little mini hill, and over on the side of the course were my mom and mother-in-law, running in their winter clothes, jeans, and heavy boots, falling into stride with me going down the hill. I laughed out loud and fought back happy tears as they squealed and ran beside me for the next block. It was exactly what I needed, at the exact right moment.
The last 6 miles of the race were very hard. I had run out of fuel, and although the last 6 miles should be where you pick up the pace, I just settled in to finish. The 3:35 pack was long gone ahead of me, but I knew I was definitely under 4 hours. Where I would fall in the 25 minute spectrum, I had no idea, but all I could do was finish.
The last 0.2 of the race was a very steep downhill, so I gave myself the go-ahead to open up my stride and I sprinted down the finishing chute of my first marathon. I could hear The Parents yelling from somewhere, but all I could see were blurred faces and my finish time as I passed under the big clock.
Post-race hours were all about pictures, congratulations, text messages, social media posts, and forcing myself to eat. I eventually found out that I was correct, my bib did not track. I didn’t have my official chip time, and I didn’t have my GPS watch time, so I had to go by my gun time. Laura started a few rows of people behind be, and her gun time was 45 seconds longer than her chip time, so I am assuming my time was sub 3:39, but I don’t know for sure. Thankfully my mother-in-law was quick on the iPhone and recorded my sprint across the finish line, and you can see the clock above my head reflecting that time, so I do have that to go by. And the hilarious screams recorded in the video. It’s a keeper.
My Fan Club
I tried not to be discouraged that I didn’t have my official time, but it was a little bit of a rain cloud over my sunny weekend. Perhaps I am too focused on time, and yes I think that is the case, but it was disappointing to work so hard for a time and not have the “proof” to show for it.
But overall, this was one of the greatest weekends of my life. I felt so loved and so supported from my fans along the race course, and all the texts and messages sent by friends. And most importantly, I was so proud of myself for my accomplishment. I had finished my very first marathon, and crushed my first three time goals.
Most of the studies I have found show that only 0.5% (that’s a HALF of a percent) of the US population has finished a marathon. That’s a pretty slim number. I am so proud that I can now call myself not only a runner, but a marathoner.