14 weeks of preparation. 500 miles of training. 2 pairs of running shoes. Countless hours spent in anticipation, frustration, and even a mild form of fear. All to run 26.2 miles. That is 1.7 million inches. A race against oneself. Testing limits and mental toughness. The race is the reward…right?
I can honestly say I’ve never found a truer form of happiness than crossing the finish line of a marathon. Every other emotion had been exhausted as I pushed myself those last 385 yards. Purity.
It has already been a month since my marathon. September 14th. And it feels like ages ago. And yet, still surreal. For the sake of reliving it though, let’s revisit.
Marathon Day (Hagg Lake Hybrid)
5:45 am wakeup time. I got dressed in my already laid out and color coordinated clothes. They say preparation is a key to success. Waking up groggy and before the sun is up, I most assuredly agree. Having everything prepared the night before made my life a lot easier. I ate my pre-race breakfast with a knot in my stomach and a giant grin on my face. A pink lady apple with a few spoonfuls of almond butter and a green goddess smoothie, complete with spinach, protein, banana and mangoes.
7:20 arrival to Hagg Lake. What an unnerving time, waiting for such an event to begin! Observing everyone’s pre-race rituals was quite entertaining. ‘Excuse me, sir, but why are you running before you embark upon a race that will surely help you to meet your mileage requirement for the week? Is 26.2 not enough?’ Or, ‘How can you be stuffing your face with Hostess donut holes right now?’ and ‘Who does push-ups before a marathon?!’ It was all I could do to maintain an upright position.
7:30 — Then came the time to decide: running jacket or tank top? Music or no music? Garmin or no? With many trips back to the car, we settled on Garmin watch, no jacket and no music. I never regretted any of the above.
7:45 — Let’s be honest. A bathroom is a marathon runner’s best friend. Pre-race bathroom trips = 5 times.
Glorious. I would venture to say that this is not abnormal. Prior to training for any kind of distance running, I had an irrational fear of port-a-potties and a strong aversion to public restrooms in general. It’s not hard to imagine how quickly those changed. When you gotta go, you go wherever is provided. And you thank the running gods for the invention of hand sanitizer.
8:04 am race start. With less than 100 people running the Hagg Hybrid Marathon, it was a low-key but very energized and positive beginning to a race. I have to say, I love smaller races. There’s something so close-knit, as if you’re running the race with a bunch of family. Regardless, my legs were restless, my heart was pounding out of my chest and my head was positively buzzing. This is really happening!
Many people have asked me, “If you don’t listen to music, what do you think about while you run?” I think what they mean to ask is simply, ‘how do you make the time pass?’ A very good question that I do not have a straight answer to. If I were to try and think of key moments or actual thoughts I had during my marathon at Hagg Lake, I think the sum of them would amount to maybe 5 minutes. My first thoughts as the race began were, “Don’t start too fast. Am I going too fast? Breathe.” I started composing my blog post in my head, wondering if I would be able to tell all of you lovely readers how splendid the run was, or if I would have to report how miserably grueling it was.
“26.2. Think of how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.” This phrase hit me about mile four, when I still had a smile on my face, and the rolling hills hadn’t taken a toll on me yet.
The rest of the first half was really a blur. It took place on the road surrounding the lake and proved to be a nice challenge with a number of hills. I could not have made it through the first 13 miles without two amazing ladies, TJ and Heather. Between the two of them, they’d run over 70 marathons in the course of 10 years. Their amiable, determined, yet light-hearted attitude was admirable and quite impressionable upon my newbie marathoner mind. Not to mention, their pace was comparable to mine. And so we ran together. I wish I had obtained their info so I could give a proper shout out! Between forcing me to eat gummy bears and a banana at one of the aid station (which were both amazing, by the way) and telling me to “dig in and use as many profanities as needed” when climbing a particularly large hill, I really don’t know that I would have kept going at the pace I did. Thank you, ladies, for answering my incessant list of questions. It kept my mind distracted.
No sooner had I jumped on the trails in the second half of the marathon, exalting at my pace and still seemingly large amount of energy, than I stumbled upon my support crew. 5 of them all poring over their phones, trying to track my location. I was elated to see them, and their cheers meant the world to me. They were there for me at every aid station for the second half. Yelling my name, cheering me on and giving me more support than I can ever express in words.
Somewhere between miles 18-20, I started to really feel the fatigue. I began calling in my usual mental distractions. I dreamed up the best food I could think of. If I could eat anything after the marathon, I wanted a giant burger. With bacon. Avocado. Two patties. Pepper jack cheese. No bun. Sweet potato fries. And cupcakes. Glorious cupcakes. When that mental distraction no longer worked, I thought of what would bring me the most joy in that very moment, nirvana if you will (aside from crossing the finish line.) The first thing that came to mind was my huge polka-dotted down comforter. The smell of clean linen, the feeling of wrapping myself up in its fluffiness and curling up for a lovely nap. Nothing sounded better to me. And so I focused on burgers and linens.
I went through an aid station somewhere around mile 20, and all I wanted was electrolytes. That lovely yellow liquid was like magic to my mouth. Delightfully artificial and hydrating. I had high hopes that it was going to cure the dizziness that had started setting in. Post-race, my friends in the support crew informed me that I looked deathly pale. They hardly believed my two thumbs up while still managing a smile as I passed through the checkpoint.
Those last 6 miles kicked. My. Ass. Thoroughly. The ground kept trying to come up and meet my face. I wanted to die. I swore never to run a marathon again. Never in my life have I felt like I did in those last miles. Death would have been preferable to the burning in my legs. Those hills became giant monsters. I walked them and ran the rest. Not even the thought of food could get me through this one.
My Garmin watch said 24.2 miles as I rounded a bend and caught sight of Boat Ramp C and the finish line. That couldn’t be right. Were they going to make us run laps around the parking lot to achieve 26.2? Preposterous. But I steeled my nerves and told myself not to get too excited about the finish line, just in case parking lot laps were in my near future. But no, it really was the finish line, and my watch was off (which it tends to do on trails.) Those last 385 yards were the most exalting. A sudden rush of energy propelled me across those finishing mats, to complete my marathon in 4:45. I was met with hugs as soon as I finished, and I started crying. From sheer exhaustion, from happiness, from elation at being done, who knows. But, I finished!
To anyone who hasn’t completed a marathon, it is incomparable to anything I’ve ever known or felt before. The feeling of simultaneous disbelief and accomplishment. Pushing one’s own limits. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” TS Eliot’s words have never rang truer.
This is my amazing support crew, cheering me on every step of the way. If nothing else, the thought of them waiting on me at the next aid station kept me going. Hearing their continual quotes of this amazing YouTube video kept a smile on my face:
Let me tell you, I did not see Rob Thomas, I did not pants my poop (which is an accomplishment), and those second winds are real! Of all the songs to be stuck in my head on race day though, lines from this kept popping in at the weirdest of moments:
It took less than a day to realize that I would, indeed, sign up for another marathon (Whidbey Island in April!) and the thought of an ultramarathon wasn’t so far-fetched after all (Hagg Lake Mud Run in February!). I’m an addict. Two more half-marathons this year: The Happy Girls Run in Sisters on November 2nd and The Holiday Half on December 15th.
Through these months of training, with my friends and family putting up with my ever-increasing addiction, I would just like to say thank you. I know it’s not easy to understand why I spend hours each week pounding the trail and pavement, but believe me when I say that it makes me the person I am today. It keeps me calm. It keeps me sane. It is my catharsis and my meditation. Join me on a run, cheer me on. Don’t hate me too much when I can’t shut up about running. I truly love it, and am elated if my zeal becomes contagious.
I aspire to inspire before I expire.