Monday, November 17, 2014

Reflections on My First Marathon and a Race Recap

ETA this photo from the race!

You might not have heard (haha) but on Saturday, November 15th, I became a marathoner. My results from the Grand Ridge Trail race say I finished in 6:16:40, good enough for 15th out of 37 marathoners overall. While I had hopes of finishing somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00, I hadn't taken in to account just how crazy hilly that race is. My goodness.

My lead up to this marathon was a bit unusual. Or rather, not what I imagined when I dreamed about my first marathon. I imagined everyone would know, and care, about my impending achievement. I imagined I would tell my in-laws and they would come to the race and cheer me on. I imagined my husband and daughters would spend all day moving along the course to provide me encouragement. I imagined I would run the race with a friend (looking at you, Sally!) and that it would just be huge. Since I chose a trail race, it was very small and had basically no spectators. Sally had just run the New York City marathon and wasn't a trail runner, so that ruled her out. I also didn't really tell many people outside of social media (which I do because, by and large. my small social media audience is made of up other runners). It no longer felt like a huge thing to rope everyone in to, but rather my personal journey to embark on. 

I think that because I didn't make a big deal out of it or put myself on a stage, I didn't get too freaked out about it. I was more concerned about logistics like the clothing I would wear in the below-freezing race day temps than I was about actually running a marathon. Which was equally odd and comforting. 

On race morning I woke up, ate, got dressed and double checked I had everything I needed and was ready to go. I wasn't overly nervous, just mostly worried about the cold and made a race-morning decision to throw on a second long-sleeved shirt (this was big, because I previously wondered if I would be okay in only a short-sleeved shirt and arm sleeves!). The other brilliant choice I made was to stick hand warmers in my gloves. 

Matt and the girls and I made it to the race with enough time to check in and be ready to listen to the race director's instructions. Unfortunately I literally heard not a single word of them. Apparently his megaphone wasn't megaphoning very well.

The girls and I pre-race. 

The countdown was on and at 7:45 a.m. the 50K and marathon runners took off while I stood at the start line taking off my warm layers and saying goodbye. I started a couple of minutes after everyone else and felt at ease about it. 

The elevation of this race is no joke. After a half mile or so of flat, we began climbing. 

The first half of the race was great and even though I was in the back and the runners spread out, I felt someone was always within sight. As I approached the first turn around (it was two out-and-backs) I started going by the other runners coming back towards me. I enjoyed "good jobbing" as many runners as I could. After the turn-around I then went by the half marathoners, who started at 9:00 a.m., coming towards me. Once I began my second out-and-back everyone had really spread out and I felt like I was completely alone out there, which I didn't really enjoy. The miles from about 14-18 sucked. I was sure I would be out in the woods for the rest of my life walking up hills. I spent my time thinking about my family, thinking about my friend Stacey who was running her first 50K as I was running my first marathon, thinking about all sorts of things that were going on. When you are on the trails, alone, with nothing to distract you, there is a lot of time to think. I also had to focus on the trail ahead of me, because when my mind wandered too much, my footsteps became sloppy as I landed on rocks and other debris. If there as one thing I did not want to do, it was fall out there alone in the woods! 

The first (and third) turn-around point. 
Those water jugs were emptied long before the last runners came through.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this race was the yummy food at the aid stations. I ate many chocolate chip cookies and handfuls of m-n-ms and trail mix, in addition to all of the food I had on me! In the second half of the race I felt like I could eat anything and everything. I had a pre-planned nutrition schedule that went out the window after eating my first shot bloks at 45 minutes in. After that I just ate when I wanted without looking at my watch. My stomach felt 100% fine the whole race, thank goodness. I definitely do not think I drank enough, but other than a brief minor headache at the half way point, I didn't seem to have any obvious effects of dehydration.

The second turn-around for the marathoners and 50Kers. We had run a half marathon by this point.
You can sort of see the black finish line arch in the back.

My body held together nicely the whole day. I eventually became pretty tired and my right hip flexor felt a little tight at times and my left IT band was threatening to revolt (which I later laughed about to Matt, saying it must have given up its whining because it felt fine at the end!). I also was really fortunate because I didn't chafed and didn't have any blisters didn't develop a couple of small blisters on my feet until the next day (weird, no?). In general I felt strong the whole race and never felt like I couldn't run a flat or downhill-- from the beginning I was almost exclusively walking the uphills so that didn't change. I never hit "the wall" and around mile 22 I got a second wind and felt like I was just ready to fly in to the finish. Of course, those miles nicely corresponded with a long downhill.

Course map. We ran around the loop to the left, then up then straight back to the start. 
Then did it again. 

The end of the race was really emotional for me. I had been instagramming/tweeting/texting a bit to let people know who wanted to follow my adventure know how I was doing. At mile 21, my last turn around, Sally texted me: "Now's the time to dig deep but also enjoy it. You're going to be a marathoner and that's all that matters". I started crying when I read it and thought "game on" and began my charge (albeit a very slow "charge") towards the finish. It was also at mile 21 that I put an ear bud in and played my favorite workout mix on Spotify. I had never listened to music on a trail run before but it helped so, so much at that point. 

Those last 5.2 (well, 5.68 according to my Garmin) miles were my very favorite. I was thrilled to catch up up to a few runners I could chat with a tiny bit, and despite my body aching everywhere, I felt stronger than ever. I also knew my husband, girls, and Sally (and her fiance and their dog!) were waiting for me at the finish.

I came out of the last downhill stretch and hit the half mile flat portion before the finish. I focused on the ground ahead and told myself I could NOT walk (interestingly, I felt no more tired here than I did when I hit that stretch during my 5 mile race at Grand Ridge). Interesting to note, mile 26 was my fastest mile of the entire race! As I made my way along I heard a voice say my name to my right. I looked over and thought "who is that guy?!" and then I heard another voice say my name, it was Sally and Patrick! I was so focused I didn't see them there! Sally ran up alongside me and I started crying. She ran with me and we met my girls right before the finish line and I began crying even more. The girls were very worried I was hurt. 

Crossing the finish line. 

My tears were about finally, finally, achieving my goal.  I was crying because I couldn't fucking believe I did it. Because people I loved were there to see me finish. Because I ran up and down and up and down trails for 6 hours and 15 minutes and my body HURT. It was a very emotional moment for me. 

All of the emotions.

There was no crowd at the finish line. I won't lie, I am bummed there was no medal (Iris said she would make one) or any other fun marathon swag. Once I stopped running I briefly chatted with my friends and family, glanced at the food table without grabbing anything except a drink I didn't really want, and said I was ready to go home. And that was that. I was a marathoner. I am a marathoner.

I am a marathoner. 


  1. Sounds like a hard go for a first marathon, but an amazing experience (well minus the medal thing because Iris is right - you NEED one after your first marathon). You describe the feelings of a marathon so well, the fear, the tears, the emotion, the pride. I am SOOOOO proud of you and I am so happy your body finally cooperated!

  2. YOU ARE A MARATHONER!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! Very proud of you and so happy for your amazing accomplishment! *&??$$# IT band!!!!


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