After 21 weeks of training and exactly 26 days from my 51st birthday, I ran 26.2 miles and crossed the finish line of my very first marathon. It’s been a truly amazing journey. A journey that I had put off for so many years, for so many reasons. Reasons such as …my body won’t let me run that far, I’m too old for a marathon, it will take me too long, the training is too time consuming and even lying to myself and others when I would say that I truly had no desire to ever run a full.
While I truly believed these
reasons excuses and they certainly have some validity, what they all boiled down to was fear. Fear of failure. Of course, I didn’t want to admit that to myself or to anyone else but that is exactly what it was. It was so much easier to wrap my fears in excuses than to face them and that is exactly what I was doing …that is until January 27, 2018, when I stood at the starting line in the rain with an iffy foot and two black toenails as a reminder of the miles and miles of training leading up to this moment. This was it, I was about to embark on a new journey …a journey which would consist of 26.2 miles of determination, joy, discomfort, soul-searching, pain, pride, human will and ultimately a satisfaction and sense of accomplishment like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
After a less than restful nigh’ts sleep, I woke up at 4:30, drank a cup of coffee, ate my usual bowl of oatmeal with fruit and began the foot/ankle taping process. When I say process …that’s not an exaggeration. Major Hubs always teases me and says that I need to wake up an hour earlier than him just to get my feet ready to run. Even though he’s teasing, it’s really true. Between the taping, gobs and gobs of Trail Toes, ankle braces and Injinji socks (toe socks do not go on quickly folks), just getting my shoes on can easily be a 15 to 20 minute ordeal. With the forecast of rain, I had decided on InknBurn shorts simply because the material felt like it would repel water …this was a good decision. Knowing that the temps would start out in the low 50s and rise to upper 50s, I decided on a tank with arm warmers and threw a long sleeve shirt in a bag to put on post race. I had been training with a pull on compression ankle brace and decided at the last minute to not wear it on race day ….another good decision.
It was dark and raining when we left the house. We arrived in downtown Jackson 25 minutes later, parked, pinned on our bibs and began the short walk to the starting line. It was raining, cold and windy and I admit it was bringing me down ….seriously ‘raining on my parade’. About half way to the starting line, I told the hubby that I wish I had grabbed that long sleeve shirt. If it continued to rain like this throughout the race, I was afraid I’d be too cold. We turned around, ran back to the car and got the shirt ….yet another good decision as I kept it on the entire race. By the time we arrived at the starting line, the port-a-potty lines were too long for our liking, so we decided we could probably wait.
After only a few minutes, the national anthem was played …blues style on the electric guitar. This is not a huge race so there were no corrals. There were a total of 3,000 runners for the 4 different race distances and they all lined up together. Major Hubs and I saw the 4:40 pacer and fell in with her. Obviously I had no delusion that I could finish in that time but it felt like a good place to be ….right in the middle.
With the one minute countdown, Major Hubs gave me a hug and kissed me ‘good luck’ ….my eyes filled up with tears and I was just overwhelmed with emotions. He asked me what was wrong and I said …”What if I fail?” He responded …”You’re at the starting line, you can’t fail!” With that the gun went off, I dried my tears, turned on my music and told myself ….’one mile at a time, just run one mile at a time’.
Miles 1 – 4
11:55 / 11:47 / 11:30 / 13:21 (potty stop)
Raining …light and steady / Potty stop at mile 4 …should’ve endured the long line at the start
While I am notoriously guilty of starting out races too fast, Coach Holly had advised me against this pointing out that the marathon is a much different beast than half marathons and going out too fast would only deplete much-needed energy for the later miles of the race. When I began my marathon training with walk/run intervals, I assumed it would be difficult to take walk breaks in the early miles of the race while runners were still bottlenecked. So I ran all my long training runs with run/walk intervals beginning after mile 3. This worked perfectly for race day and I actually didn’t begin my walk intervals until mile 5. However, I did take the first 4 miles nice and slow, chatting with runners around me, getting acclimated to running in the rain and dodging puddles.
Miles 5 – 7
12:09 / 12:23 / 12:31
Raining …light and steady / Gu at mile 5
These miles were all about finding my run/walk rhythm and fighting the urge to run during the walk intervals while I still felt good. I saw a woman running in a swim cap and thought ….weird but genius! I also played cat and mouse with a young girl, who looked to be about 12, running the half marathon with her Dad. She appeared to be struggling and not enjoying the rain in the least …but then again, who was? I was so impressed with her determination and gave her a few words of encouragement as I passed her for the last time. At mile 7 we split from the half marathoners and the crowd thinned out significantly. I remember thinking that the next 18 miles would be much ‘lonelier’ than the previous 7 ….thankfully, I was wrong about that.
Miles 8 – 12
12:30 / 12:46 / 13:18 / 13:20 / 12:22
Raining …light and steady / Gu at mile 10
The same miles I struggle with in half marathons, I struggled with here. Miles 9-11 were hard. I was getting tired and doubt was beginning to creep in. I had felt a few ‘twinges’ in my foot, but it would go away fairly quickly. I also kept feeling the need to pee …I never have to pee in half marathons so what the heck? I wasn’t drinking any more than normal, yet the potty just kept calling my name. I pressed on, passing several potties. On a good note, I remember thinking how grateful I was for the last minute decision to wear my wool blend Injinji socks even though I had never run more than 5 miles in them ….yes, another wise decision. Thanks Marcia! I texted out to the group ….Mile 10. Still Raining. Feet soaked. Pressing on.
Miles 13 – 16
12:35 / 13:43 / 13:11 / 15:52 (potty stop)
Raining …heavy and steady / Payday snack size candy bar at mile 13 (happy dance) / Potty stop and Gu at mile 16
Geez …just when I had gotten acclimated to running in a light and steady rain, the drops began to fall even harder. Other than the salty sweetness of the snack size Payday bar and the ultimate bladder relieving potty break, these miles were pretty much a blur ….’one foot in front of the other, one mile at a time, one foot in front of the other, one mile at a time.’ Somewhere around mile 14 to 15 I texted the group ….Over half way. Still raining.
Miles 17 – 20
13:51 / 13:59 / 14:35 / 12:55
Raining …light and steady / Waffle stinger at mile 18 / Gu – 40mg Caffeine at mile 20
While my paces may not reflect it, I actually began to feel better after the potty stop and the Gu at mile 16 kicked in. These miles were spent in an old established neighborhood filled with beautiful homes ….as we say here in the South, ‘old money’ homes. While the hills in this area were brutal, the neighborhood was beautiful with lots of crowd support and twists and turns to keep things interesting. By mile 18 I was starving. The hills were wearing me down and the thought of another Gu made me nauseated. I decided on a Waffle Stinger and after a little extra walking, I was feeling much better …I mean seriously, look at the pace change from 19 to 20! To be quite honest, I was so surprised at how good I felt when I hit the 20 mile marker that I was afraid to even think it to myself, much more admit it to the group. Therefore, I took another Gu (40mg caffeine) and simply texted them ….Mile 20.
Miles 21 – 23
15:03 / 13:47 / 15:15
No Rain!! / Gu – 100mg caffeine at mile 23
Mile 21 had me like …what the heck were they thinking when they included this in the course! We turned off a nice smooth paved road onto a gravel road that took us through the city’s Agricultural Museum. A muddy gravel road filled with water holes after running 20 miles with wet feet is not exactly ideal running terrain. I may or may not have mumbled a stream of not so nice sentiments directed toward the race directors during this mile. Mile 23 was pretty much all up hill and I have no shame in saying that I walked it. In fact, from mile 21 to the end …my strategy switched from my scheduled run/walk intervals to walking the hills and running everything else. My text to the group simply said ….Feet hurt. And they did. Yet I knew I had this. And I knew I could finish under my goal time as long as I could keep up the intervals. But my back hurt, I was tired, I felt a blister burning on my left foot and my ‘iffy’ right foot was talking more and more. But dangit, I’ve got this! I can do this if I just dig deep! Time for the last Gu …the big gun, 100mg of some sort of chocolate espresso flavor. It was almost as hard to swallow as the last 23 miles of running. It was a risk. I had never taken a gel with that much caffeine. Would it cause GI issues? No time for second guessing …just swallow the crap and keep moving! On a good note ….with the cessation of rain came the end to my constant need to pee. Hmmm …..maybe there really is something to that whole running water and having to use the bathroom thing.
Miles 24 – 26.2
13:55 / 13:16 / 13:01
Still no rain!
This is it …a little over 3 miles. It’s unbelievable. Yes, I’ve been running for 5 hours, yet it seems like we just started. The only thing standing between me and that finish line are 3 miles ….of hills. Ugh. But I like hills, right? Yeah, yeah ….at least it’s not raining. Somewhere around mile 24.5 some nice folks had a tent set up with donuts. As tempting as they were, the libations they obviously had in their cups were much more tempting. Someone even offered me a Bloody Mary ….I did pause for a second, thanked him but declined. I hadn’t earned it yet. I texted Major Hubs and told him I was at mile 25, popped some RunGum in and pressed on. Within minutes I heard someone yelling to me ….’you’re doing great! You’ve so got this!’ I looked up and saw the hubby driving by …that was all I needed to push me to the finish line! Though not speedy, I managed negative splits those last 3 miles! Rounding that final corner and hearing the announcer calling out names energized me. As crazy as it may sound, I didn’t want it to end! This was it …months of training, doubting and worrying culminated at this one moment. It was surreal, emotional, amazing and incredibly rewarding.
As soon as Major Hubs hugged me, I felt the tears begin to flow. The 51-year-old woman, with scoliosis and the ‘crappiest’ feet (per my podiatrist) just finished a marathon! 26.2 miles!
Many runners would be terribly devastated with this finish time, yet I am beyond proud of my performance. While I ultimately had a goal to just finish …uninjured; I really wanted to finish under six hours if all went well and I did it. That is the beauty of this sport …we are all on different journeys, with different starting points and different challenges making EVERY finish line a victory, no matter what the numbers on the clock say.
For Christmas, Major Hubs gave me a beautiful cuff bracelet with the words Alis Volat Propriis engraved on it. It is a Latin phrase meaning ‘She flies with her own wings’. I was so moved and inspired by not only the phrase, but also his belief in me, that I ordered a motivational wrap from Momentum Jewelry with the same phrase specifically for this race.
While I have said many times that I could not have done this without Holly’s training and friendship, the support and encouragement of my wonderful husband and all of my running/blogging friends ….ultimately, it was up to me to lace up the shoes, toe the starting line and run the miles. Somewhere along this journey to 26.2, I found my wings …..I faced my fears, embraced the pain, found joy in the journey and flew with my own wings.
Thank you all for following along with me on this journey. Your support, advice and encouraging words were, without a doubt, the wind beneath my wings.