After 18 weeks of training, I completed my first marathon last Sunday. What an incredible experience it was. The Marine Corps Marathon was a great first marathon and has been billed as such by Runner’s World. It was definitely not an easy course, but the support of the spectators and the US Marines made it a perfect first.
As I had mentioned in previous blogs, my goals were to finish, not get injured and take in all of the sights and sounds of the marathon and the energy of Washington D.C. I had an idea in my head of what I thought my finish time would be based on my training runs. I had utilized a 3 minute run/1 minute walk method throughout all of my training. Based on my training runs, I would likely finish the marathon in 5 to 5 1/2 hours. One of my biggest concerns early on was making it to mile 20 in the allotted time. One of the requirements of this marathon is that you have to “Beat the Bridge” which meant you had to get to mile 20 before 1:15pm. At 1:15pm about 5 hours after I crossed the start line, they would open the bridge back up to cars and pick up any runners who didn’t make it in the straggler bus. Prior to doing any really long runs, I was definitely concerned about this. I had no idea how my body would feel at mile 20 or if I would be able to “Beat the Bridge”. My fears were put at ease after I completed my 20 mile run in 4 hours. I no longer had to worry about beating the bridge. Phew!
I had done all of my training solo but after doing some research and after reading comments from other participants, I decided I would try to run with a pace group. Clif Bar has pace groups you can join that can help you complete a marathon anywhere between 3 hours and 5 1/2 hours. After reading the bio of the 5:30 pacer, I decided to sign up for her group. My plan was to start out with that group and if I felt good, I would surge ahead and finish in less than 5:30. One word of advice if you are using a run/walk method is to confirm the pacer is doing the same thing. I spoke to the pace leader the morning of the race and she told me they would be utilizing a 5 minute run/1 minute walk method. We talked and I told her I had been using 3 and 1 and did she think I should switch to 5 and 1 to be with the group. Her recommendation was to stick with what I had been doing, and we would just leap frog each other on the course. My pace for my 20 mile run had been 12:17/mile and her pace would be 12:30/mile so it would work. Best laid plans. One of the many things I have learned from this experience is that you never know exactly how something is going to play out.
Here is how the day unfolded. The weather on race day was 72 degrees, bright sunny skies and the winds were 15 miles an hour. I’m not complaining but as perfect as that sounds for a run, it was really hot and hard to run in the wind. Although, it was better than the alternative which everyone experienced in Hartford with the cold and the rain. We had a nice relaxing 1.5 mile walk to the start line which was so much easier than having to navigate the crowds on the Metro. The start of the race was filled with fanfare with skydivers parachuting in holding American flags and 2 helicopters doing a fly over. My expectations for the marathon and how I would feel were founded in how my training runs had gone. I had completed my 20 mile run and I felt great. I envisioned running the marathon and thinking when I got to that spot, I would say to myself, “Only 6 more miles, I got this.” In reality, when I got to mile 8, I said to myself, “I’m not sure I can finish this.” I had so many conversations in my head that day, it would take up several pages to write them all down. I couldn’t believe I was feeling that way at mile 8. Seriously! I had trained for this for 18 weeks and had done several 8 mile runs and they were no big deal. My legs were bothering me, my stomach was a little upset and all I could think about was that I had 18 miles left. Here is a brief overview of what I saw and what got me through that tough time. It’s hard to describe what I saw on the course but here goes. There were many people running for those that had been killed in action. They had their names and pictures on their backs. That kept me going. I saw a woman running with a blade that she had in place of her actual right leg. That kept me going. I saw Marines with heavy packs on their backs running/walking on the course. I saw firefighters in full gear running/walking in honor of a fellow firefighter killed on duty. All of these sights kept me going. What on earth did I have to complain about? I was out there. Yes, I was uncomfortable, but I was there and able to run. My legs were still moving.
The spectators and the signs were another reason I kept going. My sister flew in from Minnesota to support me and take care of the kids while John and I were both running. They were amazing! With the help of a friend who lives in the D.C. area, they were able to get to 4 different spots to see me and cheer me on. Without their support, I am not sure I would have made it. There were inspiring signs along the way that also kept me going. My favorite signs read, “Someday you will not be able to do this. TODAY is not that day.” and “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” I didn’t realize when I saw that sign, that it is a quote from the US Marine Corp. Well, it worked for me. The marathon is so mental. As long as I was able to move, I was going to keep moving.
The miles ticked by and as soon as I made it to mile 17, I knew I was going to make it. I still was on target for my loose time goal, and I was starting to feel a little better. I made it to the bridge – no problem. That was a relief. I thought there would be a big celebration for making it but there was nothing. I said to a fellow runner, “Where are the people congratulating us on beating the bridge?” I had to celebrate by myself. As soon as I reached mile 20, I didn’t care how long it took me to finish because I knew I would. Once I made it to mile 23, I couldn’t believe I only had a little more that a 5k left. Holy moly I was going to finish a marathon. My husband who had finished well before me, 3:49:52 to be exact, came back and met me at mile 24. What a sight! Seeing him was just what I needed to get me through the last 2 miles. I kept apologizing to him for walking but my legs were so tired. He replied, “Stop apologizing you are going to finish a marathon. I am so proud of you.” He peeled off at mile 26 and I powered up the last .2 miles of the course which happens to be up a steep hill ending at the Iwo Jima Memorial. The feeling I had when I crossed that finish line was like no other I have ever had. A true sense of accomplishment and amazement. I missed my loose time goal by about 6 minutes (official net time was 5:36:20) but I persevered and finished and that is all that matters.
Someone asked me right after I finished if I would do it again. My response was, “Not anytime soon.” True confessions – I have already searched for a spring marathon. While I am searching for my next easy destination marathon, my short-term running goal is to break 30 minutes for a 5k (my closest time is 31:11 from the Mitten Run last year). I am going to try for my sub 30 minutes at the Blue Back Mitten Run which will take place on December 7 at 10:30am. Look for my next post which will include tips on how I plan to run a faster 5k.
I also want to thank my Runitlikeamom family for all of their support. You are an inspiring group of women that I am so proud to be a part of.