Spoiler Alert: I finished my first marathon!!! It was the most amazing and hardest thing I have ever done. Now lets get down to the gritty details, beware…world’s longest post ever below!
Friday, John and I loaded up and headed through BFE to Apalachicola. We met Penny and Jaime at the hotel and headed to the ‘expo’ We proceeded to grill the race director a few times about many things that were unclear, drove the race course (which ended up being a blessing in disguise) and then headed into town for our pre-race pasta dinner.
I was not feeling great most of Friday, I had a lingering headache from Thursday, and just felt sluggish, but I was really trying to keep myself mentally psyched up, but felt like such a Debbie Downer because all I wanted to do was sleep. Despite that fact, I actually had a super hard time falling asleep, all the nerves and anticipation, and when I woke up an hour before my alarm, I could not fall back asleep, all I could do was think about my anticipated paces, when I should gel, etc.
The alarm finally went off and I started to get ready and eat, but about 1/2 way through my breakfast I could not eat any more- my stomach was crampy and full of knots, and I was not about to force down any more food. I got myself together and was ready to get out there, the weather was going to great at the start and a lot of the nerves were starting to fade leaving lots of excitement in it’s place.
Jaime, Penny, and I all headed down to the start line about an hour before the race started. John and his parents would see us out on the race course at several pre-planned spots.
It was 57* degrees when we got down to race start and it was very windy. We spent a while keeping warm in the car which we so luckily parked about 30 feet from the start/finish line. We hit the bathroom a few times, and then finally ditched the warm clothes about 20 minutes before the start. I also took a pack of sport beans then, to make sure I had plenty of energy to go.
To lay the setting for you, I will say that this is one of the smallest races of any size that I have ever done. There were only 800 people total (for 4 races) and only 200ish doing the full marathon. We literally walked up to the start line maybe 5 minutes before the start. The full marathon runners were in the first wave, and due to a conversation with the race director on Friday, we were told they were going off gun time not chip time so we literally parked ourselves on the starting mats with the super fast people.
As soon as the gun went off, I took of flying. I tried really hard to keep my pace under control but it was hard. We got to where the first turn was and I noticed that most of the leaders passed it and kept going straight. Since we had driven the course the day before, Jaime and I remembered the poorly marked turn and were among the first to make the right hand turn onto the course correctly. This turn put you onto the base of the first bridge that would take you out to the rest of the course. As we started up the bridge I worked to keep my pace under control and let people pass me. This was the shortest and most moderate of the 4 bridge inclines (read monster hills) that we would have to climb, and I felt good by the time we reached the top, my heart rate seemed fine, and my pace was in the lower 9:xx range, faster than I had wanted, but it was done now. I kept it REALLY slow on the downhill and managed to net a 9:08 first mile- the fastest mile of the whole race- FAIL!
To describe the course, it was a basic out and back that consisted of 2- almost 5 mile bridges. Each bridge had 1 major hill/incline at one end of it and the rest was relatively flat. The bridges were not closed to traffic, we were running in the emergency lanes which concerned me at first, but worked out fine once we were out there. The problem however that we were not anticipating was the 15-20mph winds that would be coming at us non-stop for the entire race.
After mile 1 I slowed it down perfect into my 9:35-9:40 range that I was planning to sit at until about mile 5. I felt ok during the first 5 miles, my legs seemed heavy instead of light and springy, but I was seeming to hit my paces fine, so I just chalked it up to too much rest and nerves and figured they would loosen up somewhere between miles 4-7. I was planning to gu at mile 4, but with no water station is sight I had to hold off until mile 5. I took the gu, my stomach felt great, and as we came off the first bridge and made the turn towards the 2nd I started to get into my groove, I felt like I was finally falling into my rhythm.
John was waiting at the base of bridge 2 with a water bottle at mile 6.4, we had asked him to be at the base of each bridge with water bottles since there wasn’t going to be much if any water over the long stretches of bridges. I noticed as I came up on where they were standing that it looked like they had been wrangled into working a water station there since the race was very short on volunteers. I waved, grabbed my water and kept on going. It was definitely a boost to see people I knew and it kept me in my stride, my middle miles here were in the 9:25-9:35 range and I was really pleased that my pace was progressing as I had hoped.
Once I hit mile 6.5, the half marathoners split from us to head back towards the end. At that point when we got onto the 2nd bridge, I felt the winds that had been semi-blocked by the larger crowd on the first bridge. The wind was torturous, it kept me cool I suppose, but it was constant, it was hard, and it was right in my face. I would describe it by telling you to turn a big standing fan on high and trying to run straight into it- not fun! I tried really hard to run as close to the bridge siding as possible because that at least took some of the impact from the wind and then I only had to fight it from about the hip up. At about mile 7 with a good 4 miles and mass incline still to go on this bridge my mental state started to falter. I thought about how many miles I still had to go, and how brutal it would be to have to fight the wind the whole way. At about mile 9 I got really discouraged, this was getting hard, my legs already felt tired, there had been no Gatorade on the course yet, and the sun was now out in full force. Despite all these mounting negatives, I was still about a minute ahead of pace at mile 10. That is where the next hill started.
Starting up the next hill, I knew it was make or break time right here at mile 10. I kept my head down and just kept pushing, I knew that the downhill would also come before I hit mile 11, so I knew even if I slowed down on the uphill I would be able to make it up on the downhill. Well I took all advice to just pump my arms, stay on my toes, keep my head down. I made it to the top a little tired, but as soon as it leveled off the wind got worse, I actually had to pay attention to make sure it didn’t blow me off the bridge. The downhill offered no help with the pace because the wind was basically negating all of my efforts to go faster, and as my Garmin beeped at mile 11 I saw my first mile over pace- 9:53, FAIL!
I knew 1 slow mile wouldn’t kill me, but I felt so discouraged that it came on a mile that should have been quick, my pace after the uphill was at 10:03, so how was it possible that I only gained back 10 seconds over a very long 1/2 mile downhill????? As we came off the bridge shortly after the mile 11 marker, I had John waiting for me with another water bottle. I was SO thankful that he had gone out for us with water, because I may have literally died without it. The water stations were running out of water/cups and had so few people that you often had to move off the course to grab water from the table.
Approaching the area where I would be passing the leader as we all started the turn back I kept my eyes open for Penny, I knew I would see her if she was on or ahead of pace. If I had been 15 seconds slower we would have missed each other, but I saw her as she was turning to go back over the bridge, and was SO excited to let her know that at that point she was the 3rd overall female!!!!! At that point I made another right turn to run along on the road closest to the beach, and the last mile and half stretch that would take me to the turn around point.
Another mental boost from seeing Penny, and I was still in range of my goal, but I needed to catch a break. I actually got excited that I was off the bridges and would have a good 3.5 miles with a break from the wind, boy was I wrong. Running so close to the beach, even though there were big houses along the road, the breeze was at it worst, I was baffled that it was so bad, and that it was effecting me so much, but it was. Right here at mile 12 is when I saw 9:59 and knew I was at the point where I needed to re-evaluate. I felt like the effort I was having to put in to hit a 9:40 mile was equal to what I would normally put in to hit a 9:00 mile.
Finally we turned around and I crossed the halfway mark. As we did I checked my Garmin and it was literally at 2:07:19, so I would have to have a perfectly even split (or negative) to hit 4:15, and at that exact second I threw away my time goal and knew I had to run my race on that course in these conditions, not my ideal course and conditions race. It took me about a mile to really get comfortable with this idea, but so many of the people around me were already walking and looked like they were struggling, and at that point I still felt physically in it, so I felt thankful. I made the turn after mile 14 to get back on the monster bridge, and grab another water bottle from John. I went ahead and told him he needed to not expect me until around 4:30, that the wind was just too bad, and I was already hurting.
I walked through the water station at the base of that bridge since once I was on it, it was an immediate and steep 1/2 mile uphill. That was my first walk break of the race. I made it up the bridge and passed several people who had to stop and walk, I just kept my head down again, and sucked it up. Downhill was non-impressive again, and after that the bridge flattened out and the wind came back. It was more of a cross/tail wind going back so not nearly as bad, but since this bridge curved and didn’t run an even north/south, when we curved it came back in my face again. I held my pace pretty well until mile 18 when I came off the bridge, I was still in the low 10:00s and was only walking through the water stations. I had only had Gatorade once at mile 12 and had not seen it the rest of the course. I grabbed 1 last water from John and mile 18 and asked him to make a change in plans and meet me at mile 23ish in the middle of the last bridge before the monstrous final hill at mile 25.
Miles 18-20 flew by getting from one bridge to the next on the mainland. I had lost many of the pacers/people I had been hanging with over the bridge, they were all somewhere behind me, so I found some new ones to hang in behind. I got back out onto the last bridge and watched as Garmie rolled over to mile 21. Honestly at this point when most people are hitting the wall, my mental state drastically improved. I was so happy and positive that I had 5 miles to go, and that I was in the low 10:xx range when I was running, 5 miles really seemed like nothing, and I knew it would hurt, it already did, but I knew I could do 5 miles, I had less than an hour to go, and I was so at peace and excited for the first point all day. But around mile 21, the cramps started. Due to loss of electrolytes/salt imbalance/hypernutremia? my legs started to cramp like crazy.
Only having Gatorade twice up until mile 21 was definitely the culprit, but it was out of my control, and at that point there was really nothing to do.
I took another gu at 21, it didn’t help. Every time my leg cramped up I had to walk it out. I hated that, but I really had no choice, the cramps made me pretty much immobile. What really killed me was when I was able to start running when the cramp passed, I was running at about a 10:15 pace which I felt good about considering everything else. As I kept going the cramps came closer and closer together, but I kept my head up, I knew I would make it, and I was still passing people some how, and as bad as I felt for them, I felt good that I hadn’t hit a wall and that I was still going. I really thought I would lose it mentally before I did physically, but it was the total opposite, my legs failed me out there and my mind kept me going, it was amazing how it works like that, and if nothing else I was SO proud of myself for sticking to my goal of keeping positive, I really did it, and for that I am elated!
John was there at about 23.5 where I begged for some Gatorade hoping it would kill the cramps and I could finish strong. It didn’t really help, but he told me to keep running, and I tried my hardest, I would literally run until my leg seized up and then walk until it stopped. I got to the base of the hill and took the same approach, except I made myself go at least 2 light posts running whether I had a cramp or not. I passed 4 people going up the bridge, that was a huge mental boost! As I reached the top there was an older man names Lester who I talked with. He said this was one of the worst marathons out of 30 that he had done, and it made me feel better that I wasn’t the only one with negative thoughts. He was walking and I urged him to run the downhill with me since we had less than a mile.
I hit the bottom of the hill with literally only .3m to go and got another cramp, I basically hobbled my way to the finish line. I was bummed I couldn’t lay it out and finish strong, but I kept running and felt so good that I didn’t give up and that I stayed so positive despite less than ideal conditions.
Finish Time: 4:38:43, average pace 10:36
So I missed my time goal, and yes it’s a bummer, but I am ok with it considering everything else. I was on pace until the half, and had a major positive split, but under the conditions, it was the best I had. You can bet I am already mentally onto the redemption marathon, because I know I can do better and have better in me. I have A LOT of other things to share about this race, how I am recovering, and what is next, but that I will get to in another post, this one needed to be for me, as a reminder of what I did, how hard I worked, and all the barriers I pushed through. Always remembering the day I became a Marathoner!
Post-race I hung out a bit with these lovely ladies before we all hit the road to head home. I had an amazing weekend with Jaime and Penny, make sure to check their blogs for their own race recaps. I am looking forward to racing with them again in just 4 short weeks!