The first mile of every race is the same. Trying to manage the sudden adrenaline rush, dodging in and out of packs of other runners, and hoping that I don’t pull a Diana and trip on a pothole before the real race even starts. That, along with some random shin pain (which thankfully went away) is how the first ten minutes of the race went. Luckily, I’m no stranger to the awkward first mile and didn’t let it phase me too much.
Miles 2-6 coasted by. I waved to spectators, read funny signs (my fave read “In our minds you’re Kenyan”), and started settling into my groove. I was shocked to realize that I’d been keeping around an 8:45 mi pace and was significantly ahead of the 4 hour pace group. Since I had planned on running a 9:30 pace, I wondered if I should slow down but was feeling great and decided to keep it up and face the consequences later.
Before I knew it we were at mile 6 and entering the beach portion of the run. Yup, I ran two of my 26 miles on the sand. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad. All of those super speedy Kenyans who had already reached the beach really helped pack the sand down. I mean, I easily could have been in the front of the pack but I just didn’t feel like dealing with the sand myself. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it
At mile 6.5 the half marathoners turned around to head back to the finish. With 1 quarter down, I was feeling good, although happy to be leaving the beach soon. I had been promised lots of spectators in the next part of the course which would be a welcome distraction from the relatively quiet beach. Although the breast cancer ribbons drawn in the sand were pretty cute.
This is when the race started to get really fun! We ran throughout the beach town of Jacksonville and it seemed like the whole town was out to cheer us on. People were decked out in pink, holding signs, handing out water, fruit, M&M’s and everything in between. They were cheering us on by name (gotta love the name on the race bib trick) and thanking us. I couldn’t believe it. These people were spending all day pushing me and thousands of other runners towards our personal goals and they were thanking us. It gave me just the reminder that I needed that this wasn’t just about my first marathon, this was about the bigger picture, about 13,000 runners and countless spectators and supporters working together to do something amazing. Pretty serious stuff. But don’t worry, there were also plenty of drunk guys offering their support by toasting us with bloody marys. It’s all about balance right
Besides, it was time to start looking out for the most important spectator of all.
I mean, she’s kind of the reason I wanted to run this marathon in the first place.
Just as planned, Tone was waiting for me at Mile 9. Luckily I saw her because I had arrived faster than expected and she hadn’t even started looking for me yet. No problem! I waved, she saw me, I got my much welcomed morale boost, threw her my jacket, and was on my way. See you at mile 17 Mom! Hope I’m still smiling when I get there.
This is where things started to get tough. I was still keeping pace with the 4 hour group but they kept getting closer and finally started to pass me around Mile 13. The pace groups followed the “walk-run” method where they would run for a given period of time and then stop to walk. Since I wasn’t planning on staying with a specific pace group and since I came here to run a marathon not walk it (I’m proud to say I never stopped to walk), I had just been focused on keeping with or ahead of them during the first half. Between miles 10 and 13 the group started passing me. It wasn’t too bad at first. They would get ahead of me, then stop to walk, and I would pass them. But as the miles went on, they started getting farther ahead of me and with 13 miles left to go, I was starting to think that keeping up wasn’t worth the risk.
Mile 14: reality check. I let the pace group go and decided to reassess my plan. Afterall, this whole sub-4 hour thing had only become a goal about 2 hours ago when I looked down at my garmin and thought “Look at me, I’m going fast!” Now it was time to trust my training. I had planned on a 4:15 marathon and trained at a 9:30 pace. I decided to readjust my focus for the next half and stick to my most important goal- to cross the finish line smiling.
I wouldn’t say I ever actually “hit a wall” I never had that feeling that my body just wouldn’t go on. But those next few miles were some of the toughest. I was still a little bummed that I had to slow down and I was worried about the repercussions of going out to fast for so long. But any concern I had in my mind apparently didn’t reflect on my face. I didn’t even realize I was still smiling until spectators kept pointing me out in the crowd and saying things like “Look at that smile!” and “Look at you- you look awesome!” I thought I was inventing these people in my mind at first. I’m smiling? I look good? Why thank you! I figured as long as I still looked good I might as well keep giving it all I had. Plus, it was almost time for Mile 17 and I knew my favorite spectator would be ready with the camera.
Seeing Tone was just the boost I needed. Before I knew it, I had reached the 20 mile mark and was in the home stretch. I had always heard that the “real” marathon doesn’t begin until mile 20 and I was worried that this alleged wall would come at me in full force. But the last six miles were actually better than the six before it. Every step was a new distance record for me and was getting me closer to the finish line. I broke the end of the race down into two-mile segments, focusing on getting to 22, then 24. And this hill I was so worried about? Really not that bad! The mile 25 marker was right in the middle so I focused on getting there and then gave it all I had to get to the top, knowing that it was literally all downhill from there.
At the top of the hill we made a turn and I could see the finish. I was overcome with emotion and disbelief. Training runs, doubts, and injuries were behind me and all that was left to do was finish a marathon. Four hours and five minutes after I started this thing I was back, hearing an announcer call my name, and crossing the finish line with a victory fist pump and the biggest smile I could manage.
And the icing on the cake? Tone managed to make her way from her viewing post to see me finish!
Running a marathon was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. I tested my physical and mental limits, and far exceeded my expectations. I’m already thinking about my next one (and how I’m going to do it in less than 4 hours). I think I see a marathon addiction coming on
But there are other, more immediate plans. I have a 10-mile race in early May followed by a half marathon a few weeks later, both of which I’m running with friends and roommates. The weather is getting nicer, ice is finally melting, and soon I’ll be able to safely return to some of my favorite trails. Plus, cutting back on 20 mile training runs will leave more time for speedwork, cross training, cooking, and eating.
Don’t worry. I’ll be documenting as much as I can!