Now that I’ve had a couple days (err… two weeks, I’m way behind on posting this) to reflect, it still hasn’t completely set in that I actually survived and finished my first marathon. While there were some trying moments, it was overall a positive experience. And even though I’m still quite sore and having problems getting up and down stairs (and getting on and off the toilet – thank God for the handicap railing in my work bathroom that I can use to ease myself up and down), I am already thinking about my next marathon and how I can apply lessons learned in this marathon to help me in the next one. Yes, I am a freak and have the marathon bug.
We drove up to Vancouver on Saturday and arrived early afternoon. We picked up our packets at the race expo and quickly made our way through the booths and vendors. I have distinct memories of going to these expos with my dad when I was kid and it taking FOREVER for him to check everything out. Thankfully, it was a relatively small expo with little free stuff, so we quickly made our way through it.
We checked into our hotel and rested for a bit before heading out for dinner. Carb loading is one aspect of training that I fully support. I had spaghetti with marinara, chicken and light veggies.
After a restless night of sleep, I woke up a few minutes before the alarm went off at 5 a.m. I washed my face, changed into my running clothes, applied ample amounts of body glide (that stuff is pure magic) and headed to my dad’s room to eat. My breakfast of champions consisted of a whole wheat English muffin with Nutella, homemade smoothie and half a Peppermint Luna bar. Eating the Luna bar was a struggle, as my nerves started kicking in and I was feeling nauseous from anxiety.
While getting ready, we peeked out the hotel window and saw a beautiful, clear morning. It was a great day to run a marathon.
We checked out of our hotel and made our way to the start line. In true marathon fashion, the first thing we did was get in the epically long line for the porta potties. After going to the bathroom, snapping a few pictures and eating one GU, it was time to head to the start line.
We tried to find the 4:15 pace bunny at the start, but could only see the 4:00 and the 4:30. We were on our own. The race started on time and we were off. I felt a little emotional when we first started running; it felt so surreal and all I could think was Wow, I am really going to do this.
At around 5k as we were running up a slight hill, we could see the fast runners coming down the hill. Definitely cool to see the leaders, but also depressing. It was less than 30 minutes into the run and the fast people were already miles ahead of us! It was much better for my ego when we got to turn around and head down the hill and see all the people behind us.
There were km markers every km, but we expected to see mile markers every five miles. Our goal was to get to mile-5 at around 48/49 minutes in order to be on pace. We got to 49 minutes, but there was no mile marker! We kept going and still no marker. Hmmm maybe we missed it? At that point, I started figuring out our pacing for the kms and that we should aim to be around 6 minute per km. Every time we passed a km, I checked my watch to make sure we were on pace. I was obsessed with pacing in the beginning stages of the run; I didn’t want to be too slow or too fast.
Around this time, we spotted the 4:15 pace bunny. No wonder we missed him – he was short and did not look like a marathon runner. He was also doing the walk/run method, which I found to be very annoying because it made his pacing useless to people like me who are just trying to run at an even pace. We passed him and continued on.
At about an hour into the marathon, we had our first GU. I had three with me and Dad had two, so we did not have enough to get us through the entire run. At around mile-8, there was a GU stop on the course, but they were out of GU. Crap. I was fine at the moment, but I was worried about running out of GU during the run.
At mile-10, I saw a water stop ahead. I was looking forward to a short break and some water, but as we grew closer to the tables I realized that they were out of cups. Used cups littered the street and I thought about using a dirty cup, but I wasn’t desperate enough. Dad had warned me that marathons often run out of GU, but I never thought it would run out of water. I was a little mad and started joking about how I was going to send a nasty email to event organizers about downfalls in the run and this was strike two (strike one was the lack of GU).
There was another water stop at mile-12, and I mentally and physically needed water/GU Brew. We ran closer to the tables and they were out of cups. Again. I was ticked and kinda desperate for liquids. I ran ahead, found the first salvageable used cup from the street, and returned to the table to have the volunteer fill it with GU Brew. Other desperate runners (my dad included) drank straight from the pitchers. It was pathetic.
We continued on and I was worried about how the rest of the race would unfold. Would there be water and GU Brew? Would there be GU? I was jealous of runners who were smart enough to bring their own water bottles. We were at the mercy of the marathon organizers and so far they had been less than dependable. I was also worried because I was starting to get tired. I had not planned for this; I figured I could last until mile-18 or so before fatigue started setting in. Nope, I could feel my legs getting tired and I felt like I was getting a blister
AT 2:02, we reached the “halfway point.” 2:02 – that’s a little fast. At this point, we were running through Stanley Park and Dad spotted a regular bathroom. He went to use the bathroom and I continued ahead at a slow pace to wait for him. Three minutes later (2:05) I ran through the actual halfway point. Apparently the first one I ran by was for the half marathon, so that was a little disappointing. Thankfully, 2:05 was perfectly on pace and exactly where we wanted to be in order to finish in 4:15. Unfortunately, I was getting tired. At mile-11, I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t getting tired. At mile 13, I acknowledged it and told my dad and he said, “That’s normal. This is when it starts getting real.”
And he was right.
A few minutes later, I told dad that I could really use some music or something to pump me up. Ask and you shall receive. Within minutes of saying this, we ran by some volunteers who were blasting the Eagles, “Take it Easy.” We may lose and we may win / though we will never be here again /so open up, I’m climbin’ in / so take it easy... I probably would have preferred some Bon Jovi, but beggars can’t be choosers and this was a huge pick-me-up.
While I was obsessed with pacing during the first half of the marathon, I stopped caring around mile-15. We were still on pace to finish in 4:15, but I was no longer worried about running too fast. My goal was just to run as fast as I comfortably could.
At around mile-18, as we were making our way across the bridge for the first time, spectators lined the street and cheered us on. And much to my surprise, John was there and holding our sign (upside down, but it’s the thought that counts). I would have missed him, but Dad pointed him out to me. I was pretty tired and the race was moving into the “painful” stage, so seeing John gave me a much needed boost.
The course is set up so that we run over the bridge, then make a big loop, then run back over the bridge in the opposite direction and finish the race. So, as I was just starting to run across the bridge, the faster runners (keep in mind that the winners had already finished, eaten and probably showered), were running in the opposite direction toward the finish line. They were close to the finish and I was jealous. Why can’t I be fast? I want to be done!
Once we made it across the bridge, there were volunteers and spectators cheering for the runners. I was tired and felt pretty emotional, so I nearly welled up in tears every time I heard, “Go, Megan! Almost there!” It was pretty pathetic, but I was tired and it still felt surreal that I was getting close to finishing my first marathon.
Dad and I joked about all the cliche sayings that volunteers/spectators say to marathoners. “Almost there!” at mile 20 – actually six miles is a long ways to run! “Looking good!” This one is a just a lie; I know I don’t look good. “It’s all downhill from here!” as we’re running up a hill. While these sayings are cliche and often untrue, having random strangers take time out of their morning to cheer on people they don’t even know is really nice and I was beyond thankful for their support.
When I saw the sign for 32 km, I tried to tell myself, Ok, Megan. Just 10k left, that’s just a loop around Lake Union. I have run 6.2 miles a bazillion times. I can do this. 6.2 miles is easy.
Normally 6.2 miles is easy, but not when I had already run 20 miles. Dad and I were in survival mode at this point. We stopped at every water/GU stop (there were a lot in the latter part of the race and they had plenty of cups and GU). Water/GU stations were an opportunity to walk for a minute and give ourselves a little break.
Aside from these water stops, we didn’t walk during the marathon. At one point, we stopped running to walk up a hill and eat a GU, and I realized that walking actually hurt more than running. This was a both a good and bad thing. It was good because I had little desire to walk for the rest of the race. Not only did walking hurt just as much as running, the slower pace would prolong the pain. However, it was bad because I knew there was no relief until I crossed that finish line.
At around 23/24, we circled around and started heading back over the bridge. This time, we were the “fast” runners on the bridge and I could see the people behind me. I saw a lot of people in that group who looked like they were really struggling and in a lot of pain, and I thought back to what my yoga instructor said, “That we are not along in our suffering.” I was surrounded by runners who were also in pain, who were also thinking that running a marathon was the most absurd idea ever. But we were getting so close. Just another three miles to go. I told myself, That’s just a loop around Greenlake. I can do this. Just another 30 minutes.
I had known for the last few miles that 4:15 had slipped away and that were likely gonna be closer to 4:20. I was tired and OK with this. Our pace slowed a lot but we were moving as fast as we could. This was the best we could do today.
We crossed the bridge and I knew we were close to the finish line. Just another mile or so to go. That last mile felt incredibly long; I was so ready to stop running. Seeing the finish line ahead was one of the greatest sights I have ever seen. Spectators on the sideline were cheering – we were so close! With about a minute to go, Dad and I kicked it up a gear and ran a little faster. The faster we run, the faster we’ll be done! Aside from one guy sprinting, we passed our group and finished the race in 4:21 (just six minutes shy of our goal).
My immediate feeling when I crossed that finish line was that of relief. I had finished and accomplished what I set out to do. I started tearing up again as I caught my breath, but it was not the time to cry. It was time to celebrate, to recognize what I had accomplished and, most importantly, to eat and begin the recovery process.