“A marathon is like life with its ups and downs, but once you’ve done it, you feel you can do anything.” -Unknown
One thing I was extremely excited about for my first marathon was going to be the crowd support. I live in Atlanta and we have the Peachtree Road Race on the 4th of July every year. It’s the largest 10k participant wise and the crowd support is one thing that makes the race so special. For the entire course, people cheer you on and at some point the crowd is 3 or 4 people deep! Tons of people are decked out in patriotic fare and many are holding beers and Bloody Mary’s bright and early just to watch the race. I had high expectations for the marathon. If so many people come out for just a 10k, how many will be there for a whole damn marathon? I read about Chicago, Boston and New York City marathons having amazing crowd support, so I assumed Atlanta would too.
The gun went off and the corrals quickly crossed the starting mat. Immediately I was having to weave in and around people. There were actually a lot of people walking…already! They weren’t getting over to the right so the runners could go on the left. They just decided they were gonna walk wherever the hell they wanted, oblivious to the golden rule of races. With my goal time set in stone, I knew my average pace I would have to hit. I was freaking out the first couple of miles. I was well off pace and people were in my way.
Pretty much right after the start too, the crowd support was basically all gone. Occasionally there would be a small group of people cheering everyone on here and there, but all in all it was nothing like I expected.
By mile 4, I was settled into my pace. I was comfortable and relaxed. The frustrations from the start of the race were out of me and the runners had spread out enough by this point I was able to just focus on myself. The aid stations were every two miles. I was getting water at one, then the next Gatorade. I switched back and forth the whole race. At mile 6, I was thinking I could do this all day. I was going over the hills at ease and staying on my pace.
Miles 6 to about 12 went by smoothly. At this point there was the split off for the half marathoners to head back to the finish of their race. Up until this point, the roads had runners all over them. Being able to run with so many people going at my speed was incredible. Then the split came and the first thing I noticed was how quiet everything seemed to all of the sudden become. Looking around, pretty much everyone took the half marathon route. I guess this was the point that separates the men from the boys. The fun and games were over, time to push on.
Other than water and Gatorade, I had never experimented with any nutrition during a run. For some reason I was a little scared to try the gels, beans or blocks during a run, thinking they might mess the hell out of my stomach. Not knowing how I would react, I never gave them a test. At the next station in the race, I got some water and grabbed a GU. My plan wasn’t to take it unless I really needed it. I held onto it, sort of like a lifeline.
Reaching the 13 mile mark felt awesome. I was cruising. I thought about the bet my friends made and knew who was going to win. I thought about anyone who might be tracking my race online. And I also thought about the tattoo on the back of the leg of the runner ahead of me at this point. He had the Ironman logo on his calf. I thought that was so badass. I thought, after I conquer this marathon, that is my next big goal!
From the halfway point and beyond, I picked the pace up a little. The next miles flew by. I hit mile 18 feeling great. No issues at all. In just a few more miles I would be at mile 20 and from there I would just have a 10k to go. Easy enough, I’ve done plenty of 10k runs before. I even tossed my GU that I was holding onto away.
Right at the mile 19 marker, a switch all of the sudden flipped in my head. Literally I was just saying to myself “doing good.” Out of nowhere my mind goes to saying “walk, just give up. What are you even doing? This is pretty stupid.” I gave in. I didn’t even try to fight my mind. I caved. I hit the wall.
I started walking. I was feeling fine until my meltdown. Now my legs were twitching and threatening to cramp. And my sides were stitching. “Oh man, at the next light pole, I’ll start running again.” I started to run again, but it just didn’t feel right. I felt defeated. I didn’t keep the run up for long. When my mind told me to give up and walk, I did. People started to pass me that I had passed earlier. This sucked.
After flipping from running and walking, I mostly stuck to walking. I felt embarrassed. I figured my friends and family were tracking my progress online. My dad drove me to the race and I told him about when to expect me to finish. I felt like I was not just letting myself down, but a bunch of other people too. I really really wanted to run to the rest of the race, but I just didn’t have it in me. I was starting to get cold because I was barely running. All I wanted to do was be done with it.
A few miles into this march, a lady on the side of the road yelled “pick your head up and smile! You’re doing a marathon. Almost there!” I was beyond the point of being able to cheer me up. The hills in the last part were forever long it seemed like. Once I got to the top of one, it seemed like another one started! I was not ready for this. I was pissed at myself for giving in so easily.
So from mile 19-26 I pretty much walked with running breaks sporadically sprinkled in. It was the longest 7 miles of my life. I was miserable, cold, hungry and beat. With .2 to go, I figured there would be a large crowd at the finish line. I didn’t want to walk it in. I didn’t want everyone to see me walk. I ran it in to the finish. You would think I would have been proud to cross the finish line. I was relieved, but I did feel accomplished. Marathon 1, me 0.
My dad didn’t see me finish. I told him it would be about 3:30 hours for me to finish. I was just under 4:30. He figured I had already finished and just missed me. I met up with him where they had giant balloons with letters on them so people could easily find each other. He told me he was proud of what I did and not to let me take it hard that I had to do some walking.
When we got to the car, he told me my Aunt wanted to know how it went, so I gave her a call. I gave her the run down of the race. Then she jokingly said “well when’s the next one?” I never thought much about doing another marathon. I really thought I would be one and done. Maybe if I hit my time goal, I would have been one and done. If everything went to plan, I probably would have hung up the idea of long distance running. I said “not sure yet, maybe do one by the end of the year in the Fall.”
(This is from the Peachtree Road Race on July 4th, 2011. About 4 months after this marathon. I was still running in basketball shorts then and still had the tongue thing going from high school, haha!)