I haven’t posted about anything running related for a good few weeks. Ok, months. I needed a break. I was getting so overwhelmed with what I was (or wasn’t) doing with my training that I just hit a wall with writing about it. I decided that I would step away from the excel spreadsheet, and instead, take the final weeks leading up to race day to do as much as I could without fretting over what the schedule told me to do. Whatever was going to be on race day was going to be.
I deliberately waited a month to reflect on how I felt about the race, my performance, and marathons in general, before putting it in to words. I was too bipolar in the days following to be coherent. One second I was never running again, the next I was investigating the lottery for the NYC Marathon (just window shopping, I assure you). In one moment I’d be thrilled with my time (5:24 if you’re keeping score at home) and the next I’d be beating myself up, feeling like I could have, and should have, done better.
A marathon is a tricky thing. As my darling, crazy running partner kept telling me (and I believe her to be correct) it’s only about 50% physical and the rest is simply stubbornness. She’s completed like ten of these, so she would know. Her assessment was, both fortunately and unfortunately, correct. I learned in the training process that I’m more athletic that I’d ever given myself credit for, but when it came to mental fortitude I was honestly a little weaker than I had expected.
Here’s a summary of my running stream of consciousness throughout the race. It’s the only way I can somewhat logically organize how I felt and processed 5.5 hours of running. It was an experience.
Minutes 0-30: The anticipation of the line up. The starting gun. Then… nothing. When you’re in the 5:30 pace corral, you’ve got some extra time on your hands. Note to self in future races – you definitely had time to use the porta-potty one last time.
Mile 0-3: Wow, this is a lot of people. Oh no! Every watch makes the same noise as mine. OMG look at that dude’s sign! And that one! And that one! Ok, stop reading signs or you’re going to crash into the people that have already started their Galloway walk breaks. Wearing gloves was a dumb idea, my hands are already too warm. RIP gloves.
Mile 4: Crap. Look at the line for the porta-potty. Why didn’t we go while waiting for our corral to start?
Mile 5: I’m glad I grew up a farm girl so I’m not horrified at the idea of these bushes right now.
Mile 6: Georgetown is such a cute neighborhood! I must be feeling good if I’m noticing all the little shops I’d like to go peruse later.
Mile 7: Who knew DC had so many trees and woods? Maybe we’re not in DC? Are we in Virginia again?
Mile 8-12: Nothing hurts yet. Running for this long gets a little boring. Where did all the hot Marines go? When do we get more orange slices?
Mile 12-13: Wake up call. This is why you’re here. Suddenly at the mid-way point of the race, we entered what I can only really describe as a “hall” of pictures. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of signs posted in the ground, flanking each side of the path. Each with the picture of a Marine. Each with the date and location of where they gave their life. It depicted them in ways you didn’t expect to see. It wasn’t just rows of military headshots (although that would have been powerful enough). It was mothers holding their children, sons hugging their mother, guys just having a beer with their friends. These people weren’t just Marines (as if there is such thing as ‘just’ a Marine) but they were someone’s parent, son, daughter, cousin, friend. It was… powerful. There were lots of tears, judged by no one. If I forget every other mile of how the race went that day, this one will always be clear as day. As sobering as it was, I’m glad for the experience.
Mile 13.1: YES! Half way point!
Mile 13.2: Wait, I’m only at the half way point? WTF? How is that possible? I’m pretty sure I’ve been running for hours. My running buddy’s heel has also decided that we should be much further along than the half way point.
Mile 16: Over 10 miles to go? That can’t possibly be true.
Mile 17.5: It’s friends! It’s a pretty sign just for me! It’s a SNICKERS BAR! This may be the most delicious Snickers bar ever eaten. I’ve never been more grateful for a treat than I was in that moment. Just a 10k to go from here. I got this.
Mile 18: Hey! It’s the Capitol Building. That’s neat. If only I could think beyond this searing pain in my calves and quads.
Mile 18.5: You definitely have more than a 10k to go, smartypants. How did you ever get a masters in a mathematical field? Maybe you need another hit of sugar. Or a nap. Or a drink.
Mile 19: It was time to make the decision to leave my ever-dedicated running partner. Her foot would not cooperate and she was insistent that I carry on ahead of her to hopefully finish at or under my original goal time of 5:30. As much as I didn’t want to go it alone, I wanted to abandon a strong finish time even less. At this point I was 100% certain I would never run another marathon again. Ever. I had to make this one count. If I said I didn’t shed a little tear during that first mile alone, that would be a lie. Then I saw a new group of Marines with signs. Marines wouldn’t tolerate my little pity party.
Mile 20: I’ve beat the bridge. I have no idea what this means, but I know it’s a good thing. NOW I only have a 10k to go. I think. I’ve lost all faith in my ability to calculate distance.
Mile 21: How the hell have I only gone a mile? Is my watch broken? I should be almost to the finish line by now, I’ve been running for like an hour by myself. Or about 25 minutes, but who’s counting? That must be the longest bridge in the United States anyone has ever run across ever.
Mile 22: You know, you’re still gonna finish even if you walk.
Mile 22.1: You didn’t sign up for a marathon to walk. Pull yourself together. I took a minute to read encouragement notes that I received during my training from my BFF and decided I could do this. 50% stubbornness? Yeah, I have that.
Mile 22-25: I think I blacked out. I recall only bits and pieces. My watch died somewhere around 23. I kept myself going using landmarks as intervals “If you run to the light pole you can walk until the sign”.
Mile 25: Holy cow, only 1.2 miles to go? Is this really happening? Suddenly running seems slightly easier, although I’m probably able to walk faster than the shuffle I’ve settled in to.
Mile 26: I’m here! I’m here! But wait… where the F is the finish line? What kind of nonsense IS this? I was promised a finish line and there isn’t one? How long is a marathon supposed to be again? Somebody, please, just let it be over.
Mile 26.01: Oh. There it is. At the top of the switch backs going straight up a damn hill. Leave it to the Marines to come up with something so monumental, symbolic, and downright sadistic. I can see Iwo Jima at the top. This is too cruel, awesome, and overwhelming to process.
Mile 26.2: I made it. I ran a marathon. I think my guts, boobs, and half the skin on my body is broken but my spirit – that shit is intact!
The result? A big, beautiful medal around my neck from the most adorable Marine. I asked for a hug and he did me one better and I got a kiss on the cheek. I’m sad there are no pictures of that part.
Check it off the list. I finished. And honestly? I’m pretty proud of myself.
The question of the day seems to be “Will you do another one?” and the answer to that is as clear as a cliche Facebook status – it’s complicated. I know better than to say “No, never!” although it sums up how I’ve felt during the last month as I’ve celebrated No Run November (<- yeah, I made that a thing). A marathon is an awesome accomplishment and one that anyone (yes, seriously, anyone) can achieve if you’re willing to put the time in to training. That’s the problem though. The training. Running for 5.5 hours on one day is tough, but giving up progressively more and more of each Saturday to running for 18-22 weeks is way, way harder.
I saw a team of people all wearing a shirt – That moment when you realize you’ve stopped planning your running around your life and now plan your life around your running… – obviously a testament to their commitment to marathoning. If it’s your thing, all my respect to you. It will never be me. This was a check on the bucket list, not a lifestyle adoption.
So will I do another one? Probably. I’m impulsive, stubborn and use races for personal accountability. It won’t be soon though. That’s a promise.