I have always been fairly athletic, playing several sports in school, and doing a reasonable amount of power walking as an adult, but after being prodded by my cousin, I started “running” in the spring of 2009. I did my first 5k in 27.21. Several races later, I got my best time of 24.06 and felt that I had really accomplished something! My plan for 2010 was to move onto 10ks and see how I could do. Then that same cousin who had become my running partner announced that she has a “Bucket List.” She informed me that running a marathon was on it, and that I was going to do it with her, starting with the Top of Utah marathon in Logan.
That was sometime around April of this year. We found a training schedule on line and started in on it. Once I committed myself to this odd form of masochism, I decided that I had better get educated and do it “right.” I spent some time on line reading up on form, nutrition, hydration, and new uses for Vaseline. I went to a running store and bought some “real” shoes (ah, what a difference they make!). I went to the Top of Utah site several times to get familiar with the course and other information on the run, and I talked with every runner I came in contact with to get the low down on how it is done. I learned to really love Gatorade, something I once could not pallet, and have discovered that certainly not all gels are created equal. Also, a Garmin watch is certainly not necessary, but it sure does make training much more calculated and easier. After logging 15 – 30 miles each week on average, there are some courses that I loathe, and others I love. And there is nothing quite like watching the sun rise, and being above the fog in the canyon on a long run. I have also come to value dollar store mittens and their proper place in the running world.
The week of the marathon finally arrived, all I had left was a three and a two and that was it. A few hours after running the three, as I started to step out my back door, I heard and felt a “pop” in my right knee. It was not anything major, but I decided to play it safe and not run the two miler before the race. It felt pretty good on race day and I went ahead and ran the race. Having the race behind me, I can reflect on several points I learned from the experience. First of all, don’t expect to sleep very well the night before. Out of sheer nerves, I woke about every hour. When it was finally time to get up, I followed the same routine I had through all of the training. I ate a banana, had some water, packed my pockets with gel and put on a few layers. Just before the race, I removed my warm-ups, but kept a long sleeve shirt over my tank, and also kept my beloved dollar store mittens on.
It takes a mile or two for the crowd to thin out, and for a rhythm to begin. My anxiety was still pretty high, and so getting into the rhythm took longer for me than usual. I had planned on taking gel every six miles, but the water stations were on the odd miles, so I took it every seven. Flexibility with the course is important, especially if you are not familiar with it and are not sure what to expect. Even though I had trained with gel, it made me feel more full than usual, and was harder to get down each time. Still, I think it did its job and helped me maintain my energy level pretty well. I switched between sipping Gatorade and water, depending on how I was feeling, and what I thought would help the most.
I had purchased an anti-friction product just before the race and had not trained with it. I ended up being disappointed with the results, and was so glad they had Vaseline at the aid stations along the way, as I applied it two times before the end. They also had spray on icy-hot, which I tried at about mile 19. It didn’t help any, but I had high hopes. I had taken some ibuprofen before the race, something I had also done in training for long runs. At about mile 16 the effects had worn off and I contemplated taking more, (I had some with me, as I knew that the aid stations are not allowed to dispense pain relievers) but decided that I could not stomach the amount of water I would need to wash it down. I did however take it as soon as the race was over, which helped significantly.
I had spent considerable time studying the course on line and at the packet pick up event, but was surprised by it nonetheless. I was expecting a fairly tough hill at mile 18, and some gently ones after 21. What I found was the opposite. The one at 18 was a bump, and then there was a killer one from 24 to 25 that I had not prepared for mentally. My cousin and I had stayed together for most of the race, which was wonderful, but by 21 we were on our own. The last five were more mental and physical that I had ever thought possible. My energy was spent, my form was gone, and it was sheer will that got me over the finish line. What I would have given to have a friend join me the last three to five miles just to cheer me on and keep my head in it! Instead, I kept telling myself, “I can do this!” over and over until I actually did it!
My family was waiting for me at the finish line and it was a fantastic feeling to have them watch me cross the line and hear my name announced. After hugging them over the fence, I took my time in the “runners corral” getting some hydration, stretching, and just gathering myself. We stayed at the park for quite a long time recovering, and I was quite surprised at just how good chocolate milk and parmesan fishy crackers can taste! I finally sat down to rub my feet and then discovered that sure enough, I would be losing a toe nail. I guess one casualty is not so bad.
We eventually made it to the showers and after I was clean, I felt like a human again. Later in the evening, I took a long soak in the tub, rubbing out my legs, which I repeated again in the morning and think it helped significantly. I was surprised at how many more places hurt in the morning, pretty much everything but my hair.
I missed my goal of finishing under four hours, coming in at 4:08, but feel like I put forth my best effort. The emotion I expected to experience at the finish line did not come until the next morning. I think that because there were so many runners, I felt like I had done something common. After some reflection I have realized that I have truly done something exceptional. Not everyone can or will run a marathon in their lifetime. 26.2 miles really is a big deal! Will I run another full marathon? Maybe not. Will I run a half marathon? Probably so. Will I keep running and pushing myself? Absolutely. The therapy I get on the road for “free” is worth all of the early mornings, sore muscles, and cold fingers. I truly have become a “runner.”
Regardless of my finishing time, I am proud of what I have accomplished. Listen to the crowd, “You’re doing great!”.