Within 24 hours of finishing my first marathon, I now understand why people told me that there was no way I would possibly be able to just run one marathon. When I began running back in July 2008, I was barely able to run a 5k at a 10:00minute/mile pace. After finishing my first marathon in a pace of 10:06/mile overall, I know I have come a long way.
Day Before: Traveling to Philly, the Expo, and Dinner Mike and I drove home to Pennsylvania on Friday evening and were quite tired after spending 6+ hours trapped in my car (that does not have cruise control - oops), so needless to say a good night of sleep was in order. We woke up Saturday and my entire family hopped in the car and drove to Philadelphia. I was trying not to think too hard about the race, but as soon as we saw the banners hanging in the streets of downtown Philly and saw the expo sign, the pre-race nerves kicked in. You know... that feeling of wanting to laugh, cry, and throw up all at the same time.
The expo was a lot of fun! There were a ton of booths, a huge crowd, and lots of fun give aways. First thing, however, was to get our race numbers. It was surreal walking up to the marathon counter with my dad. I have run 9 half marathons, and am so used to hoping on over to the half side of registration. Seeing my name with "MARATHON" in all caps on my bib was a mild shock to my system. My parents and I then decided to check out the Philadelphia Marathon gear while Mike ran off to grab some goodies from the different booths. My dad and I have the same philosophy of not buying/wearing anything from the race before it's completed. But, my mom insisted that I get a fleece and tech shirt while they still had them. "There's no way you're not going to finish tomorrow!" was her theory. I hesitantly obliged, bought some loot, and prayed that I would actually get to wear them as a finisher the next day. I also ended up getting a hand-held Nathan water bottle (pink for breast cancer awareness!) that I had been eyeing up for awhile. It will be nice to have it for some shorter runs!
After the expo, the four of us proceeded to wander around downtown Philly, and decided to head over to the starting line (which actually ended up being the finish line as well). Of course, this resulted in a photo montage of us standing by the finish line which other people were doing as well. I was just trying to take it all in, and knew that I would want to kiss the ground I was standing on after 26.2 miles the next day.
Dinner pre-race was great! I met up with two of my college friends, Trevor and Andrew, who both live in Philadelphia. Trevor was running his first marathon the next day as well, and Andrew had one marathon under his belt, so most of the evening was spent carbing up on pasta and garlic bread, trading advice/running horror stories, and attempting not to think too much about what was ahead the next day. Race Day We woke up (not so bright) and early at 5:00am on the day of the race. I had woken up at 2:30am and of course had not been able to fall back asleep, having alternate nightmares of sleeping through the alarm, not finishing the race, and not doing well on my comprehensive exams (seriously?! Those suckers aren't until May). My dad, Mike, and myself began to eat (I had an untoasted english muffin [gag] with soynut butter, banana, and honey and some coffee), get dressed, and ready to head out the door for the race. I decided since it was going to be in the upper 40s/low 50s, I would wear a tank and shorts with arm sleeves and compression socks. I get overheated really easily, and wanted to be more cold than hot for the race. I also made sure I was equipped with a purple headband in honor of my Omi. This race was dedicated to her, afterall.
We were only half a mile from the starting line, which meant we didn't have to get down to the race start until pretty close to the starting gun. I said goodbye to my mom and Mike (he was racing the half marathon and is so speedy that he got to start up near the elites) and my dad and I headed into our start corrals. We couldn't get near the purple corral, so we ended up in the green which was the 3:30-3:40 marathon group (definitely not me... yet!) which was good because we were going to get to start sooner rather than later. Waiting for the gun to go off was incredibly nervewracking. I had so many thoughts going through my head... would my calf re-injure itself? Did I undercut my training too much? Could I hold a 9:00-10:00minute/mile pace for a whole marathon? Before I knew it, it was time to stop thinking. We were off!
The first 6-7 miles of the marathon ticked off easily. We were running 8:50-9:10minute/miles which was a little faster than I would have liked, but I trusted my dad on this. We had plans to take Gus at 6, 10, 14, 18, and 22 and walk every mile for about 10-20 seconds from mile 20 to the finish. I honestly felt great as we hit our "checkpoints" at miles 6 and 10 and didn't really feel like I needed any Gu or water. The crowd support was great, lots of people were calling out my name (name on your race bib = amazing), and I was feeling really good.
I think the worst part of the race for me happened early around miles 11-14. There was nothing physically wrong, but mentally I started panicking. I am a pretty solid half marathoner, and started getting anxious when I realized that I wouldn't be splitting off with the half marathon runners. The course actually loops you by the finish, which is pretty deflating, and I started getting pretty concerned at that point. However, the crowd support really picked up by the split-point, and we saw my mom and Mike (who rocked his half marathon in 1:34:37!!) around mile 13.5 which definitely cheered me up. I was able to give my mom my arm sleeves which were annoying me, and Mike ran with us a bit and gave us some refuels on our Gus. In the picture below, you can actually see him passing them off (my dad is in the obnoxious Akron Half Marathon shirt, I'm in pink compression socks, and Mike is in red). ;)
The back half of the marathon course was scenic, but quiet. We had hit the half marathon mark at 2:01 or so (although, my race results say it was 2:11... weird) so we were right on track. The next few miles began ticking off again, so mentally I knew I was back in it. We stopped to use the bathrooms at mile 17.5 (which felt like a religious experience to get to sit down for a second) and proceeded to head out into Manayunk for the turn around back to the finish. At the turnaround, we hit mile 20 around 3:15 and I knew we would come in well under 4:45 (my 'C' goal for the race) and it was a question of whether or not I could hit my 'B' goal of 4:30 or my 'A' goal of 4:15. From mile 20 to the finish, my dad and I took it one mile at a time. I began drinking water at every station with a splash of Gatorade and kept waiting for the wall to hit... which never happened.
At mile 21, my dad and I took our quick 20 second walking break, and that was when it all began sinking in. I was really going to finish the marathon. After the injuries and set-backs, it was really going to happen! At mile 22 I took in my last bit of gel (I need to come up with a new plan... the Gus started making me feel sick during the race which is unusual for me), took my last drink, and began to gut out the last 4.2 miles. Things were getting uncomfortable, but nothing was getting painful. That changed, however, at mile 25 when I felt an awful stabbing pain through my right knee. Seriously?! Now of all times?! I told my dad, and he asked if I was alright, and I told him that we needed to just push through, which was fitting since that was the theme for the Philadelphia Marathon this year. The crowd support for that last mile was amazing (and made me really thankful that I went iPod-less). I pushed through as hard as I could, taking everything in. I saw my mom and Mike about 26 miles in. I looked at my dad and started to cry. I thought of my grandmother. I thought of everything that had happened in the last year. Running over the finish line hands down is one of the best moments of my life.
As soon as we crossed the finish line, I grabbed onto my dad and began to cry. However, we realized standing still wasn't possible, so we moved through the finisher's area, grabbed our mylars and medals, and found my mom and Mike fairly easily, and hobbled back to the hotel.
Post-Race Thoughts Am I going to run a marathon again? Absolutely! Mike and I have already started talking, and I think I have my fall marathon for 2011 picked out. For 2010, however the racing is not quite over yet. Dad and I are taking on a 5k this Thursday, and then in December my dad, Mike, and myself will be running the Ted Corbitt 15k in NYC.
As I told my dad at mile 6 or 7 as we were running through the crowds in South Philly, running a marathon is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I had an amazing first experience, and would highly recommend this marathon to anyone. Looking ahead, I am confident I can run a marathon again, and run it faster, too. ;) Here's to the next phase of my running journey!