I’ve refueled. I’ve rested and recovered. But I’ve not quite yet come off the high that is crossing the finish line of a marathon.
I RAN A MARATHON!
Let’s start at the beginning—Marathon Eve…
Christopher and I packed up our things, leashed up Dexter and headed to Milwaukee on Friday afternoon. We assembled our posse—a few friends (including my running buddy, Sara) and the online editor from the paper, who along with his wife made the trek to southeastern Wisconsin to capture this momentous event. We made our way to dinner at St. Francis Brewery a few hours later.
We all started with a craft beer. I had the Friday-night fish fry with potato pancakes, and Christopher had the fettucini alfredo. We all had at least another beer.
We headed back to Ground Zero, watched a couple innings of the Brewers game, then decided (somewhat begrudgingly) to head to bed.
I slept horribly. I never felt fully asleep. I was very aware that I had had a couple beers and a greasy fish fry that night. I was very aware that I was getting up in six hours. And I was very aware that I was going to run 26.2 miles the next morning. I tossed and turned, but I was stunned by the alarm when it went off at 4 a.m., so I must have gotten at least a little shut-eye.
We changed into our running gear, then ate our breakfast of bagels, peanut butter and banana; we stashed a CLIF Bar in our bag for the ride. We saddled up—packing a bag of Gatorade, flip-flops and other necessities—and headed down to Kenosha, which is about 35-40 minutes south of Milwaukee.
(courtesy of the Wisconsin Marathon Facebook page)
We hit a lot of race-related traffic and, after worrying we would be late, finally got out of the car (Sara’s mom parked it.) and made our way to the starting area. Sara and I jogged a bit to wake up our legs, used the bathroom and found a spot in the middle of the pack. Someone sang the national anthem and an announcer gave the command to start. We took off, crossed the starting line and settled into a groove.
I felt like the first few miles flew by! We were running pretty fast (about 10 minutes per mile), soaking up the sights and sounds of the crowd and the course and smiling. We ran out and back through the downtown area, then traveled north along Lake Michigan, which was a beautiful shade of cool aquamarine, t0 Carthage College and back through downtown.
We spotted Sara’s mom around the 4-mile mark, then saw my dad and Dexter and then spotted my parents around the 12-mile mark. We kept a close eye on the runners coming in the opposite direction any time we shared the course and spotted Christopher and Andy just once, on our way north toward the college. We spotted Sara’s mom and my dad again before the halfway point.
We skipped the first water stop because neither Sara nor I felt like we needed a walk break or a sip of water or Gatorade at that time, but we walked every water stop thereafter. I took in four or five Honey Stingers first at the 8-mile mark and then every 4 miles or so. I struggled a lot with hydration and fueling and maintaining a happy stomach: My body seemed to want water and sugar, but my stomach didn’t. I dealt with a “sloshy” feeling and gas pain every time. I was fortunate the feeling came and went within a few minutes.
I felt really, really good—especially considering the weather was cold, damp and windy—through the first half. We maintained an excellent pace and crossed the halfway mark at 2:22 (more than 20 minutes faster than my half-marathon time of a year ago). I was thrilled, and I thought we might hit our goal of 5 hours.
We ventured into Pleasant Prairie, a village south of Kenosha, through a state natural area and a really quiet, almost rural, back roads residential area. Sara and I both took a pit stop at the 14-mile mark to use the bathroom and stretch. Our pace slowed to about 13 minutes per mile for the next five miles as we walked more often. We kept going straight south, then making these little loops to the west, and we could see runners on the other side going back north; we thought we would never reach the turnaround. We saw my parents around the 18-mile mark, and they gave us a nice little boost of energy. We crossed a timing pad at the 19-mile mark at 3:41, and I set a new personal distance record.
We headed straight north, along the lake, and endured a gusty wind and fine mist. I needed to stop much more frequently to stretch my back and hamstrings, to work through cramps in my sides and tightness in my chest and to just move differently. Our pace slowed even more to 15, even 16, minutes per mile for the remaining seven miles. We saw almost no spectators; I felt very, very alone and overwhelmed.
I tried to give myself a pep talk. “Pain is fear leaving the body.” “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” “Victory is all yours.” I knew I would finish; I never doubted that. I hadn’t come that far to stop. But I had come far enough to stop caring about my finish time.
We hit mile 23, and I knew I could pick it up a bit. I tried so hard to push through the last three miles with everything in me, but I just had to stop and walk a couple times. I felt weak.
Sara asked me why I was running a marathon. I explained that I wanted to prove to myself I could do it—to prove to this formerly overweight, asthmatic, not athletic girl that she was a rock star. I then thanked her for agreeing to run with me and for staying by my side the whole way, and I burst into tears. I was so overcome with emotion—that I was running (and going to finish) a marathon, that I have family that will stand in the cold and rain to watch me complete such an amazing feat, that I have friends who will not just run with me but support me and cheer me on from start to finish. I thought about Christopher, how I longed to see him, to hug him and to hear him tell me he loved me. I thought about Dexter and how much I wanted to snuggle him. I thought about myself, how far I’ve come, the things I’ve accomplished and the challenges I’ve yet to tackle.
We encountered a volunteer at the 24-mile mark. He was so nice and a much needed beacon at that time. He congratulated us on our accomplishment, reminded us we had just two miles left and told us we were doing awesome. We ran almost all of those two miles.
We then came through the downtown area and started to count down the blocks, from 69th Street to 56th Street. We started to see more people (mostly racers and their spectators leaving the grounds), and then the tent. I knew it was close. I could taste it. I started to get teary.
We turned a corner and the finish was right there. Sara and I agreed to floor it down the straightaway and into chute. I could hear people screaming my name but I could hardly pick anyone out of the crowd. I was focused on the line. I wanted to grab Sara’s hand, I wanted to throw our hands up, I wanted to smile, but I just forgot and crossed in 5:31:36.
I immediately ran hobbled to Christopher. He hugged me and just held me for a minute. He was crying. He told me he was proud of me. I almost lost it. My mom hugged me, my dad reached over the fence and hugged me and I squatted (Amazing, right?) down to kiss Dexter, and he just licked my face.
We got our pictures taken with our medals and Mylar blankets. We filmed some video for the paper. We ate bananas and drank water. We grabbed our goodie bags of snacks, we snagged snack-size cheeses from a promotional booth and we got our free brats and beers.
We finally made our way toward our cars. Christopher took off his shoes to reveal bloody, split-open blisters on both heels and blood-stained shoes. I took off my shoes to reveal blisters on both pinky toes and one blood-stained sock. We put on flip-flops, said goodbye to my parents and piled into the car to make the trek back to Milwaukee.
We were marathoners. Just like that.
I still can’t really describe the profound impact the marathon had on me, and will continue to have on me. (You never forget your first, right?) I still can’t describe the wave of emotions that came over me. I still can’t thank my friends, my family, my running buddy, Sara, and my darling husband, Christopher, enough for everything they did to help me cross that finish line.
Lack of words aside, we did it. We ran 26.2 miles. We are marathoners.
I already have wished—and likely, will continue to wish—that the weather had been nicer, that I had worn a long-sleeved shirt and gloves, that I had finished in 5 hours.
But I don’t care. I still did it.
And I can always run another one…
Distance: 26.2 miles
Duration: 5:31:36 chip time (5:33:24 clock time)
Average pace: 12:39 per mile
Miles 1-13: 2:22
Miles 13-19: 1:19
Miles 19-26.2: 1:50
Oh, and before I leave you with all that, I ask that you head over to Christopher’s blog for more posts (from his perspective) about the race, as well as watch the video: