At exactly 12:00 A.M. on December 1st, 2015, I typed in my debit card number and pressed “register”. I signed up for my first full marathon. “What in the world was I about to get myself into,” I thought. I was excited, nervous, and anxious. What I didn’t realize was how much training for a marathon would change my life…for the better.
October 2, 2016, 5:30 A.M.
I rose out of bed, changed into my race outfit, slid on my compression sleeves, and looked in the mirror. I looked at the girl in front of me and smiled. I was a different person 23 weeks ago. ” That girl in the mirror is about to run 26.2 miles and she IS ready,” I thought. I gathered all of my things and headed down to the hotel lobby to meet my dad for breakfast before we journeyed out to the start.
If it weren’t for my dad, I wouldn’t have even thought of running my first marathon. It meant a lot to me to run my first marathon sharing the course with him, especially on his birthday weekend. He encouraged me throughout my training, gave me great advice, and gave me the motivation I needed. Having the support from my dad, my mom, my aunt, the rest of my family, co-workers, friends, and many other people, is one of the reasons I had made it to the start. I couldn’t have done it without them.
My Dad and I walked onto the bus to bring us to the start line, number 33 my lucky number, I looked at my Dad and said, “This is going to be a great day, let’s do this.” Arriving at the start, we had almost an hour before the gun went off and I was surprisingly calm. I knew I was ready. I knew I was ready to tackle this next challenge before me. But, when we got the call to line up, my stomach dropped. I thought I was going to puke. “How was I going to run 26.2 miles when I’ve only run 20? What if I get hurt? What if I can’t do this?” were the thoughts running through my mind. I continued to smile though and when the air horn blew and we started to run, all of the nerves went away.
I was loving every second of it. The weather couldn’t have been any more perfect. At some points I even caught myself singing or humming out loud to the music playing through my headphones. I looked around at all of the scenery—the beautiful barns, lakes, the fall foliage, the mountains, and the horses. The only time I slowed down was through the hydration stations and then continued on. Next thing I knew I was finishing mile 17. My legs still felt amazing and so fresh.
“I can do this, I AM doing this.”
Then came mile 21. The slowest mile I had during the race. I stopped to get water and when I tried to get going again I couldn’t. I thought my feet were bleeding. They hurt horribly. I decided I would walk most of this mile and then run again the next mile. But, running again had become a challenge because my legs still felt great but it hurt too much to put my feet on the ground. I knew at this point my feet were definitely bleeding and/or I had huge blisters.
I continued to put one foot in front of the other and when I finished mile 23, something happened. I realized I only had 3 miles to go and started to reflect back on my training and the challenges I had to face.
The first fifteen weeks provided all different types of challenges. As my mileage increased I had to learn how to fit in my runs on top of everything else I had going on, even if that meant getting up before 5 A.M. I needed to train my body to be able to handle the gels and energy blocks on long runs. I learned how to properly hydrate to run over ten miles in 100% humidity. After injuries to my knees, shins, and feet, I figured out I needed insoles which meant I needed to cut back on my miles, go off of my training plan and let my body heal. I sacrificed time with my friends or a night out just so I could get the proper rest before a 16-mile run.
Physical challenges weren’t the only obstacles I needed to face. Mentally, I had no clue what I would need to overcome each day. Some weeks it was just the simple struggle of saying “I can do this” when another voice in my head would say “I don’t want to do this.” Other weeks it was learning how to deal with one of the greatest challenges life puts before us, death. At week 15 of my training, the tragic death of a great young man close to my family took a toll on me emotionally and physically. It pained me to see so many people around me that I loved and cared for hurting. For me, being strong for my sister and brother, who had never grieved an unexpected loss of someone this close to them, for my parents who were hurting for their friends and for their employees, and being strong for his family, was more important than getting a run in. So for a while, I used my training runs as my time to grieve instead of working on speed or endurance. I used it as a time to reflect on my life and a time to pray.
My last “long run” my 20-miler had been the most fun run I had during my whole training. Upon finishing I realized that I had made it this far and that I could really do this. Then I thought back to just two weeks before race day, after being rear ended, I was faced with yet another challenge. I suffered from whiplash and needed to take almost my first full taper week off from running. Being so close to the race, I worried how this would change things. But, going back out for my first run since the accident I looked down at my wrist where I wore the wristbands that were made up in memory of Sean with his favorite quote, “Live The Life You Love,” and it reminded me that if I gave up now, I wouldn’t be living my life to the fullest.
At this point, I actually started to cry. My throat hurt trying to choke back the tears thinking of how far I had come and that I was almost to the finish line. I started to pass one runner after the next after getting a sudden burst of energy. The tears fell down my cheeks but my smile was definitely hard to miss. Kids along the road reached their hands out to give me a high five, people were shouting that we were almost there, and at that point, I had completely forgotten about the pain I was in ten minutes prior.
Then came the last mile. Mile 26. I had slowed down but I didn’t want to stop. The pain started again and it seemed as if I would never get to the finish line. At this point, I took my headphones off and started to run with another runner who was also running her first marathon. We talked about our training and started to give each other the push we both needed to keep going. Before I knew it I took my last left turn and headed down the final stretch. People were clapping, cheering loudly and waving us through. When I saw that finish line, the picture that had been the background on my phone for the last 10 months, I looked down at my feet and watched them cross the finish line and started to cry again. I knew right then that I was capable of more than I ever thought possible. I did it, I really did it.
23 weeks of pain, time, dedication, willpower, patience, and sacrifice. 5 hours and 26 minutes and 26.2 miles of the most amazing and most difficult physical & mental challenge I’ve ever endured but it was one of the best experiences of my life.