October 21, 2017
We arrive in Atlantic City and the emotions start to hit me. I can’t believe I am about to run my second full marathon! I was more excited than nervous this time. Even though the last few weeks my training runs sucked, I felt more prepared since I had done this before.
We checked into the Claridge hotel and I walked in with my 20 bags for just two nights. One for my race day gear, one for other clothes, all of my food, my gallon water jug, and the elevated leg machine. I could barely stand up straight I was carrying so much. Yet- even with all of the commotion and seeing the others here for the race check in, I still felt oddly calm.
I can do this.
October 22, 2017
We walked out of the hotel onto the boardwalk and the excitement started to fill me. The sun started to come out and the weather was beautiful. Smelling the ocean breeze calmed the nervousness that was starting. This time I felt more comfortable since I had done this before but also to be running with so many. My Dad and a few of his buddies were doing it, my aunt, and my mom was doing the half. We snapped a few pictures and then headed to the start line.
The gun went off and little did I know that this was about to be a life changing journey.
Miles 1-5 were easy. I ran at a comfortable pace making sure I didn’t burn out too quickly. Running through places I don’t know is completely distracting and makes it easier. We even ran through a tunnel which was pretty cool. I was running next to the 4:30 pacer, a guy with the cutest kid in a stroller, and people of all ages just having a great time.
Mile 6 is where hell started. My right foot started to bother me. I recognized this feeling – it was the feeling of blisters forming. Although it was already humid, I was surprised that my feet were sweating that bad already. Every step I then took the pain proceeded. I needed to find an aid station.
By Mile 8 I already started to slow down. The pain proceeded and by this point I could taste the salt. Despite following my nutrition and hydration, and drinking over a gallon the day before, somehow I was already dehydrated. Knowing this was the first fight my mind battled. How could I have this issue so soon and so early on into the race? Do I drink more water? More gatorade? I was torn.
Mile 9 I ran past the start line and through where I would finish 17.2 miles later. 17 miles seemed so far away. I passed my uncle and little cousins and tried so hard to keep a smile on my face and act like I was having a good time, despite already feeling awful.
Mile 11 I was approaching the point where I could turn around and just finish the half-marathon. This was something I deeply considered. Stumbling upon an hydration station with volunteers, I begged someone to find me a band aid. I sat down and put bandaids on my blisters, drank some water and hoped that would help. Before I got up – I considered again just turning around at this point. But I couldn’t. I didn’t train to just finish a half. So I continued on.
Mile 14 I was off the boardwalk again – hoping to find some shade. Running along the boardwalk for those 5 miles with the sun beating down made everything worse. At this point I started to run/walk. Walking more than running. I was still on track to finish before five hours (my goal) but my body began to get weaker and weaker. I could no longer run. It was somewhere along this mile I ran into my Dad who was finishing mile 17. He gave me a high five with a huge smile on his face and all I could say back was that I was feeling terrible already.
Miles 15-18 somehow along these miles I managed to keep my run/walk pace under 15:00 min/miles. I started to run along next to this guy who looked about my age. I could tell he was suffering too. We chatted for a bit and for the next few miles I used him as my visual. He would run past me and when he started to walk again, I’d start running to pass him. It was back and forth like this for miles – but it made it easier. Easier meaning I could still put one foot in front of the other. By this point my whole body ached and I was praying to go back to Mile 6 where the only pain I felt was my foot.
I made a few more friends during these miles. All of which felt like crap too which made me feel better about how I was feeling. Despite how shitty of a day it was turning out to be – there is nothing better than the running community. The other runners on the course all continued to cheer each other on, taking out of the equation how they were feeling.
Mile 19 it was all downhill from here. I could no longer run. Every limb in my body hurt physically. But at this point it was no longer about the physical pain, it was about the mental battle now.
Every intersection there were cops. Every intersection I contemplated stopping and asking them to pull me out of the race. I couldn’t fathom getting through another 7 miles feeling this way. My hydration plan was completely thrown off since I couldn’t stomach anymore gels or blocks. I tried to take in more Gatorade to fight the dehydration, but now my stomach was bothering me. My head pounded, my arms hurt, my back ached, my legs – I honestly could hardly feel that pain anymore. I was numb.
Mile 20-23 This is when I met Jessica. Jessica and I power walked (slowly) the next four miles together until we reached the boardwalk. If it weren’t for her – I would have stopped. I even asked the volunteers at the hydration stations to walk with me to bring me water knowing if I stoped for even a split second I would be done. I wouldn’t have been able to start again.
Mile 24 We reached the boardwalk. The heat was overpowering. At this point the boardwalk was open to the public. There weren’t many racers left or so I thought. Jessica took off toward the finish and then it was just me. Me, my pain, and my thoughts.
My Mom called me to see where I was and it took everything in me not to burst out crying when I answered the phone. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of how badly I was doing and it wasn’t only that. By now my body and mind were so exhausted I could hardly control any emotion. I hung up the phone quickly as I couldn’t even open my mouth any more. I started to scout out the nearest trash can feeling like I was going to vomit.
How was I going to make it to the finish? It seemed impossible. I started to think about life. If I could do this- if I can make it to the finish line, I can do anything. These thoughts kept me going, it helped me put one foot in front of the other.
Then I started to pray. I talked to God more than I talked to myself. I prayed that I wouldn’t vomit. I prayed that He would get me through this. I prayed hard that all of this pain would go away.
I looked down at my watch and saw I was averaging a 17:41 min/mile. Then I looked at my overall time. If I went any slower, I could potentially miss the cut off time. Tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t have put myself through all of this to not finish. So I somehow picked my feet up a little bit faster and started to jog 20 seconds for every minute.
I was so close I could see the finish line. I searched hard for water – there wasn’t much left out on the course. I was also determined to not let anyone else pass me. I knew there were a few more people behind me but there was no way I was going to come in last. As I got closer to mile 26, there were more people all over the boardwalk. It got frustrating having to weave in and out of them feeling so crappy. Some cheered me on, some didn’t even look twice.
Then I saw a group of women who I saw so many times out on the course. They yelled so loudly for me and started dancing. It gave me my last burst of energy that carried me to mile 26.
.2 miles left. .2. That was it. I could see the people lining the stretch to the finish line. Seeing how close I was, my lip started to quiver. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I kept telling myself – do not cry. Don’t cry Nicole, you are stronger than that. Make it past the finish line with a smile on.
I looked up from my feet and saw the finish line. At first I thought I was hallucinating, because I had been during some of the race but when I looked up again, what I thought I saw was true and I could no longer hold back the tears. I let out a loud sob. I mean loud. It was embarrassing. the tears streamed down my face and I tried to hold the rest of it in until I crossed. But seeing my Dad standing there holding my medal for me was the most unexpected perfect end to the day I had just had.
I crossed the finish line at exactly 6 hours. It was a very emotional day to say the least. It took me at least ten minutes to stop crying. My family was there waiting for me and so was Jessica. I couldn’t believe I had finished. There were so many times during those last 16 miles that I thought about quitting and getting a DNF. But now I know I am capable of so much more than I ever imagined.
Every time I look at the medal from this race, I’ll see the power of what can happen when you don’t give up and the strength you acquire mentally and physically when you test your body and push yourself beyond the excruciating pain. Although I wish I had a better race like my first one, the journey and the outcome was worth more than quitting and I am certainly a different person today because of this journey.