Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Post - Marathon: My 26.2 Mile Journey

My Marathon Journey

Two days ago I accomplished something that I would've called you crazy for even suggesting 5 years ago. I finished a full blown 26.2 mile marathon. 

This whole process started in college in 2009 when I was surrounded by insanely fit people who loved to run. I had always loved and played sports, especially soccer which required large amounts of running, but I had never really run just to run. My mom was runner though, in fact she ran a marathon in 1998. She had always inspired me and deep down inside I had always wanted to run a marathon - I just didn't think I would ever actually do it. That is until that one day in class when someone told me they were signing up for the Rock n Roll half marathon that summer. Suddenly it hit me that I was actually capable of running one if I really tried... so I did. I finished my first momentous race, 13.1 miles, in September of 2009. That race ignited a fire in me, a love not only for running but for the excitement of race day and the thrill of accomplishment. Still, I was pretty sure running a full marathon was a long way off, if I ever did one. Since then I've finished 4 half marathons and several small races, which compared to many runners is not that significant, but to me it felt pretty good. I was beginning to feel like a pretty accomplished runner, until my best friend Robyn began dreaming about doing a full marathon. Before I knew it Robyn, another friend and mentor Sydney, and myself were signed up for the OBX Marathon on Veterans Day weekend.

This past summer I spent many early mornings with Robyn and Sydney training for this race. We spent hours out on the streets and trails before and after the sun came up running (and sometimes walking) our little hearts out in preparation for our big day. As we spent the night before our race with family and friends (Robyn's parents, the Websters, graciously offered us their beach house which happened to be right along the race course and made us a delicious pasta dinner the night before!) laying out our clothes and making our playlists, I could barely contain my excitement. I had no idea how the next day would unfold, it was almost as if I had never run a race before.

As we stood in the starting coral the next morning I realized that this was a much smaller race than I expected in terms of how many people were running it and I began to worry that I would be coming in dead last. We patiently listened to the National Anthem and then before we knew it we were off. The first 6 miles flew by. Even though I was running a slow pace I'd never felt 6 miles go by as fast as those ones did. Maybe it was the fun of it all. People were cheering from in front of their homes and the other race participants were very friendly and encouraging. Robyn and I sang out loud to our ipods and probably entertained quite a few people that first leg of the race. We easily made it to mile 7 where her parents house was. Mark and her parents were outside waiting for us, they took pictures as we ran past and handed us our water bottles for the rest of the race. 

Shortly after we followed the course into the woods and it wasn't until after the race that we realized just how hard that portion ended up being. The course took us up and down several little hills and through winding paths of dirt, mulch and sand. This was a surprise to us because we had been told the course was mostly flat. By the time we made it back out on the street we had reached the half way point. 13.1 miles. We were still feeling pretty good, and didn't realize the beating that our bodies had just taken in those woods. Mark and the Websters were there to cheer us on again as we passed the half way point. The course then took us out on the main road where Sydney's family, my family and more friends were lined up to cheer us on. I felt so blessed to have so many people supporting us in our journey.

At mile 18 Robyn and I decided to walk. Many people around us had begun to fall into their walk/run strategies, just trying to conquer this race in chunks. We did the same until mile 19 when we decided to just walk for a whole mile until we got to mile 20 and then see how we felt. As we approached the 20 mile marker my family was there again cheering us on. As I saw my mom up ahead and then looked down at my watch I started to tear up have a mini melt down. My mom had finished her marathon in under 5 hours and she had always challenged me to do the same. As I got closer to her I knew that dream wasn't going to become a reality. It had already been  over 4 hours and I still had 6 more miles to go. (Which meant at least another hour.) I was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by the emotions of it all. My mom hugged me close (in all my sweat and smelliness) and assured me that this process was about finishing, not about time. And that I just needed to focus on finishing strong

I pulled myself together and continued on, slightly embarrassed that I had fallen apart so easily in front of so many people, and walked with Robyn until mile 21. Robyn told me at that point that she was going to have to finish the race walking and she urged me go on. I struggled with leaving her. I had always imagined us crossing the finish line together and I had assured her I wouldn't leave her if she needed to walk, but she selflessly encouraged me to finish out the race with whatever energy I had left. 

So I did. I ran the last 5 miles. I ran my heart out. I even ran up the monstrous bridge that I thought would be the death of me. After I passed mile 25 I could feel my lungs starting to burn, I felt like I was gasping for air. My feet felt raw in my shoes and they screamed at me with every step. As fast so those first 6 miles went by, I couldn't believe how long this last mile seemed to be taking. As I rounded the corner towards the home stretch, my mom was there once again. My ever present cheerleader. She jumped onto the course with me when she saw me running (last time she saw me I had been walking) and ran along side me. I told her I couldn't breathe and she told me I was almost there. 

She ran with me until we got to the 26 mile marker, as we turned another corner I could see the finish line - friends, family and my husband lining the way. My mom stepped off of the course and told me it was all mine. She told me to own those last .2 miles and so I did. I felt energized as the announcer called my name and waved and smiled as I crossed the finish line. Instantly - despite the grueling 5 hours and 53 minutes that I had spent on the course - I knew I wanted to do another one. The thrill of accomplishment and pushing my body to do what feels impossible is like a drug to me. I love the feeling. 

I was able to see Robyn cross the finish line shortly after. And about 55 minutes later went back to run the last half mile with Sydney to get her to the finish line. Bowing out of course at the last .2 miles to let her own her finish line like my mom did for me. 

We celebrated together after the finish. Reveling in our achievement and thanking those around us for their love and encouragement along the way. It is impossible to describe how perfect it was to have those we loved there to cheer us on and support us in our crazy venture. 

Words can't describe how perfect it was that my mom was there for me for my first full marathon. She was there in all of the perfect places, when I needed her the most, to push me forward. I will never forget her presence, her words to me on this day, and this whole experience as long as I live. 

There were so many days this past summer during our training when we felt like we would never be able to finish a marathon. But now, there will be a life time of knowing that we have.

I am now in post marathon recovery mode. Bandaids cover my blistered feet, I have a toe nail or 2 that are hanging on by a thread, my muscles are sore to the touch and I'm walking with a slight waddle...

...but I'm already planning my next race. I'm thinking a triathlon maybe??? : )

(Having a sister who is an aspiring photographer comes in handy when wanting to capture major life events... Thanks Mallory for the awesome pictures!)

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