[Warning: it just might take you 4 hours and 19 minutes to read this post. Are you ready for a test of endurance?]
When my alarm went off at 5:45 Sunday morning, I was surprised by how well I slept. I figured I might be up all night tossing and turning with nerves but I slept like a rock---I guess I needed it. I got dressed, ate my usual peanut butter and honey toast, and started slamming water like I'd done the entire day before. I was nervous, for sure, but it was a surreal feeling of, "Holy crap, this is it" for the most part. I stared at the morning news praying that the weather man was wrong and that the said showers would hold off until after the race. And I knew it was going to be cold since it was barely 40 degrees at the time with a high of 55 predicted. Hey, at least it wasn't going to be 80 degrees, right?
We took some pictures and Nate and I were off to Grafton while the rest of the crew hung out at home a bit longer. The drive to the start site seemed to take FOREVER: was I really going to run all the way back from this random town so far away? Nate tried to keep the mood light with a little TuPac for inspiration, followed by Dave Matthews--surely a combo made in heaven for marathon day.
We arrived at Grafton High School along with hundreds of other runners. My love for people-watching kicked in as I noticed both young and old, big and small, male and female participants heading towards the start line. We met Sheri and her friend Karen--two girls I trained with a bit--and let out a few squeals of excitement. Nate walked us over to the starting line where we hugged and kissed goodbye. He told me to have fun and kick some A promising to see me soon.
The countdown began and the butterflies rose in my gut. The sound of the gun rang in my ears and we started trotting towards the start line. The chaos of running with 2000 other runners all bunched together is something I'll never get used to but we spread out fairly quickly. On our first turn out of the gates I saw Nate snapping pictures and yelling for me and I felt all kinds of emotions welling up: I couldn't believe it was finally happening.
We really tried to go out slow but we were just too excited---our first three miles were all at a 9:15 pace. Whoops! :) I had a fabulous idea of dividing the race into days of the week: first five miles were a Monday, second five Tuesday, third five Wednesday, fourth five Thursday, fifth five Friday, and the last 1.2 miles were a celebratory Saturday. My friends and I decided that all Mondays should be this fast because the first five miles flew by.
I took some sport beans at five and then at 7.5 I got to see my spectators for the first time: my parents, Nate, and his parents were all cheering and snapping pictures like professional photographers. I tossed Nate my long sleeved tee shirt since I was warming up quickly and flashed them genuine smiles. I felt re-energized just from those quick 5 seconds of seeing my family. I am truly a lucky girl to be blessed by such an amazing group of family. I can't thank them enough.
Then at about mile 9 [well into Tuesday, if you will] my lungs started burning. I've never had issues with the cardiovascular side of running---it's usually the mental or muscular aspect that gets me. So naturally, this scared the hell out of me. I suppose I didn't really admit how sick I was the week prior with my respiratory illness. I just kept hoping it would go away even though I felt extremely worn down and weak. Now, at mile 9, my lungs were freaking out and I know it had to do with being sick. I tried to stay positive and didn't tell the girls that my lungs felt like they were collapsing. I took my first PowerGel at this point hoping it could provide for extra energy. It was a sloppy mess that left me with sticky fingers for the rest of the race.
We hit the halfway mark of 13.1 miles at 2:03:25 which was freaking fast, according to me. I knew that if we kept a similar pace for the remaining half we could totally beat Oprah's butt. High noon on a Wednesday and halfway through the work week was a good place to be.
At mile 14 my family made their second appearance. I was still smiling and feeling a little better about my lungs. I got some high fives and words of encouragement as we pressed on towards our goal. By mile 16 I told Sheri to keep going, but I needed to take the next water break a little slower. I wanted to wash down some more beans and take my time---every other aide station seemed to be rushed and I wasn't used to that. Nate and I always made the aide stations a re-focusing time during our training and now I felt hurried. So Sheri kept going and I took my time with the beans. When I restarted I made a pivotal decision: I decided to slow down my pace just a bit and let the girls stay ahead of me, knowing that I probably wouldn't catch back up to them. I knew that I had to slow down a bit or I would be hurting too much at the end. Sheri ended up finishing in 4:10 which is unbelievable for a first marathon. Of course a part of me wishes I could have just stuck it out with her, but another part of me knows I did my best.
For the next few miles my pace slowed from about 9:30 to a 10:20 minute mile, and my legs started to burn. I began to console myself saying, "Even if I don't break 4:30 I'm still going to be proud of myself no matter what. I'm going to cross the finish line and that's all that matters. This is the best I can do right now." I wanted to speed up but my body simply couldn't do it.
Mile 19 brought another family sighting and this time I was by myself without my girls. I knew I looked tired but still mustered up a little smile. My father-in-law asked, "How do you feel?" and I replied, "I definitely feel it. This is hard." I heard him say, "Well, it IS a marathon" which made me laugh. I downed a few more beans and pushed on, even though my quads felt like they were full of daggers. I knew my hubby would be joining me in about 2 more miles and that was my primary focus. "Just keep running, just keep running" was my mantra [thanks, Erin!] and I tried to think about the long list of supporters I had pulling for me online. I thought about my real life friends who sent me cards and texts and emails. I thought about Keri and Nate and how they'd both be so happy to be in my shoes right then. And I told myself to suck it up for another seven miles---because now I knew where I was on this course: it was a part of our training path and it felt very much like home. A long and difficult trail home:)
As I finally reached Atwater Park I saw Nate standing on the sidelines, ready to run with me. It was mile 21 and I walked through an aide station as my family took more pictures. I looked into Nate's eyes and told him that I'd never been happier to see him. He told me I was doing awesome and he was proud of me. We waved goodbye to our parents and headed towards the finish line....and I was struggling.
Nate asked if I wanted to talk and I begged him to talk to me while I listened. He chattered on and on about the Badgers, our cute parents, and other runners he'd seen giving up along the way. I told him I wasn't sure if I was going to beat Oprah and he said, "Who cares about freaking Oprah, you are kicking major butt right now." I love him sometimes:)
We passed a few more aide stations and I had to stop one more additional time to stretch my quads. I informed Nate that he might need to carry me to the car after I finished and he said that would be fine. When we rounded the corner and came to the infamous hill leading down to Bradford beach I almost shed a tear. This was the hill we'd run UP so many times during training, and since June I'd been picturing this very moment: running DOWN the stupid hill towards my goal. I couldn't believe we were so close to finishing. And I just wanted it to be over.
Nate kept talking and I grunted responses every now and then. We passed Alterra coffee and I didn't even crave an ounce of the black gold---I just wanted to see the finish line. Nate assured me that we were only a mile away [it was Saturday!!] but it was definitely the longest mile of my life. We rounded a corner and there it was: the beautiful, glorious finish line full of screaming fans. Nate said, "I have to pull off to the side now, go for it, baby!" I think I sprinted those last few meters despite a wicked limp and I remembered to smile for the professional pictures at the finish line. I did it. I effing finished the marathon.
I got my medal, removed my microchip, and found Nate again. I thanked him profusely for helping me finish, because honestly I'm not sure I could have done it without him. He said he wished he could have run the whole race with me and I joked that it really wasn't THAT much fun as he wiped the snot, PowerGel, and salty sweat from my chin. I was a hot mess, for sure, but a happy one.
We walked over to our parents and I think I saw tears in my Mom's eyes. I noticed that they were all bundled up. Was it cold outside? I didn't notice at all:) They all gave me hugs and told me how proud they were. I savored the moment and then decided I wanted to go home, and so we did.
A hot shower, a cold sub sandwich, and watching the video my dad took from the day filled our afternoon. I took an amazing nap and then got ready for dinner. Yes, I was really sore [and still am]. I almost got stuck on the toilet last night because my thighs simply wouldn't hold me up anymore. My back, shoulders, thighs, calves, and feet all feel like they got hit by a bus. You should see me go up and down stairs---I look like a freaking cripple. But it's all worth it, my friends.
Now that it's over I find myself taking it all in: I'm relieved that it's finished but sad, too. It was such an emotional journey and I cannot believe it's over. I can see why this is an addicting sport because the entire experience was nothing short of amazing. I wouldn't be surprised if I did another full marathon in the future, but first I need to regain my walking skills. :)
Things I've learned:
A full marathon is more than twice as hard as a half.
Don't fly on an airplane the week before a race. You'll get sick and it will affect you.
Your body can go further than your mind thinks. Get your thoughts in order because it really is mind over matter in this case.
I love my husband and family. They are the bomb.
Nate is already talking about doing this next year and I know it was hard for him to watch most of the race. I'm so proud of him for being mature enough to deal with his injury in a responsible way. He's going to kick marathon arse when his ankle heals, I just know it.
If you are still reading this ridiculously long post, perhaps you are contemplating a marathon. It's not easy and it definitely takes determination, but I promise that the rewards are indescribable.
And with that I think I'll take a nap:) Pictures to follow.