My first marathon is complete and I survived with a medal to prove it. How was it? Long, painful, triumphant, joyful and everything in between.
Sarah and I arrived downtown Charlotte with plenty of time to spare. We quickly found Scott, had time for pre-race potty stops, and then rushed to the starting line. The start of the race was a little stressful as we were stuck in a crowd on the sidewalk as the race was starting. It took about 4 or 5 minutes for me to get to the starting line. That was the most people I have ever run with so it was pretty cool on the first slight downhill to look ahead and see people running four lanes wide as far as I could see. Of course that was also a challenge with all the side to side running. Since I started so far back, there were a lot of people in front of me to pass.
Near the first water stop, I finally spotted Scott. We ran 4 or 5 miles together which was a great time. We don’t get as much time to hang out as we used to plus I pushed him to speed up a little and he got me to slow down a little which I needed. Somewhere around mile 6 or 7 he needed to slow down and I took off. I was glad to find out he set a PR of 2:08 on the half! By this time, I felt great. The gloves were off, my $2 Salvation Army sweatshirt was long gone and I was comfortably in the zone.
The first mental challenge of the day came when they separate the runners. “Half marathoners to the right, Full marathoners stay straight.” To be that close to the finish line only to leave it again. I felt great at that point with no fatigue or pain, but it was scary to make that commitment of running straight ahead and have 3200 people turn right while only 1295 went straight.
As I crossed the timing pad for the 13.1 split, I looked down at my Garmin to see the mileage read 10.6. Oops. Obviously at the 10.6 mile mark I hit the stop button on my watch. That is what I get for switching display screens and checking stats while running. I then proceeded to reset the watch to zero so I could keep track of the last 13.1 miles. I thought this might be a good mental game anyway since I can run 13.1 miles. Nice try.
Around mile 14 I started getting very cold again. I put my gloves back on and was wishing for my sweatshirt back. At mile 16 we were passing in front of the stadium and they were handing out Clif Shot Bloks at this water station. My hands were so cold that I was having trouble getting them open. After unsuccessfully chewing through one end of the package, I flipped it over and was able to chew through the other side.
The run back through downtown still felt like cruise control. Mile 19 and 20 were really boring. If you have ever done Thunder Road, you probably know what I am talking about. These are the miles when it starts to get difficult physically and in my opinion, the most boring part of the entire course. Between mile 20 and 21, I started getting some pain in my right knee and a little in my left ankle. This was forcing me to walk a little to give them some rest.
Mile 22 was my “wall”. This was the point where my knee was screaming at me to stop. I took out my phone and sent Sarah a text to let her know where I was and that it was going to be a while before I got there. For the next couple miles I was doing about half walking and half jogging. NODA and Plaza Midwood were both fun to run through. There were some great parties taking place and lots of encouragement from the crowds, but none of that could take away the pain in my knee. By mile 24, I was done. Not mentally. There was never a thought of quitting, but I knew physically I could not run another step.
Walking seemed to not hurt so forward I went. The two mile walk back into downtown was nice but I wished I could have at least jogged it. I didn’t care about the time as much as about my pride. Once I could see the finish line, I did make myself jog the last 0.2 miles and could not feel a thing at that point. Crossing the finish line was incredible. A time of 4:49:27 was longer than I hoped, but sets a nice mark to improve on. June 2009 when I committed to my first 5K, I would never have imagined this was possible or that I would even want to do it.
As I was nearing the finish line, I heard Scott cheering me on but I could not find Sarah. Right after I crossed the finish line, he comes over and tells me that Emily fell and hit her head and was at the hospital. Sarah, of course, took off to be there. I hate that Emily got hurt and that Sarah could not be there at the end of the race, but life changes things sometimes and we just have to roll with them. Emily was perfectly fine which was the most important part. I am very thankful for a good friend like Scott who stuck with me and drove me home at the end.
I took a week off of running to let my body recovery. That first run back started out joyful and I was thrilled to be back at it again. After the first mile, I decided to run the whole 4 mile Greenway loop. About mile 3.5, my knee said no more. Now I have a fear that I have ruined running. Hopefully a little more time off and I will want to run the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in March.
There was one sign I saw while running through NODA that really hit me. It simply said, “You are no longer just a runner, you are a marathoner.”