“Don’t worry they’ll tell you.”
I used to hear this joke often in running blogs and fitness magazines. And it made me do a slight chuckle because it was always true. When I started my journey of training to run an actual full marathon, this joke always played like a broken record in the back of my mind. But going through the experience of training, it’s no wonder people will tell you they’ve run a marathon. Because when training and running a marathon, it’s all you know for that period. I trained for seven months, and it was all I knew in my life to talk about when not discussing adventures with my husband or movies or tv shows. The running, the mental training, the research, the running, the foam rolling, the yoga stretches, the running, the timing of eating the right fuel at the right time, the running, the shopping, the using and washing of the best (most expensive) gear, and the constant hydrating, running smaller races to build up mileage, oh… and the running, were my life for seven months. So, of course, now that it’s been some time I can tell YOU:
Four weeks ago, I ran a marathon.
Oh yeah, I did! Just got up one morning at 4:00 am, ate a big bowl of oats and peanut butter, and got in line with a group of people and went for a long, long, long, enjoyable run. And to be honest, it’s so surreal, even after I have finished the race, that I actually did it. It seems also like if it did happen, it happened like two months ago because I’ve been super preoccupied ever since.
With that said, I wanted to discuss my marathon day with you. This was my first marathon after all, and each first marathon experience is always different. Right away, I’d like to start by saying that it was definitely a life changing experience. But, I didn’t quite have the epiphany of it being life changing until just a couple of days ago. I’ll write more on that later. But it was a wonderful experience and it made me push myself more than I thought I ever could have imagined. The full marathon is quite unique. When you think about it objectively you think ‘my God! people run 26.2 miles in a day’. It seems unrealistic, and it seems far out of reach. When you’re training for a full marathon, you have little victories along the way; Now that I’ve finished it,it really does feel like an accomplishment. And I will probably run more marathons in the future because each marathon after the first has to be different, right? What can I learn each time about myself?
THE INITIAL DECISION TO RUN A MARATHON
I was driving back from my vacation in Port St. Lucy, down I-75, watching the rain hit the windshield hard, when I decided to run a marathon. Fifteen hours was a long time to think about…whatever you can think about in fifteen hours, and I had been thinking about the 5k I ran in September, just shy of my 29th birthday. Which got me to thinking about my 30th birthday coming up in a year. Which got me to thinking about doing something drastic that made me feel like I had done something extravagant during my twenties. I had enjoyed running the 5k because it went to a good cause, I got some awesome exercise, and I was pushed by the cheers of the crowds, the honks from the cars, and the adrenaline to go fast and finish. So if I enjoyed that, then why not train for a marathon in the next six and half months and see myself go further. I needed to quit or cut down on smoking, I needed to tone up, and I needed something to help me beat the winter blues anyways. I immediately got on my smartphone and looked up races, found the Wisconsin Marathon in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which meant we could visit our beloved Wisconsin friends, and then found a beginner’s 28 week training plan.
THE DAYS LEADING UP TO THE WISCONSIN MARATHON! SHOW TIME!
Seven months later, I found myself driving to Kenosha with Jeff to run my marathon!
We listened to the audio book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami on the drive up. His personal essays about running and training, we thought, would pump me up. I had been very calm the few days leading up to the marathon. I was excited but the anxiety that I had been having the few weeks before was no longer around. It was an unusual calm for me, and I was afraid I had lost interest from the long training. We thought the audio book would change that.
It made me more excited, with a little anxiety creeping up about muscle cramps in the last miles. But I didn’t feel nervous still. Instead of thinking at that point that I lost interest, I had decided it was my brain and my heart that were fully ready and truly were trusting my training. In my last long run of 8 miles the previous Sunday, I had made the analysis that when I have the mind set that I’m just going for a nice run and disassociated myself from the length of time I’d be running, or the number of miles, that I would be able to get through any run. Slow and steady. Slow and steady. So that was what I was going to do, go slow and just enjoy the run and the view of Lake Michigan.
TIME TO RUN, RUN, RUN!
The morning of the race I woke up at 4 am and forced a large bowl of organic oats, peanut butter, and dried cranberries down for breakfast. It’s a delicious breakfast, but after carb loading for the week before I was ready to not eat any more carbs for years. I lollygagged around until about 5:30 when it was time to apply my KT tape Pro to my knees and get dressed in my gear. We headed out at 6:15 am so we can get there a half hour before the race kicked off at 7:00.
I felt good, but still had a ‘I’m soooo an amateur’ moment seeing all of these experienced runners getting ready for the half and full marathon they were running that day. So, initially, I thought I didn’t belong there. But remembered soon after that the running community is so supportive when a man who looked very fit and looked like an effing pro lined up with me in the 12 minute mile pace area, tapped me on the shoulder and said “good luck! It looks like we’ll be running together today!” Everyone was smiling and talkative and excited to meet each other. We were after all going to spend at least the next four hours together.
So here is the break down once the racers got in line:
Kick off!: I was pretty prepared for this to be very uneventful simply because you are in line with thousands of people. So once the gun went off, you literally don’t move for about 30 seconds, so you’re just kind of jogging in place. It’s cool, everyone was excited, kind of laughing because we were not going anywhere. Then it starts and the heart pumped adrenaline through my body so fast, and I was like “Slow and steady, Maggie”.
Miles 1-4: I felt like I was getting a good groove settling, though I did stop at mile 2 to use the bathroom to avoid longer lines later (which paid off). And every 2-3 miles was a water stop so I made sure each water stop I walked through and got a glass of water. Miles 1-3 was all residential with a slight hint of the beach off of Lake Michigan. We were technically going to have thunderstorms that day, so it was pretty windy right of the bat. But it was relaxing seeing the waves and listening to music. I’m a pretty salty sweater as I’ve mentioned before, so my hydration belt was full of Gatorade to replace the electrolytes in my system. I had decided that the best way to refuel as far as carbs and hunger was to eat a little bit of a CLIF peanut butter crunch bar every 3-4 miles. So once we got into downtown Kenosha for Mile 4 I stopped to walk, eat a bite of my CLIF bar, and high five other runners and spectators. I felt great! No fatigue, just me and the beautiful scenery!
Miles 5-8: So, this is when the wind really picked up, and the wind really began to suck. Miles 5-6 were up a slight slope, which would not have been too bad if it were not for the wind blowing right at you. But we were running next to the beach and it was gorgeous, the sun had come out a little, and everyone was in great spirits despite being pelted in the face with sand. I slowed down here to save energy since it was up slope and I was not even to the half way mark, so I wanted to not get tired and exhaust my energy resources. Once we got to the turn around just before mile 8, the wind blew us forward fast so it was all about catching your footing and using your legs hardcore to maintain your pace.
Miles 9-12: After the turn around at mile 8 we basically went through downtown and the same as Miles 1-4, so mostly residential areas. Jeff met me at mile 11 to refill my hydration belt bottles, and it was exciting to see his face. I had asked him to meet me at that mile to refill, but it almost felt like a reward for run that far already. Once we got to mile 12 where the half marathoners were to split off, you could hear the roar of the crowd at the finish line cheering the incoming half marathoners a mile away. As we passed the turn around point for the half marathoners, the full marathon runners continued straight. I heard one of my fellow runners behind me shout “It’s about to get real quiet now!” And it did. I turned and exclaimed, “Now we get to use that mental training we worked for months on!” And we became like a buddy system immediately, encouraging each other, high fiving, and having random dance-offs.
Miles 13-15: This is where we began the long stretch before the final turn around at mile 19 to take us back to the finish line. The wind had died down a bit, though at times going around the corner it seemed to pick back up enough to blow your feet out from under you and make you trip. I was enjoying the calm, but with less people, there is less excitement. Which means looking for the mile markers began to be a focus for me. For some reason, there was not a mile 13 marker, and I had ran for 20 minutes past the mile 12 marker that I was worried that I wasn’t going as well as I thought. “There is no way I’m running more than a 20 minute mile…no way. I’m not even tired!” and that worry eventually turned into panic and I got cranky. Fortunately, after 24 minutes past mile 12, I saw the mile 14 mile marker and became relieved. The panic began to fade and the focus on enjoying the rest of the run came to.
Mile 17: This is where I started to feel the pain in my feet. So every few miles from here I would wiggle my toes as I moved my feet off the ground. I also got a stitch in my rib, so i would slow down and stretch my right side every few minutes until it subsided. My legs and hip muscles felt tight, but not painful. My knees were doing so well! I used KT Pro tape for full support on both knees and they held strong. The pain in my feet were more an agitation than anything, so to avoid it I thought back on my mental training. ‘Shift your frame of mind to the positive no matter how much pain your in”….”Say positive things and you’ll eventually believe it!”.
I had taken my head phones out of my ears back at mile 15 to focus on the next few miles. I knew 17 was where some people hit the wall early, and I didn’t want to do that. Now that I was there, I didn’t feel like I couldn’t go further, I just didn’t want to get cranky. I wanted to enjoy the race. Enjoy my breath. Enjoy the pound of my feet on the pavement. So, to remain positive I began talking to myself. At first it was just general external disassociation. I saw a man at this house I was running by and he was unloading a box out the trunk of his car. I said out loud to myself “that man smiled at me, he is wearing a blue jacket”. Which sounds crazy, but that led to “He was nice, he must be a nice man. And nice people make me happy” which then led to me just running for the rest of mile 17 sarcastically saying to myself (while smiling) “I’m happy. I’m fu%*ing happy! *Pointing to a bird* What’s up blue bird?!? Cuz I’m happy!”
And, OH MY G, it worked. My positive thought process made me feel so excited and good again! I couldn’t freakin’ believe it. I mean, it was probably the ridiculousness of it that made me laugh and then get in a better mood, BUT STILL! I started to not noticed the pain in my feet anymore. So, even though it sounds wild, try it when you’re feeling a little fatigued running or racing, it might work for you too. MOVING ON!…
Mile 19: I was slowing down a little bit at this point but still feeling really good! I was one mile away from seeing Jeff and our friends Dave and Erin who had come to cheer me on as well. I told them to meet me at mile 20 because I thought I might have hit the wall by then, but I actually was feeling really great. An older gentlemen that I referred to as Santa Clause with silver hair was running along side me, on my left. He just turned to me and said “walk backwards every now and then and it’ll help your muscles from getting so tight”. I had never heard or read about this before, so I decided to try it. My hip flexors were so tight at this point, so as I turned, that little twist almost made me lose my balance. But I walked backwards for a minute, and it felt like a subtle stretch. Almost like a stretch you would get from child’s pose or downward facing dog, subtle but jussssttt right. and I will tell you hands down, that was probably one of the best pieces of advice I ever got on my marathon journey, and it was happening during the marathon, at mile freakin’ 19! I ran with Santa for a while, until we past the mile 19 sign and I walked for a few minutes.
Mile 20: I was so relieved! Only 6.2 miles to go! I felt great, but the wind had picked up harder than before and I knew it was going to be a challenge. As I hit the mile marker for 20, I began to look around to see Jeff, Erin, and Dave, when I heard a honking behind me. What a sight for sore eyes! I refilled my bottles, had a few minutes of chit chat, made Arrested Development jokes, and I let them make fun of my frizzy hair that has a mind of its own in crazy weather. And they sent me on my way.
Mile 22-23: I had kept a good jog going mostly here, but the wind at the end of mile 22 was starting to make exhaustion seem like the fancy word for what I was feeling. So, with the mindset that I was out for a nice long jog, I decided ‘no biggie, I’ll just speed walk to save energy through this next mile’, and I smiled and did just that. I was swinging my arms and up right like I was just out for an afternoon stroll, power walking, then towards the end of mile 23 I began to shuffle a little bit.
Mile 24: I FINALLY HIT IT. I HIT THE FREAKIN’ WALL. Which, now looking back on it, was way later than the average. The average miles runners hit walls, from my readings, was between miles 17-20. I’m so proud of myself now. But at the time, I felt like buttered shit. I couldn’t make myself run for anything, I fought back tears, I prayed, I got cranky, and in the midst of the crankiness I decided to throw my hydration belt in the trash can. Don’t need that heavy thing anymore!! (It was .25 pounds hahaha!) All I wanted was a freakin’ cheeseburger.
But I kept moving forward. I always told myself, no matter when you hit the wall this race, just at least keep walking. I knew because I had to stop and walk during the last two miles I was already 25 minutes behind, and I was okay with that. I just wanted to finish, but the only way to get back was seeing mile 25 and saying “Maggie, you’re so close. Let’s finish this!”
The Finish: Just as I was jogging up towards the mile 26 marker I heard the announcer saying “Maggie Waid from Kentucky! We see you! Can you hear us!?! I’ve got your husband here! You’re so close, you’re doing awesome, let’s get through these pesky .2 miles together!” I picked up my pace, pumped my hands in the air, getting excited all over again!
As I crossed the finish line I heard the crowd screaming, I high fived the announcer, and I fought back tears because I began to realize through the exhaustion that I had done it. I had just run 26.2 miles. After 7 months of runs in the cold, runs at night during the winters, runs on the weekends, not having much else going on socially because I had to run, the research, the practice of fueling and refueling, the early mornings, the foam rolling (which hurts so good), and the fight against the wind, I got through it all and accomplished something that seemed impossible a year before.
Crossing the finish line. Image provided by: Sports In Motion Photography!
The volunteers put a medal around my neck and wrapped me in a space blanket to keep me warm from the cold, cold wind. As I asked for a banana and continued to walk for about 15 minutes, I ran into Santa Clause who had been standing around waiting for me. We hugged and congratulated each other.
As we walked towards the car with Dave and Erin, Jeff said, “do you know how many marathons that man has ran?” I told him I knew he had run the Wisconsin Marathon once before, but didn’t know how many total.
“This was his 1,183rd marathon.”
And just like that, when I thought I had gotten all the inspiration from the runners around me on that day, and the faith in humanity, and the volunteers and spectators who gave time to show up and support a bunch of sweaty people, and from seeing the the beauty of nature to help finish my first marathon… this man, whose name I did not know, just inspired me to add more races to my bucket list and exceed all boundaries.
So here’s to more races. And here’s to running the world.