First off I wanted to thank everyone who supported me throughout my training. Yes, I ran the race but the motivation and inspiration provided by so many of you made the process that much easier. I also have to thank my coach and lifeline Jess. I’m sure I drive her nuts more often than not but in no way shape or form could I have trained for my first marathon, or any race for that matter, without her invaluable guidance. Also thanks to my surrogate coach Abby. She was the running angel on my shoulder throughout. Love her! Now, what you have all been waiting for: The Surf City Marathon recap….
- Goal time: 3.37 / Actual time: 3.40.16
- Goal: Meet a new friend from social media / I met CleaversInCanada from Instagram. Awesome awesome woman!
- Goal: Survive / SUCCESS!
Where do I even begin. I was telling Jess the other night that as much of a “high” training for and running a marathon provides, it is the exact opposite post. Nobody warned me I would be so mentally and physically drained. I actually feel a bit lost right now. I don’t mind admitting that. I am human. It was such an overwhelming process I have had a really hard time putting everything into words but here is my best effort. I ran my first marathon on my birthday. I swore for years I never ever would run a marathon. This was an ignorant statement, I know. I caught the running bug last May and decided during one random run in the fall that I in fact could run a marathon. Once again proving the universal point that you just have to decide to do something. It’s that easy.
Being it was my birthday, my family decided to fly out from New York. This would be my parents first exposure to anything running. “How many miles is a marathon, 10? 15?” And my sister also decided to run her first marathon so this became a family affair. With the race on a Sunday I decided to fly out Thursday and leave Monday. Getting used to the California time/elements seemed wiser than flying out and rushing the process. I had the choice of running Rock n Roll New Orleans, Miami or Surf City in Huntington Beach on Feb 2. I decided on California as there is something spiritual and relaxing about the Pacific Ocean. I figured if I had to run 26.2 miles, I needed all the help I could get mentally. I was right about that. It happened running Big Sur. It happened running Surf City. The ocean relaxes me as I run and my mind is clear of all worries and hesitation. It makes the run simply about the run and that is such a beautiful thing.
The race split the start times between the marathon runners and half marathon runners. Marathon runners started at 6:30am. Everyone else 7:45am. Toronto was my first experience where all the runners started together and I felt bad for the marathon runners staring at a finish line at mile 12.5 having to veer off. I like the idea of splitting the start times so everyone finishes together. The weather was absolutely perfect. 50 degrees had my name written all over it.
My sister decided to run with the 3.40 pace group so I inched up a bit at the start closer to the 3.35 pace group as I was aiming for a 3.37 time. The adrenaline started to build as the announcer began counting down. The energy was unreal. Everyone was glancing around at each other realizing the seriousness of what was about to go down yet remembering to smile and enjoy this moment. You can feel it. Blood begins to pump faster. Excitement builds. You psych yourself up telling yourself YOU CAN DO THIS. YOU WILL DO THIS. And then bang, the gun goes off.
I’m not going to do a mile per mile review. I actually don’t know how some of you do that. I applaud that skill of which I do not have. For me this race really is a tale of two races. Miles 0-21 and 21-26.2, The good and the really really ugly. Jess laid out a plan for me to run at least a sub 3.40 race given all my hard work. Most of my speed runs through this training period were done on the treadmill given the weather and I was sub 7 pacing my 1600s. I was really confident everything would play out accordingly. And since not listening to Jess when running Toronto, I vowed that would never ever happen again so I made sure not to start out too fast. This plan worked in Big Sur. It would work in Surf City.
As I mentioned, I started with the 3.35 pace group. And here is the interesting thing: my plan matched up mile after mile with them. And everything felt really easy. I mean I was running 8.00 miles and felt fantastic. The hills were early on in the race, I think about mile 8 or so. Mentally all you have to do to get through early on hills is remind yourself they are early on and you’ll be done with them. And after mile 10 the only thing going through my head was how happy I was running. After all these years of soul-searching for something to drive me as hard as I can, I finally found it. I was meant to train for and run marathons. I even joked with myself mid race that running a marathon was almost better than sex. That’s what kind of euphoria was running throughout my body. I was running. I was smiling. I was looking at the ocean and enjoying every single step. I was drinking water on the run station after station and still keeping my pace. Life was great! I had actually pulled ahead of the 3.35 pace group and still felt like I owned this marathon.
Here is where the marathon got tricky. There was a back and forth loop closer to the ocean (see above map) with the result being the marathoners would run on what appeared to be a bike path closer to the ocean while the half marathon runners ran on the main roadway. I would have had no problem with this except for two things both of which lead to the eventual reversal of every happy thought I previously described. First the path pavement was not flat. I felt like I was running on little spikes on top of the pavement. Picture microscopic mountain ranges on top of flat pavement. That’s what it felt like and my feet began to hurt. All I have been used to is running on completely flat surfaces in every training run and race prior to. It was very noticeable. And then the Running God herself came down from the heavens and really did a number on me. At about mile 21 (all the way to the left on the above map), at the end of the path was the U-turn back to complete the last 5+ miles of the race. And it was not a wide U-turn. It was very short and narrow to the point you really had to slow down, stop and turn to circle back. As I planted my right foot down at the turn, a shock of pain went straight up my right leg the likes I have never felt. And it encompassed my whole body. CRAMP!!!! I screamed. Some lady yelled “walk it off, walk it off.” But damage done. My mental state went from a 10 to a -1. I stopped for a second, recomposed myself but the reality of the situation was I was now in survival mode. I was still pacing a great first marathon time of 3.35 so tried to do some calculations in my head of how I would 3.40. The 3.35 pace group zoomed past me, another punch in the gut. I just kept repeating to myself “You can do this. Relax. You got this.” All the while now the left side of my body started to tighten up along with both knees. 5 miles left. Less than a 10k. So close yet so far.
What I wound up doing was running a mile at a time and decided my reward would be 30 seconds of walking or stopping and staring at the ocean. And what was I thinking this whole time? “This is so not better than sex.” And worse. Do I even ever want to run a marathon again. And what about my goal of an ultra? And a 70.3 or IronMan? Who was I kidding. I couldn’t even get through one marathon without starting to question my self-worth. All hell was breaking loose in my head. Questions everywhere with no answers and no finish line in sight. But then something really simple happened. I chose to wear my “I LOVE SWEAT” shirt for a very specific reason. Ali and refusing not to quit. I needed that reminder. And sometimes that is all it takes to get you back on the right path. DO NOT QUIT. I knew the last miles would be tougher than any practice run or race I had been a part of but I was going to give it every last ounce of energy. The miles were slow. They were hard. 4 miles left. Runners merging. Crowds everywhere. Music blasting. 3 miles left. 2 miles left. You can smell the finish line. You just have to remind yourself of what you went through. Be present. BE PRESENT. How important that is. For everything but especially as you are approaching a finish line of a race. I could hardly feel my body at that point and was running on reserve fuels. All I wanted to do was finish.
And finish I did. I crossed the finish line. How exhausting is running a marathon? I saw a female runner face plant a second after crossing the finish line out of pure exhaustion. She just completely fell forward as security came rushing to her aid. It’s that exhausting. I heard my name being yelled and saw my parents behind the fence. I ran over to them. Asked if they had seen my sister but she had not finished yet. My body had decided now was the perfect time to start a revolution and the cramps up and down my legs including my stomach region were in full force. I ran into my friend Jen Blackford who had run the half. We walked a bit into the tent to take a picture or two. It was great seeing a friendly face after such an exhausting process. It relaxed me. I met up with my family on the beach across the hotel. My sister and I could not walk up the stairs to the overpass across the highway the regular way. We had to walk up backwards. That was kind of funny actually. I was told that’s normal too. Crazy runners.
I went up to my hotel room for a couple hours before meeting up with everyone again to watch some football game called the Super Bowl. I was just trying to take everything in. Enjoy what I had just accomplished alone for a bit. The questions persisted through my head though. Why had I hit a wall at mile 21 so badly. Did I want to do this again. I’m my worst critic. I know this. I really do enjoy the moments as they happen but I analyze everything. It turns out, while I drank water at every stop, and went through two packets of GU Chomps, I had not had any of the electrolyte fluids provided on the course. At all. I forgot. I just flat out forgot. Idiot! I was so caught up with everything I just forgot to remind myself that those fluids were necessary. Stupid GB. So now I know I can run 21 miles at an 8.0 pace and crawl the last six miles! Or have some Gatorade mid race and finish strong.
So what now? I have a bunch of half marathons coming up. Three in March actually. I also have changed a half marathon to a marathon in May. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret! I’ve completely taken it easy the past couple weeks. I made sure to schedule Finish Line PT appointments a couple days after the marathon, one with Caroline and one using the compression sock machine to increase blood flow and thus increase muscle recovery time. I’ve had some small runs, one six mile run and one three mile New Balance sneaker launch run. I’ve made sure to get to SoulCycle as much as I could given once training kicks back in the “once a week class” will be back in full effect. But mentally I feel exhausted. Where as in weeks and months and years prior to the marathon I would be doing something every single day and night, these past two weeks have been the exact opposite. My body feels great. I trained properly and everything felt normal right away. I have just reversed course to the opposite extreme and I hate feeling this way. I’m sure the excitement of life will return as I start regularly running again.
And that is the story of my first marathon. My first of many. Lesson learned. Hydrate properly during. Figure out a way to not be so lost mentally post. And life will take care of the rest. If you have not run a marathon yet, feel free to reach out and I can share some more take-aways.
Does anyone else feel mentally drained and lost after their marathons or is it just me? Please share. Love you all. See you on the pavement!