I Finished My First Marathon!
It’s unnatural to push your body beyond its limits. Everything in your conscious screams to stop. The war within your soul is a hard battle to overcome in everyday life, let alone pounding out 26 long miles. Running a marathon can be lonely, especially between miles 18-25, where there is nothing but you and a mind full of doubt. Will I finish? Can I keep going? Is it even worth it?
I started my first ever marathon race full of hope and in anticipation on a cool North Carolina Saturday night with several hundred other Boston Marathon hopefuls. I trained hard for this moment and felt ready to traverse the 26.2 mile course at a pace that would get me well under my target Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3:15:00 for my age group.
My first few miles of the marathon were a breeze. I was clicking along nicely and was working hard to hold myself back. The pace was brisk and under my target time, but it felt easy, it felt so right deep within my soul. I can do this! The miles flew by and I soaked in the well wishers as they clapped and cheered me along with all the other runners pushing towards their own personal goals.
The course was perfect. Five full laps to complete 26 miles. The organizer had the right amount of aid stations with water, Gatorade, sport gels, and water soaked towels. It was night, it was cool, the humidity was low and there was no breeze. I couldn’t have asked for better conditions. Everything was lined up for me to nail my goal and begin my preparations for the Boston Marathon in 2014!
I passed mile 13 and glanced at my watch. I was ahead of schedule and if I kept up my pace, I would easily qualify for Boston with at least 8 or 9 minutes to spare. There was a slight problem; however, I began to feel winded and the pace was not as easy. No problem! I told myself as I slowed my pace, but only a little bit so I could stay on track. Miles 14 and 15 were a little harder and I began to “feel” each step. I glanced at my watch again and noticed that I was slipping off my pace, so I pushed myself to get back on track. I held on through mile 16 and that is when my legs began to fail me.
I competed my whole life and endured many race situations over the years, but nothing I ever experienced prepared me for the pain and frustration that lie ahead of over the next 10 miles. My legs began to tighten and ache, my mind was telling them to move, but they refused to respond. I never experienced a mutiny in my body like this, my legs literally refused to turn over. I looked at my watch in disbelief as my once satisfying pace of 6:55/mile slowed to 10:30/mile. What? My mind screamed, I can walk faster than this!
I knew it was over. I had to make a decision. Do I go on? Do I finish? Anyone that endured a marathon before is all too familiar with this internal dialogue. It’s not a fun conversation to have with one’s self, but at 9:00 pm on a Saturday night, far from family and friends, I was having it. Yes! I will finish this race! That was my final answer, and so I plodded along, my legs screaming in protest.
Each mile became my personal Mount Everest. I tried to take my mind off the pain, but I could think of nothing else. How could I not notice the throbing pain stabbing my legs like a thousand dull knives? At first I tried to focus on just making it to the next mile marker, but that became too daunting. I started to shoot for the next light post a few hundred feet ahead. Soon my goal became more immediate, just take another step, then another one. Don’t stop, keep going! What started as my quest to qualify for Boston, now turned into survival and a very basic and fundamental goal, just finish the damn race!
I ran the first half of my marathon in 1:33:00, but it took me 2:16:00 to run the second half. When my legs crossed the finish line and I gave them permission to stop, I expected relief, but it was nowhere to be found. I wasn’t prepared for the pain that percolated up my legs, through my chest and into my biceps when I conducted a mental assessment of the condition of my various body parts. It became apparent that I was not faring well. Everything hurt and each slight movement resulted in suffering. Even the smallest task, like walking, sent streaks of agony through my battered body. I think the hardest part of my marathon was walking back to my car. Each step was a struggle and pain would climb up my legs as I carefully placed one foot in front of the other.
I didn’t get back to my hotel room until around 1:00 am with a hot bag of Arby’s that I inhaled in a few seconds. I was surprised to see the huge blood blister on my right foot when I peeled away my sweaty sock along with three juicy blisters that were proudly displayed on my three middle toes. I limped my way to the bathroom, took care of my blisters and then took a long hot shower. It felt good when my body finally rested in the cool clean sheets on the king size bed in my room. The AC was turned on high and the rhythmic clattering of its fan made my eyes heavy.
I lay in my bed and contemplated my journey as my legs relaxed and my breathing slowed into long rhythmic patterns. I was disappointed that I missed my Boston qualifying time, but I was satisfied that I finished my first marathon and lived to run another day. I couldn’t help but to smile at myself as I quietly whispered into the darkness, “I’m officially a marathoner now.”