The "controversial" short sleeve shirt (all the others I have from this race are long sleeved!), my bib and the MEDAL!!
I ran my first marathon on Sunday, October 16, 2011, the Grand Rapids Marathon! Since I started running in 2008, getting to this point was somewhat a foregone conclusion. It was just a matter of when. This year with six half marathons under my belt and a great experience running my third Riverbank Run 25k (that's about 15.5 miles for you non-runners!) I decided this was the year to tackle a marathon, 26.2 miles!
My running buddy A and I looked for a training program, consulted with our running friends and family members and decided to use Hal Higdon's Novice 1 18-week training schedule. I really liked the training program. The miles bumped up each week and then drop back every few weeks so you have an easier recovery week, then you bump up again. And so it goes for 18 weeks.
My longest run to date had been the 2o miler we did three weeks prior to the race. That went surprisingly well and didn't seem overly difficult. So going into the marathon, everything after 20 miles was this great unknown. I had heard and read tons of stories of runner's "hitting the wall." I didn't know what would happen to me after the 20 mile mark and was a little nervous.
I made sure to get lots of rest the week heading into the race and tried to stay away from junky food (even more than normal). We picked up our race packets Saturday morning, then went out for pre-race pasta Saturday night after carbing up since Thursday. I lined up all my gear and was in bed early to catch a good night's sleep.
The alarm went off at 5:00 a.m., as I laid in bed I heard the sound of rain. This runner's worst weather enemy. I'll run in the rain, but I HATE doing it. I've run two Riverbank 25k races in the rain. I couldn't imagine running my first marathon in the rain, but was prepared to do it. Luckily it was barely sprinkling when we got to the start and were lining up in the start chute. We wore disposable rain ponchos to stay warm and dry while were waiting for the start. About two miles in, it wasn't raining anymore and I ditched the poncho.
Being really familiar with the course, we run parts of it all the time and our 20 mile run was on the course, the miles clicked by pretty easily. Knowing what to expect was nice for a first time marathon. That's one of the main reasons we wanted the Grand Rapids Marathon to be our first marathon. I had done the half marathon three times, the race is very well organized and supported (shout out to Race Director Don Kern!), we'd have home course advantage and we wouldn't have to travel.
Once we got out of Millennium Park between miles 12 and 13, I caught back up with A. We were near the 4:44 pace group and she said something like, "why are we going so fast?" I was like, "I'm not! I don't know, why are you?" since she had been slightly ahead of me for about half of the park part of the course. She then took off! Everyone runs their own race.
The course crosses over the Grand River from Veterans Memorial Parkway to Indian Mounds Drive two different times on a bluish-green bridge. The first time is between miles 13 and 14. The part of the course on Indian Mounds Drive is NOT my favorite part of the course. You run part of it for the Riverbank 25K and it just seems to go on forever. It's an out and back next to the river with trees on both sides and very few landmarks. It's literally like being on a nature treadmill because you feel like your not getting anywhere.
Our friends and their kids were on the course between mile 17 and 18, nearing the turn around, so I got to see them and get their energetic cheers and high fives twice! It means so much to see friends and family on the course! Heck, even people you don't know cheering you on is a great thing! You can carry that energy with you as you run.
After slapping some high fives, I headed back down Indian Mounds. To this point I was feeling great and keeping a relatively good pace. Miles 19, 20, 21 and 22 is when I really started to feel the fact that I was running a marathon though. My lower back was was crying out a bit. My quads and calves were getting tight. I stopped and stretched a couple times and had starting walking through the aid stations, but the good news: I wasn't in pain. My lungs felt good and overall I was feeling good considering what I was doing (a freaking marathon!!!) and how long I had been running!
Running back on Indian Mounds, I kept looking toward the river to see if I could see the blue bridge through the trees. It always felt like I should be able to see the bridge any given second. It took a little longer than that! Oh, and once you DO see the bridge, you have to run by it and do another short out and back! Cruel! I knew that before from looking at the course map, but being out there and running it seemed especially cruel!
Around the time we saw the 4:44 pace team, I told A that as long as I stayed between the 4:44 team and the Al Gore 4:58 pace team I'd be happy. It was in the short out and back stretch heading back toward the bridge that Al Gore snuck up on me. I could hear the team coming. I tried pushing myself to go a little faster, to give it a little more. Then they were right by me. Ugh! I thought, maybe I'll just run in with them. I kept up for a little bit, but the inconvenient truth I'll now share with you, I got passed by Al Gore.
Luckily, our running buddy F had said he'd meet us out on the course around 22 or 23 and run us in. We thought we'd be running together. Running alone, I wasn't sure if he'd meet up with A and stick with her or run with her for a bit and come find me. I was so happy to see him in his neon yellow shirt between the 22 and 23 mile marker! It was the boost I needed. I was feeling a little spacey at that point. Trying to talk to him, I really had to concentrate on my words and I noticed my voice was really quiet and my speech was coming out slower than I would normally speak. It was surreal. Every bit of energy I had was being dedicated to keeping my legs moving, my heart pumping and my lungs breathing!
There are lots of people walking on and off at this point too. I did NOT want to walk. One of my many running mantras is "just keep moving." I stretched a little more often and when I did walk a few times it was not for very long at all. My motivation was finishing! At one point, I asked F, "Why am I doing this? This is crazy!" But I kept moving.
Getting out of Butterworth Park and passing the last aid station there's about a mile and a half to the finish. Just run east on Wealthy, take a couple turns and then the finish would be in sight. When we turned onto Front Street I started get a little misty-eyed just thinking about what I'd been through to that point, the 18 weeks of training, the nearly 5 hours of running already in one single day and I was so close to seeing the finish line! I even picked up my pace a little bit, surprising myself and F. Although it didn't last long, it proved I had just a little more energy than I thought.
Turning the final corner and crossing Fulton, the finish line was now in sight. The spectators were more plentiful. Crossing over Lake Michigan Drive, I started looking for my mom. When I saw her, I went over and gave her a hug. That's when the misty eyes came back. I was about to become a marathoner! I picked up my pace and finished my first marathon strong. I heard my name over the loud speaker as I crossed the finish line. Don Kern stands at the finish congratulating every finisher. I gave him a hug and said, "I'm so glad you're right here right now. Thank you so much for this race!"
I then went on a few steps to get my medal. That's when the waterworks came. I tried to take the medal from the volunteer or assist as she put it around my neck and she said, "no, let me..." So I did. She gave me a hug and I thanked her and was all emotional. I don't even know what I said. She asked if it was my first marathon and I managed to say yes. Big time moment in my life! I'm a marathoner!! I'm getting emotional right now even thinking about it.
Then I found my people, the people who supported me on this journey. Their support helped me cross the finish. I gave my fellow marathoner A a huge hug of congratulations. We did it!! I thanked F for running me in. And went on to find my mom who had flowers for us!
The rest of the day after that is sort of blur. There was a celebratory post-race lunch - veggie burger, fries and a diet coke at Red Robin. Our normal post-race pancake place was closed by the time we were ready to eat! Bummer. Then I didn't do anything else too ambitious for the rest of the day!
The muscles that started feeling tight during the last leg of the race continued their guitar string-like tension in the days following the race. Stairs were a challenge, as was sitting down and then standing back up again. A massage on Tuesday evening helped my muscles return to normal though. I was taking the stairs at work and feeling like, "what marathon?" by Wednesday.
The one thing that I wasn't expecting, I started feeling sick on Tuesday at work. It started with the sneezing! I guess you literally can run yourself into the ground! I've had what seems to be a head cold since Tuesday. I've been taking Airborne and getting plenty of rest all week though to head back to full health!
This is what a marathoner looks like! Happy! Taken after post-race clean up on way to lunch.
So would I do it again? Absolutely, I would! And I will! I'm amazed by the experience I've had and that how sticking to a solid (training) plan you really can accomplish anything you set your mind to. This obviously applies to life as well!