September 26 was the 2015 Akron Marathon. I was a nervous wreck going into this race. I felt super undertrained and my mind was still buzzing from the excitement of our wedding and honeymoon. All summer I was adamant about a strict workout routine, running 5-6 miles a few days a week and cross training on the elliptical and stair master. I was averaging working out 6 days a week and even 7 days a week closer to the wedding. I looked and felt great, but the lack of “long runs” made me really anxious, even entertaining the idea of only running the half for a little while. (My training plan had me scheduled to run 18 miles the day of my wedding! Needless to say I fell behind.)
The weekend we got back from our honeymoon I was determined to run anywhere between 15 and 18 miles for my long run. I had two weeks left until the race and I told myself that I would settle for running 15, but was really going to push for 18. Of course at mile 13 during the run I started to ache pretty badly. I mustered through until mile 15 and got home from the run feeling defeated. The weekend before the race I was in Nashville with absolutely no time to fit in an 18-mile training run! (My strategy was not to taper and to just keep training up until the race.) The week of the race I made up my mind to only run the half, but the closer the race got the more I knew how disappointed I would be with myself if I settled. I was completely torn. I loved this race so much and damnit I paid good money for the full distance!! I had a long talk with myself and officially decided that I was going to run the full. I was in good shape and I wasn’t trying to PR. I made up my mind that this race would be all about me and my love for running. My friend Nicole (who has run the past two marathons with me) wasn’t able to come up for the race and my other friend Rachael was only running the half. I knew I was going to have to go stag for the majority of the race, which I actually welcomed a tiny bit with my new plan of not going for a PR. This way no one would be annoyed with my slow pace and I was going to take however long I needed to finish it.
I had a long talk with my husband (still crazy to say!) the day before the race on the way to the expo. He told me that walking during the marathon didn’t mean I was “weak”, it meant that I was being smart and kind to my body. I knew that I could complete the race just from my normal training routine, but I also knew that I probably couldn’t complete it very fast. I’ve prided myself on the fact that I didn’t walk once during the last two full marathons I’ve done, so this new approach was completely going against that.
The day of the race I woke up incredibly nervous. Did I even belong out there with the other runners? What if I seriously couldn’t finish the race? How does that even work? Would I get picked up? Negative thoughts and emotions swirled through my head all the way to the race. I got to the starting line with about 40 minutes to kill before the race began. I called and texted my friend Rachael to try to meet up, but she was running late and with all the commotion at the starting line, we never got the chance to meet up. I had planned on running the first half of the race with her and planned on being able to chat and take my mind off running. Now I was going to run the full distance completely alone! I stood there in the coral – pissed off and miserable. I didn’t want to run and I didn’t want to be there. This was going to be a miserable and negative 26.2 miles…
And then it hit me. What was I doing?! I needed an instant attitude adjustment right then and there. I cranked up my music and closed my eyes. “I love this race. I love running. The weather is beautiful. I’m lucky to be able to run. I’m lucky that I can afford this race. I look forward to this race all year…” I told myself this over and over again until I could feel my negative thoughts and emotions start turning into excitement and happiness. I LOVE this race. It’s my favorite race all year. I was lucky to be there. Who cared if I had to walk a little bit?! Who cared how long it took me?! I had six hours to complete the race – plenty of time. I decided right then and there to enjoy every single moment of the race. I was going to run it for me and for the simple joy that I love this race and I love to run. I was going to find enjoyment in every single mile and soak up every high and low that the next 26.2 miles had in store for me.
Right before the race began someone said a prayer over the speakers to the crowd. I wasn’t sure if this was a new addition or if I had just missed it in previous years, but it calmed my heart and put a grateful stride in my step. Next thing I knew we were off. Crowds lined the street and music blasted. Everyone was cheering and yelling and I had a smile from ear to ear across my face.
The first couple miles were very enjoyable. I watched the other runners around me, anxious to make a PR. I passed other runners, some of them saying that this was their first full marathon. I ran with a few of the same runners for a while (one of my favorite things about long distant races). Sometimes I talk to them or chime into conversations around me, while other times I make up stories about them and their lives in my head to entertain myself.
The past two years I’ve stopped to pee at mile 18, but suddenly I had to go bad at mile 8. I scanned the potties and didn’t see a line so I zoomed in and out. Around mile 10 I felt a little sluggish and someone offered me a couple starbursts, which I took graciously. I turned on my music and kept chugging along. I kept a steady, enjoyable pace not even looking down at my Garmin as the miles ticked by. I walked for the first time up a pretty significant hill at mile 12 and kept my thoughts positive.
The next thing I knew the full marathons and half marathons were starting to branch off. As I made my way over to the right hand side with the marathons, a woman running the half locked eyes with me, pointed directly at me and shouted “Good luck marathoner! You got this!” This woman probably didn’t know the positive impact that her comment had on me and I shouted back that she was doing a great job. I smiled as I trotted off towards the second half of my journey.
Akron changed the course this year, so I wasn’t expecting the steady hill during miles 13 through 15. I would walk for a few minutes and then run for a few minutes longer. I was surprised to look around me and see so many other runners taking the same approach.
Around me there was: A couple wearing matching orange shirts. Another couple that was very tall. A girl who was running by herself like me. And a dad and a son (who were hilarious). We would all pass each other and then slow down, making small talk every time we did. We talked about food, beer, the course, the weather…everything.
Miles 17 through 21 were through an awesome neighborhood. People have giant block parties and cheer on the runners while blasting music and usually drinking alcohol. I saw a few signs from people offering beer to runners. I always wondered if I could drink a beer while running. Next thing I knew I was running past a house where a younger guy was shouting at runners to come drink a beer with him. He had a megaphone and was specifically calling out runners. Suddenly I heard “You in the orange shirt!” and I looked over to see he was talking to me. “Come drink a beer with us!” he shouted. I shrugged and decided that I’d never have a better time to drink a beer during a marathon than right then.
I ran over and the whole yard of people cheered for me. I chugged it so fast even I was impressed with myself! I thanked them and ran away, grinning. A couple other runners were cheering and laughing as I rejoined them on the race course. I was laughing out loud to myself.
So then I continued on. I waved to and greeted people out on their lawns, thanking them for being out there. I stuck my hand out for high-fives for little kids. I read signs and smiled at people. I sang out loud to music that people were playing. I enjoyed myself.
At mile 22 I felt my blood sugars starting to go down. I saw a guy with a giant bucket of candy corn and ran over to him. He poured a heaping mound into my hands and I thanked him as I continued on. I ate it all and it was just the boost I needed to finish the race.
At mile 24 we started coming out of the neighborhoods and I could see downtown Akron. I knew we were close to the finish line. I started to tear up because I was so happy and proud of myself and because I was so happy with how the race was turning out. It was the most enjoyable marathon I had ever ran and to think I was going to be miserable at the start! The crowd support was amazing and as I always do during the later miles of a marathon – I had an overwhelming sense of pride and gratitude for my life. I felt so lucky and blessed to be out there with other amazing and talented runners. The weather was beautiful and the people (both runners and spectators) were incredible. There was a small hill at mile 25 and my newfound enthusiasm for life carried me up the hill without walking.
I have visions of the finish line street for the Akron marathon all year round. I think about it and get goose bumps! Even though they changed the course this year, I was SO thankful to see that the finish line was still the same. I could see the mile 26 flag in the distance. My heart pounded. A smile planted itself on my face and I picked up my speed. The crowd’s cheers along the street carried me to mile 26 and I turned to run into Canal Park. I turned the corner and I saw the crowd in the stadium. I heard the cheers and roars of so many inspired family and friends of runners. I saw the finish line ahead of me. My goal was clear. The sun was shining and I was beaming as I sprinted through the finish line!
I felt amazing! I was on fire with enthusiasm for life and for running.
I made my way over to the food area and as always, the Akron marathon never disappoints! There was tons of great food, including pizza and beer. I sat down to eat, not even carrying that I was alone. (Another fear and negative thought that I had going into the race “What if people think I have no friends because I’m there by myself?!”) Two seconds later I heard someone calling my name and I looked over to see my friend Dan that I had grown up with. He had run the relay. I talked to him for a little bit and then decided to venture back to my car.
I walked back to the parking garage where I had parked with a light heart and a smile. The weather was so incredibly beautiful and I was so happy with how the race had turned out. I obviously didn’t PR and I laughed when I saw my time because this was my worse marathon time yet! But none of that mattered. What mattered was what I was feeling. I love the Akron marathon and I was so happy I had turned my negative thoughts and worries into a positive experience. I felt blessed and grateful and I walked away from the experience with a smile on my face and a pep in my step.
Leading up to the race I had told myself that this was the last full marathon I was going to do for a little while. Three full marathons in three years sounded fine to me and after feeling so undertrained I thought taking a break was what I wanted. Of course the minute I crossed that finish line I thought:
“I’ll be back next year!”
Akron marathon you have done it again! Thanks for another incredible race. Thanks for the grateful heart. And thanks for another year of experience and memories! (If you are local and haven’t done an Akron marathon series race yet, I urge you to do so – you won’t be disappointed!)