There was once a time when I thought two miles was a far distance to run. There was also once a time when I thought five miles was even longer and harder to run. The past week has been insane. I can’t even wrap my head around how far I’ve come as a runner. In eight days I ran my very first full marathon and then a half marathon. In those eight days, two races have changed everything for me as an athlete.
I feel like the marathon was a dream. Did it actually happen? I kept telling myself to live in the moment as I ran. I couldn’t believe this dream was actually happening. I’ve wanted to run a marathon since high school, but I was never a dedicated enough runner. In December of last year, I sat staring at the computer screen of a half marathon registration. At that time the longest I had ever ran was five miles. It took everything I had to press submit on that computer screen and then to stick to a grueling 12-week training schedule. Who knew that less than a year later I would have been standing on the starting line of the 2013 Akron Marathon. I wouldn’t have believed you back in December. It’s absolutely insane how far I’ve come as an athlete and grown as a person on this incredible running journey.
I read something online the other day that said “The person who starts the marathon is not the same person who finishes.” I couldn’t agree more to this statement. Everything changes for you as a runner after a marathon.
I woke up the day of the marathon at 3:35 a.m. I was scared and excited beyond belief. Would I survive? Would I cross the finish line? What was it going to be like? With my stomach doing back flips, I drove to meet the group of people I was going with. I started the beginning of the race with one of my childhood best friends, Nicole. She was running the first leg of the relay of the marathon to 3.9 miles. If you know anything about me you’ll know that I despise the first four or five miles of every long run, so it was awesome to have a friend there to get me through those terrible first miles. The beginning of the race actually flew by as Nicole and I chatted and cracked jokes. Even as she split off at her relay end I was surprised by how easy it was to continue. Somewhere in between trying to live in the moment and taking in the giant crowd around me, I forgot what mile I was on. I estimated I was probably around six. I looked up to see mile eight a few minutes later and greeted it with a giant grin. I felt great. The crowd was awesome. The signs were hilarious and inspiring. I even took a marshmallow from a local church passing out water and other treats to runners.
I continued on the route knowing two things. We were going to run four miles on wooded trails at some point and there were hills at mile 18.5 and 22. The trails started off OK, but by the end I was itching to get out because I was beginning to feel claustrophobic. Nicole had called me on the trails and I heard spectators laughing as I ran by as I picked up the phone “Oh hey.” I said casually into the phone at mile 13.1. Nicole told me that was going to meet me at mile 21 and run me into the finish line. I continued on. At mile 17 I began to slow down. There was a huge lack of crowd support and I was becoming increasingly bored. I spotted an open port-a-potty at mile 18 and took advantage. The only thing that began to keep me going was the thought of gaining a companion again at mile 21. When I reached 18.5, I encountered the toughest hill I had ever witnessed as a runner. Even mentally preparing myself didn’t help. I don’t think I saw a single person running it. I got about half way up and realized I was burning a mass amount of energy and power walked (full arm swing and everything) the second half.
At mile 20 I found myself running behind one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen. The image will be burned into my memory forever. A man was pushing a running stroller carrying a handicapped man. (Find the full story here.) It was incredible to see how happy the handicapped man was and how hard the man pushing the stroller was working. I followed the stroller duo into the neighborhood part of the route and the crowd’s cheers and reactions to the two men was an amazing thing to witness. People were shouting and clapping and standing up from their seats as the man and the stroller pasted by. I don’t know if it was just my emotions or my exhaustion or what, but I began to cry every time people started clapping and cheering for the stroller in front of me. It got to the point where I practically started hyperventilating because I was crying and running and couldn’t breathe. I made the decision to hurry up and pass the stroller team just so I wouldn’t pass out. As I ran passed I peaked inside the stroller and caught a glimpse of the man inside. He was grinning from ear to ear and waving to the crowd as he passed.
At mile 21 words cannot describe how happy I was to see Nicole standing below the mile marker waiting for me. At that point I didn’t feel good, but I still had some juice left in me. We saw my mom and the boyfriend at 21.5. Tears began to swell up in my eyes. I was just so happy to see them and I was so tired. I smiled, waved and continued running. When we reached mile marker 22, the race took a different turn for me at that point. I joke that mile 22 was when I started screaming. This is true and funny now, however at the time during the race I had hit pure exhaustion and pain. I have never had knee issues. Even after 12 years of playing sports (and being a catcher in softball) my knees never bothered me. But by mile 22 at the marathon I had full on shooting knee pains like I’ve never experienced. My back also hurt. My glutes hurt. My toes were aching and rubbing themselves raw against my shoes. Music wasn’t even helping to motivate me anymore and every few minutes I would just scream at the top of my lungs. Suddenly all around me the majority of runners were starting to limp, groan and drastically slow down. I knew that this was probably the make-you-or-break-you part of the race. I don’t even know what I told myself to keep going. I don’t even know how I continued.
We passed a sign at mile 23 that said “It’s just a 5K now.” I screamed at the sight of the sign. Suddenly I felt a runner next to me. “Keep your head up. Run smooth. Move your arms. Let your legs carry you. You got this.” said a man with gray hair as he passed Nicole and I. I nodded and began repeating out loud the exact same thing the man had just said. I don’t know how long I said it or how loud I was even talking. I was vaguely aware of Nicole saying “You got this girl” over and over next to me. Somehow I found myself at mile 25. As we ran I knew there was a crowd around us, but unlike before I didn’t even look at them. I heard people shouting encouragements, but I wasn’t aware of what they meant anymore. I saw other runners limping all around me. We twisted and turned down roads and around the buildings of downtown Akron. It felt like I was running through a dizzy maze. Every corner we turned I was praying to see mile 26. The crowd was getting louder…
Suddenly I spotted mile marker 26 and below it was the straight away leading into the Akron Aeros Stadium where the finish line waited. Nicole kept shouting “Just sprint the .2 miles come on! Come on!” I knew I had picked it up considerably those .2 miles, but in reality it probably wasn’t very fast. We turned a corner, ran down a tiny hill and into the stadium to the sound of a giant crowd and the actual straight away to the giant finish line. The big screen showed a close-up of the runners as they entered the stadium. It was like being a rock star for 10 seconds. I was dying as I attempted to sprint. I crossed the finish line and for the first time in 4 hours and 44 minutes I came to a complete stop. I stared at the ground with my hands on my knees, suddenly becoming aware of my limbs aching in pain. I heard my mom and boyfriend yelling from near by and looked up and saw them in the stadium waving wildly and taking pictures.
I limped over to the recovery area and as I looked around, seeing thousands of runners flopping onto the ground, hugging, high-fiving, I couldn’t even believe I had done it. In fact, I still can’t believe I did it. It may have taken me 4 hours and 44 minutes, but looking back it seemed like one bright, shinning moment. It didn’t last very long, but it was simply incredible. It was amazing, yet the hardest, toughest thing I had ever done.
Afterwards, I could barely walk and my toes were raw. It took a couple days for me to even be able to wear shoes again. Grossly, my toe nails turned purple from bruising. (Needless to say I need to invest in a better pair of running shoes.)
Three days after the race I was up at 6 a.m. running my normal four miles and by day 5 I felt great. On the 8th day after the marathon, I set out at 4:30 a.m. for downtown to run the Rock and Roll Cleveland Half Marathon. A few people called me crazy since I wasn’t fully healed from the marathon, but I felt good. This time I was running the race with both Nicole and the boyfriend. Nicole joked that once you run a full marathon your body is never the same. I didn’t really believe her until mile 6 of the half, when my sharp knee pains from the marathon were suddenly back. The course was incredibly hilly, so that didn’t help either. It hurt just as bad going down hill as it did going up. By the end of the race, all three of us were screaming and groaning from our injuries.
The boyfriend and I sprinted in the last .5 miles even though we were hurting pretty bad. It didn’t make much of a difference though because we finished in 2:25. Our PR from May’s half marathon was 2:20, so we weren’t particularity happy with our time, but we WERE overjoyed that it was the end of the race!
At that point my body was aching and screaming. I could barely walk. Even as I sit and write this three days later, I’m still limping from my knee. I have Plantar Fasciitis in my right foot, which causes me a lot of pain to walk and wear shoes. My toe nails are still gross with blisters and bruises. I don’t regret a thing though. I wear my injuries proudly as a matter-of-fact. I haven’t worked out one day this week. I’ve also allowed myself to not diet or worry about calories either. It’s been a nice mental break, however typical superwoman me is already itching to get back into the gym and go for a run. I’m trying to rest and recover this entire week, maybe, MAYBE I’ll go for a short run on Saturday…
Those eight days felt like a complete dream to me. A dream that was torture at times, yet so sweet and amazing that it makes you want to go back for more. It’s bittersweet really. It’s incredible and life changing, yet crushing and scary and painful. It breaks your heart, yet you’ve never felt so alive when it’s done.
I’ve already looked at other marathons and longer races, but I think it’s probably best to take it easy for a little now. This year (and especially this summer) has been such a journey for me. I’m beyond proud of myself and beyond proud of others who run these marathons. It’s truly an experience. It’s a test of character, dedication and mental willpower.
Like that saying says about not being the same person who finishes the race. You really can’t be the same person after finishing a marathon. It changes everything.