3:30 a.m. My eyes popped open. Race day! Nervous butterflies fluttered in my belly. For some reason, I was feeling way more apprehensive about this marathon than I did with my first one back in April. What ifs scrolled through my mind. What if I bonk again? What if my legs cramp up again? What if the pain in my right leg hurts too much to run? What if my nutrition plan is not right? What if my pace is too fast? What if I haven’t trained enough, or trained good enough? What if I can’t run 26.2 miles?
4:45 Apparently, I’ve had all the sleep I’m going to get. I decided to just get up, try to shake off the nerves, and go about my normal pre-race routine, starting with a shower. There’s nothing like a shower to clear my head! Then it was my usual pre-race breakfast of a banana and a rice cake with peanut butter and honey, followed by rolling that tight calf. For good measure, I rolled my hamstrings, quads, and IT bands too.
6:30 a.m. I left the house to meet my friends at the Fleet Feet store downtown. There’s plenty of parking there, and it’s not far from the start line. Plus, all the training groups are meeting there for one huge group picture.
7:15 My buddies and I head towards the start line. It’s cold today! I wore a lightweight jacket over a long-sleeved shirt and added a heavier jacket over that and 3 pairs of gloves. You have no idea how cold my hands can get! My fingers looked like fat, little sausages! As I warm up, that heavy jacket and the gloves will wind up beside the road. I expect there will be a trail of clothes along the course today.
8:00 Our corral is full. We’re just behind the 4:30 pacer. The national anthem has been sung, and corral A is on the way. The mass of people in corral B where I am surges forward and excitement takes over any lingering apprehension. Confetti fills the air. Here we go! The race I’ve fought for through tough runs, speed intervals, and hill training for 19 weeks was finally starting!
8:07 (or somewhere around that time) I hit start on my Garmin as we cross the start line and the first steps of 26.2 miles are behind me. I’ve decided to run with a pace group this time. In evaluating my last marathon, I suspect that being too aggressive on the first half may have led to such a miserable ending. The pacer’s job is to get us to the finish line within a minute of our goal time of 4 hours 30 minutes, and I want that time so bad. I know if I stick with him, he’ll get me there. Besides, I had a great experience running with a pace group during the Tulsa Run. The support and camaraderie for this much longer distance will be nice.
I got warm quickly and by mile one, I tossed my heavier jacket. By mile four, just in time for my first energy gel and mustard packet, the last of the gloves sailed to the side lines. My nutrition plan involves taking an energy gel and a packet of mustard every 4 miles. Instead of drinking Gatorade offered on the course, I’ve opted to take electrolyte tablets every hour. I think the sugar content in the sports drink contributed to my late race demise last time since I wound up feeling sick and unable to take nutrition to sustain the last push to the finish line.
Mile 13. The halfway point. I’m starting to struggle mentally already. We’re only halfway there and my legs are already so tight. I focus on keeping pace with the pace group, listen to my music, think about this gal I met during the early miles who is running her 66th (seriously!) marathon today, and admire the beautiful fall leaves. I’m trying not to think about all the upcoming hills.
Mile 15. The pacer admits that he struggles mentally the most from mile 15 to 18. Okay. So I’m not alone. I’m seriously wondering if I’m going to make it the entire way. I still have 11 miles to go. I try to distract myself by wondering where I’ll see my family next. My brother and sister and their families are driving around town to cheer me on from different parts of the course. I cannot even begin to make them understand how much that means to me. They are the best!
Mile 18. This is the mile that I bonked at last time. But oddly enough, I’m starting to feel better. I’ve pushed through some of the fatigue, and I’m feeling a little more energized. Let’s hope that continues. Spectators, as usual, are a godsend, and with their creative signs, the entertainment helps to keep me going. My favorite sign, aside from the ones my family held up especially for me, was one that said, “Run like you’re the third monkey trying to get on the ark.”
Mile 21. There’s my family! I give them a thumbs up and keep going. Only 5 more miles. By George, I think I’ve got this! So far, I haven’t had a single cramp, and I’m not feeling sick. My legs are super tight, but I’m not done yet.
Mile 22. The dreaded hills of Cherry Street. Thank God for our pacer! I was crying inside trying to get up those hills. I think I might have actually groaned out loud, but the pacer coached us through. The pace group had dwindled to just me and one other guy at this point. We were about 2 minutes ahead of pace, so the pacer encouraged us to just lean into the hill and take it easy. Relax the shoulders, he reminded me.
Mile 23. The hills are mostly behind me now. The finish line is just 5K away. I picture the 3 mile loop I run in my neighborhood. Piece of cake, I tell myself. The pacer is telling me if I’ve got anything left to take off. I’m feeling pretty fatigued, but I think I’ve still got a little something left in the tank. I drop the pace to 9:30 and head for the finish line.
Mile 25.5. Oh my gosh, I am so incredibly tired. My legs are so tight I’m not sure if I can make it this last 3/4 of a mile. I’ve only walked through water stops, so I gave myself about a 15-20 second walk break. It was enough. I rounded the corner, climbed that last short, steep hill. Putting a hill at the end of a race course is just a mean trick, by the way!
Mile 26. I could hear the finish line and the cheering of the crowd. They pulled me forward. There was my family yelling for me. I high fived them as I went by and crossed the finish line with a fist pump in the air having beat my goal with a time of 4:25:33.And marathon #2 is behind me! And what a much better experience it was! I think I learned well from my first marathon. My nutrition and hydration plan worked well. I didn’t cramp up at all, which I attribute to the mustard, and I realized that if I just trust my training, it will carry me through.
For my own benefit and in case your wondering, this was the nutrition that I used during the race:
Mile 4: apple cinnamon Hammer gel
Mile 8: apple cinnamon Hammer gel
Mile 12: Accel gel
Mile 16: Bonk breakers with caffeine
Mile 20: Bonk breakers with caffeine