Distance: 26.2 | Time: 3:56.48 | Pace: 9:02 | PR
I DID IT!
I timed this post to publish exactly one week from when I crossed the finish line at 12:05:18 on Saturday March 17. In the past 7 days, I have taken an ice bath, felt like I would never walk normal again, downed ibuprofen like candy, hobbled all around DC sightseeing with my family, felt sore in muscles I never knew existed, and not. run. a. single. mile. Most importantly, I’ve reflected on my experience at the Rock ‘N’ Roll USA Marathon.
I could hardly sleep the night before. I tossed and turned all night until my alarm went off at 5:30. After a couple snoozes, I forced myself out of bed and started to make my way downstairs to grab some cereal for breakfast. I ran into my dad in the hallway (what an early bird!) and he asked me to come say good morning to my mom since she was up, too. To my surprise, I walked into their hotel room and who popped out but my sister Amanda! She had talked about flying in to watch me run but never told me she actually was going to do it. It was such a surprise and I was so thrilled to have her there to cheer me on! We missed Brandi but knew she was cheering me on from Illinois!
Never run a marathon? Here’s an idea of how it feels, or at least how it felt for my first one:
Mile 1-5: Bliss! I met another 20-something first-timer at the start line and we took off together. One thing I love about running is that, unlike virtually any other sport, you can actually hold a conversation while you run which is what makes runners such a close-knit group of athletes. We chatted for the first several miles and relayed our enthusiasm to the other runners, spectators and bands by whooping and hollering our way through Capitol Hill and along the National Mall. Sighting #1 of my super-supportive fans (mom, dad, sister, boyfriend and friend!).
Mile 6-9: I knew there was a pretty steady uphill climb at this point, but I credit this pain plan for reminding me that I am not invincible and I need to take it easy on the hills if I want my IT band to survive the remaining 20 or so miles (side not: I had really bad IT band issues in the 3-4 weeks leading up to the marathon… dealing with that deserves a whole post of its own). I bid farewell to my early running partner, explaining that I had to slow from our sub-8:30 pace on these hills due to injury. Even with a slower pace and shorter stride, I still felt my IT band tightening up and the first thoughts of “Can I really do this?” crossed my mind. I shifted my focus to my running form and cheering on my fellow runners.
Mile 10-15: My strategy seemed to work! I felt great during these miles. I cheered on the half marathoners as they split from us (who kindly responded to us full marathoners, “you guys are crazy!”) and chatted with a couple other runners as we passed each other. I felt strong, my IT band pain disappeared, the crowd support was awesome and I saw my personal cheerleaders multiple times during these miles (this would also be the last time I saw them until the finish). I remember being surprised to see my friend Anna for a second time around mile 15 (she said she’d be at 5 and that’d be it); I called out “It’s starting to hurt but I’m gonna make it!” I don’t think she was the one I was trying to reassure by saying that aloud…
Mile 16-22: Whatever bubble I was floating on for the previous 6 miles gradually drifted downward and finally popped during these miles. I’ve heard that “something happens” after 18 miles that no amount of training can really prepare you for, and now I think I understand that. The crowd support died after we split from the half marathoners and the course went just got boring. I really can’t blame the spectators for not supporting us on this part; I’m not even sure how you would get there if you weren’t actually running on the marathon course. We ran a large, boring, industrial loop through the marina, trekked on freeways and exit ramps, and made another loop through the park along the Anacostia River. No one was running through water stops anymore, and it was common to see people walking up inclines or standing out of the way stretching. I was afraid to slow to get water–let alone stop to stretch–for fear that my legs wouldn’t start moving again. I forced myself to stop and fill up my water bottle as often as possible because at this point the sun was blazing and I knew I needed to stay hydrated. My IT band was bothering me again, but so was my back, my calf, my hips… Once your entire body starts to hurt, you stop noticing individual injuries so much. I started counting down the miles, trying to put them into perspective (“6 miles? That 6 mile loop back home is nothing…).
Mile 23-25: I wouldn’t say this is where I got my second (or third?) wind so to speak, but it’d be a fair assessment to say there was at least a breeze. There were some more uphills that I wasn’t expecting, but at this point my mental countdown was saying, “3 miles? That’s nothing, just a shake out run…”). The bands during the previous miles were, eh, nothing worth writing about, but the two bands along Minnesota Avenue were great! It seemed that locals from the neighborhood came out as well to listen to the music and offer some cheers. Combine that tiny boost in crowd support with the realization that I’m on the final stretch and you’ve got one happy Lara.
Mile 26-Finish: This was probably the dullest part in terms of scenery (running on a highway over a smelly river?) but at this point, I didn’t care. Sure, it was slightly uphill to the finish. Sure, the sun was beating down on me. But I knew the finish was just up ahead. I turned the final corner and saw the finish line (up farther in the distance than I had hoped–darn!) and from there it’s pretty much a blur. I just remember pushing myself as quick as my legs would take me because in the back of my mind I knew how much I slowed near the end and was hoping I hadn’t ruined my chance of breaking 4 hours. I can’t describe the feeling of crossing the finish line… after thinking about it nonstop for the last several hours, I had finally reached it. After months of training, after several weeks of recovering from injury and thinking I might not be able to race at all… I wish I could bottle that sense of accomplishment and use it for motivation on those really crummy days when lacing up your running shoes is the last thing on your mind.
I’ve said it and I’ll say it again: this may sound stupid, but I didn’t realize how much it was going to hurt. Whether it was a mix of poor training at the end (my longest run had been 18 miles the weekend before our half marathon; my IT band injury made me drastically back off the miles), going out fast in the beginning or just the race itself, I just wasn’t expecting my body to hurt all over like it did. Fortunately, I had my cheering squad waiting at the finish line to share in my joy and help me re-master the art of walking. This accomplishment would not have been the same without having them there to cheer me on and support me–not just on race day, but the weeks and months leading up to it. That sentiment is true for all my friends and family who supported me in this crazy goal of mine!
So now the question is…
Will I run another marathon? Probably, but not in 2012. I think I want to spend this year focusing on getting healthy, training smarter and do some 10Ks, 10-milers and race a half marathon.