I am so, SO excited to write this post. When I wrote about my goals for the OBX Marathon last week, I was worried about my foot and afraid that my next post would be about a big fat DNF. That was SO not the case, in fact I had one of my best (and second fastest!) marathons ever. It was an amazing experience from start to finish and I can’t wait to share it all. I met every single one of my goals and could not be happier.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Kevin, Kevin III, Amanda (my training buddy) and I began our road trip to the OBX early on Saturday morning. The weekend got off to a rough start when the baby caught a bad cold from daycare. He was super congested, sneezing, and coughing a lot. This made our 4 hour drive interesting. I had to sit right next to him in the car with the Boogie Wipes and lots of distracting toys handy. Thankfully he napped most of the way and the ride went by quickly!
This was me and Kevin’s first time to the Outer Banks (Amanda goes every summer) and the drive in was beautiful. It got me really excited to run in such a pretty, new place. When we arrived we headed straight to the expo to pick up our bibs.
The expo was small as we expected, since the OBX Marathon is a relatively small race (about 1,100 marathoners and 2,700 half marathoners.) There were still a decent amount of booths there though, and we spent some time visiting them and hanging out.
After the expo we went to our hotel to check in. We stayed in Kitty Hawk, close to the race start.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and talking about the race the next day. We checked out the course maps, read recaps, and got pumped up. The OBX Marathon has a point-to-point course which starts in Kitty Hawk and ends in Manteo, as you can see in the map below.
Once Kevin’s parents arrived at the hotel (they came from South Carolina to support us because they are awesome like that) we all went out to get some dinner. Amanda and I have always eaten pizza the night before our long runs, so we stuck to that and found a pizza place called Dare Devils Pizzeria down the road. Even though I had to skip the cheese (dairy before long runs DOES NOT mix for me- I learned that the hard way many times), it was REALLY good and left us feeling sufficiently carb-loaded and sleepy. I was also feeling pretty congested, thanks to the cold Kevin had most likely passed to me with such great timing!
Since we ate early at 5 p.m. it was only 6:30ish when we got back to the hotel. I asked my in-laws to have the baby sleep in their room since he was sick and I knew he would be up all night. They were super excited about it and I felt better knowing he would be well taken care of and we would get a good night sleep (well, as good as possible the night before a marathon.) Once the baby was asleep with his grandparents Amanda, Kevin and I settled into our room and we watched the movie The Spirit of the Marathon. I watched this movie before my first marathon and it was so inspiring, so I thought it would be good for Amanda to see. Even though I have seen it many times it doesn’t get old to me. We were all in bed and sleeping by 9:00, feeling super motivated and ready.
My alarm went off the next day at 5:00. I slept pretty restlessly so I practically jumped out of bed. I started my morning routine- coffee, get dressed, more coffee, eat Luna Bar, water, pack shot blocks and honey stingers, more coffee, bathroom, etc. I went through the motions thinking how weird it was that I would be running 26.2 miles later. It was a scary yet familiar feeling.
Around 6:30 my mother-in-law came to the door with the baby. I gave him some hugs and kisses and then we were out the door and headed to the start!
Kevin dropped us off and we walked a few minutes to the starting line. I was still feeling pretty congested but it was the perfect temperature outside- 40s/50s- and that seemed to open up my sinuses. I knew I wouldn’t need my throw-away long sleeve shirt for very long. It felt weird to not have my Garmin or my phone with me. In fact all I had was my very old handheld water bottle that I planned to throw away once the water was gone (I am way overdue for a new one anyway). Amanda and I ran into the woods for a last minute bathroom stop since we only had a few minutes before the 7:20 start time. Then we went to get into our separate corrals and I gave her a big hug and we wished each other luck.
I stood in my corral listening to the National Anthem and a prayer by someone from a local church and I couldn’t help but get emotional. I didn’t know at that point what was going to happen over the course of 26.2 miles, but I was just so happy to be there at the starting line. When I was pregnant a part of me wondered if I would ever be able to go back to running marathons like I used to. And then after all the setbacks and injuries I experienced while training I had a lot of doubts. But I made it there and I was ready to run. Knowing that I had no goal except to finish with a smile on my face made me feel so free and relaxed. It was so unlike any other marathon I have eve run before.
We started the race right on time and I immediately threw my long sleeved shirt to the side. I felt comfortable in my shorts, tank top, arm warmers and compression sleeves. The temperature felt perfect and there was just a little bit of wind. The first few miles were through a residential foresty area, and I focused on checking in with my body to see how everything felt. Foot? Perfect. Knee? No pain. Congestion? Gone. Stomach? Ugh- cramping. It continued like this for a few miles and I started to get nervous. I just tried to keep a steady pace and breathe through it. We passed the 5K mark and although there were mile markers at each mile, there weren’t any race clocks so I had no idea what pace I was running. I took my first half pack of margarita shot blocks like planned and hoped the “cramp-buster” sodium in it would help (my strategy was to fuel every 3 miles).
At mile 4 I was still cramping so I decided to start talking to a guy next to me to see if it would take my mind off it. We ran together for about a mile along the water which was beautiful. I found out his name was Andy and this was his second marathon. He was shooting for under 4 hours and running an 8:30 pace. Wait, I thought, that means I’m also running an 8:30 pace right now? It definitely didn’t feel like it with my cramps. I wished him good luck and let him go ahead. My strategy worked though… the cramps were gone!
Once the cramps were gone I checked in with my body again. I was worried the cramps were maybe masking pain in my foot or knee, but nope- they both felt perfect. I was so happy to be running pain-free! I had taken some Tylenol before the race (something I had never done before even though I never recommend trying anything new on race day), and I figured either it was working or all of the rest the week of the race worked. I had slight cramping again around mile 6. I ate some more shot blocks and started talking to another guy who filled me in on the bridge at mile 23 and the section that went through the woods at mile 10. Once again that helped take my mind off it and the cramps went away. I was blown away by the friendliness of the runners, spectators and volunteers. During this time I ran through the 10K split mat and wondered what my time was- still no race clocks to be found on the course. I was actually happy there wasn’t, but a part of me was still curious! (I found out later that I had passed 10K at 54:25, an 8:46 pace).
At mile 7 I ran out of water in my bottle and threw it to the side. I knew I’d be seeing Kevin and his family soon and they would give me more. This part of the course was cool because it went around the Wright Brothers Memorial. At mile 8 I heard Kevin and his family cheering for me, and I was so excited to see them that I forgot to grab my new water bottle. Kevin had to chase me down to give it to me!
About 15 minutes later Amanda came by! Kevin said she was smiling and looking great!
After seeing Kevin and getting that boost I really got into my zone. I felt strong and the miles ticked by quickly. Before I knew it we were at mile 10 and entering the Nags Head Preserve- also known as the woods. I was a little nervous about this section from miles 10-13 because it was on a dirt trail. I knew I would have to be careful not to tweak my knee or foot. I am very clumsy so it took a lot of concentration to avoid rocks and other things. Even though it took a lot of focus, it really was pretty and peaceful in the woods. The path was mostly well packed dirt with rocks here and there and some small and gentle rolling hills. My legs actually felt good on the hills after running on pancake flat roads for the first 10 miles. The last half mile or so was on a narrower, looser trail that fit maybe two runners side by side. It was much hillier and more difficult to run on but luckily it didn’t last long. The trail ended and suddenly I was running through a parking lot and heading toward the main road that goes through the outer banks. I passed the mile marker for mile 13 and mentally prepared myself for the second half. There was no race clock or split mat for the half marathon point and I still had no clue what my pace was. I was just excited to get back on the road where I was in more of my element.
We ran along one lane of the highway with drivers cheering for us out of their windows and honking on one side and beautiful sand dunes on the other side. It was pretty windy at this point with no trees around us to block it. I ran along thinking mile 14 was taking forever to come, and I finally asked a guy with a watch what distance he had. He told me he had just hit 15! I hadn’t realized that the miles were printed on the ground since there had been flags marking them before. I quickly ate my stingers since it was time, and then we hung a right into a residential area off the highway. I appreciated that the course diverted off the highway, because running in a straight line on one road for a long time is mentally draining to me.
Mile 16 and 17 passed quickly and then I started to give myself little pep talks. I was still feeling good physically but It was very sunny and getting warmer. I threw away my now empty water bottle and my arm warmers that were rolled down to my wrists. Carrying extra stuff started to bother me. For a brief second I got a little daunted thinking about how I still had 9 miles left to run, but I quickly tried to change that mentality. Instead I just focused on the mile I was in and nothing more than that. At mile 18 I ate more stingers and shortly after that we were back on the highway. I was starting to feel it in my hips and the bottoms of my feet at this point. I told myself that I could walk at mile 20 if I wanted to and that got me through a couple more miles. I passed the second timing mat at the random distance of 19.3 miles. There were still no clocks, but I saw later that I passed this point in 2:56:53, an overall average pace of 9:09.
As I approached mile 20 I felt like I needed more fuel, so I decided to start eating my chews every 2 miles rather than 3. This also helped me break down the remaining distance in my head. I took my chews, mile 20 came and went and I didn’t walk. I kept telling myself I could walk at 21, 22, 23 if I needed to, but I didn’t. At this point we had been running on the highway for a while and I knew the dreaded bridge was coming. I ate more chews at mile 22 to prepare. I tried to keep my mind off of it by thinking about Amanda and how she was doing. I also focused on how relatively good I felt compared to past marathons and how thankful I was that my foot and knee and the rest of my body was cooperating. Finally, after the 22 mile marker I saw the bridge ahead. I told myself I was strong and I WOULD get up it without walking.
The bridge was so much worse than it looks in this picture. The bridge is TALL. It is 1.05 mi long with a 650 foot climb to the top at a 4% grade. Running this at mile 23 after many, many flat miles was SO. HARD. It was super windy up there too. I just kept telling myself that I would see Kevin soon and he was waiting for me at the bottom of the bridge.
Once I got to the top of the bridge I let gravity take over to bring me back down. Shortly after that I saw Kevin on the side of the road and I was SO happy. We ran together for a few minutes and when the 24 mile marker came into sight I told him I wanted to walk for a minute once I reached it. He told me I was doing awesome and I asked him not to tell me what my overall time was. I didn’t want to know until I saw the finish line. I stopped at mile 24 and walked for the first time, for about a minute. I picked a point ahead and started running again once I got there.
I was so thankful to have Kevin with me. He talked to me and kept my mind off of the last 2 miles of the race. In the past these miles are where I really struggle mentally but I didn’t feel that on this day. I think it was because I had no expectations and there was no pressure whatsoever on my time. I was just happy to be there and having a good race. Kevin kept hinting to me that I was doing way better than I expected but I couldn’t even guess what my time was at this point. I stopped to walk again about two more times between then and the finish line. I am not sure if I 100% NEEDED to walk, but I really didn’t feel the need to push myself to the limit at this race. I wanted to finish smiling and feeling good, not like I was going to die like in some of my previous marathons.
I rounded the final bend that brought me into the town of Manteo and saw the finish line. I found it in myself to pick up the pace a bit and ran down the finishers’ chute with tears in my eyes.
I felt emotional for a lot of reasons. For running a smart race. For listening to my body instead of a watch on my wrist for once. For my pain-free foot and knee. For my husband running next to me. For my baby and my in-laws waiting at the finish line. For coming back after pregnancy stronger than before after all of my doubts. I was just so proud and happy!
Once I got close enough to see the clock I was shocked that it said 4:07. After checking my results my official time was 4:06:22, an overall pace of 9:24. How had I just ran a 4:06 marathon, my second fastest ever, without even realizing it? I couldn’t believe it!
After finishing I was on cloud 9. I have never finished a marathon feeling so good and so proud without any regrets. I loved everything about this race. I got my medal and we went to find the baby and Kevin’s parents who were by the finish line. As I hugged the baby I thought about how this time last year I was just getting back into running after having the baby. Now a year later it feels like I have come full circle.
Kevin took a quick break and then ran back out on the course to find Amanda. He was going to meet her at mile 24 like he had met me. After stretching, drinking some water and eating a banana, I went over to the finish line to wait for them. I stood next to a woman who was waiting for her son who was about to finish his 100th marathon! WOW!
At 5:01:31 Amanda finished her first marathon with Kevin by her side. When I saw her coming I started crying again. That was the third time that day if you are counting. Such a crybaby! But I was just so happy and proud of her. I ran with Amanda as she ran her first 15K two years ago, then again at her first half last year, and then we trained together for her first full. She has come so far and she is so strong!
We reunited and recapped each of our races for each other. We had similar races in many ways- we both had a difficult time in the woods, we both ran all the way up the bridge, we both walked for the first time at mile 24, and we both loved the entire race from start to finish. Amanda was even talking about her next one minutes after crossing the finish line.
We didn’t stick around for too long because we were hot, sunburned and tired (it had warmed up to almost 70 degrees!). We went to where Kevin had parked which was super close (I love small races) and made the drive back to Kitty Hawk. On our way home we passed a lot of other runners who were still out on the course. So much respect for them and their strength!!
When we got back to the hotel we inhaled leftover pizza, took showers, and passed out for a couple hours. My wonderful mother-in-law took the baby and Kevin and his dad went to watch football at a sports bar. It felt amazing to relax after the race and not have to worry about taking care of the baby- I had no energy to whatsoever!
After some rest Amanda, Kevin and I went out to eat dinner at the Outer Banks Brewing Station. I had a delicious black bean burger with fries and a beer. It tasted so amazing, I can’t even explain how good the post-marathon meal is. Kevin had his well-earned meal as well. He ran at least 9 miles that day going back and forth between the finish line and running us both in!
After eating we were ready for bed once again. It was the perfect ending to the perfect day.
Next up- marathon #9 in Myrtle Beach… February 2014!