Last week I wrote about my most recent marathon, The Country Music Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee. This is the first post in a series of posts that will recap my first five marathons. Over the weekend, I was writing my race recaps on my Running Page and when I got to my marathon section I realized I had so much to say about each one I have done. So I decided to write a separate post about each of my marathons because they were all so different and so special to me.
My first marathon was something I will never forget. It is so clear in my mind that it feels like it happened yesterday. In November 2007 I had run my first half marathon in my home city of Philadelphia. As soon as I finished I knew I wanted more. However, winter hit and so did the cold central Pennsylvania weather (I was a senior at Penn State University), and my running became very infrequent.
Fast forward to April… I was EXTREMELY stressed out and busy with wrapping up my student teaching, my final big project, graduation, and job hunting that I did not sleep much or have time for exercise. I was eating way too much unhealthy food due to stress (I am a huge emotional eater) and I had packed on almost 15 pounds. I was feeling bad about myself and tired all the time. I graduated from Penn State in May, but since my student teaching program went until the end of the elementary school year in June I was still at Penn State. My responsibilities had decreased at school and most of my friends had left, so I had more free time. I was feeling lonely and unmotivated, I felt like I needed a purpose and something to train for. So a few days after graduation I decided to sign up for the Philadelphia Marathon. I signed up for it exactly 6 months before the race on May 23rd, 2008. The race would be on November 23rd.
I immediately felt excited about it but also scared. I knew I had run a half before but I hadn’t been running much since then. The thought of running 26.2 miles was overwhelming, but I am not one to back down from a challenge, so I put on my old running clothes and went out for a run. It was a really warm day and it was the afternoon which has always been difficult for me (I’m a morning runner). I remember so clearly going outside and totally STRUGGLING to run 2 miles. It felt like death. I couldn’t believe I had lost so much of my fitness and I couldn’t imagine running 24.2 more than that.
Slowly, but surely I got back into it. I started losing some weight and eating better and that helped a lot. I spent the first month or so building up my running base to about 20 miles a week. After school was out I moved back to Philadelphia at the end of June and continued my training there. At 20 weeks out I used a plan from a book that I had bought and followed it very closely (I can’t remember what the book was called!). Then I moved to Virginia at the beginning of August to start my teaching job. It was an extra challenge to try to plan out routes in a new town, but I liked it. It was a good way for me to learn about where I was living.
School started and my first year of teaching began. It was insanely stressful and I spent all of my free time either running, eating, or sleeping. I looked forward to my long runs on the weekend because it was my time away from everything school related. With every long run I completed I felt amazing. They definitely weren’t easy though. I learned a lot with every single one. I learned about hydration, clothing, bathroom problems, Gu, heat, HILLS, perseverance, good routes, bad routes, and mental pep-talks. In my last training run before the taper I was supposed to run 20 miles, but it was super hot and I ran out of water and could only manage 19 (barely). I felt like a huge failure and I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to run the marathon. I kept beating myself up because I couldn’t even manage running ONE more mile that… how was I going to do 7.2 more than that?
The taper weeks came and went and I became more anxious and worried. I went home to Philadelphia on Friday night and to the expo on Saturday. My dad made me his famous spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. On Sunday I woke up to temperatures below 10 degrees. I ate some oatmeal then I got dressed in spandex, shorts, layers of dri-fit shirts, a running jacket, gloves and a fleece headband.
My dad dropped me off at the start line an hour and a half early. I hit up the porta potty and then waited in the FREEZING cold for the race to start. It started a little late and I started to feel hungry, but before I knew it I was running across the starting line.
The first half of the race flew by. I was surprised because this was the first race I had run without music (And I have never run with music again!) I was happy I didn’t have music because it gave me a chance to really take in my surroundings and enjoy the experience. My face, hands, and toes were totally numb until mile 4. By mile 6 I took my gloves off. The temperatures were still below freezing though, and all the water stations had frozen over. I saw a lot of people slip on the ice and fall. I started walking through each water stop just to be safe, even though I felt good running. The course was entertaining and a lot of spectators were out despite the cold. It was also nice and flat!
I ran even ten minute miles until mile 15. I was feeling very good, I was warm and happy running through the city and before I knew it we were back at the Art Museum (think Rocky…) for the halfway point. While the half-marathoners finished, the marathon runners went a different way and started heading along the Schuylkill River to Manayunk where we would eventually turn around at mile 20 and come back. Since it was out-and-back, while I ran out I was able to see all the super fast people that were about to finish. They made me pretty nervous because some of them were in obvious pain, limping, crying, and one guy even collapsed. Since it was my first marathon I didn’t know what to expect in those later miles and it scared me. I tried to remain focused though and think about how I was feeling good at that point.
Between mile 16-17 I started to feel it and realized I still had ten miles to go. Crowd support here was very thin and I began to slow down a bit. I knew thinking about how at the 20 mile turn-around point my friend Ashley would be waiting for me and that helped me stay focused. Every mile after 19 was new to me and I couldn’t believe it when I hit mile 20. When I got there I looked around for Ashley and was able to find her easily. She jumped in with me right before the turn-around and started running. She said she was surprised at how good I looked and that it didn’t seem like I had just run 20 miles. We chatted for about a mile and I was so happy because we were on our way back towards the Art Museum, and around mile 22 my left knee started to hurt pretty bad. Then from there my body felt like it was slowly breaking down and giving into the pain. My hip started to ache, my feet felt like rocks, and my body just felt very heavy. I was so happy to have my friend there at that point. She kept me going and she was so encouraging and positive, but since she knows me very well she also wasn’t annoying and overly cheerleadery about it. She knew when to talk to me and when to stay quiet, and really just having her next to me was all I needed. Miles 23 to 25 seemed so unbelievably long. While I never truly hit “the wall” those last miles were anything but enjoyable. My body was hurting, my stomach hurt, and I slowed down quite a bit. Then my breathing started getting funny. It was really hard for me to take a full deep breath. But I held strong and refused to walk like many people around me had started to do. I slowed down and was running between 10:30 and 11 minutes per mile.
Things finally perked back up a bit at mile 25 when I realized I was getting close. Spectators filled the streets again and I was overcome with emotions. At mile 26 I could see the art museum and had a little burst of energy. Then the best part of all- I saw my dad! He was calling my name and running alongside the barrier. I was so happy to see him, I can’t even explain it. Even writing this now 2 and a half years later it makes me tear up. It meant a lot to me to have him there and see me finish.
I crossed the finish line with Ashley in 4 hours, 35 minutes, and 15 seconds. It was the most amazing feeling ever.
Immediately I forgot about the pain of the last few miles and the stiffness in my legs. I told Ashley not even two minutes later that I wanted to run another one. I got my medal and some food (Philly soft pretzels!), then found my dad and we took pictures.
I was so happy and so proud of myself, and I was so thankful to have such a supportive dad and best friend. I was also proud of Ashley, who ran the entire last 6.2 miles with me when she hadn’t run very much in months.
When I got home I showered and discovered some horribly painful chafing under my sports bra and some nasty blisters. Then I passed out for a few hours. When I woke up I went to dinner with my dad and sister.
I couldn’t wait to eat. I had been thinking of what I was going to get all day. We went to a little Italian place that I loved growing up and I got CHICKEN FINGERS AND FRIES. It was all I wanted. It’s funny to look back on that now that I am a vegetarian, but it was a damn good meal and well-deserved.
I slept very well that night and woke up the next day to drive back to Virginia. I had taken Monday off at work. I limped around proudly wearing my medal and smiling. I rode my runner’s high all week long. Not many people at school knew I was training for and running a marathon because I was not very social during my first few months there. But when I got back I was telling my story to anyone who would listen and I finally started to feel like a real runner.
By Tuesday night I started looking for another marathon to run. I had caught the bug and I wanted to see what else I could do. I knew I could run my next one faster and I couldn’t wait to start training again. I decided to try to find a spring marathon that I could train for starting in January after a month-long break from training. I signed up for one that night: The New Jersey Marathon on May 3rd, 2009! Stay tuned for that story… it’s a good one!