We came. We ran. We conquered 26.2 miles side-by-side and finished together!
It was amazing, fun, and it ended dramatically, but I was able to meet almost every single one of my goals and I could not be happier or more proud!
We left for Dayton very early on Friday morning. It took about 8 hours to get there from Northern Virginia and we went straight to the expo once we arrived.
We weren’t sure what to expect from it, since the Air Force Marathon is the second smallest marathon I have done (NJ was a little smaller), but we were pleasantly surprised. We were impressed with how many vendors they had and they did a good job of pumping up the runners and getting them excited.
We checked into our hotel after leaving the expo. We stayed at the Hope Hotel, which was practically on base so it was very convenient. There were tons of runners staying there as well which was exciting. I love being around other runners who share the same passion as me! Plus, our room was great for the price we paid and how close it was to everything. We relaxed for a little bit and checked out the swag that was inside our bags.
Once again, very impressed with how much they gave us! We got a nice technical shirt (in ladies fit for me… bonus points!), a hat, wristband, a patch, samples (larabars and tortilla chips- two of my favorite things), and other fun freebies.
We went to dinner around 4:30. We had done some research ahead of time to find a good pizza place in the area, since we had eaten pizza as our pre-long run food throughout this entire training period. We decided to go with The Original Pizza Factory because of its good reviews, and it did not disappoint!
We got our pizzas to go and brought them back to the room. We each got our own large pizzas so that we could eat half that night and save half for after the race when we would be needing food ASAP. We both got the Pesto Pizzazz, which had a pesto base with a bunch of veggies. Kevin decided to go without meat since he had not eaten it before any long run [we always eat vegetarian at home] and he was afraid it might mess with his stomach. He said his pizza was delicious!
I got my pizza without any cheese and I added spinach. Since my stomach is so sensitive to cheese I usually use a cheese substitute (like Daiya) when we make pizza at home. Since they didn’t have that I just went without. I actually didn’t miss it. The pesto gave it so much flavor that it tasted great on its own!
After eating we showered, then decided to go onto base to pick up some things at the BX store because it was still really early… like 6 pm! We got some water bottles for the race and some other supplies. We always carry our own water bottles for the first half of the race to avoid congestion at water stations. Walking around a bit was actually good for our digestion, which is always one of my big worries before a race. I hate going right to bed after eating a big dinner because I feel like my food doesn’t digest as well and I’m not as prepared to run the next morning… if you know what I mean :).
Once we got back to the hotel we were super tired and went to bed at 9 p.m. with a 4:30 a.m. alarm set. We actually both slept very well and woke up excited and ready to run!
I quickly went through race morning routines- thyroid pill, coffee, bathroom, hair up, put on clothes, body glide, sunscreen, and race bib, bathroom again, eat banana, pack Spi-belt with gels/chews and chapstick, bathroom again (I told you this is my biggest worry!)
We were going to bring along my old little camera to take pictures during the race but decided not to at the last minute. So I don’t have any pictures from the race except the professional ones, which is a bummer, but we both didn’t want to be bothered with worrying about taking pictures and carrying extra weight. Oh well!
We took a quick picture and then I put on my old long sleeved shirt that I planned to throw away once the race started. After we checked to make sure we had everything two and three times we went downstairs at 5:40 to catch the free shuttle from our hotel to the race start. There was a pretty decent line already and when the 5:45 bus showed up it filled up quickly. We waited in the hotel for the second bus, which was fine with us because it was cold outside (in the 40s)! I would much rather be inside a warm hotel than freezing for an hour and a half waiting for the race to start at 7:30. So we waited in the lobby and made some new friends. While we waited I ate my second part of breakfast- a Honey Stinger Peanut Butter & Honey energy bar.
The second bus came around 6:15 a.m. and dropped us off at the start at 6:30. We had an hour to spare before the start so we used the bathroom (again) and checked out the pre-race festivities. The start was right next to the U.S. Air Force Museum and a lot of old military planes, which was awesome. But it was cold!!!! We found the closest generator that was powering big spotlights and huddled around it with a group of people. We were able to make more friends and stay warm at the same time. Some of our new friends were running their first marathon that morning, and many of them were in the military. It was great to hear about their journey into running and their training.
We left the warmth at 7:15 to use the bathroom one more time (props to the USAF marathon organizers for the huge amount of CLEAN porta-potties!) and then we lined up at the start right beside the 4:00 pacer. We were planning to keep her in our sight the whole time to keep us on pace to meet my gold goal (4 hours). Up until this point, I felt great and not very worried about the race. I was just excited and happy to be there. But I started to get scared with about 5 minutes left to go before the start. It hit me that I was about to run another marathon, and even though I felt ready I was just worried about what happened in Nashville so unexpectedly. Kevin gave me a big hug and told me he would be with me the whole time, then the national anthem was sung by a woman in the Air Force. Right after the anthem there was a special fly-over by the B1 Lancer- an Air Force plane that was supposed to debut in the 2001 race that was canceled because it was only a few days after September 11th happened. This was the first time that the B1 Lancer made its debut, 10 years later. It was an awesome moment!
Before I knew it the gun went off and we were running over the starting mat. The first two miles were very congested and slightly uphill, but we were pumped full of adrenaline so it didn’t affect us too much.
We were trying to keep a pace between 9:00 – 9:09, but it’s so hard to do that in the beginning when you’re feeling great and running fast seems easy! However, I know that going out too fast has been my biggest mistake in so many races, so we tried to hold back and slow down. We still ended up running many miles slightly under 9 minutes, but just tried to keep our effort level consistent and focus on not expending too much unnecessary energy. The 4:00 pacer was only a little bit behind us so we knew we were okay. The first five miles flew by!
- Mile 1 – 9:18
- Mile 2 – 8:55
- Mile 3 – 8:43
- Mile 4 – 9:00
- Mile 5 – 9:00
The first part of the race was all on base and had a lot of nice little rolling hills. I like when there is a slight change of terrain because it’s less boring than a totally pancake-flat course, and I think the change is good for my legs too. The miles seemed to be passing so fast and before I knew it we were at mile 9 and heading into downtown Fairborn, which is a residential section that was PACKED with spectators. The energy here made Kevin and I feel even better and in a blink of an eye, we passed the 10 mile mark.
- Mile 6 – 9:03
- Mile 7 – 8:55
- Mile 8 – 9:01
- Mile 9 – 8:54
- Mile 10 – 8:58
Just knowing we were already in the double digits made me feel super excited and motivated. It was also motivating to run by so many troops in uniform and volunteers. At one point, a group of runners started doing Jodies, which are military chants that are used to motivate troops when they are running. Kevin loved that. He even started getting a little bit emotional. He told me he was just so happy to be running with me and running for the Air Force. It was a great moment. Then all of a sudden we passed the halfway point just after 1 hour and 57 minutes. We were still right on track to run it in less than 4 hours and feeling great. We started taking Gatorade cups once we passed halfway at every other aid station and it seemed to help us maintain our steady effort.
- Mile 11 – 8:53
- Mile 12 – 8:56
- Mile 13 – 8:59
- Mile 14 – 8:57
- Mile 15 – 9:05
Around mile 16 we ran onto the flight line on base, which was a long runway in the bright, bright sun. It had warmed up by this point but it wasn’t too hot. Kevin and I were talking about how we couldn’t believe how good we still felt at this point. We reminisced about how a year ago today Kevin was running his first half marathon, and today he was running his second full marathon. It’s amazing to think about how far he has come since then. Around mile 18 we were finally back out of the sun and into the shade of the woods. This was when we finally threw the water bottles we had been carrying. I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe we were almost at the 20 mile mark. This race was going so much more quickly than my past marathons! We passed mile 20 at 3 hours almost exactly. The 4:00 pacer was still behind us and I knew we would be able to make our goal if we just maintained the pace we were going.
- Mile 16 – 8:54
- Mile 17 – 8:58
- Mile 18 – 9:01
- Mile 19 – 9:04
- Mile 20 – 9:01
We knew from the elevation chart and from talking to other runners that there was a hill around mile 22, so we wanted to be sure we had energy left in the tank for it. The hill didn’t seem big compared to the first hill in mile 1, but it felt much, much harder. We had been keeping a very consistent effort until this point and running up the huge overpass nearly killed me, but I held strong on it. After this point our pace started to slow down.
- Mile 21 – 9:08
- Mile 22 – 9:14
- Mile 23 – 9:20
- Mile 24 – 9:39
I really started to feel the effects of running 24 miles non-stop at this point, but it was nothing I hadn’t felt before in previous marathons. It was hard to keep going at the pace I was but I just kept reminding myself that it would all be over soon. I was on track to running my 4 hour marathon and the pacer was still behind us. I was on cloud nine.
- Mile 25 – 9:18
- Mile 26 – 9:45
Mile 26 was pretty rough, and I heard my Garmin beep for that mile at the same moment that I passed the mile marker. I was so surprised that my watch was so accurate this late in the race. Usually it doesn’t line up with the mile markers that well since they have to measure the course by the shortest path that could be taken, and most people aren’t able to run it that accurately due to turns and the volume of people. For the first time in the entire race, I started feeling really exhausted and nauseous, but at that point my overall time was 3:55:57. I knew that I could run .2 miles in 4 minutes to make my goal, even feeling as bad as I was.
I turned the corner after mile 26 and entered into a large U-shaped finish area. I thought there was no possible way that there could only be .2 miles left. It looked like so much farther than that. I felt like I was running so slow, and I just hoped that I could make it to the finish in under 4 minutes. Toward the end of the first side of the big U I started feeling extremely sick. I couldn’t believe how quickly I went from feeling great to feeling horrible, right at the end of the race with so little time left. I really thought I was going to vomit, so I stopped for a split second before Kevin yelled at me (nicely) and told me that we needed to move it to make it in under 4 hours. I tried so hard to move my body fast but it wouldn’t listen. Mentally I was totally in it, but physically my body would not respond like I needed it to. I shuffled down the second side of the U and finally turned onto the straight-away that would lead me to the finish line.
My head filled with dizziness and I started seeing stars. My legs were tingling as I shuffled along. I felt the energy chews I ate gurgling around in my stomach wanting to come back up. I watched the clock in front of get closer to the 4 hour mark, but I knew I started about a minute after the gun so I still had some time. At this point my Garmin said I was at 26.3 miles which frustrated me a little, since the course was so accurate up until that point. I was also frustrated that my body was failing me with so little left to go.
I saw the big clock at the finish line pass 4 hours and at that point I stopped paying attention to it and stopped looking at my Garmin. I just listened to Kevin who was trying his best to motivate me and pull me along with him. I felt so sick and I just couldn’t wait to finish.
Finally, FINALLY – I crossed the finish line hand in hand with Kevin. I had no idea what our time was but I heard him say, “we did it baby, we finished!” He hugged me tight and then I told him I felt sick.
I slowly made my way to the ground, squatting with my head in my hands. Everything was spinning and I felt like I was overheating.
I sat on the ground, literally right past the finish line and some race volunteers came around me to see if I was okay. Kevin helped me over to the medical tent but first I stopped to get my medal from an Air Force Colonel (obviously I had my priorities straight). When I got to the medical area I immediately laid down on a bed. They took my temperature and my heart rate and gave me fluids. She asked me how many marathons I have run before and if I had been hydrating and eating. I told her I had been the entire time and that it was my 7th marathon. I said I felt good until the last little bit, and that I had never felt this bad before. She said it was probably because I pushed so hard at the end and my body was on overload and completely tapped out.
They put a mylar blanket on me but I didn’t want it because I was so hot. I laid there for a while and told them I didn’t want an IV when they tried to give me one. I started feeling a little bit better after resting, so I asked Kevin to go to the results test to see what our final time was. He came back with a little slip of paper in his hands and showed it to me:
I immediately started laughing and said, “Are you kidding me?” I knew it was going to be close but when I fell apart at the end I had a feeling it would be around 4:01. I didn’t think it would be only 4 seconds above my gold goal. Even though it wasn’t technically under 4 hours, I felt nothing but pride and happiness that I was able to do it in that time. I knew that I honestly did the absolute best I could do and I left it all out there on the course. I also knew that the course was slightly long (my final distance said 26.41 miles), so I knew in my heart that I made my goal and that was all that mattered to me. Plus, I beat my previous PR by over 7 minutes, and Kevin beat his by over 10 minutes!
As I was laying there smiling about my goal and showing my results paper to the doctors, I felt a horrible cramp in my left hip flexor joint all of a sudden. The cramp went all the way down my leg and made my shin, calf and foot shake and spasm. It was so painful and I started crying a little bit. A physical therapist came over to help me stretch it out and I ate a banana for some potassium. That was the first time I had ever felt something like that and it was scary.
Once I felt better I walked around the medical tent for a few minutes then we were allowed to leave. We went through the food tent and got some snacks, then got our official finisher picture taken.
We slowly made our way back to our shuttle bus and waited to be taken back to the hotel. Once we got back we took some pictures and celebrated our accomplishment!
Then we took a shower, relaxed, and called family to share the news. I checked out my feet which were extremely beat up. They were actually the only part of me that hurt at that point, and I was left with three black toenails and a few blisters. The worst blister was on my pinky toe. It was so painful and looked like my toe might actually fall off. We ended up going to the BX again to pick up some Neosporin and Bandaids to take care of it.
While we were on base we took a few pictures of some of the things we saw while we were running. It made me kind of wish that I had run with a camera!
We eventually decided it was time to go eat, so we headed to Lucky’s Taproom and Eatery. We had found this place in advance on http://www.happycow.com, and were impressed by the many vegetarian/vegan options they had on their menu. We started with some fried pickles (SO GOOD!)
And for my entree I ordered a homemade chickpea veggie burger with guacamole. It definitely did not disappoint! It was huge and delicious.
After eating our faces off we went to the marathon after party at an area called The Greene. They had live music, vendors, and discounts to stores if you wore your medal.
It was a beautiful night to be outside with fellow runners!
My feet were starting to hurt and I was feeling the effects of being on them all day, so we decided to go back to the hotel after a couple of hours.
But first, Kevin NEEDED some froyo in his life, so we went to Yogurt Mountain which was one of those serve yourself places. He was truly in frozen yogurt and topping heaven.
Unfortunately, I had a pretty bad stomachache and I knew that dairy would only make it worse, so I decided to skip dessert. But Kevin really enjoyed his!
We went to bed early that night and woke up bright and early the day morning to head out of Dayton and go to Pittsburgh for a spontaneous Steelers game. Kevin has been a Steelers fan his whole life so this was really special for him. It was my first game and I really enjoyed it too (except for walking up and down the stairs!)
We made it back to Northern Virginia at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday night. We were exhausted but we could not stop talking about how great the entire weekend was. It was truly the best weekend we have shared together so far.
I can’t say enough about the organization of this race, the volunteers, and the people who were working in the medical tent. Everything ran so smoothly and it was a great event to be a part of. I would recommend this race to anyone. It’s always going to be a special race to me because I was finally able to finish with Kevin, I pushed myself harder than ever before, and I finally made my 4 hour goal, which was something I have wanted to do since my very first marathon.
This race will be hard to beat!