Marathon #9 is officially in the books, and will forever be a very special race to me. It is my proof that hard work does pay off, and it showed me how important it is to face your fears and try again after failing. I finally ran the sub-4 marathon I’ve been working toward for years, and it felt AMAZING!
In order to start telling this story I need to back up a few weeks. The decision to try 26.2 again was not an easy one and there were a lot of factors I had to consider: Is there another race I can do soon that is in a new state (since I’m trying to do all 50)? Do I have it in me mentally to try again? How about physically? Am I healthy enough? I’ll start at the beginning. I will warn you though, this is a long one!
Saturday, February 15th (the evening of my DNF): After a rough and emotional day, the thought of trying again crosses my mind. Kevin catches me browsing Running in the USA, and says he knew it wouldn’t be long before I started looking. He told me he would support any decision I made. I found a couple that would work (the Lower Potomac River Marathon in Maryland on March 9th and Rock & Roll DC on March 15th), but knew I didn’t want to rush into a decision. I also wanted to figure out if anything was going on with my body medically before I jumped back into such a demanding race distance and running in general.
Tuesday, February 18th: I go to the doctor to get some blood work and other testing done, to rule out anything being wrong medically (anemia, thyroid, pregnancy, etc.)
Friday, February 21st: All my test results come back normal/negative. I started to think more about running another marathon. While exploring the race websites, I went into the registration page for the Lower Potomac River Marathon but Active said registration had been closed. My heart sank. I emailed the race director to ask if they were full, just to keep my options open in case I decided to go for it.
Saturday, February 22nd: I run for the first time since my DNF. I gave myself a week off because I still felt pretty beat up, but by this point I was feeling pretty much back to normal. Plus my test results all came back normal so I felt comfortable running again. I went out with both Kevins for a 3 mile family run and felt amazing! I decided to try to do a longer run the next day to see how I felt when running longer distances. I knew this would be a big factor in determining whether or not I would try another marathon. The race director emailed me back and said they closed online registration but I could still mail it in if I wanted to. I decided that I would see how my run went the next day and make a decision after that.
Sunday, February 23rd: I head out to run and wear my Camelbak, in case I end up feeling good and wanting to run longer. The first 3 miles were terrible. TERRIBLE! I actually stopped to walk at mile 3 and was contemplating calling Kevin to come get me. I told myself this was a sign that it wasn’t meant to be, that I shouldn’t force myself to do something I wasn’t enjoying. But then something changed. This is where it starts to get a little strange… at this moment a little voice in my head told me to give it one more chance. So I started running again, and it felt amazing. I ran 10 more miles and felt like I floated the entire time. I took that as a sign- maybe I should give the marathon another try, just like I gave today’s run a second chance. Maybe it could turn out to be better than I ever imagined. I decided to go for it.
Monday, February 24th: I mail in my registration and start mentally preparing myself for another marathon. It was actually kind of perfect because this race was 3 weeks after Myrtle Beach, when I would be tapering. I could call my 21.37 miles in Myrtle Beach my final “training run” and cut back from there. I started to get excited.
Friday, February 28th: I noticed that the check I sent to register for the race hadn’t come out of my account yet, so I checked the website to see what was going on. My heart sank again when I saw that they posted that it had reached capacity (200 runners- a small race!) a couple of days before. I figured that since my check hadn’t been cashed I didn’t get it. I was disappointed, and started contemplating running the Rock & Roll DC race the following weekend instead. But it never felt “right” to me, and I haven’t had the best experiences with Rock & Roll races. I wondered if I should take that I didn’t get in as another sign that it wasn’t meant to be, and just accept it.
Saturday, March 1st: I go out for an 8 miler, just in case there’s a slim chance I could still be accepted into the Lower Potomac River Marathon, as my final “long” run. I still haven’t heard from the race director, so I am hopeful.
And that brings me to race weekend. Whew! Told you it was a roller coaster ride! Going into this race I had a lot of anxiety and fear. What if it happens again? What if my body can’t handle it? Because of this I decided to keep my decision quiet, and only told a few people going into it. This did help alleviate some of the stress and pressure, and I spent a lot of time trying to relax and focus on positive visualization. I tried to see it as just another long run.
We arrived in Piney Point, Maryland where the race was taking place around 3:00 on Saturday afternoon. It was only about an hour and a half drive from home, which was really nice. Piney Point is a small, quaint, beachy town along the Chesapeake Bay. As we drove into where we needed to pick up my packet we went through part of the course, and I immediately knew I was going to love it. It was partially along the water, and partially on a rural country “highway.” We decided to drive the whole course before going to packet pick-up and it was absolutely beautiful. Seeing where I would be running the next day made me feel calmer, because I could really visualize myself running the course.
The packet pick-up was super informal and easy. Like I said, this race maxes out at 200 runners, so there was a really intimate and casual feel to everything, which I loved. After we got my bib we spent some time outside in the sun since it was a beautiful, warm day. Kevin loved being able to run around after being in the carseat for a little while.
After spending some time outside we headed to our hotel to check in and unpack. On the way there I texted a few close family and friends to let them know I was running a marathon the next day and to send me some positive energy and strength.
We had dinner at a pizza chain restaurant called Ledo Pizza. I chose it because they had a ‘vegan’ pizza and I can’t do dairy the day before a race or long run. I have had my fair share of vegetarian and vegan pizzas and most of them have not been anything special, but I was pretty impressed with this one! It had a lot of flavor from the sauce, jalapeños and lemon olive oil that was drizzled on top. It also was topped with avocado. YUM!
After dinner we went back to the hotel, gave Kevin a bath and got him to sleep in the Pack & Play that we brought with us. Since that night was Daylight Savings and we were going to lose an hour of sleep, we made sure to get to bed early. It wasn’t hard to do this since we put Kevin to bed around 7:30 and the room was already dark. We hung out for a while and then passed out around 9:00.
The next morning after 7 solid hours of sleep (damn you Daylight Savings- it should’ve been 8!), I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to start my pre-race routine: coffee, peanut butter and honey sandwich, get dressed, bathroom time, prepare camelbak and put shot bloks and chews into baggies. Thankfully little Kevin slept like a rock, unlike in Myrtle Beach when he woke up a lot and I wasn’t able to sleep much before the race. That was just the first of many things that went right on race day 🙂
My boys woke up around 6:00 and had some breakfast. They got dressed and ready to go and we all headed out the door at 6:30. The start area was about 20 minutes away and I wanted to have time to go to the bathroom one more time before it all started. Kevin dropped me off and then went to park. I got emotional when I kissed him goodbye, just like in Myrtle Beach. He told me it was just another long run, and that he knew I was going to have a great day. I went inside the building where all the runners were to keep warm and use the bathroom (it was about 45 degrees at this point.)
I ended up peeing twice before heading to the start line. I am so paranoid about having to pee during a race, and I knew that since this was a small one porta-potties would be few and far between! I also decided to wear my Camelbak for this race (first time ever!) since I wanted access to water whenever I needed it, rather than at the water stops every 2 miles. I ended up LOVING this decision and I think it made a world of difference for me.
At 7:15 on the dot the race started with the sound of a gong. There is no chip timing for this race, so I went toward the front of the very small pack just to keep as close to the clock time as possible. I didn’t want a repeat of the time I finished a marathon in 4:00:04! Every second counts.
It was go time.
Miles 1-8 took us across the bridge onto St. George’s Island. We ran out and back along one road and then out and back along another road as the sun was coming up. We were right by the water which was absolutely beautiful, and the miles were passing super fast.
I tried to start out more conservatively than I did in Myrtle Beach, because I wanted to ensure that I would make it to the finish line this time. I knew my main goal for this race was to finish since I didn’t get to last time, and getting under 4 hours would be icing on the cake. With the pressure off, I naturally started out running between 8:35-8:45 minute miles which felt good and even slow at times. I made it a point to not be obsessed with my watch and just run by effort. I ate my first half pack of margarita shot bloks at 25 minutes into the race and another half pack 25 minutes later.
- Mile 1 – 8:37
- Mile 2 – 8:39
- Mile 3 – 8:41
- Mile 4 – 8:44
- Mile 5 – 8:40
- Mile 6 – 8:49
- Mile 7 – 8:41
- Mile 8 – 8:44
We crossed back over the bridge around mile 8 and I was excited because I knew I would see Kevin and the baby soon. They were waiting near the start line since we would be passing that area again. I heard Kevin yell my name from all the way down the road and I couldn’t stop smiling. Between the pretty scenery, the flat course, and seeing my two guys, running felt effortless and it was almost like I was floating through. I felt so happy.
After leaving him we turned left to go down another little out and back segment of the course. I decided to start eating my shot bloks every 20 minutes rather than 25 because it felt like I was burning through it quickly. I just wanted to ensure that I was giving my body a steady stream of glucose. From then until the end of the race I ate my shot bloks every 20 minutes like clockwork and drank water when I felt like I needed it. I LOVED having access to my Camelbak and I think I found the sweet spot of hydration and fueling- not too much and not too little. I never felt a drop in energy and my blood sugar remained stable the entire time. During the next few miles I took in the scenery around me and enjoyed running by the water for the last time before the remainder of the course, which was out and back along a rural country “highway.”
- Mile 9 – 8:46
- Mile 10 – 8:48
- Mile 11 – 8:56
I saw Kevin and baby again once I got back onto the main road. I was just before mile 12 and again, seeing them gave me an awesome boost of adrenaline. I started to mentally prepare myself for the second half of the race- 7 miles out and 7 miles back. I also knew that the second half was more hilly than the first. Luckily, I wasn’t very worried because I was still feeling great and I knew I’d get to see Kevin multiple times. Since the race was small the course was not closed to cars, so Kevin was able to drive along, park on side streets, and see me every couple of miles. Knowing this gave me peace of mind and I knew it would help me get through those late-teen miles (17-19) that have always historically been tough for me.
- Mile 12 – 8:52
- Mile 13 – 8:55
I passed the halfway point at exactly 1:55:00. I knew that the hills were coming and that I’d most likely positive split, but that was okay because I had built up quite a cushion to still get under 4 hours. I knew a lot could happen in the next 13 miles, but I was still hopeful to come in under my goal. I was actually feeling much better and stronger at this point than I was at Myrtle Beach, so I knew I was in good shape!
Around mile 15 I started coming up behind a man who was wearing a purple shirt that said “Running for Team Hope- Pancreatic Cancer Organization”. All throughout the race other runners had been super friendly and we had been conversing as we passed and ran next to one another, so I started talking to him. I told him I thought it was awesome that he was running for Pancreatic Cancer because my mom died from it. He told me his fiancee’s father had recently passed away from it (in April- just like my mom), and we talked about how it is very under-funded yet has one of the highest death rates of all the cancers. Seeing him gave me a huge boost and helped me remember that I am so lucky to be able to do things like run, and that there are many people who aren’t able to do the same. He ran ahead and I kept going at my pace, but now with my mom at the forefront of my mind. For the first of many times during this race, I got emotional.
- Mile 14 – 8:52
- Mile 15 – 9:01
- Mile 16 – 9:05
I saw Kevin again right as I passed mile 16. For a couple miles it had felt like we had been running slightly uphill (and against the wind) which is why I had slowed down a bit, but this mile is where the real hills started. They were actually a lot worse than I thought they would be. I knew I wasn’t alone in thinking this because the people around me agreed. It was not easy, and my pace definitely slowed a bit during these last 3 miles before the turn-around. I wasn’t worried because I had a good time cushion and I knew I’d make some of the time up on the way back. I was more than ready to turn around and go mostly DOWNHILL!
- Mile 17 – 9:26
- Mile 18 – 9:23
- Mile 19 – 9:21
The turn-around point was a little bit past mile 19. With most of the big inclines behind me, I focused on the final stretch. At this point I realized that I didn’t get to that mentally hard place in the late-teen miles, even though I waited for it to come. It never did. I just kept moving forward and kept my mind positive and focused on my goal. It also helped that the wind was at my back now 🙂 I saw Kevin shortly after turning around while running up yet another hill. I told him I was almost at 20 and feeling awesome. Did I mention I LOVED seeing him so many times? Small races are the best!
I hit mile 20 at 2:58 and realized that I had 1 hour and 2 minutes to run the final 6.2 miles, which was exactly a 10 minute pace. Even though I knew that was totally doable, I also knew a lot can happen over the course of 6 miles, so I just kept moving forward. I didn’t want to exert extra energy and get too anxious by doing too much math, so I tried to relax. The whole race I had been trying to focus on keeping good form and posture, swinging my arms backwards to propel me forward rather than crossing in front of my body (you can see in pictures that I still do cross my body sometimes- I’m working on it!), and taking shorter steps so that my feet land under my body rather than in front of it, minimizing heel striking and too much over-pronation. I really feel this helped me run more efficiently and conserve energy.
I got emotional again when I crossed the 21.37 mile point. This is exactly where I had to stop during the Myrtle Beach Marathon. How I felt in that moment was completely different than how I felt the day of my DNF. I felt on top of the world. I was so thankful that I had gathered the courage to give it another try, and that it was going so well. At this point I also knew that the rest of the race was net downhill and/or flat, so the hardest miles were behind me. I just had to keep moving forward and finish it out strong. I saw Kevin again around this time and he told me he was going to head to the finish line, but I told him I wanted to see him one more time. I wanted a boost for the final couple miles and also thought I might want to give him my Camelbak at that point.
- Mile 20 – 9:09
- Mile 21 – 9:03
- Mile 22 – 9:04
- Mile 23 – 9:11
I saw Kevin again at mile 23 and I handed him my Camelbak. He gave me one last pep talk as I ran by and told me he’d see me at the finish line. At this point I started to really feel the effects of running non-stop for almost 4 hours. I couldn’t believe I was in the 23rd mile, and I felt like the race had gone by so fast. I think it did because I really tried to stay focused on the mile I was in and not think ahead to how much I had left to go. But at this point the sun was out, I was feeling tired, and I was ready to cross that finish line.
All of a sudden I saw the guy in the purple Pancreatic Cancer shirt from earlier running a little bit ahead of me. I picked up my pace in order to catch up with him. I knew he was just who I needed to see right now. I wanted to talk to him and draw some strength from the cause he was running for that was so close to my heart.
When I caught up to him I told him I was so happy to see him because I needed a boost. He asked me questions about my mom and asked what her name was. He told me that he donated his own money to the Pancreatic Cancer Organization for every mile he ran, and in a race he donated even more per mile. He dedicates his races to people who are suffering from or have passed away from Pancreatic Cancer, and he told me he wanted to run his next one in 3 weeks for my mom. Cue the waterworks.
I ran about 2 miles with him and we went back and forth between talking and silently running next to each other. I found out his name was Kevin, just like my husband and son (REALLY!? What are the odds, seriously), and has been through a lot of struggle in his life. This was his 61st marathon, and he also had a DNF a few weeks before like I did. I could not believe all that I had in common with him, and I truly feel like he was an angel sent to me from my mom as a sign that she’s still with me. Cue the tears, again. A little bit past mile 25 he told me he needed to slow down, and I had already slowed down quite a bit during the 2 miles I ran with him, so he told me to go for it and finish strong. I thanked him and told him I would see him at the finish line.
- Mile 24 – 9:32
- Mile 25 – 9:32
It wasn’t until midway through the 25th mile that I realized I was going to do it. I was getting my sub-4 hour marathon, finally. I made the final turn to head into the finish line and saw that the clock said 3:55. I have been waiting to see a finish line clock with a 3 in the front for YEARS!
- Mile 26 – 9:05
In the final stretch I heard someone cheering for me from behind and realized that my new friend Kevin had caught up with me and we were going to end up finishing together. That combined with breaking 4 hours made me lose it. I sobbed my way through the finish line.
- The last .3 miles – 8:24 pace!
- Finish Time – 3:56:08 / 9:01 average pace
I swear I have never heard my husband yell and cheer so loudly (even during a Steelers game, and that’s saying a lot!) He ran over and hugged me and I cried all over him. He told me he knew I was going to do it and that he was so proud of me.
After getting my medal and some water, I introduced Kevin to my new friend and explained how we met during the race. We talked for a few minutes and then he had to go, but I’ll never ever forget him. Kevin and I have talked about him since then and are still amazed by the coincidences and how he was there in the right places at the right times- I truly believe it was meant to be that way and that somehow it was a message from my mom.
Eventually I hobbled inside to stretch, sit down, and eat a banana. My legs immediately got stiff but other than that I really felt great. It was so unlike any other marathon I have ever run before.
Once we were ready to head home I let everyone know that I had made a second attempt at the marathon and had finished under 4 hours, and the support was overwhelming. I am so lucky to be surrounded by friends and family that love me and encourage me no matter what.
The race itself and the PR weren’t the only things that were awesome either. Afterwards I had no real pain, and was just a little sore- mainly in my calves, no black toenails, no blisters, no chafing, no sunburn, no dehydration and no post-marathon headache. Perfection. I finally had a marathon where everything came together and I ran a smart race. So many lessons learned.
Once the race was over I spent some time reflecting on my two recent marathon experiences. I realized just how great I felt in this race compared to a few weeks earlier in Myrtle Beach. At the time in Myrtle Beach I had thought I felt good during the race up until the point when my body shut down, but in comparing the two races I realized that I really didn’t. I didn’t feel nearly as strong, calm and awesome as I did in this marathon. I had convinced myself that I felt fine, but there definitely were warning signs that something wasn’t right. In Myrtle Beach, fighting the wind for the first 5 miles and the lingering effects of my sickness earlier that week took more out of me than I realized at the time. Thinking back, I started having difficulty stomaching my shot bloks before the halfway point even hit, and they were hard to get down. I drank my water super fast and was still thirsty. My legs felt weaker than they should have and my mind was foggier. Even though I ran a strong pace up until mile 20ish, I NEVER felt as good as I did during the Lower Potomac River Marathon. This time I was in a much better place, physically and mentally, and I felt like I was super in-tune with my body. I fueled and hydrated perfectly and focused on keeping good form. And most importantly, I think the no-pressure attitude I had going into it helped me stay calm and actually enjoy myself and this crazy thing called running that I LOVE.
I finally feel at peace with my running and the marathon distance. My confidence has been restored and I know that not only can I run marathons, but I can run them faster than I ever thought I could. I have closure now that I have completed my “unfinished business,” and I am looking forward to training for some shorter races for a while. I now have a happy ending to my long story, and I couldn’t be more proud! I’ll be back to beat that new PR though, don’t worry 🙂