Remember this post from back in January? Where I sheepishly admitted (in a very small font) that I was, in fact, going to attempt to run a marathon this year? Well, on Sunday, at the Rock & Roll Marathon in Denver, that goal came to fruition. And I can think of no better way to celebrate than by obnoxiously using a very large font to exclaim: I RAN A MARATHON! I DID! I DID!
No one is more amazed at this accomplishment than me. It would seem logical that at some point between registering for the race and logging the countless miles in training, I would have imagined myself finishing. But honestly, before I took that last stride over the finish line, I had never let myself think about what it would be like to actually complete a marathon. But there I was at the end of 26.2 miles. And it was awesome. Euphoric. Overwhelming. Enough to make me forget aching feet and fatigued muscles and just focus on one thing: I DID IT!
And now, two days later, the sore muscles have set in and I've had some time to think about the race. And while finishing wasn't an event I'd built up in my head, there were other aspects of the race I had certain expectations about. As you'll see, most of them were totally blown out of the water (or off the race course, as it were.)
Expectation: A sore calf muscle had been plaguing me for the past two weeks. A constant, nagging pain with every step. I knew it would hurt during the race, but my main concern was how much? And would it hold up for 26 miles? I'd never experienced this type of pain while running before, and I had no idea how my body (or mind) would handle it.
Reality: In a last-ditch effort to help my with my calf pain, I tried KT Tape, which is designed to help a variety of muscular ailments. I applied the tape to my left calf as directed, seriously doubting that some stretchy material would ease my pain. But, hey, it was pink! And coordinated with my outfit! So why not try it? And that calf muscle? It was the one part of my body that did not give me a single moment of pain during the race. I kid you not. A few hours after finishing, the muscle was screaming, but then again, so were all the other muscles in my lower extremities.
Expectation: I knew from my previous half-marathons that the miles never really "fly by." And with this race being twice as long as anything I'd ever competed in, I knew I was in for a long haul. Some miles would be easier than others, but ticking them off was going to be slow process.
Reality: I don't know how, but the first 10K did, literally, fly by. When I saw the 10K marker on the course, I was shocked to look down at my Garmin and see 6.2 miles at a little more than 54 minutes into the race. And I felt the same when we hit the half-marathon point - where were the miles going? We're already half way done! I knew this feeling wasn't going to last (and at about 19 miles, it was gone) but the fact that I felt that way for more than half the race was incredible. It restored my faith in my training and made me realize that - damn! Those training schedules do really work!
Expectation: New music never fails to motivate me. I had loaded almost $30 worth of new iTunes onto my iPod in preparation for the race (and then forced myself not to listen to it until race day - I wanted the songs to be fresh!) I also splurged on some new headphones - these buds from Skull Candy - because I knew I'd be relying heavily on the beat to get me through this race.
Reality: I couldn't have lined up a more perfect playlist. I never arrange my songs - I just hit "shuffle" on the running mix and let the iPod play as it will. Not knowing which song is up next is part of the adventure. And on this day, the tunes I needed played just when I needed them: an easy striding Blue Rodeo song on the downhills, a bass-driven Britney beat on uphills. And those new ear buds? Like having a concert stage in my brain. I was able to tune out everything around me and focus on the beat in my head. It was musical perfection.
Expectation: The bands and crowds along the race course would motivate me to keep plugging along. A variety of people and sights always helps to pass the time, giving you interesting and different things to look at along the way.
Reality: I had no idea how the cheering and encouragement of perfect strangers would push me along when I needed it most. The high fives, the hand-written signs, the clanging cowbells - they all served as a pat on the back and the motivation I needed to keep putting one foot down in front of the other. Some of my favorite signs included:
26.2: Because 26.3 would just be CRAZY!
If it were easy, I'd be running with you!
Y'ALL ARE FLIPPIN' INSANE!
Toenails are for sissies!
At 19 miles, you'll wonder why. At 26.2, it all becomes clear.
And the sentiment on that last sign pretty much sums it all up. Yes, it takes a certain type of crazy to willingly sign up for a 26.2 mile race. If you could see me scaling the stairs in our house the last two days, you'd witness how hard it can be on your body. But I've now seen why it's all worth it. Because something happens when you cross that finish line. The doubt gives way to relief. The nerves are replaced with confidence. The pain is forgotten for the pride of the accomplishment. In that moment, I felt strong and invincible. And the words of Emil Zatopek rang true: "If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon."
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For the record, my offical time was 3:54:31, finishing 670th of 2894 overall, 170th of 1357 women finishers, and 24th of 216 in my age division. Thanks to everyone who emailed, tweeted, or phoned with their support and congrats - I can't tell you how much it means to me! I so appreciate all your positive thoughts and encouragement in helping me reach this goal.