Oh hey. I'm a marathoner now. No big deal.
Just kidding. It's a ginormous huge deal and I am still, five days later, riding a bit of a high from it. After all the months of training (and all the weeks of not training), the moving to North Carolina, the heat and humidity, the semi-injuries, the foam-rolling and twisted ankles and quality time with ice packs, it's all over in 26.2 miles and 4 hours, 36 minutes and 32 seconds.
I can't remember when I first decided that I wanted to run a marathon. I think it was something I always knew I would do, from the moment I first put on racing shoes and ran in my first cross-country meet when I was 16. I put it on my "do before I'm 30" list and then slipped on ice in January and bruised my tailbone and couldn't run for three months. I was living in Wisconsin at the time after quitting my job in Virginia to move to California with my boyfriend, only to be there for a grand total of two days before breaking up - painfully, and messily, and horribly. I was supposed to spend that winter in the desert with palm trees and sunshine and love; I was not supposed to be walking on black ice at 6 am in the dark by myself, falling so quickly it took my breath away. In retrospect, it was a fitting metaphor for my life at the time. I limped back to my mother's house. I waited for my tailbone to feel better. I watched it snow and snow and snow. And then I decided it was time to stop waiting, and I registered for the Chicago Marathon.
I picked Chicago for no reason other than geographic location. Chicago was within driving distance of Madison, where I was living at the time; I knew my family could easily make the trip down to see me race, and I also knew that if PLEASE, GOD, PLEASE I found a job and got the F out of Wisconsin, I could easily fly back into Chicago with no hassle. I knew almost nothing else about the race when I clicked that register button. I didn't know it was one of the big five. I didn't know that 45,000 people would line up with me behind the starting line. I just knew it made sense for where I was at the time.
In the weeks leading up to race day, I was extremely nervous. My training, as I have written countless times before, didn't go as planned, for a lot of reasons but mostly because I didn't dedicate myself to it as fully as I wanted to. I did my one and only 20-mile run 12 days before the race. My left hamstring and my right IT band were bothering me right up until I walked to Grant Park on race morning. I knew I could do the race, sort of, but I also really didn't know that I could do it. People say, "trust your training." I didn't trust my training because I hadn't fully done my training. My father said, "It's okay to walk." My stepmother said, "All you have to do is finish, and you can do that." My friends signed up en masse to track my race progress via text message and told me they knew I could do it. But I wasn't so sure. All I knew is that I would try.
I ironed my name onto my tank top the night before the race so that people would cheer for me. On race day, I woke up at 4:45, got coffee, got dressed, popped ibuprofen and walked to Grant Park. Because I raced with a charity, I had the option of checking my bag at the Team PAWS tent, which was great because it allowed me to avoid the lines at the general gear check. It was not so great because the Team PAWS tent was about a 15-minute walk from the corrals. I trekked over, dropped off my bag, stopped in two Port-a-Potty lines, and finally got back to the corrals minutes before the gun went off. I couldn't find the entryway, so I made friends with a group of runners hanging out by the fence and we all jumped it together. One of the guys sort of caught me - I warned them that I was clumsy and would probably die if I tried to do it alone - and he stumbled and fell off the curb and I had a moment of panic where I worried that I had injured him and he wouldn't be able to run. He was fine. Also, awesome.
And from there it's kind of a blur. I stood in the open corral telling the people around me that I was nervous. Then the gun went off and I crossed the starting line and for about the first 10 miles the only thing I could think was, "I. Am Running. A MARATHON." I couldn't stop smiling. Spectators screamed my name and I waved at them and laughed and high-fived kids with their arms outstretched. Shortly after the two-mile mark, we ran over a bridge and I saw my dad. My heart kind of exploded with happiness as we waved and shouted at each other. He snapped this, the only non-official photo of me racing. It's early in the race, but this is what I looked like pretty much the entire time.
I saw him, with my stepmom, again at mile 10; she said later, "I couldn't believe how happy you looked!"
Honestly, I know this will make me sound like an asshole, but I had the greatest time ever running that race. My legs started to hurt around mile 12 and I just told them to shut up and kept going. The race didn't feel great - and I went out conservatively and was running at about a 10:30 pace, which for me is really really slow and really really comfortable - but I did. I kept thinking in my head, "My legs are unhappy but I'm not." I broke the race down into five five-mile sections, but when I got to mile 20 I got to switch to my plan of dedicating each of the last six miles to someone in my life and honestly, it's the best thing ever. Because instead of focusing on the pain and how far I had to go, I got to spend each of those miles thinking about someone amazing in my life and how much I love them.
I never hit a wall, per se. My legs hurt, and I was ready to stop when the race was over, but there was no wall; no feeling like I couldn't go on. After mile 20 I walked a little, but not much at all. I kept telling myself to walk for one song and run for two, but I'd walk for maybe half of one and then run for 10 or 12 or 15 minutes. And before I knew it, I was turning the corner to go to the finish line. And just like that, I crossed it, they put a medal around my neck and now I've run a marathon.
When I got back to my phone it was full of text messages from people who had tracked me; people I had no idea cared. Coworkers. People who donated to my charity that I haven't spoken to since I moved. My mom. My bff. Then I collected my things and met my dad, stepmom and stepsister and that was the end of my marathon day.
It was one of the happiest and best things I've ever, ever done. It was the perfect way to end the crappiest year of my life. And I can't wait to do it again.
P.S. I did not fall down even once!