I was now 7.5 months post-baby, but with the big summer races I had, this was something I felt I could have handled months ago already. While training for this marathon, I was pretty optimistic at how I would do. The first long run of 14 miles at easy pace (just over 2 hours), was pretty tough on my body. After that one though, the other long runs felt fine overall and I was able to recover from them pretty well. However, as the marathon got closer, and my long training runs were behind me, I began to get more and more nervous. Then I hit the “what have I done?!” stage and needed some reassurance that yes, it was going to be okay and I could indeed do this. I tried not to dwell too much on it, so I wouldn’t get too nervous the night before and the morning of.
I ended up traveling to Ashland by myself, and I stayed with a family that I had never met before. Both of these things worked out better than what I was anticipating, and I am ever grateful to my host family (thank you so much!). I picked up my packet Friday night, and partook in the pasta supper that was free to runners. Then I needed some chat time with Katherine to help keep me calm, and walk me through different aspects of what I was about to undergo the next day.
It was a fairly warm morning, but there was a strong wind, and the sun wasn’t out until we were underway with the race. I hopped a shuttle in Ashland and was taken to the race start in Iron River, WI. I jogged about a mile to warm up, did some dynamic stretching and drills to loosen up. My body felt pretty good after that, and I was confident that I could run at a decent pace without my hamstring bothering me. I had only been doing easy paced runs, followed by the foam roller, in order to try and solve my hamstring issues. It was warm enough out to start in my sleeveless jersey (thanks Draft Cyclery!), capris and gloves and know that I would be fine like that for the whole race. I wore the jersey so I could carry my gels in the pockets and not have to hold them. It worked great!
We ran just over a mile on a paved road until we hit the ATV trail, where we would be doing the bulk of our race on. I knew it was a trail run, but I was expecting it to be more like the surface of the 3Eagle trail that I’ve been doing my training on. This trail, however, was a lot tougher to run on. It was a lot softer than I was anticipating (some very soft areas) that made it tough to get traction, and it had a lot of bigger size rocks that were tough on the feet to run on. The fact that it was a trail surface, however, also meant that it was a lot gentler on the body in regards to the knees and joints, and for that I am thankful.
My husband ran the Twin Cities Marathon last fall, and this was obviously very small in comparison. It also had a lot fewer spectators. We would see spectators at the aid stations (there were 15 along the course), but otherwise it was basically just the runners and the trail. It was a gorgeous fall day, but the landscape didn’t change much for about 24 miles of running. I brought 4 gels with me, planning to have one about every 5 miles. Mentally, I broke the marathon into more manageable chunks. The first chunk was the first 5 miles, knowing I would have a gel then, and would be about a fifth of the way done. The next marker was at 6.5 miles, which would be halfway to the halfway point. At 10 miles, I had my 2nd gel and turned my music on for the first time. Those first 10 miles went pretty well.
At 13.1 I knew I would be halfway, which also meant that from there on out, I would be on count down as to how many miles I had left. At 15 miles, I had another gel. Once I hit 17 miles, I was down to single digits of miles left to go. At 18, I knew I had less than half the distance of what I had already run, left to cover. This made me feel better. At 19.6ish miles, I had only a quarter left to go. I arrived at the 20 mile marker just after 2.5 hours. My longest training run was 2.5 hours (17.32 miles), so now it was all uncharted territory duration-wise. I had my 4th and final gel. I was still feeling good at this point. For the first 23 miles, my pace stayed at an average of 7:35/mile, and I was doing surprisingly well. Then it hit me. Mile 24 was an 8:07, then for the next mile (24-25), my shin muscle was on the verge of cramping. I had been on pace for a sub 3:20 marathon, but suddenly it now became about trying to just finish it without stopping to walk. I knew if I cramped, I would struggle to not only keep going, but I could miss the 3:35 Boston qualifying time as well. That mile I averaged 8:14. My body continued to struggle though, and my last full mile was an 8:22. We had about a mile at the end that was off the gravel trail and into town. It lasted forever. Finally the finish line was in sight. I crossed in a time of 3:21:34 (7:42 pace), finishing 4th for females (out of 233), and 1st in my age group (out of 33).
The pain experienced during the last portion of the marathon was only the tip of the iceberg for what was yet to come. After you stop running, a new kind of pain sets in. I was taken into the medical tent after I finished, as I had a breathing attack (makes an appearance similar to asthma sometimes), and they had me lay on a cot for a few minutes. I didn’t know if I would be able to get back up. My entire body felt so weak, even my arms. I felt as though I could not move my body. After leaving the medical tent, I snagged some food (and about 4 cups of chocolate milk), my finisher’s medal and shirt, and headed to my car. I walked like a 90-year-old woman. I foam rolled out on the street and it felt both painful and amazing. I ate some more food, got my award, and headed home. I survived my first marathon and walked away with only one bleeding toenail and 2 blisters. Oh yea, and a whole lot of pain that only continued to set in over the next day or so.