Have you ever had a dream in which you are running your first marathon, and you’re getting towards the end when it should start feeling rough…when you realize you actually feel great? Then, you pick up the pace and still feel great, and you fly in towards the finish line, crush your goals, and feel on top of the world?
This is the story of when that dream happened to me in real life, at the New Jersey Marathon on Sunday. Pop some Nuun and take a bathroom break, this
might will be a lengthy one.
I slept well the night before the race. Mainly because sleeping is one of my favorite things and I am pretty good at it. Anyway, Brennan was picking me up at 5:30 AM, so I had
my alarm my three alarms set for 4:30-4:45 (call me paranoid but I do this daily…refer to sleeping comment). I had a little oatmeal. My stomach was feeling a little off; I wasn’t hungry when I woke up and I would have preferred to be, just to avoid the chances of feeling full or bloated. So, I think I only had a few bites. Before all my long runs in training, I’d had just one or two gels for “breakfast,” but I wanted more in me before the marathon, so I thought my old go-to, oatmeal, was a good choice. Martin was riding with us, so he met us at my house, and we were on our way at 5:30. I was so glad Brennan was driving me, not just so I didn’t have to drive back, but so I could stay motivated and excited by my biggest fan. 🙂 The three of us chatted all the way to the shore, and “nervous” was not a feeling that ran through me at all. No quickened heart rate, no sweating, no panicking. I had the unfamiliar sensation that all I needed I would find out there on the course right within me. That was ridiculously corny and deep, but it’s the only way to describe it.
We hit no traffic, and parked at the Monmouth Park Racetrack without a hitch. We hit up the porta potties and then said goodbye to Brennan. “See you at mile eleven!” she called, frantically trying to get her uncooperative phone to connect to Twitter so she could meet up with Jocelyn (spoiler: she never did, unfortunately). Martin and I walked to the parking lot, which was where the bag check trucks were parked and the starting corrals were accessed. It was really empty, but then again, it was a huge lot and an hour before the
start. And it was cold! This was much, much better than it being hot, but my toes were starting to go numb. We wanted to check our bags before lines appeared at the trucks, but we didn’t want to take off our warm clothes. I had made tube-sock arm warmers, but they weren’t going to cut it with this temperature…and they were much shorter than I thought. Solution: go shopping in the dozens of trashbags full of the half marathoners’ discarded clothes! We asked some volunteers if
How’s this for pre-race style?
it was okay, and they said sure. Ingenious. Iscored a Johns Hopkins sweatshirt and Old Navy sweatpants, and Martin snagged a Delta sweatshirt and a big blue blanket with “Happy Holidays 2003” embroidered in the corner. They were perfect, and very warm and cozy. We checked our bags, and were a step closer to getting this thing started! The fact that we could go into the corrals now without a care made me relieved and excited. We weaved our way through people into Corral B. Martin headed farther up in search of the 3:15 pacer, and I found fellow Running Company employee Alex introducing himself to the 3:25 pacer. The guys holding the 3:30 flags were to my right, and the 3:25 guy was slightly behind me to my left. I was next to a group of women who looked around my age, maybe a little older. I ended up talking to the group of runners trying to stick with the 3:25 pacer, even though I had decided not to do that. I have a confession: I was really, really terrified of going out to fast. Everyone told me not to do it – there was no way I wasn’t listening to them. I get really caught up in races, really competitive, and really non-complacent when I’m not running as fast as I think I can. But, this was a marathon, uncharted territory. If experienced marathoners were all giving me this warning, I was going to listen. “So are you running with us?” one woman asked me. “Um…I think I want to start a little behind, I want to not go out too fast so I want to see an eight on my watch the first few miles,” I said. “Then we’re going to go too fast, you should go back.” I explained to her that the 3:30 pacer was currently in front of the 3:25 pacer, so I was just going to start right here. All of this happened before 8:00 AM, mind you. Things sorted themselves out. “Sweet Caroline” played before the start. It may have had something to do with Boston? I’m not sure. We were encouraged to sing the chorus. Then the race began. We shuffled out feet with our fingers hovered on our watches’ “start” buttons for a moment until we crossed the starting line. There was a series of beeps and then we were off! I was able to settle into a normal pace immediately, and I realized I wouldn’t be running this marathon alone; I was with so many runners! I just had to keep it that way the whole time. When I crossed the starting line and the marathon officially began, the strangest thing happened. I almost cried. This was really happening. After all this time, I was here starting my first marathon. And I felt great. I held back the emotions, telling myself to save them for the end when I needed motivation.
The first five or so miles were on residential streets. Some families had set up camp in their driveways, playing music, cheering, and holding signs. Some people were even playing instruments! We fist-pumped and smiled at them, and cheered back! These miles flew by and felt ridiculously effortless. I was holding back the entire time and keeping my pace in check. There was a bridge before mile 6, which was one of the only uphills on the course. It was super short though, and made no difference in my pace. Getting a glimpse of the water was nice. I had been chatting with an older guy for a couple miles, hovering just ahead of the 3:30 pace group, but lost him soon after a water stop. I had an important decision to make when I realized a girl wearing annoyingly loud headphones was running exactly the pace I wanted to run…at first I hung back, but then I passed her…not sure when. I also plotted an escape from a guy with a continuously beeping Garmin.
Miles 1-6: 7:52, 7:46, 7:56, 7:50, 7:37, 7:44.
One of the guys who comes to our store group runs every week, Patrick, gave me great advice for the marathon: 1.) Make sure you’re always having fun, and 2.) Make a friend out there. Around six miles, I realized I was running alone, but there were two women running just a few steps behind me. Since I had just dropped a 7:37 accidentally, I reeled it in for a few seconds and caught their stride. “I was running all alone – there’s no reason for that when you’re right here!” I exclaimed. The two women, Lauren and Gretchen, ended up
Brennan in all her banana glory (taken from her blog).
being my running buddies for the next thirteen miles. Lauren was wearing a 2013 Boston shirt, and both were from Massachusetts, in their forties. We chatted periodically throughout the race, and the miles clicked by. Lauren told me nutrition is key, and I should take a Gu really soon. I listened to her and had little bites throughout mile eight, even though my energy seemed fine. The next water stop was the first time I took water, just to wash it down. I was really bad at getting the water in my mouth at first…then I learned to fold the cup and was a master. Duh. Approaching mile 10 I heard my name, and turned to see Nick and Hyde (Nick & Kate’s dog)! When we passed the eleventh mile marker, I warned the ladies that we would soon be approached by a rather enthusiastic banana. My mind developed banana-yellow radar, and I could spot Brennan in her suit from really far away. And Amy, ringing the cowbell and holding those awesome signs like a champ. I wasn’t expecting a video, let alone interview, but that’s what I got! It went something like this:
Brennan: “How do you feel?”
Me: “This is so much fun, I feel great!”
Brennan: “You feel great? Can you do this for 15 more miles?”
Me: “Only 15 more miles? Of course!”
Brennan: “See you at mile 24!”
Miles 7-13: 7:46, 7:48, 7:55, 7:54, 7:45, 7:41
Before the half marathon mark, we went around this little pond thing (see map). When we were running on the far side, two things happened. We picked up two more runners for our little group, a guy, and a girl who looked like she was pushing hard. She was doing well, obviously, but I made it a point to always stay feeling more relaxed than she looked. At the time, I was still feeling comfortable. It wasn’t time, mentally, for me to be uncomfortable, at mile 12. The other thing that happened was I saw the big 3:30 pace group all the way across the lake, entering the loop as we were on our way out. Behind me. I went over to the right to cross over the half marathon timing mat, but apparently the timing system didn’t pick up my time! This is kind of annoying, because the people tracking me were concerned until 30k, and I’d really like to know what it was. My watch was beeping about 0.2-0.3 before the actual mile markers at this point. I realized that I crossed the mat within a second of Lauren and Gretchen, so I just looked up their official 13.1 splits…both 1:43:50. So, I’m going to claim that as mine too if that’s alright. I can’t imagine running alone down this straight stretch of road. The sun finally felt like it was beating on us, and the wind was intermittently blowing…but I hardly noticed, keeping in a rhythm with everyone else.
Little body of water 1.
Then came two other weird little bodies of water to run around. The lead men were passing us on the other side of the road as we approached the first, and somewhere in there I saw Brian (he ended up finishing 18th)! I cheered for him and he gave me two thumbs up. Apparently that’s a runner’s instinct while running, as is further suggested by my video screenshots.
Little body of water 2.
There was an out-and-back to the turnaround in Asbury Park (or Ocean Grove?), during which we had a flurry of crowd support, which was nice! I was still smiling. After little body of water #1, my right hip started to tighten a bit. It felt like my ITB, possibly. It made me want to massage right over the bone, and do pigeon pose. I did the first as best I could while running, but obviously not the second. It never hurt or caused me to slow down though. Ironically, this happened right after I made the announcement to my little running group: “The last time I saw the ocean was when I had a stress fracture in my hip, and was sad, so I came to the shore alone for the day. I’m glad I’m seeing it again now like this!” For a second I thought I jinxed myself, then quickly reminded myself how stupid that was and got over it.
Miles 14-19: 7:49, 7:50, 7:50, 7:45, 7:42, 7:45
The water stop just before coming back to body of water #2 on the way in was a game changer. Not because of water, or Gatorade, or Gu, but because KATE was there! I was so surprised to see her there waiting to run along with me, because she was supposed to run 7:15 pace with Martin for miles 13-23. It turned out that he was off pace at mile 13, so after running with him for awhile, she returned to this spot to run with me. The little bodies of water on the map are throwing me off a bit, but I think that was where I met Kate. I took my last Gu around there, making a total of three, exactly as I expected. She started mentioning “pretending I didn’t run 20 miles and making it a 10k tempo” once we reached 20. I was scared to death of this idea. Was that normal? Is that what people do? Is that what Kate does and her secret to 3:11 marathons?! I wasn’t sure what to do. I assessed the situation: The 7:45ish pace felt good, I’d been holding it for awhile and still felt like I was holding back. My stomach…had not felt good since mile seven, but I wasn’t sure if running faster would have any effect on it. It just felt a little too early to start dropping the pace. I wasn’t sure what would happen. I didn’t want to go crazy and then all of a sudden hit the wall. This was new territory, from 20 miles on….I gradually accepted this idea that I could stand to go a little faster if I was feeling this good. And so it began.
Miles 20-24: 7:38, 7:39, 7:38, 7:39, 7:37
We chatted about random things to pass the miles away, and Kate did a really good job of convincing me that I would be okay and I shouldn’t stop at a porta potty before the one that would be waiting after the finish. We saw Anne cheering somewhere along the 23rd mile, and it made me really happy to see her look so happy to see me! At around 24.5 there was a right turn, which put me on the road closest to where the boardwalk used to be (or maybe it was a temporary paved boardwalk?). As soon as I made the turn I felt okay with pushing even more. Glancing at my watch, I saw I was now running 7:20s. Kate let me go on alone then, and pretty soon I was approaching Brennan the banana and Amy again! They seemed to not expect me coming, as they weren’t looking in my direction and I took them by surprised when I waved at them. Brennan jumped right in and started running next to me. Video interview Part Two happened…and apparently the first thing I said to her was an expression of my fear involving my current porta potty desires. You can watch the video to experience this firsthand (secondhand?), I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. I was still having fun and smiling! Brennan asked, “you’re running kind of fast now, aren’t you?” It was true, about thirty seconds per mile faster than the last time she saw me! She stayed with me for almost a mile, and got lots of hoots and hollers for her banana suit! She also yelled lots of things about mermaids and told me the story of her haircut the other day. It was seriously exactly what I needed at that moment. Anything to keep me strong enough to distract me from the fact that my watch was approaching 26.2 far quicker than the finish line was appearing in sight! Basically, I didn’t want to think it was closer than it was, which at this point was significant after apparently not running tangents well enough. If that makes sense. Brennan dropped off to the side, and I was now running on a wide, brick path, which I recognized was definitely where the finish line was! The crowd was off to the left and the ocean to my right, and no one seemed to be running around me. I finally saw the big yellow finish and ran as fast as I could with a huge smile on my face. I heard Brian yelling my name really loudly, and then heard and saw my family finally. I crossed the line, got my medal and water, almost puked, and started walking at last. My family took some pictures of me immediately after I finished, and I think the look on my face says it all.
Miles 25, 26, 0.57 (grr): 7:23, 7:19, 3:55 (6:53 pace)I ran 3:25:02, qualified for Boston by almost ten minutes, never once felt bad, and negative-splitted the race (1:43:50 + 1:41:12) as if I planned it that way. This moment could not have felt better.
I want to reflect on the race much more in a separate post, as this one with “just” the race details is plenty long enough! There is so much more to write, contrary to what you might think. Here are a few more pictures…the running ones to come, since I don’t have any yet (people seemed to like to just take videos of me)!
First, the stats:
How to finish a marathon smiling.
Definitely the best spectator/cheerleader/ runner support crew at the race! Hello, banana suit?! (Don’t worry, there is an official race photo out there with the banana on.)
WHAT A DAY!