Rocket City Marathon Race Report

When I decided to start training for a full marathon, I knew I was setting myself up for a very difficult task. The mileage I’d have to put in. The time I’d spend, not just running but preparing for my runs and recovering afterward. The long weekend runs that would interfere with my usual tendency to behave irresponsibly and stay up late on weekend nights. I knew it would be hard, but worth it.

Only as the race started drawing nearer did I actually start thinking about running the event itself and how hard that would be. I’d run up to 20 miles in training, and I knew the last 6.2 miles would be the hardest. I knew they would hurt and that they’d likely be the slowest 6.2 miles I had ever run. I was right about all of this, of course.

It doesn’t matter how much you know about something intellectually, though, until you actually do it. I wouldn’t really know how hard the race would be until I was in the thick of it, in the middle of the hardest and most painful miles, telling myself I had to keep going.

Race Stuff

The night before the race, Clarabella, Brunbec and I went out for pizza at this lovely little place near our hotel, where I proceeded to carb-load in style. I got in bed early and tried, fruitlessly, to fall asleep. I’m not sure when I drifted off, but I think I only had a few hours sleep total — I’m a terrible insomniac when I’m anticipating something the next day. I spent some time visualizing my run and trying to plant positive thoughts and images in my mental garden for the tough miles.

In the morning, I got up, brewed some terrible hotel-room coffee, and ate my usual pre-run breakfast (PB toast, banana). I slimed my feet up with tons of body glide — blisters have never been a problem for me and I attribute that to my use of the pervy-sounding blister and chafe preventive — and wriggled into my tights and such. Clarabella walked me to the start, which was right outside our hotel, and waited with me.

I lined up with the folks who expected to run between 4:45-5:00, a time I thought was a solid prediction based on my long training runs, and I waited for the gun to start. We heard “The Star Spangled Banner,” the cannon went BOOM!, and as I crossed the starting line, the Black-Eyed Peas “Let’s Get it Started” blasted through the crowd. The race was on.

For the first half, I clicked off one 10:30 mile after another, keeping my pace steady and easy. I’d been having some trouble with my left leg in the weeks leading up to the race. A tight hamstring and sore back of the knee kept me swimming a lot instead of running. Once I had completed my 20-mile run, the last important long run on the plan, I was fine with cross training. I worried, though, that the pain and tightness in that leg might come back during the race. I was determined not to push it.

To my surprise, my left leg was fine! Unfortunately, at mile five or so, I noticed my right IT band tightening and causing an annoying pain in my right knee. (Description here.) For the first half of the race, occasionally stopping to stretch it out helped and I was able to keep going fine. After mile 15 or 16, however, I was in plenty of pain. If this had been a training run, I would have had to stop. I had ten more miles of my marathon to go, though. There was no way I was stopping.

I slowed my running pace to an easier 11:00 mile and took a short walking break every mile or so, trying to take it easy and stretching when I needed to. I saw the groups of people I’d been running near getting farther and farther away from me. Every time I had to walk or stretch, I’d lose the person I’d been following. It started to feel a little lonely.

Around mile 17 or 18, my spirits were lifted when I saw a high school cross-country team lined up on the route in a sort of gauntlet, giving high-fives to everyone who passed between them. They were screaming and cheering encouragement as we runners passed through, and you had better believe I high-fived every single one of those kids. They made my day. Thank you, XC team, wherever you are!

There was no real moment of hitting the proverbial wall at mile 20 — I think I had already hit that wall when the stretching stopped helping my IT band. I was already slow and hurting and the 6.2 “new miles” weren’t any worse than the last 4-5 miles I’d run. I just knew I was that much closer to getting to the finish line and seeing my friends waiting there for me.

Along with Clarabella and Brunbec, my friend Golightly and her fiancé P. were there. I started thinking about them and focused on how badly I wanted to get to them.

I thought about how Golightly was the person who, just over 2 years ago, decided she wanted to start the Couch-to-5K training program and suggested to me that I come check out the on-campus gym with her. At that point, I was so overweight and out of shape that I hadn’t run a mile in years and had no conscious plan for getting myself in shape or losing weight at all. If she hadn’t asked me to check out the gym with her, I have no idea if or when I ever would have gotten back into fitness. Not only did we check it out, but we started going to workout and do C25K together three times a week and we both ran in a 5K race together the next fall. That little question of hers pushed me to change my life.

I thought about Brunbec, who is one of my biggest supporters and has seemingly endless patience for listening to me prattle on about food, fitness, running, and anything else I have on my mind. She has been my race sherpa countless times and has also run three 5K races with me — the Covered Bridges 5K where I was first able to run the entire distance, the Art Run 5K where I knocked 6 minutes off my PR, and the Forest Preserve 5K which was my first trail run. She’s going to train for her first half marathon this winter and I can finally repay the favor and be her race sherpa.

I thought about Clarabella, who has been one of my very best friends for over 14 years now and has been with me through thick and thin, both literally and figuratively. She will listen to anything I have to say, always gives the best advice, and never judges. She also always has a magical stockpile of vegan food whenever I come see her despite the fact that she and her family are omnivores. Last Thanksgiving, she took her grandmother’s classic family recipe for a cheesy vegetable casserole and veganized it just for me. Her grandmother’s recipe, you guys. And oh yeah, it was delicious. She’s also run three 5K races with me: The Watermelon Carnival 5K twice, which was my very first 5K ever and then where I set my current PR, and the Double Decker 5K. I rely on her support a lot and I always know I can count on her.

These three women were waiting for me at the finish line of this race and I knew I had to get there. At 25.2 miles into the race, they had a special “One Mile to Go” sign and cheering section. It was so wonderful to hear the volunteers there telling us how close we were to the finish. At that point I got a little choked up thinking about the fact that I was running the final mile of my marathon. I was so close and I knew I could do it. I thought about me two years ago — the me who had yet to check out a gym or try to start running again and who was so overweight and unfit that she got winded climbing the stairs out of the parking lot at work. Me back then would never believe what I was doing now, I felt sure of it.

I never, ever would have imagined myself to be a marathon runner — not even back in the days of high school and college when I ran just to get out of the house and it never seemed difficult or like a big deal at all. I think I had to go through the process of getting fat and out of shape and then getting back in shape again to be able to see that I’d be up to this challenge. If I’d never had to come back from that bad, unhealthy place, I don’t know that I’d have had the confidence to try. But there I was.

I never saw a more beautiful stretch of road than the last 385 yards before the finish line. When I got close I could hear my friends cheering for me and I gave them a huge grin and a wave.

[345/365] Finish Line in Sight

As I crossed the first timing mat, the announcer called out my name and city and a random spectator and I had a “War Eagle Moment.” A few steps later and I was across the line.

The Hurt

My time was 5:11:30, a bit slower than I had expected, but I was still so happy and relieved — I couldn’t believe I was done! We picked up my post-race snacks and headed up to the hotel room for lunch (Golightly and P. had brought us sandwiches) and I stretched, used the foam roller, had my ice bath, and ate. That was the single most delicious sandwich I have ever had.

The rest of the day included champagne, truffles, a delicious dinner out, and karaoke. But I will save all of that fun for another post.

[347/365] Medals

As of now, my knee still hurts a bit. I am currently walking around like a 90-year-old grandma crossed with a newborn baby giraffe and — in what is a completely new type of problem for me to have — I have a blister on my left middle toe that is so big it looks like my toe is growing a new toe, possibly a fancy toe with its own heartbeat and nervous system. In every other way, however, I have never felt better.

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26 thoughts on “Rocket City Marathon Race Report

  1. Wendy December 13, 2010 / 8:58 pm

    Great job!

    What an accomplishment! Do you think you’ll do another?

  2. Kate December 13, 2010 / 9:44 pm

    Thanks! I would love to try again — and hopefully both avoid the ITB issue and beat my time. But not until next fall or winter, probably.

  3. Rose-Anne December 13, 2010 / 10:16 pm

    Congratulations! 26.2 congratulations! I’ve got chills, reading your marathon story. (Literally, you wrote a marathon post about your marathon. How apropos!) I hope you are glowing with pride and joy, and that your legs aren’t hurting *too* bad. Those days after the race–they’re hard!

    I’m so happy for you 🙂

  4. Holly December 13, 2010 / 10:39 pm

    Oh man, I just teared up a little. GOOD FOR YOU, LADY! Congratulations!

  5. K December 14, 2010 / 7:03 am

    Congrats!!!

  6. Kristen December 14, 2010 / 8:07 am

    Hooray! I was so excited to read this (saw it in my Twitter stream last night, but had already closed the computer for the night and wasn’t going to get started with all that again!), and you didn’t disappoint. I’m so proud of you, both for your marathon, which just blows me away, and for your overall dedication to fitness and healthy living. You’re a real live inspirational story, you know? I’m just blown away, completely.

  7. Chrissy (The New Me) December 14, 2010 / 9:33 am

    I love this recap! I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a LOT of marathon recaps – it’s kind of a hobby of mine). I am so impressed with how far you’ve come in just two years, and I’m so thrilled with your marathon finish! Following your training and now seeing your success has been fun, interesting, and inspiring. CONGRATULATIONS!

  8. Jenn December 14, 2010 / 9:47 am

    WOW, just WOW. I’m so proud of you and happy for you. I teared up reading this. you are such an inspiration.

  9. Cynthia December 14, 2010 / 10:21 am

    Congrats on finishing the marathon. What a great accomplishment!

  10. Ashley December 14, 2010 / 10:22 am

    You are awesome!

  11. clarabella December 14, 2010 / 11:21 am

    Dammit! There is something in my EYE(s).

  12. Brandon December 14, 2010 / 11:55 am

    I know I’ve been guilty of ragging on running in the past but kudos for getting across that finish line. I nearly killed myself during a 10 K back in 2004 and vowed to never run again after that. My knees just can’t handle it. Congratulations on accomplishing something that, even if I put my mind to it, I could never do.

  13. Kate December 14, 2010 / 12:07 pm

    Now you guys are making me all misty. Thank you so much for the kindness and encouragement.

  14. LizScott December 14, 2010 / 12:24 pm

    Awww, you’re making me tear up. I remember this, I remember it SO WELL — the move from “I could never” to “well maybe someday” to “fuck it, let’s do it” to “gah, how many miles left? Stupid ITB!!”

    Isn’t it great, where you find yourself, if you keep running? I loved this race report, and I’ve loved watching (erm, reading) about your training and the whole process. So much so that I registered for another marathon and I blame you ENTIRELY. Grumble.

    Your post race plans sound SO AWESOME. I think that champagne and truffles and karaoke and a day off sound like the ONLY way to run a marathon, frankly.

    Now, heal up – we’ve got Bourbon Chase to think about 🙂

  15. Alexis December 14, 2010 / 3:05 pm

    WHOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! BRILLIANTISSIMO!

  16. Aj December 14, 2010 / 3:35 pm

    This is by far one of the best recaps I’ve read!!! I got teary-eyed when you listed all the people waiting for you at the finish and how they have played a role in getting you there. Recaps like this make me want to sign up for my first full. Right. Now.

  17. clarabella December 14, 2010 / 9:03 pm

    Bourbon Chase! Now THAT is a race I will train for with gusto!

  18. Sho December 14, 2010 / 11:47 pm

    You’re seriously awesome. I think I would’ve called it quits had I had pain that early in the run. But you persevered and rocked it! And you have an awesome support crew. You *all* rock.

  19. Kate December 15, 2010 / 9:16 am

    I seriously think the nicest people on the entire internet comment here. You all make me feel warm and fuzzy.

    Liz – you signed up for a marathon? YAY! Which one? And feel free to blame me because I’m sure it will be awesome and then I can take partial credit. Re the Bourbon Chase, OH INDEED.

    Alexis – Thank you!!

    Aj – Once you get all rehabbed up you should really think about it! Very difficult/very awesome.

    Clarabella – I will hold you to that!

    Sho – Thanks, man! I was inspired by your marathon and ultra – you’ve got guts! I think it may have been fairly stupid for me to continue in spite of the knee, but I’ve got plenty to keep me occupied while it heals. Cycling, swimming, yoga, etc. I don’t need/plan to be running long distances again until summer or fall.

  20. LizScott December 16, 2010 / 2:09 pm

    Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN, in June. I feel like it’s time to finally do a marathon in my home state, plus a handful of my buddies from DC that I just moved away from will be doing it, so it seems like a great excuse to all get together.

    I’m mostly serious about Bourbon Chase. The logistics of organizing seem … overwhelming …but it was SO AWESOME. Plus, it’s Kentucky in the fall. Beautiful. AND THERE’S BOURBON

  21. Kate December 18, 2010 / 9:09 pm

    That sounds like fun! I feel like I have heard good things about that race.

    Anyway, re: the Bourbon Chase, I’m sure organizing would be insane but if it could possibly work out I am ALL for it.

  22. Katherine December 19, 2010 / 10:06 am

    Congratulations. I actually went searching for your race report, and was so excited to find it! You did not disappoint! What an awesome accomplishment. You make me want to sign up for a marathon. Now.

  23. Kate December 19, 2010 / 10:17 am

    K – Thank you! I’m glad you found it. I am sure you could successfully run a marathon — and the experience and the feeling of accomplishment are definitely worth it!

  24. susiemaye December 19, 2010 / 1:48 pm

    Congrats! This is so awesome. You are indeed an inspiration to me, more than you know. I hope that one day I can be in your shoes!

  25. Kate December 19, 2010 / 7:35 pm

    Aw, thank you! I just went one small step at a time and kept on stepping.

  26. Kate December 19, 2010 / 7:35 pm

    That sounds super cheesy, doesn’t it? Yikes.

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