Last Sunday I completed my first marathon! I don't think I've mentioned my marathon training much on the blog yet, but if you've been following along you know that I started running a little less than a year ago with hopes of running the Tar Heel 10-Miler last spring. After running the 10-Miler I was instantly hooked, and decided to keep training to do the Outer Banks Marathon.
Needless to say, it was a huge accomplishment for me. After a pretty great training season, I imagined this blog post talking about how it was such a big achievement, how the run was so magical and fun, and how I couldn't wait to sign up for my next marathon. In reality, this race was TOUGH. The most difficult thing I've ever attempted in my life kind of tough. So instead of just talking about completing the race, I thought it would be more beneficial to give a breakdown of the whole experience so you know all the lows that come with running a marathon that I wish I'd know about, as well as all the highs and joy I felt finishing this race! I have to warn you, this post is quite a doozy. Turns out it takes a lot of time/words to write about 26 miles!
My pre-race nerves and mood were UGLY the entire week before. I was not stressed at all before my race in the spring, but after 14 weeks of training I was scared that anything and everything would go wrong before this race. Rather it be an injury, illness, not hydrating enough, not eating enough carbs, eating too many carbs, I knew it was going to happen to me at some point that week, so I was going to turn into a mad woman and make sure everyone around me felt my wrath. One of my friends cleverly nicknamed these feelings "The Tapermonster", a reference the all the pent up energy/aggression you have from tapering down your training runs. I am so glad (and Eric too) that the tapermonster has been subdued post race!
Despite my high stress levels, I was really excited to run a race in the Outer Banks because I had never been there before. Eric and I got to do some sight-seeing and see some amazing views at the Wright Brother's Memorial and the beach outside our hotel the day before – which was perfect because we both knew I may be too sore to do anything following the race. You can tell the race is a big deal for the small towns in the Outer Banks as everyone was extremely accommodating and friendly to runners. I would definitely love to go back in the future just to visit some of the restaurants we enjoyed so much that weekend!
Race Day! Miles 1-10
The race could not have started more perfectly. The starting line was in Kitty Hawk and the weather was great, I felt prepared and ready to run, and I was able to meet up with my friend Lindsey from my training group before the start so that we could run together. I should mention before I get started that I had three goals for this race:
- Run the entire time
- Kick some butt on the Washington-Baum Bridge, which is a 1 mile long stretch at mile 23 that climbs up 82 feet, and
- Finish in 4 hour and 30 minutes, which I thought would be attainable based on my 10-miler time and some of my training runs.
The first ten miles had some spectacular views as we ran past the Currituck Sound and the Wright Brother's Memorial. The best part of this route though? The people that came out to cheer us on! As we ran through the neighborhoods along the sound it seemed like everyone was out, lining the streets to cheer our names, thank us for being there, and hand us food! Yes, I was well fed those first 10 miles. People were handing out sliced oranges, grapes, cups of gummy bears and even mimosas (I actually passed on the alcohol, but loved the fact someone had brought those out!).
^^So happy during the first half!
This section of the race was through the trails at the Nags Head Woods Preserve. The shade from the trees was a nice break from sun that was quickly heating up the asphalt, and surprisingly the trails were still full of cheerleaders for us! Again we were fed well, banana bread, brownies and left over halloween candy. The trails were hilly, but they were no match for the hills we ran each week in our training program (thank you Chapel Hill!). The most difficult part about the trails was that we were running on top of compacted sand, which felt so foamy and made you sink down a little every time you took a step. We made it out of the woods in high spirits though and I even saw Eric and Bella waiting for us just past the mile 13 marker. After giving Bella a high five, I was ready to take on the next half of the race!
At this point of the race we began our long and boring journey down US-158. If you are unfamiliar with the Outer Banks (which I am pretty much an expert on now) during this part of the race 158 is a shadeless highway with the main attractions being run down putt putt courses and a Tanger Outlet. Lindsey's boyfriend thankfully ran alongside us for a bit around mile 14, but other than that the roadside cheerleaders had tapered off and we were left to push ourselves. This is when the race started to get really hard. The temperature had climbed up to 70 degrees, at least a 20 degree difference from when we started, and we had slowed down quite a bit from our first-half pace. The route took us through a few incredibly dull golf neighborhoods, where all the lush lawns started to look like the perfect place to plop down and take a nap. The worst part of these neighborhoods? We could see the mile 23 bridge across the sound, and even though we were so close in mileage to it, it looked painstakingly far away. The only thing keeping us going were the cups of yellow gatorade they had at the aid stations. They must've been adding crack to these cups because they were the most amazing thing I have ever tasted (I tried a bottle of the yellow gatorade the following day and it was not nearly as good).
^^Even though I felt like death, I somehow still looked like I was having the time of my life. Good job photographers.
Now was the start of our trek to the bridge. The furthest we'd run in our training program was 20 miles, so at this point it was all mental. Our legs were essentially stuck in autopilot at this point and I was on a runner's high like I had never experienced. I was not expecting how delirious I would feel, and the fact that I could still keep running through that delirium. At one point Lindsey was standing next to a trash can and she couldn't seem to make her empty water cup go in. I started laughing hysterically and couldn't stop. Things got even sadder when we were running behind an older man who was walking and we just could not pass him no matter how hard we tried. Around mile 22 I noticed I had just missed my goal time of 4.5 hours. With the bridge so close and the feeling of passing out looming, I decided to try and book it and get as close to a 5 hour time as possible (and by book it, I mean I was maybe running an 11 minute mile at best).
I had missed my time goal, but I wasn't going to give up on my goal of kicking butt on that bridge! Thanks to some great training, the elevation was actually no problem at all and I easily ran up it while everyone else walked. The wind on the bridge however, felt like it was going to topple me over and the horizontal striping stamped into the concrete made it a very dizzying experience. Once I made it over the bridge I was on my way to downtown Manteo and I thought I was in the clear. However, those last few miles were the toughest of the entire race. I was now running on my own, and any other racers I passed looked like they were about to fall over. Eating sugar all day had also finally caught up to me. Not sure if you've ever tried to run 2 miles while fighting back vomit, but it is not something I'd ever recommend!
^^Check out that determination on the bridge! The last photos are from the tough mile 24. The photographer caught me just as I spilled half a bottle of gatorade on myself.
As I neared the 26 mile marker the cheerleaders started to reappear. A woman who was cheering at an earlier mile marker in the race ran out in the middle of the road to give me a high five and tell me the finish was just around the corner. I literally had to fight back tears! As I neared the finish line I saw that some of the awesome members from my training group had stuck around hours after their half marathon finish to cheer Lindsey and I cross the finish line. It was pretty amazing to see all of them, along with my family as I crossed that line, and to my surprise I didn't fall over after finishing! I came in at 5:26, nearly an hour after I'd planned. While I'm not satisfied with my time, I know my initial goal was probably unrealistic and I honestly couldn't have gone any faster than I did. In the end, I'm happy to have just finished!
This is where things got ugly. I was very prepared to be sore and immobile after my race. What I was not ready for was to be violently ill for the following 6 hours once I got back to my hotel room. I was literally crying on the bathroom floor to Eric telling him I would never run again. It was miserable. I'm not sure if it was dehydration, or the race was just a shock to my system, but it thankfully it subsided by the following day. The rest of this week I have been battling to recover from a major hitch'n my giddyup (as told to me by an OBX waiter), extremely low energy, and what seems to be every sickness on the planet thanks to my shot immune system.
Even with all the post race issues, it's made me so happy to hear all the stories from my training group members about their successful runs, and to think back on all the highs I had during this race. So will I ever run again as I exclaimed I would never do from my hotel bathroom floor? Of course (I'm actually running a 5K tomorrow because I truly am crazy). Will I ever run a marathon again? Thanks to all my post-race symptoms, probably not for a long, long time. In the end I did accomplish much more than I had ever planned on in the year I've been running though, and accomplished two out of three goals for this race, which is pretty good to me. It also doesn't hurt that I now feel like such a badass for being able to run 26.2 miles!