As you can probably infer from the title, I have officially joined the Marathoner club! Can you believe it?!? Be prepared for a long post, the history leading to the race and my First Marathon experience.
Let’s start with some numbers:
5 months of training, 62 actual training runs, I did training runs in 5 different states, 2 different countries, ~500 miles run in +80 hours, +80,000 calories burned. 1 10 mile race in Nice, France, 1 half marathon race in NYC and my first ever full marathon in the north of France from Cancale to Mont St. Michel. A 26.2 mile journey that I NEVER imagined I would / could do!
4 years ago I started running. To be honest I began running to lose weight. I had been very overweight my entire life yet I was always active, an athlete. In high school I played basketball, volleyball, did marching band (Drumline!) and even went the the Kentucky State Tournament in Tennis my senior year. I wasn’t lazy, I wasn’t a couch potato yet somehow I was 130+ lbs over what the doctors say I “should” be, whatever that means. I love food. I love to eat. My whole life it’s been this way. I graduated college, having gained another nearly 40 lbs in the last 1.5 years due to the stress and time I spent on my double degree (excuse, I know 😦 ). I had a 6 month break between my undergrad and grad school. I got started. March 2010 I started the Couch-to-5k plan, intended to take a “couch potato” from running ZERO to a full 30 minutes continuous, in 9 weeks. What a simple concept, walk-run intervals, gradually increasing. It gives you 3 runs a week and was quite difficult for me. But I did it. Every single run, 27 of them. Why? Because I am a competitor and super goal-oriented. I would guilt myself into getting myself to the gym treadmills to complete a run, I HAD to.
May 2010 I ran my first 5k. It was a hot and humid day in Crestwood, KY and I felt so so so incredible afterwards (well not right afterwards, I wanted to die just afterwards!). I was hooked. I kept running: a 5km race, a 4 mile race and about a year later, May 2011 I ran my first half marathon in 2 hours 34 mins. Even then, when people ask “oh wow, I didn’t know you were a runner”, I would say “oh, I’m not a runner, but I run”.
I kept running, a bit. but not intensely, not with a specific goal in mind. At this point I knew I would keep running because I felt awful if I would go more than a few days without a run. This was my new normal. Running.
I kept doing some 5ks for fun, did some 10ks and then, November 2012 I was off to France. Soon after I met my running buddy, Ruby. She had never done races but had been running shorter distances consistently for many years. She asked me to do the Marseille Half-Marathon with her and I thought, no way man, I am not in good enough shape for that (aka: I am too lazy to train). I caved, and signed up. March 2013 was our Half in Marseille and it was miserable. It rained the whole time and I definitely didn’t train enough. I did, however, take time off my PR, I finished in 2 hours 24 mins. Commendable 😀 considering my training regimen (or lack thereof).
After this I took a training break again, running regularly but with no goal in mind. I would run with Ruby when we could (since a few months later, I was in the USA for 2 months and then she moved to Paris). I then signed up for the Paris-Versailles race. Seemed fun, 10 miles (16 km) with some pretty cool scenery (if nothing else, at the start and finish!). I trained, a little, and finished these 10 miles in 1 hour 50 mins completely exhausted. I knew I was just doing this one for fun but I was kind of disappointed in myself.
Not long after this (Sept. 2013) Ruby said she thinks she wants to sign up for a marathon. Not just any marathon, the marathon that finishes at the Mont St. Michel in the north of France. She was also new to the world of running races and never thought she would want to do something as silly as a marathon, but once she set this challenge in front of me, I felt I couldn’t say no. A marathon was on my bucket list, not something I ever actually saw myself doing. It’s too hard, takes too much time to train but when I really thought about it, now was the time. I had the 5 months in front of me, no family to take care of yet, a flexible job (school) situation and the support (in friends, family, and Ruby) to make this happen. So I said yes. I signed up. And off we went. I started training January 22, 2014. Here are some highlights:
I ran a 10 mile Race in Nice, France (1 hour 37 mins). I fell, hard, a few weeks after this, nearly destroying my knees and taking the skin from my left palm. I took a little under two weeks rest and recovery and got back at it (perhaps too soon). Ran a HUGE PR in the NYC Women’s Half Marathon (2h 8 min).
My race training had me doing 4 runs a week. 3 during the week, never longer than 6 miles, generally 4 mile runs for recovery and at least one rest day between those and my weekend long runs, which started at 8 miles and increased, slowly, to my longest runs 18, 20, 21 miles each. 21 miles was 3 weeks before my race, then there was the taper (which may have been my downfall). The taper was rough. I felt lazy and fat due to running so little. Not only this, I was traveling like CRAZY during this time! The last three weeks before my marathon:
State College, PA (Penn State), Louisville, KY (drove there to leave my car), Flew to Boston, rode down to Providence, RI for a week long ridiculously busy conference, bus to NYC to meet my BF and be a tourist for 6 days (I’ll post on all of this soon), fly to Louisville, KY to meet the family and have KY fun, fly to Chicago for 2 days with another bestie, fly to Paris (subsequently getting your luggage and all marathon stuff lost and then found at the VERY LAST MINUTE!), train to St. Malo for Marathon. Shew.
Not an ideal taper. I did some shorter runs and tried to do the taper right but since we were tourists and walking ALL day in NYC, etc I didn’t taper like I really should have. I didn’t do my expected mileage the last two weeks. It was sweltering in central park the day I was to do my 12 mile taper long run. I only did 9. and my last taper long run of 8 turned into 6 due to time constraints. Not to mention the Jet-lag, getting into the country a mere 46 hours before the race. Oh well. You live, you learn! (aka: excuses, excuses).
WEEK BEFORE THE RACE:
Other than running, I tried to me more conscience of what I was putting in my body. I needed lots of water, to limit alcohol, fats, etc. But I was still being a tourist and didn’t want to limit those experiences either. So I compromised on a lot, drinking mostly water and having small portions of the bad stuff, most of the time. except for m&ms. For whatever reason, my BF and I ate tons of M&Ms on this trip…will explain why in later posts 🙂
DAY BEFORE RACE and MORNING OF:
Having rebooked my train for later, waiting on my lost luggage to arrive (so so so stressed), I arrived in St. Malo around 6pm on Saturday. Carrying way too much luggage on my back, having not been back to Marseille yet to drop my stuff off. Packet/number pickup ended at 8p so I rushed (as much as I could with my super heavy 4 bags 😦 , on foot). The station wasn’t far (1 mile) from the expo so it wasn’t awful. Ruby met me and thankfully helped me get my things to the Airbnb apartment we had booked for the night.
Quickly after we picked up some breakfast things from the grocery and then we went off to our pasta dinner around the corner. Drinking lots of water and taking our time with our carbs.
Off to bed by 11pm, woken up a few times that night by dog barks and occasional snores 😉 we woke up for real real at 545am. Breakfasted, semi-cleaned and sleepy we headed to the Navettes (shuttles) to take us to the starting line in Cancale. (We staying in St. Malo, race began in Cancale and finished at Mont St. Michel).
We were freaking out a little at this point. I kept thinking so many things: WHAT ON EARTH WAS I THINKING?!? I can’t run a marathon. what if I can’t finish? What if I get hurt. I am way too fat to run a marathon. I hope I finish. I hope I can walk after this. I hope I don’t hate it so much I wanna stop running. What if I hate running after this. CALM DOWN! You can do it! What if I can’t?!?
We get to Cancale, line up for the port-a-potties, then depose our baggage in the appropriate places and line up for the start.
We decide it’s best to start behind the pace group we’d ideally like to finish with, the 4h 30m pace group. To finish with a 10 min mile pace you would finish in 4 hours and 22 mins. It seemed smart to start slow and steady and speed up if we felt it. Our first mile was 10 min 47 seconds … WHAT . so so so so slow. But there was some traffic jamming towards the beginning, getting out of Cancale. Because of this we spent a few miles playing catch-up with the timing and this, in the end, would be to our detriment.
The course was almost completely flat. It sounded like heaven compared to the Pennsylvania Mountains I had been training in (ok, that’s a little dramatic. Hills we’ll say). Turns out though, if you’ve trained on hills, you want your race to be hilly. I trained hilly and was given a flat course. This was harder than you would imagine. You’d think, yeah! FLAT! When in reality this means you will use the same poor sore muscles for the entirety of your 26.2 miles. For future reference, if I ever decide to be crazy enough to try 26.2 again, train for the specific race. If it’s flat, don’t feel guilty about training flat. It just makes sense!
Here’s what I remember at different points along the way…
First 10 km (10km split 59 m): Felt pretty good, despite the slow start. I was a little scared to see my mile times were in the low 9 mins. I knew it wouldn’t stay this way and I was bound to get tired but I couldn’t get myself to slow down. Around mile 2.5 Ruby went on ahead of me. This was the plan. She is faster and so I had my music to keep me company.
Half Marathon Mark (1/2 marathon split 2 hours 7 mins): Was just passed by the 4h15m pace group. I knew I couldn’t keep up with them but it was cool for a while to be in front of them. If I am going to keep doing distance running I need to be better about a regular pace. Right now, I do a lot of super fast for the first half (whether the race is 10 miles or 26.2) and then gradually slower til the end.
Around mile 14, I caught up with Ruby, my running buddy. This worried me a bit. After I got to her I found out that she was really tired. And, so was I 😦 We were just past the half way mark and I was so tired. My half marathon PR in a race is 2 hours 8 mins … soooo, yeah. I had done the first half way too fast to continue at this pace to finish the marathon.
This is about the time where the DUO runners would switch. There was a two person relay that switched around the half-way mark … this was a mind trick! You had fresh runners coming in right when I was getting tired. LAME. I hoped it would motivate me. Mostly I hated them for not being as tired as I was. haha.
30 km (30 km split 3 hours 14 mins): For the last 8 km Ruby and I had stuck together, doing intervals of walk run, walk run, walk run. We were feeling guilty for being so tired. We were sad since this isn’t how we thought the race would go. We thought we’d run it all, finish super tired at or around 4h30m. But when the 4h30 pace group passed us around mile 18 we knew it wasn’t in the cards. We were so tired and couldn’t imagine keeping up with them. But on we went.
24 miles: For the past few miles we had been doing that grueling walk run interval, just to get ourselves to the end without completely pulling or beaking anything. My thighs (hamstrings and quads) were dying, my hips were burning, knees throbbing. Ruby’s arches were aching. We were so so so very tired. Feeling dehydrated but feeling the last water stop swishing around in our stomachs. I couldn’t stomach another of my GU gels. I just couldn’t. It made me feel sick to even think about eating another one. So we were definitely running on fumes. We had decided we wanted our last 1.2 miles to be run, to give it all we had, no matter what. So we did Mile 24 as a walk .25, run .6 and walk until we hit the 25 mile mark. Then, we’d just GO. As hard as we could.
And so we did. The last mile (+.2) was as fast as my tired body would let me go. Getting to nearly a 9 min mile pace for the last bit I felt like crying. I was so tired. Being on my feet running/jogging/walking for nearly 5 hours was taking it’s toll … I just wanted to be done! We promised each other to stay together to the end. The last little chute, 0.2 miles I told Ruby to go if she could … I pushed as hard as I could and finally crossed that line.
4 hours 48 mins 54 seconds
I AM A MARATHONER!
Who cares that I had to walk a bit, who cares that my time wasn’t what I planned. I didn’t win anything, never will. But I RAN in a marathon. I finished my marathon. 4 years ago I could have never imagined. Heck, LAST YEAR I could have never imagined! Oh how far I have come! I am one of less than 600,000 who will run a marathon in 2014. Pretty cool!
On our walk back to the Navettes (which was a grueling 1/2 mile I think) we met a really cool dude named Sidy. This guy ran 48 marathons in 2013 … I know! CRAZY! He has run one on EVERY CONTINENT! He was so inspirational. This guy, obviously fit, runs one nearly every weekend and is just starting Ultras (anything > 42.2km). He commended us on our first marathon time. He said that the time isn’t important, the fact that you finished is. He finished his marathon ahead of us at 3 hours 42 mins. He says he never runs to win. That’s not what it’s about at all. Enjoy yourself, enjoy the experience. He says he’s never disappointed in a finishing time, again, it’s about crossing that line at the end. With that, you’ve already won.
I spent the past week in Antibes with my BF, relaxing, talking myself out of running. According to every googleable source, this is ZERO week. You’re supposed to do a sort of reverse taper, barely running. Today was my first run (5km) and I went slow. My hamstrings are still a little stiff and my hips a little sore but I walk normally now, which is good. I think Tuesday and Wednesday were my worst days soreness-wise. I think my advice is to keep moving as much as you can in those days following the race. not in exercise, but walking, cleaning house, going to the grocery, anything to keep your legs from getting stiff!
What I want to remember, before I sign up to do another:
- You can do anything, if you really wanna 😀
- Training takes a lot of time. You have to be willing and able to make it a priority. Sleep, diet and training runs will take precedence over everything.
- The race itself is hard. Like REALLY hard. You’ll likely forget how hard and tell yourself that it’s no big deal, you’ve done it before. But please try to recall how DEAD you were those last 10 kms.
- In the end. You feel like a champion. There’s nothing like proving to yourself, and others, what YOU are capable of. This unimaginable distance! So worth it.
- Don’t forget it was hard.
- It’ll be all you talk about. People might hate you for it.
- It is expensive: GU Gels, water pack, clothes, blister bandaids, anti-chafe gel, shoes, race fees, the GPS watch, heart rate monitor, headphones … etc. $$$$$
ONE WEEK LATER: I have done a lot of thinking. Everyone says after your first marathon you either wanna do another one, or you’re done, forever. I think I probably will do it again, some day. When the time is right. when I find the right race. But this training has made me really enjoy the 13.1 mile distance and now that I have done a full marathon, know what it’s like, I can train smarter, run smarter. I have officially hit the 100+ lbs lost since I began running. ONE HUNDRED! I am so proud, it’s amazing! This marathon definitely helped me meet that goal finally. It made me think harder about what I was eating, eating for fuel instead of comfort or fun. It’s taught me so much about myself. I am a runner. I know that now! I am already planning on doing many half marathons this year including (tentatively): Marseille Half-Marathon (Sept. 2014), Paris-Versailles 16km (Sept. 2014), Indianapolis Monumental Half-Marathon (Nov. 2013), State College, PA Half-Marathon (Dec. 2014). What’s after that? Who knows. But wow! After running a marathon …. nothing feels impossible !