Saturday, October 30, 2010

My First Marathon - Victoria, British Columbia on 10/10/10

I've been training all summer for this race, slowly building up my mileage and endurance. Three weeks before the big day I did my last long training run. The plan was to run about 20 miles, but as there were no mile markers on the course that my running buddies and I chose, we just ran for time. After that run I felt pretty sick and disheartened. I hadn’t really eaten a proper breakfast, there wasn’t enough water to drink as we ran, and the sun was pretty intense that day. It was the first time I thought that I might not be able to complete a marathon. I mean, if I felt that sick after 20 miles, how could I do 26.2? But when I looked at a map later on that day I calculated that we had, in fact, run 22.5 miles. Knowing that I had run 22.5 miles and only had a few more to go on marathon day (instead of an extra 6.2 miles) made me feel confident again. After that 22.5 mile run it was time to start tapering. For you non-runners out there, that means that you slowly take your mileage down so that on race day you have plenty of energy left. So the weekend after the 22.5 miler I did a 12 mile run, and the next weekend was an 8 mile run. Most, if not all, marathon training plans have a couple of weeks of tapering. And I followed the plan. But it made me a little uncomfortable. I mean, for weeks I had been building up my mileage every weekend and I felt like I had great momentum. Now, I had gotten all the way to 22.5 miles and I was expected to go the other way. I was scared of losing my groove. So I worried about losing my momentum, but other than that, I didn’t really think much about the race. I was more worried about our travel logistics (Which ferry to take to Victoria? What time did we need to leave the house in order to get to the ferry on time? Which maps and confirmations did I need to print before we left the house? What was the exchange rate for Canadian dollars?) So I didn’t have time to ruminate over my impending run.

On Saturday, October 9, Robb and I successfully made our way to Canada. (It was my first visit to the country and I’ll write a separate blog post detailing the tourism aspect of our trip.) That night we met up with my running friends for a carbo-loading dinner. Becky, Molly, and Laura are all seasoned half-marathoners and were running 13.1 miles the next day. Larry and I have both run half-marathons before, but it would be our first time running a full marathon. After eating we discussed logistics for the next day and then Robb and I headed back to our hotel to get some sleep.
Carbo-Load Night: Me, Larry, Laura, Molly, Becky

After a fitful night’s sleep I woke up on October 10, nervous and excited. The marathon start-time was late, not until 9:00, so I had plenty of time to shower, dress, and hydrate. Robb and I stopped in the restaurant downstairs so I could eat an English muffin with peanut butter and one fried egg (turned out to be an excellent breakfast for marathon fuel) and then we made our way to the start line. It was a cool morning and while a little chilly standing on the street in my shorts and t-shirt, I knew that the clothing I chose would be perfect once I started running. I was just thankful that it wasn’t raining. The forecast for that weekend included heavy downpours, but we lucked out on marathon day. (Our friends in Portland, Oregon running a marathon at the same time weren’t so lucky and were subjected to heavy and cold downpours during their entire race.) I was a little nervous in the minutes leading up to the start gun going off, and I think I even told Larry that I had changed my mind about this whole marathon thing. But mostly I was calm and just working on trying not to psyche myself out.
Finally the gun went off and Larry and I started running our first marathon. We spent the first mile or so finding our pace and watching the crowd thin out. We both are slow and steady runners and we had a lot of people pass us. We probably hadn’t even gone a ½ mile before I decided that a port-a-potty stop was in my near future. During all my training runs I had never had to go to the bathroom during my runs. But on race day I was worried about making sure I had enough hydration and probably drank way more than I usually do. So within two miles of starting our race, I already had to stop. I told Larry to go on without me and we would meet up later. Luckily, that early in the race there isn’t a long line of runners waiting their turn for a bathroom break, so I was in and out pretty quickly. At that point I felt much better and just settled in for the long haul. I had my iPod shuffle playing (which my husband had lovingly filled for me with my favorite work-out music) and I just ran. There were a few spots along the route where musicians had set up to entertain and encourage the runners, and at those points I would just pause my music for awhile; my favorite performer was the lone bagpiper. The course was beautiful and had a ton of variety; we ran through the streets of downtown Victoria, around the royal Parliament buildings, around a local park, through high-end neighborhoods, and along the coast. My favorite part of the course was anything that was alongside the coast, especially as the day wore on and the sun started shining through the clouds and highlighting the water and rocky shores.

Eventually I caught up with Larry and we ran together for a few miles. We pointed out some random scenery or interesting-dressed runners every once in awhile, but mostly ran silently next to each other, thinking whatever thoughts we needed to in order to keep going. When we passed the 12 kilometer marker, I reminded Larry that we had just finished the equivalent of the Rhody Run – I think that run in Port Townsend was the first race that Larry and I ran together. Those Canadians are smart and follow the metric system; it was interesting running along a course that had more kilometer markings than mile markings. The miles were only marked every 5 miles, which I actually ended up appreciating. I wasn’t thinking with every passing mile about how far left I had to go; I only had to see those 5 mile increments to know that I had just managed to achieve running 5 more miles. I loved seeing the 15 and 20 mile markers.

I did experience a couple of difficult mental blocks at times. For example, a large part of the course was an out-and-back section. When I first saw large crowds heading towards the finish line, while I was still trying to make it to the half-way point, I thought to myself “Well, good, I’m almost to the half-way point because look at all these people who have already turned around.” I kept expecting the turnaround point to be just around the next corner. I was amazed at how good I felt and that I was almost half-way done. But that feeling was a big, fat, fail. Most runners were much faster than me, and I still had several miles to go before I would reach the turnaround point. The longer it took to get to the turnaround point, the more disheartened I became realizing how na├»ve I was to think that I was almost half-way done. I think that emotional turmoil wore me down and once I reached 12-13ish miles, I started slowing down. Larry pulled away from me and took the lead. I continued to run, slow and steady, but felt doubt that I would be able to finish feeling strong.

I had been told by a friend who had completed a few marathons before that it was helpful to have a special saying that you could repeat to yourself to help inspire you and focus on finishing. I tried to find or think of any quotes that could help me before the marathon began, but I went into the race without finding the words that would speak to me. Luckily, a few miles into the race I saw a couple of little girls on the sidelines, obviously cheering on a parent. One of the girls had a homemade sign with the most perfect quote on it, "Keep Calm and Carry On.” Those simple five words spoke to me and became my mantra. I repeated that to myself throughout the race. After the 15 mile mark I started to feel excited again. I was over half-way done and I only had 11 miles left. At the 23 kilometer mark Larry decided it was his turn to stop at the port-a-potty, which allowed me to catch up and actually move ahead. While he almost caught up with me at one point, and we said hi to each other, I picked up the pace and continued pressing ahead. I reached the 20 mile mark and couldn’t believe that I was already done with the previous 5 miles – only 6.2 miles left to go. I kept expecting to hit “the wall,” but I don’t think I ever did. Then I started passing people who were running slow or walking at that point. While I’m not a fast runner, my strength is in running a steady pace. Other runners have variations in their speed and tend to go a lot faster in the beginning. While it’s nerve-wracking to see so many people go faster than you in the beginning of the race, I know that I will end up passing a lot of those people towards the end of the run. The closer I got to the finish line, the more I repeated “Keep Calm and Carry On,” but I knew I would finish. I hit the 25 mile marker and then shortly after that reached the “1 mile to go” marker and picked up my pace. Let me tell you, the last mile of a marathon is the longest mile you’ll ever run. It seemed to go on forever. At a little less than the “1 kilometer left to go” sign I saw my running friends cheering for me. Laura ran up to me and patted me on the back and told me that I just had a little bit left. I smiled to my supporters and continued the long ½ mile towards the finish line. I came around the last corner and the finish line came into my sight. I started scanning the crowds looking for Robb and finally heard him cheer for me. I ran past him, giving him a smile and a wave as he watched me cross the finish line.
A medal was placed around my neck, a plastic “blanket” was wrapped around my shoulders, and I started walking awkwardly through the finishing chute, picking up water, bagels, and cookies to give my starving body some fuel. Robb met me at the exit and was positively beaming – he was so proud of me. I, on the other hand, was somewhat numb. I couldn’t really think about what I had just accomplished, I just was thinking about how hungry, tired, and sore I was. Larry finished the race a few minutes after me and after we took a victory photo together. I later found out that my parents in Florida were able to watch me cross the finish line for my first marathon in Canada, thanks to the live streaming video showing the finish line on the marathon’s website.
I ended up walking a lot the night of the marathon and the next day because we were being tourists in Victoria. It was probably good though to stretch out my legs and muscles instead of sitting at home on a couch. I was sore for the next week. I walked a lot slower and had a hard time going down stairs. I had a little knee pain, but that didn’t last for too long. I was surprised to discover that my hips were really sore, and I wonder if that pain is what older people feel all the time. The pain in my Achilles’ tendons is the most concerning. While they don’t hurt all the time now, they still hurt a little bit in the mornings when I first get out of bed (my Mom has had this problem for years, so I need to work on stretching those muscles more now before the pain gets worse and/or permanent.) I took a week off of running to relax and let my body heal, but am back to running several miles every week.
My goal for this marathon was to finish and run the entire time (except through the water stops. Have you ever tried running while drinking water from a paper cup? It’s pretty difficult.) And I’m proud to say that I achieved that goal. Other than the brief walking as I re-hydrated, I ran the entire time. My finishing time was 5 hours, 3 minutes. I would have preferred to be under 5 hours and actually expected to finish closer to 4.5 hours, but I really can’t complain because my other goals were met and this was just my first marathon. Yup, I said first; as in the first of many. I’ve decided that I will probably attempt to run that daunting 26.2 miles once a year. I promise I won’t go crazy and do multiple marathons a year (although I initially thought one marathon in a lifetime was crazy.) Training for a marathon is time intensive, so one a year is about as much commitment as I am willing to make. Plus, I want my body to have plenty of time to heal in between races. But ultimately, I think one marathon a year will be good for me because it will continue to help me with my motivation to exercise and it will allow me to work on getting faster! Plus, now instead of saying that “I ran a marathon,” I will be able to say “I’m a marathoner.”


Diane K. Rose said...

I'm so proud of you, Katherine. And it was so cool to see you cross the finish line from a computer in Florida!

Natalie said...

Kat!! You are a badass :) Congrats on your marathon! I hope to get up the guts to do one myself one of these days...