Marathon #2 is in the books folks! It wasn’t easy or pretty, but I did it. Between the humidity and unseasonably warm temperatures, it’s safe to say that the Rocket City Marathon handed me my ass on a silver platter. This Jersey girl does not handle heat well! I can’t be too upset though – my official time was 4:13:02, almost a 7 minute PR from my first marathon.
Zack and I got up before dawn to drive to Huntsville and spent the morning relaxing with other runners from the Birmingham Track Club. It was nice having so many friends running the race because they provided so much support both on and off the course.
The start of the marathon was great. I lined up with the 4 hr pace group and stayed just ahead of them for the first half of the race. I hit 13.1 at 2 hours flat, perfect to finish right around 4 hours. My legs felt strong, it was overcast and windy, and I felt like it would be my day.
And then things fell apart. We had about a 5 mile stretch of running on a highway (with cars!) into a headwind, and that was about the time that the sun decided to grace us with its presence. I didn’t let myself feel bad at mile 14 (for you Courtney!) but after that I ran face-first into The Wall. The humidity felt like a warm, wet blanket covering your entire body. Even the occasional wind wasn’t much of a reprieve. At every water stop I would take an extra cup of water to pour over my head and down my shirt.
At about mile 19 I completely started to blow up. I was seeing stars, so I decided to take a walk break. At some point I saw my friend Michael’s neon orange shirt ahead. It turns out he was having a rough time finishing too because he had been sick all week. We ran/walked/hobbled our way closer and closer to the finish line. Zack was waiting for us at mile 23 to capture our death march on film. Soon after that I met a woman named Cecil from Birmingham who I swear appeared out of thin air just to help me finish. We moaned and cursed for a few miles together before splitting apart to finish, and that was actually the most fun I had the entire race. Let me tell you, it is extremely cathartic to scream at the top of your lungs when you are in agony!
I promised myself that I would not walk a step of the last 1.2, so once I passed the mile 25 marker I took off as fast as my cramping legs could carry me. There is no good way to describe the emotions that run through you in the last mile of a marathon – elation from knowing you are able to accomplish something big, confliction over whether to listen to your body and slow down or listen to your heart and run full out, and sheer exhaustion. Crossing the finish line and feeling the medal around my neck made every step worth it. Isn’t that why all runners keep coming back? All we want is to chase down our next goal, and bask in the feeling of success when we achieve it.
Finishing a tough marathon (if you are not hurt) is all mental. It is hard to keep moving forward while all around you the street is littered with people sitting, walking, pausing to massage out cramps. I felt the slightest bit of comfort knowing that I was not alone in my suffering, but it’s hard to watch other people have a bad race.
I didn’t care for the course itself whatsoever – it snaked through neighborhoods, parking lots, and highways. Again, with cars still on them. The crowd support was minimal at best, and there was absolutely nothing to distract you from your misery. I have to say however that the volunteers and police were great! The entire morning they cheered us on and did a wonderful job making sure we had everything that we needed.
Looking back, I should have been more prepared to handle the heat and not gone out at such a fast pace. It’s never a good sign when you hit The Wall at mile 15, no matter how warm it is. I also want to reevaluate my nutrition and fueling plan to see what I can do to not get so sick to my stomach next time.
Overall it was a great learning experience. No matter how long or how hard you prepare, you have to be ready to adapt to whatever the day throws at you. I PRed, spent time with friends, and got to hang another bib and medal on my Wall of Shame. And I give major props to Zack throughout all of this. He puts up with all of my training, runner talk, and mood swings and is still my biggest cheerleader and personal photographer. It was an instant high to see him out on the course so many times yesterday.
Only 69 days until the Mercedes Marathon!