I have thought and thought of a hundred different ways to tell you all about my first marathon. I have typed pages and then deleted them, because to tell you the truth, I could write about it in a hundred different ways from different angles. Truth is, running a marathon is all about the journey leading up to the actual race. The day of the race is your reward. Plain and simple. So, you all have already “read” with me my journey getting here. So, let me tell you about my reward.
I had planned on getting to the race start an hour ahead of time to meet with the other eight people from Greenville to take a picture who had come to run the race, as well. But, the metro system busing 30,000 people to one metro station was more than we had accounted for. We finally arrived to the race start in Arlington about 30 minutes after I had planned for. Bathroom lines were a mile long; guys were hunkering down behind pine trees to beat the crowd. At this point, I really wished I were a boy.
After we make our last bathroom visit, we start walking to the corrals that are labeled with the finish time we expect we can finish in. On the way, Tim takes my picture with some pretty awesome U.S. Marines.
So, I wish my running buddy, Tim, good luck and Godspeed and he walks on to his corral as I walk to mine. I wanted to finish in 5:30. I start talking to the people around me in my corral. By the time the gun went off to start the race, I had made yet another 3 or 4 best friends. It’s amazing that you can arrive to a race knowing no one, and by the time you run through the finish line, you have made some of the best friends you’ll ever have who have gone to hell and back with you. All within 5 hours. So, if you need friends, try long distance running.
The gun goes off, and I wish my newly found friends good luck, a good time and Godspeed and safety. And we’re off! We walk for about a minute due to the large crowd and by the time I finally cross over the starting line and see all the Marines, the flags, the firetrucks, the signs and hear the music, my heart is thumping so fast and strong that I just let the tears mount up in my eyes. I had brought my phone and earplugs for music for later when the crowds die down and I needed motivation, but now was not the time to plug in. One could just look around them and have all the motivation they would need. The electrical current through the crowd was astounding. It’s like being on a strong pain killer without the side effects. You think you can literally fly. No, you don’t think it. You believe it.
We start running from Arlington by Rosslyn and will run by the Potomac partly on George Washington Memorial Parkway until we cross the river and run through Georgetown. I knew by the time we leave Georgetown, the hills will be over until we reach the last .2 mile. Almost to the end of Georgetown, I meet up with another fellow Greenvillian runner and chat a few minutes. It was great seeing an old face in this vast sea of friends, yet friends I didn’t know the names of. But, what’s in a name? We talk about the flight here, the storm, our goals to finish and how we feel. At that point, we both felt great. We wish each other good luck and “see you at the finish!” – knowing we probably wouldn’t see each other at the finish, but it sure does sound good in the middle of a race.
I really felt awesome my first 13 miles. If it were a half marathon, I would have had the best second PR on a half marathon. I was just worried about the second half, after mile 18 to be exact. In all of my training runs, I usually hit my wall around mile 18. I run out of fuel and I break down emotionally. It’s like my whole body is running on nothing but fumes and it affects my whole being.
But, it’s like they knew. From around mile 12 to mile 20 where you have to “beat the bridge,” crowd supporters and even the Marines at the water and food stations had signs in their hands or were stuck in the ground with sayings to either make you laugh, help you take that next step, make you cry, or just make you more determined. And they did just that for me. Signs are one of my favorite things about races. Here are a few I love or stand out to me: “Hurry up! The Packers are on at noon!” “Frankenstorm can’t scare a runner.” “Runners are sexy! Your pace or mine?” “Free Hugs!” “Single [male] runner looking for single female marathon runner!” “You can do this, Perfect Stranger!” “Beat the bus!” “Beat the Bridge!” “Blisters are in this season!” “Toenails are for sissies!” “Your feet hurt because you are kicking so much butt!” “Worst. Parade. Ever.” “Chafe now…brag forever!” “This seemed like a good idea 4 months ago!” “Where are you all going?” “You’re not slow, you’re just enjoying the course.” “In our minds, you’re all Kenyans.” “Staying up all night making this sign was hard too!” At mile 1: “You are NOT almost there!” “There is no app for this. Keep running.” “You think running a marathon is hard? Try waiting on you to finish!” “Why do all the cute ones run away?” “You think you’re tired? My arms are for holding up this sign!” “Ice baths and cookies at the finish!” “This parade is going too fast…where are the floats?” “5 to 1 you hurl before this is over!” “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon.”
So, I beat the bridge and as I was crossing it, I hit my wall. My feet started hurting to the point that adrenaline wasn’t making it go away. I was now running past the point that I had ever trained. I had only ran up to 20 miles and this is where it is all heart and just putting one foot in front of the other…because there’s no other way back to the finish. But, as we exit the bridge and start running through Crystal City, the crowds are growing again. Even with the race’s water and food stops, spectators were giving out stuff as well. One of our food stops around mile 22 were Dunkin Donuts donut holes. I choked one down, and threw the other away. Even my mouth was tired and it took me forever to chew that donut.
Around mile 22, I was passing these 2 other African-American girls. They were talking and just having a good time. My emotions were raw and they could tell. One came up beside me, put her arm around me and said, “Girl, you okay?” To which I just nodded my head because I was on the verge of tears. She said, “Is this your first marathon?” I nodded and smiled and tears ran down my face. She then said, “Girl, you let it out! Cry, cuss, whatever you wanna do. You earned it.” I laughed and cried. And they laughed and enjoyed the moment with me.
Past mile 23, you play your last mind game: “Just a 5k more. That’s all it is. Just a 5k. You got this.” And today, I really can’t tell you anything about my last 3 miles. All I remember is thinking I have 3 miles to go, that this is nothing, it’s all paying off, a Marine is going to put a medal around my neck, I think I may kiss him if I don’t throw up first, and I will NEVER do this again.
The last .2 mile is straight up hill to the finish in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial. To be honest, I can’t even remember that hill. I know it was a hill, but after the pain I felt, it wouldn’t have mattered if it were flat or down hill. I run a little harder up the hill knowing I was finished. I cross over the timing pad, a Marine high fives me and I see a group of them standing together holding medals. I walk up to one, he smiles, hangs the medal around my neck, says “Congratulations, Miss!”, and stands back, and salutes me. I choke back my tears and just say “Thank you.” I can’t say anything else because I would just break down.
I walk on back to get my picture taken in front of the Iwo Jima, sit down and would have stayed there if a storm wasn’t coming in soon. My feet hurt, my whole body ached, I was starving and I needed to find a familiar face. I called my family back home and barely could talk due to the emotion I was feeling. I told them I would call back later when I was back at the hotel.
After fighting the crowds for an hour to get back to the hotel, all the while sitting on the ground in the metro, not caring because my feet hurt so bad, I finally make it to my bed. As I lay back on it, I thought, “Never again. I’ve done it. No more.”
So, I took my Epsom salt bath, ordered in room service and feel asleep in no time.
The next day, the storm had come and it was a perfect day for it since I planned on doing nothing.
And, here’s the most important fact to my story: The pain started going away on that Monday. My body was recovering. I started moving around the room. And the glory of finishing started settling in. By Tuesday, I felt good and I wasn’t walking like Frankenstein. And the most astounding thing crossed my mind, then: “Yeah, I’m definitely going to do this again. I’m thinking once, maybe twice a year.”
And the phrase hit home: “Pain is temporary. Glory is forever.” Yes, the pain hurts like heck while you’re going through it. It feels like you literally go through hell and come back. But, after it’s over, that pain goes away and all you really remember is the pride and glory of finishing a great feat such as running 26.2 miles…on your own accord.
Some friends have compared it to having a child. You don’t really remember the pain after they get here.
I am now a marathoner. My goal, for now, is to do 1 or 2 a year. After the pain goes away, you get the fever and you start Googling where your next one is going to be.
Some put it like this: “Running sucks! What time tomorrow morning?” I can so relate.
So, there’s my first marathon story. I’m glad I got to tell it to you all and thank you for sharing in my joy and my journey.
Before I left my room that morning, my mom texted me the verse: “The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul.” And that feeling, indeed, is so sweet.
And here’s a free piece of advice: Never ask a person if they will run any more marathons after they have just finished one. They answer will always be NO! But, just give them a few days. That answer will most likely change. It did for me.