Until this very weekend, I never realized the magnitude of your first marathon. Yes, I knew it was a big deal. And yes, I’d heard it was an emotional experience. But I never quite understood the extent of what that really meant or felt like.
Enter February 14, 2016 – My first marathon.
Ok, now I get the hype. This race may not seem like a big deal to some people, but trust me, when it’s you training for and running it, it’s a huge deal. Whatever the reason– whether you’re training just to finish/accomplish something that you didn’t think you could do, hit a certain time/pace, or qualify for another marathon– it’s extremely emotional when all of your hard work finally comes to fruition. When I originally signed up for the LA marathon, I just wanted to do something new and exciting with my friends and have fun doing it. While that was still my motivation for training, I realized in the process that although I’m not nearly in collegiate shape anymore, I was capable of qualifying for Boston if I pushed myself. Having that goal in the back of my head definitely made the weeks prior to the big day much more intense, emotionally. Literally a week out from the race I was already getting pangs of nervousness and sweaty palms when the thought of the marathon popped into my head. I started to question myself.
Am I really ready for this?, Oh boy, this is gonna hurt, I probably should have done more track workouts, Can I really hold an 8min pace for 26.2 miles?, How did this used to feel easy!?
However, in the midst of all these seemingly negative, but (in my opinion) completely normal thoughts, was a common feeling. Excitement. Outside my comfort zone is a place that I truly love to inhabit. There’s something so beautifully wonderful about the unknown- no matter what the circumstance. In terms of running a marathon, this meant not knowing how my body was going to handle mileage that I’d never hit before. This meant not knowing how the race day weather would affect me. This meant not knowing how my nerves would affect me the morning of. This meant not knowing how it would feel to have other runners pass me when I felt like keeling over. This meant not knowing how I would feel passing other runners that looked like they wanted to keel over. With running especially, some days just feel better than others. Would I be having a good day? We’re my legs going to feel ready? Or would they feel heavy and tight? Some of these factors can be controlled, others cannot. But that’s where the excitement comes in. All of the unknowns, the anxiousness, the curiosity– all of that led me to the same emotion. Excitement. No matter what happened, I knew that I’d be experiencing something new. No matter the outcome, I’d become stronger and grow from the experience. That alone brought me enough excitement to outweigh any of my fears.
The morning of the race, I felt excited. I started off around a 7:19 mile, with my goal pace to BQ being 8min miles. I panicked a little, thinking I got carried away with the excitement of the race and was going out too fast. I felt really strong and comfortable though, so I went with it. I managed to keep my mile splits under the 8min mark up until about mile 13. At this point, I was feeling good about my decision to stick with a quicker pace and felt confident in my abilities. 3 miles later, it was a whole different story. My legs felt heavy, my hips were aching and sore and my pace was beginning to slip. I panicked a bit and lost some time, but knew that I had given myself a decent buffer from my pace the first half of the race. I also knew that I had a cheer gang waiting for me at mile 18, and an amazing friend, James, hopping in to pace me the last 8 miles. I kept telling myself to just push to mile 18 and then I’d have a pacer (and a mighty motivational one at that!) joining me.
Somewhere between mile 18 and 24 I completely hit a wall. I was fighting so hard to keep moving but it was a type of pain that I had never experienced in running before. In that moment, I gained the utmost respect for marathoners, especially those that do not have a running background and train for and run them from scratch. 26.2 miles is no joke, and although I knew that going in, I don’t think I realized exactly how tough it would be. I was instantly inspired but all the people running around me and amazed at how many individuals conquer this feat. I was still struggling to hold on but regardless of how torn up I felt, I wasn’t going to give up when I knew a Boston qualifying time was still in my reach.
I strongly believe that James (and later Kylie, who also jumped in for my last few miles) were the reason I was able to hold on. I was so fortunate to have friends step in and give me that moral boost and mental push that I needed to hang on and kick it in. When I was 3 miles out from the finish, I knew that I had to make up for my significantly slower miles from mile 20-23. James and Kylie were huge in making it clear to me that I was close to achieving my goal, but would have to fight the pain and put in the work. Let me just say, 3 miles have never felt so long. In that moment, I felt like it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I felt like I was exerting so much energy but still wasn’t moving that quickly, it was the most bizarre and painful feeling.
Finally crossing the finish line was the most exhilarating feeling. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, but mostly I was just so drained physically and mentally that I think I blacked out for a second. Next thing I know I was collapsing into my friends arms and seeing stars while being force fed shot blocks, water, and gatorade. This friendly man asked me what my time was and I said I honestly didn’t know, so he kindly offered to look it up for me. When he read “3:31:26” aloud, I was ecstatic. I once again collapsed into my friends arms, and was overfilled with joy. My body felt so weak and frail, but I was so happy to know that pushing myself and enduring temporary pain was worth it when I accomplished my goal.
I have always been inspired by marathoners, but I must say I have a newfound respect. This race is not easy, but it is worth it for the sense of pride and accomplishment that come with completion. I am so excited that I can finally say proudly “I am a marathoner” and will cherish the memories and emotions that I experienced today.