My alarm went off at 3:15, and for the first time in years I didn’t hit snooze. It would have been pointless, anyway, seeing as how I had only slept one solid hour that night. I went downstairs, made coffee and oatmeal, and sat in complete denial that I was about to run my first full marathon,The Detroit Free Press Marathon, in four hours.
Fast forward to mile 17. My legs are screaming. Blisters plague my feet. I have terrible heartburn, gas, and my stomach is killing me. The scenery at this point is nothing but old buildings plastered with graffiti and there are no volunteers to cheer us on. I feel alone and bored on top of the immense fatigue. I call Randy, telling him that I was done.
“What’s wrong? Did you get hurt?” he asks. I can barely form thoughts at this point. “It’s just…hard,” I whimper.
“Well, your dad and I are at the 30K aid station. We’ll meet you there.”
This gives me enough motivation to run the mile and a half to see them waiting for me. Randy promptly gives me a hug. My dad tells me to walk with them for a while to calm down. I tell them about my stomach problem, and how I had to sacrifice over 15 minutes waiting in line for port-a-johns because of it. This was far more difficult than I had planned on, and I didn’t think I could finish. Randy tries his best to tell me how great I’m doing, and how proud he is of me, but it falls on deaf ears.
“You’re coming on Belle Isle now,” my dad says. “It’s really pretty there. You’ll have fun. It’s just a few miles then you’re in the home stretch. Randy and I will be waiting for you at the end of Belle Isle to check on you.” Begrudgingly, I agree to go on. Thankfully Belle Isle starts with a gradual decline and I catch a little bit of a second wind (more like a second breeze). At the end of the Belle Isle loop, I see Randy and my dad waiting as they had promised.
“You’re doing great!” they yell.
“No I’m not! But I’m finishing this damn thing!”
And finish, I did. I hardly broke any records, but I got that damn medal. Did I do as well as I had hoped? Not at all. Could I have pushed myself harder? Most likely. Every run is a learning experience, and I came away with several lessons to improve my next 26.2:
1) Just because you don’t feel thirsty, don’t ignore the aid stations: The chilly weather in the fist half of the race was deceiving, and I didn’t take my first drink of water until mile 10. Huge mistake. They say if you feel thirsty, it’s too late. The last six miles of the race I had to chug water at every aid station to make up for my stupidity.
2) Don’t try anything new, even a new flavor, on race day: At one point earlier in the race I pulled out some Clif Shot Blocks. I noticed that I had bought the wrong flavor. Black Cherry, eh? No big deal. My stomach turned immediately upon trying them. So sugary and tart. Blech. Soon after my digestive issues started. I couldn’t even drink Gatorade for the rest of the race because the sugar was upsetting my stomach so badly.
3) Your legs run the race, but your mind gets you over the finish line: Regarding my terrible attitude at mile 17, I am reminded of the horrific scene from “The Never Ending Story” where Artax the horse sinks into the Swamp of Sadness (every child of the 80’s knows this scene and was subsequently scarred for life). A marathon is as much a mental battle as it is physical. Cheering volunteers can only do so much. I’m not sure how to work on improving my “state of mind” while running. Any advice would be appreciated.
Now on the fun aspects of the race. Yes, looking back on my 5+ hours of torture there were some moments that made me smile:
1) The man dressed as Minnie Mouse
2) The polka-themed aid station handing out PBR
3) The entire city of Windsor for being the best cheering section in the entire race
4) Any time a volunteer/spectator called you by your name. Hearing “You’re doing great, Laura!” does more for your soul than a generic, “You’re doing great!”
5) Seeing my friend Andrea cheering me on at mile 26, and being the first person to shout, “You’re almost there!” who I didn’t want to kill
The beauty of running is that there is always another race, and I can’t wait to try another marathon next year stronger and better than before. I don’t know what is it about running that makes people forget about the pain, fatigue, falls, the “trots”, etc., and keep racing. All I know is that along with the pain, nothing has brought more joy to my life than running.