I don’t even know where to begin. Sunday I ran my first (and likely my only) marathon, The Marine Corps Marathon. It was one of the most exhilarating yet challenging experiences of my life to date. It truly felt like I put my body through heaven and hell, all in one day.
If you’re reading this blog, you probably care at least a bit about how this experience unfolded for me. I’ll just jump right into it.
Let’s start with race morning.
I woke up right before my alarm at 5:15 am, feeling extremely anxious and filled with nerves. I got dressed and ready, braided my hair, listened to some music, and fueled up with peanut butter toast and a banana even though my stomach was not feeling any sort of food. By 6:30, I walked over to The Gaylord where shuttles were waiting to take us to the start line. Boy was I in for a surprise.
I walked up to one of the buses and asked the bus driver if he too was going to the Marathon start line. He said he was going to the Crystal City Metro. (Not the start line.) Confused, I got on the bus and intended to look on my phone to see if I missed something. While getting on, I noticed the bus was filled with spectators, not runners which then, a lady told me the shuttles to the start line stopped at 6 am.
Where the hell did I miss this? I had even called the event support team a week before to confirm where I would be taken to the starting line and was told shuttles were going to the start line from 4:30-7am, not 6 am. In a panic, I called Conor and told him I needed a ride to the start. As I was walking out of the bus, I found another runner and as he was in a panic too, we invited him to hop in our car and we were on our way in no time. We put a nearby street to the starting line in our GPS and saw it would take less than 20 minutes to get there giving us an ETA of 7:20.
Nothing like a little stress to get your blood pumping. We made it through and had about a mile to walk to the finish line which was great to get us warmed up since the temperature was in the 50’s. We were greeted by Marines yelling at the swarm of people to get their asses to the starting line. Nonetheless, we made it to the starting line, the sea of chaos, and long bathroom lines.
7:55 am, we were off. 26.2 miles ahead of us.
The hardest part of any race I’ve run is to stick to your pace at the start. It’s tough because you’re surrounded by many who are faster, slower, or don’t have a steady pace. You’re also filled with adrenaline and excitement. It was a neat start for us because you go under 2 or 3 overpasses and everyone being super excited yells or cheers, creating a loud echo of yells in each overpass. (I wish I took a video.) I noticed my first mile or 2 were nearly a minute faster than my intended pace. By mile 2, we began to hit the first (and luckily only) big climb and my pace dropped off a bit to what would be my pace for the next 15 or so miles. We then took the first turn to cross the bridge into Georgetown where we’d tackle miles 4.5-9.
Georgetown had such an awesome energy of people crowding the sides of the streets. Going down the hill towards the water, there was a band playing “Born To Be Wild” and many runners sang along, throwing their hands in the air. We were all still feeling good and had tons of energy to spare! Then, we followed along a completely shaded path for miles 5.5-9 where I really got my pace down, chugging right along feeling strong.
Once we got out of Georgetown, we followed along a very scenic road, directly next to the water. We ate oranges at mile 10 (thank you Wegmans) and continued our trek to the next significant segment of the race on mile 12, The Blue Mile. This mile is dedicated to the fallen service men and women and is a very emotional part of the race. The streets are lined with pictures of the fallen and the mile ends with their families lining the streets, each holding the American flag. Before we hit this mile, the streets were loud and the runners talkative. Once we entered, it was eerily quiet and all you could hear were the shuffle of footsteps and periodic sniffles.
While The Blue Mile was a solemn mile for everyone, I distinctly remember such a great energy from the families lined up at the end, I must have given 100 high fives and constantly heard such energetic words of encouragement. Upon exiting The Blue Mile we hit the HALFWAY POINT!!! For me, I always feel a little lighter once hitting the halfway point of any run and I was still feeling good (with the exception of a bit of pain in my knees) but feeling optimistic about the second half. Plus, I knew my family was waiting for me 2 miles ahead at Mile 15, so I had the extra anticipation to see them ahead.
The next two miles were lined with funny signs which I read each and every one to pass the time. A couple I literally laughed out loud at said things like “All this for the free banana?!” or “I thought it was 2.62 miles!” I was so excited to be greeted by my family and Conor at Mile 15, stopped and put on my knee braces and kept trucking along through what was my favorite part of the race at The Mall. I then saw them again at Mile 17 and finally just before Mile 20. I owe each of my races to my family and Conor for being my cheerleaders and if you’ve never run a race, having a support system along the course (preferably the back half) is crucial to stay positive and moving. Also because you definitely don’t want them to see you walking!
If you’re familiar with The Marine Corps Marathon, you’ve probably heard the term “Beat the Bridge.” You must reach the bridge to cross back over into Virginia by 1:15 pm or you don’t finish the race. I wasn’t worried about not getting there in time, I was worried for the 6 miles to come considering I was definitely feeling pain by then. We made the turn and crossed a small bridge and I remember thinking “wow that wasn’t so bad, why do they make such a big deal of this damn bridge?” Then, we turned again and saw a LONG second bridge which then I realized THAT was the bridge to cross into Virginia. Until then, we had been pretty spoiled with shade. Now, we had a mile ahead of us crossing this bridge, baking in the sun, with a climbing temperature in the mid-70’s.
Through all my training, I don’t think there was anything that could have prepared me for the next 6 miles. I literally felt like I was in an oven on the bridge and my steady pace went right out the window as I slowed down quite a bit. Before then, I would set small goals to not walk every 5K, then in the “teen” miles, it was every mile. Now, I would look at an object about 100 feet in front of me and tell myself not to walk until I reached it. I did that for the remainder of the race.
When we finally BEAT THE BRIDGE, we were kindly offered Fireball shots by a spectator, and while I have to admit with the pain I was in, I was tempted but didn’t want to feel drunk the remaining 5 miles so I passed. Then, we turned the corner to enter Crystal City and something amazing happened, there was a firehose spraying cold water on every runner that passed by. I must have been delusional because when I ran through I felt like a new person. I chugged along the streets of Crystal City just fine (relatively speaking), enjoying the DJ, confetti in the air, some shade here and there, and tons of spectators offering any candy under the sun to us.
Then at Mile 24, I hit the wall… HARD.
I’ve never experienced “hitting the wall,” but I know I sure as hell hit it around 24 when I started to feel light headed. Conveniently, there was another food station right at 24 and while I didn’t intend to walk at all, it was time to listen to my body, so I walked for about a quarter mile to eat my animal crackers and hydrate up. My legs felt like lead and when I tried to get running again, I started crying because I was in so much pain. While it was only 2 miles left, it felt like I was an eternity away from the finish line. Conor and my family called me, knowing I hit the wall and encouraged me to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, knowing I was SO close to the amazing feeling of finishing.
I remembered the Navy Seal’s way of training, using the 40% Rule… (When you think you’re ‘done,’ you’re only at 40% of your capacity.) It felt like I was a resting locomotive train that needed to get moving again. I closed my eyes and just told myself to move my arms like I was jogging and my legs would follow. Just like that, I was running again and this time I told myself I was too close to stop, I would keep running until I crossed that finish line.
We got to the place where we had started that morning and I knew we were close. My favorite Mile Marker was ahead… Mile Marker 26! I totally got a second wind imagining how I would feel in less than 5 minutes. I started opening up my stride and I felt like I was sprinting to that finish line (when in reality, it probably still looked like I was walking LOL.) I crossed the finish line and immediately started crying tears of joy (and pain).
Now it was time to receive my medal! I thought it was so neat to receive a medal from a Marine, I looked forward to this moment all these months. Below is a picture of the Marine who gave me my metal!
If I could relive it again, I would relive miles 1 through 20 and then after 26. To say it was “hard” is the understatement of the year. The training itself was hard and the actual race pushed me physically and mentally more than ever before. But that’s why I did it in the first place. I wanted to show myself that I could set a seemingly impossible goal, one that scared the crap out of me, and achieve it. It trained my mind much more than my body to keep up with training until race day and then pushing through the limiting beliefs when I hit the wall with 2 miles to go.
To anyone out there contemplating whether or not to run a marathon (or even a half marathon), I say do it. I remember a year ago, I finished my first half marathon and laughed at the idea of having to do that twice, yet here I am! Even though I would never put my body through the stress of a marathon again, I am so thankful from this experience. You learn so much about yourself through the journey there and the gratification of crossing the finish line is worth every moment of doubt, fear, laziness, and frustration felt along the way. It is an experience that has shaped my character forever. I can’t wait to see where my fitness journey takes me next!
A BIG thank you to Conor and my family for being my support system leading up to and through this experience. It’s safe to say you have me “back!” Another big thanks to those who have followed along, supported, wished me luck, and congratulated me along the way. Most importantly, thank you to my accountability buddy Mackenzie… you’re the real MVP and I can’t wait to see you finish the Disney Marathon!
*Stay tuned! Next blog post I’ll cover tips learned from my marathon experience!