Thursday, December 13, 2012

My First Marathon....

...was everything and not at all what I had hoped for. I have mixed feelings about how my marathon went, both good and bad. I think the most important thing is that I finished. But let's step back a minute, I shall start at the beginning.

Saturday after I blogged, Mark and I loaded up the car and hit the road. I packed entirely too much stuff: 3 different sets of running clothes (at least), my foam roller, my yoga mat, my tablet and Mark's laptop, a gazillion snacks... I was prepped! Turns out of all those things I only used one set of running clothes. Better to be over prepared than under, no? We arrived at the hotel about 2:15 pm and checked in; this was perfect timing because Rik arrived about 15 minutes later. I was a little annoyed at the hotel to find out that they automatically added an $8 parking fee and that they charged to use internet. I know the internet deal is common, but it still irritates me when you're staying at a nice hotel. Call me cheap. They did have some awesome welcome cookies, however. Shortly after we unloaded our stuff and got settled, Rik, Mark and I headed to the expo, which was conveniently right across the street from the hotel! The expo was smaller than the OKC Memorial Marathon one, but I spent a LOT more time exploring it, probably because a.) it was my first marathon and b.) I had a fellow runner to explore it with. I found lots of good stuff at the expo. I, of course, had to get a 26.2 magnet, and ended up buying several others. 
I just love one I bought that says "I thought they said rum!" Tee hee! I also found this shirt: 

And of course I had to buy a few more Bondi Bands! We also found a booth selling medal hangers... I'm thinking I definitely want one of these, check it out and tell me these aren't bad ass!
After the expo, we decided to go check out Starship Records. Mark used to live in Tulsa and used to buy records from there and Rik is a DJ in his spare time, so of course he was down for some music browsing. After checking out the record store, we met up with my SIL and her boyfriend to carb load before our big day. We got our spot in line at a little Italian cafe and walked down the street to have a drink while we waited. Unfortunately I did not have the foresight to make a reservation so we ended up waiting forever. All the Marathon runners in town were looking to carb load! Rik, my SIL and I each had one beer; I've been told that's an acceptable amount of alcohol the night before a Marathon. ;) We enjoyed dinner and got nice and carb-like loaded, then all went back to our rooms to try and settle in early for the night. Rik went through some Yoga stretches with me and I foam rolled my IT bands in hopes to prevent any knee issues the next day. I set up my running clothes and shoes, got my bib pinned and timer taped. I also put this fake tattoo I found at the expo on my arm that I had never seen before:

These are so neat! It would have been a huge help had things gone as planned.  I continued sipping on fluids the entire time to make sure I was good and hydrated. When we all got to bed, I tossed and turned for hours! This is typical for me the day before a race or a new long distance run, but I guess I had hoped that by some miracle I would just pass out and sleep well. I think I finally passed out sometime around 3-4 before waking up at 5:45-6:00.

Of course I had adrenaline pulsing through my veins the moment my eyelids popped open and I was wired. I went through my usual routine: coffee, dress, brush, wash, bathroom, eat, coffee, bathroom. I know this is probably TMI, but I had issues cleaning out my stomach. I think nerves had my stomach all sorts of tied up and I started worrying about having more stomach issues during the run. I always run best when I'm on an empty stomach. When we got ready we started to head to the start line. We couldn't seem to find my SIL and her group, but ended up running into them at the start line. It was good to get a hug and a good luck in beforehand. At this point I'm shaking I'm so nervous. My knee felt fine, but I couldn't get over my fear that something would go wrong with it during the race. Rik did not seem to be in the least bit fazed! Of course this was his seventh Marathon... I'm sure that had nothing to do with it! (To be fair, he said he got nervous before every Marathon, but he played it off well.) Initially my goal was to finish under 5 hours, but the night before I changed my mind and told Rik I was sure that 4:45 was possible and that I'd like to make a go of it; if it seemed difficult we could pace it back some. So we decided to find the 4:45 pacer and try to run ahead of him a bit. We got a couple pictures at the start line:

I was terrified at this point and it had nothing to do with the distance.  I knew that was in the bag, it was the unknown variables that scared me, my knee, my stomach, etc. I wore my brace to be on the safe side, so I hoped that if I did have issues maybe that would at least help. I was also excited, this was it, this was what everything had been leading up to, this was the telling moment of whether I could hack it or not. Here I was after months of training and hard work, struggling with nutrition and fueling, turning down nights out, turning down mornings in, exhausting nights of not only teaching Zumba, but then having to get in a training run. Months of foam rolling, stretching, sweating, bleeding (blisters), floods of "I can'ts" and "I cans". This was it. Mark took our jackets and our finish line stuff and sent us off and after what seemed like ages the gun went off. 

It took something like 15 minutes to get to the start line, but once we did, Rik and I got into a slow and steady pace. I felt great and I felt SLOW. After a week of no running and rest I felt like I could run 10 Marathons! (Or so I thought.) We got into a comfortable groove and stayed probably about five minutes ahead of the 4:45 pacer as we got warmed up. Around mile 2.5 I started feeling a tweaking in my knee. At first it felt like it could be from the pressure of my knee brace, but by mile 3 I knew it was my knee hurting. I panicked a bit, but I was determined to keep going and just hoped it would not get any worse. My knee continued to hurt, a steady, aching pain that seemed to incrementally worsen as time went by, and by mile 13 I started seriously wondering if I was going to make it. I had run with aches and pains before, but knee pain is usually where I draw the line, I've had knee issues before and I have always babied it to prevent any further permanent damage. All this to say that I was not at all prepared to run 26 miles on a sore knee. My self doubt started weeding it's way into my head, and I felt like I was going to burst into tears at any moment because after running 10 miles in pain I was positive another 13.2 miles would just be unbearable. I even had pretty much decided I did not want to do the Center of the Universe Detour, the .3 miles that would technically turn me into an ultra-marathoner. I figured I was already having problems with my knee and an extra excruciating .3 miles would be pushing my luck. During this time we stayed ahead of the 4:45 pacer and were still making great time despite my knee. Rik was encouraging as ever, and I'm sure it helped, but one's own mind is a powerful thing and I started thinking to myself very negative, self deprecating thoughts. It was horrible. Also, I kept looking for my family who were supposed to be around mile 13 to cheer me on, I started to wonder if they couldn't get to the spot or if they just did not make it in time. But then we came around a bend and I heard Rik say, "There they are!", and I looked ahead and yes, there they were: Mark, Isaac, my dad and brother, and my sister and her boyfriend. They were holding signs up and cheering me on. Keep in mind at this point I'm on the verge of tears, discouraged and despairing. When I saw and heard them, though, I nearly came undone, I choked up so much so that I could hardly breathe, I couldn't speak, I couldn't even blink for fear of the tears falling. All I could do was stare at them and wish I could just stay with them. I felt numb as I kept running past them, I cannot even remember if I managed a smile, but I remember the tears blurring my eyes. As we kept running on I felt a little bit better, and I knew I had to finish now. And then I hear from behind me Mark yelling "Go baby, you can do it!", and that's when I knew that I could finish. And I said as much to Rik, his response was "Isn't it amazing how that works?".  We kept on.

I had to start walking shortly before we got to the Center of the Universe Detour, we started up a run walk routine and the 4:45 pacer ended up passing us, but we were still a good distance ahead of the 5 hour pacer. My knee was killing me, Rik helped keep me going though. He told me stories the entire Marathon. Lovely stories at that, one quite romantic about how he and his wife met. We would run for awhile and then walk for a minute. Every time we started back up running the pain was excruciating, as if my knee were locked into place and I had to shake it loose through the pain, and then the constant ache would start again. At around mile 16.5, we came around a bend and I heard music playing and saw a beer booth and the Center of the Universe sign. Now this part may sound cheesy as hell, but I still get goosebumps thinking about it. We got closer and closer and it was the time to either keep going or to take the detour, I could hear the opening notes of a much loved and unmistakable song. A band I grew up with. 

Then I thought to myself, "Fuck that, I'm not NOT going to do anything!" Rik starts off "So, here's the question..." I interrupt him and say, "Fuck it, no regrets! Let's do this!" So we did it. We ran that extra .3 mile and yes it hurt, but I'll be damned if I ever say I regret anything about that day. There was a moment of horror when Rik almost tripped on the way up the slope and all I could think was "Dear God, if Rik hurts himself I will feel horrible!!!" Luckily he was okay! On the way back down the slope we stopped and chugged a little cup of beer, I was down for anything that would take the edge off. I even briefly considered asking them for more because hell running drunk would be better than dealing with the pain! 

We continued on. I forgot to mention that on and off through the later miles I had GI issues where I thought a couple times I might have to stop at a porta potty. Well at mile 18 I finally DID have to stop. At this point, Rik informs me that the 5:00 pacer just ran by and to be honest all I could think about was how the next 8 miles were going to suck and all I cared about was finishing. We start running again, my knee screaming at me as I got back into the groove. Suddenly we see my sister and Mark running towards the street hollering at us, they just nearly missed us, but I was oh-so-glad to see them again! Rik called out, asking when we would see them next, Mark responded at the finish line. This time I managed a smile and hollered at him that they'd better get there before the finish line so he could drag me across! We continue on and on and on - a lot of the last 8 miles is a blur because I honestly feel like the pain had me half delirious. I feel bad for poor Rik, I know I whined about my knee a lot, we had to walk quite a bit more frequently the further along we got. It seemed the span of time between where I could run on it and where the pain started to get sharp was getting shorter and shorter. And what's worse is that the last 6 miles (maybe more) was just FULL of hills! For the first time in my life as a runner, I prayed for all uphill for the remaining miles because the downhill was killing my knee. I even tried to formulate a method to where I could jump/hop on one foot and swing my leg around so I wouldn't have to bend it.... that was an unsuccessful attempt. We had to stop so I could stretch and try to somehow just will my knee to suddenly be better. The mental struggle of the deal was the worst of it; not only was I struggling with getting through the pain, but then I was struggling with my own mentality, I felt like a failure, like a loser, like all my training was for nothing. I did not even want to see what my time was. I was on the verge of tears for at least the last five miles and even started hyperventilating a time or two because I just wanted it to be over. I even kept apologizing to Rik throughout, telling him he could finish without me, that I would be along after awhile. But he didn't give up on me. 

The last few miles I kept saying, "Okay, I'm going to run till the end, it's only x amount of miles to the finish line!" And then I would feel a sharp jab in my knee and have to walk again. That was my rule for whether I would walk or run, if the pain got sharp or just unbearable, walk. When we finally got to the last mile, I was so relieved I told Rik I could really do it this time, I could run till finish. So we start running. As we got closer and closer, it was as though my feet had a mind of their own and I just wanted to be done. I wanted to feel that finish line feeling, I wanted my medal dammit! We saw my family hollering and cheering about .3 miles away from the line and I just kept going, I could not feel anything, I just kept going faster and faster and faster until the finish line was looming and I knew this was that moment I had been waiting for, that I had fought and worked for. 
That look is pain.
That look is jubilation. 
That is an expression of relief.
We crossed the finish line together and hugged each other, I'm pretty sure that if I had any fluids left in my body that I would have been sobbing, in fact it felt like I was.

The extreme relief I felt was like no emotion I've ever felt in my life. After we got through to the finisher's area, I scanned the crowds for Mark, I finally saw him making his way through the crowds and I ran and squeezed out of the gate so I could go hug him and my family. I was tearing up the entire time. 

Then we all made it to where we could get our free beer and where Mark bought me a finisher's shirt and we stretched and lounged in the grass for a bit. Rik was kind enough to help me stretch out and after a bit we headed back to the hotel and cleaned up and checked out. I felt surprisingly good for having just run a Marathon; my knee was aching and my hips were sore, but I felt fine enough to walk around and actually built up an appetite. 

We decided on Mexican food to celebrate our victory. 
Brisket tacos and mango, strawberry margarita.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes to Rik and hit the road back to Oklahoma City. I felt bad for Rik having to drive home after running a Marathon, but I was oh-so-glad to have had him there! What would have been a horrible, lonely, miserable run turned out to just be a kinda sucky, painful run because of him, and he really helped me get through it. I'm convinced it would have taken me even longer to finish if he had not been there. All in all I would not change the experience. I mean of course I would have rather ran my first marathon on a good knee, but I feel all the more accomplished for not giving up despite the knee. Running that Marathon was by far, the most difficult thing I have ever even considered attempting. I finished with a time of 5:27, placed overall 1432 out of 1897, placed 96 out of 121 in my division and 550 out of the 891 who completed the Center of the Universe detour. What am I left with? A couple of bad ass medals, 

a recuperating knee, and most importantly I'm left with the knowledge that I finished a Marathon and not just that, but I went the extra mile so to speak. I can do absolutely anything I will ever attempt. Failure is not an option. I am also left with one more thing: renewed goals - the most important factor to staying on track! Next time - sub 4:45!


  1. Man, I could feel myself tearing up with you as I was reading along. I know that feeling, and I've long given up even trying to fight it. The tears come, they go, and I keep running on.

    But you and this experience... wow... I am SO proud of you and so completely impressed. You finished because you refused to settle for anything less. You are awesome.

    And that Rik guy... yeah, how much do we love him?

    1. Thank you, John, that means a lot to me! And we love him SO much!!! :D

  2. Totally teary-eyed at my desk right now... You are AMAZING for sticking through that! You're a marathoner now!! Heck, an ULTRA marathoner!! Absolutely fantastic job, Lealah!!

  3. My stomach was starting to tie up in knots reading this! I had those same feelings for my half, and it makes me REALLY worried about ever attempting a full! I think the best thing I could do for myself is not have a time goal in mind. Just finishing it is the accomplishment.

    Congratulations! No regrets!

    1. I think my experience is the perfect example about why you have nothing to worry about for your first full! Just finish it!

  4. Lealah, I'm SOOOO so proud of you for finishing! I know how debilitating knee pain can be. You did AWESOME. Way to go!

  5. Amazing Lealah!! What a great race recap and an incredible accomplishment.

  6. I got so teary reading this! Way to go!

  7. Way to go Lealah! I loved reading this recap, you deserve to be so super proud :)

  8. Thank you everyone! I am proud and so very glad I did it!

  9. Just now reading this. Lealah, you've always been a no-regrets kinda gal, with a lot of guts and determination! I am so so happy for you that you finished it, in fact, I even cried in happiness reading your blog post (ps. have you ever seen me cry? right) ;) PLEASE, be good to your knee on future races!! MAJOR congratulations to you! The truth - your heart is stronger than your mind (and obviously your mind is pretty strong.. for good or bad haha) -- Evelyn

    1. Awww, and it's these kinds of things that you say that make me love you, Evelyn! I can't wait until I see you!