Sunday, March 4, 2012

My first ever marathon - DONE!

After checking the forecast for the 15 millionth time (and confirming my worst suspicions for marathon weather conditions), I reluctantly turned off my computer and loaded my bags in the car.  I was meeting two good friends, Elise and Isabel, at noon so we could ride down together to the "metropolis" of Albany (pronounced Aw-BENNY by the locals), Georgia.  I had heard that Albany was one of the flattest marathons around, and so it offered a great course for a newbie like me.

Elise and I, as we collect our bibs and shirts
The ride went quickly as we chatted about all things running.  When we arrived in town, we headed straight to the Hilton Garden Inn to pick up race numbers and browse through the expo.  While I was there, I introduced myself to the pacer for the 8:35 group.  His name was Ryan, and he was from Chattanooga.  His job, as with all pacers, is to keep an even pace throughout the course so that a runner (assuming he or she keeps up) can guarantee a certain finish time.  I was optimistically aiming for a finish of 3:45, and I told him that he was my new best friend!

The rest of the expo was not much to see at all.  We collected some complimentary marathon goodies, checked out our tech tees, and browsed the racks of running apparel.  Ever the optimist, I also went ahead and purchased a "26.2" sticker for my car bumper as a post-race reward.   
Isabel, Elise, and Gail - all smiling and happy to finally be here

 I had to strike a pose in front of this trailer because the hot pink shoes matched my hot pink Brooks PureFlows.  Too bad I wasn't wearing them at the time!  After the expo, we headed to the other side of town and checked into the Best Western.  It was fairly decent, and we immediately started laying out race gear for the morning.  Next we stopped by a Starbucks to have a little brew.  

Before too long, though, we decided it was time to head to Carino's restaurant where we were meeting up with my friend Chris, and his wife, Diana.  Even though we got there early, runners descended upon the place like locusts.  After an hour's wait and several false promises of tables waiting for us, we finally got seated.  Some form of pasta was part of each runner's meal.  Gotta get that final carb. load!

When we returned from our hotel, the weather forecast was still bleak, and a siren even went off that evening while we were watching the weather.  There was nothing left to do but try to get a decent night's sleep.  Although I tossed and turned a bit, I actually did sleep for most of the night.

At 4:30, the alarm rang and we started consuming our last meal before the race, along with coffee (tea for me).  By 5:45, we were dressed, with lotion and Glide stick liberally applied to all possible chafing spots, and were heading for the race start.  Elise, Isabel, and Diana were running the half marathon, and just Chris and I were running the full.  We wished each other well as we headed toward our respective start places.

Fifteen minutes before the start, amid light drizzle, we spotted several streaks of lightning and heard the accompanying thunder.  At that moment, I felt sure the race was going to be called off.  To my surprise, though, everyone continued lining up.  I saw Chris up ahead in the line-up and wished him well.  Then I found Ryan, my pacer, and met the others in my 3:45 pace group.  They mostly consisted of super-tall, super-young FSU students who were all hyped up and cracking jokes.  One of them was 6'7" if he was an inch!  When the start gun went off, it caught me by surprise, and I lunged forward to begin the race.

For the first two miles, I felt really good except for the puddles I had to keep dodging.  Before long, there were too many to dodge and I resigned myself to the fact that I had four hours before me to run in wet shoes.  I carried a disposable water bottle with me to ensure I was at least properly hydrated for the first ten miles or so.  We were a little packed in, so it was hard for me to stay right with Ryan.  The college kids were hurdling over traffic cones just for fun.  It made me tired just watching them.

At about the fifth mile, the tornado sirens started going off.  None of us were too pleased about that.  We took a brief, nervous glance around the sky and determined there was not a twister in the immediate vicinity.  Therefore, we saw there was nothing to do but head forward.

I felt pretty good through mile eight, but after I sucked down my first Accel gel and swished it down with water, I was disappointed to note that I felt a little more tired than I thought I should be.  It was a bit disconcerting to consider how many more miles I had left to go.  I also noted that my feet were already well shriveled and my toes were hurting a little.  As we passed mile ten, I became even more tired and out of breath.

Finally, a little before mile 13, I knew I had to make an adjustment in order to finish the race.  Reluctantly, I watched Ryan get slowly farther and farther ahead of me.  I told myself that I needed to just keep a comfortable pace, and that I would still be able to stay ahead of the 3:55 pace group.

Unfortunately, even my newly-adjusted pace became too fast for me after mile 16.  I couldn't believe that I was feeling this tired this early in the race.  I had done two 20 mile training runs, and had never felt anywhere near this tired at mile 16, or even after finishing the full 20.

I sucked down one more gel and did a whole lot of walking over the next 4 miles.  I swigged down Gatorade at every station.  My spirits were pretty low, and I sure wasn't loving the thought of how much longer I would be pushing forward before I reached the end.

By mile 20, I sort of rallied a bit, and started to negotiate with myself.  I figured that if I could sort of keep somewhere near a 9 1/2 minute/mile pace, I could still have a respectable time.  Doing any complex math was way beyond me by then.

I would run for 3/4 of a mile and then let myself have a short walk break.  Every time I passed people cheering, though, I felt a little guilty for walking, so I tried to make an extra effort to run a bit.  The crowd really did help.  I passed lots of families sitting in their front yards, clapping, waving, and holding up signs, even though it was raining.  Many times I would pass another runner, and then he or she would pass me back as I stopped to walk.  I wanted to talk with them and make a friend, but honestly, I was too tired even to make an effort.  At about mile 22, even the 3:55 pace group passed me.  It was hard to watch them float by, and know that I could not even catch them.  My quads ached terribly, and my feet were miserable.

By mile 24, I let myself believe I was going to somehow make it to the end, and I thought I might even break the 4 hour mark.  I told myself I could run all of 2.2 measly miles.  However, I even had to take one last short walk break with only 3/4 of a mile to go.  I just plain didn't care.  The wind had picked up and the rain was again coming down in buckets for those last 2 or 3 miles.

I managed to sort of fake a smile for the camera as I strolled into the train station.  There might have been a few tears mixed in with that rain, but I was immensely relieved to know the end was so close.  I can see in this photo that my form had deteriorated badly.  At least I still look like I am doing something sort of resembling a run!

The weather truly mirrored my mood at that point.  Here's how it looked and felt that whole morning:

I came around the last corner and eyed the finish line just ahead.  My heart sank, but only a tiny bit, when I saw that the clock read 4-something instead of 3-something.  However, I was happy when I spotted Chris smiling at me beside the finish line, and felt a great relief that I was done with the race.

A very sweet elderly gentleman wrapped his arms around me right after I crossed over the line and gave me the best hug ever!  He then escorted me to the medical tent where I allowed myself to get a couple of minutes of TLC before coming out of the dream state.  Then I went to see if I could still sign up for a massage.  As I sat there waiting, I could feel my legs and lower back truly ache like they never have before. Then it dawned on me that I needed to find my friends.  I couldn't remember where we were supposed to meet.  Finally I remembered that I was going to meet them at the awards ceremony for the half marathon.  However, I had no idea where that was, nor did I have the energy to walk around looking.

Eventually, because I started to get very chilly, I forced myself to stand, and then I staggered forward in search of them.  After limping around aimlessly for several minutes, I began to cry.  I didn't know what to do or where to go, and I began getting colder and colder.  At some point, I found my way to the meeting place, but found that the awards were already done.  At that point, I really started sobbing.  Luckily, my friends were nearby and heard me.  My sobs then turned into cries of relief!

I was so happy when we finally reached the car, and I could take off my sopping wet shoes and socks, change clothes, swallow down some Advil, and scarf down a Marathon bar.  I inspected my toes and confirmed my suspicions.  I had a huge blister on my right big toe, and I had four toenails that were purple.  It was not a pretty sight.  I think I might suffer my first toenail casualty some time in the next couple weeks.

We headed for Waffle House on our way out of town.  I had two eggs and a whole plate-sized waffle which I smothered in butter and syrup.  After burning over 2700 calories that morning, my appetite was really strong!

Today, I am still stiff and sore, but it's not too bad, and I think I will recover nicely.  Although I can't say that I'm dying to do another marathon right now, I wouldn't count out another marathon some time in the future.  It was a huge accomplishment, and it's something I will never forget.  The training was really fun, challenging, and good for me.  I have met so many wonderful fellow runners who have become good friends.  Running gives me peace of mind and keeps me grounded when life gets nutty.  I wouldn't trade this experience for the world!


  1. congrats gail! You should be so so proud. You suffered through bad weather and through pain and lived to tell about it! I have no idea that you'll run a sub 4 whenever you run your next one. You rock and you're an inspiration!! :) go celebrate the fact that YOU DID IT!!

  2. Kudos on finishing the marathon - and on doing so in a very respectable time, especially under such atrocious conditions! If I may say so, the reason you felt so exhausted is simply that you ran too fast, and this is where we encounter one of my pet peeves: Marathon pacers WHO RUN TOO DAMN FAST. :( Fifteen seconds per mile might not seem like a lot, but even in a 5K running that much too fast in the beginning can have disastrous consequences towards the end - imagine what it does to you in a marathon! If your pace group had run the agreed-upon 8:45 pace, you would have felt much better the entire way, and your finishing time would have been significantly faster. I recommend that next time, you drop the pace group and run by your Garmin; I can virtually guarantee a more satisfactory outcome! P.S. On the trial run yesterday for the Publix Marathon, my friends and I caught up to a pace group which targeted an 8:30 pace. At that point (about four miles into the run), most of the members of the group had already dropped back to about 10-15 feet behind the pacer, struggling to keep up as he ran AT A STEADY EIGHT-MINUTE PACE. WTF?! At that rate, most of his charges were not going to even FINISH the marathon. This kind of thing explains why late in the race during the Publix Half last year, I overtook a pacer running alone, at least 20 minutes ahead of his schedule. :(

  3. Thanks Meg and Marius! Marius, it would be nice to blame it on the pacer, but the fault is all mine. I foolishly went with the 8:35 group, aiming for a finish time of 3:45. The 8:45 group would have been a better choice. I guess my guy did get a little faster than 8:35 in miles 7-12, but not by too much. At the Berry Half, I felt great going about an 8:10 pace. My last two miles there were even sub-8. On this flat course, though, by mile 10, I was feeling labored going much more slowly than that. I didn't make sense to me at all why I should have felt that tired so early on.

    It's really kind of pitiful that mile 24 was 11.04! I'm glad I was at least able to muster enough to stay mostly "running" after that. Next time, I agree, I'll work off of perceived effort instead of a pacer. Experience is a great teacher, right?!

  4. I can't believe how wet you are in those pictures!! Can't imagine running a marathon in those conditions, I think I would have just quit! It must have been so crushing to see the 3:45 group slowly slip out of sight. And I believe that you were really feeling it during mile 24 (sometimes 11:00 miles can be harder than 8:00 ones!). Regardless of weather, of being tired, of being blistered and mentally shot, you finished! You're a MARATHONER! Now go put that sticker on your car!!!

    PS- I bet you would have done better if you didn't have to run through the stench of FSU fans though ;)

    1. also- I think you need to purchase and frame the picture of you finishing! It's pretty awesome!

    2. Ha ha about the FSU stench! Did you notice my Gator sweat shirt there in the last photo? That was definitely not in my "throw-away pile." I think when you're going through bad race conditions, you don't really process them while you're there. It's now that I'm back, warm and cozy and resting, that I can see that they were pretty bad. There are so many variables to race success, but I guess with the law of averages, we're bound to hit one at just the right time and conditions if we do enough of them. :-)

      P.S. 26.2 sticker is ON!!

  5. That was an great review...felt like I was there. Congratulations on your amazing first marathon! You may not have met your goal, but a 3:45 for a first marathon (especially in those weather conditions) was a pretty steep goal. You were right at the 4 hour mark, and that most definitely is an absolutely incredible accomplishment !

    Unless my math is wrong, you finished (AS A FIRST TIMER) in the top 19% of your division, the top 21% of all the females, and the top 1/3 of EVERYONE !!! You should be so very proud !

    Once again...congratulations on a race well run !

    1. OK...just read about your amazing 1/2 marathon PR only two weeks before your first marathon (what a way to taper :-)), and then your major fall a few days later. This all only makes your marathon time and effort even MORE amazing !

    2. Thanks Michael! Yes, it was kind of a weird last two weeks with the fall and the cold. Then it was also a weird weather experience at the race. The Berry Half was an amazing experience, and it was hard to accept the fact that I was not on my top game for the marathon. I just can't wait to get back out there and start training for the next race!

  6. Hey! I found your blog from a friend who emailed it to me! First let me say, CONGRATULATIONS on your first marathon! What an accomplishment after all that hard, dedicated training! I ran Albany too! It was my third marathon, and it was TOUGH!! I was aiming for a 4:40 or less and knew I could do it. But... it wasn't my day. I knew it from the get go and once my feet were water logged, my gait changed and everything went south. I was in so much pain in my quads (flat route, weird, huh?!) and not just from the soakin' soggy feet but from everything being way off! But it was FUN nonetheless and those volunteers were a God send! AMAZING people to stand and cheer us on in that rain!

    It was FUN to read your recap! I'll be back! :)

    1. Hi Kate, thanks so much for your post! I kept thinking that everyone else was in the same boat (come to think of it, a boat might not have been a bad idea!) as I was. However, that did not seem to make it any easier. I didn't post a photo of my toes, but when my shoes finally came off, it was not a pretty sight. Let's hope our next marathons are a little more sunny!

      P.S. You're right about the awesome volunteers and cheering crews!