Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Achieve": My first marathon

(All of these pictures are from my parents--thank you so much for being there for me & capturing my special day on film!! ♥)

On October 16, I ran my first marathon.

To say it was a long road to get here would be an understatement :)

...But then again, “It was everything I hoped & dreamed it might be” would also be an understatement.

I do apologize that it’s taken me so long (you know, about a month ;) to write up the recap, but, honestly... it’s taken a while to process ... really, life changing events are prone to do that. And I wanted to give my story justice.

Before I really delve into my story though, I’d like to say this:

Thank you.

Thank you with everything I am. ... While this was an intensely personal journey, it was not one I took on by myself. Over the past few months I have been surrounded and uplifted in a way that I could have never imagined. My network (including Jon, my parents, my in-laws, my sisters ♥, my coworkers, my MiT friends, my best friends from high school and college, and you my wonderful blog friends... most of whom I have never met) made this experience for me. My network believed in me with unwavering faith. My network cheered me on and hugged me on the bad days, and celebrated with me over the good. My network held me accountable to myself.

...As you read this, please know that even if I do not mention you by name, my heart has kept a record of all the grace and love you have extended to me. ...I am humbled and overwhelmed by the precious care my soul has received, and your support means more to me than I could ever put into words. ♥

I trained with MiT for 5 months and hundreds of miles, but the journey really started long before that. At the end of last year I was dealing (not particularly well) with not so wonderful things. After months of walking in the darkness, I knew I needed a change ... and out of that desperation came the courage to make a huge change-- a huge commitment. I signed up to run a marathon. (You can read more about the beginning of the journey here.)

The personal growth I experienced during this time was absolutely phenomenal.

And while I knew, logically, that completing the marathon was just the proverbial “icing on the cake”, I had a real scare when I sprained my ankle a mere 8 days before the marathon. I prayed, I panicked, and I went to the doctor. ... and (thank God) got the “all clear” to run. The rest of the week was spent resting, icing, and attempting to mentally prepare myself for “the big day”.

The morning of the marathon started very early for me... Somewhere around 4 am. I rolled promptly out of bed (no need to kid myself, I was wide awake!) and began the morning routine I had perfected through many weekend long runs. Dress; (feed cats); coffee & peanut butter toast for breakfast; pack up fuel belt (gatorade in bottles, phone, salt & fig newtons in the pocket); lube feet & put on running shoes ... metal pep-talks continuously through the process ;)

Soon, Jon & I were in the car, picking up my running buddy Tracey & heading downtown.

I am so glad I had Tracey with me :) She helped calm my nerves and get me pumped up on the drive over. Furthermore, when we ran into some horrific traffic downtown (Bah. Seriously. We sat on the “off ramp” for over 20 minutes before we finally got out of the car and walked to the hotel.), she kept me upbeat and positive. ...I don’t know what I would have done without her at this point. Really, I don’t.

MiT had booked a ballroom in a hotel close to the starting line, and I was really looking forward to relaxing with my everyone (including my “running girls” that I had been training with in the morning, who were NOT running the Columbus marathon...) and using a real bathroom before being shuttled over to the starting line. ..Well, basically, between the traffic we got stuck in and the shuttle leaving early, we missed meeting up with the group.

...At this point I think I said “I’m so glad we’re together” about every other breath. Truth is, if I had been by myself, I probably would have sat down & cried. We used the hotel bathrooms (which were out of tp, but thankfully not paper towels ... I’m sure that was *awesome* for the septic system, haha) and headed over to the starting line.

The amount of people there was completely overwhelming (our corral was really crowded!), and again, I was SO happy to be with a friend.

Before we knew it, we were off! ...I think we smiled the entire first 10 miles :) It was a gorgeous day (deliciously crisp & cool; with clouds but no rain), and it just felt so good to be out and moving. We ran joyfully through the streets, chatting, singing along with the bands (and, maybe even dancing a little bit ;), complimenting creative race signs & drawing an almost supernatural strength from the crowds.

When I saw Jon at mile 5, I was practically skipping :) Feeling strong and loving every second! I was *doing * it!! ... Holy moly this was actually happening! ... I was running a (bleep)ing marathon!! (Heh. Sometimes only strong word can express the magnitude of a situation :) When I saw my girls (Dana, Heather & Stacy) at mile 10, I gave each of them a big, sweaty hug.

Unfortunately, it was a little after we passed the girls that I got a reality check. We hadn’t been running for more than 5 minutes after that that we saw a runner down; a man, passed out cold in the middle of the street with blood dripping down his temple. I’m not sure when it happened, but people were mobilizing to get him help—running toward him, calling in help on cell phones. ... It was an extremely sobering moment. After we passed I told Tracey (voice quavering), “That was definitely something I never wanted to see.” ...She agreed.

Needless to say, we were a bit more quiet and reflective after that. ...And actually, at mile 14 things started to get a little rough for me. ...I think, honestly, that after the extreme high of the beginning of the race followed by such a frightening & sad “crash back into reality” I was a little worn out. ...This was the part where I needed to start digging deep.

Mile 15 was a good one though, as I got to see both Jon, and my friend Kaitie. I hugged them both & let them know how much it meant to me to have them there – I really needed “my people” at mile 15 ♥

Unfortunately, once I passed mile 15, I entered into what was the hardest part of the race for me. ...Which I was definitely not expecting. In preparation for my marathon, I read numerous race re-caps from other bloggers... all of which seemed to indicate that mile 17 was the turning point. ...Fellow MiTer’s told me time and again, ”your marathon starts at mile 20.” ... As you could guess, I was a little discouraged when I started experiencing some (significant) pain.

... Because I know I would curious, I’ll tell you that while I’m still not sure what on earth the problem was, I was having issues with my bladder (sorry... lovely, right?! If anyone ever tells you that running is a glamorous sport, they are seriously deluded.). ...At first, I thought maybe it was (um) “lady cramps”... but I soon determined that was not the case. Tracey and I trained with a 4:1 run:walk Galloway method ... and the starting & stopping began to cause me some problems. ...By the time the pain got down to a manageable level, it was time to walk again... and the jarring when we started back up was Bad. News.

I think (now that I look back) I’d had hints of this problem during some of my other long runs... but never anything like this. (Full disclosure: there were multiple points during these miles where I doubted my ability to finish.... luckily, I didn’t give in to those thoughts.)

... I visited every single porta-potty between miles 15 and 20, and just generally felt miserable... but we pressed on.

Thank God for mile 20.

Although I wasn’t ready to speak it out loud (for fear of it not coming true), I just had this feeling in my heart that if I could make it to mile 20, I could finish. Mile 20 was not only for significant for the mile-marker... but because my parents were there. ...And, for heaven’s sake, I think that no matter how old I get, seeing my mommy when I don’t feel good just seems to make everything better.

Also, to see & hug my father was a needed boost, too. I talked a little bit here about how we have bonded over a mutual love of exercise, and I knew from the beginning of this journey—without him even having to say anything—how proud of me he was. ... And that means a lot :)

Anyway... after a lengthy mile 20 stop (to refuel with gatorade, water, powerbar chewies & plenty of hugs), we were off again to the next bathroom on the final leg of our journey.

As my co-worker (and experienced marathoner) Larry told me, “...there comes a point in the marathon where you start making deals with yourself. ... Anything it takes to get to the finish.” ... And there was quite a bit of deal-making in those last 6 miles. ...I remember it hurt and I was just getting awfully tired at that point, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. ...I blasted “You & I” again and again, and pretended my Uncle Joe was running with me through the OSU campus (which was disappointingly desolate). ... I visualized how it was going to feel to finally cross that finish line. ...I prayed.

...And somewhere around mile 21, the pain lessened (perhaps as a result of this elusive runner’s high I’ve heard of?) ... And (wonder of wonders!) I picked up the pace. It wasn’t pretty, but I cruised along relatively happily until mile 23—where I got a pep talk from Larry (aforementioned co-worker and marathoner – he completed the half-marathon that day!) ... And then it was a 5k “home stretch”.

(Hellooo... evidence of my amazing recovery post-mile 20.)

I don’t remember too much from those last few miles (I must have been ‘in the zone’), but a few memories do shine out through the fog. I remember saying “thank you” to the off-duty officers who were directing traffic... I remember having a conversation with an older gentleman who told me gleefully that “this was HIS first marathon, too!” ... I remember passing a group of people & hearing a man cheer, “Go, Amy!”, and thinking (a) gosh that sounds like Dan (a gentleman in our MiT running group who was especially kind & reassuring to me on my first day with them) and (b) I bet it’s not him – I must be hallucinating {Sigh. Later I found out that it was indeed Dan, and then I felt like a jerk for not turning around to recognize him & talk to him. Drat. Note to self: Next time, always turn around.}

Finally, I found myself on Front Street... the final street before the turn onto Nationwide Blvd & the finish. Here’s where I really started to pick it up. ...First, I heard my mom cheering for me... then I saw my dad with his camera, and then I saw the girls. Dana, Stacy and Heather hopped right out onto the course with me and ran with me those final feet before the turn. I remember running like crazy then, and Dana saying, ”It’s just like home, Amy.” (Awww. ...For the record, I would have cried right then, if I had any extra energy to do so.)

Then I was on Nationwide (which seemed a LOT longer than I was hoping it would be!), and then.... with a chip time of 5:43:59 I crossed the finish line and completed my first marathon.

From there, I navigated through the chute, got my medal & space blanket, almost cried when the photographer said, “You should be so proud... I’m proud of you”... and found Jon. Where, understandably, I lost it :) “Hey... how are you?” He asked through the fence, smiling. “{Sniffle, hic} I’m {hic, hic} so glad {sniff} it’s over!” I sobbed. ...And then I pulled myself together and made it to the reunion area, where I got to hug Jon, my parents & Tracey.

Me, Amanda & Tracey, MiT friends :)

In conclusion: I would definitely rank this among the best days of my life. It was worth everything. ... And it taught me that I am worth it, as well.

The million dollar question is, of course: would I ever do another one?


And it can only be answered with a resounding "Yes!"

Thanks again for going on this journey with me. ... I look forward to keeping you updated as my story (as Amy, and as a runner) continues to unfold.