While training for my first half, I wrote weekly updates, reveling in my progress as I ran further than I previously had. I had every intention of doing the same thing while training for the marathon. However, the work/home/training routine only had so much give and it just didn’t happen. Before I forget the little details, I need to recap the first (and possibly only) time I ran a marathon.
When Mike and I did our last run Friday night, I was surprisingly fast. After weeks of running for distance, running faster felt good. We headed down to Philadelphia the next morning, arriving a little after one. Whenever the option allows, we stay at a Holiday Inn Express so we can eat our weight in cinnamon rolls each morning. After checking in, I watched Liam get so excited about the printed card listing all of the channels, forgetting that our digital age never requires them for him. “Look, we’re at a fancy hotel that gives us the list of channels!” We have really raised the bar when it comes to lodging.
We headed to the expo, but it was close to the end by the time we arrived. I picked up my packet, feeling self-conscious that there was a long line for the small shirts but walked right up to the people manning the large shirt line. I had wanted to pick up a shirt at the expo, but almost everything was picked over. It was still fun to walk around and explore. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a holiday area downtown. Mike and Liam rode the Ferris Wheel and Liam and I rode a merry-go-round. It was a nice distraction. I tried my best to hide the fact that I was really starting to get nervous. Throughout the training, I had been much calmer than expected; going to the expo made everything real!
After going back to the hotel to drop off my stuff, we met a few of the elite runners. They were heading out for a run; we were heading out to dinner. We chatted in the elevator; they laughed at my joke about us obviously being in different starting corrals as Mike, Liam, and I made our way to Shake Shack for burgers, shakes, and fries.
In spite of my nerves, I managed to fall asleep fairly early only to wake up at 3:15 to the sounds of the fire alarm and an announcement to evacuate. I contemplated getting my race clothes on in case we couldn’t get back into the hotel, but left the building in my flannel llama PJs and hoodie. We all stood in the stairwell, me trying not to cry. Twenty weeks of training only to not be able to make it to the starting line. As the alarm went off and on a few times, we were unsure whether we could get back into the hotel or if we had to go out into the cold, rainy street. After walking back up to the tenth floor, we discovered that the fire exits were locked. Someone called the front desk, asking if they could send someone around to open the doors. They refused, forcing us to walk down the ten flights of stairs again, into the street to the lobby, and wait with all the other guests for the three elevators.
I got back to my room five minutes before my alarms were supposed to go off. I took a quick shower and got ready. Liam was tossing in his bed. Mike joked that he would rather run twenty-six miles than deal with Liam if he didn’t go back to sleep. Knowing he’d never go back to sleep while I was moving around, I left at 5, just in time to catch the first shuttle to the race.
I was one of the first people to arrive at the race, going immediately to the tents set up to keep us dry. To avoid small talk, I went to the back and sat at a table by myself, putting my head down to rest and resist the urge to mindlessly surf my phone, not wanting to drain my phone’s battery. As the tent filled, two other first time marathoners sat with me. I was actually happy to chat with them a few minutes before heading to the porta-potties about 6:10.
This was my only complaint about the race: since it started at 7, 6:10 should have allowed plenty of time to do my business and get to the starting line. NOPE. I didn’t finish until 7:05, leaving my discombobulated and struggling to get to the line as the third wave of runners took off. I was disorientated and panicked. Philadelphia Marathon officials, we need more porta-potties!
I stood in line by myself, having missed the chance to meet up with friends due to a fifty-five-minute potty break. I snapped a quick selfie and posted it to Facebook. It was time for the very last leg to begin. I looked for people I knew at the starting line, unable to find a familiar, friendly face.
We were off! I was fully aware that I was running way too fast, ignoring my plan to do walk/run intervals. I ran the first three miles before I made myself walk for a minute. As I passed long lines at the porta-potties along the course, I was thankful I waited an hour to go before the start. At mile four, I passed my first beer station.
A friend told me that Philly is his “second favorite marathon.” I can totally understand why. There were so many people cheering us on. I passed a church that set up a tent so their choir could perform as racers ran by. There was a line of people cheering and handing out bracelets. It was one of my favorite moments of the race!
As I ran much faster than I planned, I got nervous about Mike, who agreed to meet me at mile six before taking Liam to the Linc to see the Eagles’ stadium. However, I didn’t know if they fell back to sleep. If they did, I was afraid of waking them up and making Liam miserable. I wasn’t sure whether to text him and let him know I was ahead of schedule and risk waking them up. My worries were unnecessary; Mike and Liam were right where they said they would be. I hugged Liam so hard, trying not to cry. Mike scolded me, “Slow down!” and I was off.
The miles went by. I went between taking my throwaway hoodie off and on. I took in the scenery while listening to my super guilty pleasure running playlist. As I reached mile fourteen, I received a text from Mike letting me know that he passed the elite runners back at the hotel. Around mile sixteen, the weather changed. I’d stalked the weather all week as it varied between scattered showers, partly cloudy, and downpours. At 6:00 that morning, it was supposed to be clear until 10:00 before a chance of showers and 43 degrees. As I started to get hit by pieces of ice, it became very clear that the forecast changed. As I tried to confirm that it was, in fact, hail, I received a text from Katie about the “f**king hail.”
The last ten miles sucked! It was cold. Hail slapped me in the face thanks to heavy winds. Due to the weather, the crowds thinned out- who could blame them? Running in this was terrible; standing around in it sounds even worse! Whenever I passed a cheer or water station, I made sure to thank everyone there. My favorite was at mile eighteen, people were dressed up in funny onesies and handing out beer. I took a beer from a girl dressed as a turkey, instantly regretting not getting a selfie. The beer was amazing! At mile nineteen, I made my up a hill that leads to the turnaround to the finish. A man looked at me, stepped towards me, and yelled, “Today’s the day you’re going to become a marathoner!” I was ready to start sobbing until I realized that it was painfully clear I’d never done this before. But I didn’t work this hard to only run twenty miles- I had to keep going! I switched from my music to my current audiobook, The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, read by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which seems fitting since Hamilton has been a huge part of my running journey.
Around mile twenty-one, it was clear that I had been weaving to avoid puddles as my GPS was almost a half-mile off. At mile twenty-five, I finally dropped my hoodie. It served me well and kept me warm and dry.
I know the goal of the marathon is supposed to be to complete it. However, my first goal was 5:45 but I really wanted to finish by 6:00. My best half was 2:40; I’m not a fast runner! I took a picture of the Garmin at 26.2 miles- only six minutes off from my goal. Considering the weather, I’ll take it! By the time I finished the race, I’d run 26.92 miles!
My friends surprised me at the finish line. It felt so good to hear people screaming my name!
Here’s where it became a blur. When I signed up for the race, Mike and I discussed the logistics, trying to decide if we should stay one or two days. I said that I wanted to stay the second night because I wanted my moment after the race. I wanted to stay and enjoy myself after the finish; I had worked hard, dammit! However, after crossing the finish line, the temperature dropped and I wanted to get out of there! After quick hugs, I immediately wanted to go back to the hotel and take the longest shower ever! I did not walk through the race area or take my picture with the Rocky statue- nothing. I just wanted to warm up!
The next morning, I was amazed as I looked at my body in the unforgiving hotel bathroom light. While I hoped to lose a few pounds through training, I’d read a few blogs in which people admitted they gained weight during training due to excessive hunger. I was more concerned with building strength than losing weight. As I looked at myself, I admired my curves and muscles for the first time in a while. I’ve always struggled with weight and body image. Because I have a lot of muscle, the number on the scale often seems higher than I think I look, although maybe this is something I tell myself to feel better. I made myself take a few pictures to remember the body that ran a marathon the previous day. I told Mike I was going to try on my wedding dress when I got home. He laughed, thinking I was kidding. I was not!
I asked Mike to drive me to the race start the next morning. I wanted to see the race area and build a sense of the starting line. On the way home, we stopped three times to stretch. It took three days before I could walk without feeling any soreness.
I don’t know if I would do this again. If I do, it will not be until Liam is a lot older. While the runs themselves were not terrible, it took a lot of time, eating large chunks of our weekends. Mike was amazing through training, taking care of Liam and the house for hours each weekend. I am incredibly thankful to him; I would never have been able to accomplish this without him.
It is amazing to think that I only had to run a marathon one time to bask in the glory forever! For a nerdy, overweight child, the word “marathoner” never seemed in the realm of possibility. But here we are, with the sticker on the car to prove it!
I am eternally grateful to everyone who helped me through this journey. I received so much support and guidance through this. I am beyond thankful to be surrounded by people who are rooting for me, who want to me succeed.