I am a marathoner

IMG_0094I am a marathoner.

No matter how many times I say that to myself, I still can’t believe it. The same girl that used to dread running a whole mile in gym class willingly ran 26.2 of them.

On Sunday, Oct. 4, I became a Wineglass Marathon finisher.

I don’t know how to write this blog post, because everything I want to say doesn’t really make sense. It’s hard to put into words what I experienced this weekend.

I guess I can sum it up like this: Running a marathon hurt like hell, but I enjoyed myself doing it.

I’ve been stressing about the marathon for what feels like forever. I signed up for it on January first, and with each passing month I began to worry more and more. I was a nervous wreck all summer, and that was nothing compared to this last week.

As the race got closer, I could no longer picture myself crossing the finish line, and that scared me. Whether it was my foot pain, or my bad knees, or sheer exhaustion, I was convinced something would happen to prevent me from finishing.

But the day before the marathon, something changed. I don’t know if I was in denial or just delirious from a week of sleep deprivation, but I was suddenly more excited than nervous. And on race morning, I was no longer nervous at all (this part was definitely denial).

I was awake at 4:15 a.m. and by 6 a.m., the 11 of us Mohawk Valley Hill Striders had boarded a bus for the start line. When I think back on the race, I think waiting to start is one of the things I’ll remember most.

There’s nothing quite like a bunch of runners bundled up and huddled together for warmth, in the dark, waiting to go run 26.2 miles. The wet grass was soaking into my shoes, my breakfast from 5 a.m. seemed like ages ago, and I lost track of how many times I went to the porta potty. But there was something wonderfully surreal about the whole situation – maybe because it was so far from anything I ever would’ve expected to happily put myself through.

At 8:15 a.m., ready or not, the race began.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – my own mind is my biggest adversary when I’m running. It’s much more of a mental challenge than physical for me, and I’ve been terrified for months of what would happen once I got out on that course.

I still can’t quite explain how it happened, but I have never, ever felt as mentally strong as I did during that marathon. There wasn’t a single moment when I didn’t believe I could make it to the finish line, and the further I ran, the happier I became.

There was one brief moment, I think around mile 6 or 7 (there were so many, they’re all kind of a blur), when I had a sudden, shooting pain in both of my knees. For a split second, I panicked. “This is it,” I thought – the thing I was waiting for that would prevent me from finishing the race.

IMG_0104But as quickly as the thought came, I pushed it from my mind. I had worked too hard to get to that point, and I’ll be damned if I was going to let anything stop me. I did my best to stay in the middle of the road where it was more flat and would be easier on my knees, and they still hurt the entire way, but it was manageable.

To be honest, it seemed like everything hurt – first my foot, then my knees, then my hip, and so on. But still, I knew that I could push through the aches and pains and keep going.

One thing that helped me was the settings on my watch. Usually, I have it set so that I see my distance and the time it’s taken me to get there. When I want to figure out my pace, there’s more math involved than I’d like.

I don’t know why it took me so long to do it, but on race day I set my watch so that I would only see my pace. I kept track of my distance by the mile markers on the course, and I didn’t worry about my time at all.

Instead of looking at my watch and thinking, “Oh man, I’ve only run ___ miles,” I focused on keeping a steady pace and that was it. And it was the best thing I could have done.

Another thing that helped was the company. We all have fast days and slow days, and we sometimes switch around the people that we run with. The ones we begin a race with aren’t always the ones we end it with.

But Denise Warzala and I ran the entire 26.2 miles together. There were plenty of complaints, some walk breaks, some stretching, a trip to the porta potty and even some tears. But there were also plenty of laughs, cheering, jokes (gumdrop), and I swear we were even dancing at mile 22. And when we crossed that finish line, we did it holding hands with our arms in the air and smiles on our faces.

Throughout the whole race, we kept saying that we were still in denial. Were we really running a marathon?

But as the mileage kept creeping up, the reality began to set in. Neither of us had trained for more than 17.3 miles, so that was the first milestone we hit. Then we hit 20 miles. Then 21. As we got closer and closer to 26.2, we finally started to accept that we were really, truly running a marathon.

What finally put us over the edge were the chalk drawings we saw somewhere around mile 23. Each step brought us a new encouragement. I can’t remember what they all were, but I do remember the last one: “You are amazing.”

We were in tears then, and I’m in tears now. Finally, it hit us – we were running a marathon, and we were about to complete it.

That race was without a doubt the most physically challenging and most painful thing I’ve ever done. But it’s nothing compared to the mental challenges I’ve faced throughout my training. The war waging within my own head is the biggest obstacle I’ve ever had to overcome.

Having a strong mentality throughout the race was almost better than crossing the finish line, because that was what I had worked so hard to accomplish.

Before the race, I said there was no way I would ever run a marathon again. I had had it with the mental and physical strain I was putting on myself, and I swore I wouldn’t put myself through it again.

But with each mile I completed, the more I found myself thinking, “I could do this again.”

By the time I finished the race, my mind was made up – I wanted to run another marathon.

I don’t know what happened to me on that course, but I’m grateful for it. Don’t get me wrong – I struggled throughout the race. I was in pain, and I slowed down, and it was just as difficult as I expected.

But when I think about the race, that’s not what I remember. I remember the times that we were laughing and cheering with the crowds, and the moment it hit me that I was about to finish a marathon.

marathonI remember the last few miles when all I could think about was how far I had come since those days in high school when running a mile seemed like the worst form of torture I could imagine putting myself through.

I remember the times I literally laughed out loud in the midst of 20 something miles, and being shocked that it was even possible.

And above all, I remember crossing the finish line with the biggest smile I’ve ever had on my face.

It was my first marathon, but it absolutely won’t be my last. It was my biggest challenge, and my proudest accomplishment, and I can’t wait to have more of them.

Am I crazy? I think I might be.

But I am also a marathoner.

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